“Emma” 1995’s Depiction of Social Class

I just wanted this version of Jane Austen’s book this past weekend on Starz. 

Emma 1995Columbia/Miramax feature film (120 minutes); Directed by Douglas McGrath; Screenplay by Douglas McGrath; Produced by Patrick Cassavetti and Steven Haft


Gwyneth Paltrow…………………………….Emma Woodhouse

Jeremy Northam……………………………..Mr. George Knightley

Toni Collette………………………………….Harriet Smith

James Cosmo………………………………..Mr. Weston

Greta Scaacchi……………………………….Mrs. Weston

Alan Cumming………………………………..Mr. Elton

Juliet Stevenson………………………………Mrs. Elton

Denys Hawthorne…………………………….Mr. Woodhouse

Sophie Thompson……………………………Miss Bates

Phyllida Law…………………………………..Mrs. Bates

Edward Woodall………………………………Mr. Martin

Kathleen Byron……………………………….Mrs. Goddard

Brian Capron………………………………….John Knightley

Karen Westwood……………………………..Isabella Knightley

Polly Walker…………………………………..Jane Fairfax

Ewan McGregor………………………………Frank Churchill

Angela Down………………………………….Mrs. Cole

John Franklyn-Robbins………………………Mr. Cole

Rebecca Craig………………………………..Miss Martin

Ruth Jones……………………………………Bates Maid

With an American playing the lead role and an American director and screenwriter, this adaptation of Austen’s Emma is the Americanization of Austen. Despite the use of period costumes and picturesque British locations, McGrath’s is a Hollywood lighthearted version of Austen’s satire. Although subtler than Amy Heckerling’s “Clueless,” the film addresses social stratification based on income and education.

The Emma we meet in this adaptation is said to have an “anachronistic snap bordering on irreverence.” (New York Times) In the NYTimes article, Janet Maslin says, “This Emma is the centerpiece of a broadly amusing film in which characters expound earnestly about the merits of celery root or the horrors of having a sore throat. In the midst of such stupefying refinement, a demure schemer like Emma can affect a pose of pampered idleness while vigorously working her wiles. Though Emma, like the film version of Sense and Sensibility, is milder and more narrowly marriage-minded than Austen’s fiction (and has less weight than Persuasion, still the most moving and acute feature-length Austen adaptation), it has enough satirical edge to amuse audiences weary of big-screen explosions and computer wizardry. The whole film, like its central character, thrives on subverting well-bred fatuousness and pondering the tiniest mysteries of love. Surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast, Ms. Paltrow’s Emma presides daintily over these goings-on while managing to remain blissfully oblivious to much of what surrounds her. The planet spins (quite literally, in a clever opening credit sequence), but Emma is content to occupy herself with the most minuscule matters. The film is able both to satirize and enjoy such myopia, just as it savors the absurd frippery of its characters’ costumes and indulgences. It’s one of Mr. McGrath’s little jokes to seldom depict servants here, even though an absurd set of props appears on the manor lawn every time a new form of dabbling — archery or stitching or writing or sketching — is under way.”

emma_gwyneth_paltrow_movie_archeryDouglas McGrath, who wrote “Bullets Over Broadway” with Woody Allen and held a stint on Saturday Night Live, walks a very thin line between social satire and melodrama. McGrath makes fun of the snobbery of the upper class. We see a bumbling Harriet Smith knocking over baskets and food when she visits the poor with Emma. When Knightley says he would prefer to stay home where it was “cozy,” the camera backs away to show the audience the extent of Donwell Abbey. When Emma’s aim with a bow and arrow falters, Knightley says “Please do not shoot my dogs.”

Highbury’s upper echelons are looked upon with little sympathy. There is nothing to indicate the obligations and responsibilities a man would have to his tenants and servants These people are the target of the screenwriter/director’s barbs. We see Emma’s outrage that Mr. Elton would aspire to claim her to wife. In reality, he is a gentleman (although one without land) and she is a lady. As Elizabeth Bennet tells Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, “We are equals.” We view the childlike petulance of Emma when she pines for an invitation to the Coles’s party while declaring them beneath her. Instead of treating the differences in rank with sympathy or even with historical accuracy, the characters who act upon the gradations appear as foolish.

The audience is simply asked to accept the “rightness” of rank. There is little emphasis on the poor or the servant class. We do not see the dilemma the Box Hill Picnic scene would create for the servants who had to lug everything to the site. Other versions address the duties of the servant class and this scene in particular.

I found in this film that the director used what we find common in society: The “beautiful” are forgiven for their transgressions. Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of Emma Woodhouse makes it easier for the audience to like her character, who. in truth, is easy to dislike because Ms. Paltrow’s comely face appeals to the audience. Even when the character Emma acts in a most disgraceful fashion, the audience sees her as sympathetic. Ms. Paltrow’s appearance reminds the audience that she is a “Greek goddess” (in hair style and dress) to be forgiven all her sins.

Emma-1996-3Meanwhile Jeremy Northam’s portrayal of Knightley is one that conveys sensitivity and a certain vulnerability. He is equal in looks to Paltrow and the female audience responded as such to his acting. Northam’s style is more understated than we see from Mark Strong in the 1995 TV movie of the same year. The film’s script provides Northam several moments of quipped irony in the dialogue, something he does quite well.

Emma-1996-period-films-14285184-300-225_zps952bd6f1I have adored Toni Collette in several roles. In my opinion, her portrayal of Harriet Smith elicits more sympathy than her counterparts. Her scenes leave the audience considering her as a pathetic character. Collette’s Harriet gushes too much, laughs too loudly, and weeps uncontrollably at her disappointments.

As a whole, this version of Emma takes a different notion of class structures than does Austen’s more divergent definitions of “class.” McGrath chose to underline his offhand “sarcastic” look at social class with the occasional gag. Highbury’s society is open for more than one joke. For example, we return to the bumbling Harriet Smith’s call of mercy on the poor (which I mentioned above). Instead of administering to the poor, she leaves their few belongings a mess. 

The film’s mise-en-scène (the arrangement of scenery and stage properties) do little to establish social class. The viewer is often confronted with a framed image of characters of varying class distinctions being equal. Their positions in the framed image do not give the viewer a visual clue as to who is dominant. How often do we see Emma and Harriet in an “equal” position – walking side by side, sitting on opposite ends of the hearth, both women bowing their heads into each other’s laps (2 separate scenes), etc. The set director chooses to place the actors within window seats or on equal levels, which levels the class distinctions. We see Mr. Martin dressed as a gentleman rather than a laborer. We see lavish meals, lighting that defies candles, pristine lawns, etc., all of which reinforces class distinctions, but which are not realistic for a country squire’s home.

Some sections of the novel are minimized. In Austen’s tale, Emma is flabbergasted that Mr. Elton would think himself equal to her. In the film, Emma’s indignation is turned into a “lesson” of sorts. She is shamed by her error in judging his supposed interest in Harriet. There is also the lengthy “parting of the ways” between Emma and Harriet found in the novel. In the film, Harriet rushes from the room upon learning of Emma’s engagement to Knightley. The next scene shows the two women coming to a new understanding with Harriet’s own engagement. Please note that Emma kisses Harriet’s cheek after her wedding ceremony in the last scene. I doubt this would have happened during this class conscience period.

In this adaptation, McGrath greatly reduces the roles of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. In truth, it would have been more appropriate that Emma to choose Jane Fairfax as friend over Harriet Smith. Do you recall Sir Walter Eliot’s opinion of the name “Smith” as a character? “[Sir Walter speaks]  “A widow Mrs Smith lodging in Westgate Buildings! A poor widow barely able to live, between thirty and forty; a mere Mrs Smith, an every-day Mrs Smith, of all people and all names in the world, to be the chosen friend of Miss Anne Elliot, and to be preferred by her to her own family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland! Mrs Smith! Such a name!” (17.18) Is it not convenient that Harriet is also a “Smith”?

96MiramaxEmmaEmmaFrankColesPartyEwan McGregor emphasizes the “charm” of Frank Churchill. He is teasing in a romantic sort of way, most obviously seen in the scene where Churchill joins Emma at the pianoforte for a duet. For his part, the song is directed to Jane Fairfax. Because the lyrics speak of Ireland there are undertones of Jane and Mr. Dixon. Moreover, Churchill’s character attempts to make Jane jealous with references to the maid with the “golden hair.” Instead, Emma is jealous of Jane Fairfax’s accomplishments for Emma is accustomed to being the one by which all others are judged.

Alan Cummings as Mr. Elton is an excellent. He balances the comic elements of Elton’s character with the serious clergyman persona. He plays the obsequious suppliant, the rejected suitor, the vindictive revenger, and the henpecked husband, each with perfect inflection and nuances to make them believable.

Posted in Austen actors, film, film adaptations, Georgian England, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pop Culture | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Special Licences in Regency Era

In 1753, the Hardwick Marriage Act passed, and Georgian couples in England and Wales could choose among three ways to marry: with the reading of the banns, by a common (sometimes referred to as an “ordinary”) licence, and by special licence.

Marriage requirements in England according to Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753–

  1. a couple needed a license and the reading of the banns to marry
  2. parental consent if either was under the age of 21
  3. the ceremony must take place within a public chapel or church by authorized clergy
  4. the marriage must be performed between 8am and noon before witnesses
  5. the marriage had to be recorded in the marriage register with the signatures of both parties, the witnesses, and the minister.

