Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Jane Austen Ate...

I've decided at last to read What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, since it seems to have been popping up in every search for "Jane Austen" that I make on Amazon ever since I can remember. If it's so well-known and well-read, I feel it my duty to read it as an admirer and scholar of Jane Austen. My procrastination to read it has been quite irrational, now that I consider it. Because I'd never thoroughly investigated it before and just assumed that it wouldn't have very much of Jane's world since it included Dickens. I know, all unfounded! Once I'd picked it up from my library, and read the contents and description, I became quite excited! I can see there are some questions I have that will be answered in it's pages.

I'll be giving my opinion on it when I've finished it! So check back for that.

'Til the next post!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sacramento's JA Book Club: Week 3


Pride & Prejudice

Our look into Jane's story of the Bennets, Bingleys, Darcys, Collinses, Lucases and De Bourghs began with a tour of sites important in her life and in her novels through photographs taken by Rachel Dodge from her tour with JASNA. Once again, I wish I lived in England!

The photos included:

(from Jane's own life)
  • The site where Steventon Rectory formerly stood
  • Steventon St. Nicholas church where Mr. Austen preached
  • Wheatsheaf Inn where they came to collect their post
  • Ashe House, home of the Lefroys
  • Deane House
  • Ibthorpe, which has been well-preserved and hardly changed, home of their friends the Lloyds
  • No. 4 Sydney Place, Bath, the Austens' first residence in the city
  • Castle Square in Southampton
  • Chawton Cottage, of course
  • Goodnestone Park in Kent, home of her brother Edward's mother-in-law Mrs. Knight
  • Godmersham Park in Kent, Edward's home, now a place for businesses and a conference room!
  • Winchester and its cathedral

(from Jane's novels)
  • The Pump Room in Bath, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion
  • The magnificent Upper Rooms in Bath, Northanger Abbey
  • Box Hill, Emma
  • Lyme Regis, Persuasion
  • Portsmouth, Mansfield Park
  • Derbyshire: Matlock Bridge, Dovedale, Bolsover Castle (not from the JASNA tour; different source), Pride and Prejudice

The pictures were all enticing, especially for anyone who wants to travel to England, and along with a cheerful and personal commentary by Rachel Dodge, with not too many facts crammed in about each location (which was nice for me, having read them all a hundred times before), which made a lovely presentation. (The projector screen made some pictures just a bit dark at times, sadly.) My favorites were of the Steventon Rectory's former site, so lushly green and peaceful, and the homes and gardens of Kent, since I've never been to either. Next time... Derbyshire, with it's mountains, mist and greenery, looks like a place
filled with natural beauty! She read a couple quotes from P&P during the Derbyshire pictures -- loved it!

"Edward Ferrars: only £ 100 per year, poor boy"

There was no book discussion this week, but we received a fascinating lecture entitled "How Much are They Worth? The Characters in
Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice," by Dr. Bell, which included a description of the entail process (that was especially interesting -- and a bit confusing). He reminded us that a character's fortune (or lack of) is not just about numbers, that we can discover reasons for actions and see the moral fiber of many through their monetary circumstances' effect on them. Willoughby and Wickham are obvious examples of a bad effect, with their search for wealthy wives. We learned how to calculate the annual income of a lady's fortune -- quite enlightening for me -- which, if we use Jane's usual figure of 5% interest, means dividing the whole of the fortune by 20. So Miss Bingley's £ 20,000 would give her an annual income of £ 1,000. How gentlemen earned their thousands a year was another enlightening point to me. I've never been totally sure where exactly their money came from! Although I had my guesses. So to boil it down, their money came from tenants on their land and the sale of supplies (such as crops, livestock and timber) that came from their land. Voila! To find a gentleman's net worth, one does just the opposite of the lady's and multiplies it by 20. So Mr. Darcy with £ 10,000 a year has a net worth of £ 200,000 -- wow. Of course we're all wondering what the modern equivalent is! But Dr. Bell said that's very difficult to do accurately, with the change of what people buy and the value of money. And I understand that. Still, it would be interesting to at least have a guess.

