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I’m thrilled to announce the publication of my new novel, Jane Austen Lives Again. I’ve had a lot of fun writing this one, which is again inspired by my love of Jane Austen and her writing. Inspired by Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice, I’ve transported Jane to a different time – 1925 – and with flashbacks to her past, a new story unfolds when Miss Austen is forced to become a governess to five girls who live in a crumbling mansion by the sea.

When Jane Austen’s doctor discovers the secret to immortal life in 1817, she thinks her wishes have come true. But when she wakes up from the dead, a penniless Miss Austen finds herself in 1925, having to become a governess to five girls of an eccentric and bohemian family at the crumbling Manberley Castle by the sea. Jane soon finds she’s caught up in the dramas of every family member, but she loves nothing more than a challenge, and resolves on putting them in order. If only she can stop herself from falling in love, she can change the lives of them all!

Here’s the Prologue and Chapter One – I hope you’ll enjoy it!

Prologue

When once we are buried you think we are dead

But behold me Immortal.

Jane Austen

Miss Austen’s eyes flickered open. She was aware of soft pillows under her head, the fragrance of fresh linen tucked about her, the sputter of a crackling fire and the ticking of a clock. It was a moment before her eyes could focus and other senses quickened into life. The iron taste of blood in her mouth and a bitter tang of something she could not recognise made her long for water. All these sensations, scents and sounds were unfamiliar. Where was she?

‘She’s awake, Doctor Lyford!’

Jane turned her head to see a young man rushing to her side. He had a look of Doctor Lyford but this was not the physician she knew. This man was younger, slimmer and had a shock of thick, dark hair, which lay in damp, greasy curls on his forehead. He wore only a shirt tucked into outlandishly long breeches and with his sleeves rolled up like a working man, Jane was not altogether sure what she thought about him. He looked wild, his eyes flashing with a topaz light in their depths.

‘Miss Austen, can you hear me?’ The agitation in his voice was plain to hear.

‘I am not deaf you know, there is no need to raise your voice.’ Jane struggled to sit up.

‘You must not move. Here, drink this.’ The doctor placed a teapot with a long spout to her lips.

For a second Jane felt frightened and although dying to quench her thirst she felt so ill at ease in these strange surroundings. The taste in her mouth was disgusting. Was he poisoning her?

Aware that her lips, which were compressed firmly together, were not about to part, Doctor Lyford tried again. ‘Please drink, Miss Austen, it will do you good.’

Looking up at the young man, Jane’s expression softened. There was real anxiety in his eyes and she saw something else. In those brown eyes flecked with sage green and amber, she saw that he cared deeply. Jane did as she was told whilst taking the opportunity to look around her at the room that seemed filled with a plethora of furniture and furnishings. The walls were profuse with intricate patterns on a dark russet ground – roses spilled from elongated vases that dripped with swags of pearls. Carpets on the wooden floors swirled with sensuous curves of acanthus and exotic flora whilst floating in this sea of overblown elegance were tables, sofas and chairs be-decked with frills and furbelows. It was a strange land and Jane had never seen anything like it.

Chapter One

salcombe1925I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something – offices for the sale, not quite of human flesh, but of human intellect.

Jane smiled wryly at the recollection of penning those words. Published in 1815, her darling Emma (of whom she wrote that no one would like but herself) had been written in another time, another place. A hundred and ten years later, and having sold herself into the governess-trade, the irony was not lost on her.

Looking out of the window, she gripped the arm of her chair with both hands as if doing so would help slow down all sensations. The metal monster roared ahead belching thick clouds of hot, black smoke. Like a dragon consumed with fire, she thought, as its sleek body snaked through the countryside at an alarming speed.

She knew her companion, Dr Lyford was studying her face, and determined to look unconcerned by the sight of trees, fields and houses flying past her window, she released the grip on the arms of the chair, folded them in her lap and assumed an expression of nonchalance.

‘I know this is all terrifyingly new to you,’ he said, ‘but there is no quicker way to travel than by train.’

Having always found great amusement in watching people, she observed him searching for the right words, as he paused, and then saw him smile nervously instead. Jane knew she was expected to answer, to assure him that she was fine, but she was in a mischievous mood. Ever playful, she wanted to see what would happen if she remained silent, she wanted to imagine how the scene would play out. The pleasure of waiting for him to continue was coupled with the knowledge that she’d already guessed exactly what he would say.

‘It was the best I could do in the circumstances, and it will, at least, resolve the problems of employment on the one hand, and time for your writing on the other. Your sister left no other instructions … the money she’d put aside was never going to be enough, even taking into account the royalties and the interest you’d earned.’

‘Dr Lyford, I do not blame you, nor do I blame myself, or Cassandra. My sister knew my wishes plainly enough and carried them out to the best of her ability. I can never express my gratitude enough to you for the services you have rendered me. It was no small feat to make me healthy once more or bring me back from the dead, and I will ever be grateful.’

‘But, it can never have been your plan to become a governess to five girls on a country estate. Nor to have found yourself in a time that is completely unknown to you. A hundred years is a long time, Miss Austen, and a lot has changed. I fear that a month’s recovery and a few hastily read newspaper articles may not be enough to prepare you fully for life, let alone for the new role you will assume.’

‘Dr Lyford, if I can survive embalming, the subsequent resurrection and the effects of transdifferentiation, I will live to tell the tale, if you will forgive a little punning. I am quite the Turritopsis dohrnii, and if not for your great work on that immortal jellyfish, I would not be here today.’

In many ways, it had been a relief to discover that some things were not changed. She was not essentially altered. Her mind, her habits, and her delight in the absurdities of life, were exactly the same. In the four short weeks she’d been returned to life, this realisation was a source of comfort.

‘I wish there had been a greater opportunity to make some more notes, Miss Austen, a further study of the effects of the process. This is pioneering work, and I must be sure that there are no ill effects of which we may not yet be aware.’

‘I understand your concerns, doctor, but I am perfectly happy with myself and feel twenty years younger! What forty-one year old female would not be delighted to have the hand of time turned backward? You see, I am vain enough to tell you that I am enjoying the fact that I look quite twenty-one again.’

‘Every cell in your body is that of a young woman half your real age. And that is what I am concerned about and longing to research further. What will happen as you age? How lasting are the effects? There could be complications.’

‘Doctor Lyford, do not concern yourself. I’ve never felt better. I feel as if I am about to start a new adventure, even if the thought of five little girls is a disquieting one. More than anything, I will have the time to write all the novels I thought were to be denied to me, and I will endure anything to that end.’

The doctor knew it was useless to argue. He’d only known Miss Jane Austen a short time but that he had quickly learned. It simply was not possible to get the better of her.

‘But you must promise me that you will write or telephone if there is anything at all that does not seem right.’