Banns had been in use since the 1200s. An actual reading of the banns took place at the parish church over three consecutive Sundays (a minimum of 15 days, if one started counting on the first Sunday). They were called in the parish or parishes in which the bride and groom resided. The purpose of banns is to enable anyone to raise any canonical or civillegal impediment to the marriage, so as to prevent marriages that are invalid. Impediments vary between legal jurisdictions, but would normally include a pre-existing marriage that has been neither dissolved nor annulled, a vow of celibacy, lack of consent, or the couple’s being related within the prohibited degrees of kinship. Banns were more than likely used by the majority of the residents of a village or town. There was little or no expense involved. The couple then had ninety days to finalize the ceremony. If not done for whatever reason, the Banns would need to be called another time.

The wording of banns according to the rites of the Church of England is as follows:

  • I publish the banns of marriage between NN of (parish) and NN of (parish). This is the first / second / third time of asking. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. (Book of Common Prayer 1662) 



According to Louis Allen at Jane Austen’s London, “A common licence could be issued by archbishops, bishops, some archdeacons and ministers in parishes which were ‘peculiars’ (eg St Paul’s cathedral). The 1753 Act required a marriage by licence to take place in a parish where one of the spouses had been resident for at least four weeks (i.e., George Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), but this was often ignored.

“To obtain a licence someone, usually the bridegroom, had to apply at the registry for the appropriate jurisdiction and submit an allegation which was a statement, under oath, that there were no impediments to the marriage. Usually the document included the names, ages, occupations and marital status (single or widowed) of the parties and, if one of them was a minor, it had to name the parent or guardian giving their consent. Sometimes a money bond was provided to back up the allegation.

“Allegations, bonds and the licences themselves survive quite rarely. The licence was given to the couple to hand to the clergyman who would perform the marriage and, presumably, they often did not give them back.”

By the Regency the aristocrats were more likely to marry by ordinary license to avoid the publishing of the banns for 3 Sundays  in a row. In that manner, it was easier to have a quiet family wedding in the local church. Quite a few middling sort married by common license as well to avoid vulgar comment from friends and enemies. The Hardwicke Marriage Act said all marriages by minors by license without permission were NULL and VOID from the beginning. People usually went to court (Church court)  to have this made official to avoid other legal complications.


A Special Licensc was obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury in Doctors Commons in London. The big differences between the “special” license and the “common” license were the cost – over 20 guineas plus a £4 to £5 Stamp Duty for the paper — and that the couple could be married at any time of the day and anywhere they wanted. All the other requirements were the same. As one can imagine, only someone very wealthy with a very good reason to pay the money, and go to the trouble of traveling to London and gaining an audience with the Archbishop of Canterbury, would hassle with it. Not an easy task even if rich.

The Archbishop did not need to know the couple—or the man’s title in the peerage—although the Archbishop usually knew of the family if the man was at all connected. The Archbishop was not personally involved with the granting of special or standard licences, which were dispensed at the office in Doctors’ Commons. He did have the right to limit the granting of special licences to whomever he wished. However the grants were customarily limited to the nobility, aristocracy, Judges, high ranking clerics, barristers, etc.—those who would be thought to extend their word as their bond that the information on the form was true as to age and permission. The ones who asked for special licences did not need to name their parishes as they would have for a standard license. In the Regency one had to appear in person or have the father or legal representative do so. It has to be someone who could swear to the truth of the facts. In this case, the  most important part is that the female have valid permission for the marriage.  If the invalidity of the marriage ever came to light, the couple would need to be remarry, if they so wished.  Unfortunately, all children born during the voidable marriage would be considered illegitimate.

c74b6b4fd89117e926da80afcf26cc5b--regency-era-parental-consent.jpgEdmund_Blair_Leighton_-_Wedding_march.jpgIf the man (groom) is of an aristocratic family, a barrister, a clergyman, or otherwise of the status where he is likely to subscribe to the code that his word was his bond, he could obtain a special licence. If he wanted, the man could obtain a standard licence from the local bishop and pay the fee for a bond. It would be necessary for him to give the name of the church in which he and his prospective bride planned to marry, which was usually his parish church. The Ton customarily had two parish churches: Most had a country church and lived within the parish of St George Hanover Square in Town.

Though, obviously, more peers and their families married by special licence than did the gentry or the lower classes, in reality, there really were no more than about 300 issued in a hundred years. In other words, do not be misled by the number of dukes or the number of special licences one finds in Regency romance novels. Both were smaller in number than one could be led to believe.

All weddings, no matter where they took place, had to be recorded in the  register of the parish church in  which the  wedding takes place.  Even if a couple married by special licende at home, the marriage register was supposed to be signed by them. 

Unlike the issuance of ordinary licences, there were no allegation bonds for special licences. The archbishop limited the  disbursement of the special license to those who Gave their word—or from whom he expected to be truthful.  The standard licence required a £100 bond. The fee paid was not great, and  they never paid more unless the truth of the assertions came into question.Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_signing_the_register.jpg

For further questions, have a look at these sites:  

Miranda Neville’s Blog: 


Nancy Regency Researcher 


There’s actually quite a lot of detailed info on this page, including who can issue licenses if people are from different areas of England.


Posted in British history, Church of England, George IV, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Jane Austen, Levirate marriage, Living in the Regency, marriage, marriage customs, marriage licenses, Regency era, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Closer Look at “His American Heartsong: A Companion Book to the Realm Series”

ATOVsmall.jpeg At your request, dear Readers, I created Lawrence Lowery’s story. In my Realm series, you first met Sir Carter’s older brother Lawrence in A Touch of Velvet when the future baron came to Linton Park at the request of Viscount Averette to question James Kerrington regarding the disappearance of Velvet Aldridge. Law played a key role in diverting Averette’s attentions long enough for the Realm members to save Velvet and the child Sonali Fowler.

ATOGraceCrop2.jpg In A Touch of Grace, Lowery makes another brief appearance. He comes to London in search of the woman he loves. At Arabella Tilney’s Come Out ball, Law makes a spectacle of himself by proposing marriage in the middle of the dance floor. That possibility set many of you wondering how the proposal came about.

ATOL.jpg  Lawrence and Arabella make another appearance in A Touch of Love, Sir Carter and Lucinda’s story. In that one, they are married, but again, how did they reach that point? There is a magnificent scene where Arabella is held captive and  Lawrence and Sir Carter race to save her. You will love its execution. So, His American Heartsong is Arabella and Lawrence’s story. The hoydenish American is Lord Hellsman’s “Heartsong.” I hope you enjoy the tale.

When I wrote this story, I had this fabulous scene created where Arabella was sprayed by a skunk. Then it hit me! There are no skunks in England, at least not during the Regency period. You see, Arabella is a bit of a klutz; however, she is also brave and resourceful and exactly what the Lawrence requires in his life, for Lawrence Lowery has been the model son, held in place by his father’s iron will. 

As a special point of interest, one will see a reference to Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice in this story line. The mentioning of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet is not purely to reel in members of the JAFF community to this story. For those of you new to my works, I also write Austenesque sequels and adaptations for several traditional publishers. Occasionally, my stories crisscross. Adam Lawrence, for example, who is the subject of the tale, His Irish Eve, shows up in both my Regency romances and my Austen-inspired pieces. I love mixing the characters because it provides my readers points of reference to the time period and the social norms. 

HAHS.jpg His American Heartsong: A Companion Novel of the Realm Series

The Deepest Love is Always Unexpected.

LAWRENCE LOWERY, Lord Hellsman, has served as the dutiful son since childhood, but when his father Baron Blakehell arranges a marriage with the insipid Annalee Dryburgh, Lowery must choose between his responsibilities to his future title and the one woman who makes sense in his life.

Although her mother was once a lady in waiting to the Queen, by Societys standards, MISS ARABELLA TILNEY is completely wrong to be the future baroness: Bella is an American hoyden, a woman more comfortable in a stable than in a drawing room, and who demands that Lowery do the impossible: Be the man he always dreamed of being.

Kindle   http://www.amazon.com/His-American-Heartsong-Companion-Novel-ebook/dp/B00Y7DDB9I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1441298305&sr=8-1&keywords=his+american+heartsong

Amazon    http://www.amazon.com/American-Heartsong-Realm-Regina-Jeffers/dp/1512239046/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1441298305&sr=8-1

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Chapter One

“I think…if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” – Leo Tolstoy

“What do you mean, you left them above Derwerth?” Lawrence Lowery demanded. “Please tell me you possess more sense than to leave three women alone on the mountain!”

“But two of them be Americans, your lordship.” The coachman nervously worked his hat’s rim through his fingers.

Lowery, who stiffened at the groundless denunciation, turned to his father. “Did you hear his imbecilic excuse? It is acceptable to treat these women with no respect because two are Americans! What the bloody hell does that mean?” Law loomed over the hired driver.

Discovering a lack of sense among those gathered at the family estate, Law angrily turned toward the stable hand awaiting his orders. “I require my horse and another for a coach immediately, Sack. I want ten men saddled and ready to ride within a quarter hour,” he barked out orders.

“Yes, your lordship.” The head groomsman hustled to do his bidding.

Lowery spoke privately to the baron. “I must go.”

“You might send Beauchamp and the men,” his father counseled. “There is no requirement for you to face the danger yourself, Lawrence.”

Lowery touched the baron’s arm gently. Although his father was still quite spry for a man of his age, Law realized the time for his succession drew nearer. “You understand I must, Father. I would not count myself a gentleman if I left three women in danger.”

Law knew what it meant to be lost in the hills surrounding the estate. At age ten, he had thought himself quite grown when he set off on a dare toward the summit of the nearness mountain. He did not make it more than a mile into the wilderness before becoming disoriented. It took his father some six hours to find him, and Law could still recall the fear bubbling in his throat. He could not imagine being both a woman and an outsider and being lost in England’s famous Peak District.

