Tag Archives: Jane Austen

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

466px-print2c_fashion_plate_for_man27s_costume2c_ca-_1795_28ch_1839040729
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:
278px-fashion_plate_28half_dress29_lacma_m-83-161-151
Fashion Plate Half-Dress November 1, 1810

311px-five_positions_of_dancing_wilson_1811
Five Positions of Dancing 1811

403px-fashion_plate_28morning_dress29_lacma_m-83-161-172
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

I’m visiting Austen Authors blog today!

sir_roger_newdigate_in_the_library_at_arbury_arthur_devis

 

I have an article posted on the Austen Authors blog today, titled The Significance of Books and Reading in Jane Austen’s Novels.  Please join me on their site at Austen Authors.

 

Illustration: Sir Roger Newdigate in the Library at Arbury, by Arthur Devis (18th Century) via Wikimedia Commons Here

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Filed under 18th century England, 19th century England, Jane Austen, Regency era

Jane Austen and Marriage

Das Ehesakrament by Pietro Longhi c. 1755 via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to movies and television, Jane Austen’s novels, especially PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and PERSUASION, are synonymous with happy-ever-after. Many love her works as romantic courtship novels. Ironically, Jane Austen has also been embraced as a feminist author, thanks to her subtle criticisms of male-dominated education and economics, and her personal unmarried state. In recent years, speculation on her personal love life and reasons for her failure to marry has generated a variety of novels and movies as well. The fact remains that marriage is a central point of her novels. There is a conflict common in all of her novels, again especially visible in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: marriage as a romantic state versus marriage as a means of financial support. This conflict was present throughout Austen’s life, and was the dichotomy for gentlewomen of her time. On one hand, Romantic thought required a marriage based only on mutual love, a one-time event. On the other hand, reality saw many women propelled into marriage solely for financial support. The same reality forced many widows into remarriage, regardless of their desires. A shortage of eligible males and women’s vulnerability to changes of status exacerbated the situation.

Jane Austen knew that marriage did not provide a guarantee of financial security. Money was lost, as in brother Henry’s bankruptcy. (Mrs. Smith in PERSUASION epitomized a woman’s vulnerability when a family fortune was decimated.) Inheritance laws distributed assets, resulting in distress, as illustrated by Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with the entailment that would result in Mr. Collins’ inheriting Longbourn when Mr. Bennet dies. There was no assurance that family members would aid an unattached female. Romantic fervor did not always last. A rise of divorce, particularly well-publicized in Austen’s time as it was still an expensive rarity, showcased a woman’s vulnerability in marriage. High society divorces occurred, such as that of Lord and Lady Worsley, in Jane Austen’s lifetime, and she was aware of them. In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, Colonel Brandon disclosed the sad fate of his first love to Eleanor: an heiress forced into an unloving marriage with his elder brother, mistreated, seduced, ultimately divorced and left with inadequate means of support despite her personal fortune (which remained in her husband’s hands), leading to her complete ruin.

I believe that Jane wanted to be married. However, her definition of marriage seems to have been very specific: a union of shared tastes and interests, mutual affection and mutual respect. Neither financial security nor romantic love (or infatuation) individually was enough. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE contained multiple examples of marriages that were unhappy because the partners were unequally matched in terms of education, interests, respect, infatuation that cooled or other circumstances. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship was the classic portrait of unequal marriage: her pretty face and flirting caught the eye of an educated young gentleman. His disillusionment, loss of respect and withdrawal from his wife had an extremely damaging effect on their children. (The differences between Jane and Lizzie (early products of the marriage), and Mary, Kitty and Lydia (later products of the search for a son and heir) showed the deleterious effect on the family as a whole of Mr. Bennet’s disenchantment with his wife ).

