Archive for the ‘Charles Austen’ Category

I’ve got a bit of a thing about Elizabethan stone-built manor houses, especially those with mullioned windows and so when I decided to invent my own for inclusion in Searching for Captain Wentworth – Monkford Hall in Somerset – you can imagine that I had a lot of fun doing the research.

The photo above shows Owlpen Manor – a stunningly beautiful house in the Cotswolds which is the epitome of the type of house I love. You can visit virtually here, read all about its history and even stay in cottages on the estate.

I wanted to include a knot garden or parterre in my novel where I could place a sundial that held a special motto for my heroine, Sophia, to find. They were usually laid out in formal designs with aromatic herbs and plants like marigolds, pansies, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm etc. A later addition enclosed the planting with low box hedges.

My heroine Sophie goes back in time to visit the house her ancestors lived in before they travel on to Lyme. It’s called Monkford Hall – some of you might realise the connection between Monkford and Jane Austen’s book, Persuasion, as the village where Captain Wentworth’s brother had his curacy. Sophie has returned as her ancestor Sophia in the year 1802 and in this scene is with her sister Marianne. From Searching for Captain Wentworth:

We entered a small courtyard styled in the old Tudor fashion of parterres with squares of columbines dotted in between low box hedging, their lavender heads nodding in the breeze. I was drawn to the Elizabethan sundial on a plinth in the middle. Carved in a stone spiral with many embellishments around the circular face was the motto: Time is but a shadow; Too slow, too swift, But for those who love, Time does not exist.
I shivered. My mother would have said someone had just walked on my grave and the doves up in the church beyond the house flew from the bell tower, their wings flapping against the still air. The words on the sundial resonated with me, but I couldn’t think where I had read them before. They seemed so fitting. I couldn’t think of a more apt description to the way I was feeling.
Whenever Charles and I were together time did not exist. Time made up its own rules and like shadows we were at its mercy, floating between the layers like sunlight passing through lace to leave its patterns fleetingly marked in shade.
‘What are you thinking about, Sophia? You have a most faraway expression. But I think I know and I’ve guessed why you seem so different since you arrived. You are in love!’
The challenge in her voice brought me up fast. Was that what I was feeling? Was I truly in love with Charles Austen?
‘You’re blushing, so it’s true!’ cried Marianne, pulling me down to sit beside her on a stone seat. ‘Tell me about him, Sophia.
Is he rich like Mr Glanville? What do Papa and Mrs Randall think of him?’
‘I am not in love,’ I began and hesitated, as I didn’t wish to confide in anyone about the complicated feelings I had for Charles. I was doing my best to deny them knowing that his love could never be mine.
‘But, I am sure you’ve met someone,’ Marianne insisted. ‘I can see that you have and I shall feel most put out if you do not tell me all about him.’
‘I did meet a very interesting family when we were in Bath, a set of the most delightful people. I fell in love with them all … they have such a funny way of saying things that show them to be sincere and openhearted, quite unlike other people who present a smile, but then have no real interest in you at all. The Austens are a creative, artistic family. Cassandra is an accomplished artist and Jane is a talented writer. I also met their parents, a brother James and his family, all literary and interested in books. There is a sailor brother, too.’
‘And I believe that this brother is the very one who has stolen your heart.’
‘Lieutenant Austen is very gentleman-like, but my heart is intact, I do assure you.’
‘But you do like him?’
‘Yes, I like him, as a girl might like a brotherly figure. In any case, he has yet to make his way in the world and has no time to fall in love.’

Sundial in a formal garden

There is something so very beautiful and romantic about the soft greenery of the planting seen against the stone. Gardens like these are the stuff of dreams (and novels)!

This is the kind of bedroom I imagined Sophie would have slept in at Monkford Manor with draped curtains at her bed and a cosy bedcover – perhaps a quilt stitched from pieces of ancient fabric.
From Searching for Captain Wentworth:

White-washed walls and a fire burning in the grate set off a vast four-poster bed, hung with crewel work drapes, along with a huge press and a beautiful cedar chest on a carved stand in the corner. There was also a bookcase, which on closer inspection contained a wonderful selection of “horrid” novels such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey might enjoy, and a dressing table set before the window with a toilet mirror, a set of silver brushes and two glass bottles holding scent.
It was the personal objects that held the most fascination for me. A doll, dressed in worn Indian muslin with jet-black hair pushed under a satin bonnet, sat on the window ledge next to a wooden cup and ball game, along with another object that I knew so well. I ran to the rosewood box and traced my fingers over the familiar scrolls and inlays, the sight of which filled me with a strong sense of nostalgia.
‘What is it, Sophia?’ asked Marianne. ‘Have you secrets in there?’
‘Of course not, I’m just so pleased to see all my things. I really miss my home when we are away and the sight of such a familiar object is a joy to behold!’

