Research in Historical Ficiton: A Witch Bottle and the Writing of “The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy”

Incorporating Research into a Story Line

Today, I thought I would spend some time on how I incorporated my research into Dorset’s superstitions and legends into the text of one of my Austen-inspired cozy mysteries. Enjoy the short history lesson below and then an excerpt from Chapter 8 of The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy.


While writing The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy, I explored many of the superstitions and beliefs of the 18th and 19th Centuries in England. In doing so, I collected information on tales of fairies, the Cerne Giant, and witchcraft. One of the plot devices I have incorporated into The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy is that of a “Witch Bottle.” What is a Witch Bottle, you may ask? How could it be a weapon in a mystery book? The purpose of a witch bottle is to trap the evil spirits operating in a household. A traditional witch bottle was made of blue or green glass and was about 3-4 inches high.


















Bellarmine jugs, are named after Robert Bellarmine, an ardent Catholic Inquisitor, who earned his reputation in the prosecution of Protestants and the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake. Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer. For claiming that the Sun was one of many stars and there was likely other inhabitable worlds containing intelligent beings, Bruno was burned alive for the crime of heresy in 1600. Bellarmine jugs, some 9 inches in height, were made of brown or gray stoneware. They were embossed with faces of bearded men to scare off the evil spirits.

Bellarmine jug,(Bartmann Krug) Frechen,Germany 1520-1545

The victim’s urine, hair, nail clippings, or red thread (sprite traps) were included in the bottle. Sometimes iron nails or pins were included. The bottle was traditionally buried beneath the house’s hearth or at the farthest corner of the property. Some say that the witch bottle wards off the spirit, keeping the witch from entering the house. Others believe the bottle captures evil and impales the dark spirit on the pins and nails before being drowned by the liquid (urine, holy water, wine, sea water, etc.).

The Dorset Echo carried a story of an unusual bottle buried under a wall near Langton Matravers. Dated October 27, 2005, the article says, “Experts believe that the rare find is a ‘witch bottle’ used to fend off evil spirits, which were thought to cause horned cattle distemper. The bottle’s contents was dark brown syrup and is one of only four bottles discovered in the UK with liquid still inside. Since then, a series of tests has revealed the liquid contained 30 different components including a salt solution–known as holy water at the time–covered with a layer of decayed animal fat.”

So now you, the reader, can identify what a witch’s bottle might contain, please enjoy the excerpt below from my Austen-inspired release: The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy.

The characters with which you may not be familiar are Thomas Cowan (a former Bow Street Runner and close associate of Colonel Fitzwilliam); Mr. Franklyn (an archaeologist from the British Antiquarian Society); Mrs. Ridgeway (the Woodvine Hall housekeeper) and Captain Lewis Tregonwell (the real-life founder of Bournemouth). Please remember that in my Austen books, as Miss Austen did not provide a Christian name for Colonel Fitzwilliam, he is “Edward,” my father’s middle name. (I am aware others use the name “Richard” in their fan fiction stories.) Please share any reactions below.


The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery


Fitzwilliam Darcy is devastated. The joy of his recent wedding has been cut short by the news of the sudden death of his father’s beloved cousin, Samuel Darcy. Elizabeth and Darcy travel to Dorset, a popular Regency resort area, to pay their respects to the well-traveled and eccentric Samuel. But this is no summer holiday. Danger bubbles beneath Dorset’s peaceful surface as strange and foreboding events begin to occur. Several of Samuel’s ancient treasures go missing, and then his body itself disappears. As Darcy and Elizabeth investigate this mystery and unravel its tangled ties to the haunting legends of Dark Dorset, the legendary couple’s love is put to the test when sinister forces strike close to home. Some secrets should remain secrets, but Darcy will do all he can to find answers—even if it means meeting his own end in the damp depths of a newly dug grave.

With malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy will keep Austen fans turning the pages right up until its dramatic conclusion.



