Guest Post by Tony Grant: Virginia Woolf Made a Reference to Jane Austen

Dear Janeites and Other Readers:  I welcome today Tony Grant. He has just read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and asked if I would post his review. Tony for a time wrote a blog on Virginia Woolf called “The Novels of Virginia Woolf” – he is hoping to do more on there now that he is re-inspired! There are endless resources out there on Woolf (see below for a few links), but here Tony is giving his personal view of what he learned in reading A Room of One’s Own, and how it relates to Jane Austen.

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“Virginia Woolf Made a Reference to Jane Austen,”
by Tony Grant.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1929. Woolf was invited in 1928 to give a talk to the female undergraduates at Girton College, Cambridge on the theme of women and fiction. She came up with the title for her talk as, A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN. The premise of her argument was that women needed a room of their own and time to write, provided by an independent income. Virginia Woolf suggested £500 a year.

Coincidently that was the same amount that an Aunt, who died in India, left Virginia Woolf in her will, allowing her to be independent of her husband. She was allowed time to think and write without the constraints of the straight jacket of wife, mother, and organizer of a great man’s home. She could afford a room of her own in which to write undisturbed. She argued that women writers in history had been far and few between because of the restrictions a patriarchal society put on them, a society that actively discouraged, insulted, and humiliated women’s abilities. Men thought that women were not capable of writing great fiction or write intelligently on any subject.

She references Aphra Behn, a playwright, poet and translator who lived in the 17th century, as the first woman writer to make money from writing. She goes on to explain that later in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jane Austen, The Brontës and George Elliot began to show what brilliant writers women can be, even if hidden behind anonymity or male pseudonyms. These few, early, great women writers were however, limited in their scope by their circumstances. Virginia Woolf’s hope is that a “Shakespeare’s Sister,” will emerge one day.

We are introduced to Mary Beton, her aunt who left Virginia the £500 per year inheritance and provided the means for her to become a writer; Mary Seton, a wife and mother who is constrained by her circumstances and has no chance of becoming a writer; Mary Carmichael, an author who does not write particularly well – her sentence structures are not those of Jane Austen, from whom she should have learned, but nonetheless begins to write about women in an extraordinary way from a woman’s perspective and begins to portray the subtleties of womanhood uninfluenced by a patriarchal society. These three characters represent three aspects of the lives of women.

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom at Monk’s House

Virginia Woolf argues that intellectual freedom depends upon the possession of material things (a room of one’s own and £500 per year), a good education and well-connected families. She thinks the education the poor receive will not raise them to equality with the upper levels of society. She decries that they will have no chance of their voice being heard. Women’s lives and the poor in society are a downtrodden second class group.

Nowadays there is a sort of worship and fan cult associated with Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf would be bemused and not understand this I think. Austen is a great writer, especially in exploring the relationships between men and women which is acutely highlighted in her writing because of the patriarchy of the 18th and 19th centuries.

But because of the constraints placed on by the male members of her family, no “room of her own,” and no independent income, Austen’s world was a very narrow world of drawing rooms. There was not enough global experience of women writers and women in other aspects of society, equal to that of men’s for Austen to build on. She was and is impressive for what she achieved, but she had her limitations. Austen was timid and protective about her writing. She didn’t experience life outside of a strict set of patriarchal boundaries. It does seem extraordinary nowadays there is so much fuss over her.

The aim for women writers, in the words of Virginia Woolf, is to become “Shakespeare’s Sister.” It must be said that Shakespeare did not have a sister as far as we know. What Virginia Woolf means is that in her view Shakespeare was the greatest male writer. He had the perfect balance of the “male-female” brain, creative and fertile with ideas derived from a wide experience of the world, male histories, male experiences and male writing through the centuries. If Shakespeare’s Sister had been able to become the female version of her brother, employing the “female male” brain alongside a wealth of women’s experiences in writing and society, we would have a female writer of equal brilliance and scope.

Virginia Woolf’s presentation to the Girton Undergraduates is nothing if not meant to encourage them all to become writers, not just of fiction but scientific treatises, histories, biographies, poetry, and more besides, because as Woolf states “books talk to books,” and with a rich history of women’s writing to draw on this “Shakespeare’s Sister” can finally emerge.

Jane Austen was a step along the way to the emergence of this “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Mary Carmichael, perhaps a pseudonym for Virginia Woolf herself, represents another important step along the way. They are only steps.

“Be yourself” is a slogan Virginia Woolf leaves her young female audience with. She describes what women need to do to become writers and become themselves: “They need to build their ideas and thoughts on those of other women.” She points out how near impossible it is to achieve that without an immense struggle and everyone doing their bit. Even ninety years later, Virginia Woolf’s treatise has a freshness about it.

Virginia Woolf’s writing shed, Monk’s House

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Thank you Tony for sharing your thoughts on Woolf and Austen! You can visit Tony’s regular blog “London Calling” here: http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/

Would love to hear your thoughts on A Room of One’s Own – do you think Woolf’s ideas remain relevant today? Do you agree that there was a dearth of women’s writing because of the patriarchal society and its subjugation of women? Since Woolf’s time there has been an ongoing effort to re-discover the early women writers that have been long forgotten, also a result of that subjugation, and many of these Woolf would have known nothing about. [You can visit the Library at Chawton House to read about many of these early authors: https://chawtonhouse.org/ – and especially the biographies and online novels].

Woolf references Austen in more than just A Room of One’s Own – she refers to Austen in many of her writings, and wrote several full-length essays – here are two.

  1. “Jane Austen” in The Common Reader (1925): http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300031h.html#C11
  2. Woolf’s review of R. W. Chapman’s 1923 edition of Austen’s novels at The New Republic (1924): https://newrepublic.com/article/115922/virginia-woolf-jane-austen

For some commentary on Woolf’s opinion of Austen, see:

  1. This essay in Persuasions 12 (1990) by Judith Lee on Woolf reading Austen: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number12/lee.htm
  2. Another essay in Persuasions On-Line 29.1 (2008) by Emily Auerbach, “The Geese vs. the “Niminy Piminy Spinster”: Virginia Woolf Defends Jane Austen”: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol29no1/auerbach.html

I could go on… – there’s a veritable goldmine of information on Woolf and Austen out there!

Further reading:

[Images from Tony Grant]

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Netley Abbey and the Gothic by Tony Grant

Please read this terrific in-depth post by Tony Grant over at ‘Jane Austen’s World’ on Netley Abbey and Austen’s ties to it and possible influence on her ‘Northanger Abbey.’ I visited Netley Abbey with Tony a few years ago – pouring rain, but also more atmospheric as a result!

