Category Archives: 18th century England

Jane Austen and Fashion

A discussion on Facebook regarding cover illustrations caught my attention. The subject was clothing style depicted in cover art that was not compatible with the timeframe of the novel on which the art was displayed. Most of those who commented found such incompatibility to be disturbing. As a reader, I enjoy fashion details in historical novels. Such details bring the characters to life in my mind’s eye. Fashion, food, furniture, and other matters set the scene so that a reader can place the story in the time. A common point mentioned regarding Jane Austen’s novels addresses the fact that she does not describe her characters’ persons or their clothing in any detail, which is sometimes cause for lament and sometimes cause for curiosity. Why this lack of detail?

Jane Austen did not write historical novels. She wrote of her time for readers in her time. Some details would not have needed a great deal of stress or attention as her contemporaries would have known what she was talking about. However, one still wonders why so little attention was paid to appearances. We know Jane Austen was interested in clothes; her surviving letters to Cassandra frequently discuss clothing in detail. One example of this is the letter from Sloane Street written April 18th-20th, 1811. In this letter, Jane Austen discussed her shopping expedition, in which she purchased muslins for herself and Cassandra, bugle trimming and other items, including a new bonnet, and confessed a desire for a new straw hat.

We also know that Jane Austen had ideas about her characters’ appearances. In another letter from Sloane Street, this time dated May 24th, 1813, she told Cassandra of her and brother Henry’s visit to the Exhibition in Sloane Street, where she saw a portrait of Mrs. Bingley in which “Mrs. Bingley is exactly herself…dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments….” (1) She lamented not finding Mrs. Darcy’s portrait, and speculated that Mrs. Darcy would wear yellow.

Jane Austen’s earliest novels that were published during her lifetime were written before she was age 30: Elinor and Marianne (which became Sense and Sensibility) was written approximately 1795, when Austen was 20. First Impressions (which became Pride and Prejudice) was written in 1796, and Susan (which became Northanger Abbey) was written in 1798. Some examples of fashion during this time period are:
Wales, James, c.1747-1795; Susannah Wales (1779-1868), Lady Malet
Portrait of Susannah Wales by her father James Wales, c 1747-1795

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Man’s Fashion Plate c 1795

It is important to remember that none of these books were published until much later. In 1801, the family left Stephenton and moved to Bath upon her father’s retirement. After his death in 1805, Jane Austen, her mother and sister moved periodically until finally, in early 1809, her brother Edward made a cottage in Chawton available for the Austen women. Although Jane Austen had revised Elinor and Marianne heavily in 1798, and had sold the copyright for Susan in 1803 (the publisher did not actually produce the novel, and Austen finally bought the copyright back in 1810), none of her books had yet been published. The years between 1801 and 1809 had not been nearly as productive as her earlier years, although she had done some revisions on Susan and started The Watkins (which was never finished). Once settled in Chawton, Jane Austen resumed her work. Revisions on Elinor and Marianne, First Impressions and Susan continued.

Elinor and Marianne became Sense and Sensibility and was published in 1811. First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice, which was published in 1813. Here are some examples of fashion during this period:
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Fashion Plate Half-Dress November 1, 1810

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Five Positions of Dancing 1811

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Fashion Plate Morning Dress April 1, 1813

As we can plainly see, fashions changed significantly in the period of time between the first drafts and publication dates of Austen’s first two published novels. It is not known if the first drafts of the novels had contained any fashion descriptions. If they did, all such descriptions would have had to be found and revised or removed (not an easy task in the days before computers). If left unchanged, the details would not have added charming historical colour; they would merely have been dated, outmoded, and would have been a distraction to her readers. Jane Austen was also well aware that there was no guarantee of prompt publication once a work was completed. By removing such descriptions (if they had been included in the original drafts) or not writing them in the first place, Jane Austen allowed her readers to visualize her characters for themselves. Certainly, her later novels, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, continued this pattern of leaving such details to the imaginations of her readers. I believe Jane Austen deliberately chose not to include such details in her novels. I also believe that this technique contributes to the longevity and freshness of her novels that readers continue to enjoy today.

And that portrait of Mrs. Bingley? There were multiple possibilities, but a favourite contender was a portrait of Mrs. Harriet Quentin by Francois Huet-Villiers, painted before his death in 1813. See an engraving of that portrait produced by William Blake in 1820 here:

412px-william_blake_mrs_q_1820_engraving_after_francois_huet_villiers_the_british_museum

Footnote:
(1) JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, P. 221

Sources:
JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, Deirdre Le Faye, ed. Fourth Edition. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011.

All images from Wikimedia Commons.

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Filed under 18th century England, 19th century England, Fashion, Jane Austen, Writing

John Dent Esquire

Over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, we’re talking about John Dent Esquire.

John Dent Esquire was born August 21, 1761, 2nd son (but 1st surviving son) of Robert Dent (1731-1805) of London and Clapham, who was a banker. Robert Dent became a partner of Child’s Bank in 1763, when Robert Child became senior partner. John’s mother was Jane Bainbridge of St. James, Westminster. An old Westmoreland family with property in Appleby, his father was the son of a younger son of Robert Dent of Trainlands (1651-1702) and may have been a schoolmaster before he was hired as a clerk at Child’s Bank. John was initiated as a Freemason in 1788. As a Freemason, he served as Provincial Grand-Master of Worcestershire from 1792-1826 and as Grand Treasurer of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1813-1826.

To read more, go HERE.

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The British Lying-in Hospital: Health Care for Women in Georgian England

I’ve posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog today on a specialized hospital for women.

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Attribution: Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/yhnmeumy CC-BY-4.0

Specialised health care seems such a modern concept. When we read about medicine in the past, many things seem primitive and downright frightening. An especially vulnerable population is that of pregnant women. Midwives are the primary caregivers that come to mind. Generally one imagines a woman during the Georgian era giving birth at home, surrounded by female relatives under the guidance of a midwife. Although childbirth was considered a female issue, women of wealth and position were often under the care of an accoucher (a doctor trained in obstetrics or a male midwife). Princess Charlotte the daughter of the Prince of Wales during the Regency (later George IV) was under the care of society doctor Sir Richard Croft (there was a very sad outcome but that is for another article by Regina Jeffers here). What about women who did not have the money, the female relatives or even the home for her labour? The British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women provided an answer for some. The British Lying-In Hospital for Married Women on Brownlow St. in Long Acre was not the first established but it was the first to come to my attention.

To read more, visit the English Historical Fiction Authors blog HERE.

Illustration: Wikimedia Commons HERE

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Filed under 18th century England, Dr. Bartholomew Mosse, Georgian England, Lying-in hospital, maternity care, women's medicine

Margaret Campion, Business Woman

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Over on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, I have a new post up.

Historically, women had limited options for their lives, and Georgian England was no exception. As any reader of Jane Austen’s novels knows, this situation resulted in marriage being a primary career objective. Lack of education and property laws restricted the ability of many women to support themselves respectably, or even adequately. However, there were always exceptions. Margaret Holt Campion, known as the first Lady Banker in northern England, was one of them. Read morehere.

Illustration of Campion Bank House by Mike Kirby herefrom Wikimedia Commons

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Filed under 18th century England, Georgian England, Margaret Campion, Women in business

The Honourable Mrs. Graham

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On the English Historical Fiction Authors, I wrote on a famous, doomed beauty, painted by Thomas Gaineborough and others…

“The Honourable Mrs. Graham” is the name by which a portrait of Mary Cathcart Graham by Thomas Gainsborough is known. It is a beautiful portrait of a lovely woman painted in 1775, which was displayed in the Royal Academy in 1777. Gainsborough painted her more than once. She was also painted by the Scottish painter David Allan, who had been patronized by her father. Her face has appeared on biscuit tins and even in an advertisement for a Maidenform bra in the 1950’s. In her short lifetime, Mrs. Graham was known for her intelligence, her beauty and her kind nature. There was also a touching romance and tragedy in her story….

To read more, visit the English Historical Fiction Authors blog Here

Image: Wikimedia Commons<a HERE

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Filed under 18th century England, consumption, Love story, Romance

Grosvenor Chapel

On the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, a visit to Grosvenor Chapel…

St. George’s, Hanover Square was (and still is) the most venerable church in Mayfair, the most fashionable district of London by the end of the 18th century. This district was home to the bluest of blood. Consequently, St. George’s, Hanover Square was the chief site of baptisms, burials and, most importantly, weddings for the highest society in London during the Georgian era and beyond. (Over 1000 marriages were conducted there in 1816 alone.) Grosvenor Chapel, located nearby at 24 South Audley Street, is not as well known…. Read more here.

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Filed under 18th century England, Georgian England, London churches

Hannah Lightfoot, “The Fair Quakeress”-Historical Hoax?

New post today on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog!

Historical hoaxes crop up from time to time. Examples ranging from the Piltdown Man in England (here) to Francis Drake’s Plate (here) in the US and others abound. Some are found to be pranks, some deliberate hoaxes. Then there are stories about people and personal relationships. They start with whispers, then printed hints and finally, hey presto! We now have full blown “history”. Gossip? Undoubtedly. True? No one really knows. Sometimes there simply aren’t enough known facts to determine the answer. A case in point is the story of Hannah Lightfoot and the very young Prince of Wales who became George III.

To read more, go HERE

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Filed under 18th century England, George III, Historical hoax