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Chapter 8

Darcy arrived at Woodvine Hall to a flurry of activity. Servants scurried forth and back in a frenzied state. Whatever Elizabeth had said to the Woodvine housekeeper had proved effective: Mrs. Ridgeway oversaw the moving of furniture in the front drawing room. Two footmen rolled a heavy carpet, likely one brought to Dorset from the East. Its intricate patterns spoke of looms accustomed to prideful artisans. As they passed the room’s open door, Darcy noted his cousin’s wry smile. Edward leaned closer to say, “Mrs. Darcy has performed a miracle.”

“My wife never ceases to amaze me,” Darcy said honestly. He wanted to see her. Needed to see her. To observe how she fared. To speak of his admiration. It was the way with him. Darcy despised being separated from her more than a few minutes. At Pemberley, he had set up a desk for her in his study. He had found he accomplished more work whenever Elizabeth was in the room. If she were elsewhere in the house, Darcy was often on the move: In search of his Elizabeth.

Yet, before he could seek her out, Mr. Franklyn appeared on Woodvine’s steps. “Thank Goodness, you have returned. I must speak to you, Mr. Darcy. It is a matter of great urgency.”

Silently, Darcy groaned. He turned to his cousin. “If you would please inform Mrs. Darcy of our return, I would appreciate it. And instruct my wife she is welcome to join me in Samuel’s study.”

Edward’s mouth widened into a sly grin. A familiar tease followed. “Your wife likely holds no taste for this loathsome business. Perhaps I will convince Mrs. Darcy to join me for a walk in the gardens.”

Darcy could not stifle the chuckle. He and Edward had competed in every facet of their lives: strength, education, marksmanship, and women. Darcy excelled in the first three. Edward in the last. “I am certain Mrs. Darcy would prefer experiencing the gardens on my arm,” he said confidently.

“The lady preferred my company over yours at Rosings Park,” Edward taunted good-naturedly. “Miss Elizabeth liked me first.”

Darcy bowed to his cousin. If it had not been for Edward’s good counsel, Darcy would never have approached Elizabeth a second time. “’Tis true, Cousin. First impressions are often mistaken ones. The lady may have preferred your acquaintance first, but she loves me last.”

Edward returned a flamboyant bow. “I concede to your mastery, Darcy.” With a hearty laugh, Edward attacked the staira two at a time.

Darcy motioned to the archaeologist to follow him. Entering his cousin’s study, he said, “What may I do for you, Franklyn?”

The man rushed to close the door behind him. He nervously cleared his throat before saying, “I have taken the liberty of sending for others to assist me in this task.”

Darcy nodded his agreement. “I have previously given my permission to do so. You have a phenomenal task before you, and I fear neither the colonel nor I hold any expertise in the field.”

Franklyn appeared relieved. “I have some concerns on how the many artifacts have been handled, and I am, obviously, anxious to witness the items in the secret room you have described previously.”

Darcy sighed heavily. “I had thought we might accidentally discover the vault some time after supper.”

Franklyn’s anticipation was what Darcy had expected. “I will be glad of it, but on second thought, I hold misgivings about the Woodvine staff knowing of the room’s existence. Just today I have seen evidence that someone has rifled through your cousin’s treasures, likely looking for items to pawn. Once the staff knows of the room, it must be guarded at all hours of the day and night.”

Darcy agreed. “Allow me to speak to the colonel and Mr. Cowan on how best to handle this. Perhaps Cowan knows of men in the area we can trust. Or I could seek the aid of Captain Tregonwell.”

“I would find those actions most satisfying, Mr. Darcy. Such treasures must be secured as part of mankind’s history.”

Having excused Franklyn to his own devices, Darcy made his way quickly through Woodvine’s passages. He had hoped Elizabeth would join him in Samuel’s study, but she had yet to make an appearance. After the drama of earlier, he had a distracted need to hold his wife in his embrace. Cowan’s warning clung to Darcy’s shoulders. He could not shake the foreboding the man’s words had left behind. All he had wanted since he, Cowan, and his cousin had set their sights on Woodvine was to catch Elizabeth up in his arms and bury his face in his wife’s scent. He had only felt alive in her presence, and with death closing in on everything Darcy held dear, he desperately desired to look upon her fine eyes.