Sitting on the base of a pillar

 

Jane Austen's World

Inquiring readers, Tony Grant, a blogger and contributor to this blog for a decade, has submitted this interesting post about Netley Abbey. He ties history, literature, poetry, and painting to Jane Austen’s fascination with the gothic novel, which led to her writing Northanger Abbey in her wonderfully satiric vein. Enjoy!

My Memories of Netley Abbey

When I was eight years old, I recall one of my grandmothers telling me about the ghosts that haunted Netley Abbey. Netley Abbey is four miles along Southampton Water from where I grew up. I lived in Woolston, a small industrial area of Southampton next to the Itchen River, which flows into Southampton Water at the cities docks. (See Google satellite map image below and Google map image alongside it.)

Within walking distance of where I lived are extensive areas of woodland and farms that specialized in market gardening. Netley Abbey itself is set within…

View original post 3,474 more words

Jane Austen ~ A Day in the Life Of… : Guest Post by Tony Grant

UPDATE: see below for the tale of the bad apostrophe in Southampton…and Tony’s fix!

Dear Readers: I welcome Tony Grant today as he offers us an imaginary diary entry for a single day in the life Jane Austen, a day in Southampton, a town that Tony knows very well – wouldn’t it be lovely if such a diary existed!!

JAManuscript-BL

A Jane Austen Manuscript – British Library

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JANE AUSTEN: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF…

By Tony Grant

As we are now into celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Emma by Jane Austen (published December 23, 1815), I have taken a scene from that novel as my cue for this fanciful piece of writing.

Once they have arrived at the top of Box Hill on their excursion from Hartfield and Highbury, Emma Woodhouse, Mrs Elton, Mr Knightley, Mr Weston, Miss Bates et al are affronted by Frank Churchill’s assertive direction for them all to talk.

Box Hill, Emma © BBC 2009

Box Hill, Emma © BBC 2009

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who wherever she is, presides,) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of.”

Mr Knightley answered this request with,

“Is Miss Woodhouse sure she would like to hear what we are all thinking of?”

The whole idea of privacy and private thoughts is the crux of this scene. Do any of us want to say what we are actually thinking? Don’t we in polite society automatically set up a barrier between what we think and what we say? We all would like to tell the truth and I am sure we generally do, but within limits. All sorts of safe guards come into play. We don’t want to insult anybody or reveal our true feelings in case of embarrassment or revealing something too personal about ourselves. Where can we reveal our true selves? Maybe we never do. But certain things can get us close. Writing a personal diary is one of them. A diary that we keep secret and just put our own personal thoughts, ideas and feelings into is a private place we can inhabit.  Samuel Pepys even wrote his famous diary in a coded short hand. Anybody in his household picking it up would not have had a clue what he had written. Samuel Pepys probably intended that nobody should ever have access to his inner life and thoughts -especially the King or other government officials and certainly not his wife.

The 19th century was a strange world in the sense that privacy was not what we would think of it today. Many people were servants who often shared garret rooms. Where was privacy for them? The masters and mistresses of a wealthy house had an extended family that included their servants who lived with them. Where was their privacy?

However, the idea of privacy and private thoughts today is maybe not what we might think also. With the internet, social media and the logging of all our most personal details by obscure internet providers and companies is there such a thing as privacy at all?

As far as we know Jane Austen did not keep a diary. All that she wrote, novels, letters and a few poems and some juvenilia were for others to read. They were intended for an audience.

Where could the private Jane Austen, the Jane Austen with an inner life not for publication go? Many of her beliefs and thoughts, I am sure, come through in her novels and letters. However they are her thoughts chosen, subtly inserted and intended to be read by others. We can get a sense of her as a person, but what of those raw unedited emotions, her deepest moods, her deepest thoughts, not for publication?

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Southampton 1801

I have used some real events taken from some of her letters while she lived in Southampton (Austen lived there from 1806-1809) and then rewrote them as though Jane had written a diary. It is a diary entry about one day, for nobody else to read, EVER!!!!  A secret place for her thoughts and emotions.

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Southampton ,Tuesday 6th January 1807

Jane's house in Castle Square located at the base of the keep 2

Jane’s house in Castle Square, located at the base of the keep

We have been here for nearly four months now. This Castle Square house is well positioned within the town walls. Our garden backs on to the towns great medieval defences. The top parapet makes a picturesque, and moss embossed vertical expanse against which we grow raspberries and gooseberries. I think the sun must heat up the ancient stones and the heat from the stones brings along the fruit bearing shrubs admirably. We have already had one harvest, soon after we arrived, last October. Molly and Jenny, our two servants who we hired in the town, collected three huge baskets of the juicy fruit. We have had raspberry and gooseberry pies ever since. Surely our stock must run out soon and then we will have to wait all through the summer until autumn comes once more for those delights to be ripe enough to pick once more?

Rear of the Juniper Berry2

Rear of the Juniper Berry, site of Jane Austen’s house

cBarnum

Sight of Austen’s house in Castle Square, cBarnum

[with thanks to Tony for “fixing” this sign and making all of us grammarians out there rest easy.  Jane may not have been strong on punctuation,  but we shall assume that she is pleased as well…]

From my very own room at the back of the house I have some wonderfully entertaining views. Fishermen pull their boats up to the narrow harbour wall beneath our garden and spend their time sewing nets and scraping barnacles off the keels of their skiffs. I often try and listen to their conversations but their accents are so thick with oys and aghs and yeh’s. I am all a wonder at what a ,”mush,” is or a ,”nipper?” I can never quite fully catch what they say but the other day I heard two burly sailors nearly come to fisticuffs, “ Oy, mush what yer staring at?” said one rather aggressively to the other. I turned away quickly in case they saw me watching them. I might get a few choice words aimed my way. I blame it on The Royal Standard Inn just along the walls from us, next to the postern gateway – A drinking den of iniquity if ever there was one. Sometimes I hear a song, maybe a shanty, of some sort. I often see fishing smacks setting sail for Southampton Water to fish for the local dabs which are a great delicacy. Often a Man of War ventures this far up the Solent and anchors off Marchwood, in the Test estuary. They come up to the refitting yard I have been told. They get new masts there. The proximity to the New Forest provides a ready source of timber.

Southampton 1740

Southampton area 1740 map

On a clear bright day the New Forest stretches green and verdant in the distance far across the sparkling waters surrounding this peninsula on which Southampton is chiefly situated. We really must take a carriage ride there.

