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Archive for August, 2009

I love the character of Mrs Jennings in Sense and Sensibility. She can be relied upon to make the most unsuitable remarks and have our heroines Marianne and Elinor simultaneously fuming with indignation and blushing with embarrassment as the old lady teases them mercilessly. Mrs Jennings is a busybody with a good heart, anxious now that her own children are married to see everyone else united in the same state. Jane Austen introduces this wonderful character with a description.

Mrs. Jennings was a widow, with an ample jointure. She had only two daughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, and she had now therefore nothing to do but marry all the rest of the world. In the promotion of this object, she was zealously active, as far as her ability reached, and missed no opportunity of projecting weddings among all the young people of her acquaintance. She was remarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed the advantage of raising the blushes and the vanity of many a young lady by insinuations of her power over such a young man; and this kind of discernment enabled her soon after her arrival at Barton decisively to pronounce that Colonel Brandon was very much in love with Marianne Dashwood. She rather suspected it to be so, on the very first evening of their being together, from his listening so attentively while she sang to them; and when the visit was returned by the Middletons dining at the cottage, the fact was ascertained by his listening to her again. It must be so. She was perfectly convinced of it. It would be an excellent match, for he was rich and she was handsome. Mrs. Jennings had been anxious to see Colonel Brandon well married, ever since her connection with Sir John first brought him to her knowledge; and she was always anxious to get a good husband for every pretty girl.

The immediate advantage to herself was by no means inconsiderable, for it supplied her with endless jokes against them both. At the Park she laughed at the colonel, and in the cottage at Marianne. To the former her raillery was probably, as far as it regarded only himself, perfectly indifferent; but to the latter it was at first incomprehensible; and when its object was understood, she hardly knew whether most to laugh at its absurdity, or censure its impertinence, for she considered it as an unfeeling reflection on the colonel’s advanced years, and on his forlorn condition as an old bachelor.

I couldn’t wait to introduce Mrs Jennings into Willoughby’s Return. It’s such good fun to write a character who is always making completely inappropriate comments and leaves everyone blushing with her outspoken remarks – almost at every opportunity. This extract is from Willoughby’s Return.

Mrs Jennings’s voice droned on in the background and Marianne hardly attended to a word she said. Her thoughts turned to Delaford. She wondered what William was doing. James would, no doubt, be tucked up in bed now; his dark curls tumbling over the pillow, his cherubic face flushed with sleep. It was hateful not to have said goodnight to him and she was missing him terribly. William would be in his study, reading his favourite poems, perhaps. She was quite lost in thought.
“…And Mrs Whitaker said that she is very dangerously ill, with only her faithful servants to nurse her,” Mrs Jennings continued. “Poor lady, no children of her own and no sign of the one who is to inherit. He who shall be nameless! You know to whom I refer, Mrs Dashwood.”
Marianne’s ears pricked up at the last declaration and guessed that the lady she spoke of was none other than Mrs Smith of Allenham Court, Mr Willoughby’s benefactor. Now Mrs Jennings was running through the list of Mrs Smith’s ailments and announcing, as if she were the apothecary herself, that it was certain she would be dead before the week was out. Allenham would be empty, a very sad business, or so she had thought at first. “Then I bumped into Mrs Carey, whose cousin had been shopping in Exeter this afternoon. Mary Carey had seen them with her own eyes!”
“I wish you would explain with a little more comprehension, mother. Whom did Mary Carey see in Exeter this afternoon?” begged Lady Middleton, who despite affecting disinterest was clearly anxious to hear a full report.
“Mr and Mrs John Willoughby, of course!”
Mrs Dashwood coloured on hearing this information and cast a glance at her daughter. Marianne was clearly mortified and her mother grieved for her. How could Mrs Jennings be so insensitive?
“Did you not happen to see them yourselves?” the old lady enquired, directing her attention at Marianne, whose blushes were now visible to even the most unobservant of the party. Mrs Jennings looked searchingly into Marianne’s countenance, which betrayed every emotion she was feeling, though her voice spoke her hot denial. Margaret was scrutinised next but the latter was unable to speak at all, so afraid was she of betraying the truth of the matter and upsetting her sister further.
“Well, what I want to know is why they are not up at the Court attending their cousin, said I, to Mrs Carey,” Mrs Jennings blundered on, “though I intimated that he had always been somewhat of a character not to be trusted and a very cold fish to boot. And this is not all, Lord bless me. Mrs Carey said that her cousin had been in the linen draper’s just half an hour later when she not only heard the reason why the Willoughbys are refusing to be put up at Allenham, but also received the most shocking news of all!”