“I understand.” Blakehell turned toward the manor house. “You will take care, Lawrence. Remember you are my heir.”

Law had heard those words his whole life.

“You always have Carter.” Law could not control his constant need to deflect his father’s demands on him.

“I love my youngest child,” the baron began, “but Carter is not the right person for this title.” Which only meant Carter defied their father on more than one front, something Law rarely did. “Moreover, Carter has his property now; he does not require this one.”

“Yes, Father.” Law understood that the baron meant well, but Lawrence could not spend his life locked in the house, afraid to risk the title. Such was the reason the Baroness Blakehell delivered forth Lawrence’s younger brother Carter, along with the three sisters, who separated the two brothers. An heir and a spare, as the old adage went.

* * *

“How long must we wait for that foolish man to return?” Abigail Tilney complained for the fifth time in an hour.

Arabella’s sister despised any form of discomfort. It was for her wellbeing they had taken the small coach when traveling on horseback would have been more appropriate. Abigail did not ride well, and she refused anything, which did not come naturally to her; therefore, holding her perfection in tact.

“I imagine at least a couple of hours,” Annalee Dryburgh, their cousin assured Abigail. “Walking the horse after it threw a shoe must slow Mr. Moss’s progress.”

Abigail pulled her cloak tighter about her. “I hope it is soon. The air is much cooler in the uplands.”

“Lord, Abby, one would think a woman from Virginia’s mountainous region would appreciate the land’s beauty. I certainly prefer it to the coast lines.” Arabella Tilney stood, feet shoulder width apart and hands on hips, admiring the craggy landscape.

“It is a bog!” Abby asserted.

Bella sighed deeply. No sense in arguing with her sister. Bella had learned that lesson long ago. “But the purpose of this journey is to explore the sights. The plateau above from this angle is spectacular. Come look!”

Abby turned her body to rest her head on the coach’s soft cushions. “The only view of which I wish to partake is the one from my room at the inn,” she grumbled. “Wake me when Mr. Moss returns.”

Bella sat good-naturedly on an uprooted tree trunk. Her party had left Hayfield to visit the Kinder Plateau, but did not reach their destination. The horse had thrown a shoe, and now there was nothing to do but to wait and look out on the land’s beauty. If they had traveled by horseback, as Arabella preferred, then they could double up and still make it back safely to the inn. Unfortunately, they foolishly took an open carriage to pacify Abigail, and now she, her sister, and her cousin were without options. Bella wished she had persisted when Mr. Moss suggested they all walk the horse out, but again, their party had deferred to Abby’s insensibility. Now, Bella prayed for Mr. Moss’s early return. She would not wish to hear her younger sister’s tirade if the man did not come before nightfall. Abigail would not be happy, and Bella knew when Abby was not happy, her sister made everyone within earshot miserable.

* * *

“Storm comin’ in, your lordship!” Mr. Beauchamp pointed to the encroaching cloud bank. “We should call off the search until it passes. Too dangerous out in the open.”

“Lead the men to the Cliff Hole cottage and wait it out. I will take the extra horse into Brook Pass. If I discover nothing, I will follow you.”

The wind increased, and debris swirled about them. “Are you certain, my lord? I could go.”

Law knew the baron would claim Beauchamp’s head if Law placed himself in real danger, but Law felt the need to see the situation to a satisfying end. He shook his head in the negative. “I must go, Beauchamp. I know it sounds unreasonable; yet, I cannot abandon the search so soon.”

“Seek shelter, sir, if it the conditions become worse.”

“I have it.” Lawrence took the horse’s leading rope. “See to the men.”

Law rode in the direction of  where the path split, taking the trail rising to the plateau. He thought the women quite foolish to attempt such a trek in a carriage, but he understood the female mind as well as any man. He possessed three sisters, and Law could easily imagine one of the Lowery sisters doing the same.

The wind whipped his coat tails, and Law removed his hat so as not to lose it. He scanned the pathway, knowing it unlikely the women strayed from the worn road. Memories of his own fears had kept him at the task: Law felt the urgency of finding the ladies. He knew the rain line spread across the valley below. He and the women would require immediate shelter; therefore, he nudged the horse forward, picking up the pace, as much as the terrain would allow.

* * *

“Abby, we must find shelter,” Bella tugged on her sister’s hand. “A storm is coming!”

“I am going nowhere,” the girl asserted. “I am not afraid of lightning.”

Bella looked to where the storm clouds rolled over a nearby ridge. Thunder and lightning preceded nature’s drenching. “Well, I am! Please, Abby!”

Bella managed to coax her sister to a standing position just as the man approached on a coal black stallion. Despite the insensibility of the idea, Bella thought he resembled a dark angel riding toward them. The stranger whipped the horse’s reins, barreling down on them, but Bella experienced no fear, at least, not from the rider. As dark and as foreboding as the stranger appeared, she felt her heart lurch in recognition.

Sliding from the horse’s back, he offered them no British civilities. There was no time: Large droplets accompanied him, and they quickly soaked the open carriage seat. “This way!” he yelled over the tumult, catching Bella’s hand and taking off on a run. By design, her sister and cousin followed.

* * *

Without forethought, Law tugged the girl’s hand again, but she stumbled, unable to match his long strides. Feeling her go down, Law instinctively, grabbed the woman about the waist, lifting her petite form like a sack of flour. In the other hand, he kept a death grip on the horses’ reins. When he found the familiar cave, Law half shoved the woman he carried into the narrow opening, turning awkwardly to pull the other two along the trail.

The rain pelted them with a staccato of droplets, and Law felt the dampness soak his greatcoat, but before he entered the rock face’s slit, he tied the horses to a Spanish oak’s lowest branches. At length, Law squeezed his large form through the opening before shaking the water from his hair and coat.

In the shadowed light, he could barely make out the forms of the three women. They hugged one another tightly, cloaks wrapped around one another–unopened wings of a gigantic eagle.

“Is anyone injured?” he asked between thunderclaps.

From somewhere within the monstrous depths of cooing females, a melodic voice rang clearly, “No, Sir. We are grateful for your finding us.”

The eagle’s wings opened and closed and became three. He sighed deeply and brushed at his coat sleeves again. Being hunched over in the low-ceilinged crevice reminded Law of his manners at last.

“I am Lord Hellsman.” He timed his introduction between God’s fireworks. “I apologize for my rude entrance on the trail.”

“That is quite acceptable under the circumstances, your lordship.” The woman straightened her clothing. “Without you, we could be miserable, suffering the storm’s worst. I am Miss Dryburgh. My father isLord Dryburgh.”

“Part of Lord Graham’s family? From Staffordshire?” Law prided himself on knowing the British aristocracy’s countryseats.

“Yes, Sir.” The woman remained the group’s spokesperson. “And these are my cousins from America, Miss Tilney. And her sister Miss Abigail.”

Again, Law could not make out the ladies’ faces in the darkness. He could discern only their sizes–both small in stature–one downright petite. He could still feel the pressure of the smallest one along his side where he had carried her with him to the cave. Surprisingly, Law found he missed that brief feeling of warmth.

“We are pleased for the acquaintance, your lordship,” the sweet voice came from the shadows.

Another lightning flash made the smaller one jump and clutch at her cousin’s arm.

“My sister does not like storms,” the taller one explained.

“Forgive me, ladies. I must practice discourtesy again. I can barely make you out in the cave’s recess, and I remain a bit disoriented. I discerned that Miss Dryburgh is the tallest in height among the three of you, but between the Misses Tilney, I claim confusion.”

The melodious voice continued. “I am Abigail Tilney.”

Law turned his attention to the petite one, the one who trembled from the storm, and the one he had carried. “Then that must make you, Miss Tilney,” he half teased.

A squeaky “Yes, Sir” brought a smile to his lips.

“How did you know the cave was here, your lordship?” Miss Dryburgh asked.

Law mocked himself. “When I was ten, I ridiculously proved my manliness by hiding in this cave until my father rescued me from my wild imagination. If I am riding in the area, I revisit this spot. It keeps me humble.”

The squeak became a screech with a powerful flash of nature’s worst. “How…how long will the storm last?” a breathy Miss Tilney pleaded.

Lawrence glanced toward the downpour. “The rain usually lasts several hours.”

“Hours?” The woman’s voice betrayed her fear.

“Do not worry, Miss Tilney. The fireworks will end soon, even if the rain remains.”

“It will be dark before long,” Miss Dryburgh noted. “I mean darker than it is now.”

Law stared at the sheets of rain streaming along the opening. A waterfall rushing down the cliff face and splashing outside their refuge.

“When it eases a bit, I will gather some wood so we may have a fire.”

“You mean for us to spend the night in this cave, Lord Hellsman!” The sweetness had disappeared from Miss Abigail’s voice. “That is not possible!”

“Miss Abigail, if there were no storm, we might maneuver the limited path down the mountain with some degree of safety. However, between the rain and the fog, which will blanket the woodlands with darkness, there is no prospect of us driving your carriage off this peak tonight. Nor would I consider walking out at this point or even riding the two horses I brought with me. The road is narrow, and one false step could send us plummeting into emptiness. Moreover, who knows what creatures the woods hold?”

“Are you attempting to frighten us, your lordship?” Miss Tilney had found her voice. His exaggerations caused her to momentarily forget the storm.

“Absolutely, not, Miss Tilney. Simply speaking the truth. I will not assume the responsibility of bringing danger to our door after rescuing you. No one is injured or requiring medical care; it would be foolhardy to risk our lives.” Thinking on the conversation, Law could not help but to chuckle.

“What is so amusing, Lord Hellsman?” The petite one took a confrontational stance.

