A Celebration of Jane Austen

200 years ago today, Jane Austen passed away. She left behind an enduring legacy of much-loved novels and correspondence that—to this day—still captivate readers and inspire writers.

Around the globe today are celebrations of Jane Austen’s life and works. If you cannot attend an event in person, I hope you will join one of the many observances taking place on social media today.

On Twitter you can follow hashtag #janeausten200

On Facebook you can go to one of these pages:

@janeausten200

@janeaustenauthor

You can also read a blog post by Kyra Kramer on AustenAuthors.com. Kyra’s post is a lovely and thoughtful tribute to Jane Austen’s life.

Jane Austen’s final resting place is in Winchester Cathedral. Her memorial stone makes no mention of her novels, but today we celebrate them along with her life, and thank her for 200 years of enjoyment and inspiration her books have given us all.

The Sad Tale of Lydia Bennet and Other Women Like Her

Lydia Bennet was fifteen years old when she fell under the spell of George Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Willful and foolish, she eloped with Wickham less than a year after making his acquaintance, leaving her family stunned by the news and tainted (in Society’s eyes) by her actions.

Why Did He Do It?

One question Lydia’s father and sister Elizabeth pondered was, why would Wickham run off with Lydia? She had no money, no dowry, and no connections. Had he some hidden motive in singling Lydia Bennet out as the object of his villainy?

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham as portrayed in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Lydia Bennet and George Wickham as portrayed in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen never revealed Wickham’s true motive in the story, but it could very well be that George Wickham was just plain caddish when it came to his dealings with women. The Bennet family was right to worry that Lydia’s actions would have a long-term effect on the family’s reputation. Society did not deal kindly with anyone whose name was attached to scandal.

Lydia Bennet entered into her scandalous union with Wickham with her eyes wide open; but there are records of similarly situated young women who were innocent victims of such men.

The Teacher and the Student

The Newgate Calendar (a chronicle of the scoundrels who were confined within the walls of London’s Newgate Prison) recounts the trial of Henry Morris, whose story has parallels to Wickham’s.

Morris was a teacher by profession, and one of his students was fifteen-year-old Mary Anne Murphy. Morris was smitten with Mary Anne; he approached her father in 1812, declared his undying love and asked the father’s permission to marry her.

Mr. Murphy gave Morris his consent to marry his daughter once she attained the age of sixteen some six months hence; in the meantime, he required that Morris court his daughter only under his supervision.

Morris agreed, but quickly went back on his word, meeting Mary Anne in secret. Morris began missing his teaching responsibilities at the same time Mary Anne began missing class; soon Morris abandoned teaching his classes altogether, and Mary Anne went truant. Within months of promising to wait until his beloved was of age, Henry Morris eloped with Mary Anne Murphy to Scotland.

Once husband and wife, they returned to Mary Anne’s father to make amends; but Mr. Murphy had been looking into Henry Morris’s background, and discovered his new son-in-law was even worse than he imagined.

The Case against Him

Henry Murphy, it was discovered, was not a teacher at all. He had no qualifications and had forged his credentials to secure his position.

Second, Morris had a history of wooing and abandoning young girls; Mr. Murphy discovered four such girls and suspected there were more.

Third—and worst of all—Henry Morris was not only a bounder, but a bigamist. At the time he ran off to Scotland with Mary Ann Murphy, he was already married to a woman named Maria Fontaine.

The main door of Newgate Prison.

The main door of Newgate Prison.

Mr. Murphy had Henry Morris arrested on the charge of bigamy; he was imprisoned at Newgate until his trial. Young Mary Anne—in typical Lydia Bennet style—refused to see her husband’s infamy. She stood by him, took home-cooked meals to his cell, held his hand in court, and begged her father over and over to drop the charges against her husband. He refused.

Henry Morris was convicted of bigamy and he was deported to serve seven years of hard labor at a penal colony in Australia. Mary Anne’s response:

When the verdict was pronounced, she burst into the most outrageous expressions of grief; cried out most violently to save him; tore her hair, and clung around his neck, declaring that she would not be separated from him. The judges, however, ordered her to be removed, but directed that it should be done as gently as possible; and she was accordingly carried out of court in a state of utter distraction.

