Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Janeian Postscript

First, the exciting part: the winner our our random drawing for a fun assortment of Jane Austen stuff is...

Christina Farley!

Christina will be receiving Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Lauren Henderson, So You Think You Know Jane Austen? A Literary Quizbook by John Sutherland and Dierdre Le Faye, Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners by Josephine Ross, a box of Jane Austen notecards and, of course, the amazing Jane Austen action figure! Christina, can you please e-mail me via the contact form on my website so we can arrange mailing sometime after this holiday weekend?

The noodling around on the internet that I've done as we held our Jane Austen extravaganza has pointed up an interesting fact: Jane Austen is big business. Look at the books we're giving away above...what other 19th century author has spawned such titles? Can you picture, say, Thomas Hardy's Guide to Living Happily Ever After, or Henry James's Simple Country Living Stylebook? But joking aside, I don't think any other author has inspired modern books like these.

And then there are the Jane Austen continuations and fictionalized biographies. My November issue of The Historical Novels Review had reviews of no fewer than six Jane Austen "sequels" or other Jane-related fiction: Eliza's Daughter by Joan Aiken, Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley, The Darcys and the Bingleys by Marsha Altman, Pemberley Shades by D.A. Bonavia-Hunt, Lydia Bennett's Story by Jane Odiwe, and Impulse and Initiative: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Abigail Reynolds. And there are dozens of others, some more fanciful and free-wheeling, others as close to JA as their authors could make them.

What about Jane on the silver screen? Every one of her completed novels has been made into a movie, be it for Hollywood or for release on television--some of them several times. Battles rage between Laurence Olivier-as-Darcy fans and the Colin Firth supporters (not to mention Matthew Macfadyen), and the Keira Knightly movie vs. the A&E miniseries. (I have my preferences, of course...can you guess?)

Lastly, there's fan fiction and the internet. Googling "Jane Austen fan fiction" showed nearly 90,000 hits for hundreds of sites, and included Yahoo Groups for JA fan fiction not to mention fabulous sites like The Republic of Pemberley for all things Jane. Um, wow.

So to close our Jane Austen celebration, I'm going to ask you a few questions:
  • What is it about Jane Austen--why do you think she still speaks so clearly to people today?

  • What's your favorite JA sequel or JA-related fiction or movie/TV version of JA?

  • Are you a secret (or not-so-secret) JA fan fiction writer?

And finally, Regina and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2009, thank you for visiting and chatting with us at Nineteenteen over the last year, and hope you'll continue to do so in the new year to come!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jane Austen: International Woman of Mystery?

Writer, wit, woman ahead of her time. Jane Austen has been called all of those. But what about her private side?

Though her books deal with romance and marriage proposals, Jane never married. That doesn’t mean that she was never in love. Those of you who saw Becoming Jane know that supposedly she had a tendre for young man named Tom Lefroy. A few years older than Jane, Lefroy was the nephew of the family at a rectory near Jane’s home in Steventon. Jane said of him, “He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man.” They had a lovely flirtation over the course of the winter in 1796 when Jane was 20. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, who was at the time up in Berkshire visiting her fiancĂ©’s family, Jane wrote, “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.” Go, Jane!

But Lefroy wandered out of Jane’s life, and nothing more happened (despite Hollywood’s pretensions). In the next 5 years, Jane received and refused at least one other proposal of marriage. Then, when she was around 25, she and Cassandra spent some time along the seashore. There they met a splendid gentleman, passionate, determined. He and Jane fell madly in love.

And then he disappeared.

Jane and Cassandra heard shortly afterward that he had died. Jane was so upset she stopped writing for several years. She was to receive at least two more proposals of marriage, one of which would have allowed her to live a life of leisure in her beloved hometown. She refused.

So, who was this gentleman? We may never know. The story goes that Cassandra was so worried about Jane’s depression that she cut all mention of the fellow from any letters or materials available to spare her sister’s feelings. Jane’s true love remains shrouded in mystery.