Law wiped the grin from his lips, but something shifted in his chest. “I suppose, Miss Tilney, I find it a bit bizarre to have this discussion hunched over from my surroundings and attempting to impress the three ladies of my most recent acquaintance with my ability to protect them through the night. It is somewhat surreal.”

“It is from the ordinary,” Miss Dryburgh took the sting from her cousin’s tone. “We Brits are practical that way, are we not, your lordship?”

Although the faces were still in shadows, he could recognize the timbre of their voices. “Absolutely, Miss Dryburgh.”

“Well, I shall not sleep a wink. What if the walls collapse in on us? What if there are bugs or even snakes!” Miss Abigail declared.

“Then by all means, Abby, be unreasonable,” Miss Dryburgh asserted. “If you were reasonable, we would have ridden out of here hours ago. So, if you do not wish to accept his lordship’s protection, then walk down the mountain at your own risk.”

“It is not necessary to snipe,” the girl retorted in an obvious pout.

Surprisingly, Miss Tilney took her cousin’s side. “Yes, Annalee does. You pay no attention unless we snipe, Abby!”

Law felt as if he had stepped into an alternate world, one where men finally heard how women really spoke to each other. Mayhap the cave held some sort of magical power: He had believed so as a child, for it had protected him from the dragons and monsters outside the opening. 

Miss Dryburgh motioned Law to sit, and he was thankful for the lady’s kindness. “When you wander out for the firewood, your lordship, there is a basket under the coach’s seat. The bread is likely ruined, but the other items should still be edible.”

“More British practicality, Miss Dryburgh?” he responded in bemusement.

“Someone must make decisions for our American counterparts. We Brits possess the impeccable manners,” the woman taunted.

“So, we do, Miss Dryburgh.” Law began to silently count to ten, wondering how long it would be before one of the Tilney sisters reacted to their cousin’s assertion. He reached two.

“Annalee, we are not barbarians! We have culture also. America does not exist only as in the eleventh century with stampeding hordes!”

Miss Dryburgh laughed aloud. “I am well aware Lady Althea raised you, Cousin. There is no need to convince me of your affability.” The lady straightened her cloak. “And…by the way, Bella…you have forgotten the storm.”

Arabella Tilney held her fists on her hips but the length of a breath before she joined her cousin in laughter. Hers was a laugh Law thought the most perfect one he ever heard. It held the timbre of soft tinkling bells.

Turning in Law’s direction, Miss Tilney asked, “How might we be of assistance, your lordship?”

“I would not have you exposed to the elements, Miss Tilney. My coat is heavier and my gloves thicker.” Lawrence peered through the opening. “The rain is not relenting, but it shall soon be dark. I must go while I may still make out shapes. I will bring the supplies to the opening and hand them to you? If my idea is acceptable?”

Miss Dryburgh shared conspiratorially. “You discovered Arabella’s weakness, Lord Hellsman. My cousin lives to be of use to others.”

“There are worse vices, Miss Dryburgh.”

Law pulled up his coat’s collar. Then he squeezed through the opening and ran toward the carriage. He retrieved the basket from under the bench. There were two lap blankets stuffed behind the box; he quickly placed them under his coat and ran once again toward the cave.

“Here!” he called as he shoved the items into Miss Tilney’s waiting hands.

Immediately, he turned to where he tethered the horses. At least, under the trees’ thick canopy, the rain did not fall relentlessly. The thick foliage blocked the light, as well as the moisture. Law efficiently removed the saddle and blanket from Triton’s back and carried them to the cave. He dropped it in the opening, saying he would move it when he returned, but Law noticed as he reversed directions that Miss Tilney tugged the leather in from the rain.

After that, Law located as much dry wood from the nearby copse as he could muster. He found several broken limbs and some branches he could use for kindling. It took four trips to stock enough wood for them to maintain a fire during the night. Law knew his men would not come until the morning, and it would be his responsibility to protect the women until then. He found it exhilarating in many ways to fend for his needs. Occasionally, Law enjoyed being from the drawing room and in nature. He often made overnight hunting or fishing trips with some of the local gentry. As the future baron, Law felt the responsibility of maintaining a sense of society. Yet, having been raised essentially alone, always in training to replace his father, he appreciated the communion of a group of men enjoying sport.

“That should serve us,” he announced as he bent over to reenter the cave.

He placed the wood to one side of the opening. Forgetting about the low ceiling, Law banged his head when he instinctively straightened. In embarrassment, he laughed at his error. “Surprisingly, this cave’s roof descended since I was age ten.”

“It is perfectly tall enough for me, your lordship,” Miss Tilney taunted as she spread one of the two blankets he retrieved from the carriage onto the earthen floor.

Law studied the lady closely as the diminutive form moved freely about the dead end crevice in which they hadsought shelter. Miss Arabella Tilney was as busy as the mouse of which she reminded him. First the squeak and now darting everywhere. He shook his head in amusement.

Meanwhile, he turned his attention to removing his drenched greatcoat before claiming a seat close to the cave’s opening. “I will start a fire. We should place it near the opening. That will serve for circulation, keeping the heat in and the smoke out. Moreover, I think it important to deter any animal, which might also seek shelter from the elements.”

Abigail half whined as she sat bundled up against the back wall of the enclosure. “Is there no way we might leave here tonight?”

“In truth, Miss Abigail, I pray my men do not attempt to rescue us this evening. I want none of them to perish. The danger is eminent, and although we may be a bit uncomfortable, we shall not perish. However, the fire at the cave’s opening will serve as a signal if they do search against my orders.”

Law noticed how Miss Tilney and Miss Dryburgh busied themselves with preparing what food they had available, as well as a space the ladies might share overnight, while Miss Abigail offered no assistance. His scowl announced Law’s disapproval of those who would not assist themselves.

He used a small spade he kept attached to the saddle to dig a shallow pit; then, Law stacked the wood he had found, lacing the kindling between the logs. He removed the flint and a small tin tinderbox he stored in a bag he had brought just in case they met trouble. He struck the steel striker and the flint module against each other to create the sparks to light the tinder, which was the remnants of a linen rag scorched for this very purpose. The sparks ignited the tinder, and Law used the spunks to spread the fire to kindling wood he had discovered in the copse. Soon he had a small fire burning steadily. The heat radiated throughout the tiny enclosure, removing the damp chill and driving away the encroaching darkness. “That is better,” Law declared as he turned toward the women.

“Come join us, your lordship,” Miss Dryburgh gestured to the spread.

Law moved forward on hands and knees. “Thank you, Miss Dryburgh.”

“One end of the bread remained untouched. It appears you reached it in time, Lord Hellsman,” Miss Tilney revealed.

Lawrence reached for an apple, permitting the women to eat before he chose any of the scarce offerings the ladies had placed before him. He took a small bite to make the fruit last longer.

The fire’s muted light provided him a better awareness of the three women.

Abigail Tilney appeared the youngest, likely seventeen or eighteen years of age. She had a head of golden locks that reflected the dancing flames’ brilliance, as well as a long, slender neck. Miss Abigail was likely very lithe in stature based on his peek of her thin arms when the girl reached for the bread. She had yet to remove her cloak so he had no true idea of her figure.

Annalee Dryburgh’s full figure showed well in the gown she had chosen for the day trip. Her corseted-cinched waist made the woman appear small compared to her ample bust line and hips. Not plump, but judged against the excessively thin Miss Abigail, Miss Dryburgh would be termed well fed by the people filling the village outside his father’s estate. Her chestnut hair framed a heart shaped face.

Then his eyes rested on the elder of the Tilney sisters: Arabella. She possessed nondescript–dull, brown hair, which was very wavy, and small breasts. Extremely petite. And always moving. Foot tapping. Fingers drumming. Amorphous. Yet, for some reason, Law’s eyes remained on her.

“Might we know more of your family, your lordship?” Miss Dryburgh asked as she wrapped some bread about hard cheese.

Law’s gaze scanned all three women, but for a reason to which he could give no voice, his eyes lingered on the elder of the two Americans. “My home seat is Blake’s Run in Derbyshire, and I am the eldest son of Baron Blakehell, Niall Lowery. There are three sisters–Louisa, who is married to Ernest Hutton, Lord MacLauren; Marie, who recently married Viscount Sheffield; and, lastly, Delia, the Viscountess Duff. From them, I possess one nephew and two nieces. The youngest of the family is my brother Carter, upon whom the Prince Regent quite recently bestowed a baronetcy for Carter’s service during the war.”

“Two seats within one family? Quite unusual, my lord.”

“It is Miss Dryburgh, but my father is more than pleased to have both his sons holding a title. Sir Carter is renovating Huntingborne Abbey in Kent, under my father’s guidance. Actually, I believe my brother’s situation provides the baron new life; the baron thrives when he has the opportunity to instruct others in the way of the land.” Lawrence grinned knowingly. “The baron is a great one on duty and responsibility.”

“Pardon my curiosity,” Miss Tilney said with a frown marking her brow. “If your father is a baron, should you not be The Honourable Mr. Lowery rather than a lord?”

Law had answered the question many times in his life. “My father holds two baronies. One English law recognizes as his principal seat. He also holds a Scottish barony that is not recognized in the same manner, meaning it holds no seat in the House of Lords. Blakehell prefers that his son and heir possesses a distinction that other sons of barons do not hold. I have been presented as Hellsman since my birth. It is purely a courtesy title, but we Brits are notorious for changing our names to whatever we wish. As long as I leave my Christian name of Lawrence untouched, there are no laws to prevent my father from calling me by an ancient title.” He attempted to disguise the feeling of humiliation he had experienced when someone at school had first questioned his use of a courtesy title, which was customarily granted to the sons of dukes and marquesses and earls, but not to barons. It was the first time that he truly understood his father’s obsession to be be more than he was. Self-consciously, he took a small sip of the wine, which Miss Tilney had poured for him. “And what of you, ladies?” he asked to change the subject.