Jane nodded in agreement knowing she had no intention of taking up any more of the young doctor’s time if she could help it and she certainly had no plans for ever picking up a telephone. Perhaps she would get used to it in time, but the infernal instrument seemed such an intrusion on one’s privacy, though she admitted that she and her sister Cassandra might have preferred conversing through such machinery, compared to the interminable letter writing on the occasions when they’d been separated. That was one thing she could not get used to, and thought she never would. Cassy had always been such a huge part of her life, and the idea that she would never see or hear her again was too much to bear. She caught her own reflection in the glass and started. Sometimes it felt almost as if Cassy were there, a part of her. Occasionally she caught a look of hers in her own image, in the expression of her eyes or in the turn of her head. But Cassy was gone. That was how she’d wanted it. Her practical, pragmatic sister had lived her life to a grand age and was happy at the last to leave in the usual way. Jane was slowly coming to terms with the fact, but life without her beloved Cassy would never be the same.

When Doctor John Lyford had initially hinted that he was experimenting with some success on his work in transdifferentiation at the beginning of her last awful bout of illness, she had not dreamed that it would take several generations to perfect the process. And once she’d first discussed the unthinkable with Cassy, the idea that she might one day cheat death to write again, she’d not considered the possibility of how she would feel at leaving so many beloved people behind. After the sisters removed to Winchester for her final illness, she had every hope that Dr Lyford might cure her, or at the very least keep her alive for a few more years.

Knotting her scarf around her neck and smoothing her skirt in a bid to distract her mind, she wondered when she would get used to her new clothes. Jane was shocked when she saw that young women in 1925 were not only exposing their ankles but their knees as well, and though her dress and simple belted coat were mid-calf, just as short as she found comfortable, after a few days she’d begun to appreciate the freedom that the clothes gave her. Of course, becoming a governess precluded any attempt at being fashionable for which she was thankful. Others might sport the new bobbed hairstyles, but Jane was glad she could still wear her chestnut curls in a simple bun pinned into place on top of her head and hidden under a wide-brimmed hat trimmed with a feather.

southdevonrailwayHer borrowed valise was stowed in the luggage rack containing all her worldly goods: a copy of Sir Charles Grandison – her favourite book, two extra day frocks plus one for evenings, a bottle of Luce’s eau de cologne, and a present from the doctor’s sister of a box of scented talcum powder, as well as a fountain pen, ink and notebook from the doctor himself. This last present was a most treasured gift, and Jane wondered if she’d ever get used to the miracle of having ink flowing endlessly from a nib that didn’t blot.

‘Are you absolutely certain you are ready to take on such a challenge?’ said Dr Lyford, watching her closely. In the short time he’d known her he’d decided she was a hard nut to crack, but every now and then he’d glimpsed a certain vulnerability, the merest hint of fragility to the woman behind the mask of strength and assurance she wore.

‘Quite sure.’ Jane continued to stare out at the fields flying by. ‘To do anything else would be unthinkable. I have been given the greatest gift, and to squander it would be sinful. Besides, I am looking forward to seeing Devon again and I love the sea. I am used to small children, Dr Lyford, having supervised my own nephews and nieces on many occasions. Dear little Neddy, precocious Anna, and darling Fanny were the delight of my days, to name just three of them. They used to love my fairy stories … strange to think that they are all dead.’

Dr Lyford wondered what she might think if she knew that some of her brothers’ descendants had taken it upon themselves to write her biography and publish her personal letters. Fanny, whom Jane had once described as quite after one’s own heart, had taken to criticising her aunt in later life saying she was very much below par as to good society and its ways”, and that Fanny’s father’s influence and superior connections had rescued Aunt Jane from “commonness and a lack of refinement”. Dr Lyford had shied away from telling her very much about her large family of descendants. He’d concentrated instead on telling her that her work was loved, and how her books were still being published, bringing comforts of home to the troops in the war still so fresh in all their minds. Though pleased to be so well regarded, one hundred years after publication, she remarked on the fact that she’d missed out on a fortune, which would have been more than useful in her present predicament.

‘Your memories are very clear, Miss Austen.’

‘Yes, I remember everything. Being twenty-one again, Dr Lyford, and seeing my face in the glass as that young girl brings back many bittersweet recollections. I recall the sense of heartbreak and loss when we left Steventon for Bath as if it just happened. And then later on, the memories of finding our beloved home at Chawton, revising my books and sending them out into the world, quite as my own darling children, are still fresh in my mind. I could not forget such dancing spirits when my dearest of them all appeared in print. I am gratified to know Elizabeth is still a heroine my readers admire.’

For a few minutes she was quiet as the train sheared through the scenery like scissors through fine muslin. She didn’t want to think about the past, she must look to the present and the future if she were to survive. Looking out through the window she noted the sky clouding up above. The landscape was changed beyond recognition in the towns, she thought, and tried to imagine the lives of those weary looking individuals waiting at grim stations who were so tightly housed together in back-to-back houses, blackened by soot and smoke. The countryside offered a glimpse of a landscape she recognised, and though the people she saw were dressed in the fashions of the day, Jane was sure they were still the same in essentials. Human nature didn’t alter, even if their clothes, their hairstyles and their use of slang changed. People still loved and hated, won and lost, struggled, succeeded or sank.

The train came to a halt in a village station, and she saw three children. Dressed in country clothes, white pinafores on the little girls with large black bonnets on their heads, long shorts and a tweed cap on the little boy, she watched them swinging on a gate, back and forth, until the guard shooed them away with a wave of his flag. It was like watching herself with Cassandra and one of her brothers. Henry was the most likely to have been found swinging on a gate with her, she decided. He was always her favourite brother, always eager for fun and games. The children disappeared, running off before the train lurched once more enveloping the platform and the bright pots of marigolds, lovingly displayed, in plumes of white smoke.

‘Manberley Castle sounds like a title for one of my books,’ Jane said at last, pushing all memories of the past from her mind. ‘The Miltons of Manberley has a lovely ring to it, perfect for a novel.’

Dr Lyford smiled. ‘I believe it dates back to the twelfth century, though I’m assured there are more modern additions. The last building took place in about 1815 so you should feel quite at home.’

‘And how did the Miltons come by their money?’

‘Well, they’re sugar millionaires, so I’m guessing their family history and wealth was built on the misery of others.’

‘Ill-gotten gains, how perfectly dreadful, and at the expense of so much human suffering, though in my day those who profited from the trade of their fellow men had no qualms in doing so. It is a fine thing to learn that such abhorrent practices are completely stopped. I hope the Milton forbears had a conscience, and helped to put right the wrongs of previous generations.’

‘I couldn’t say, Miss Austen. I am certain Sir Albert Milton is like most men of his class since the war; still trying to hang on to the life he’s always known and enjoyed, that of squire and landowner. But times are changing, and their way of life, though seemingly luxurious to many, is not quite as lavish or extravagant as it was once upon a time. I believe Sir Albert is still very much the gentleman of leisure, though his heir seems to have a lot more about him. He runs the estate, providing much employment for local farmers and workers. By all accounts William Milton is very much a modern man, not afraid to get his hands dirty.’

‘Quite right, too. I’m not certain I could be in the employ of a feckless family content only to laze away their days. You mentioned there is a lady of the house … is she an idle creature or am I to expect hidden depths? Is Lady Milton a useful sort of person or one inclined to lie out on a sofa?’