He had just turned into the passageway to their quarters when the blood-leaching scream filled the ground floor and ricocheted off the high ceilings. Darcy froze in mid stride. Immediately, he was on the move. Skipping steps and vaulting over the landing. “Elizabeth!” he bellowed. “Elizabeth! Where are you?” He did not think it his wife’s voice he had heard, but he could not shed the dread building in him.

Darcy heard a heavy tread behind him and realized it was his cousin. Both men skidded to a stop in the front foyer as Cowan burst through a side entrance. “What is amiss?” the Runner asked in an anxious exhale.

“Not certain.” Darcy’s eyes scanned the hall. “Where are the servants?”

He motioned his cousin to search a side hallway, but before either man could take a step Elizabeth called, “In here, Fitzwilliam!”

Darcy followed her voice to come upon a most unusual setting. “What has occurred?” he asked as he knelt beside his wife. Elizabeth cradled Mrs. Ridgeway’s head in her lap. Meanwhile, one of the younger maids wrapped the housekeeper’s bloody hand with a strip of cloth he suspected had come from Elizabeth’s petticoat.

“Mrs. Ridgeway has suffered some sort of injury,” Elizabeth explained. “I have sent for Doctor Glover.”

Edward slowly circled the room’s periphery. From his eye’s corner, Darcy noted his cousin palmed a small pistol. “Why such drama?” the colonel asked suspiciously.

“I am uncertain.” Elizabeth directed the maid cleaning the housekeeper’s wound.

An older woman eyeing the proceedings from her place in the corner said, “The lady be burned when she tuched the witch’s bottle.”

Darcy stood slowly. He surveyed the room. From where his wife nursed the housekeeper, soft sobs and whispers continued. “Explain,” he demanded as his eyes rested on the woman’s wrinkled countenance. The woman showed no signs of alarm. In fact, she appeared almost gleeful in her attitude.

“Thar be a witch’s bottle under the lose hearth stone. None of us be tuching it, but Mrs. Ridgewy said we be fools. Yet, when she grasped it, it burned her skin. Brought the blood.”

“A witch’s bottle,” Edward said with some amusement. “Why would there be a witch’s bottle in this house?”

“Protect those within,” the woman insisted. “We not be overlooked by a witch from without. No familiar.”

Cowan retrieved pieces of the offending item from the floor where Mrs. Ridgeway had dropped it. “Not many use such conjures these days.” He closely inspected the bottle’s contents. “Appears to be some bent iron nails. Some thorns. Pins.” He touched the spilled liquid with his fingertip before sniffing his finger. “Blood. Maybe some holy water. Very likely a person’s urine.”

“You jest,” Darcy said incredulously.

“No. Seen them many times in Cornwall.” The Runner stood slowly.

Darcy was not certain whether the reference to Cornwall was part of the story they had concocted for the villagers or whether Cowan truly knew something of England’s historic shire. “I still do not understand what could have burned Mrs. Ridgeway’s hand.”

Cowan explained, “Generally, several pins are set within the stoneware. When the lady dropped the Bellarmine Jar, your housekeeper was cut by the jar and the items within. Then the liquid poured over the wounds.”

The old woman scowled. “Perhaps it be as you say or perhaps not. Thar be many among those who live about that believe those which the bottle burns know the worst of the arts.”

With all it implied, the woman’s prediction annoyed Darcy. “We will have no such talk in this house. Do you understand?”

The maid obediently dropped her eyes, but he did not think it was from a subservient deference to his position in the household. “Yes, Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth assisted Mrs. Ridgeway to a seated position. She examined the woman’s hand again. Darcy noted her frown of disapproval. “There are several lacerations.” She sighed heavily. “We have done all we may until Doctor Glover arrives. Els would you see Mrs. Ridgeway to her quarters?”

“Yes, Mrs. Darcy.”