Now, the entail... I won't attempt to explain all that! Only give the gist of it. Sacramento Library will be putting the audio of the lecture online, so if you want all the details, visit How Austentatious! Two important points: 1) Judges insisted property could not be divided without its' owners consent, and 2) To keep the power of the landed gentry, the estates should be passed on in tact. This all resulted in the pivotal point of "The Strict Settlement" (T.S.S. from now on), all the information on entails comes from that act, so remember it! This part of the lecture answered some long-nagging questions I've had, once I could wrap my head around it all. And I have to say that Dr. Bell did an excellent job of explaining this messy subject! T.S.S. basically laid out what was to be done with the estate on the death of it's current owner, and was drawn up and had to be agreed upon by him and his eldest son. When the son came of age or was married the estate and all its income was passed to him, but he could not do anything with it, like selling parts of it; it had to remain whole. He could decline making T.S.S. and be in total control of the estate to do what he wished with, but only after his father's death, plus he would get no income from it until that time, which could be many years away! So eldest sons usually chose T.S.S. option. Jointures for wives, provisions for younger sons and portions for daughters were written into T.S.S. as well.

So, we wonder, why couldn't Mr. Bennet pass his estate to a daughter instead of Mr. Collins? The De Bourghs' did it, didn't they? It all goes back to T.S.S.! If the passing on of the estate to the female line in the event of no sons was not written into T.S.S., there was nothing to be done about it. Sir Lewis De Bourgh and his father apparently thought of that event, but not Mr. Bennet and his father, much to the trying of the nerves of Mrs. Bennet. So instead, T.S.S. stated that the estate be entailed to the nearest male relation. And Mr. Bennet couldn't make a re-settlement of previous T.S.S. because Mr. Collins is not his son. I hope this makes some sense! Again, listen to the lecture, when they get it up on the website -- it was extremely interesting if you've at all wondered about these things!

This concludes my recap of the third week's events.

Next week, the 25th: a discussion of
P&P, and a dancing lesson!!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sacramento's JA Book Club: Week 2


At last!

Sense & Sensibility

"All those other Jane Austen fans are real people!" I'm always reading things they've written and seeing their pictures in magazines and the like, but I've never really seen any in person outside of my family and friends. So, this experience was special and exciting for that very reason. Talking with them and seeing them with their own copy of S&S tucked under their arm made me realize: I am not alone! And I loved it!

It was my first formal book club experience! My mom and I arrived at the Central Library at a few minutes past two (after circling the block a few times to find a parking spot...). A pair of what we discovered were fellow Janeites directed us to the second floor to join the discussion. The group had to be divided into two to make room for everyone! The first group was sitting in on the lecture by Ed Ratcliffe on Regency transportation on the first floor, while the rest of us discussed S&S on the second floor.

Out of the 5 tables set up, only one of them was used because of the small size of our group. The discussion was led by an excited young lady who's finishing up her degree from one of our local universities. There were only about twenty of us, and the discussion, though rather subdued at first, became more exciting as we all grew more comfortable around one another.

We began with discussing the displays of (or lack of) propriety of some of the minor characters, such as John Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings. That was so interesting! People's remarks were all different. Finding the lack of propriety in these characters wasn't too difficult, but seeing how they really did display propriety, whether from the heart or just through outward conformity, led to an insightful conversation. We also wove into that talk how certain characters changed, and how some didn't. John Dashwood and Mrs. Jennings, for example, are on exact opposite ends of the scale of propriety, and in how their characters changed! Mrs. J. comes across as paying almost no heed to society's rules for propriety, but by the end we see that she possesses the most important kind: a real concern for others. Mr. J. D., on the other hand, does not change in the least. Although outwardly conforming to society's definition of propriety, he still lets his impulses toward kindness be squashed by his selfish wife.

Next was the discussion of secret engagements, both actual and supposed, and the danger of entering in to them. The actual is of course between Edward and Lucy, with the dangers of being cut off from the family and dis-inheritance. The supposed is between Marianne and Mr. Willoughby, the dangers being that when people found out that it wasn't an engagement, Marianne's reputation could be considered damaged, with their open and apparent regard people had witnessed, plus her writing him letters (as you know, only engaged couples were permitted to do).