“We are touring some of the English countryside before we travel to London for the Season,” Miss Dryburgh shared. “This will be my second Season. Regrettably, we did not stay the entire Season last year because Grandmamma took ill. My cousins are being presented by our Aunt Sarah, the Marchioness of Fayarrd.”

“And you, Miss Tilney? What of you? Are you anxious for a London Season?” His tone took on a teasing tone.

* * *

Arabella studied the man who had literally carried her into their shelter. She thought it amusing in some ways. If his lordship had manhandled either Abby or Annalee as he had her, her relatives would have claimed a case of the vapors. But Bella knew hard work’s value and was accustomed to being around men. Even so, Lord Hellsman held a mystique, which made her a bit uncomfortable. Gentle and aristocratic, the gentleman exemplified the English aristocracy; yet, raw masculinity exuded from him. He made decisions based on reason and followed them through, and Bella found those qualities very appealing.

“Our mother, sir, was at one time a member of the court, but she left to the Americas with our father some two and twenty years prior. However, she always dreamed of sending her daughters to London to enjoy what she determined was real society.”

* * *

Finding himself wanting to speak only to her, he did something that he rarely did: Law offered her a tease. “You spoke of culture earlier, Miss Tilney. Is there no society in America?” She smiled at him, and Law felt something like desire shoot through him.

“The Appalachian Mountains possess their particular culture, but it is not society as you know it, Lord Hellsman.”

“The Appalachians?” he questioned, rolling the word around in his mouth. “I am not familiar with the area.”

“You are in error, your lordship,” Miss Tilney corrected. “They are the same mountain range the English celebrate in Scotland and Wales.”

Lawrence enjoyed being challenged. Miss Tilney’s audacity was quite beguiling.

“That is just your theory, Bella,” Miss Abigail asserted. “To think the mountains at home might be under the ocean and part of this land demonstrates your blue stocking education.” To draw Law’s attention to her, the girl lightly touched his arm. “I am certain his lordship does not wish to discuss geography with a mere female.”

Law casually shifted his weight to permit the lady’s hand to fall away. He was accustomed to young girls vying for his attention. Although his future was a simple barony, it was a very wealthy one, and society mamas and their daughters had made him their target long ago. “Far be it from me to correct you, Miss Abigail,” he said in dismissal, “but I find any mental challenge invigorating. Lamentably, any woman who chooses to be successful during the Season must temper her words. Many men prefer their potential wives to simply be an excellent household manager.”

“See, Bella, even his lordship agrees with me,” Miss Abigail preened. “You cannot be Papa’s hoyden if you expect to attract a husband.”

Miss Tilney shrugged her shoulders. “Who says I wish a husband? I would be content to return home and to take care of Papa’s house.”

“Of course, you wish a husband,” her sister corrected. “Mama would be horrified to have you return to America unmarried.”

“Papa insists I meet my obligations this Season,”

Miss Dryburgh also did not guard her words. “I possess two younger sisters who have yet to know a Come Out.”

The parallel world remained: Even his sisters never spoke so liberally before him. Mayhap the openness of the Americans led them all into an instant intimacy. The Tilneys exemplified the American spirit and the American primitiveness, especially Miss Tilney, but Lawrence thought he would not trade this moment in this cave for all the drawing rooms in England. It was freedom.

“Did you travel from Staffordshire?” He asked to temper the conversation while keeping it going.

“We came to Matlock with my parents,” Miss Dryburgh shared. “They traveled to Lincolnshire to share time with my paternal grandparents. My family thought the Misses Tilney might enjoy the Peak District after leaving western Virginia. We departed Hayfield this morning.”

And so, the conversation continued over the next ninety minutes. Law told them of the area, history of his estate, and a bit upon some of the other families in the area. Miss Dryburgh related like information regarding Staffordshire, and the Tilneys spoke of their lives, describing the land and the people. Ironically, Miss Abigail spoke of rolling hills and Southern manners and a genteel lifestyle at her mother’s feet, while Miss Tilney spoke of rugged mountains, poor tenants, and the use of slaves on the adjoining properties. A more diverse description of their home could not be had. It was as if the sisters had described two different lands. Yet, as he thought on it, little difference existed with what he knew of England. Poor tenants and rich landowners subsisted side by side on English estates.

Outside, the rain continued, and Law added more wood to the fire. He could not imagine women of the ton adapting so quickly to their surroundings. Although he suspected Miss Abigail would easily matriculate into the ways of the beau monde, her cousin’s and her sister’s censure managed to quail the girl’s constant complaining.

“I will sleep near the fire to assure it does not go out overnight,” Law announced as the time on his pocket watch indicated sleep might be possible. His clothes remained damp, and a chill ran up and down his spine. If alone, he would remove his boots and his waistcoat, but a gentleman would never think of doing so before a lady. Moreover, if he removed his boots, Law was not certain he could wrestle them on in the morning. The leather would likely shrink.

He permitted the women the blankets to use along with their cloaks, and they made a “group” bed near the enclosure’s back wall. Law used his saddle as a pillow and his damp greatcoat for a blanket. Miserable as he had ever remembered being, he forced himself to settle on the floor of the rock face.

“Your lordship,” a half sleepy voice he recognized as Arabella Tilney’s called out, “do you have a gun for protection?”

Law smiled at her practicality. “Aye, Miss Tilney. Several.”

“That is exceedingly fine, Lord Hellsman,” she said huskily. “So do I.”

Law did not answer. He just widened his smile as he closed his eyes to welcome sleep.

* * *

He did not know how long he had slept. Ten minutes or ten hours? But definitely not long enough. A sharp sound had come from behind him and to the left, and Law forced his eyes open to permit the fire’s light in. A squeak told him immediately who and a sharp crack of thunder told him what, as he scrambled to his knees to reach her. This new storm, was, obviously, more violent than the previous one.

Arabella Tilney huddled, like a broken animal, against the cave’s sidewall, shivering and incoherent. A quick glance behind told him neither Miss Dryburgh nor Miss Abigail had heard their traveling companion, and for a moment, Lawrence wondered if he should wake them. But Miss Tilney cringed and covered her head with her arms in a protective stance, and Law could do nothing less than to take her into his embrace. He draped an arm about her small form. On his knees before her, he gently surrounded her with his heat, hiding the woman’s face in his chest and pulling Miss Tilney to him. “Easy, Sweetling,” he whispered close to her ear. “I have you.” Another thunderclap and an accompanying lightning bolt sent her clawing at his shirt and whimpering. Again, he attempted to comfort her. “Come, Mouse.” Law rocked the lady in place, stroking her back and caressing her arms. “I will permit nothing to harm you.”

The woman clutched at him, attempting to, literally, crawl under his skin, seeking his body as her shield, Miss Tilney plastered herself to him. “Do not leave me,” she begged.

“Never,” he murmured and had meant it. Madness had claimed his reason. He held the woman in an intimate embrace, and if either of her relatives awoke and observed them, Law would be honor bound to offer for the lady; however, he could not release Miss Tilney. More than Arabella Tilney’s obvious distress, Law enjoyed the feel of her along his body: her heat mingling with his. It had been a long time since he had desired a woman the way he desired this one. The blood rushed to his groin. She fit. Fit as if she were made for him alone.

“Come, Mouse.” Law nuzzled behind her ear as he stood them up. “Come with me.” Bent over, he led the woman to his makeshift bed. “I will hold you until the storm passes.”

Miss Tilney came willingly, never doubting Law’s honorable treatment of her. She permitted him to ease her down beside him on the rock face and then to spoon her body with his. Beyond the opening, the storm raged on. Consequently, Arabella Tilney scooted her backside into him. Her back pasted to his chest. Her hips to his groin. If she noticed the hardened bulge, Miss Tilney lodged no objections. Instead, she wriggled closer, massaging his body with hers.

Law inched nearer to her, accepting the exquisite line of Miss Tilney’s form. He dropped an arm across her, holding the lady to him and stroking her hair from her cheek. When she wormed nearer, he permitted himself the pleasure of grinding his erection into her buttocks’ crevice. Alas, it did nothing to relieve his “itch” to possess the woman; the movement only stoked the flame, but he could not deny himself the pleasure of her body stoking his passion. Beyond normal reason, he wanted her more than any woman he had ever known.

Catching his shoulder and draping his body over hers, Miss Tilney rested her head on his outstretched arm. “Thank you,” she whispered as she closed her eyes.

“Any time, Mouse,” Law breathed as he lowered his head to hers. He found his breathing turning shallow. He had not lain with a woman for some time, but his instant attraction to this prosaic female made no sense. Arabella Tilney was definitely not his type. In fact, her cousin better fulfilled his usual attraction. Law preferred a woman whose breasts more than filled his palms and whose long legs wrapped easily about his body. Although he favored a local widow, Mrs. Winslow, when he required an evening of distraction, unlike other men of his rank, Law kept no mistress. Mayhap that was the source of his reaction to this woman: He needed to call on the widow. Need and release.

Yet, as the innocent Arabella Tilney finally went still and returned to sleep in his embrace, Law felt a complete peace sweep over him. Yes, his erection still screamed for completion, and, yes, his eyes examined her body in minute detail, but his heartbeat became steady, as if it knew the lady as its own. The thought of such lunacy him Law to shiver from the unknown.

As if Miss Tilney understood, the woman caught the hand with which he pressed her to him and brought it to her lips. She kissed his fingertips before sighing deeply; yet, never once, did she open her eyes.