The housekeeper struggled to her feet. With what appeared to resemble fear, she glanced toward the hearth. “When Dunstan returns, I want him to check each of the fireplaces. I want no more accidents.”

After the maid had assisted Mrs. Ridgeway from the room, Darcy caught his wife’s hand and brought her to his side. To the remaining Woodvine staff he ordered, “I want this situation resolved before the bottle’s contents stain the floor.”

Darcy led Elizabeth from the room, but in the main foyer, he turned to speak privately with Cowan and the colonel. “Edward, if you would join Elizabeth and me in her sitting room, I would appreciate it.”

“Of course, Darcy.”

To the Runner, he said, “Cowan, please locate Mr. Franklyn and then join us also. It is odd the gentleman did not respond to the chaos.”

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A Young Man of Good Fortune, Mr. Charles Bingley ~ Guest Post by Nancy Lawrence

Nancy Lawrence is one of our newest members of Austen Authors, and I so glad she decided to bring her knowledge to our group site. Have a look at a “model tale” for Jane Austen’s “Mr. Bingley.” I am certain you will find it as fascinating as I did. Enjoy! 

“A young man of large fortune.” That’s how Mrs. Bennet described Charles Bingley when she learned he had leased a neighboring estate in Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice.

As the mother of five unmarried daughters, Mrs. Bennet didn’t feel the need to know how Charles came into possession of such a fortune; her only concern was that he marry one of her daughters.

I, on the other hand, want to learn as much as I can about Charles Bingley’s background, because Charles makes an appearance in the JAFF story I’m currently writing. Piecing together Charles’ history (and that of his sisters) will give me insight into how—and why—he will take certain actions in my novel.

Charles Bingley with his sisters, Caroline and Luisa, as depicted in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen gives us some hints about Charles’ origins. The Bingley fortune had been “acquired by trade.” Charles himself had a fortune of £100,000, which gave him an annual income of about £4,000. (In today’s money that’s £186,100 or $241,930 U.S. dollars.)

The Bingleys were “respectable.” They came “from the north of England,” an area of the country where the manufacture of textiles was a booming business at the time the story was written.

Whirring spools of threads and fibers in an old mill.

Given those hints, it’s probable that Charles, Luisa, and Caroline Bingley’s father owned one of the textile mills that sprang up across the north during the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. As children, they were most likely raised in a house that was either next door to, or very near, the mill their father owned.

Mule spinning machine at the Quarry Bank Mill.

In most mills of that era, the people who worked there were seen not as people, but as extensions of the machinery. They were given pitiful wages for 12 or 13 hour work days. They lived in unsanitary conditions and worked in unsafe environments. Poet William Blake described the mills of the 19th century as “satanic.”

But considering what we know about the Bingley siblings—particularly Charles, who was described as amiable, lively, unreserved, sensible, and good-humoured—it’s hard for me (looking through my 21st century lens) to imagine they were raised by a father capable of such draconian treatment of the people in his employ.

So I have to wonder . . .

What if, like Charles Bingley, the father had a disposition to be kind and friendly by nature?

What if, like Charles, the elder Mr. Bingley treated everyone respectfully, regardless of their rank or privilege?

And what if the elder Mr. Bingley was among a small group of enlightened mill owners? What if he treated his workers humanely and did what he could to set apart his mill from the dark, grim places we tend to associate with the Regency Era?

I can give you a real-life example of what I mean. In 1784 a man named Samuel Greg founded a mill not far from Manchester, England. He named it Quarry Bank Mill.

Quarry Bank Mill, near Manchester.

The great thing about Quarry Bank Mill is that it’s still in existence. Now owned by England’s National Trust, Quarry Bank Mill stands as a real-life working model of the kind of business I think Charles Bingley’s father would have run.

Originally powered by an enormous iron waterwheel, Quarry Bank Mill boasted five floors of cotton textile production. Those five floors were filled with hundreds of employees ginning and weaving cotton.

Quarry Bank Mill employees outside their homes, circa 1900.