‘I do understand, whenever I’m feeling upset at school, I wrap myself up in Mama’s shawl and imagine she’s putting her arms around me like she used to when I was a little girl.’
Her face crumpled as if she might cry and I suddenly felt very sorry for her. ‘Do you remember much about Mama?’
‘Not as much as I’d like. I remember her voice and I recall the feeling that whenever she occupied a room, it always seemed that the sun was shining and the house was full of laughter.’
I remembered my own mother. It felt as if a light had gone out when she was no longer there and I thought how hard it must have been for the young Marianne to have her mama taken away at a tender age. It was no wonder she was always fancying herself ill. She probably just needed a little more love and attention. I would try to be extra patient and spend some time with her.
‘What shall we do in Lyme?’I asked. ‘Do you prefer walking, or collecting shells and fossils?’
‘I do not like walking, it is so fatiguing and I am not interested in collecting anything.’
‘Then, how about some sea-bathing? We will hold hands and go in together!’
‘Cold water is perfectly horrid and sea water so salty, that after our visit to Weymouth last year I declared I should never dip my toes in the water again!’
‘Well then, we’ll just sit on the sands in the sunshine and enjoy doing nothing. I shall read to you if you like.’
‘Oh, Sophia, I would like that. Please can you read to me now, just a little of “The Mysteries of Udolpho” before I have to go to bed? We’d just got to the black veil before you had to go away! You’re the only person after Mama, who can read so well.’
Half an hour later, by which time she seemed in a better humour and tired enough not to protest too loudly about going to bed, I took the candle and escorted Marianne along the dark corridor to her room, tucking her into bed and wishing her goodnight. I made my way back along the creaking floorboards, grateful that I had such a short distance to walk in the dark by the light of one small flame. My chamber felt very homely and quite my own. I can only describe the feeling like a memory, something so deep within my soul that had been awakened by unknown senses. I knew I had been there before, that I had lived and loved in this house. Opening the cedar chest initiated an onslaught of impressions and emotions, most of which were so fleeting that the memories are as hard to write down as a dream on waking. I pulled out the gowns one at a time discovering new muslins, brocade skirts from the past, ribbons and tassels, scented leather gloves, and sheer gauze fichus. Selecting some of the finer muslins for our seaside trip, I threw them over a chair in readiness to take on the journey the next day and turned my attention to the rosewood box.
Some other favourite houses include:
Well, the list goes on and on… Do you have a dream house? I’d love to hear about it!


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My latest book, Searching for Captain Wentworth is published on September 7th – though it is possible to order it now through Amazon and the usual channels. I wanted to write something a little different from my usual Jane Austen sequel and have always wanted to try my hand at a contemporary romance. I decided to combine the two in a time travel book, another favourite genre, and I enjoyed writing it enormously!
 At the beginning of the book, my heroine Sophie has a broken heart and is feeling very fed up with the world. At the invitation of an aunt, she takes herself off to Bath for a holiday and finds herself living next door to the house Jane Austen lived in 200 years ago. It’s not long before strange things start happening and when Sophie finds an ancient glove dropped by her mysterious neighbour, Josh, she is whisked back into the past where she meets Jane Austen and her brother Charles, a handsome lieutenant on the frigate, Endymion. Sophie is soon enjoying the delights of balls and parties with her friends, living the life of her ancestor and namesake, Sophia Elliot. Whilst her friendships with the Austens could not be better or more exciting, Sophie has to contend with her family who are a nightmare! Her father is a snob and her sisters are far from the affectionate siblings she always dreamed of having.

Bath Street, Bath

 In the present, Sophie’s friendship with Josh gets off to a shaky start. She cannot help being attracted to a man who loves Jane Austen’s Persuasion as much as she does – though she’s determined not to fall for any man again. Besides, it seems Josh is already taken … Torn between her life in the modern world and that of the past, Sophie’s story travels two hundred years and back again as she tries to find her own Captain Wentworth. And as she comes to believe that may depend upon risking everything but also changing the course of history, she learns that she isn’t the only one caught in a heartbreaking dilemma. Her friend, Jane Austen has her own quest for happiness, her own secrets and heartache. I’ve blended fact and fiction together, drawing on Jane Austen’s life, novels and letters in an attempt to create a believable world of new possibilities behind the inspiration for Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Persuasion.