Law’s erection jerked again, and he leaned forward to kiss her temple lightly. “You are a corundum, Sweetling.”

Law knew himself deranged simply to lie beside the woman, as if taunting the others to catch them together, but he did not move away. His heart sang a song of familiarity. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of Miss Tilney. Sweet lavender covered him as he closed his eyes to welcome sleep.

Posted in book excerpts, book release, books, British history, eBooks, estates, Georgian England, historical fiction, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, marriage, primogenture, Realm series, titles of aristocracy, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Silhouettes: An Alternative Portraiture with a Dark History (pun intended), a Guest Post from Sharon Lathan

This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on November 28, 2017. Enjoy! 

For hundreds of years, until the invention of the camera, the only way to quickly and cheaply immortalize a loved one was through a shade, also referred to as a shadow portrait. As opposed to more decorative and expensive forms of portraiture like painting or sculpture, a shade was a simple and inexpensive alternative.

Early artisans could copy a person’s profile using no more than scissors on paper and their two eyes, creating within minutes a freehand miniature in startling accuracy. Or they might paint with soot or lamp black onto plaster or glass. Casting shadows onto paper with lights was another technique utilized. The artist traced the shadow and depending on his talent and the financial offering of the client, would cut from fine materials or add elaborate details.

Being an inexpensive artistry did not halt tracing shadow profiles from becoming all the rage in early 1700’s Europe. In France, the aristocracy embraced the amusement. Featured artists would attend extravagant balls and cut out the distinguished profiles of the Lords and Ladies capturing the latest fashions and elaborate wigs. In a strange twist of irony, it was this thrifty art form taken to incredible extremes by the pre-Revolutionary French noblemen and women that would later give the tracing of shades it’s perpetual name.

While the aristocrats were having their profiles cut out and eating like kings, much of Europe was starving. In the 1760s the Finance Minister of Louis XV, Etienne de Silhouette, had crippled the French people with his merciless tax policies. Oblivious to his people’s plight, Etienne was much more interested in his hobby of cutting out paper profiles. He was so despised by the people of France that in protest, the peasants wore only black mimicking his black paper cutouts. The saying went all over France, “We are dressing a la Silhouette. We are shadows, too poor to wear color. We are Silhouettes!”

The name “silhouette” in relation to shades would not be used for another forty years, but the art of profiling in shadow would proliferate. Thankfully the negative connotation did not last. Nor did the plain, unadorned black sketches. Clients wanted novelty and artists needed to stand out from competitors. This soon led to elaborate variations on the simple cut profile. By the 1790s, many profiles were painted – on paper, ivory, plaster, or even glass. Elaborate embellishments became prominent, depicting jewelry, lace collars, and elaborate hairstyles. Bronzing, or the process of adding fine brushes of gold paint to the hair or clothing, became very popular after 1800.

Inevitably prices increased as the materials became more expensive. Yet, the simple truth is that it is the black face which allows the work to be termed a silhouette. Any extra detail on the face would have made it a portrait, not a shade!

While some shades were life-sized, or nearly so, most were very tiny. Placing the shadowy profile of a loved one onto a brooch or necklace required a skill of astounding proportions. Two of those most gifted were Englishmen John Field and John Miers. The plumed woman to the left is one of Miers’s masterpieces. Miers opened a London business in 1788, attained a high level of success and fame including the honor of painting King George III and Queen Charlotte.

The art of silhouette cutting reached its “golden age” in the 1800s. Many eighteenth-century silhouettists were, in fact, aspiring portrait artists or miniaturists. Some of them turned to creating silhouettes to tide themselves over when business was slack. Others found they developed a name for their work in this genre and quickly developed a market for it. Often unpretentious, they gave their public what they wanted without aspiring to artistic greatness, therefore reflecting with great clarity the pre-occupations and sensibilities of their time.

The most famous silhouettist of the Regency Era was Auguste Edouart. He resisted the fancier flourishes, insisting on the traditional black outline, although his lithographed backgrounds are legendary for their beauty. It was also he who first used the term “silhouette” formally, believing it had a magnificence to elevate the art form. He traveled up and down the English coast plying his artistry and became very wealthy in the process. By the end of his life, it is estimated that he amassed a collection of over 100,000 portraits! Tragically, a shipwreck off the coast of Jersey would lead to the vast bulk of his portfolio being lost at the bottom of the sea, where they presumably still remain. Edouart escaped death but was so grief-stricken at the loss that he never again cut a profile.

With the advent of the camera and the increased availability of reasonably priced paints, silhouette as a unique art form waned. By the 20th century, there were few artisans who maintained the professional attitude, and they were generally found at carnivals and seaside resorts. That is not to say, however, that the craft of silhouette died completely.

Eduart silhouette of a magic lantern show, the silhouettes positioned against a lithographed background.
Posted in Austen Authors, British history, fashion, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Can Courtesy Titles Be Bestowed?

Since my last post on Courtesy Titles on February 15, I have received several inquires about how courtesy titles were bestowed upon others. First, permit me to clarify, once again, there is a difference between an actual title of the peerage and a courtesy title. The confusion comes in the form that the sovereign, or in the case of the Regency (the Prince Regent), possesses the right to bestow an actual title upon an individual, meaning privileges of the peerage, but NOT a courtesy title. The sovereign may also bestow an “honorific.” 

There are honorific titles presented to individuals. A title of honor or honorary title is a title bestowed upon individuals or organizations as an award in recognition of their merits.

knight is a person granted an honorary title of knighthood by a monarch or other political leader for service to the monarch or country, especially in a military capacity. In the United Kingdom, honorific knighthood may be conferred in different ways: The first is by membership of one of the pure Orders of Chivalry such as the Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle and the dormant Order of Saint Patrick, of which all members are knighted. In addition, many British Orders of Merit, namely the Order of the Bath, the Order of St Michael and St George, the Royal Victorian Order and the Order of the British Empire are part of the British honours system, and the award of their highest ranks (Knight/Dame Commander and Knight/Dame Gran Cross), comes together with an honorific knighthood, making them a cross between orders of chivalry and orders of merit. The second is being granted honorific knighthood by the British sovereign without membership of an order, the recipient being called Knight Bachelor. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sir William Lucas has been made a knight because of his dedication to duty as mayor of Meryton.

Dame is an honorific title and the feminine form of address for the honour of knighthood in the British honours system. The masculine form of address is “Sir.” The word damehood is rarely used, but the official website of the British monarch uses it as the correct form. A woman appointed to the grades of Dame Commander or Dame Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, the Royal Victorian Order, or the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire becomes a dame. Since there is no female equivalent to a Knight Bachelor, women are always appointed to an order of chivalry. 

Since 1611, the British Crown has awarded a hereditary title in the form of the Baronetcy. Like knights, baronets are accorded the title Sir. Baronets are not peers of the Realm, and have never been entitled to sit in the House of Lords, therefore like knights they remain commoners in the view of the British legal system. However, unlike knights, the title is hereditary and the recipient does not receive an accolade. The position is therefore more comparable with hereditary knighthoods in continental European orders of nobility, such a ritters, than with knighthoods under the British orders of chivalry. However, unlike the continental orders, the British baronetcy system was a modern invention, designed specifically to raise money for the Crown with the purchase of the title.

Now to the issue of “real” titles. 

Anyone could recommend a man for knighthood, a baronetcy, or one of the lower peerages, but only the sovereign could act upon the deed. A man could be made a knight, baronet, baron, viscount, or earl depending on the rank he already held and the service he had preformed. It was very rare for anyone to be made a peer of higher rank than earl. Even Wellington was only made a viscount at first.

James I was the only king openly to sell baronetcies. Most other peerage titles were advancements in the peerage for those already peers or a new creations, such as it was for Wellington. We must remember that Wellesley was born in Ireland at the Honourable Arthur Wesley, for he was the third of five surviving sons (fourth otherwise) to Anne and Garret Wesley, 1st Earl of Mornington. He had no right to his father’s peerage and so a new one was created for him. Most new creations  in the peerage were made barons. The most issued honor was a common knighthood. Next was a baronetcy. 

Oftentimes the new position was created to cause a political shift, say from Tory to Whig. Even so, the reason stated behind the creation had to be a good one: Saving the King’s life, preventing another Guy Fawkes-type conspiracy, preventing political upheaval, valor during war, etc., or something that is unique to his talents, abilities, or wealth.


In the early days of England history, the king/queen would take a sword and tap the man on the shoulder and then fasten a belt around his waist. Up to the seventeenth century an earl was invested by the Sovereign with a sword which was girded around his waist – hence ‘a belted earl’, a phrase beloved by Victorian novelists and others.


Camelot International tells us, “Though a barony is the oldest peerage title proper, the word ‘earl’ has much older origins, being derived from the Anglo-Saxon magnate known as an ealdorman who was more of a local ruler than a legislator. The term itself comes ultimately from the word Karl’ – a powerful Viking noble, so that the title of earl has very ancient roots.

earl2.gif“Although the oldest extant English earldom is that of Arundel (1433), it has long been merged with the Dukedom of Norfolk and the Earl of Shrewsbury is regarded as the premier Earl, his creation dating from 1442.

“The origin of the earldom of Mar, the premier earldom of Scotland is, according to an 18th century lawyer, ‘lost in its antiquity’. Certainly there were Mormaers (earls) of Mar in the early 12th century and the present holder is the 31st. This earldom, like a number of other Scottish ones, passes through female lines and is at present held by a woman.

“It was long the custom for retiring Prime Ministers to be offered a peerage – usually an earldom. Churchill refused a peerage and Sir Harold Wilson accepted a life barony. For a time it looked as if hereditary peerages had been phased out but Mrs. Thatcher revived the custom and the late Harold Macmillan accepted the earldom of Stockton.”

