Sunday, May 16, 2021

"Henry and Eliza" in honor of Eliza Doolittle Day

Forgive me if I take this occasion to celebrate a few different Elizas than just Miss Bennet, for Thursday is Eliza Doolittle Day.

For those unfamiliar with this often overlooked holiday, it is a reference to the musical My Fair Lady, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which in turn is based on a beautiful myth recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Pygmalion is a sculptor who falls in love with his own creation. After praying to Venus to help him find a real woman as perfect as the statue, it comes to life, and they basically live happily ever after. Shaw’s version is tad bit more complex. Professor Henry Higgins, played by Rex Harrison in the movie, is a massive phonetics geek. There’s really no better way to put it. For fun he records accents, and it is when eavesdropping one rainy night outside of Covent Gardens that he meets Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower girl. Eliza is played by Audrey Hepburn in the film, magnificently, I believe, but it is not her voice during the songs – that’s a rather sad tale for both Audrey, Marni Nixon, who sang the numbers, and Julie Andrews, who originated the role on Broadway opposite Harrison. Anyway, Higgins makes a wager with his buddy that with six months of lessons, he can pass Eliza, “this guttersnipe,” off as “a duchess at an embassy ball.” I do not want to reveal the entire story just in case, dear reader, you have perchance never seen this remarkable film. If not, please do so! It’s far too good to miss. In the meantime, here’s the scene in which the 20th of May is codified for all time as ‘Liza Doolittle Day by an imaginary King Edward VII. It takes place early in Eliza’s lessons, and she has spent the last several days strapped to a machine that monitors her breathing while pronouncing the letter A over and over and over again, so she’s feeling rebellious. If you are using Chrome on a cellphone, be aware the video link might not appear. Try switching to the web version. Enjoy:

 And now back to Austen.

Have you ever read Henry and Eliza: a short, wildly farcical story she wrote sometime between the ages of 12 and 15? I discussed it in detail a few years back (you can read the post here), so I will not offer additional commentary at this time. Instead, for your delectation and in honor of the holiday, I will transcribe it here, spelling idiosyncrasies and all, from my well-loved Oxford World’s Classics edition of Catherine and Other Writings. For those unfamiliar with Austen’s juvenilia, be warned: young Jane had a keen sense of the absurd. She was also wickedly funny. The names Henry and Eliza are taken from her brother and cousin, who would someday marry. As you will see, the story is really Eliza’s. Henry’s part in it is rather short-lived.

Henry and Eliza

a novel

Is humbly dedicated to Miss Cooper by her obedient Humble Servant

The Author


As Sir George and Lady Harcourt were superintending the Labours of their Haymakers, rewarding the industry of some by smiles of approbation, and punishing the idleness of others, by a cudgel, they perceived lying closely concealed beneath the thick foliage of a Haycock, a beautifull little Girl not more than 3 months old.

Touched with the enchanting Graces of her face and delighted with the infantine tho’ sprightly answers she returned to their many questions, they resolved to take her home and, having no Children of their own, to educate her with care and cost.

Being good People themselves, their first and principal Care was to incite in her a Love of Virtue and a Hatred of Vice, in which they so well succeeded (Eliza having a natural turn that way herself) that when she grew up, she was the delight of all who knew her.

Beloved by Lady Harcourt, adored by Sir George and admired by all the World, she lived in a continued course of uninterrupted Happiness, till she had attained her eighteenth year, when happening one day to be detected in stealing a banknote of 50£, she was turned out of doors by her inhuman Benefactors. Such a transition to one who did not possess so noble and exalted a mind as Eliza, would have been Death, but she, happy in the conscious knowledge of her own Excellence, amused herself, as she sate beneath a tree with making and singing the following Lines.




Though misfortunes my footsteps may ever attend
I hope I shall never have need of a Freind
as an innocent Heart I will ever preserve
and will never from Virtue’s dear boundaries swerve.


Having amused herself some hours, with this song and her own pleasing reflections, she arose and took the road to M., a small market town, of which place her most intimate freind kept the Red Lion.

To this freind she immediately went, to whom having recounted her late misfortune, she communicated her wish of getting into some family in the capacity of Humble Companion.

Mrs Wilson, who was the most amiable creature on earth, was no sooner acquainted with her Desire, than she sat down in the Bar and wrote the following Letter to the Dutchess of F., the woman whom of all others, she most Esteemed.


‘To the Dutchess of F.’


Receive into your Family, at my request a young woman of unexceptionable Character, who is so good as to choose your Society in preference to going to Service. Hasten, and take her from the arms of your

Sarah Wilson

The Dutchess, whose freindship for Mrs Wilson would have carried her any lengths, was overjoyed at such an opportunity of obliging her and accordingly sate out immediately on the receipt of her letter for the red Lion, which she reached the same Evening. The Dutchess of F. was about 45 and a half; Her passions were strong, her freindships firm and her Enmities, unconquerable. She was a widow and had only one Daughter who was on the point of marriage with a young Man of considerable fortune.

The Dutchess no sooner beheld our Heroine than throwing her arms around her neck, she declared herself so much pleased with her, that she was resolved they never more should part. Eliza was delighted with such a protestation of freindship, and after taking a most affecting leave of her dear Mrs Wilson, accompanied her grace the next morning to her seat in Surry.