Willoughby’s Return is now available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released by Sourcebooks on November 1 2009. I am so excited!

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Because Regency dresses were on the whole elongated and close fitting, the reticule, ridicule or pocket came into its own.

From the Times 1799: Every fashionable fair carries her purse in her work-bag… the new custom of carrying a bag with her handkerchief, smelling-bottle, purse etc..
Jane Austen used pockets and ridicules for secret correspondences, often used to give the observer a shock or embroil the perpetrator in a veil of mystery. Here are some examples from Emma, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.

Emma: She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton’s thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax’s confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of her face; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing to attend to the good old lady’s replies, she saw her with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side…

Northanger Abbey: Catherine had not read three lines before her sudden change of countenance, and short exclamations of sorrowing wonder, declared her to be receiving unpleasant news; and Henry, earnestly watching her through the whole letter, saw plainly that it ended no better than it began. He was prevented, however, from even looking his surprise by his father’s entrance. They went to breakfast directly; but Catherine could hardly eat anything. Tears filled her eyes, and even ran down her cheeks as she sat. The letter was one moment in her hand, then in her lap, and then in her pocket; and she looked as if she knew not what she did.

Sense and Sensibility: “I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what was the matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to stay more than a fortnight with us, and seeing me so much affected. – Poor fellow! – I am afraid it is just the same with him now; for he writes in wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I left Exeter;” taking a letter from her pocket and carelessly shewing the direction to Elinor. “You know his hand, I dare say, a charming one it is; but that is not written so well as usual. – He was tired, I dare say, for he had just filled the sheet to me as full as possible.”

Elinor saw that it was his hand, and she could doubt no longer. The picture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have been accidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward’s gift; but a correspondence between them by letter, could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else; for a few moments, she was almost overcome – her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.

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Because Regency dresses were on the whole elongated and close fitting, the reticule, ridicule or pocket came into its own.

From the Times 1799: Every fashionable fair carries her purse in her work-bag… the new custom of carrying a bag with her handkerchief, smelling-bottle, purse etc..
Jane Austen used pockets and ridicules for secret correspondences, often used to give the observer a shock or embroil the perpetrator in a veil of mystery. Here are some examples from Emma, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.

Emma: She soon believed herself to penetrate Mrs. Elton’s thoughts, and understand why she was, like herself, in happy spirits; it was being in Miss Fairfax’s confidence, and fancying herself acquainted with what was still a secret to other people. Emma saw symptoms of it immediately in the expression of her face; and while paying her own compliments to Mrs. Bates, and appearing to attend to the good old lady’s replies, she saw her with a sort of anxious parade of mystery fold up a letter which she had apparently been reading aloud to Miss Fairfax, and return it into the purple and gold ridicule by her side…

Northanger Abbey: Catherine had not read three lines before her sudden change of countenance, and short exclamations of sorrowing wonder, declared her to be receiving unpleasant news; and Henry, earnestly watching her through the whole letter, saw plainly that it ended no better than it began. He was prevented, however, from even looking his surprise by his father’s entrance. They went to breakfast directly; but Catherine could hardly eat anything. Tears filled her eyes, and even ran down her cheeks as she sat. The letter was one moment in her hand, then in her lap, and then in her pocket; and she looked as if she knew not what she did.

Sense and Sensibility: “I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what was the matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to stay more than a fortnight with us, and seeing me so much affected. – Poor fellow! – I am afraid it is just the same with him now; for he writes in wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I left Exeter;” taking a letter from her pocket and carelessly shewing the direction to Elinor. “You know his hand, I dare say, a charming one it is; but that is not written so well as usual. – He was tired, I dare say, for he had just filled the sheet to me as full as possible.”

Elinor saw that it was his hand, and she could doubt no longer. The picture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have been accidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward’s gift; but a correspondence between them by letter, could subsist only under a positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else; for a few moments, she was almost overcome – her heart sunk within her, and she could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary, and she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.