By 1820,  the man had to be asked what title he preferred. Wellington’s brother is said to have chosen Wellington for his brother’s peerage when the man was first  made a viscount. Then the College of Arms checks to see if anyone else has that title, if it had been attainted, or if it is in abeyance. Next, a patent is drawn up bestowing the peerage on the man. If the patent has an error in it, it cannot be corrected. Therefore, great care is taken in a patent’s creation. There is a ceremony at which time the king bestows the title on the man and presents him the patent. The man must pay the College of Arms a fee for the “gift.” Then  he applies to the House of Lords for admittance as a peer. This “permission” is known as a writ of summons.  He sends in a statement that he has a patent and gives the information about it which has already been published in the London GazetteHe asks two peers of his rank—one the most senior he can find and the other the  youngest before him (meaning the youngest in date of peerage presentation, not of person) to accompany him. He receives a writ of summons and when the House is in session, he dresses in his parliamentary robe, with his two sponsors also in their robes. These two sponsors must be the same rank as the new peer, and they cannot be a duke.

During the ceremony, he approaches the woolsack and presents his credentials. His patent is read aloud. Then he and his two sponsors step out to remove their robes and return quietly to take their seats in ordinary clothes.

For a more detailed summary of the ceremony, I would recommend “Introduction of a New Peer to the House of Lords on Nancy Regency Researcher

Posted in British history, Georgian England, history, Jane Austen, legacy, Living in the UK, Napoleonic Wars, real life tales, research, titles of aristocracy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Voidable Marriage in History: Marrying the Sister of One’s Late Wife or the Brother of One’s Late Husband

A plot we readers often encounter in historical romance set in the Regency Period is when the hero takes up with his late wife’s sister. But was it possible?

“For most of the nineteenth century, the question of whether a man should be able to marry the sister of his deceased wife engaged the English public in protracted and heated debate. The Parliamentary debates, individually published pamphlets and periodical essays, and topical fiction that at times seemed to flood from this debate express a range of nineteenth-century English anxieties about the proper definition and practice of family life, anxieties that provoked serious reconsideration of the legal definitions and cultural meanings of sibling and marital relations. The figure that carried the full weight of these ideological struggles was the adult unmarried sister living in a married sister’s household; the specific issue upon which the English people focused was whether a man’s wife’s sister was, in law, the equivalent of his blood sister and therefore never to be his wife, or his metaphorical sister only and therefore an ‘indifferent person’ whom he could marry.” (Anne D. Wallace, “On the Deceased Wife’s Sister Controversy, 1835-1907″)

Before 1835, the church would annul the marriage of a man with the sister of his late wife if reported, but if no one reported the situation, then the marriage was legal. It  was a voidable marriage not a void one. The same was true for marriage with a late husband’s brother. Both situations, however, were made illegal in 1835. The one involving the sister was repealed in 1907. The brother one was repealed much later. Even before the law passed, the church opposed such unions, and there were quite a few people who did as well. Every year after 1835 some one proposed a law to repeal the law Gilbert and Sullivan referred to it as the “annual blister.”

“The doctrine that such marriages were illicit was reflected in the Table of kindred and affinity in the Anglican (Church of England) Book of Common Prayer. Prohibition of marriage between certain degrees of kindred outlawed what is known as incest; prohibition between degrees of relationship by marriage (affinity) as opposed to blood (consanguinity) seems to have reflected an analogous taboo. At least one novel, Felicia Skene’s The Inheritance of Evil; Or, the Consequences of Marrying a Deceased Wife’s Sister (1849) addressed the topic in polemic fictional form.

“Under ecclesiastical law, a marriage within the prohibited degrees was not absolutely void but it was voidable at the suit of any interested party. Matthew Boulton married his deceased wife’s sister in 1760. He advised silence, secrecy and Scotland, although they married in London; the marriage was opposed by her brother. Similarly Charles Austen, the younger brother of Jane Austen, married his deceased wife’s sister in 1820 and remained married to her until he died in 1852.” (Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907

Collins Hemingway in his article “Brotherly Love?” on Austen Authors, tells us: “An even closer—and absolutely prohibited—degree of consanguinity is that of brother and sister. Sibling marriage being an incestuous taboo the world over, one would not expect such a thing ever to enter the environs of Austenia. Yet tradition brought it to Jane’s doorstep, for the law not only forbade marriage between blood siblings but also between brothers and sisters by marriage.

“Therefore, the marriage of Jane’s brother Charles to Harriet Palmer after the death of his first wife was “voidable” because Harriet was Fanny’s sister. As explained in Martha Bailey’s article in ‘The Marriage Law of Jane Austen’s World’ (Persuasions, Winter 2015), this sisterhood created a prohibition by ‘affinity’ (marriage) as strong as one by blood. The logic was: Because Fanny and Harriet were related by blood, and because husband and wife became one flesh upon consummation, then Charles would also be related to Harriet by blood. This thinking applied equally for a woman who married the brother of her dead husband.

“‘Voidable’ in Charles’ case did not necessarily mean ‘voided.’ Someone—most likely a relative seeking to grab an inheritance—would have to sue to have the marriage voided and any children declared illegitimate. Charles never had enough money for anyone to bother trying to disinherit his four children by Harriet.

“To resolve the ambiguity about people marrying the sibling of a deceased spouse, the 1835 Marriage Act validated all previous such marriages but voided any going forward. To evade this prohibition in still another Austen situation, Jane’s niece Louisa Knight went to Denmark in 1847 to marry Lord George Hill, who had been married to Louisa’s now deceased sister Cassandra. Such dodges continued until the affinity laws were removed in 1907.”

Charles John Austen en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Charles_Austen

Charles John Austen en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

Anyone could challenge the validity of the marriage by lodging a complaint with the Ecclesiastical Court.  That was apparent from the reams of correspondence in the Beaufort archives on this very case. All that was needed was someone, ANYONE to challenge or complain about one of these voidable marriages to the Ecclesiastical Court, and the court could declare it invalid, thereby making all offspring of the union bastards, a loss of a living, etc.  The complaint or challenge had to be made while both parties to the marriage in question were alive .

The most likely person to challenge a voidable marriage would be the man who would inherit if the marriage didn’t exist — husband’s brother or nephew or whatever.  So a man whose wife produced only daughters, then the wife died, marries her sister and has a son, but his brother wants the title/land so challenges the marriage. The second most likely to challenge would probably be the husband himself if neither wife produced an heir.  But I doubt many of these marriages existed, especially if titles and land were involved.

Men did marry their dead wife’s sister. Such marriages were not automatically void by law, but they were voidable if someone challenged them. Lord Lyndhurst’s concerns about a challenge to the 7th Duke of Beaufort’s marriage was not without substance. Wellington was strongly opposed to that marriage and quite outspoken about it.  Anyway, in 1835, Lyndhurst, concerned that the Duke of Beaufort’s heir could be stripped of his legitimacy, all his rights and his entitlements as heir to the dukedom if someone like Wellington challenged Beaufort’s marriage to his dead wife’s half sister, took the matter to Parliament in the form of a bill to legitimize the marriage. But the issue grew legs of its own.  What eventuated was the bill that decreed that all voidable marriages performed before 31 August 1835, if not already voided, would be declared fully legitimate and all marriages within the prohibited degrees performed after that date would be void, invalid from the beginning whether challenged or not.  But as this Act of Parliament included the marriage between a woman and her dead husband’s brother, an amendment was made – almost immediately- to exclude the marriage of a woman to her dead husband’s brother.

Henry Somerset, 7th Duke of Beaufort en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Henry_Somerset_7th_Duke_of_Beaufort

Henry Somerset, 7th Duke of Beaufort en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

“Parliament had to tack that part on to get the bill to pass. In the social climate of the time it was ‘too soon’ to eliminate the taboo on in-law marriage in one fell swoop. When the more progressive bill to legalize wife’s sister marriage was finally introduced in 1842, a fight broke out that would last 65 years.

“What was the big deal? Opponents of the bill saw it as a slippery slope that would lead to the legalization of all kinds of incest. They drew arguments from the Bible: Genesis 2 states that husband and wife ‘became one flesh,’ therefore your wife’s sister was really your own sister. Leviticus prohibits a man from uncovering ‘the nakedness of thy brother’s wife,’ and so, by analogy, he shouldn’t do it to his wife’s sister either. Arguments from science included the bizarre claim that married couples become blood relations through some biological consequence of sexual intercourse, or that the idea that in-law marriage was wrong came from evolutionary instinct. People also thought it would destroy the family by encouraging husbands and their wives’ sisters to lust after each other while the wives were still alive.

“Were there really so many brothers- and sisters-in-law who wanted to get married? Not really, but it was more common than it is now. Women often died in childbirth, and their unmarried sisters, who had few other options to support themselves besides marriage, would step in to care for the family. For convenience, and sometimes developing love, remarriage seemed like the thing to do. Supporters of the act argued that prohibiting these marriages was unfair to the poor, who could not afford to hire help and could not travel out of the country to get married, as the upper class often did to get around the law.” (The 65 Year Battle Over the Deceased Sister’s Marriage Act)

The lengthy nature of the campaign was referred to in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe, in which the Queen of the Fairies sings “He shall prick that annual blister, marriage with deceased wife’s sister.”