Not so the winner of our Jane extravaganza! Come back Tuesday when Marissa will whip out her trusty Red Sox hat and pull forth the name of the winner. You have until this Sunday at midnight to a post comment to be in the running.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Is It Jane?

I love giving you quizzes...maybe I was a teacher in a previous life.

One of the things that sets Jane Austen apart is, of course, her language and her wit. Authors of historical and especially Regency-set fiction strive to match her sly sense of humor and lightly satirical touch. Do they succeed? Well, why don't you decide?

Below are seven quotes...some are by The Jane, and others are by (ahem) various authors of historical fiction. Can you tell which are true JA, and which aren't? Answers will be posted in the comments section...and don't forget, all commenters during our two-week Jane Appreciation Fortnight will be entered in a drawing to win a delightful bag of Janeian books and other goodies.

Good luck!

1. "A scoundrel prides himself on his ability to turn a lady's head. I do not trust sweet words. They rarely lead to anything but trouble."

2. "My love, you contradict everybody," said his wife, with her usual laugh. "Do you know that you are quite rude?"
"I did not know that I contradicted anybody in calling your mother ill-bred."
"Aye, you may abuse me as you please," said the good-natured old lady. "You have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you."

3. "Dancing was not to his liking; in fact, it was he who had first been heard to utter the now-famous epithet that dancing represented society's sanction, in public, vertical expression, of what were essentially private, horizontal desires."

4. "A kaleidoscope of gowns in every shade and tone, topped by headdresses sometimes charming, sometimes fearsome, swept by her in all directions as ladies who had probably taken tea together just hours before greeted one another with insincere shrieks of joy and cries of admiration."

5. "You are inimitable, irresistible. You are the delight of my life. You are worth your weight in gold, or even the new silver coinage."

6. "The doctor snorted. 'Romantic indeed,' he said. 'But then everything is romantic to young ladies these days, isn't it?'"

7. "A family of ten children will always be called a fine family, where there are heads, and arms, and legs enough for the number...."

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Jane Austen Ate, for Dessert

That’s part of the title of an interesting book on the nineteenth century and the works of nineteenth century writers like Jane Austen (What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool). But it’s also a subject that’s fascinated readers and writers alike. For instance, there’s The Jane Austen Cookbook (Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye), with recipes from a family that was good friends with the Austens. When Marissa and I decided to dedicate these two weeks to the delightful Miss Austen, we both thought a lovely recipe that she might have used would be just the thing for the Friday before Christmas.

However . . .

Little did I know what I would find when I dug deeper into my files than the names of the dishes. Syllabub and trifle and plum puddings sound delightful, but they aren’t exactly easy to make. For one thing, many of the ingredients used in the nineteenth century aren’t available today (shredded suet, anyone?). Even their twenty-first century equivalents aren’t easy to come by (can you say demerara sugar?). In addition, almost every recipe I found had alcohol in it! Yes, of course, wine should cook away in the process, but I was surprised that so many things from cakes to main dishes included a more than healthy ration of wine, sherry, liquor, or brandy.

So, I give to you a dessert that would have been served in Jane’s time, that the dear Jane or some other young lady would have eaten. Pretend you’d sat through two courses. The first course might have consisted of white soup, dressed lamb, chickens with tongues, and fricassee of turnips. The second course might have included braised pheasant, ragout of celery, mincemeat balls, apple pie, apricot marmalade, blanc mange, trifle, and ice cream. Yes, those are part of the second course. Are you ready for the amazing finish to this meal?

Almonds and raisins.

Yup. Almonds and raisins. Now you too can eat dessert just like Jane!

Remember that anyone commenting this week and next before the end of our Jane Austen extravaganza on December 26 will be entered into a drawing for cool Jane-related stuff. Until then, Merry Christmas, all! Or, as Jane would have said, Happy Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Jane!