The reaction of one of Morris's wives upon hearing his sentence. From The Newgate Calendar.

The reaction of one of Morris’s wives (presumably Mary Anne) upon hearing his sentence. From The Newgate Calendar.

Some reports allege that Mary Anne followed Morris to Australia, waited patiently for his release from prison, and lived with him again as man and wife.

As sad as Mary Anne Murphy’s story was, there was an even more famous case of bigamy that shocked England in the early 1800s.

The Bigamous Rake

In 1802 Mary Robinson was quietly living her life in the Lake District. A shepherdess and the daughter of the proprietor of The Fish Inn in the village of Buttermere, Mary was an acknowledged beauty in the county. She was also quite an innocent and was, therefore, unprepared when a handsome gentleman with “blue eyes and a fair complexion” drove into Buttermere.

Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere.

Mary Robinson, the Maid of Buttermere.

He introduced himself as Colonel Alexander Augustus Hope, a wealthy retired officer and younger brother to the Earl of Hopetoun. He was so taken with Mary’s beauty, he immediately set out to woo her; within three months of their meeting she agreed to elope with him to Scotland.

John Hatfield.

John Hatfield.

It wasn’t until her husband abandoned her within months of their marriage that Mary discovered several hard truths:

  1. Her husband’s name wasn’t Alexander Hope and he was not related to Lord Hopetoun. His real name was John Hatfield, and he was the son of poor parents in Cheshire.
  2. John Hatfield had a long history of romancing women possessed of dowries or fortunes large and small, marrying them, and abandoning them. He was a bigamist, several times over.
  3. Hatfield left a trail of forged checks and unpaid bills across England, thanks to his smooth talking ability to swindle tradesmen, hoteliers, and acquaintances. (Sounds a lot like Wickham, doesn’t it?)

After he deserted Mary Robinson, Hatfield married at least two more women. He finally met his match when one of the women he wronged turned him in to authorities. He was convicted of several counts of forgery and bigamy; and because the court heard sufficient testimony to deem him an habitual criminal, John Hatfield was condemned to death. He was hanged in 1803.

Is it possible these famous cases (and others like them) were in the back of Jane Austen’s mind as she wrote her story about Lydia and Wickham? Perhaps, but the last chapter of Pride and Prejudice hints that while their love didn’t last forever, Lydia and Wickham at least stayed together, and Lydia “retained all the claims to reputation which her marriage had given her.”

You can read more about the bigamous John Hatfield and the Maid of Buttermere by clicking on any of the following links:

The English Lakes: A History by Ian Thompson

Website of Pascal Bonenfant

Let’s Take a Trip, Regency-style

When I first began reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, I was intrigued by the world she created. Prior to reading her novels I never gave a thought to how people really lived in the early 1800s, even though I’ve always loved history, and studied English history, in particular.

The cover of my well-worn copy of Frederica

The cover of my well-worn copy of Frederica

There was something about her novels, though, that brought that world to life for me. One part of her Regency world that intrigued was the idea of travel. Reading Heyer’s novels, like Arabella, Regency Buck, and Sylvester, made me curious about how people traveled long distances, or even from one neighboring town to another. Heyer had a way of making travel sound both tedious and romantic. Her words painted a picture of just how boring and exciting, dangerous and uncomfortable it could be to ride in a cramped coach for hours with people you don’t know.

Illustration from The Country Gentleman magazine; April 1932 edition

Illustration from The Country Gentleman magazine; April 1932 edition

Over the years I’ve collected quite a few images of Regency-era coaching scenes. They help me visualize Heyer’s stories as I read them, and help me better describe coaching life as I write my own novels.

A 1908 postcard titled, Taking Up Passengers.

A 1908 postcard titled, Taking Up Passengers.

Below are some of my favorites images: they’re a series of coaching illustrations by artist Gilbert Wright that he produced between 1907 and 1911. I like them because of the little details Wright included in his paintings, like those boots in the first painting, titled Getting Ready.