Today a new man arrived to tend our garden. He seems much more reliable than the last one who wanted more remuneration than my mother could afford. He says he is going to replace our forlorn and stringy wild roses with a stronger fuller variety. And some syringas, some laburnum, which will look beautiful and luxuriant, dripping with their blooms all through the summer months. We will get some Cowper’s Line too. Oh! that reminds me of Cowper:

Cowper

Cowper

There’s not an echo round me,
But I am glad should learn,
How pure a fire has found me,
The love with which I burn.
For none attends with pleasure
To what I would reveal;
They slight me out of measure,
And laugh at all I feel.

 

 

“The love with which I burn.”

Burn with love. What must that be like? Cassandra, my so called sister, berates me with my past errors, hah! Martha, friend, is she? Sometimes my mother, when she is in one of her overbearing moods, teases me about that boy, that stuttering poor boy, Bigg-Wither who proposed. What was I thinking? How could I? Oh yes, “and laugh at all I feel,” indeed. I can feel my stomach tie into a knot as I remember even now. What crushing anguish and embarrassment that has caused me. I wanted a burning love. I wanted a pure fire inside me. Why can’t I ever experience that? I feel all this energy inside me wanting to burst out.

I know, it does burst out. My writing. My poor substitute for real lived life and love. I can make my characters experience truelove. I know how it all works. I can make it happen for them but, not, me. Look at those poor puppets, Elizabeth and Darcy. Ha! Another stuttering fool. He changed into something though. I did that for Elizabeth. No Bigg-Wither for her. There I go again. Darcy is NOT real!!!! Why do I let myself go off into this fantasy world? My fantasies are better than my lived life. How can that be? A spinster, destined for what?

Mary, my brother’s new wife, is pregnant. She is full with new life. She has expanded, rather quickly, shall we say. It is

Francis Austen - wikipedia

Francis Austen – wikipedia

Frank’s command that we be here, to live with and pander after, his wonderful Mary. I sound too abrasive, I know. We all love her. But we are here doing our duty, for our dearest brother. They only had a short time after the wedding too. He must have put all his efforts and strength into it. Another for this baby-making family. Ha! They have two spare wombs in Cassandra and myself as well. I wonder what will become of our two dry pods? I wonder what it would be like to carry a child?

Cassandra still languishes at Godmersham looking after Edward’s baby. A maiden aunt. Is that all she is good for poor thing? I know that she is worth far more. I know she takes my share of these, duties. It is a form of slavery. It should be banned by parliament. It is all so unfair. There I go. It truly is a man’s world.

What is that awful sound? I hear my mother calling. That shriek. That demanding forceful will of hers. Damn her.

Mrs Austen

Mrs Austen

What does she want? I will be back. Here, in this little book, this little place, are all my real thoughts. My real thoughts! It’s where I can truly be myself.

I want to go on writing in here forever and nowhere else. Where else can I say these things, that nobody will hear, nobody will see? Not even you, mother!

“I am coming!”

I seem to say those words a lot.

………… Ah, all it was, was piffle. She, wanted to tell me, once more, about her finances. She had £85 at the close of last year. She spent £27 during the year. At the start of this year she has £99. A triumph!! But I know this already. She has told me twenty times. And she will tell me again, next week.

And we have visitors tonight. How many, is not sure. Can we feed them? Have we got enough fuel to keep the fire going to warm them? Nobody knows. My mother and her finances don’t know.

Marquis of Lansdowne's castle and Jane's house

Marquis of Lansdowne’s castle and Jane’s house

…………………. So they came. Mr Husket, Lord Lansdowne’s painter, or interior decorator I should say, came across from his Lordships “castle.” Mr Harrison called in with his two daughters. They laugh a lot but are not too silly, thank goodness. Mr Debary with his sister came too. Most of them arrived about 7 o’clock. The men were all wrapped up, buttoned to the neck, in great coats and the ladies wore thick pelisses and carried umbrellas against the rain. Why couldn’t the rain stop them from coming? But they came. A house-full. We stoked up the fire, (at what expense?) so it heated the dining room admirably. We drank tea and Jenny and Molly worked hard at providing muffins and fruit cake. What did we play? Oh yes, we had a pool of commerce and a table of spillikins. Mr Harrison won at everything. He was so pleased with himself. He grins a lot. His fat cheeks became puffed out and swollen like two full cows udders. For tuppence I would have milked them for him and given him a round slap in the process!

Southampton Beach

Southampton Beach

The weather is damp. A wind blows off the water. It carries a chill. I am shivering now in my unheated room. I can actually smell the salt in the air. There is a mixture of seaweed in it too.

Hark! I just heard Lord Lansdowne’s coach coming out of his stables opposite us. At this time of night of all things. I wonder what’s up? The smell of straw and horse dung can be overpowering at times from that place. However the wind is from the sea tonight so we are spared that malodorous problem. I feel fatigued. I will have a little nap. Tomorrow these private and wonderful white pages await me again. I would never write another novel if it were not the fact the writing of them provides me a few extra pounds and pence….

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Some additional pictures of Jane Austen’s Southampton: [I had the pleasure in May 2014 of touring all around Southampton with Tony – some of these pictures are mine, some his – it was a glorious day despite drenching rains…]

A medieval shop

A medieval shop

 

Catchcold Tower - part of the medieval walls

Catchcold Tower – part of the medieval walls

 

High Street, Southampton 1805

High Street, Southampton 1805

 

Jane goes to the spa-3

Jane goes to the spa

 

St Michaels medieval Church

St Michael’s medieval Church

 

Jane's school was close to The Bargate

Jane’s school was close to The Bargate

 

TheatreRoyalSign

Theatre Royal – where Jane visited (cBarnum)

 

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Dolphin Hotel fireplace – Jane danced in this room (cBarnum)

 

Dolphin Hotel Sign - JA danced here

Dolphin Hotel Sign – JA danced here (cBarnum)

 

Bay window in the ballroom

Bay window in the Dolphin Inn Ballroom

 

View from the walls

View from the walls

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Thank you Tony for this interesting foray into a fantasy Jane Austen diary entry! Please comment – if you could read a diary entry of Jane Austen’s, what inner-most thoughts of hers would you most want to read about?

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont [all images from Tony Grant unless otherwise indicated]

Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma ~ Guest Post by Tony Grant

Gentle Readers: Today I welcome Tony Grant who has written for us a post on Box Hill. I had the pleasure this spring to spend a day with Tony, as he squired me around Southampton, Portsmouth and Box Hill – it was a rainy, quite miserable day, but the touring was grand, the company terrific! I’ve been to most of the Jane Austen sites – but not to anything we saw this day, from the Dolphin Inn to The Victory, and to the top of Box Hill – it was a world-wind tour of Jane, History, and Geology all rolled into one – Tony here tells of Box Hill, the infamous location that Austen chooses to place her Emma in one of her more self-illuminating “badly-done” scenes… with heartfelt thanks to Tony for the tour to the heart of it all…

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A view of Box Hill, Surrey - George Lambert

A view of Box Hill, Surrey – George Lambert

Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma

On Monday 26th May this year, Deb Barnum [a.k.a. Jane Austen in Vermont] and I drove up to the top of Box Hill. The quickest route is to come off The London Road, known as the A24, which sweeps past the base of Box Hill, paralleling the River Mole, which itself, arcs around Box Hill to the south and west. The A24 leads south from Epsom towards Dorking. A mile before Dorking we turned left at Rykas Café, which is a popular venue for motorcyclists. We took a small B road, overhung with trees. An old rusty sign leaning out of the hedgerow on the left pointed its finger to the summit of Box Hill. We turned into a wooded and high hedged lane which began to immediately rise steeply, bending towards the right. We passed a weathered red brick cottage on the left, set within a ragged, vibrant country garden surrounded by high, smoothly manicured hedges bulging and swelling outwards in billowing shapes. The road soon opened out onto steeply rising chalk grassland. A precipitous drop on our right formed and a steep incline to our left reached upwards.

Box Hill summit 1Mist and cloud swirled around us as we mounted the hill along the switch back road. The corners made us turn almost back on ourselves but always took us to steeper and higher levels. The drop to the right revealed hedges of box and scrub, clinging tightly to the side of the hill, interspersed with finely cropped grasses. Chalky outcrops appeared to our left as we rose higher and higher amongst the mist and low clouds. As we neared the summit, trees and woodland gathered around us again. The squat whitewashed National Trust shop and café appeared in front of us and a car park was situated on the left amongst Scots Pines and firs.

We parked the car and I showed Deb the way to the viewpoint we had come to see. We were seven hundred and thirty-five feet above the River Mole and Dorking town was to our right. We could see far into the distance across the

Town of Dorking below

Town of Dorking below

woodlands and fields of Surrey. I suggested Deb take the part of Emma Woodhouse, who in Jane Austen’s novel of that name, visited this very spot with her friends and neighbours but she would have nothing of it. She would be Mrs Elton and nobody else. Deb stood and acclaimed the world standing high on the stone viewing plinth Leopold Salomons had erected in 1914, arms wide to the sky.

It was very near here that Emma Woodhouse and Mrs Elton and their party of friends alighted to picnic at the top of Box Hill in Jane Austen’s novel, Emma. The groups from Highbury and Hartfield, in the novel, have an inauspicious start to their trip, an inauspicious execution of it and an inauspicious end to it. It is a turning point in all their lives. The surface veneer begins to slip from various relationships. Reality begins to poke through Emmas carefully stage managed attempts of conducting other people’s lives. Nothing becomes certain. The Sucklings do not arrive at Hartfield and Mrs Elton’s plan of visiting Box Hill to show the Sucklings the views seems to lose its purpose but she has another thought and becomes adamant about the trip going ahead. The Sucklings can go another time. Mrs Elton’s idea about a trip to Box Hill has an effect on Emma. Emma does not want to be outdone. She has never visited Box Hill before and decides that,

emma-picnic1

“she wished to see what everybody found so well worth seeing…”

She discusses the trip with the amiable Mr Weston. He is perhaps too amenable and accommodating. In discussion with Mrs Elton he gets the approval of that lady that the two parties, hers and Emma’s join together for one combined trip to Box Hill. Emma is unhappy with the arrangement but as they will all go in different carriages with the people of their own choice perhaps it will not be so bad, she reasons. It would have been better if the horse that was to pull Emma’s carriage had stayed lame of course and so preventing Emma from going, but a quick recovery from this condition, inconveniently perhaps, gave no excuse for Emma not to proceed. A lame horse is a rather lame Jane Austen joke, I think, sprung in the midst of such serious matters. Tongue in cheek comes to mind – a joke at Emma’s expense between Austen and the reader.

Seven miles were travelled in expectation of enjoyment, and everybody had a burst of admiration on first arriving; but in the general amount of the day there was deficiency. There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of unison, which could not be got over. They separated too much into parties.

This is an interesting passage because Jane Austen seems uncertain. She lists a litany of possible causes for the lack of harmony. She can’t herself decide on one exact cause. This adds realism to the situation. We cannot explain everything in real life and neither can Austen in this scene in Emma.

Austen has Frank Churchill perpetrate, perhaps, a cruel joke, to divert attention from himself and Emma. He asks the ultimate psychoanalysts question, in Emma’s name of course. He whispers to her:

“Our companions are excessively stupid. What shall we do to rouse them? Any nonsense will serve. They shall talk….”

And then for all to hear,

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who, wherever she is, presides,) to say that she desires to know what you are all thinking of.”

Emma immediately tries to nervously laugh the question off. She is taken unawares by this and denies she has anything to do with any such request. There is a desperation in her voice. There is almost fear. She knows she could not, “stand the brunt,” of such raw honesty.

“Let me hear any thing rather than what you are all thinking of.”

There are one or two perhaps, (glancing at Mr Weston and Harriet,) whose thoughts I might not be afraid of knowing.”

Who can or would want to express their real thoughts at the drop of a hat? Is it possible for anybody to express their exact thoughts as they are thinking them? Our relationships would be very strange and probably be put under incredible stresses if we did. Emma is naïve to think even that the thoughts of Mr Weston and Harriet would bear hearing. Our subconscious level is below manners and the social veneer we all carry. It would be delving into our primal depths. This is the sort of thing that Sigmund Freud tried to study and explore. Frank Churchill is being cruel and he knows that nobody would answer this, certainly not himself. Imagine what sort of story would be written if everybody told their thoughts? It is almost the final nail in the coffin of harmony and wellbeing amongst the group on Box Hill.

On the top of Box Hill

Deb as Mrs Elton

Deb and I certainly didn’t even approach such a question. Deb, as I said before was just happy to be Mrs Elton and of course Mrs Elton and Mr Elton walked away on their own at Frank Churchill’s question. I wonder what Mrs Elton thought about it?   Maybe Deb knows. As for my first suggestion to Deb to play Emma on the top of Box Hill; Emma is obviously an anti-hero. Neither Deb nor anybody else I have spoken to, would willingly be an Emma.

Geology:

Standing high on Box Hill you notice the thinness of the grass under your feet. You see flints sticking out of the pathways and white chalk is revealed in patches everywhere. Box Hill is a geological phenomenon. The cretaceous chalk that comprises Box Hill, was laid down as the microscopic calcareous bodies of plankton on the floor of a tropical sea between 100 and 65 million years ago. Globally chalk is a rare rock formation so it makes the North Downs, of which Box Hill is part, a unique geological area. Originally it was laid as a horizontal chalk platform of uniform thickness. During the period the Alps were formed, about 50 million years ago, upheavals in the Earth’s crust forced this chalk layer into a vast dome. The northern most edge was where the North Downs are now. The dome stretched over to France. The British Isles were joined to the mainland of Europe then. Chalk, being a porous and relatively soft rock, it has been eroded and worn down by the actions of water. All that remains are the North Downs stretching from Guildford in Surrey, just south of London into the northern part Kent and The South Downs stretching from a line formed by the Itchen River between Southampton and Winchester in the west to The Cliffs of Dover on the coast of Kent in the East.

 Box Hill Bridge, Dorking – by Alfred Charles Jerome Collins
image: Dorking Museum

On the steep chalk slopes of Box Hill, the 394 feet escarpment and on the sides of the surrounding valleys, downland plants flourish. Because chalk is porous it hardly ever dries out, even in drought conditions which might affect the surrounding landscape. This means plants always have a ready water supply. It is said that plants on chalk downland have a brighter richer colour because of this. Plants such as hawk weed rock rose, bird’s foot trefoil, milkwort, squinancywort and dwarf thistle all thrive in this environment. Box woodland, which is extremely ancient, grows on the steep chalky, thin soiled slopes. It is one of the only trees that will grow in these conditions. The escarpments and valley sides face southwards which means it is often a hot exposed environment. Box Hill derives its name from the box that grows on it. Box has been around since probably the end of the Ice Age and perhaps before that. The characteristics of chalk downland are unique to Box Hill’s geology. There are dry valleys cut into the north side of the hill. This is where the River Mole, which runs under the escarpment of Box Hill has cut its course in the past and where drainage streams and rivulets flowed into it, but because the rocks are porous any streams and rivulets that remain are no longer on the surface but underground. Chalk is easily eroded so it gives a gentle undulating quality to the general landscape. On the steep slopes there are patches of bare chalk and these can gleam white in the sunshine.

Chalk from the North Downs has been quarried in the past. Surrey County Council had a quarry at Brockham nearby to Box Hill. It was used to quarry chalk that could be burned in kilns to produce lime and cement. These quarries, many of them now abandoned have been left to regenerate, plants and wild life and some are now places of special scientific interest. The quarries, because they have sides cut into the chalk, show the structure of the chalk particularly well.

Black Welsh Mountain Sheep - Box HIll

Black Welsh Mountain Sheep – Box Hill

image: National Trust – Box Hill

Chalk Down land is a special type of grassland habitat that is actually man made. Over centuries, sheep and cattle have been grazed on them. This has deforested the downland to a certain extent allowed unique wild flowers and animals, only found on downland, to flourish. To keep Box Hill’s downland quality a flock of sheep and a herd of cattle are grazed on it. The sheep on Box hill are Black Welsh Mountain sheep. There are twenty eight sheep, which are moved around the hill on a rotation.  Because sheep are ‘nibblers’ they leave the grass short and even. There are also cattle, which graze very differently. Cows use their tongues to rip plants up, which leads to more tufted grassland. The breed used on Box Hill are called Belted Galloway cattle. They can be recognised by their fluffy black bodies with a thick white belt around their middles. Four males graze Box Hill and nearby Headley Heath is grazed by three males and nine females. The animals are moved around Box Hill all the time.  If it ceased to be a grassland habitat, trees and woodland would take over and cover it. This would occur through a natural process called succession. This downland supports a great diversity of invertebrates including fourty one species of rare butterflies. The soil is good for snails too. Snails require the calcium in the chalk to form shells.

Box Hill FortHistory:

Box Hill has a varied history. The old fort, that can still be seen at the top of Box Hill, was built in the 1890’s and is one of thirteen that were built across the North Downs, collectively known as the London Defence System.. They were to be the last defence of London if Britain was ever invaded. In the late 1890’s there was a treaty with France called the entente cordial but Germany was beginning to increase its strength and many of the stresses and strains that eventually lead to the first world war were beginning to stir. Previously, in the 1860’s, during Palmerstone’s premiership, many forts had also been built around the coast of Britain to defend from a perceived threat from France then. The forts on Box Hill and across the North Downs were never used. I have visited and actually stayed in one of the forts, the fort on The Hogsback just outside of Guildford. It is owned by Surrey County Council and is used for parties of school children to stay at to enable them to explore and study wildlife and local history. The fort on The Hogs back contained officers quarters just outside the ramparts of the fort and a barracks for a small contingent of soldiers inside. The forts were basically armouries for storing shells, and explosives. They comprised of strongly reinforced chambers with specially constructed shelving. The one on The Hogsback had a large area of flat land in front of it on which  artillery could be positioned if required. These forts were situated high on the downs,as much as  seven hundred feet above the surrounding countryside. The one on the top of Box Hill is dilapidated now and barred from entry. A rare breed of bats has lodged itself inside the fort and cannot be disturbed. To continue the military theme, there are stepping stones that cross the River Mole at the base of Box Hill. During the second world war they were removed to impede invading forces crossing the river. In the area you can also see examples of pill boxes, which were concrete bunkers installed with heavy machine guns and concrete tank traps. Interestingly at the top of Guildford High Street, next to the railway line cutting, hidden amongst dense trees, nowadays you can see a whole swathe of Second World War tank traps covered in ivy and moss.

Burford Hotel

Burford Hotel

Literary Connections:

JohnKeats1819_hires

John Keats in 1819, by Joseph Severn – wikipedia

Box Hill has inspired a number of classic authors, not just Jane Austen as I mentioned at the start. John Keats, Daniel Defoe, George Meredith and Robert Louis Stevenson all visited Box Hill. J. M Barrie used to sit on one of the slopes of Box Hill getting inspiration for Peter Pan.

The Romantic Movement, led by William Wordsworth, popularised communing with nature and Box Hill became a popular place to visit. John Keats completed his poem Endymion (1816) while staying at the Burford Hotel next to Box Hill. Its famous opening lines have inspired generations,

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us….”

John Logie Baird, the inventor of television, lived in the Swiss Cottage at the top of Box Hill. In the 1930’s he conducted his early experiments in television from the top to the valley below.

John Logie Baird

John Logie Baird

The strangest individual connected with Box Hill is Major Peter Labelliere. He requested that he be buried upside down on the top of the hill. He believed that the world would go topsy-turvy and that one day he would be the right way up. His other dying wish was that youngest son and daughter of his land lady should dance on his coffin.

One thing you notice, as a driver, on Box Hill is when you descend, especially, winding along the switch back road on steep sided slopes and cliffs that the road surface has had strange, almost aboriginal markings painted on it. Here and there are the hoops of the Olympic movement. In 2012, The Olympics came to London. However, many events were not confined to the capital. The cycling road races were staged in the beautiful leafy, countryside of Surrey. Box Hill was the steepest part of the long distance cycling road race, hence the artistic markings that still adorn the road surface of the road..

On our way back to London, I drove Deb towards Kingston. We passed through an area called Malden Rushett, near the Chessington World of Adventures. There is a small industrial estate, farming land, a pub called The Blue Anchor and an extensive garden centre in Malden Rushett nowadays. The long straight road that passes through this area from Dorking to Kingston was a coaching road in the 18th century. Nothing apart from fields with cattle and maybe wheat growing would have existed there then. If you look on a map you can measure from Malden Rushett cross roads, seven miles to Box Hill, sixteen miles to London, twelve miles to Richmond and nine miles to Kingston – the exact distances from Highbury and Hartfield that Jane Austen reveals in Emma.   I mentioned this to Deb as we drove along. I think she was impressed.

the view we saw in the mist

the view we saw in the mist

top of Box Hill in the mist

top of Box Hill in the mist

The Esteemed Author

The Esteemed Author

All images c2014 Tony Grant unless otherwise noted.

c2014 Jane Austen in Vermont

A Visit to the Sotherton Estate in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park ~ Guest Post by Tony Grant

Dear Gentle Readers: Continuing in my efforts to celebrate all things Mansfield Park through 2014, I welcome today Tony Grant, of London Calling fame, who writes on the visit to Sotherton, that all-important metaphor-filled dramatic scene in the novel where character is revealed, plot points are suggested, sides are taken, and where Fanny, in her usual state of aloneness, observes it all – Tony’s emphasis is on the concept of “improving” the estate.

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A Visit to Sotherton Court

harlestone-jasaHarlestone House, Northamptonshire, which has some of the elements of Sotherton. From Jane Austen Town and Country Style by Susan Watkins (Thames & Hudson, 1990) [from JASA website]

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Eighteenth-century gardens were not merely intended to be pretty places for listening to birdsong and observing plants and trees. Of course you could do that if you wanted to but they were much more than that. The new landscaped gardens of the 18th century “improved” nature, reflected European landscape art of the time and were spiritual and emotional places. Jane Austen, by introducing the idea that her characters in Mansfield Park should visit Sotherton and provide suggestions for the “improvement” of the landscape, was creating a situation where individuals would be able to express their “taste,” and so reveal their inner characters. This scene in Mansfield Park is full of metaphors, which indeed an 18th century landscaped garden itself would embody. At Sotherton there is the ancient Tudor mansion, dark and sombre from the past; the ancient oak avenue, about which Fanny feels so concerned, and the wilderness.

Tom Bertram, who Miss Crawford found entertaining company, decides to take off for the races at B…… Nobody expects him to return for weeks so Maria Crawford prepares herself for a less lively time at the dining table at Mansfield Park. However, no sooner had Tom Bertram left the scene but Mr Rushworth, Maria Bertram’s betrothed, appears, just returned from his own travels to visit his friend, Smith, who has had his property Compton improved by an “improver.” Mr Rushworth’s head is full of thoughts for now improving his own estate at Sotherton. This was no light matter in the 18th century. The process involved the revealing of a person’s “taste.” The concept of acquiring taste in the 18th century was a serious matter. Young men from wealthy and aristocratic families travelled Europe on what was termed the Grand Tour to finish their education and to acquire “taste” by visiting the art galleries of Europe and visiting the houses and homes of the European aristocracy to observe all the new concepts in architecture and landscape design. The wealthy employed architects and landscape gardeners to turn their estates into examples of “taste” for them.

In the mid-18th century the social commentator George Coleman decried the great fashion of his time:

“Taste is at present the darling idol of the polite world…The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with Taste; the architects, whether Gothic or Chinese, build with Taste; the painters paint with Taste; critics read with Taste; and in short, fiddlers, players, singers, dancers, and mechanics themselves, are all the sons and daughters of Taste. Yet in this amazing super-abundancy of Taste, few can say what it really is, or what the word itself signifies.”

In Mansfield Park, it seems everybody is asked their opinion. Mr Rushworth is the only one who apparently doesn’t have a clue.

“I must try to do something with it,” said Mr Rushworth, “but I do not know what. I hope I shall have some good friend to help me.”

This is a terrible admission in the 18th – early 19th century from one who is the owner of an estate, who is wealthy, and who has apparently had all the advantages.

Miss Bertram answers him with restrained disdain,

“Your best friend upon such an occasion, said Miss Bertram, calmly, “would be Mr Repton, I imagine.”

Mrs Norris provides her view,

“Such a place as Sotherton Court deserves every thing that taste and money can do….planting and improving.”

Lady Bertram puts her view, “…..a very pretty shrubbery.”

And even, shy, mouse-like Fanny Price confidently disagrees with Mr Rushworth when he suggests that an ancient oak avenue should be cut down…

“Cut down an avenue! What a pity. Does not it make you think of Cowper? ‘Ye fallen avenues once more I mourn your fate unmerited.’”

All that poor Mr Rushworth can say meekly is, “I think I shall have Repton.”

It seems as though Mr Rushworth cannot win and the whole discussion shows him to have inferior or no taste at all. A terrible handicap.

Stoneleigh Abbey

Stoneleigh Abbey

Stoneleigh Abbey, perhaps a source for Sotherton Court, especially the Chapel scene – image from a guide book to Stoneleigh Abbey in Henley, Staffordshire, printed by Wood, Mitchell and Co Ltd. ( Windows on Warwickshire website)

When everybody is at Sotherton the unsuitableness of the house and its estate is apparent:

Henry Crawford was looking grave and shaking his head at the windows. Every room on the west front looked across a lawn to the beginning of the avenue immediately beyond tall iron palisades and gates.”

There is a lengthy discussion about how they are to tour the estate. Carriages are suggested and who is going to go with whom and which horses should be used is detailed, and Mrs Norris fusses at her fussiest best:

“Mrs Norris was beginning to arrange by what junction of carriages and horses most could be done, when the young people, meeting with an outward door, temptingly open on a flight of steps which led immediately to turf and shrubs and all the sweets of pleasure grounds, as by one impulse, one wish for air and liberty, all walked out.”

And they all emerged into the wilderness. It is strange, but from this point onwards all thought of “improvements” seems to dissipate. Well, apart from one lame joke:

“Mr Crawford was the first to move forward (Where did they think they were? An alien planet?) to examine the capabilities of that end of the house.”

This is so corny. Jane must have had a chuckle to herself over that pun.

Mr Rushworth at the gate - CE Brock (Mollands)

Mr Rushworth at the gate – CE Brock (Mollands)

For most of the time in the wilderness Fanny is abandoned. She interacts, first with Edmund and Maria Crawford, when they are “clumped” together like a copse of trees; but Edmund and Miss Crawford wander off leaving her alone. Mr Crawford, Miss Bertram and Mr Rushworth then meet her, but Mr Rushworth returns to the house to get the key to let them out of the locked gate that leads from wilderness to the park beyond. Mr Crawford and Miss Bertram, impatient, wander off too and find their own way into the park and aim for a grassy knoll where they can get a better overview of the “situation.” Fanny sits worrying about everybody. There seems to be a loss of etiquette and social standards. There is a sense of the loosening of society’s usual rules. The very name “wilderness” suggests biblical references and a wild place of danger. There are unlocked doors, locked gates, iron fences, hidden barriers in the form of a ha-ha, and an open world beyond the park – a myriad of things that can be seen as psychological and social barriers as well as physical barriers.

“In the late 18th century the term ‘wilderness garden’ meant something different from what we might think of it these days in the modern world of horticulture. Inspired by the Grand Tour and the new literary form of nature poetry by Romantic poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, these fashionable wilderness gardens satisfied the demand for the world beyond the gate. They were tamed, but not entirely.They were a place where well-heeled ladies and gentlemen could experience a frisson from a brush with nature without ever having to stray too far from the relative safety of the English countryside. And they were a direct contrast to the formality of gardens nearer the great house where everything was managed and controlled.” [“Witley Court’s Wilderness” at English Heritage.org]

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There is a wonderful example of a “wilderness” in the grounds of Hampton Court. It is not a very large area, perhaps no larger than a cricket field, and from it you can see the Lion Gate, the palace through the trees and doorways through the surrounding brick wall into the more formal gardens. It is an area comprising a web of pathways dissecting a meadow which in the spring is carpeted with bluebells and daffodils. These untamed lawns are set beneath a woodland of apparently randomly growing trees. The area is shaded and has a feel of freedom, an untamed essence.

Hampton Court (Wikipedia)

Hampton Court (Wikipedia)

 

The guide book to Hampton Court says,

“The term ‘wilderness’ refers to a place to wander, rather than an uncultivated area of garden. William III would have walked through the wilderness at Hampton Court Palace with his devoted wife Mary II. It would have comprised 18ft high hornbeam hedges, with interstices planted with elm. The Wilderness was the English version of a French ‘bosquet’. The high hedges, secluded benches and winding paths made it a place where members of the Royal Court could go for privacy and where gentlemen in particular could entertain ladies in private.” 

Mr Rushworth seems to be “rushing,” to get his estate “improved,” an eagerness reflected in his wishing to marry Maria Bertram. His mother appears just as eager for him in all these aspects too. Jane Austen has chosen her character’s name carefully to fit his character. The quickest way he can think of doing it is by hiring Humphrey Repton to do all the work. This suggests that he will not and perhaps cannot contribute to the process. He wants a garden “off the peg” so to speak. Is this also a metaphor for the state of his relationship with Maria Bertram? Is she too an “off the peg” marriage? Is she too just for show? So Repton was to design his garden and Mr Crawford was to provide the requirements his future wife might want, or am I being too cruel?   If this is the case he will feel no emotional attachment to his prospective wife and nor feel ownership of his garden. He wants others to be impressed by what he has, that is all. He can throw money at these projects but no ideas.

Edmund on the other hand suggests,

“…but had I a place to new fashion, I should not put myself into the hands of an improver. I would rather have an inferior degree of beauty, of my own choice, and acquired progressively. I would rather abide by my own blunders than by his.” 

A much more independent view – Edmund would rather satisfy himself than others and not worry about their opinions. We can think of his future relationship with Fanny Price in these terms too.

Avenue of oak trees, cTony Grant

Avenue of oak trees, cTony Grant

Fanny Price, shocked at the thought of the avenue of oaks being cut down, makes a powerful request to see them, which is a surprising demand from her. We are not used to her making demands. Perhaps this visit to Sotherton marks the rise of Fanny Price and is a pointer to the future. Oak trees are ancient trees and avenues are straight and regimented. To walk down a long avenue of trees, especially in the Spring and Summer when the foliage is at its height, provides an experience of shade and light, the rustling of leaves and the sound of birdsong but you are lead into the distance along a straight path. They are a combination of natural beauty and grace but they also provide an undeviating path. Perhaps a metaphor for Fanny Price herself, unwavering in her innocence, honesty and intelligence grounded in a strong moral foundation but also a breath of natural air. It would be a shame to cut down an avenue of oaks. They take hundreds of years to grow. They span many generations. They are an historical record and link together generations. Fanny’s sense of their worth is in contrast to Mary Crawford, whose following statement is true on one level but does not take into account that the best of the past should not only be kept but built upon:

“Every generation has its improvements.”

Part of the lake at Painshill Park, cTony Grant

Part of the lake at Painshill Park, cTony Grant

The estates of the aristocracy and the wealthy in the 18th century were places designed to provide emotional experiences. The Honourable Charles Hamilton, the 9th son of the Earl of Aberavon was born in 1704. Being the 9th son he could not hope to inherit his father’s estates but through the provision of a good education, an intelligent mind, the completion of two Grand Tours, energetic ambitions and the acquisition of some well-paid government posts, he bought land at Painshill near Cobham in Surrey. His life’s work began creating a park inspired by the European artists, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa. He succeeded magnificently and his park at Painshill has been, in recent years, renovated and is open to the public today. He created a landscape of far vistas, an undulating landscape, a strategically positioned serpentine lake, bridges, mounds, trees and woods. He created different areas that contrived different moods formed by ruined abbeys, tall turrets, Turkish tents, Gothic temples and crystal lined grottos. From the influence of Pousin’s paintings we might conjecture about the sort of parties he held inside the crystalline grottos.

[Images: Wikipedia]

West Wycombe Park, developed by Sir Francis Dashwood 2nd baronet between1740 and 1800, leaves us in no doubt about its purpose and uses. He famously began the Hell Fire Club in the caves of West Wyckham. He too had his temples and Palladian and Neoclassical follies based on the Italian Villas he had encountered on his Grand Tour. He spent limitless amounts of money on his park and employed three architects and two landscape gardeners. He actually employed Humphrey Repton at one stage. His park included temples to Apollo, Diana and Venus. The activities that went on in these places have been recorded and were debauched to say the least.

Humphry Repton (Wikipedia)

Humphry Repton (Wikipedia)

Who was Humphry Repton the gentleman who Mr Rushworth was intent on employing to “improve” the park at Sotherton? He was a gardening author and landscape designer. He began his career as a landscape gardener late in life at the age of 36 in 1788. He followed in the footsteps of Capability Brown who had died in 1783. Hence the pun that Jane makes in chapter 9,

“Mr Crawford was the first to move forward, to examine the capabilities of that end of the house.”

His basic theory, which he repeated on many estates, was to create a terrace near the house, and produce a serpentine park between clumps of woodland and lakes creating different views. He was accused of “advising the same thing at different places.” However, most of his work was done during the time of the Napoleonic Wars when money was not so readily at hand for the great landowners. In contrast to Capability Brown, whose landscape gardening was more creative. Repton’s designs were not as ambitious. Browns approach, continued by Repton, was to offer a variety of services. He could provide a survey and a plan for the property owner to develop themselves, or he could provide the planning service and a foreman to oversee the work, or he could oversee the work himself. He built on this process by also writing and producing what were called “The Red Books.” These were bound volumes with recommendations and included, what perhaps was most useful for the client to envisage what his estate might look like, before and after sketches. Repton was a contemporary of Jane Austen and the current popular landscape designer of the time she was writing Mansfield Park. In her choice of referring to Repton, she was right up with the latest fashions and “taste.”

Repton's Before and After sketches (Wikipedia)

Repton’s Before and After sketches (Wikipedia)

 

Capability Brown (Wikipedia)

Capability Brown (Wikipedia)

Returning to Capability Brown, what is interesting is that towards the end of his career he was employed at Hampton Court as the King’s gardener. He lived in a house in the palace grounds called Wilderness House which is still there today, right next to, the Wilderness.

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And finally, as we join the Sotherton Party heading home, we discover what we really knew all along, that Mrs Norris partakes of the selfish practice of “spunging”-

“What else have you been spunging?” said Maria, half–pleased that Sotherton should be so complimented.

“Spunging, my dear! It is nothing but four of those beautiful pheasants’ eggs, which Mrs. Whitaker would quite force upon me: she would not take a denial.”

I was so delighted to hear her described that way returning after their day at Sotherton by one of the Miss Bertram’s. It might appear as spoken in a fit of pique but oh how true it is. Austen provides one or two other jokes during the visit to Sotherton, but it is this one that satisfies me the most; it describes Mrs Norris exactly.

Nicolas Poussin – Bacchanal before a herm (1632-33) – National Gallery London (Wikipedia)

 c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Tony Grant, images as noted.

Touring with Jane Austen ~ Marble Hill House, Twickenham, and Richmond

Enquiring Minds: Tony Grant of London Calling, and a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World, had written a post for me on Marble Hill House in Twickenham – but alas! I have been so delayed in getting this on the blog that we agreed he should post it himself and I will link to it… so herewith the tale of Marble Hill House, home to Henrietta Howard, mistress of George II. This all started with a conversation over Joshua Reynolds’s house, which led to Richmond Hill, and then on to Henrietta Howard and Marble Hill House, and then Pope and Swift, Horace Walpole, John Gay and the Scriblerus Club, a bit on Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott and on to Dickens and Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and of course Jane Austen gets her required mention – you get the idea – this is cram-packed with literary tourism and as always, Tony’s fine photographs…

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The Thames from Richmond Hill

The Thames from Richmond Hill

The River Thames wends its tortuous way across England from Thames Head in Gloucestershire until it reaches the southernmost part of the North Sea. Its journey stretches for 215 miles. Finally the wide Thames Estuary which pours its contents into The North Sea is bordered on the north bank by the Essex coast and Southend on Sea and at its southern bank by the Kent coast, Sheerness and the entrance to the Medway.

Along its course The Thames passes though some beautiful English countryside before it enters the Greater London area passing by Sunbury and on to Hampton, then Hampton Court, Kingston upon Thames, Twickenham and Richmond. At last it reaches the centre of London with its iconic landmarks. The Thames, from London along its whole length, has a long history of Iron Age villages, Roman habitation, Saxon towns, and mediaeval settlements, Tudor Palaces and Georgian and Victorian Villas.  London itself began as a Roman settlement for trade, built at the nearest bridging point to the coast   where they had their port called Ritupiae (Richborough). They wanted to penetrate the hinterland north of the Thames. Indeed the names Thames which was Celtic in origin but had its Roman equivalent (Tamesas recorded in Latin as Tamesis)  and London (Londinium) come to us from Roman times.

Over the centuries the Thames outside of London has provided a beautiful Arcadian retreat for the wealthy, the famous, the aristocracy and the monarchy away from the stench and diseases prevalent in many periods of London’s history. They built palaces and grand houses and villas with adjoining estates and landscaped parks to relax and take their leisure in. Marble Hill House is a Palladian Villa built between 1724 and 1729, very close to Richmond upon Thames but on the northern bank of the Thames near Twickenham. It was built for George II’s mistress, Henrietta Howard….

Henrietta Howard

Henrietta Howard

 Continue reading…

Thank you Tony for this sun-drenched tour through London!

For more on Marble Hill House, etc,  you can look here:

Marble Hill House

Marble Hill House

…and not to be confused with our very own MARBLE HOUSE, the William Vanderbilt’s summer “cottage” in Newport, Rhode Island:

Marble House, Newport, RI

Marble House, Newport, RI

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen at the Seaside ~Tenby, Wales ~ Guest post by Tony Grant

Tenby map wp

Inquiring Readers: I welcome today Tony Grant with a guest post on Tenby, Wales, a place that in all probability Jane Austen had visited. Tony, who writes often for Vic’s Jane Austen’s World blog , as well as his own blog London Calling, and I had been cyber-discussing Jane Austen’s knowledge of the seaside – I sent him the link to the Brian Southam essay  “Jane Austen Beside the Seaside” (see below) – he was immediately prompted to write more about Tenby, a place he is very familiar with because it is his wife’s birthplace.  Just reading this piece and seeing Tony’s pictures makes me want to go back to Wales and continue to explore more of this incomparable coastline! … The question today however is, did Jane Austen actually visit Tenby?  If she did it seems to have taken place in those no-letters gap years of 1801-04, so we cannot know for sure…. Read here what Tony has to say about it all…

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