‘With five girls I expect she has her hands full, but I’m afraid I don’t know anything much about her ladyship or her children.’

‘Though you say she is a second wife, and I suppose William must be the son of his first.’

‘William is in his late twenties, I believe, and though I’m not certain, I think the succession of younger girls are the offspring of the latest Lady Milton.’

‘But you do have a list of their names? I must try and familiarise myself with them.’

Dr Lyford took out his wallet from his jacket pocket, pulling a piece of paper from inside. ‘Yes, here we are. I’ve written them out and made some brief notes. I was able to talk to the housekeeper on the telephone. Her name is Mrs Naseby; rather an abrupt and evasive woman, but seemed able to distil the essential personalities of the children in one or two words. I thought it might help … give you an idea before you meet them.’

Jane grasped the paper and read. ‘Alice … kind and considerate, Mae … needs a tight rein, Beth … headstrong, Emily … has rather too much her own way, and Cora … reads excessively. Goodness, if I’d read this before, I’m not sure I would have agreed to your plans, though Alice sounds promising and Cora is clearly a little girl I could get along with.’

‘Which is precisely why I haven’t shown you this previously. I did wonder if it was a good idea, but I do think Mrs Naseby has probably not painted the Milton girls in the best light.’

‘I should say not. Heavens, whatever shall I do?’

‘Think of this job as a temporary measure. I couldn’t find you any other employment with your limited experience, and at least if you can stick to it, you’ll gain some valuable skills along with a reference at the end of a year or two.’

‘A whole year … or two.’ Jane found it hard to keep the dismay from her voice. She couldn’t help thinking about her dear friend Anne Sharp who’d been a governess to her niece Fanny. Sweet Anne who’d always been a constant source of pleasure, a clever, witty woman, cheerful and capable, the most uncomplaining person she’d ever known, and always determined to get the best out of life. If Anne had managed it, then so could she.

the-red-parasolThe train was pulling into the station. Dark, sullen clouds up above were brimming with raindrops like the tears she felt welling inside, and before she’d gathered her belongings, the heavens opened. Water fell in torrents, pattering on the roof of the Victorian waiting room, gurgling down the drainpipes and running in streams along the platform, dribbling down the name painted on the station sign. Jane rubbed at the misty glass with a gloved hand, and peered out anxiously. Stoke Pomeroy looked grey and unwelcoming, cold and dark, despite the fact that it was the beginning of June.

‘This is where we part company, Miss Austen,’ said Dr Lyford. ‘Now, you have my address and telephone number in Dawlish if you need me. I shall be there for six weeks before heading back to London.’ He looked at his companion of whom he’d grown very fond in the last few weeks. ‘Do call or write if you need anything.’

Jane took a deep breath. ‘I shall be perfectly fine, Dr Lyford, do not worry.’

‘Sir Albert said there’d be someone to meet you.’ The doctor opened the door, stepped onto the platform briefly and called the porter to take her suitcase.

‘Thank you, Dr Lyford, thank you for everything.’ Jane knew the words were vacuous, but it was impossible to express just how she felt. If only she’d written him a letter, she thought, the written word always came so much more easily. She watched him step back inside the train, shutting the door with a finality that left her shuddering with fear at the thought of being alone. Jane told herself to stop being so silly and extended her hand through the window, shaking his vigorously.

The guard appeared, doors slammed, a flag waved and the great beast ignited once more shunting off in loud roars leaving a trail of dragon’s breath behind it. Jane watched her doctor being taken away, and suddenly felt rather alone. No one else had got on or off the train apart from herself and she wasn’t quite sure what to do, as she waited. Struggling with her umbrella to prevent getting any wetter, she got it up at last and walked up and down the platform. There didn’t seem to be anyone waiting for her and then she wondered if perhaps there’d be a pony and trap with a trusted servant waiting outside beyond the gate. Handing her ticket to the man at the exit she stepped out of the safety of the station to discover there was nobody waiting for her there either, but there was a bench under a shelter so she took a seat and watched the rain gurgling in the gutters and bouncing off the road like large pennies.

Nothing could have surprised her more than the sight of a sleek black motor drawing up a few minutes later, and a liveried chauffeur stepping out to address her. Dressed in navy with a smart peaked hat and leather gauntlets, he took her case and opened the rear door with a flourish. ‘Miss Austen, please take a seat.’

Jane had never been in a car before, though she’d taken a trip into Winchester with Dr Lyford’s housekeeper on the omnibus. She was relieved to be sitting in the back of the vehicle and glad to see a glass partition dividing her from the driver in front. Forced conversation with a stranger was never a very useful activity to her mind, and she didn’t want to chat to the chauffeur. He didn’t look like the talking sort, and for that matter, wasn’t quite what she’d expected at all. He had a very cock-sure way about him, and an arrogant air, which made her feel most unsure of herself. Jane needn’t have worried; he didn’t speak though once or twice she caught him watching her through the rear view mirror which was unnerving, to say the least. She noted his dark hair underneath the cap, and the way he drove with his head on one side, his elbow resting on the window and one hand casually holding the wheel. He was speeding down the narrow lanes, which made Jane shut her eyes and hold onto the strap as she swayed from side to side. It wouldn’t do to be ill, she thought, as she opened one eye to see the world flashing past in a blur of green hedges and cow parsley.

They were ascending out of the valley when she saw her first glimpse of the sea, a slice of lavender ribbon under an oppressive sky, and as they wreathed along the cliff top road she saw the greater expanse below, white horses crashing down on the beach, and a strip of sand stretching along an endless coastline.

The car finally slowed and she saw the chauffeur’s hand reaching for the partition to slide it open.

‘I’m sorry if my driving is a little fast,’ he said.

Jane met his gaze in the mirror. He was staring intently again and she didn’t know where to look. It made her feel very uncomfortable and she had the feeling he was enjoying her discomfort.

‘I must admit I prefer a slower pace,’ she answered, ‘I am not used to being driven about.’

‘I’ll try my best to drive as you wish,’ he said, his eyes still on her face. Jane wished he’d watch the road, and although there hadn’t been another vehicle anywhere since they’d left the station, she was sure they’d meet with an accident sooner or later if he persisted on staring into her eyes.

There was silence for a while for which she was glad, and then the car turned off the road into a drive between tall rusted gates with ornate gateposts topped by crumbling stone urns. A gatehouse looked neglected, ivy climbed over the windows, which were fogged with green moss and mould. There was no keeper to welcome them or wave them through; there’d clearly been no occupants for a while.

‘Have you been a governess long?’ he said at last.

‘Not very long, no.’

Jane thought his questioning impertinent and pursing her mouth stared determinedly through the window at the overgrown tangle of laurels and rhododendrons on every side, bursting into flower and dripping in the rain. Her first impressions of the place were not exactly reassuring, but she hoped things might improve as they reached the house.

‘The Miltons are an undemanding bunch,’ the driver went on, ‘though what some folk might call slightly odd or eccentric, I suppose.’