We shared our opinions on who displayed the most exemplary conduct, which most of us who spoke up believe to be Colonel Brandon, and I most heartily agree. But I must say that I believe Edward to be a close second, as far as his conduct during the story is concerned. I was a bit timid about sharing this opinion, because of his accidental misleading of Elinor during his stay at Norland. But I needn't have been, especially when our discussion leader, when asked who she thought behaved the most exemplary, named Edward as one! Indeed, his faithfulness and willingness to stand by Lucy -- Lucy -- even after he is disinherited, which lesser men would have seen as an ample excuse for breaking their engagement, must be seen as particularly exemplary qualities. (Remember, in Regency society only women were allowed to break engagements.) And, as to showing those qualities, I must say that Willoughby failed most miserably! And he even had the chance to be married to a very amiable woman in Marianne! Badly done indeed! (Pardon my outbursts... that subject gets me quite excited.) Of course the kindness, discretion and steadfast heart of Colonel Brandon will always rank as one of the highest displays of exemplary conduct with me.

"Do you think that Austen intends Elinor to be the embodiment of sense and Marianne the embodiment of sensibility?"

I felt brave enough to just dive into this question! I began by "wisely" saying that at the beginning of the novel they do seem to embody those characteristics, but by the end, they learn better how to balance the two, which seemed to receive a murmur of general agreement from the group. Which led to discussing what the novel suggests about the proper relationship between those two characteristics. The idea was brought up that Jane seems to show a degree of both is important.

We adjourned downstairs, joining the rest of us who had been unable to fit into the lecture before. And this lecture was splendid! Ed Ratcliffe described the status and appearance of every sort of wheeled vehicle in the Regency period, with pictures from William Felton's book of 1795. We covered public transport, starting with the "long wagon" which is like a present day 18-wheeler and very uncomfortable, with no suspension. The next step up was the stagecoach, then the Royal Mail coaches, which were very fast, with 8 coaches leaving every night to deliver mail to 320 post offices in the country! (But traveling all night...) Horses were rented, just like present day rental cars, and changed at inns, every 20 miles or so.

Private transportation included the 4 wheels: chaise, coach, chariot, low phaeton, landau, barouche, landaulet and barouche-landau. Most had a suspension system of a "cee" spring with two leather straps each on the front and the back attached to the corners of the bottom of the carriage box. Except for the chariot, which had real springs that the leather was attached to. Make sense? It wasn't the best system -- the box still rather bounced around -- but certainly better than nothing!

Then there is the 2 wheeled: gig, curricle and whiskey. A gig is quite unpretentious (no matter how much John Thorpe might brag on his) with usually only one horse, but the curricle was the Regency sports car! And it often had two horses. A whiskey was so named for its practice of whisking around larger coaches, and could be hung very high, and could therefore be quite dangerous.

An interesting tidbit is the reason for a swordcase on the back of a vehicle. That was where a gentleman would place his sword, therefore marking him as a gentleman. Even when gentlemen stopped carrying around their swords, a case still indicated his genteel status, so they were placed on the vehicles anyway as a "status symbol."

From memory, here's a list of the vehicles owned by Jane's characters:

  • Chaise: Mr. Bingley, General Tilney, Mr. Suckling, Mr. Willoughby, Sir Walter Elliot and Mrs. Jennings
  • Curricle: Mr. Tilney, Charles Musgrove, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Elliot, Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Rushworth
  • Gig: Admiral and Mrs. Croft, John Thorpe, Mr. Collins and Sir Edward Denham
  • Coach: The Bennets, the Musgroves
  • Chariot: Mrs. Jennings, the older Mrs. Rushworth and Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood
  • Phaeton: Miss De Bourgh
  • Landaulet: Anne Wentworth
  • Barouche: Henry Crawford, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer and Lady Dalrymple
  • Barouche-Landau: The Sucklings (of course)

If you'd like to read a sort of transcript from Ed Ratcliffe's lecture, here is a link with lots of pictures and a lot more information: JANSA NorCal: Transports of Delight


I hope this tempts you to join us! As I said before, one of the most enjoyable things of the day was meeting fellow admirers of Jane. As Anne said, "My idea of good company, Mr. Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation." And that is what I've found so far. It's hard not to enjoy oneself in the company those who also appreciate the work and world of Miss Jane!


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An Apology and Reminder


I have been abominably derelict in my blogging duties -- please forgive me, dear readers! There is a post coming soon!

And a reminder to all in the Sacramento area: The Jane Austen book club is meeting this Sunday, July 11 at the Central Library from 2:00-4:00, and this month's book...? Pride & Prejudice! With a virtual tour by Rachel Dodge of all the locales and architecture in Jane's novels. Don't miss it! It is a rewarding experience -- for free! (Parking, too!)

Oh, how Austentatious!