“The Marriage Act 1835, however, hardened the law into an absolute prohibition (whilst, however, authorising any such marriages which had already taken place), so that such marriages could no longer take place in the United Kingdom and colonies at all (in Scotland they were prohibited by a Scottish Marriage Act of 1567). Such marriages from that date had to take place abroad: see, for example, William Holman Hunt and John Collier, both painters, who married the sisters of their deceased wives in Switzerland and in Norway respectively. However, this was only possible for those who could afford it.” (Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907)

“The Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907 removed the prohibition (although it allowed individual clergy, if they chose, to refuse to conduct marriages which would previously have been prohibited). The Act did exactly what it said and no more; so, for example, it was not until 1921 that the Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act 1921 was passed. The Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Relationship Act 1931 extended the operation of the 1907 Act to allow the marriages of nieces and nephews by marriage as well. The Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act (Northern Ireland) 1924 was passed to remove doubts as to the application of the Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act, 1921, to Northern Ireland.” (Deceased Wife’s Sister’s Marriage Act 1907)

UnknownThe Annual Blister: A Sidelight on Victorian Social and Parliamentary History
Cynthia Fansler Behrman
Victorian Studies
Vol. 11, No. 4 (Jun., 1968), pp. 483-502
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3825227
Page Count: 20

Posted in Act of Parliament, British history, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, marriage, real life tales, Regency era, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Between the Lines: Sisterhood and Serendipitous Elusiveness, a Guest Post by Gabrielle Mullarkey

Jane statue, Basingstoke.jpgBETWEEN THE LINES

Sisterhood and serendipitous elusiveness

Jane Austen, like many great artists, reaches out to us across time as both a living presence glimpsed between the lines of her own words and as an image orchestrated and reconstructed endlessly by others – including the woman regarded traditionally as iconographer-in-chief, her elder sister, Cassandra.

Conspiracy theories abound as to the ‘true’ nature of the relationship between Jane and Cassandra. Consider this famous extract from Cassandra’s letter to niece Fanny Knight, written in the wake of Jane’s death in July, 1817:

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach, I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

At first glance, there’s a lot of ‘I’ going on, plus a hint of arch self-regard in my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

This seems to recast Jane’s death as a divine reproach to Cassandra’s failings. Taken with Cassandra’s incendiary disposal of so many of Jane’s letters, she’s long been ripe for reappraisal as the patient and supportive foil to her brilliant younger sister.


I’m not one for wholesale dismissal of conspiracy theories, since they intrigue and spark the imagination. For example, ‘literary sleuth’ Arnie Perlstein (@JaneAustenCode on Twitter) sees, in Cassandra’s words I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, an echo of Othello’s when he calls himself ‘one that lov’d not wisely, but too well’ after murdering Desdemona.

The outlandish notion that Cassandra may have murdered Jane fits into a canon of speculation that Jane was poisoned by arsenic, typified by Lindsay Ashford’s 2011 novel, The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

As lately as 2017, an examination of Jane’s spectacles concluded that she had very poor eyesight at the time of death, a possible side-effect of medicine she might have taken for rheumatism, which may have contained arsenic.

Notwithstanding the ‘possibles,’ ‘mays’ and ‘might haves,’ amateur detectives speculate that Jane could have been offed by arsenic cloaked in a medical application, suspects ranging from Cassandra to Jane’s brother Henry and even household cook Margaret Bigeon, all after Jane’s £800 nest egg.

hi res JA book cover.png Who doesn’t love such intrigue? I tapped into dramatic possibilities myself to formulate dastardly crimes in my novel Four Riddles for Jane Austen and her artful maid Tilly

But it seems to me that the more distant, elusive and reified the ‘victim’, the more such theories gain traction. We saw it as recently as 1997 in claims that Princess Diana – an image that many people projected onto rather than a person they knew – had been murdered, supported by plausibly intricate research.

Jane Austen’s elusiveness was intensified when Cassandra destroyed letters that might have enabled us to glimpse the ‘real people’ behind the screen – both herself and Jane. But should that matter?

snail detail, JA bench

snail detail on Jane Austen bench


In Lizzie and Jane Bennet, Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, it’s tempting to see hints of Jane and Cassandra, the latter reflected in the more stolid qualities of Jane or Elinor. As readers and admirers, we prefer to imagine Jane Austen as high-spirited Lizzie standing her ground, or as passionate Marianne flouting convention to pursue her heart.

But the ‘true’ nature of the Jane-Cassandra dynamic is bound to remain as elusive as the women themselves. Siblings who grow up co-dependently often become adept at hiding deep feelings from the outside world, from each other and even from themselves. As if to confirm that, in her letter to Fanny Knight, Cassandra writes selfeffacingly, You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings.

While Cassandra was probably reassuring Fanny that she hadn’t succumbed to physical malady brought on by grief, a gentleman’s daughter in 1817 was not at liberty to rend her garments, beat her breast or declaim loudly, ‘why did she have to die?’ Or even (to acknowledge conspiracy theorists), ‘why did I have to be the unobtrusive helpmeet to the feted writer?’   

Besides, the very idea of unrestrained emotion would have struck Cassandra as self-indulgent and improper. We can muse a great deal on how 18th and 19th century propriety imposed restraint on self-expression, but to assume that women such as Cassandra chafed against decorum is to apply a postmodernist sense of individualism retrospectively; even Marianne Dashwood had a keen sense of propriety; compare her artless conduct to Mary Crawford’s ‘blunted delicacy and… corrupted, vitiated mind’Mansfield Park, Ch. XLVII). Nor should we dismiss Cassandra’s self-effacement as insincere.   

JA bench, Winchester, UK

Jane Austen bench, Winchester, UK

Finally, since maintaining respectability and protecting carefully fostered reputation were paramount social expectations, we shouldn’t be surprised – or censorious – that Cassandra destroyed a cache of Jane’s letters, however benign their contents might have struck modern sensibilities. Glimpses aplenty remain of Jane’s naturalism and dry wit in her surviving correspondence, eg:

I find, on looking into my affairs, that instead of being very rich I am likely to be very poor… as we are to meet in Canterbury I need not have mentioned this. It is as well, however, to prepare you for the sight of a sister sunk in poverty, that it may not overcome your spirits.

Letter to Cassandra, June 20, 1808

However, Cassandra’s actions, whatever their motivation, went beyond maintaining an image of Jane, to creating one. The very act of destroying the letters forged an abiding interest in their imagined content, feeding the mythology of ‘who’ Jane Austen ‘really’ was, and prompting the writers carrying her train to expand the possibilities exponentially. The really intriguing question is – was this done unwittingly or with a shrewd eye to wrapping Jane Austen in mystery, inside her own enigma?


The author’s persona is as much a construct as the characters they create, and it is perfectly possible that both Cassandra and Jane were aware of this. As inveterate correspondents, they had an established rhythm and frame of reference, and may well have shared coded acknowledgement of who and what to omit from their letters, Cassandra exercising the privilege of confidentiality still further after her sister’s death.

In so doing, she may (that word again!) have been keenly aware of conflating author with sister and ‘real person’, generations of Janeites ever since rushing to fill the gap and supplement known facts with their own visions of the author and interpretation of her character.

But it is reading between and behind the lines that Jane Austen wrote, as well as the ones we can only imagine, that, paradoxically, bring her to life. 

Every reader who encounters a great writer for the first time invents them afresh in their mind’s eye, just as every active imagination is constantly mining the gaps and seeing into the white spaces on the printed page, suddenly finding themselves looking at a wholly realised world – and themselves – in new and unexpected ways.   

Gabrielle Mullarkey photo.jpgWRITER’S BIOGRAPHY

For the past 25 years, Gabrielle Mullarkey has worked as a journalist in the UK on everything from Cosmopolitan to women’s weeklies, while also contributing over 1.300 short stories to magazines.

Having published two novels (commercial fiction) with Simon & Schuster, her 2017 novel reimagining Jane Austen as a quick-witted sleuth was borne of her abiding passion for all things Austenite.

Since gaining her MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes in 2014 from Middlesex University, Gabrielle balances writing for publication with work as a creative writing tutor for adult learning and mental heath groups, and writes with and for patients at local hospices.

She lives in Oxfordshire and eats too much chocolate.

Four Riddles for Jane Austen (and her artful maid Tilly) is published by Corazon Books.

Available from:


Visit www.gabriellemullarkey.co.uk


Photos: JA bench, Winchester & snail detail, JA bench – this carved wooden bench is opposite 8 College Street, the house where Jane died in Winchester in July 1817. The bench was created in the Regency style by local sculptor Nicola Henshaw. Nicola worked with fellow artist Eileen White to develop ideas for the design with local schoolchildren, using Jane’s words, “to sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment,” as inspiration.

I was intrigued by the addition of snails to the bench’s natural imagery. They struck me as a possible metaphor for the Jane-Cassandra sisterhood: long, patient years of quietly mutual support. When I asked artist Nicola about the snails’ inclusion, she explained: “The position of the snails was to signify their love, tenderness and affection for each other. The reason they’re present is because I brought “verdure” from my garden into the school for a drawing and paper-cutting workshop with the children. In amongst the greenery were tiny, tiny snails, which the children loved. I felt that I had to include them in the work!”

Photo: Jane statue, Basingstoke – a life-size statue of Jane by sculptor Adam Roud was unveiled in the Hampshire town of Basingstoke in summer 2017 to mark the 200th anniversary of her death, Jane Austen biographer Claire Tomalin commenting: “Nothing could be better than a statue of Jane Austen hurrying across Market Square to collect library books, do a little shopping or pick up her mother from Dr Lyford’s house.” Jane knew Basingstoke well and attended social gatherings at the Assembly Rooms in Market Square, often visiting family friends at The Vyne, Oakley Hall and Ashe House.

Posted in Austen Authors, British history, customs and tradiitons, family, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, reading habits, real life tales, Regency era, Regency personalities, suspense, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment