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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Jane and her fatherSome years ago, I painted a little picture of how I imagined Jane and her father would look when she was about five years old. I thought about this painting whilst I was writing a little scene in Project Darcy when Ellie goes back into the past and becomes Jane Austen, and tied it in with what seem to be Jane’s own recollections that she wrote about in Northanger Abbey. Although she is writing about Catherine Morland when she says her heroine was ‘noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house’, I have a feeling she was referring to a memory of doing that herself. If you’ve ever been to Steventon to see the site where the rectory stood, the back of the garden has a pronounced slope! Here’s how I imagine Jane and her beloved brother Henry playing at the back of the rectory. I hope you enjoy this little excerpt from my latest novel, Project Darcy.

 

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The slope at Steventon Rectory


The moment she stepped through the hedges and trees that screened the fields, Ellie knew something was different – her world was changed in more ways than she could ever have imagined. Like the little girl in Alice in Wonderland, she’d grown smaller and everything around her had doubled in size. Trees were so tall she could not see the top of them and the grass that tickled her bare legs nearly came up to her knees. Ellie looked back towards the way she had come but she knew it was fruitless. There was only one way to go, and that was to follow the sound that beckoned her. It was as if she saw everything through mist, layers of white vapour that rose to reveal a reality that became sharper with every passing minute. She was no longer Ellie Bentley; that she knew. She was a child, perhaps no more than five years old, and her thoughts intruded until Ellie had none left of her own. Her world was larger, more defined, sounds and smells were fresher, brighter and vivid. More than that, she felt different. Ellie saw life through the eyes of someone else, and when she heard the boy’s voice calling her name she knew him to be her brother.

Site of Steventon Rectory

Site of Steventon Rectory

Henry pulled me up the slope to the top of the field where the elm trees stood like sentinels and whispered over our heads in their hushing, leaf language. The day was hot like the one I’d left behind, and my legs struggled to keep up with him in the heat. He sensed that my small legs were tiring and he turned to wait, looking at me with a grin. Light flickered in his hazel eyes, those that I knew grown-ups said were so like mine, but his were almost golden on this day, like Baltic amber. The grass up at the top of the terrace was so long; it prickled the back of my legs. Beads of dew, like fairy necklaces strung along green blades, felt cold under my feet. When we reached the top, he showed me how to lie down in line with the trees, my toes pointing one way and my arms stretched over my head.‘Come on, Jane, let us go again!’

‘Jane, wait until I count to three,’ I heard him say.

Lying in the sweetly fragrant meadow, I felt so excited I started to giggle, and my body fidgeted in response. And before he’d managed to shout out the number three, I’d started going, rolling down the hill, and gathering momentum until the world was spinning. There was a blur of blue sky; then green fields, and then over I went again like a flyer on Nanny Littleworth’s spinning wheel. I could see Henry overtake me, going faster than ever. He got to the bottom before me but I came to a standstill at last, my heart beating with pure pleasure as I lay in the grass chuckling and laughing. There were grass stains on my dress and daisies in my hair, which Henry picked out, one by one.

Sitting up, I could see a house that I knew was my home and I had a sudden longing to see my father.

 Site of Jane Austen's home, Steventon Rectory


Site of Jane Austen’s home, Steventon Rectory

‘Are you not coming up again, little Jenny?’ Henry asked, calling me by the pet name my family used when they wanted to appeal to my better nature. He had his hands in the pockets of his breeches. His shirt was crumpled and stained like my gown. Brown curls flopped over his eyes, which looked into mine so tenderly that I almost changed my mind. I ran to hug him, stood on my tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek. Henry was my protector, and my beloved playmate. I longed to be just like him but my mother scolded me when I behaved too much like a tomboy. I knew I should not run or jump or shout, as my brothers did, but nothing she said would deter me, so when Henry begged me to play with him I did not usually need to be asked twice. But, as much as I wanted to be with him, home was calling.

I shook my head and muttered, ‘I’m going to see Papa.’

 

I have vivid memories of rolling down the slope in the park at the back of my childhood home with my brother and sister, which was a thing we all loved to do. I remember one time when we were recovering from German Measles, and the grass made our rashes flare up again, all very prickly and itchy – but we were all so glad to be outside again. Most of my childhood seemed to be spent outdoors playing, or indoors drawing and writing if the weather was bad – I’d love to know what pastimes you enjoyed as a child!

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Spring has finally sprung here in England! I was beginning to think winter would never end; we’ve been experiencing very cold weather and lots of snow.
Jane Austen refers often to the seasons in her writing and with spring, it seems, the season often heralds a change or action of some sort. In this first example, Mrs Dashwood is thinking about Barton Cottage and the changes she might make to the building when the weather improves.


From Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility:

With the size and furniture of the house Mrs. Dashwood was upon the whole well satisfied; for though her former style of life rendered many additions to the latter indispensable, yet to add and improve was a delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. “As for the house itself, to be sure,” said she, “it is too small for our family, but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building. These parlours are both too small for such parties of our friends as I hope to see often collected here; and I have some thoughts of throwing the passage into one of them with perhaps a part of the other, and so leave the remainder of that other for an entrance; this, with a new drawing-room which may be easily added, and a bed-chamber and garret above, will make it a very snug little cottage. I could wish the stairs were handsome. But one must not expect everything; though I suppose it would be no difficult matter to widen them. I shall see how much I am before-hand with the world in the spring, and we will plan our improvements accordingly.”

The next extract is from Northanger Abbey. Isabella Thorpe writes to Catherine Morland from Bath. Jane Austen uses the season to illustrate Isabella’s silly and shallow character. Although she professes one minute to be missing Catherine and expressing her love for Catherine’s brother, in the next second she is talking about fashion and hats. 

Bath, April
My dearest Catherine, I received your two kind letters with the greatest delight, and have a thousand apologies to make for not answering them sooner. I really am quite ashamed of my idleness; but in this horrid place one can find time for nothing. I have had my pen in my hand to begin a letter to you almost every day since you left Bath, but have always been prevented by some silly trifler or other. Pray write to me soon, and direct to my own home. Thank God, we leave this vile place tomorrow. Since you went away, I have had no pleasure in it — the dust is beyond anything; and everybody one cares for is gone. I believe if I could see you I should not mind the rest, for you are dearer to me than anybody can conceive. I am quite uneasy about your dear brother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford; and am fearful of some misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right: he is the only man I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it. The spring fashions are partly down; and the hats the most frightful you can imagine. I hope you spend your time pleasantly, but am afraid you never think of me.
 
Lastly, from Pride and Prejudice, Jane has become engaged to Mr Bingley and finds out that his sister Caroline had done everything to keep them apart last spring:


Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet

“He has made me so happy,” said she one evening, “by telling me, that he was totally ignorant of my being in town last spring! I had not believed it possible.”


   “I suspected as much,” replied Elizabeth. “But how did he account for it?”
   “It must have been his sister’s doing. They were certainly no friends to his acquaintance with me, which I cannot wonder at, since he might have chosen so much more advantageously in many respects. But when they see, as I trust they will, that their brother is happy with me, they will learn to be contented, and we shall be on good terms again; though we can never be what we once were to each other.”
   “That is the most unforgiving speech,” said Elizabeth, “that I ever heard you utter. Good girl! It would vex me, indeed, to see you again the dupe of Miss Bingley’s pretended regard.”
   “Would you believe it, Lizzy, that when he went to town last November, he really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent would have prevented his coming down again?”
   “He made a little mistake, to be sure; but it is to the credit of his modesty.”
   This naturally introduced a panegyric from Jane on his diffidence, and the little value he put on his own good qualities.
   Elizabeth was pleased to find that he had not betrayed the interference of his friend; for, though Jane had the most generous and forgiving heart in the world, she knew it was a circumstance which must prejudice her against him.
   “I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!” cried Jane. “Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!”
   “If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time.”

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This is the interview I had with David Sillito, the Arts Correspondent from the BBC. It was aired on the 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I only wish that all my author friends here and overseas could have shared it with me. That would have been a fantastic party!

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I’ve just come back from visiting family in Pembrokeshire, Wales. I always love a trip to Tenby where there is a gem of a bookshop at the bottom of a medieval passage. The Tudor Merchant’s house is well worth a visit too – you have to pass it down the steps to get to the bookshop, and there’s also a very good pub that does lovely food. The bookshop is filled from floor to ceiling with tottering piles of books, some on shelves, others piled up on the floor so there’s just about room to stand and circumnavigate. It’s like an Aladdin’s cave because you never know what treasure you might find. The books are all rather precariously placed – I don’t think I’ve ever been without knocking half a dozen or more off their wobbly pile, but this is what makes it such fun. This time I found a wonderful book on Thomas Wentworth – (yes, of course there is a Jane Austen connection with the Leigh family), a Georgette Heyer hardback, and some Daphne du Maurier short stories, so I was very pleased as you can imagine!

From the hafodymor website: Tenby (Welsh: Dinbych-y-Pysgod, meaning little town of the fishes or little fortress of the fish)

There is no doubt that Tenby is steeped with rich culture. It is seen on every street in every niche, and in all aspects of life. Tenby has also has brought up a number of famous people, and has inspired them, people such as Augustus John and his sister Gwen, two popular artists; actor Kenneth Griffith who received his earlier apprenticeship at the local Greenhill School; the mathematician Robert Recorde who presented the world with the equals sign. It has also inspired many visitors, whether in paintings, poetry or books such as Beatrix Potter (author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit), George Eliot (author of Middlemarch), and Laurie Lee (author of Cider with Rosie).

I have often wondered if Jane Austen visited Tenby. It’s easy to imagine the Austens here on one of the trips into Wales they talked about making once they moved to Bath, but unfortunately we just don’t know if she ever ventured that far. Nelson and Lady Hamilton made the trip staying at East Rock House, which has wonderful views over the sea.There are some lovely Regency houses and you can walk along the top of the harbour and see where Beatrix Potter and George Eliot stayed whilst they were in Tenby. Vanity Fair was filmed here a few years ago – the scenes on the beach are very funny!
Photos:
A medieval passageway leading to the bookshop
Tenby Harbour
Plaque to Beatrix Potter
East Rock House where Nelson and Lady Hamilton stayed.

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Sometimes life hands out a little happiness and surprise from most unexpected and unsuspected sources. Yesterday I went to a particularly pretty part of Berkshire with my husband to meet a client of his for lunch. I hadn’t really asked where we were going, I was very happy to be going out into the countryside with the thought of spending a lovely afternoon out in the sunshine. We were a little early, and as the surrounding scenery was so gorgeous we decided to have a little tour down the lanes and chose a route at random to explore. There were so many pretty Georgian houses in the area and such quaint cottages, I began to think I’d stepped back in time and wondered if I should meet with one of Jane’s characters or even Jane herself. Just as I was admiring everything around we came across a signpost marked with four directions. One of the posts pointed to the direction of Kintbury, which immediately struck a chord with me. Could this possibly be the same Kintbury where the Fowle family had lived and where Jane and Cassandra had spent much time in their youth? If you remember, Cassandra was engaged to Thomas Fowle after he graduated from Oxford University. Jane and Cassandra’s father, George Austen, took in Tom and his brother Fulwar to prepare them for university so Cassandra and Tom would most likely have met for the first time at Steventon Rectory. Jane’s brother James was a particular friend to all four Fowle brothers whose home was the vicarage in Kintbury. Eventually, Cassandra and Tom fell in love and were to be married, but they were forced to wait because of a lack of money. He sailed as a military chaplain with a relative, Lord Craven, to the West Indies, in an attempt to increase his fortunes, but very sadly died of yellow fever in San Domingo in 1796. Cassandra, it seemed, never recovered completely as she didn’t consider marriage again. Jane’s references to ‘long engagements’ in Persuasion were surely inspired by Cassandra and Tom’s predicament.
It was with a mixture of emotions that I had a quick look round the village as I thought of both happy and sad times that Jane and Cassandra must have spent there. I am so glad to have been to take a look. Coming across Kintbury like that out of the blue was a wonderful serendipitous moment!

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An unlikely trio, I hear you say, but here they all are in my post today. I found these pictures of my cats, Denzel and Marley, who love to listen to me talking about Jane Austen – yes, really. I’m not certain if Jane Austen liked cats, I suspect if the Austens had a cat, its use was probably functional. On a working farm a cat would be very useful for keeping numbers of rats and mice down.

I could only find one reference to cats in the novels in Sense and Sensibility and though Mrs Jennings voices her opinion, I can’t help wondering if Jane shared her point of view. “Ah! Colonel, I do not know what you and I shall do without the Miss Dashwoods;” – was Mrs. Jennings’s address to him when he first called on her, after their leaving her was settled – “for they are quite resolved upon going home from the Palmers; – and how forlorn we shall be, when I come back! – Lord! we shall sit and gape at one another as dull as two cats.”

A google search led me to this fun website!
Austencats

I do love my cats. They don’t have a favourite book but love to hear Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion, read aloud on a continuous loop!
Dear Friends and Passers-by, I’d love to hear about your pets. Do you love cats or are you partial to some other four-legged, or even two-legged friends?

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Regular visitors to my blog know that I have a long-standing love affair with the City of Bath. We know that Jane Austen lived here from 1801-1806 and that her feelings about the place may well have been very mixed as time went on. I can feel a whole other blogpost coming on about Austen’s feelings but I wanted to share some pictures that were taken of a walk from Lyncombe Hill to Combe Down. I have to thank Janet Aylmer for the directions to part of this walk. Her book In the footsteps of Jane Austen outlines a walk that Jane Austen took with a friend, Mrs Chamberlayne, through Bath to Lyncombe and Widcombe in May 1801. The book is annotated with lots of facts and pictures of Bath in Jane’s time – a very enjoyable book and without it I would never have discovered this walk!
In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane wrote:

Tuesday 26 May 1801
…I walked yesterday morning with Mrs Chamberlayne to Lyncombe and Widcombe, and in the evening I drank tea with the Holders. – Mrs Chamberlayne’s pace was not quite so magnificent on this second trial as in the first; it was nothing more than I could keep up with, without effort, & for many, many Yards together on a raised narrow footpath I led the way. – The Walk was very beautiful as my companion agreed, whenever I made the observation…

Now to my photos.

The first two show Lyncombe Hill, what was known as Lyncombe Lane in Jane’s day. Believe me, the word hill is the better descriptive and I have to say at the start, this is not a walk for the faint-hearted! I’m not sure this pic of yours truly standing near the bottom really shows how steep it gets, but it does incline far more as you carry on up. The delightful pussy cat who I am sure must have been human in another life had quite a conversation with us – it also provided me with an excuse to stop and catch my breath – one of many! From here, it was downhill for a while before turning into Lyncombe Vale.

Now, the next photo shows me on the raised footpath which is most likely the very same one that Jane walked along with her friend. Opposite the path there is a terrace of pretty Victorian houses, but of course these would not have been there in Jane’s day. On one side of the path runs a stream and beyond that there are fields and trees.
From Lyncombe Vale we turned into Perrymead or Pope’s Walk where there are some interesting buildings and from here climbed ever higher. It tends to get a bit muddy here but the views are stunning and the air is scented with green shoots of wild garlic. Spring has only just arrived in this part of the world but there’s nothing so lovely as spotting those new buds on the trees.





We came out at the top of Combe Down and after resting for a short while at a local pub for refreshment, we then took the short cut back down Prior Park Road to Widcombe. It did feel good to be walking downhill!

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