The marriage of Charlotte and Mr. Collins highlighted another unequal match: her need to find a place with a modicum of security so she would not be a charge on her brother or father led her to coolly pursue marriage to a singularly unsatisfactory man. Her superiority of taste and thought versus his foolishness did not lead to disillusionment for Charlotte but resulted in a constant effort to find satisfaction in her own abilities to counter the loneliness and frequent humiliation she experienced in her life with Mr. Collins. Lydia and Wickham was the ultimate mismatched couple, with no hope of any real comfort. Their marriage was the outcome of an elopement propelled by her giddy infatuation with the military and his taste for debauchery, and only occurred because Mr. Darcy had the means to compel Wickham to marry Lydia. They had no real affection for each other, no home or significant money of their own and no welcome from family or friends. Lydia had no significant hope of security (she had no internal or financial resources of her own, and Wickham’s unsteadiness and lack of a stable profession other than the military left them living on the edge of disaster).

Other novels in Ms. Austen’s body of work contain examples of unequal marriages as well: Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in MANSFIELD PARK, and Charles and Mary Musgrove in PERSUASION are only a couple of examples. In PERSUASION, Lady Russell was in no hurry (or was possibly unwilling) to change her widowed state which allowed her full control of her life and her funds. Certainly, she showed no interest in pursuing Sir Walter Elliot. In her Juvenilia, “Catharine or the Bower” in Volume the Third contains the story of a young lady who, against her personal inclinations, went to India to find a husband and was “Splendidly, yet unhappily married.”* (This story is based on her own family experience, as her aunt Philadelphia, her father’s sister, went to India and was married there.)

Jane Austen withdrew into premature spinsterhood, reluctantly yet almost with relief. Was it due to the loss of an early love, or a strong-willed desire to control her own destiny? Were there other factors? Jane advised her niece not to marry without affection. Her novels show the pitfalls of unequal, unloving or imprudent marriages, and the merits of marriages that combine affection, shared tastes and other benefits. Her heroines achieved the ideal state of being married happily and advantageously. However, her novels seem to contain more illustrations of the less satisfactory relationships than the happy ones. While the characters and circumstances involved in these less-than-happy marriages added greatly to the entertainment factor of the stories, one can’t help but see a warning of the dangers of marriage entered into lightly or for the wrong reasons.

With her family’s support and encouragement, Ms. Austen enjoyed writing and earning her own money. She was proud of her work and very interested in the financial reward of it. She saw women’s need for improved education and the ability to provide for their own support. Her sharp wit and keen observations were, and are still, admired. We should also consider her emotions as a girl and young woman, and how those emotions affected her writing. Did she truly feel a “splendidly engaged indifference”*. to marriage, or was she making the best of her unmarried state? When Mr. Bigg-Wither proposed in December 1802, he offered Ms. Austen a comfortable life in a family she knew and liked; his sisters were close friends. However, she did not particularly like or admire him personally. She accepted, and then withdrew her acceptance the next day. Her acceptance shows she was aware of the advantages that marriage to Mr. Bigg-Wither offered; her withdrawal shows that she valued respect and esteem more.

Jane Austen evolved from a girl dreaming of marriage into a determined spinster unwilling to settle for second best, as shown in family records, her letters and her novels. In PERSUASION, Anne Elliot defined good company as “the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation….”*** In my opinion, the character of Anne Elliot and this quote in particular reveal Jane Austen’s personal views and desires regarding relationships in general and marriage in particular most clearly. Jane was a woman of her time, a realist, who understood her family’s situation. She was also a woman of feeling, in a loving family. Choice as well as circumstances led to her decision to stay a spinster. Her wit and observations gave her writings humor, while her emotional growth allowed her to combine the sparkle of youthful hope, the caution of experience in adulthood and the wisdom of maturity in her stories.

Notes:

*Chapman, R.W., ed. MINOR WORKS The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Vol. 6. 1988: Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 194.
**Walker, Eric C. MARRIAGE, WRITING AND ROMANTICISM Wordsworth and Austen After War. 2009: Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA, p. 226.
*** Chapman, R. W., ed. NORTHANGER ABBEY AND PERSUASION The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Vol. 5. 1988: Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 150 of PERSUASION.