Each of those employees needed a place to live, so, adjacent to the mill, Greg built a village of row-houses and cottages for his workers.

Workers homes at Quarry Bank Mill, as they appear today.

Many of his workers were children—orphans from workhouses and children who previously lived on the streets. He called them “apprentices,” and he built a communal home to house them.

Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill.

The children attended school and worked in the community garden, which provided fresh vegetables and fruit for their diets.

The kitchen at Apprentice House.

Greg also built churches for his workers and gave them Sundays off so they could attend services.

Norcliffe Chapel, one of the churches Samuel Greg built for Quarry Bank workers

And when his workers fell ill or were injured, Greg ensured he had a doctor on hand for their care.

Samuel Greg created a community and a way of life for his workers that was superior to any that could be had by farm workers and other laborers of the lower-class. Many of the apprentices who grew up working in his mill stayed on to work at Quarry Bank as adults.

This photo shows the immense size of the mill building. The light yellow building on the left is where the Greg family lived. The white building on the right is Apprentice House.

Mr. Greg operated his mill in a much more humane fashion than his competitors, and doing so earned him a handsome fortune. He built a respectable and well-appointed home next to the mill for his wife and children.

The Greg family home next to Quarry Bank Mill.

Since I first learned about Quarry Bank Mill, I’ve often wondered if Charles Bingley’s father earned his fortune in the same way. I wonder, too, if Charles and his sisters grew up in a fine house within a few yards of the workers’ cottages and mill works, just as Samuel Greg’s children did.

I think it’s possible that, coming into every-day contact with mill workers would explain how Charles learned to be gracious and respectful to everyone he met, regardless of their station in life.

And it would explain why his manner was relaxed and amiable, why he never uttered a critical word about anyone, and why his behavior at the Meryton Assembly earned everyone’s good opinion. As Jane Austen wrote:

There had been no formality, no stiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room.

What do you think? Do you think it’s possible Charles Bingley’s kind disposition and good humor were traits he inherited from his father?

Had Charles elected to follow in his father’s footsteps, what kind of mill owner do you think he would have made?

Charles’ sisters Caroline and Luisa each inherited £20,000 from their father. Would you like to know how much that would be in today’s money?

Click here to visit The U.K.’s National Archives Currency Converter.

Then, select a year: Try 1810, which is close to the year P&P was first published (1813).

Enter the amount: 20,000

Click on the “Show Purchasing Power” button, and you’ll see how much their inheritance was worth in today’s money.

For Americans, don’t forget to multiply the converted amount by 1.3—that’s today’s average rate of exchange rate for British Pound to U.S. Dollar.

You can use this tool to calculate all financial sums mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels—from the Dashwood’s £500 a year to Georgiana Darcy’s £30,000 marriage portion.

Nancy-Lawrence-portfolio-pic-326x435.jpg Meet Nancy Lawrence: 

Nancy Lawrence writes traditional Regency romances, where the heroes are gentlemen, the heroines are ladies, and there’s always a fancy-dress ball to attend. Nancy lives with her family in Aurora, Colorado, “the best city in the world if you can’t live in Bath, England.” 

You can learn more about Nancy, her books, and her writing progress at:

And follow Nancy on social media at:

A few of Nancy’s books…

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The Early Origins of the Novel

In the mid to late 1700s, the novel, as a means of literary expression developed to an art form. In many of the Regency-based romances that I read, it speaks of the “novel” being something females might read, rather than a male. However, I doubt that many of my contemporary writer understand how “debased” those early tales were. Most of the stories dealt with fornication, rape, incest, adultery, seduction, polygamy, and voyeurism. Some of the early novels were Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722), Richardson’s Clarrisa, Fielding’s Tom Jones, and Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

One of the greatest writers of all times, Jane Austen, read Richardson quite often. According to her nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, her knowledge of Samuel Richardson “was such as no one is likely again to acquire . . . Every circumstance narrated in Sir Charles Grandison, all that was said or done in the cedar parlour, was familiar to her; and the wedding days of [characters like] Lady L. and Lady G. were as well remembered as if they had been living friends.” But what was the context of Richardson’s writing? 