With every expression of regard did the Dutchess introduce her to Lady Harriet, who was so much pleased with her appearance that she besought her, to consider her as her Sister, which Eliza with the greatest Condescension promised to do.

Mr Cecil, the Lover of Lady Harriet, being often with the family was often with Eliza. A mutual Love took place and Cecil having declared his first, prevailed on Eliza to consent to a private union, which was easy to be effected, as the Dutchess’s chaplain being very much in love with Eliza himself, would they were certain do anything to oblige her.

The Dutchess and Lady Harriet being engaged one evening to an assembly, they took the opportunity of their absence and were united by the enamoured Chaplain.

When the Ladies returned, their amazement was great at finding instead of Eliza the following Note.


We are married and gone.

Henry & Eliza Cecil.’

Her Grace as soon as she had read the letter, which sufficiently explained the whole affair, flew into the most violent passion and after having spent an agreable half hour, in calling them by all the shocking Names her rage could suggest to her, sent out after them 300 armed Men, with orders not to return without their Bodies, dead or alive; intending that if they should be brought to her in the latter condition to have them put to Death in some torturelike manner, after a few years Confinement.

In the mean time Cecil and Eliza continued their flight to the Continent, which they judged to be more secure than their native Land, from the dreadfull effects of the Dutchess’s vengeance, which they had so much reason to apprehend.

In France they remained 3 years, during which time they became the parents of two Boys, and at the end of it Eliza became a widow without any thing to support either her or her Children. They had lived since their Marriage at the rate of 18,000£ a year, of which Mr Cecil’s estate being rather less than the twentieth part, they had been able to save but a trifle, having lived to the utmost extent of their Income.

Eliza, being perfectly conscious of the derangement in their affairs, immediately on her Husband’s death set sail for England, in a man of War of 55 Guns, which they had built in their more prosperous Days. But no sooner had she stepped on Shore at Dover, with a Child in each hand, than she was seized by the officers of the Dutchess, and conducted by them to a snug little Newgate of their Lady’s which she had erected for the reception of her own private Prisoners.

No sooner had Eliza entered her Dungeon than the first thought which occurred to her, was how to get out of it again.

She went to the Door; but it was locked. She looked at the Window; but it was barred with iron; disappointed in both her expectations, she dispaired of effecting her Escape, when she fortunately perceived in a Corner of her Cell, a small saw and Ladder of ropes. With the saw she instantly went to work and in a few weeks had displaced every Bar but one to which she fastened the Ladder.

A difficulty then occurred which for some time, she knew not how to obviate. Her Children were too small to get down the Ladder by themselves, nor would it be possible for her to take them in her arms, when she did. At last she determined to fling down all her Cloathes, of which she had a large Quantity, and then having given them strict Charge not to hurt themselves, threw her Children after them. She herself with ease discended by the Ladder, at the bottom of which she had the pleasure of finding her little boys in perfect Health and fast asleep.

Her wardrobe she now saw a fatal necessity of selling, both for the preservation of her Children and herself. With tears in her eyes, she parted with these last reliques of her former Glory, and with the money she got for them, bought others more usefull, some playthings for Her Boys and a gold Watch for herself.

But scarcely was she provided with the above-mentioned necessaries, than she began to find herself rather hungry, and had reason to think, by their biting off two of her fingers, that her Children were much in the same situation.

To remedy these unavoidable misfortunes, she determined to return to her old freinds, Sir George and Lady Harcourt, whose generosity she had so often experienced and hoped to experience as often again.

She had about 40 miles to travel before she could reach their hospitable Mansion, of which having walked 30 without stopping, she found herself at the Entrance of a Town, where often in happier times, she had accompanied Sir George and Lady Harcourt to regale themselves with a cold collation at one of the Inns.

The reflections that her adventures since the last time she had partaken of these happy Junketings, afforded her, occupied her mind, for some time, as she sate on the steps at the door of a Gentleman’s house. As soon as these reflections were ended, she arose and determined to take her station at the very inn, she remembered with so much delight, from the Company of which, as they went in and out, she hoped to receive some Charitable Gratuity.

She had but just taken her post at the Innyard before a Carriage drove out of it, and on turning the Corner at which she was stationed, stopped to give the Postilion an opportunity of admiring the beauty of the prospect. Eliza then advanced to the carriage and was going to request their Charity, when on fixing her Eyes on the Lady, within it, she exclaimed,

‘Lady Harcourt!’

To which the lady replied,


‘Yes Madam it is the wretched Eliza herself.’

Sir George, who was also in the Carriage, but too much amazed to speek, was proceeding to demand an explanation from Eliza of the Situation she was then in, when Lady Harcourt in transports of Joy, exclaimed.

‘Sir George, Sir George, she is not only Eliza our adopted Daughter, but our real Child.’

‘Our real Child! What, Lady Harcourt, do you mean? You know you never even was with child. Explain yourself, I beseech you.’

‘You must remember Sir George, that when you sailed for America, you left me breeding.’

‘I do, I do, go on, dear Polly.’