Pop quiz time!

Which author born in 1775 has her own store on Amazon.com in 2008?

Which author's name alone (not including the title of her six completed books) accounts for 6,810,000 results on Google?

Which author, a spinster who spent her entire life living quietly with her family in the English countryside, is today an action figure?

Okay, maybe it's not much of a quiz since there's a pretty major hint in the title of this entry, so let's just skip the grading part and sing a loud chorus of "Happy Birthday" to Jane Austen, whose birthday is today. We'll be spending the next few entries on Nineteenteen celebrating the divine Jane and her work, and we invite you to chime in...all commenters during our Janeian extravaganza will be entered in a random drawing to win an assortment of Jane Austen-inspired books and other fun stuff!
So who was the author of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park (most to least favorite in my humble opinion--how about you)?

Jane was born on December 16, 1775, the seventh of eight children of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra Leigh Austen, in Steventon, Hampshire (west and slightly south of London). The Rev. Austen was hardly wealthy, but he was able to give his large family a comfortable life--and what's more important, an intellectually stimulating one. The Austen family delighted in reading, writing, and amateur theatricals, and though Jane later called herself "the most unlearned and uninformed being that dared to be an authoress", it's clear that she was quite well-read in English literature, history, and French, and possessed a smattering of knowledge in other subjects. Along with her elder (and only) sister Cassandra she briefly attended school around the age of 10-11, but after that returned home to take up the duties expected of daughters of clergymen: helping around the house with sewing, gardening, preserving, and being useful to the rest of the family (over her lifetime she spent a LOT of time taking care of her many nieces and nephews).

She was known for her liveliness and wit and was very fond of dancing and assemblies (her letters in her late teens and twenties are full of descriptions of them) and even on occasion flirting; but as the daughter of a clergyman she was not possessed of a large enough fortune to make her marital prospects terribly attractive though she did receive a handful of proposals, mostly from other not-very-well-off clergymen. One love affair did seem to be more serious, but the suitor in question fell ill and died, and Cassandra removed all mention of him from Jane's letters that she saved so that his name is lost to history. The two sisters visited their married brothers and other relatives and took care of their hypochondriac mother (who would outlive Jane by many years) and mostly lived an unremarkable life...except that Jane had an unconventional hobby: writing.

She wrote several rather silly pieces as a teen, including a highly prejudiced history of England, but then settled down at age twenty to more serious writing: early versions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice date from these years. She got her first rejection from a publisher during these years as well; it wasn't until 1803 that Northanger Abbey (then titled Susan) was accepted for publication...and then it never actually came out. The experience seems to have daunted Jane, for though she continued to write, she would not submit or let any of her family submit her work to publishers for another seven years.

But in 1810, the tide turned and Sense and Sensibility was released. It did quite well; and since it was published anonymously--the author was simply listed as "A Lady"--society took great delight in trying to figure out who had written it. Pride and Prejudice followed in 1813 to even greater acclaim (her brother Henry couldn't resist telling everyone about his talented sister, so the authoress's name became known), Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1815, and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey together in 1817, after her death. Her authorial years included trips to London to meet with her publishers and mingle ever so slightly with the literati of London, but growing ill health put a stop to this after 1815, and she died in July 1817, possibly from lymphona.

Stay tuned on Friday, when Regina will present a most delicious post.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Game for Some Christmas Fun?

The young ladies and gentlemen of the nineteenth century were! Christmas Eve in particular seems to have been a big time for games. American author Washington Irving, who traveled to England early in the century, mentions games with intriguing names like hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snapdragon.

I originally researched snapdragon for my book, The Twelve Days of Christmas, which is now out as an electronic reprint titled My True Love Gave to Me (Regency Reads). Snapdragon today would just not be allowed! The objective was to seize raisins from flaming brandy. I can’t imagine too many parents letting teenagers play with fire, or alcohol!