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Filed under Georgian England, Jane Austen, Love story, Regency society

Sheer Delight…

Recently, I read a blog post about a book titled, Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823. I had never heard of this book, so I ordered it. I am so glad I did!

My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823

My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823

This is a collection of watercolor paintings by a young woman named Diana Sperling, with text by Gordon Mingay and a foreward by Elizabeth Longford. Diana was clearly one of those accomplished young ladies one reads about in Jane Austen, and Regency novels in general. (It’s important to note that the Mrs. Hurst of the title is a real Mrs. Hurst, not Caroline Bingley’s sister in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!)

These paintings have so much humor and life. It has given me an entirely new perspective on this facet of young women’s education. Somehow, I never thought of the use of drawing and painting pictures as a way to record family life. Diana’s pictures include captions (most by her), and give a wonderful view of her life in a country home. In a way, sitting down with this book is not unlike sitting down with a friend’s scrapbook or photo album today. So often, my view of the late Georgian/Regency period is shaped by portraits of the rich and famous (or infamous!), or prints lampooning those same people. This is a lovely, human look at the life of a real family in a comfortable country home. The text is most enjoyable, filling in the details so we know who is portrayed and what’s going on.

It turns out that there have been a number of blog posts about this book in the last few years. (How did I miss them??) I can’t remember whose blog I read that steered me to this book, but I wish I could thank that author. This is not only a delightful, entertaining read, but an excellent reference as well. I highly recommend this book!

Details: ISBN 0575030356 London: Victory Gollancz Ltd., 1981. I found it on Amazon.com.

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Filed under Entertainment, History, Home entertainment, Regency society

The Hum of Summer

Moth by Eleazar Albin 1720

It’s summertime, and the air is full of buzzing and humming (not to mention whining and slapping noises!). I have purple porterweed blooming by my door. One early morning, I was absolutely entranced by the cloud of white butterflies that flitted from bloom to bloom. It was amazing and exquisite to watch. The same bush attracts honey bees; not so exquisite (and sometimes a little scary when they buzz up to me when I go out), but the hum of bees as they busy themselves in the flowers is still an important element of summer. I do like honey so I give the bees plenty of room.

Then, there are those other summer visitors: flies, mosquitoes, fleas, and more. Not to mention that ancient scourge, bed bugs! How to eliminate pests without affecting the pleasant and beneficial insects, or ourselves, has been a concern down through time. While some of the earlier remedies are rather off-putting, others are pleasant as well as effective.

An infallible Receipt to destroy Bugs in Eliza Smith’s THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE is a concoction of egg whites and quicksilver (mercury) at the rate of 1 ounce of quicksilver for every five or six eggs. These ingredients are mixed well, and beat together in a wooden dish with a brush until the quicksilver is barely visible. This is applied to the cleaned and disassembled bedstead (brushed clean, not washed). The mixture must be rubbed into all cracks and joints and allowed to dry. You cannot wash the bedstead afterwards. According to the recipe, the first application will destroy the bugs; if not, a second application will finish the job. This is clearly a remedy for the loathsome bedbug. However, we now know that mercury is highly toxic. The idea of leaving an emulsion of egg white and mercury on a bed is almost as distasteful at the bug itself; I was also not attracted by the idea of not washing the bedstead before or after the application. (The old fashioned remedy of burning the bed suddenly seems more reasonable!) Don’t try this at home…

It’s so much pleasanter to think of lavender and its many uses. It is a wonderful insect repellent. I had excellent results using it to deter silverfish and other fabric-loving bugs that loved to lurk in my laundry room in a previous residence. No matter how I cleaned or what I used, the little wretches would reappear, until I made lots of little lavender bags and tucked them into the backs of shelves, in corners and so forth. They never came back. Dried lavender, alone or mixed with other herbs such as rosemary, not only gives clothes or linens stored in closets, chests of drawers or other storage containers a wonderful smell; it discourages moths as well. So much more pleasant than moth balls, and not poisonous!

A few drops of lavender oil or essence in water makes a very soothing solution; it can soothe a slight burn and helps relieve an itch. A Jane Austen Household Book with Martha Lloyd’s Receipes contains a recipe for Lavender Water, and instructions “To Make A Sweet Pot” which seems to be a potpourri which contains violets, roses, thyme, lavender and other flowers and herbs. A health food store I frequent carries a wonderful lavender witch hazel solution. Culpeper’s COMPLETE HERBAL & English Physician credits lavender with numerous healing virtues. If nothing else, a spray of lavender water on a pillow creates a lovely and soothing atmosphere for a good night’s sleep. You won’t even notice all that humming!

Take a look at:
Hickman, Peggy. A JANE AUSTEN HOUSEHOLD BOOK with Martha Lloyd’s recipes. 1977: David & Charles Inc. North Pomfreet, NY.

Culpeper, Nicholas. Culpeper’s COMPLETE HEREBAL and English Physician. 1981: Harvey Sales-reproduces from edition published in 1826.

Smith, Eliza. The Compleat HOUSEWIFE. 1994: Studio Editions Ltd., London, England. First published in 1758.

Image: Wikipedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Albin_Eleazar_Moth_1720.png

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Filed under bugs, Culpeper's Herbal, Eliza Smith, herbal, History, Jane Austen, lavender, recipes, summer, THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE, thoughts

Summer Banquet Blog Hop

summer-banquet-hop-copy  Picture

A SUMMER BANQUET: A Regency Picnic

During the summer months, we tend to go for lighter fare, and (whenever possible) to eat outdoors. The picnic was just as popular in England during the Georgian and Regency periods, as illustrated by the picnic at Box HIll in Jane Austen’s EMMA. Using Eliza Smith’s The Compleat HOUSEWIFE cookbook, we can pull together a delightful summer banquet for outdoors. The bills of fare for May, june, July and August provide plenty of ideas.

For the first course, along with a “Grand Sallad”, some “Roasted Losbsters”, “Fruit of all Sorts,” “Gooseberry Tarts”, and “Fish in Jelly” sounds delicious. The second course should include some cold ham and chicken, a dish of “Fish in jelly” and a “Pigeon Pie”. For both courses pickled asparagus and pickled slice cucumbers make tasty garnishes. Removes could include a “Potatoe Pie”, some strawberries or raspberries, and “Morello Cherry Tarts.”

To make a “Pigeon Pie”, you start with a two-crust pastry. After that, Mrs. Smith says “Truss and season your pigeons with savory spice, lard them with bacon, stuff them with forc’d mean, and lay them in the pye with the ingredients for savory pyes, with butter, and close the pie.” (Savory spices include salt and pepper, nutmeg, and mace. Herbs such as thyme, marjoram, parsley, or savory could also be added, with a shallot or onion.) When the pie is done, pour a Lear into the pie. A Lear is a sauce or gravy. Mrs. Smith instructs “Take claret, gravy, oyster-liquor, two or three anchovies, a faggot of sweet-herbs and an onion; boil it up and thicken it with brown butter, then pour it into your savory pyes when called for.” Savory pies such as pigeon pie can be eaten hot or room temperature or cold.

SUMMER BANQUET BLOG HOP GIVEAWAY

Summer is the perfect time to sit outside with a book. I am giving away a signed paperback copy of my book HEYERWOOD: A Novel to a winner in the U.S. or Canada. Just leave a comment for a chance to win (be sure to leave a contact e-mail)! This drawing will close at midnight on Friday, June 7, 2013, and a winner will be announced as quickly as possible. Good luck!

This blog hop will appear from June 3-June 7, 2013. Please visit all of the participating authors for more summer fun!

Hop Participants:

1.

  • Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  • 2.

  • Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  • 3.

  • Anna Belfrage
  • 4.

  • Debra Brown
  • 5.

  • Lauren Gilbert
  • 6.

  • Gillian Bagwell
  • 7.

  • Julie K. Rose
  • 8.

  • Donna Russo Morin
  • 9.

  • Regina Jeffers
  • 10.

  • Shauna Roberts
  • 11.

  • Tinney S. Heath
  • 12.

  • Grace Elliot
  • 13.

  • Diane Scott Lewis
  • 14.

  • Ginger Myrick
  • 15.

  • Helen Hollick
  • 16.

  • Heather Domin
  • 17.

  • Margaret Skea
  • 18.

  • Yves Fey
  • 19.

  • JL Oakley
  • 20.

  • Shannon Winslow
  • 21.

  • Evangeline Holland
  • 22.

  • Cora Lee
  • 23.

  • Laura Purcell
  • 24.

  • P. O. Dixon
  • 25.

  • E.M. Powell
  • 25.

  • Sharon Lathan
  • 26.

  • Sally Smith O’Rourke
  • 27.

  • Allison Bruning
  • 28.

  • Violet Bedford
  • 29.

  • Sue Millard
  • 30.

  • Kim Rendfeld
  • 20 Comments

    Filed under Cooking, Jane Austen, recipes, Regency society

    What Matters In Jane Austen?

    Any fan of Jane Austen’s novels has become accustomed to seeing new books about her, her novels and her writing skills almost on a daily basis. I recently purchased and read WHAT MATTERS IN JANE AUSTEN? Twenty Crucial Problems Solved by John Mullan (Bloomsbury Press, 2013). I found this to be an enjoyable read, and a useful work. Mr. Mullan has presented a collection of essays dealing with certain concepts that appear in Jane Austen’s novel, and explaining their significance. Questions of age, the importance of the weather, who speaks or (just as importantly) who never speaks, illness, blushing and other topics all are examined. In each of these chapters, Mr. Mullan’s insights gave me additional perspective on each novel. These new perspectives have made me more aware of points of view, mores of the time, Austen’s subtlety, and other things that have deepened my appreciation and enjoyment of Austen’s writing.

    For example, in the chapter about weather, Mr. Mullan indicates that Jane Austen is the first novelist to point out weather shifts that might occur during any normal day, and to use them to highlight and to move her plots. While I cannot address his contention that Austen is the first to use weather in this way, I can say that, after reading this chapter, I have a much keener awareness of and appreciation for the significance of the weather throughout her novels. It isn’t that the reader is unaware of the impact of the weather on the various stories; Mr. Mullan’s discussion has a way of highlighting the significance of the weather and its changes in context. Many modern readers live in a climate-controlled situation. Going to visit a friend on a rainy day means going from one’s door to one’s car, barely dampened by the rain. The real effect of walking three miles on a rainy day in a muddy lane doesn’t have the immediacy for us that it would have had for Jane Austen’s contemporaries. After reading Mr. Mullan’s essay, I am much more aware of the significance of the mentions of the weather in the novels, and have found that this increased awareness has brought even more life to the stories. Sometimes he addressed things that I felt, but had not consciously thought about in reading the novels. The other chapters have had a similar effect for me. It was interesting to find that some topics that seemed obvious had depths I had not previously considered sufficiently.

    Mr. Mullan’s writing style is very easy to read, with a conversational tone. It is rather like reading letters from a friend who explains why he liked something or found an idea important. He is obviously well versed, citing Austen’s letters and the novels in support of his ideas very convincingly. The chapters are titled, and each reads well. He provides notes and a bibliography, so the reader can study further. I enjoyed reading it, and especially enjoy the fact that my appreciation for Austen’s writing has only increased.

    Here is a link to this book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/What-Matters-Jane-Austen-Crucial/dp/1620400413/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369686970&sr=1-1&keywords=what+matters+in+jane+austen

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