‘Four months after you were gone, I was delivered of this Girl, but dreading your just resentment at her not proving the Boy you wished, I took her to a Haycock and laid her down. A few weeks afterwards, you returned, and fortunately for me, made no enquiries on the subject. Satisfied within myself of the wellfare of my Child, I soon forgot I had one, insomuch that when, we shortly after found her in the very Haycock, I had placed her, I had no more idea of her being my own, than you had, and nothing I will venture to say would have recalled the circumstance to my remembrance, but my thus accidentally hearing her voice, which now strikes me as being the very counterpart of my own Child’s.’

‘The rational and convincing Account you have given of the whole affair,’ said Sir George, ‘leaves no doubt of her being our Daughter and as such I freely forgive the robbery she was guilty of.’

A mutual Reconciliation then took place, and Eliza, ascending the Carriage with her two Children returned to that home from which she had been absent nearly four years.

No sooner was she reinstated in her accustomed power at Harcourt Hall, than she raised an Army, with which she entirely demolished the Dutchess’s Newgate, snug as it was, and by that act, gained the Blessings of thousands, and the Applause of her own Heart.




Did you enjoy the story, or are you horrified? Both reactions are valid. I think it’s hilarious. It has long been one of my favorites from Austen’s juvenilia, my strong love for which I elaborated upon a few years back for Pride and Possibilities. Do check it out, and have a very happy Eliza Doolittle Day! It is a particularly special day in my house: do you know why? Try to guess my daughter’s name 😉. She doesn't get to do absolutely nothing on her namesake's day, but we do try to make a point of her doing little. It's great fun.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Seduction of the Waltz

More recycled content, but still a favorite post of mine. I wrote the following in January 2017, hence the recent travel references. Enjoy.

Illustration by Thomas Rowlandson, 1806.

"What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy! -- There is nothing like dancing after all. -- I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies." 
"Certainly, Sir; -- and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. -- Every savage can dance."
Mr. Darcy's snide retort to the oblivious Sir William Lucas might have had a different resonance with Austen's contemporaries than it does with modern readers. I always read it in the past with racial overtones, and I think a lot of modern scholars put a post-colonial interpretation on it. The word "savage" undeniably has its colonial implications, yet it is possible Mr. Darcy refers not to the indigenous people of distant continents, but rather to Europe's very own German and Austrian peasantry, spinning about scandalously wrapped in each other's arms. You see, when Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, Regency society was just being hit with the dance revolution called the waltz. This infiltration from the continent was considered just as libidinous in its time as the pelvic thrusts of Elvis Presley were in his, maybe even more so. Society seems to have had three main objections to the waltz: it required very little training (always dangerously egalitarian), the "closed hold" brought the bodies of dancers together into a heretofore unheard of degree of intimacy, and it eliminated the passing of one's partner to another, keeping a couple anti-socially focused on only each other throughout a set. Jane Austen herself probably never danced a true waltz, being thirty-six and a confirmed spinster when the dance finally made its official debut at Almacks in 1812. Nevertheless, many Austenesque fiction writers can't resist the urge to portray our heroes and heroines engaged in a waltz. We're in good company, as neither can Disney. Admittedly, one can't quite float on air through the steps of a country line dance (nor maintain a solid conversation), but I'm not sure that's enough to explain the unique grasp the waltz has on our imaginations. It takes a very special dance to hold humanity entranced for hundreds of years, and it's ubiquity shows no signs of abating.

I was so fortunate as to spend New Year's Day at the stunningly beautiful Schloss Schönbrunn, the former summer residence of the Hapsburg imperial family. It is hard to visit without having your thoughts turned to the waltz. Walking through the Great Gallery one can vividly imagine the dancers at countless balls across the centuries, twirling about in fabulous gowns and frock coats (they do not allow photography at the Schloss, but you can enjoy an excellent virtual tour of all the rooms open to the public at the Schönbrunn website). This is where the waltz as we know it was born, amidst the dazzling splendor of 18th century Vienna, but its ancestry is far more humble. The Waltzer, a dance for two persons, first developed around the mid-18th century amongst the alpine peasantry in Germany and Austria. At the same, time the LÀndler, another couples dance, became popular with peasants across the Alps, from Switzerland to Slovenia (see it performed in The Sound of Music above). Aristocrats, for generations constrained to performing intricate and controlled dances like the minuet and allemande, seem to have developed something like envy for the freedom allowed their underlings, and the gentleman are said to have snuck off to the parties of their servants in order to indulge in the new fad. Eventually a new form of allemande developed in Vienna, backed by the likes of Mozart, melding the traditional court dance with that of the peasantry. The dance had always been characterized by intricate arm formations and hand grasps with one's partner. Now the close hold was introduced. A few more refinements from the dance masters - less stamping, more gliding - and the waltz was well on its way to arguably being the biggest dance craze of all time. By the beginning of the 19th century, everyone in Europe was waltzing except the Brits.

The Napoleonic Wars are certainly much to blame for delaying the waltz's arrival in London, but society in England was also more conservative than that on the Continent. Dances such as the Duke of Kent's Waltz (see it performed above) were popular at the turn of the century, but these received their names from the act of spinning with one's partner in a tight circle and did not incorporate the closed hold. It wasn't until after the Regency officially began that the waltz had its shocking debut. That first waltz at Almack's was still very different from the forms codified a few decades later, possibly resembling the new form of allemande more than anything else. A version of this survives as a traditional folk dance and can provide some notion of what it might have looked like. Compare the video of it below to that of a baroque allemande to get an idea of how the peasant's Waltzer and lÀndler influenced the dances of the European royal courts.

Whatever it looked like (we will probably never know for certain), the scandal was very real. Even the infamous Lord Byron, no prude by any means, was appalled by the dance and wrote a poem expressing his horror entitled The Waltz in 1813, the same year the world was introduced to Lizzy and Darcy. Here is an excerpt just to give you an idea of how overtly sexual Byron considered the dance:
But ye—who never felt a single thought
For what our morals are to be, or ought; Who wisely wish the charms you view to reap,
Say—would you make those beauties quite so cheap?
Hot from the hands promiscuously applied,
Round the slight waist, or down the glowing side,
Where were the rapture then to clasp the form
From this lewd grasp and lawless contact warm?
At once love’s most endearing thought resign,
To press the hand so press’d by none but thine;
To gaze upon that eye which never met
Another’s ardent look without regret;
Approach the lip which all, without restraint,
Come near enough—if not to touch—to taint;
If such thou lovest—love her then no more,
Or give—like her—caresses to a score;
Her mind with these is gone, and with it go
The little left behind it to bestow.
1815 print by Henry Meyer after G. Williams,
courtesy of The British Museum.

The sanctity of feminine virtue aside, the waltz was in England to stay. The politicos and socialites who flocked to the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815 came home fully enrapt. The danced received the highest sanction in July of 1816, to great uproar. First came the announcement on the 11th of the publication of dance master Thomas Wilson's A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing, the Truly Fashionable Species of Dancing (which you can view in its entirety here). This codification of the dance for polite society must have been all the Regent was waiting for, as a mere three days later he held a ball at which the waltz was said to be danced for the first time by the royal court (The London Times, 16 July, 1816). Below see an instructional video for the version of the dance as described by Wilson (skip to the very end to watch the steps danced in succession).

For decades to come, the waltz would continue to be condemned for its crudeness and sexuality. Even Queen Victoria's firm advocacy would not completely silence detractors. Would we like the waltz so much if it had? For we cannot deny, even from our jaded, modern perspectives, that the waltz is sexy. It always has been and always will be, even in a world where twerking is de rigueur. Maybe especially in a world with twerking. What would Mr. Darcy say?

Let's end with one last video, this one filmed at Schönbrunn, both in front of the palace and in the Great Gallery. It's a beautiful demonstration of the art and elegance with which this once rustic dance was eventually imbued. The music is the Kaiser Waltz by the waltz master himself, Johann Strauss, and features a ballet interpretation of the music as well as Viennese waltzers. The lead ballerinas are in the guises of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (better known as Sisi), who ruled the Austrian Empire for most of the 19th century.

For more information on the history of the waltz in England, please read Cheryl A. Wilson's excellent essay, The Arrival of the Waltz in England, 1812, to which this piece owes a great debt. I also relied on this post which provides a broader overview of the history of the waltz.

Monday, May 3, 2021

"Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to Her Husband" by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Portrait of Lady Mary Pierrepont
by Godfrey Kneller
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (nĂ©e Pierrepont - 1689-1762), the rebellious protofeminist that pioneered smallpox inoculation in England. Though largely known for her Turkish Embassy Letters (published posthumously and without her family's consent - like Austen, Lady Mary was also the victim of familial censorship, both through burned letters and image cultivation), written while her husband was ambassador to Constantinople, she also wrote a great deal of poetry. Her audience was her social circle, but some of these made it into print. In lieu of a proper post, I thought I'd share one of her poems with you, remarkably modern in its notions of gender, but be warned: modern audiences making a study of her will be confronted with a great deal of racism in her prose, as really ought to be expected from any 18th century Englishman traveling almost anywhere outside of their home country. Such content will not be reproduced by me here, though I feel obligated to call it out. 

The following poem teases my Janeite head, causing plot bunnies to explode. It is inspired by a scandalous court case from 1724, when Sir William Yonge filed for divorce from his wife, Mary, on grounds of adultery. He discovered that she had taken a lover, one Colonel Norton (who he also successfully sued for damages), and though they were already separated, and despite his many well-documented affairs, he used it as grounds for divorce. In accordance with the laws of the time, the courts found in his favor, bestowing Mary's dowery and the bulk of her fortune upon him in compensation. What happened to Mary Yonge (nĂ©e Heathcote) after being deprived of her social status and wealth? Maybe she decided to disguise her name and set herself up in one of the few professions accessible to ladies at the time, and become a companion to some wealthier lady in need? I know the idea that Mr. Darcy could possibly have hired an infamous divorcee as a companion to his beloved sister is pretty farfetched (and history records that she remarried immediately after the divorce), but my brain keeps toying with the idea, nonetheless. Regardless, it is very possible Austen knew of the court case, and maybe the name did have some nefarious connections for her when she chose it. What it much more certain is that Austen would not have read the following verse, written from Mary Yonge's perspective, as it wasn't published until 1972. I'm not going to provide a lot of context, except that both the "patron" and "the man you fear" are probably Sir Robert Walpole, and that the blanked out names in the last line are Churchill (General John Churchill) and Lowther (Anthony Lowther), both rumoured to have had affairs (the former with Lady Walpole). 