Sydney Gardens is opposite Jane Austen’s house in Bath. It features in several pivotal scenes in my book. The gardens have changed since Jane Austen’s day – known as pleasure gardens then, they featured such delights as bowling greens, a Labyrinth or maze, “small, delightful groves”, waterfalls, pavilions and Merlin’s Swing, which stood at the heart of the Labyrinth – a revolving swing wheel from where the ‘lost’ could be watched in the maze below. There were alcoves to enjoy tea, castle ruins, a millhouse and wheel, a hermit’s cot and a Grotto with an underground passage leading to the centre of the Labyrinth. The New Bath Guide in 1801 describes some of the walks – “serpentine walks, which at every turn meet with sweet shady bowers furnished with handsome seats, some canopied by Nature, others by Art.” A Ride provided “a healthy and fashionable airing for Gentlemen and Ladies on horseback free from the inconvenience of dirt in winter and dust in summer and not in commoded by carriages of any kind.”

Sydney Gardens

The wonderful description of a pleasure garden below was written by Tobias Smollett in his book, The Adventures of Humphry Clinker.

Imagine to yourself, my dear Letty, a spacious garden laid out in delightful walks, bounded with high hedges and trees, and paved with gravel; part exhibiting a wonderful assemblage of the most picturesque and striking objects, pavilions, lodges, goves, grottoes, lawns, temples and cascades; porticoes, colonnades, and rotundoes; adorned with pillars, statues, and paintings; the whole illuminated with an infinite number of lamps, disposed in different figures of sun, stars, and constellations: the place crowded with the gayest company, ranging through blissful shades, or supping in different lodges on cold collations, enlivened with mirth, freedom and good humour, and animated with an excellent band of music.

 Pleasure gardens developed naturally from the custom of promenading, and in Bath the concept was taken a step further with Sydney Gardens when the traditional promenading area was combined with a scheme of houses so that the owners could look upon green spaces as if they owned the land. Thomas Baldwin, the architect to the Pulteney family who owned the estate drew up the first plans, but only one of his terrace’s was completed before financial problems hit in 1793. Great Pulteney Street was completed, as were the houses in Sydney Place where Jane Austen came to live in 1801. Bath stopped at this point, the countryside stretched beyond, and a ten minute walk took you into town, much as it does today. You can see why the Austens would have chosen this end of the city. They were country people at heart, and Jane wrote of walking in the gardens and visiting the Labyrinth, every day.
Constance Hill wrote about the interior of number 4, Sydney Place a hundred years after Jane had left.
We sat in the pretty drawing-room with its three tall windows overlooking the Gardens. The morning sun was streaming in at these windows and falling upon the quaint empire furniture which pleasantly suggests the Austen’s sojourn there. The house is roomy and commodious. Beneath the drawing-room, which is on the first floor, are the dining-room and arched hall from which a passage leads to a garden at the back of the house. The large old-fashioned kitchen, with its shining copper pans and its dresser laden with fine old china, looked as if it had remained untouched since the Austens’ day.

A silver token was issued to each shareholder as a free pass into the pleasure garden – the coin featured what we know as the Holburne Museum today. Back then the museum was a hotel and tavern at various different stages, and sitting (as it still does) at the end of Great Pulteney Street made a fabulous focal point at the end of this classically inspired vista. The museum has recently undergone extensive re-modelling, and the new exhibitions inside are wonderful. There is a lovely cafe at the back where you can enjoy some refreshment, inside and out, and you can get a sense of what it must have been like to attend ‘public breakfasts’ in Jane Austen’s day.

Sydney Gardens opened in May 1795 with the Tavern building known as Sydney House nearest to the city, containing dining rooms and meeting rooms. There were two wings on both sides of dining cubicles, a movable orchestra, and a space for fireworks. There was a main, wide walk, and narrower pathways leading off into shrubberies and winding walks. 
The gala Jane Austen attended on 4th June 1799 was spoilt by rain, so she went to the repeat performance two weeks later. She enjoyed the fireworks and illuminations, but not the music which she avoided by not arriving until nine o’clock!

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