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Here I am standing in front of the spot where the former Assembly Rooms at Lyme stood. Very sadly, they were demolished in 1927 to make way for the car park – a move I am not sure I shall ever forgive the council of the time for making. Fortunately, we have a lovely description left by the writer Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and her friends. This delightful book can be perused online and has wonderful illustrations by Constance’s sister Ellen.

Constance is writing about Lyme around 1900, the book was first published in 1901 after the sisters made a tour of all the places of interest connected with Jane Austen:

At the town end of this “Walk” some thatched cottages nestle under the sheltering hill, and just beyond them stand the Assembly Rooms perched upon the eastern promontory of the bay. The scene in its principal features is the same as in Miss Austen’s day; a sea wall being the only marked addition. A stretch of firm sands, lying between the points of the bay, forms a primitive highway for the heavily-laden waggons bearing freight from the harbour to the town. The sight of the horses up to their flanks in a flowing tide is what Miss Austen must often have looked upon.

The Assembly Rooms used formerly to be thrown open to company during the season twice a week, namely on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “The ball last night was pleasant,” Jane writes on September 14, “but not full for Thursday. My father stayed contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn; though I believe the lanthorn was not lit as the moon was up; but sometimes the lanthorn may be a great convenience to him.”

In former times there were no lamps on the “Walk,” so that as Mr. Austen would have to traverse the whole length of it in returning home “a lanthorn or dark nights” would certainly “be a great convenience.”

The ball-room is little changed since Miss Austen danced in it that September evening nearly a hundred years ago. It has lost its three glass chandeliers which used to hang from the arched ceiling, but these may still be seen in a private house in the neighbourhood. The orchestra consisted, we are told, of three violins and a violoncello. We visited the room by day-light, and felt almost as if it were afloat, for nothing but blue sea and sky was to be seen from its many windows. From the wide recessed window at the end, however, we got a glimpse of the sands and of the harbour and Cobb beyond.

Just outside this recessed window there is a steep flight of stone steps which leads from the Parade down to the beach. In former times this flight was much longer than it is now, part of it having been removed to make room for a cart track. On these steps the author of “Persuasion” effected the first meeting of Anne Elliot and her cousin, when his gaze of admiration attracted the attention of Captain Wentworth. Anne and her friends were all returning to their inn for breakfast, as the reader will remember, after taking a stroll on the beach.

The illustrations show a painting of the Assembly Rooms which can be seen in the museum at Lyme and one of my own which I did for a map in Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen and Lyme Regis.

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Here I am standing in front of the spot where the former Assembly Rooms at Lyme stood. Very sadly, they were demolished in 1927 to make way for the car park – a move I am not sure I shall ever forgive the council of the time for making. Fortunately, we have a lovely description left by the writer Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and her friends. This delightful book can be perused online and has wonderful illustrations by Constance’s sister Ellen.

Constance is writing about Lyme around 1900, the book was first published in 1901 after the sisters made a tour of all the places of interest connected with Jane Austen:

At the town end of this “Walk” some thatched cottages nestle under the sheltering hill, and just beyond them stand the Assembly Rooms perched upon the eastern promontory of the bay. The scene in its principal features is the same as in Miss Austen’s day; a sea wall being the only marked addition. A stretch of firm sands, lying between the points of the bay, forms a primitive highway for the heavily-laden waggons bearing freight from the harbour to the town. The sight of the horses up to their flanks in a flowing tide is what Miss Austen must often have looked upon.

The Assembly Rooms used formerly to be thrown open to company during the season twice a week, namely on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “The ball last night was pleasant,” Jane writes on September 14, “but not full for Thursday. My father stayed contentedly till half-past nine (we went a little after eight), and then walked home with James and a lanthorn; though I believe the lanthorn was not lit as the moon was up; but sometimes the lanthorn may be a great convenience to him.”

In former times there were no lamps on the “Walk,” so that as Mr. Austen would have to traverse the whole length of it in returning home “a lanthorn or dark nights” would certainly “be a great convenience.”

The ball-room is little changed since Miss Austen danced in it that September evening nearly a hundred years ago. It has lost its three glass chandeliers which used to hang from the arched ceiling, but these may still be seen in a private house in the neighbourhood. The orchestra consisted, we are told, of three violins and a violoncello. We visited the room by day-light, and felt almost as if it were afloat, for nothing but blue sea and sky was to be seen from its many windows. From the wide recessed window at the end, however, we got a glimpse of the sands and of the harbour and Cobb beyond.

Just outside this recessed window there is a steep flight of stone steps which leads from the Parade down to the beach. In former times this flight was much longer than it is now, part of it having been removed to make room for a cart track. On these steps the author of “Persuasion” effected the first meeting of Anne Elliot and her cousin, when his gaze of admiration attracted the attention of Captain Wentworth. Anne and her friends were all returning to their inn for breakfast, as the reader will remember, after taking a stroll on the beach.

The illustrations show a painting of the Assembly Rooms which can be seen in the museum at Lyme and one of my own which I did for a map in Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen and Lyme Regis.

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If we are lucky, August is a time for holidays! In Regency times Brighton was a very popular and fashionable destination. Lydia is thrilled when she is invited by her friend Harriet to accompany the regiment to the seaside. Romances ‘abroad’ were just as likely then as they are now – Lydia falls hook, line and sinker for that most unsuitable of officers, the charming Mr Wickham who leads her completely astray…

In this extract from Lydia Bennet’s Story, we learn what happens when she decides to take the plunge and run away with the man of her dreams!

She ran to her room, retrieved her bundle, and was about to go when she was taken by the idea that she could not disappear without leaving Harriet with a hint of where she had gone. She sat down at the desk in front of the window to compose her letter. As she reached for her pen and dipped the quill in the black ink, she was overwhelmed by a desire for mirth. She tried to steady her nerves, breathing the salt tang coming in off the sea, but her laughter rose inside her to erupt into the silence of the room. The muslin at the bow window, caught by a sudden gust, snapped and flapped back, rattling the curtain rings, shaking the blinds. Lydia paused to look out through the glass at the grey clouds massing over the sea and heard the sound made by the waves as they crashed and churned, water sucking up the stones and dashing them down again on the beach below. A summer storm was brewing, but it did nothing to dampen her excitement. She could hardly believe that the time to depart had arrived.
She started to write:

Dear Harriet,
You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed…

She hesitated as a resounding clap like a cracking whip tore across the heavens, lighting up the sky in sulphurous tones before a roll of thunder crashed overhead. At once the rain began, blowing large, fat droplets across her missive, smudging and dissolving the ink, extinguishing the candle she had lit to provide more light against the dim evening. She stood up and lowered the window, taking in the scene below as figures dashed for cover from the tumultuous downpour. Carriages were arriving, bringing their pretty passengers to dance at the Assembly Rooms below. A girl, shivering in sheer muslin, alighted from a phaeton with her beau and was buffeted along by the wind, which whipped at her legs and threatened to snatch her bonnet. Some high-spirited young men leered enthusiastically at a trio of females who left them in no doubt of their mutual interest as they passed by. Coachmen turned up their collars, pulling down their hats and fastening close their carriage hoods against the unseasonable squall. Satin slippers were soaked through in seconds and shawls clutched tightly in an effort to stay dry as another coach-load of ladies ran from the streaming gutters, shrieking and hopping through the puddles.
“Lord, what fun! What delights have been mine whilst here,” mused Lydia. “I will never forget my time in this pleasure haven. I could never have imagined, when I begged mama to let me go dancing with my sisters all those months ago, that my life would change so much, that I would not only be in love but with the dearest and most handsome man in the whole world.” She felt another wave of sheer joy, mixed with the hope that her dreams were at last to be realised, and she laughed again to relieve the feelings bubbling inside.
But there was no time to stand and ponder, especially when her eye caught sight of a certain young Captain she wished to avoid running out across the road. She quickly drew back behind the curtain, returning to the desk to resume her letter.