Epistle from Mrs. Yonge to Her Husband (1724)

Think not this paper comes with vain pretense
To move your pity, or to mourn th’ offense.
Too well I know that hard obdurate heart;
No softening mercy there will take my part,
Nor can a woman’s arguments prevail,
When even your patron’s wise example fails.
But this last privilege I still retain;
Th’ oppressed and injured always may complain.
    Too, too severely laws of honor bind
The weak submissive sex of womankind.
If sighs have gained or force compelled our hand,
Deceived by art, or urged by stern command,
Whatever motive binds the fatal tie,
The judging world expects our constancy.
    Just heaven! (for sure in heaven does justice reign,
Though tricks below that sacred name profane)
To you appealing I submit my cause.
Nor fear a judgment from impartial laws.
All bargains but conditional are made;
The purchase void, the creditor unpaid;
Defrauded servants are from service free;
A wounded slave regains his liberty.
For wives ill used no remedy remains,
To daily racks condemned, and to eternal chains.
    From whence is this unjust distinction grown?
Are we not formed with passions like your own?
Nature with equal fire our souls endued,
Our minds as haughty, and as warm our blood;
O’er the wide world your pleasures you pursue,
The change is justified by something new;
But we must sigh in silence—and be true.
Our sex’s weakness you expose and blame
(Of every prattling fop the common theme),
Yet from this weakness you suppose is due
Sublimer virtue than your Cato knew.
Had heaven designed us trials so severe,
It would have formed our tempers then to bear.
    And I have borne (oh what have I not borne!)
The pang of jealousy, the insults of scorn.
Wearied at length, I from your sight remove,
And place my future hopes in secret love.
In the gay bloom of glowing youth retired,
I quit the woman’s joy to be admired,
With that small pension your hard heart allows,
Renounce your fortune, and release your vows.
To custom (though unjust) so much is due;
I hide my frailty from the public view.
My conscience clear, yet sensible of shame,
My life I hazard, to preserve my fame.
And I prefer this low inglorious state
To vile dependence on the thing I hate—
But you pursue me to this last retreat.
Dragged into light, my tender crime is shown
And every circumstance of fondness known.
Beneath the shelter of the law you stand,
And urge my ruin with a cruel hand,
While to my fault thus rigidly severe,
Tamely submissive to the man you fear.
    This wretched outcast, this abandoned wife,
Has yet this joy to sweeten shameful life:
By your mean conduct, infamously loose,
You are at once my accuser and excuse.
Let me be damned by the censorious prude
(Stupidly dull, or spiritually lewd),
My hapless case will surely pity find
From every just and reasonable mind.
When to the final sentence I submit,
The lips condemn me, but their souls aquit.
    No more my husband, to your pleasures go,
The sweets of your recovered freedom know.
Go: court the brittle friendship of the great,
Smile at his board, or at his levee wait;
And when dismissed, to madam’s toilet fly,
More than her chambermaids, or glasses, lie,
Tell her how young she looks, how heavenly fair,
Admire the lilies and the roses there.
Your high ambition may be gratified,
Some cousin of her own be made your bride,
And you the father of a glorious race
Endowed with Ch——l’s strength and Low——r’s face. 

Monday, April 26, 2021

Some Historical Fashion Videos

It's the first day of spring break here (a bit of a pointless event considering my kids have barely had school for the past month), so I'm going to make this post quick, easy, and fun. It is appropriately inspired by my daughter, who spent a good portion of her time in quarantine watching historical fashion videos on YouTube.

It's hard to say no to screen time when your kid shows so much fascination in a favorite subject (maybe she knows this, and that's part of her interest?). Unfortunately, I haven't gotten to actually sit and watch most of the videos with her, at least not to the extent I would like. What I have done is bookmarked a few that looked particularly interesting and relevant to my area of study to go back and watch later, and it's the best of these that I want to share with you today. This first one is just awesome, providing a great overview of the changing female silhouette over the course of the 19th century. Darn it! I wish I could draw (a particularly galling area to be lacking in talent because of what my sister can do). Karolina Zebrowska, to whom we owe this gem, clearly states that she will not be commenting on the political influences that caused these changes (though she does mention the effect of Queen Victoria's reign), a subject I dabbled in for the early decades of the century in my recent post, The Rise and Fall of the Empire(waist). I just want to remind everyone that politics and social change are always reflected in fashion. Enjoy:

This next video is by CrowsEyeProductions, who do a beautiful job depicting accurate historical clothing. Not only is it specifically focused on Regency daywear, but it is also a gorgeous tribute to Jane and Cassandra Austen's sisterhood. Every time I watch this, I cry at the end. I can't help it. I could elaborate on why I do not think Jane would have donned such a gorgeous white gown (very Fanny Price, I think), just to toss a cap on her head and sit down to write, but I'll resist that urge. Instead, I'll dwell for a moment on an obstacle, which this video highlights, that is preventing me from getting my daughter interested in actually wearing accurate historical garb: all the pins. She's terrified of pokey things. 

Finally, on a decidedly lighter note, this video from Bernadette Banner (who I could watch all day. She's great. Anyone interested in creating Regency women's garb should watch this video, too). It provides a brief but surprisingly comprehensive history of underwear. If you can't cope with discussions of people's bodily functions, perhaps this isn't the video for you, but I must recommend that you try to get over that. Have fun with this one, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

On the Character of Clergymen

Following a series of hot debates last week about clergymen in Austen, particularly the problematic behavior of both Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton, I decided to repost this piece I wrote in 2016, before the Me Too movement. I think my feelings about both characters have hardened since then (dismissing Collins as a buffoon lets him off the hook for some of his more egregious transgressions), but the piece is still quite valuable in understanding Austen's representations of the clergy within her contemporary context and familial circumstances. Enjoy!

David Bamber as Mr. Collins, 1995.
“My dear Miss Elizabeth, I have the highest opinion in the world of your excellent judgment in all matters within the scope of your understanding, but permit me to say that there must be a wide difference between the established forms of ceremony amongst the laity, and those which regulate the clergy; for give me leave to observe that I consider the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom — provided that a proper humility of behaviour is at the same time maintained. You must therefore allow me to follow the dictates of my conscience on this occasion, which leads me to perform what I look on as a point of duty. Pardon me for neglecting to profit by your advice, which on every other subject shall be my constant guide, though in the case before us I consider myself more fitted by education and habitual study to decide on what is right than a young lady like yourself.” - Pride and Prejudice
Ah, Mr. Collins: Austen’s biggest buffoon. Her most famous clergyman does not reflect well on his profession. Based on Pride and Prejudice alone, it would be easy to conclude Austen thought rather poorly of churchmen. After all, the only other character who even considers entering the church is Mr. Wickham. Yet in her other novels she provides several examples of excellence in the calling. Nearly half her heroes are clergymen, and Henry Tilney, Edward Ferrars, and Edmund Bertram are all precisely what one would wish for in a spiritual guide: sincere, compassionate, and capable. In them Austen shows us what a good parish rector ought to be. In contrast, Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton are revealed as thoroughly undeserving of their preferment, a situation that was all too common in her time.

Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars, 2008.

A man of genteel birth but not enough income to support himself had three options in the Regency world: he could join the military, study law, or take orders. It also happened to be a time in which the duties of the parish rector were being hotly debated. At issue was the custom of pluralism, or the holding of more than one living at a time. A living was the assignment (usually gifted) of a parish to a rector, which included a house and annual salary. There was a shortage of livings, which were typically held for life or until retirement, and the salaries attached to them were often not enough to live upon. About 1/5th of gentlemen in orders would spend their lives as poorly paid curates, while those that held livings often had more than one and still struggled to support their families.* As the daughter of a clergyman and the sister to two more, it is no wonder that Austen voiced her opinion on the subject in her novels.

From left to right: George Austen, his eldest son James,
and his 4th son Henry. All artists unknown.

Jane Austen’s father held two livings, as did her eldest brother upon inheriting them. So do Mr. Morland in Northanger Abbey and Edmund Bertram in Mansfield Park. While offering no criticism of pluralism, she also clearly sympathizes with the plight of the curate, as illustrated in the struggles of Charles Hayter in Persuasion and, potentially, Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility. However, it is only in Mansfield Park that she explicitly develops the subject. Here Edmund acts as defender of the clergy, while Mary Crawford makes her case against it.
At length, after a short pause, Miss Crawford began with, “So you are to be a clergyman, Mr. Bertram. This is rather a surprise to me.”

“Why should it surprise you? You must suppose me designed for some profession, and might perceive that I am neither a lawyer, nor a soldier, nor a sailor.”

“Very true; but, in short, it had not occurred to me. And you know there is generally an uncle or a grandfather to leave a fortune to the second son.”
Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram, 2007.
“A very praiseworthy practice,” said Edmund, “but not quite universal. I am one of the exceptions, and being one, must do something for myself.”

“But why are you to be a clergyman? I thought that was always the lot of the youngest, where there were many to chuse before him.”

“Do you think the church itself never chosen, then?”

“Never is a black word. But yes, in the never of conversation, which means not very often, I do think it. For what is to be done in the church? Men love to distinguish themselves, and in either of the other lines distinction may be gained, but not in the church. A clergyman is nothing.”

“The nothing of conversation has its gradations, I hope, as well as the never. A clergyman cannot be high in state or fashion. He must not head mobs, or set the ton in dress. But I cannot call that situation nothing which has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind, individually or collectively considered, temporally and eternally, which has the guardianship of religion and morals, and consequently of the manners which result from their influence. No one here can call the office nothing. If the man who holds it is so, it is by the neglect of his duty, by foregoing its just importance, and stepping out of his place to appear what he ought not to appear.”

“You assign greater consequence to the clergyman than one has been used to hear given, or than I can quite comprehend. One does not see much of this influence and importance in society, and how can it be acquired where they are so seldom seen themselves? How can two sermons a week, even supposing them worth hearing, supposing the preacher to have the sense to prefer Blair’s to his own, do all that you speak of? govern the conduct and fashion the manners of a large congregation for the rest of the week? One scarcely sees a clergyman out of his pulpit.” - Mansfield Park
J.J. Field as Henry Tilney, 2007.

Interestingly, the worldly Mary is only restating the very criticisms that the bishops of the English church had been leveling at their underlings for years. If a rector held a plurality of livings and did not live in a parish, he might only see its members on Sundays, and then only on those when the curate wasn’t performing the honors. How can a clergyman be a shepherd to his flock if he never sees it? Concerns for clerical non-residence led to the Residency Act of 1803, which required clergymen to obtain a license in order to hold the living of a parish in which they did not live. The act was amended in 1809 and 1810 to assist bishops in keeping track of resident and non-resident clergy and further distinguishing between those who performed Sunday services and those who did not. Acceptable explanations for holding a plurality of livings included the parsonage being unlivable, the salary of a parish being inadequate to live upon, or the ill-health of the clergyman.* Sense and Sensibility provides examples of the first two cases: the parsonage at Delaford is uninhabitable until Colonel Brandon institutes repairs upon it, and the salary, at only 200 pounds a year, is not enough to support a family. Thus the Colonel estimates how the living might be improved, and promises further patronage (like using his influence to procure Edward an additional living). It is only Mrs. Ferrars’ grudging gift of 10,000 pounds that provides Edward the means to marry Elinor Dashwood.

In Persuasion we have an example in Dr. Shirley, Rector of Uppercross, of how ill-health might permit non-residency. Hopes for the marriage of Charles Hayter and Henrietta Musgrove depend upon the former’s attainment of a living, and the young couple rest their best hopes on Dr. Shirley being so infirm that he will hire Charles as his curate and pay him unusually well. Henrietta even hopes he will be accommodating enough to retire to Lyme, leaving the parsonage available for their occupation. In the end, a better solution arises. Hayter is given the holding of a living until the young man for whom it is intended reaches an age to take orders. By that time, Dr. Shirley will presumably be conveniently dead and the living at Uppercross available.

Blake Ritson as Mr. Elton, 2009.

Two of Austen’s heroes, Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey, enter the clergy because their families hold livings for which they are destined. Despite this lack of a calling, both are well-suited to the profession and can be expected to prove model clergymen. Edward Ferrars’ decision to enter the church without any expectation of patronage, on the other hand, is extremely risky, perhaps even foolish. Edward is the only character in Austen who appears truly called to serve, and it is only Colonel Brandon’s generosity that saves him from being one of many hungry curates in need of a living. Other clergymen in Austen get lucky, too. We are not told through what means Emma’s Mr. Elton ascends to the living at Highbury (his lack of connection to the area suggests he was appointed by a bishop), but along with his additional “independent property” he is situated well enough to both marry and provide him with an inflated sense of his own importance. Certainly his callous behavior towards Harriet Smith proves he is ill-suited for the clerical life: his ego so in command that he wounds a parishioner to assuage it. Mr. Collins is even worse and even luckier, for at least Mr. Elton shows a degree of competence that can account for his preferment. Mr. Collins, on the other hand, receives ordination with no prospects on his horizon, yet just so happens to come almost immediately to Lady Catherine’s attention and rise to all the glories belonging to the rector of Hunsford, all without doing anything to merit such fortune. That patrons like Lady Catherine had the disposal of livings in their power and would choose to bestow them on sycophants like Mr. Collins was a serious problem. It is no coincidence that the same book gives us an example in Mr. Darcy of the conscientious patron: one who will not leave the moral guidance and care of his tenants to wastrel like Wickham. That Wickham even attempts to secure a living – merely a means to an annual income, with no concern whatsoever for the welfare of the parishioners – illustrates the dangers of the system. I think it safe to assert that Austen thought the appointment of undeserving clergymen to parishes a bigger concern than pluralism.

Mr. Collins makes an impromptu speech at the Netherfield Ball, elucidating for both the readers and all the guests of the house the duties and obligations of a rector, as he understands them:
“The rector of a parish has much to do. — In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible.” - Pride and Prejudice
Clearly, he does not belong to that category of clergymen receiving that iota of Mary Crawford’s approval for having the sense to not write their own sermons, instead utilizing those widely published by Hugh Blair. The parishioners of Hunsford have my heartfelt sympathy.

Hugh Blair by David Martin, 1775. The famous sermon writer
is portrayed wearing the same style of clerical collar sported
by Henry Austen and Mr. Elton above.

*For more on this subject please read Celia Easton’s essay “‘The Probability of Some Negligence’: Avoiding the Horror of the Absent Clergyman,” published in 2010 in Persuasions: No. 32. It largely inspired this blog post.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Six of the possibly best Austen quotes

I’ve tackled a variety of Austen rankings in my time, but I never have offered up my absolute favorite quotes from each of the novels, probably because it is an entirely partial and prejudiced endeavor. Nevertheless, I could use a bit of lighthearted fun, so let's do this! If I engaged in this exercise again next week, I would probably land on different selections, but here are the lines that currently stand out most prominent in my mind, ranked according to my momentary and entirely vacillating preferences.

Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford
Mansfield Park, 2007
#6. “Mr. Bertram,” said she, “I have tidings of my harp at last. I am assured that it is safe at Northampton; and there it has probably been these ten days, in spite of the solemn assurances we have so often received to the contrary.” Edmund expressed his pleasure and surprise. “The truth is, that our inquiries were too direct; we sent a servant, we went ourselves: this will not do seventy miles from London; but this morning we heard of it in the right way. It was seen by some farmer, and he told the miller, and the miller told the butcher, and the butcher’s son-in-law left word at the shop.” – Mansfield Park
I just love this line (Mary gets all the best in this book). It reveals something very quintessential about both Austen's world and her sense of humor.
  • Runner up: Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody, not greatly in fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.

Jean Marsh as Mrs. Ferrars
Sense and Sensibility, 2008

#5. Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating. For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.

In spite of his being allowed once more to live, however, he did not feel the continuance of his existence secure, till he had revealed his present engagement; for the publication of that circumstance, he feared, might give a sudden turn to his constitution, and carry him off as rapidly as before. – Sense and Sensibility
I adore Austen’s narrative voice, and this bit of commentary on Mrs. Ferrars beautifully critiques the character’s absurdity. It makes me laugh every time I read it. 

  • Runner up: “Altogether, they will have five hundred a-year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that?–They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something.” – Fanny Dashwood

Benjamin Whitrow as Mr. Bennet
Pride and Prejudice, 1995 
4. “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. — Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” – Pride and Prejudice
There are so many fabulous lines and zingers in this book, but these three, short sentences strike me as both powerful and pivotal, excellently demonstrating the ruling dynamics of the Longbourn household.
  • I have no less than four runners up for this novel. All are great:
    • It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
    • “I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.” – Elizabeth Bennet
    • “Kitty was no discretion in her coughs … she times them very ill.” – Mr. Bennet
    • “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” – Lady Catherine

Romola Garai & Jonny Lee Miller as Emma Woodhouse & Mr. Knightley
Emma 2009.
#3. “Whom are you going to dance with?” asked Mr. Knightley. 
She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “With you, if you will ask me.” 
“Will you?” said he, offering his hand. 
“Indeed I will. You have shewn that you can dance, and you know we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.” 
“Brother and sister! no, indeed.” – Emma
I had the hardest time choosing a single quote for Emma, as it is chock full of masterfully constructed text. In the end, I selected the above exchange rather than a single line, because the moment is magnificent.
  • Runners up:
    • “Never mind, Harriet, I shall not be a poor old maid; and it is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls, but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else.” – Miss Woodhouse (“Badly done,” Emma!)
    • “You must go to bed early, my dear—and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go.—You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel.” – Mr. Woodhouse

JJ Feild as Mr. Tilney
Northanger Abbey, 2007
#2. “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” – Northanger Abbey
Mr. Tilney has maybe the best dialogue of any character Austen created. I chose this line because it is so quotable. I once seriously considered painting it over my bookshelves (crappy handwriting is all that stoped me).
  • Runner up (from the same chapter): “My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous.”

Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth
Persuasion, 1995 
#1. “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever.” – Persuasion
These are maybe the best words Austen ever wrote, totally ROCKED by Captain Wentworth. They make me want to jump up and cheer.
  • Runner up: “My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” “You are mistaken,” said he gently, “that is not good company; that is the best.” – Anne Elliot and Mr. Elliot

So what are your favorites? Do you take issue with any of mine? Let us indulge ourselves in frivolous debate! It will be great fun.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Easter at Rosings

Happy Easter Monday! My family is on day seven of a ten day quarantine (exposure at school - none of us are sick), so my days are kind of indistinct. I really ought to have posted this yesterday, but hopefully tardiness will not diminish the laughter. Besides, a great benefit of quarantine is not having to spend the day with the Lady Catherine's of the world. 

I wrote the following foolishness a few years ago and am very glad to make it available again. It's inspired by chapter VIII volume II of Pride and Prejudice, which takes place on Easter Sunday, and the English accumulative rhyme This is the House that Jack Built. Somehow, this little piece ended up with a listing on Goodreads. It even has two reviews! My apologies to Anne de Bourgh, Mrs. Jenkins, and Maria Lucas, who are here neglected. May all who celebrated have enjoyed their holiday more than Lizzy!

Easter at Rosings

This is the drawing room at Rosings.

Image from the Belton House Hondecoeter Room,
which was used as Lady Catherine’s reception room
in the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice.
You can’t actually see the fireplace in the film.

This is the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the Rector who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the Lady who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the wife approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is Elizabeth with eyes so fine

Who is friends with the wife

Approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the piano made in Lichtenstein

That was played by Elizabeth with the eyes so fine

Who is friends with the wife

Approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the music a song sublime

Performed on the piano made in Lichtenstein

By Elizabeth with the eyes so fine

Who is friends with the wife

Approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the Colonel loyal and genuine

Who turned the music so sublime

Performed on the piano made in Lichtenstein

By Elizabeth with the eyes so fine

Who is friends with the wife

Approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is the hero whose heart repines

To see the Colonel, though loyal and genuine,

Turn the music so sublime

Performed on the piano made in Lichtenstein

By Elizabeth with the eyes so fine

Who is friends with the wife

Approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings.

This is set down well designed

Delivered to the hero whose heart repines

To see the Colonel loyal and genuine

Turn the music so sublime

Performed on the piano made in Lichtenstein

By Elizabeth with the eyes so fine

Who is friends with the wife

Approved by the Lady

Who hired the Rector

Who admires the fireplace

That warms the drawing room at Rosings:
“Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”