To play the game, you put raisins into a large, shallow bowl, poured brandy over them, and ignited them. Then you extinguished all the lights except the fire in the fireplace and the blaze from the bowl and each person took a turn at reaching through the flames to grab as many raisins as possible. You took your turn after each verse of the accompanying song:

“Here he comes with flaming bowl,
Don’t be mean to take his toll.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Take care you don’t take too much
Be not greedy in your clutch.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
With his blue and lapping tongue
Many of you will be stung.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
For he snaps at all that comes
Snatching at his feast of plums.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
But Old Christmas makes him come
Though he looks so fee! Fa! Fum!
Snip! Snap! Dragon!
Don’t ‘ee fear him, be but bold.
Out he goes, his flames are cold.
Snip! Snap! Dragon!

Games and merriment like this often lasted until midnight, when bells would call the faithful to Christmas services. Be sure to come back next week, when we’re going to play some games to celebrate the birthday of a very special lady and let you win something much nicer than flaming raisins.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Queen Victoria, Part VIII: Love at Last

Time for a happy ending!

When we last left young Queen Victoria in my June 18 entry (gulp!), it was 1839 and she'd had to deal with the Flora Hastings scandal, brought on by Sir John Conroy's scheming and her own rather immature behavior. But with Sir John gone, life took on a more even keel...

Or did it?

After Sir John's departure in June and Lady Flora's death in July, Victoria was at loose ends. The fun and excitement of being queen and her own mistress had beguin to pale, and she felt trapped in the round of social and public events, bored and tense. A change was needed, and several around her thought they knew what that change should be: it was time for Victoria to marry. But she resisted the idea of marriage, saying she was quite happy as she was. Her Uncle Leopold, King of Belgium, had other plans. He overcame Victoria's nervous ditherings and sent his nephew (and Victoria's first cousin), Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, to visit England that fall.

Albert was the younger son of the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, a small German principality comprising about 18 square miles in central Germany. He was born about three months after Victoria, in August 1819, and almost from his birth it was hoped he'd one day marry Victoria (huge squick factor there for us, but in those days it was considered perfectly all right for first cousins to marry). He was a serious, sober youth, fond of nature and beautiful scenery and not at all fond of society. He and his older brother Ernest visited England in 1836 and Victoria had a delightful time with them...but they had all been children then. Albert's proposed visit in 1839 would determine if he and Victoria would make a match of it...both of them knew it, and both of them were horribly nervous. Victoria worried that Albert would still be the slightly undergrown, sickly boy who couldn't keep his eyes open after nine at night that she'd met before, and Albert had heard dreadful rumors about Victoria's love of empty pomp and ceremony and her tendency to party all night and sleep till noon.

Neither need have worried. When Albert arrived at Windsor on Thursday, October 10, Victoria was waiting to meet him...and fell in love on sight. Her diary for that day states, "It was with some emotion that I beheld Albert, who is beautiful." (That's a sketch she made of him at right.) On Friday she confides that "Albert really is quite charming, and so excessively handsome, such beautiful blue eyes, an exquisite nose, and such a pretty mouth with delicate moustachios and slight but very slight whiskers; a beautiful figure, broad in the shoulders and a fine waist; my heart is quite going...." By Sunday she confided to her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, that she had decided to marry Albert, and on Tuesday, she proposed to him. (That's right--she did the proposing. As a queen, it was up to her to do so). Naturally, he said yes.

The wedding was held three months later, in February 1840, and Victoria never looked back. She worshipped her Albert, and there's no doubt that Albert loved her back. He proved to be a steadying influence on her, moderating her sometimes over-enthusiastic likes and dislikes, and becoming her most trusted political advisor as well. It's sad for Victoria that he died only twenty-one years later, leaving her to a long widowhood...and the picture most people have of her today as a sour old lady dressed in black. But I always think of her as she was on the day she became queen, addressing her ministers for the first time--a petite, slender girl who, according the Duke of Wellington "...not merely filled her chair" but "filled the room."

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lighting the Way for Christmas

Oh, I’m late! All up and down my street, houses are being transformed into winter wonderlands, with glittering icicles dripping from eaves and sleighs and manger scenes glowing in the dark. Christmas is coming, and my house is sadly dark! I hope to change that this weekend.

Nineteenth century families used light to celebrate Christmas too. On Christmas Eve, many people lit a Christmas candle, which was to burn at least through Christmas Day, brightening the sideboard. If your family was wealthy, your candle would be made of fine wax instead of tallow (less smoke), and the candle could be so large you could burn it all the way until the end of the twelve days of Christmas, at Epiphany.

If your family lived in the country or had a large enough hearth, you might also celebrate with a Yule Log. Finding the proper log and bringing it home took as much consideration and merriment as picking the perfect Christmas tree does in some families today. You went out into the woods and found a tree that had already fallen, the bigger the better. In his Sketchbook (1820), American traveler Washington Irving records that even the fireplace at the country manor where he was staying in England had to be modified by removing the grate for the log to fit.

Those in the village tipped their hats to the log as your family dragged it past. When you finally pulled it into the house, everyone took a turn sitting on it, for good luck in the coming year. Then, with great pomp and ceremony, your father lit the log with a brand from the previous year’s log. It burned all night long to toasting and festivities, welcoming in the Christ child on Christmas day.

I can only hope my feeble attempt at lighting will do the same!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is There a Doctor in the House?

Regina's thankfulness for modern medical care is heartily shared by me. I spent all my Thanksgiving holiday in bed with a feverish cold, and am very grateful for ibuprofin and cough medicine and disposable tissues...none of which existed in 1815. What would a 19th century miss have done in a similar situation?

Not much, as it turns out.

In the first half of the 19th century, medicine was still barely one step up from mysticism and magic. The germ theory of disease was still decades away, as were antibiotics. Human health was still thought in some quarters to be based on the balance of “humors” in the body, and illnesses were thought to be caused by too much or too little of these humors. It was a pretty grim time to get sick, when something as simple as an infected paper-cut could possibly prove fatal.

Medicine, such as it was, was actually practiced by different classes of people, divided in a way that seems to modern eyes quite bizarre. At the top of the pyramid were the physicians, doctors who prescribed drugs (or “physic”, hence their name.) They didn’t deal with external injuries, or even do much in the way of examining patients apart from taking their pulse and examining the state of their urine: rather, they’d let the patient describe symptoms and then prescribe drugs. Physicians were gentlemen, usually with university degrees, and gentlemen did not do labor—in fact, use of the stethoscope, an 1816 invention, was slow to catch on among physicians because use of a tool implied physical labor. Setting broken bones, treating skin or eye diseases, or giving serious physical exams was the job of surgeons. Surgeons usually got their training through apprenticeship, like any other trade, which meant that a surgeon was not a gentleman. And below surgeons were apothecaries, the people who mixed up the medicines that the physicians prescribed but who often did their own doctoring as well, especially for the poor who could not afford the services of a physician.

So back to our young lady with a bad cold--what would she do?

First of all, she was sent to bed—certainly a wise idea, since central heating didn't exist. If she were very ill, a physician might be sent for. If she had a bad cough, he might prescribe her an opium derivative to soothe it (and knock her on her butt so she could rest!)--an ingredient still used today in codeine-based cough medicines. He might suggest that she eat only broths or milk products and avoid heavier foods, especially pastry. If her nursing were left to a faithful old nanny, she might be given herbal remedies. Willow bark tea was an old remedy for fever--and studies of it led to the synthesis of aspirin in 1853 by a French chemist. And she would probably be scolded for having caught the cold in the first place, and exhorted in future to not ride in an open carriage against the wind, nor remain too long in her bath, nor neglect to keep the area between her shoulder-blades sufficiently protected...all thought to be prime causes of catching a cold.