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with whom I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray, make my excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement and dancing with him tonight. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when he knows all, and tell him when we next meet at a ball I will dance with him with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I get to Longbourn, but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up. Goodbye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will drink to our good journey.
Your affectionate friend,
Lydia Bennet

“La, what a good joke,” she said to herself laughing and putting down her pen with a flourish. “She will be vastly surprised when she reads with whom I have run away!”
Lydia slid the missive to Harriet under her door, in the hope she should find it by the end of the evening, before running down the back stairs as fast as her legs would take her. Her flight was nimble, marred only by twisting her ankle on the last step, but as she limped through the back door, her heart leapt with joy to see that Wickham and the carriage were waiting.
So it was that Miss Lydia Bennet and Mr George Wickham did leave all their friends in the middle of a dance and run away together.

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If we are lucky, August is a time for holidays! In Regency times Brighton was a very popular and fashionable destination. Lydia is thrilled when she is invited by her friend Harriet to accompany the regiment to the seaside. Romances ‘abroad’ were just as likely then as they are now – Lydia falls hook, line and sinker for that most unsuitable of officers, the charming Mr Wickham who leads her completely astray…

In this extract from Lydia Bennet’s Story, we learn what happens when she decides to take the plunge and run away with the man of her dreams!

She ran to her room, retrieved her bundle, and was about to go when she was taken by the idea that she could not disappear without leaving Harriet with a hint of where she had gone. She sat down at the desk in front of the window to compose her letter. As she reached for her pen and dipped the quill in the black ink, she was overwhelmed by a desire for mirth. She tried to steady her nerves, breathing the salt tang coming in off the sea, but her laughter rose inside her to erupt into the silence of the room. The muslin at the bow window, caught by a sudden gust, snapped and flapped back, rattling the curtain rings, shaking the blinds. Lydia paused to look out through the glass at the grey clouds massing over the sea and heard the sound made by the waves as they crashed and churned, water sucking up the stones and dashing them down again on the beach below. A summer storm was brewing, but it did nothing to dampen her excitement. She could hardly believe that the time to depart had arrived.
She started to write:

Dear Harriet,
You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed…

She hesitated as a resounding clap like a cracking whip tore across the heavens, lighting up the sky in sulphurous tones before a roll of thunder crashed overhead. At once the rain began, blowing large, fat droplets across her missive, smudging and dissolving the ink, extinguishing the candle she had lit to provide more light against the dim evening. She stood up and lowered the window, taking in the scene below as figures dashed for cover from the tumultuous downpour. Carriages were arriving, bringing their pretty passengers to dance at the Assembly Rooms below. A girl, shivering in sheer muslin, alighted from a phaeton with her beau and was buffeted along by the wind, which whipped at her legs and threatened to snatch her bonnet. Some high-spirited young men leered enthusiastically at a trio of females who left them in no doubt of their mutual interest as they passed by. Coachmen turned up their collars, pulling down their hats and fastening close their carriage hoods against the unseasonable squall. Satin slippers were soaked through in seconds and shawls clutched tightly in an effort to stay dry as another coach-load of ladies ran from the streaming gutters, shrieking and hopping through the puddles.
“Lord, what fun! What delights have been mine whilst here,” mused Lydia. “I will never forget my time in this pleasure haven. I could never have imagined, when I begged mama to let me go dancing with my sisters all those months ago, that my life would change so much, that I would not only be in love but with the dearest and most handsome man in the whole world.” She felt another wave of sheer joy, mixed with the hope that her dreams were at last to be realised, and she laughed again to relieve the feelings bubbling inside.
But there was no time to stand and ponder, especially when her eye caught sight of a certain young Captain she wished to avoid running out across the road. She quickly drew back behind the curtain, returning to the desk to resume her letter.

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with whom I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without him so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray, make my excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement and dancing with him tonight. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when he knows all, and tell him when we next meet at a ball I will dance with him with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I get to Longbourn, but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up. Goodbye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will drink to our good journey.
Your affectionate friend,
Lydia Bennet

“La, what a good joke,” she said to herself laughing and putting down her pen with a flourish. “She will be vastly surprised when she reads with whom I have run away!”
Lydia slid the missive to Harriet under her door, in the hope she should find it by the end of the evening, before running down the back stairs as fast as her legs would take her. Her flight was nimble, marred only by twisting her ankle on the last step, but as she limped through the back door, her heart leapt with joy to see that Wickham and the carriage were waiting.
So it was that Miss Lydia Bennet and Mr George Wickham did leave all their friends in the middle of a dance and run away together.

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