And in the painting titled The Top of the Hill, he showed the passengers of the stage coach walking up the final approach to the hilltop; whether they did so to lighten the load or simply to get some exercise on a pleasant day, is a question left to our imaginations.

I’m happy to share my favorite images with you so that you, too, can “get a visual” of what it was like to travel in Regency England. I hope you enjoy them!

Getting Ready, by Gilbert Wright, 1911.

Getting Ready, by Gilbert Wright, 1911.

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Waiting for the Coach, by Gilbert Wright (1908)

Waiting for the Coach, by Gilbert Wright (1908)

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Two Gallants, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

Two Gallants, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

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The Start, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

The Start, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

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Detail of The Start showing a female passenger climbing up on the box, by Gilbert Wright

Detail of The Start showing a female passenger climbing up on the box, by Gilbert Wright

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A Heavy Storm, by Gilbert Wright, 1907

A Heavy Storm, by Gilbert Wright, 1907

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A Fresh Relay, by Gilbert Wright, 1911

A Fresh Relay, by Gilbert Wright, 1911

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The Top of the Hill, by Gilbert Wright (1907)

The Top of the Hill, by Gilbert Wright (1907)

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The Return to the Stables, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

The Return to the Stables, by Gilbert Wright (1911)

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Eeewww, Grose!

Captain Robert Grose published his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue in 1798, and Regency-era aficionados have been using it to bring life and a little sass to their stories and articles ever since.

Captain Francis Grose

Captain Francis Grose

The next time you settle down for a cozy read with Georgette Heyer (or any number of present-day Regency romance authors), you can thank Captain Grose when you come across these terms:

Banbury Tale or Banbury Story – A round-about, nonsensical story

Bear-garden Jaw – Rude, vulgar language, such as was used at the bear gardens

Quiz – An odd-looking fellow; a strange dog

Gudgeon – One easily imposed on. One who swallows the bait or falls into a trap

Pudding-headed Fellow – A stupid fellow, one whose brains are all in confusion

There have been similar dictionaries published since Grose’s original, but it wasn’t until 2011 when a thorough and worthy update to Grose’s dictionary appeared on the scene.

Entries from Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Entries from Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Compiled by Jonathon Green, Green’s Dictionary of Slang is a hefty, three-volume dictionary of the most vile, unrepeatable language to come out of Britains’ mouths over the last 500 years. Green’s Dictionary builds on Grose’s Vulgar Tongue, as well as The Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words published in 1859 by John Camden Hotten.

cover-greens-dictionary-of-slang

What makes Jonathon Green’s Dictionary so remarkable is the sheer size. Covering 500 years of cant, it weighs in at over 6,000 pages; there are over twelve thousand entries for the letter S alone.

If Jonathon Green’s Dictionary sounds like something you’d like to explore, you’re in luck. This month he launched Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online. Now, at the click of your mouse or a tap of your finger, you can immerse yourself in the definitions and etymology of the gutter-talk we blushingly can’t get enough of.

At Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online you can listen to the author’s recent podcast on terms for drink and drunkenness, or just browse the dictionary (arranged alphabetically) to your heart’s content (just make sure the kiddos aren’t looking over your shoulder).

If you ever wanted to expand your knowledge of Regency-era cant (or the slang of other English eras), Jonathan Green’s website should be your first stop.

You can click on the links below for more info:

Visit Green’s Dictionary of Slang Online
Read Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Captain Robert Grose
Read The Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words by John Camden Hotten

Want to Walk the Streets of Meryton?

Did you know Castle Asby in Northamptonshire inspired Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park? Or that Lacock in Wiltshire was used as the setting for Meryton in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice?

These are just a couple of the reveals in the April edition of Discover Britain magazine. Their article “Mansions & Manners” includes some drool-worthy photos as they explore locations that inspired Jane Austen’s writings and the filmed versions of her books. My favorite is the photo of the dining room at Lyme Park, which was filmed as Pemberley in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. The detailed craftsmanship in the room’s mouldings and ornamentation is simply stunning.

Lyme Park Dining Room

The dining room at Lyme Park

If you aren’t a subscriber, you can click here to visit the magazine’s website and see a few photos of different Austen-inspired locations that didn’t make the issue.