Jane regarded the back of the young man’s head steadily. ‘I prefer to make up my own mind about people, I thank you, but in any case, I do not think this is a subject for conversation. I dislike gossip and I would appreciate you refraining from further discussion on my new employers.’

‘Just as you please, Miss Austen.’

houseHe appeared to find her amusing, she noted, as he made no attempt to disguise the laughter in his voice. He kept his eyes on the road after that and as they drove up the long drive the house made an appearance at last in open ground, a gloomy Palladian façade that time seemed to have forgotten with rows of windows on either side of a central pediment. Crouched on a cliff top, the house would enjoy astonishing sea views, Jane thought, and with the stunning scenery of hanging woods on the other side where the village of Stoke Pomeroy could be seen happily nestled in the valley, she decided she’d never seen such a splendid situation. A tower, the only remains of the oldest part of the ‘castle’ formed an extension on the west side with crenellations, and gothic windows clearly added at a later date. But for the peeling stucco and an air of abandonment, the house should have been the jewel in the crown. Lashing rain and skies as green as gunpowder added to the general sense of despondency and Jane felt her spirits sink. The chauffeur swung the car round to the left and to the side of the building.

‘You’ll find the servant’s door at the bottom of the steps,’ he said, and without another word handed her out of the car and deposited her suitcase at her feet before getting back into the vehicle to roar away over the gravel drive.

Jane stared after him hoping she wouldn’t have much occasion to see him again. He thought far too much of himself, she decided, and with his brooding good looks she was sure he must create havoc amongst the maidservants. Overhead she heard the mournful mewing of wheeling gulls, and tasted the brine of the sea on her lips.  Taking a deep breath, she picked up her case, and opening the cast iron gate at the top of the stairwell made her way down the steps until she reached the small door at the bottom.

Here’s a link to my Pinterest page – lots of lovely photos and illustrations that inspired Jane Austen Lives Again – enormous fun to make. I hope you enjoy the short trailer below.

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I’ve got a new venture, a little shop on Zazzle selling Mugs, Decorations, Magnets and Tote Bags using illustrations I’ve made over the years – all inspired by Jane Austen, her life and her books. I want to be able to help fund charities like The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation and other favourites I follow. I’ve been really pleased with the samples I’ve received, and it’s been fun to make decorations for my Christmas tree and have new mugs to drink copious amounts of my favourite tea!

Jane Austen Lives Again Mug

Jane Austen Lives Again Mug

This mug shows the cover of my upcoming book, Jane Austen Lives Again-you might be able to guess what one of the prizes will be to celebrate my book’s publication!

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I love choosing the different colours to go with the illustrations – this is an illustration on a mug of Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot on the Gravel Walk in Persuasion.

I really enjoyed designing the decorations which I shall hang on the Christmas tree this year. They are made of porcelain and come with a gold ribbon. I’ve added a pound coin in the photo below to give an idea of size.

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There are many more designs on Zazzle – I’m adding things all the time so keep a look out – I do hope you like them!

I’m so thrilled to show you the cover of my new book, Jane Austen Lives Again. I know I’ve said it before but I’ve loved writing this book and hope you enjoy it. Though I’ve set the book in 1925, there are several scenes that take place in Jane Austen’s time as she reflects on her past life. I’ve really enjoyed trying to imagine how Jane might have adjusted to a different age and thinking about how her first life would have influenced her second. She’s been given the chance to live again in a body half her age, but with all the experience of a life already lived. I hope you’ll join me in following Jane’s adventures to her own very happy ending!

JALA-Cov-Lo-1

When Jane Austen’s doctor discovers the secret to immortal life in 1817 she thinks her wishes have come true. But when Jane wakes up from the dead, she hasn’t reckoned on her doctor being a descendant of the original Dr Lyford or that it’s taken over a 100 years to perfect the process. Finding herself in 1925, a penniless Miss Austen must adjust to the Jazz Age, get herself a job, and discover the only one suitable is in the most dreaded of all occupations. Becoming a governess to five girls of an eccentric, bohemian family at the neglected and crumbling Manberley Castle is not exactly her dream job, and Jane soon finds she’s caught up in the dramas of every family member. The children are not quite what she’s expected, and her employer, Lady Milton is at her wit’s end.  But Jane loves nothing more than a challenge, and now living in a new body half her real age, but with all the wisdom gained from a lifetime in the past, she resolves on putting the family in order. If only she can resist falling in love, her common sense and resolve will win the day and change the lives of them all!

Inspired by Jane Austen’s wonderful novels and written in the tradition of classic books like Cold Comfort Farm, I Capture the Castle, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Jane Austen Lives Again is a fairy story for grown-ups.

Coming in November 2015!

Jane Austen’s life was cut tragically short at the age of 41. If you’re a huge fan of her work, like me, then the six completed novels she finished, whilst perfectly demonstrating her genius, will never be enlbourn2ough. I’m always torn when it comes to deciding which is my favourite, and I love them all for different
reasons. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion vie for the top spot, but I also love Emma. This December will mark 200 years of its publicaion, and it was with this book in mind that I started to think about the present novel I’m working on.

Emma was written as Jane was beginning to be recognised as a talented writer, and whilst she was still not making much money from her writing she knew her work was being well received by critics and the public alike. Emma was her first heroine to be wealthy and privileged; perhaps living not far from her brother Edward’s house at Chawton and seeing first-hand the lives of his daughters, which were in great contrast to her own, gave her some of the inspiration for her writing.

Emma is portrayed as a match-maker and someone who thinks she understands human nature, including her own, and the joy of the book is discovering not only how far the truth is from her real understanding of the people around her, but also seeing her growth and the changes she makes as a character. Before she started writing Jane Austen wrote, ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like …’ But, although there are traits of Emma’s personality that we may not like to start with, in the end we can forgive her mistakes, and it’s her faults that even help to make her likeable.

chawtonghIt’s not possible in a short blog post to write everything that could be included about this wonderful book, but essentially Emma is a book about courtship and marriage, and we see how very different the prospects of the main female characters are dependent on their status in life. Emma is rich and she protests at the start of the novel that she doesn’t see the necessity of marriage, though she’s happy to meddle in other people’s relationships imagining that she’s helping to bring them along. She thinks she will be able to elevate the status of her young friend Harriet who is an illegitimate girl living in a nearby school. As the novel progresses we see her view of marriage gradually change. Austen uses charades very cleverly to show Emma’s misguided efforts to bring the wrong people together. When her friend Harriet declares an interest in a poor farmer, Emma can only persuade her to consider the vicar who has better prospects. Mr Elton presents a ‘courtship’ charade when Harriet is visiting which leads Emma to think he is serious in his regard for her friend. When Emma realises she’s been blind to the fact that Mr Elton is actually in love with her we understand that the charade was never meant for Harriet. The many misunderstandings concealed in charades and riddles keep us from guessing what is going to happen. It’s a book that hides its secrets with tremendous skill, and on first reading the revelations come one by one with wonderful surprises in store. A second reading cements all that was first discovered, and is just as revelatory as on the first. Every time I read it I discover something new. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you don’t know the book I promise you won’t be disappointed with all the twists and turns of the plot.

Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax

Olivia Williams as Jane Fairfax

Jane Fairfax is another character I want to mention. She is the only young woman that Emma envies, yet she is poor and is set to become a governess. Emma doesn’t like Jane Fairfax, but Jane Austen writes of her in glowing terms. Jane has all the traits and accomplishments that Emma feels she is lacking in herself. She is clever, beautiful, and is a talented singer and pianist. Jane Austen writes her character sympathetically, and I can’t help wondering if she ever worried that the fate of becoming a governess might befall her. As she comes to her own self-realisation, Emma thinks about theinequalities between women of independent means and those who are poor. The contrast between Mrs. Churchill’s importance in the world, and Jane Fairfax’s, struck her; one was every thing, the other nothing. 

Austen compares the lot of the governess to a form of slavery and we know she witnessed the life at first-hand. Her dear friend, Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight, Jane’s niece at Edward’s other house, Godmersham Park, Kent, from 1804-6. Jane sent a presentation copy of the three volume edition of Emma inscribed to her friend when they were published, and I can’t help thinking that in some ways Emma is partly a tribute to the woman whom Jane revered. They remained good friends until Jane died.

At the end of Jane Austen’s life she wrote a poem called Winchester Races. Jane knew she was dying and though the poem is a reference to St. Swithin I’ve always been intrigued by these lines:

When once we are buried you think we
are gone 

But behold me immortal!

I can’t help wishing that even though she achieved immortality in her writing, that she could have found a way to be cured so she could write all the books she wished. And that’s what set me thinking about Emma, governesses, and a new book which will be published in November, Jane Austen Lives Again. Although Emma started as the inspiration for this book, I soon found other nods to Jane’s novels creeping in – you’ll find Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice all making their influence known.

Jane Austen Lives Again

Jane Austen Lives Again

When Jane Austen’s doctor discovers the secret to immortal life in 1817 she thinks her wishes have come true. But when Jane wakes up from the dead, she hasn’t reckoned on her doctor being a descendant of the original Dr Lyford or that it’s taken over a 100 years to perfect the process. Finding herself in 1925, a penniless Miss Austen must adjust to the Jazz Age, get herself a job, and discover the only one suitable is in the most dreaded of all occupations. Becoming a governess to five girls of an eccentric bohemian family at the neglected and crumbling Manberley Castle is not exactly her dream job, and Jane soon finds she’s caught up in the dramas of every family member. The children are not quite what she’s expected, and her employer, Lady Milton is at her wit’s end.  But Jane loves nothing more than a challenge, and now living in a new body half her real age, but with all the wisdom gained from a lifetime in the past, she resolves on putting the family in order. If only she can resist falling in love, her common sense and resolve will win the day and change the lives of them all!

I am very excited to announce that Willoughby’s Return is being published in French by Milady Romance on August 28th, and this morning some preview copies arrived from Sourcebooks. I love the new title and the cover – hope you do too!

Le Mystère de Willoughby

Le Mystère de Willoughby

Dans Raison & Sentiments de Jane Austen, Marianne Dashwood épouse le colonel Brandon et oublie complètement Willoughby.

Trois ans plus tard, alors que Marianne souhaite marier sa petite soeur Margaret pourtant éprise de liberté, elle revoit Willoughby. Les souvenirs et l’incertitude ne cessent alors de la hanter. En outre, Willoughby est plus charmant et plus amoureux d’elle que jamais. Le colonel Brandon devant s’absenter pour s’occuper de sa pupille, Willoughby en profite pour reconquérir le coeur de Marianne. Aura-t-elle la force de résister ou la tentation d’un amour passé est-elle plus forte ?
La plume pleine d’esprit d’Odiwe n’a rien à envier à celle de la célèbre Jane Austen. Booklist

Un pur délice. Historical Novels Review

Willoughby's ReturnHere’s Chapter One in English of Willoughby’s Return

Marianne Brandon was bursting with news to tell her sister and was so excited at the report that her husband had divulged at breakfast before leaving for Lyme that morning, that she did not consider there to be time enough to don her bonnet. With her chestnut curls escaping from her coiffure to dance in the wind and her scarlet cloak billowing like a great sail behind her, she almost ran down the lane to the parsonage. Knowing that Elinor would probably scold her for not bringing the chaise, she nevertheless had not wanted to be bothered with the inconvenience of having to wait for it. Muddying her boots and the hem of her gown, she took the shortcut across the fields to the lane that separated the two sisters. Yesterday’s storm had left the ground wet but there was the promise of a most delightful day, the autumnal sunshine kissing her cheeks with a blush. Marianne had not wanted to say goodbye to her husband but was resigned to his departure. There was nothing she could say or do to change the situation, she knew that from experience. Glad to be outside in the fresh air, she looked about with contented pleasure, waltzing through the familiar countryside that she was delighted to call her home. Delaford House in the county of Dorset was as dear to her as the former family seat at Norland had been. Marianne knew in her heart that she was a most fortunate young woman.

Elinor was delighted to see her as always, although she was a little surprised at her sister’s slightly dishevelled appearance. “Goodness me, Marianne. Is ought amiss? You look rather harried. Where is little James? Is he well? Anna will be most upset not to see her cousin this morning.”

“How is my darling Anna? I long to kiss her! And where is little Georgie? I must have a cuddle!” Marianne handed her cloak into the arms of a waiting maidservant before arranging herself with much elegance on the sofa in the comfortable sitting room. “I could not bring James with me, he was not yet dressed and in any case I just had to get out into the sunshine. Besides, he wants to look into every hedgerow and chase the falling leaves, and I couldn’t wait to tell you my news. However, before I left I promised he would see his cousin soon. I have had an idea. Anna and James enjoy one another’s company so much, as does our dear mama. What say you to a shopping trip in Exeter the day after tomorrow? It would be such fun. My nursemaid can take our babies in the carriage to Barton Cottage and after you and I have handed them over with our greetings we shall go out in the box barouche!”

Elinor looked at Marianne in disbelief. She wondered if she would ever grow up or if she would for once consider others before she set about on some scheme or other. Colonel William Brandon, Elinor thought, had done much to improve her sister’s character. She was more settled in her habits, more tranquil than she had ever been, and was not quite so prone to as many flights of fancy or as many fits of sensibility as she had been in the past. But three years of married life had done little to really change her. Marianne still had an impetuous nature, she still retained a desire for impulse and enterprises undertaken on the spur of the moment. The Colonel, Elinor felt, indulged Marianne’s whims far too frequently.

“Marianne, you know that would be impossible. I have far too much to do here at present and I do not think Mama will be as pleased as you think to have all her grandchildren at once. Besides, she may have other plans.”

“But Margaret is there, kicking her heels with nothing to do. I am sure she would only be delighted to see her niece and nephews. And I would love to tell Mama and Margaret my news.”

Elinor was firm. “I would love to go shopping on another day, but I really cannot go at the moment. Now, is that what you came to tell me in such a hurry?”

Marianne watched Elinor’s maid set down a tray of lemonade and ratafia biscuits. She could hardly wait for Susan’s starched white cap to disappear through the door before she made her announcement.

“Henry Lawrence is coming home—William’s nephew,” she added, taking in Elinor’s puzzled expression.

“Oh, yes,” Elinor exclaimed, her face breaking into a smile. “I remember hearing about him from Mrs Jennings. He has just completed his studies at Oxford, has he not?”

“Yes, and by all accounts he is not only very handsome but is also a very eligible young man, for he will inherit Whitwell. I have never met him, but I must admit, I am most curious to see him.”

“Whitwell is a very handsome estate; William’s sister made an excellent marriage.”

“She did indeed, though her health has never been good. That is why they stayed in Southern France and Italy for so long, I believe. Hannah tells me that the air and the climate are very well suited to invalids, and is always at pains to point out her abhorrence of the damp atmosphere to be found in the West Country. William worries about his sister so much, but all I can observe is that the Dorsetshire rain does not improve her disposition.” Marianne paused before looking directly into her sister’s eyes. “I have a mind to say that there seems little that would divert a constitution so intent on being ill. I have never seen her without some ailment and I admit it is fortunate that we are not such close neighbours. I have never heard her discuss any subject other than that of herself and then it is only to complain.”

“Perhaps she suffers more than you know, Marianne.”

“That we all suffer in her company is a certainty. You have not met with her above twice in your life and I believe you mistakenly felt that she was quite charming on both occasions. But then, you are not her intimate relation and I suspect you have been taken in.”

“I daresay the entire neighbourhood will be throwing their girls in Mr Lawrence’s path,” said Elinor, changing the course of the conversation. “I expect Miss Strowbridge will have her eye on him before long.”

“Miss Strowbridge, nonsense! He will be entirely suitable for Margaret, do you not think? You must admit there have been few young men to excite the romantic sensibilities of our dear sister to date. Charles Carey was never really suitable, and in any case he has gone to sea. I feel most excited at the prospect. William says Henry was partly educated in France and that he speaks French quite like a native. Not only is he a character of romance but he is also conversant in art, literature, and poetry, preferring our own beloved Cowper. He is quite perfect for Margaret, I should say.”

“Is it wise, dear sister, to be making matches in this way, before the two people in question have even set eyes on one another? Indeed, if his mother is the person you describe, I wonder that you are so keen for Margaret to make such an alliance.”

“Oh, there is no need for our sister to worry. Sir Edgar will adore Margaret; I know he will make certain there are no impediments to a match.”

“Do you not think that the Lawrences will already have a girl in mind, one who may possess a larger dowry than Margaret can claim?”

“I do not think that Margaret’s chances with a fitting suitor are any less than most girls. Despite the lack of money, she is a very handsome girl. She will steal Henry’s heart the moment he looks at her.”

“I imagine that there will not be many opportunities for them to meet however, especially if you are desirous of avoiding your relatives,” added Elinor with a laugh.

“I’ve already thought hard on that particular problem and for Margaret’s happiness I am prepared to make sacrifices. I have decided that we must have a round of social events. Firstly, we will throw a party to welcome him. Nay, a ball, nothing but a ball will do! I shall invite the Wiltons and the Courtneys.”

“And not invite the Strowbridges!”

“I suppose I shall have to invite them, though I know that young minx Selina will do nothing but flaunt herself before Mr Lawrence. Never mind, I shall take Margaret shopping, she shall have a new gown and our ardent suitor will not be able to resist her.”

“I hope all your efforts will not be in vain, Marianne. I suppose you have reflected on the possibility of the lovers detesting one another on sight. And I do hope Henry’s good looks match up to the gossip which no doubt has exaggerated the fairness of every feature.”

“Elinor, it will not be so, I promise you. Margaret will be in love with a very handsome man before the end of the month!”

“How is William?” asked Elinor, keen to move on to another discussion.

“He’s well enough, though he left for Lyme this morning without even touching his breakfast. He has gone to see you-know-who, so I expect I shall not see him until the day after tomorrow.”

“How are Miss Williams and the child?”

“Eliza Williams is another who is always fancying herself unwell and now it seems she has taught her daughter to be sickly also,” answered Marianne, knowing she was being more than a little unkind. She replaced her glass on the table none too quietly. “A begging note and off Brandon runs to attend to his little family. I know I sound churlish, but sometimes, Elinor, it is too hard to bear.”

“Marianne, the Colonel has an obligation to his ward and her daughter. He has never forgiven himself for the death of her mother; you know he could not leave them in distress.”

“I am aware more than anyone that he has not forgotten Eliza’s mother. She is always there, a spectre from the past who will never go away. Well, we all know that she was his first great attachment and for all the fuss he makes of her descendants, I have lately concluded that she was probably his one true love.”

“Oh, Marianne, you are being a little fanciful now. Anyone can see how much you are adored by William.”

“Am I adored, Elinor? Am I really loved for myself alone or because I resemble his first love so much? I sometimes think if it were possible for her to return from the grave I would never see him again.”

“Come now, Marianne, you should not say such things. You are a little upset. Think of what you are saying.”

“I cannot help myself. Elinor, I love him so much and I cannot bear the thought of William spending all that time with a young woman who surely must resemble her mother to perfection.”

“Why do you not visit them together?” Elinor asked, refilling Marianne’s glass as she spoke. “I’m sure if you saw her and her situation you would realise how unfounded your worries must be.”

“I never want to visit them, you know that is impossible,” came her sister’s reply. “Oh, Elinor, however could I see them knowing what happened between Eliza Williams and…the truth is, I could not bear to see the child.” Marianne broke off, unable to carry on.

Elinor looked at her sister’s expression and knew it was useless to continue. An aura of anguish like a ghostly shroud seemed to settle upon her sister’s shoulders. Marianne’s dark eyes flashed, her distress plain to see.

Elinor was vastly relieved when the conversation was interrupted in the next second by the arrival of her children, accompanied by their nurse. Anna, who favoured her aunt so much in looks, chose to break free from her nurse’s restraining hand. She immediately tottered over to her aunt on unsteady legs with outstretched arms. Marianne’s temper was instantly soothed. She laughed, kissed the top of her dark head, and fetched her up onto her lap. There was only a month between Anna and Marianne’s boy, James, and they were as friendly as any two-year-olds could be. Marianne loved her niece and baby nephew very much, though she often thought that her sister curbed and controlled Anna’s behaviour far more than was necessary.

Elinor, on the other hand, who similarly doted on Marianne’s son, felt that her sister was far too liberal with him. If James were spoiled much more, she was sure Marianne would have her hands full. She had often tried to advise her sister with little success and had decided that in the interests of friendly relations between the sisters, it might be prudent to forgo airing her misgivings in future.

The sisters parted before the afternoon was over, promising to meet soon. Elinor tried to insist on her sister having her chaise to take her home but Marianne would not hear of it. She took the same path back but allowed herself to dawdle this time, drinking in the breathtaking views all around. The colours of the leaves on trees and hedgerows were turning to drifts of copper, bronze, and vermillion, a most beautiful sight. The fresh winds shook the leaves from the trees, which rained down on her head like gold coins at a country wedding. Marianne liked to take a walk most days, it helped her to think, to sort out her thoughts and troubles. She had few material problems; her devoted husband saw that she wanted for nothing. Mrs Brandon was very grateful to the Colonel who had taken such pains to court her and bring her to Delaford as his wife. Theirs had been an unusual romance, a second attachment on both sides. She had grown to love him with the slow sweetness of enduring affection, sharing his life with the son whom she could not imagine being without. Yet, she could not entirely shake off the feeling that in her husband’s eyes she would always be deemed second best and that the love he bore for her would never match that of the grand passion he had shared with his first love. On occasion Marianne’s feelings of agitation on these considerations distilled into a sense of dissatisfaction that no intervention nor entertainment would remove. These moods usually coincided with her husband’s travels, especially when he went off visiting his ward. In this frame of mind she would take herself off to walk about the estate, finding that the combination of the exercise and the splendour of her surroundings was usually enough to shake off any feeling of unease. Marianne was devoted to her duties as a wife and mother, which came as naturally to her as breathing the perfume of white Campion in the hedgerows, but on certain days, such as this one, when the heat of summer was giving way to the sweet mellow days of autumn, her restlessness was apt to return. She was reminded of the girl she had been before her marriage; a creature she now felt was a figment of distant memory.

“Marriage has altered me, I know that to be true,” she thought. “Indeed, I wonder why I never noticed before that change seems to be an inevitable truth shared by all the married women I know. Our husbands’ lives carry on in much the same way as they did before they tied the marital knot. William has another life apart from the one he shares with our child and me. How I envy his freedom, his interactions with the world, but most of all I resent those other distractions on which I dread to dwell. I hate him being gone from home to attend to these responsibilities, obligations that belong to a distant age and another woman. I never thought before our marriage that I would feel so jealous and envious of a girl I have never met. In my heart I feel truly sorry for all that happened to Eliza, yet despite what Elinor says nothing will dispel the loneliness or private fears when William is away. Being married has its delights and disappointments. Tied by love and duty, to serve our men and children, I now recognise too well how marriage transforms the female situation.”

She walked along in the sunshine, every scent and sound recalling earlier times, bringing forth the inevitable bitter sweetness of memories. Bending to pick a bunch of blue buttons, the last of the wildflowers from the meadow, she was instantly reminded of a posy once given to her in that first season of happiness, now dry and faded. Held together by a strip of frayed silk ribbon, staining the pages of a favourite poetry book, they belonged to the past.

“John Willoughby,” she said out loud.

Marianne allowed herself to repeat his name but instantly admonished herself for dwelling on the remembrance of former times. Willoughby had used her very ill. At the time she had believed that he was in love with her yet still he had chosen to marry another. He had been her first love and therein rested the problem. If she could not entirely forget Willoughby, who had injured her, how could Brandon ever be freed from the memory of his first love, the woman who had been taken from him by circumstances beyond his control?

“I want to blot Willoughby from my mind, even to hate him,” she said to herself, “yet I know that he will always be a part of my conscious mind that I can do nothing about. I do not want to think of him but I cannot help myself. I love my husband more than life itself, but am I not as guilty as I declare him to be if I allow thoughts from the past to haunt me?”

And she understood why he crept stealthily like a phantom into her thoughts once more. Willoughby was inextricably linked with the Brandons and her husband’s concerns in a way that could never be erased or forgotten by Marianne.

Besides all that, this business of Henry Lawrence coming home was occupying her daydreams more than she would admit. Henry and Margaret were two young people with like minds, she was sure. Perhaps first attachments could end in happiness, without the complications that second ones entailed. A girl with so similar a disposition to her own must be allowed to follow her heart, and Marianne was determined to help her.

Edward Ferrars returned from his parish duties to the comfort of Delaford Parsonage where his wife Elinor was busy supervising the children at tea. The door of the nursery was open and he crept upon the pleasant domestic scene unobserved, to lean against the doorframe and smile at his good fortune. He had loved Elinor the moment he had set eyes on her and, having overcome all the difficulties that had threatened to forestall their happiness, had succeeded in claiming her as his wife. He observed the happy scene. His daughter Anna was chattering to her mother in a most endearing way, whilst George looked about him, cradled in his mother’s arms.

“I expect he will be just like me before he is much older,” Edward thought, “happy to sit back and observe his surroundings, letting the conversation flow with little attempt at joining in.”

Elinor was cutting up slices of cake with her free hand and appeared rather pensive, though to all intents and purposes, was engaged in attending to her little girl. He could always tell when she was immersed in her thoughts, her eyes darted from one place to another and her brows knitted together. Edward wondered what she could be worrying about.

“Papapapapa,” shouted Anna, who had suddenly spied her father and pointed at him with a chubby finger.

Elinor rose immediately to greet him, the ribbons fluttering on her cap in her haste to reach his side, a smile replacing her frown.

“Edward, you are just in time for tea. I will ask Susan to fetch some more tea things. Come, sit down and tell us all about your day. How are Mrs Thomas and all her family? I do hope she enjoyed your basket of vegetables and the bread and honey. I did not imagine on my marriage that I would be blessed with both a gardener and a bee charmer for a husband, but then I know I should never be surprised at your talents, my dear.”

“Mrs Thomas enjoyed her bread and honey very much, Elinor,” he replied, dropping a kiss on Anna’s curly head before picking her up in his arms. “She is feeling much better and now the weather has improved she expects to be very cheerful.”

“Well, that is good news.” Elinor paused. She wanted to tell Edward about Marianne’s visit, to admit her misgivings about her sibling’s present state of mind. She had not seen her sister’s spirits so unsettled for a while and she was concerned. She knew perfectly well what was behind it all and could only guess at what other fancies disturbed the balance of Marianne’s mind. Elinor decided she would say nothing of her fears for the present. “Marianne has been to visit us today and told us that Henry Lawrence of Whitwell is coming home at last.”

Edward hardly attended. He had Anna on his knee and she was demanding the clapping game she loved so much. “I am glad you had your sister for company,” came his reply.

The results of the work undertaken by Paris-based restorer, Eva Schwann, have now been published on The Rice Portrait Website and makes fascinating reading whether your interest is in the restoration of paintings or in the history of this particularly beautiful portrait. Eva was trained at the Courtauld Institute and France’s Institut National du Patrimoine and spent much of 2010 and 11 bringing the painting back to life. I was lucky enough to visit Eva in her studio whilst work was being undertaken, and to see the portrait for myself. You can read about the lovely day I had here

 Eva was able to clean the significant OH symbol that the artist used in many of his works, which is especially pleasing to see – I think there can be no doubt that the portrait was painted by Ozias Humphry.