The drawing room fireplace at Lyme Park

The drawing room fireplace at Lyme Park

If magazine subscriptions aren’t your thing, I recommend you visit www.RegencyHistory.net, which is the website of author Rachel Knowles. Her posts are chock-full of great photos of Regency era locations and interesting historical trivia. I never miss it!

Would you like to see more Jane Austen inspired locations? Visit my Pinterest board Jane Austen Country, where I’m collecting photos of places Jane lived, as well as the locations that inspired her work. Thanks for stopping by!

Clueless is 20? I’m totally buggin’!

“Clueless” is one of my favorite movie adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma. It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since the movie came out (of course, I was verrrrry young at the time).

I still love to watch this movie; its mix of snappy dialog, satire and sweetness still hold up today. There’s a new book that dishes on all the behind-the-scenes details, from creating the fashions (which were practically movie characters themselves), to finding the film locations, to coming up with those signature catch phrases.

Cover As If

As If! by Jen Chaney is available now on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Click here to find out more.

The Evolution of Love

Postcard Grecian Woman editedIt’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the old-fashioned traditional Regency romance. I devoured them back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties. My office bookcase still has a dedicated favorites shelf crammed with Regencies by Rachelle Edwards, Patricia Wynn, Elizabeth Mansfield, Joan Smith, and, of course, the great
Georgette Heyer.

I often reread those traditional Regencies to cleanse my palate after reading a spate of mysteries, thrillers, or contemporary fiction.

What I like most about traditional Regencies is their level of escapism. Although they’re grounded in historical fact, they’re actually pure fantasy. A major component of the fantasy (as a general rule) is the attractiveness of the hero and heroine. You know the Regency lingo: Nonpareil. Diamond of the first water. Complexion like a damask rose. Regency heroines are usually ravishing, spirited, and enchanting, with red lips, dark curling lashes, and impossibly small waists. It’s part of the fantasy to read about a heroine that I wouldn’t mind looking like myself, if given the chance.

Pearl Fidler LeMunyon_editedGeorgette Heyer certainly clothed her heroines in beauty. Venetia was described as “a fine-looking girl; most would not have hesitated to call her beautiful. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth; there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features; an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of selfconsciousness.”

And Arabella was unquestionably the beauty of the family, with “large, dark, expressive eyes, little straight nose, and delicately molded lips” as well as a complexion that was “the envy of less fortunate young ladies.” Arabella enchanted her admirers by a “deceptive air of fragility, which inspired one romantically minded young gentleman to liken her to a leaf blown by the wind.”

I’m not sure how Regency heroines evolved to being such paragons of attractiveness. In Pride and Prejudice—the book that originally inspired the Regency genre—Jane Austen described her heroine in plainer terms. Elizabeth Bennet, while certainly attractive, was not a beauty. Instead, it was her sister Jane who was the acknowledged beauty of the family. When Darcy sees Elizabeth for the first time, he describes her only as tolerable.

card00300 editedBut that’s where the romantic fantasy of Pride and Prejudice takes hold. As the story progresses and Darcy comes of know Elizabeth, his feelings for her spark, then flame; and at the same time, the author’s description of Elizabeth changes, too, almost as a reflection of Darcy’s feelings. The more love he feels for Elizabeth, the more beautiful she becomes.

“Mr. Darcy had at first scarcely allowed her to be pretty; he had looked at her without admiration at the ball; and when they next met, he looked at her only to criticize. But no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she hardly had a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes. To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying. Though he had detected with a critical eye more than one failure of perfect symmetry in her form, he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”

Beauty-Dearest Loveliest Elizabeth resized

By the end of Pride and Prejudice, she is his “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” And that brings me to the part of the fantasy I love the best . . . That every woman is beautiful in the eyes of the man who truly loves her. It’s that perfect ending that draws me back again and again to Pride and Prejudice, and to many of those traditional Regency romances still crammed on the bookshelf in my office.

Regency Bonnets and Caps

January 17 is Wear a Hat Day. Hats are not much in vogue in our modern times, but in Regency England, a stylish bonnet was an essential part of any lady’s ensemble when she stepped out of doors. Married women and ladies of a certain age (late twenties and older) wore caps indoors. Shopping for hats and caps and keeping up with the latest style of trims and colors was de rigeur for ladies.

William Henry Margetson

William Henry Margetson

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe told Catherine Morland, “I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine in a shop window in Milsom-Street just now—very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.”

Perhaps Miss Thorpe passed a shop that looked like the one represented in Alonso Perez’s painting, The Milliner’s Shop:

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

In the first ten years of the 19th Century, the poke-bonnet gained popularity. In an 1801 letter, Jane Austen wrote that she had a new bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon:

“I find my straw bonnet looking very much like other people’s, and quite as smart.”

Alfred Glendening

Alfred Glendening

Leghorn hats were also popular, featuring a large brim in front, and turned up behind in a soft roll in the French style, such as this bonnet:

Annie Henniker

Annie Henniker

Here are examples of different Regency-era bonnets, as depicted by various artists:

Carl Thomsen

Carl Thomsen

A. R. Kemplen

A. R. Kemplen

F. Sydney Muschamp

F. Sydney Muschamp

Carlton Alfred Smith

Carlton Alfred Smith

In Emma, Mrs. Elton hinted at the importance of wearing just the right hat for the occasion when she accepted Mr. Knightley’s invitation to pick strawberries at Donwell:

“It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, —probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see.”

Edmund Blair Leighton

Edmund Blair Leighton

In her letters, Jane Austen wrote about re-trimming a cap:

I shall venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one, as being smarter.

By 1810 the plain cottage bonnet became more elaborate. Hats became higher and were decorated with more than fabric and ribbon. Hats sported flowers, puffed gauze, feathers, and gathered or plaited fabric.

This hat bears the fashionable poppy-red color Isabella Thorpe called “coquelicot” in Northanger Abbey:

Edmund Blair Leighton

Edmund Blair Leighton

In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford explained to Edmund how easy it was to tell whether a woman is out in society based on her bonnet:

“Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be mistaken as to a girl’s being out or not. A girl not out has always the same sort of dress: a close bonnet, for instance.”

Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer

Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer

George Sheridan Knowles

George Sheridan Knowles

From examples throughout Jane Austen’s books, we can see that a lady’s bonnet was not just a means for keeping the sun out of her eyes. Instead, it was a declaration of her station in life, her level of wealth and, perhaps, even her marital status.

Prepare the Barouche; I’m Going to the Thea-tah

At last! I’m finally counting down the days until I see Austenland! I’ve been looking forward to this movie (based on the novel by Shannon Hale) since I first heard about it in January. The film opened yesterday in Los Angeles and New York. Here are a few of the review tweets I read this morning:

Austenland Review Tweets

And USA Today says “Austenland is spirited and gently witty.”

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The film, like the book, pays homage to modern-day Janeites who just can’t get enough of Mr. Darcy and, if given the chance, wouldn’t mind indulging in a little Pride and Prejudice role-playing.

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Sony’s release schedule has the film opening in my city on August 30 and I’ll be there! I hope it comes to your town soon. You can check your city’s release date here.

Sense & Sensibility: The Musical

I love going to the theater and seeing productions everyone’s talking about; but every once in a while, I get to see a new play that hasn’t yet hit the critics’ radar screens. Denver is fortunate to be the venue where many productions premier their plays before heading to New York or embarking on a national tour. That was the case with Sense & Sensibility: The Musical.

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It’s a charming version of one of my favorite Jane Austen novels and it didn’t disappoint me. The cast was exceptional, the costumes by Emilio Sosa (one of my all-time favorite Project Runway designers) were a visual treat, and the music and lyrics helped move the story along. I’ll even confess to getting a little misty-eyed during Marianne and Colonel Brandon’s duet; it was so sweet and touching! (You’ll see Marianne and the Colonel at the 1:15 mark on the video below.)

I hope you get a chance to see this wonderful production. In the meantime, follow this link to the Facebook page for Sense & Sensibility: the Musical, where you can read more about the production, see pictures of the performance, and hear the songs.

Click on this link to read an article from Broadway World about the sold-out performances of SSTM’s Denver world premier.