  There is also a new article on the website about the Austen family’s connections with the Humphreys – they were also acquainted with Ozias’s younger brother, William and his wife who lived at Seal. Mrs Humphries (sic) wrote to Jane’s father to tell him of William Hampson Walter’s death in 1798. He was George Austen’s half-brother and lived at Seal also. Jane wrote a letter of condolence to her cousin, Philadelphia:

  Steventon Sunday April 8th

My dear Cousin

As Cassandra is at present from home, You must accept from my pen, our sincere Condolance on the melancholy Event which Mrs Humphries Letter announced to my Father this morning.——The loss of so kind & affectionate a Parent, must be a very severe affliction to all his Children, to yourself more especially, as your constant residence with him has given you so much the more constant & intimate Knowledge of his Virtues.——But the very circumstance which at present enhances your loss, must gradually reconcile you to it the better;——the Goodness which made him valuable on Earth, will make him Blessed in Heaven.——This consideration must bring comfort to yourself, to my Aunt, & to all his family & friends; & this comfort must be heightened by the consideration of the little Enjoyment he was able to receive from this World for some time past, & of the small degree of pain attending his last hours.——I will not press you to write before you would otherwise feel equal to it, but when you can do it without pain, I hope we shall receive from you as good an account of my Aunt & Yourself, as can be expected in these early days of Sorrow.——

    My Father & Mother join me in every kind wish, & I am my dear Cousin,

                                                 Yours affec:tely
                                                       Jane Austen
Miss Walter
Seal
Sevenoaks
Kent
The Grey House, Seal, thought to be the home of the Walters

    

The poet Shelley described London’s shops in a letter to Thomas Manning:

Wedgwood

Wedgwood

‘Oh, the lamps of a night! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, hardware men, pastry-cooks, St Paul’s churchyard, the Strand, Exeter Change, Charing Cross, with a man upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London!’

Most shopkeepers lived with their families above or behind their premises. They were usually specialists in the goods they sold, and very often the craftsman who made them – whether a shoemaker, tailor, hatter, fan-maker, umbrella-maker or jeweller – often there was no distinction between retailer and wholesaler. There were no regular shopping hours – the shopkeeper opened his shop before breakfast and closed it before he retired for the night.

Sophie von la Roche, a German novelist, wrote about Oxford Street to her daughters in 1785:

We strolled up and down lovely Oxford Street this evening, for some goods look more attractive by artificial light. Just imagine, dear children, a street taking half an hour to cover from end to end, with double rows of brightly shining lamps, in the middle of which stands an equally long row of beautifully lacquered coaches, …

Regent Street

Regent Street

First one passes a watchmaker’s, then a silk or fan store, now a silversmith’s, a china or glass shop. The spirit booths are particularly tempting, for the English are in any case fond of strong drink. Here crystal flasks of every shape and form are exhibited: each one has a light behind it which makes all the different coloured spirits sparkle. … Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show … Most of all, we admired a stall with Argand and other lamps … forming a really dazzling spectacle …

shopA few weeks later she wrote again: I found another shop here like the one in Paris, containing every possible make of woman’s shoe; there was a woman buying shoes for herself and her small daughter: the latter was searching amongst the doll’s shoes in one case for some to fit the doll she had with her. But the linen shops are the loveliest; every kind of whitewear, from swaddling clothes to shrouds, and any species of linen can be had. Night-caps for ladies and children, trimmed with muslin and various kinds of Brussels lace, more exquisitely stitched than I ever saw before … People, I noticed, like to have their children with them and take them out into the air, and they wrap them up well, though their feet are always bare and sockless … I was glad to strike some of the streets in which the butchers are housed, and interested to find the meat so fine and shops so deliciously clean; all the goods were spread on snow-white cloths, and cloths of similar whiteness were stretched out behind the large hunks of meat hanging up; no blood anywhere, no dirt, the shop walls and doors were all spruce, balance and weights brightly polished.

Whether they are silks, chintzes or muslins, they hang down in folds behind the fine high windows so that the effect of this or that material, as it would be in the ordinary folds of a woman’s dress can be studied. Amongst the muslins all colours are on view, and so one can judge how the frock would look in company with its fellows. Now large shoe and slipper shops for anything from adults down to dolls can be seen – now fashion articles of silver or brass … absolutely everything one can think of is neatly, attractively displayed, and in such abundance of choice as almost to make one greedy …

IMG_0748Writing from her brother Henry’s house in Sloane Street, on May 2 1813, Jane wrote: Your letter came just in time to save my going to Remnant’s, and fit me for Christian’s, where I bought Fanny’s dimity. I went the day before (Friday) to Layton’s, as I proposed, and got my mother’s gown – seven yards at 6s. 6d. I then walked into No. 10, which is all dirt and confusion, but in a very promising way…I gave 2s. 6d. for the dimity. I do not boast of any bargains, but think both the sarsenet and dimity good of their sort. I have bought your locket, but was obliged to give 18s. for it, which must be rather more than you intended. It is neat and plain, set in gold.

In September she was staying in Henrietta Street where her brother Henry had recently moved. Instead of saving my superfluous wealth for you to spend, I am going to treat myself with spending it myself. I hope, at least, that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear’s that will tempt me to buy it. If I do, it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it, being the main point. It will be a great pleasure to me. Don’t say a word. I only wish you could choose too. I shall send twenty yards.

burlIn Sense and Sensibility the Dashwood sisters go shopping in Bond Street, though Marianne is distracted, her thoughts are full of Mr Willoughby who she is hoping to see.

   After an hour or two spent in what her mother called comfortable chat, or in other words, in every variety of inquiry concerning all their acquaintance on Mrs. Jennings’s side, and in laughter without cause on Mrs. Palmer’s, it was proposed by the latter that they should all accompany her to some shops where she had business that morning, to which Mrs. Jennings and Elinor readily consented, as having likewise some purchases to make themselves; and Marianne, though declining it at first, was induced to go likewise. 

   Wherever they went, she was evidently always on the watch. In Bond Street especially, where much of their business lay, her eyes were in constant inquiry; and in whatever shop the party were engaged, her mind was equally abstracted from everything actually before them, from all that interested and occupied the others. Restless and dissatisfied every where, her sister could never obtain her opinion of any article of purchase, however it might equally concern them both; she received no pleasure from anything; was only impatient to be at home again, and could with difficulty govern her vexation at the tediousness of Mrs. Palmer, whose eye was caught by everything pretty, expensive, or new; who was wild to buy all, could determine on none, and dawdled away her time in rapture and indecision.

Sackville Street

Sackville Street

 

Later on they visit Gray’s in Sackville Street:

On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to attend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at the end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession; one gentleman only was standing there, and it is probable that Elinor was not without hopes of exciting his politeness to a quicker dispatch. But the correctness of his eye, and the delicacy of his taste, proved to be beyond his politeness. He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, – all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, – he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face of strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion.

I love reading about descriptions of shopping experiences like those above, especially now the High Streets of Britain seem to be losing their shopping streets bit by bit. It’s wonderful to be able to shop on the internet, but shops here are finding it hard to compete.

However,  Fortnum and MasonHatchard’s Bookshop, and Floris the perfumers, amongst others, are still going strong – perhaps because they’ve embraced online shopping too. Jane would have known these shops and I hope they’ll still be here in London for another 200 years or so!