pamela_set11.jpgLaurel Ann at Austenprose tells us: “Richardson is a literary hero of mine, too, and I always think it’s sad that so few people read him nowadays. Not only because Clarissa, in particular, is one of the great masterpieces of European literature, but because it’s only by reading Richardson that you really understand the tradition Austen was writing in, and where she got some of the inspiration for her books. Pamela is a novel-in-letters, written by a young serving-maid to her parents, in which she describes her master’s attempts to seduce her. But as the subtitle (‘Virtue Rewarded’) suggests, all’s well that ends with a wedding. It sounds pretty standard stuff now, but at the time it was a publishing sensation.  There were 5 editions by the end of 1741, with an estimated 20,000 copies sold. It was also the first book to have what we would now call a ‘promotional campaign’. As a printer himself, Richardson employed all the tricks of the book-trade, including newspaper leaders and celebrity endorsement, and may even have encouraged the publication of a pamphlet that denounced the novel as pornographic, which certainly had a predictably healthy effect on sales! But if it was Pamela that was ground-breaking, Richardson’s next novel, Clarissa, is the one that really established a new kind of prose fiction in English. This, like all Richardson’s books, is an epistolary novel, and it’s worth remembering that when Austen first put pen to paper seriously herself, she chose exactly this form – first in Lady Susan, and then in Elinor & Marianne, the first version of Sense & SensibilityClarissa is the story of a young woman who’s tricked away from her family by the libertine, Robert Lovelace, and eventually raped. The story evolves through two parallel correspondences – Clarissa’s with her friend Anna, and Lovelace’s with his confidant Belford. The depth and subtlety of the psychological characterization is extraordinary, and you can see immediately why Henry Austen says his sister was such an admirer of ‘Richardson’s power of creating, and preserving, the consistency of his characters.'”


Do you recall the scene in Becoming Jane, a biographical portrait of a pre-fame Jane Austen (portrayed by Anne Hathaway) and her romance with a young Irishman (played by James Mcavoy), where Tom Lefroy’s character tempts Jane by suggesting that she read Tom Jones? His suggestion is more than one of presenting a young lady with a piece of literary greatness. It is part of his romantic “seduction” of Miss Jane Austen. 

An awareness of sexuality was never far from the surface in these early novels. One of the major forces of the time was John Cleland, an administrator for the East India Company. Reportedly Cleland made a bet that he could write the “dirtiest book in the English language” without using ANY “dirty words.” His Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (better known as Fanny Hill) provided readers with the story of a country girl who experiences lesbianism, group sex, masturbation, flagellation, etc. For his efforts, Cleland was arraigned before the Privy Council. The Earl of Granville, the president of the Council, suggested that Cleland be awarded a pension of £100 a year, with the guarantee that he would not repeat the exercise. Cleland foolishly sold the copyright of the book to a publisher for a mere £20. The publisher raked in more than £10,000 in book sells. 

John Wilkes, a strong political activist, who spoke out regularly against George III and who supported the American colonies’ push for independence, is said to have written Essay on Woman, a parody of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man. Whether Wilkes actually penned the piece is debatable, but it was the perfect instrument for his political opponents to use against him. It did not help Wilkes’s defense that he was reportedly a member of the Medmenham monks, or Hell-Fire Club, a secret society known to take pleasure in sexual activities. According to The Montague Millennium, “The Hell-Fire Club was sort of a cross between the Dead Poets Society and a risque Playboy club. John Montagu (Lord Sandwich) was a principal, and apparently Lady Mary Wortley Montagu attended. The club formally styled itself the Monks of Medmenham, and originally occupied the caves beneath the ancient Abbey of Medmenham. Its members could reach the Abbey by boat from the river at night and thus not be bothered by `paparazzi’.”

If Wilkes was a member of this group, I find it odd that Lord Sandwich was the one who read the scandalous poem to the House of Lords, which termed the poem as “a gross profanation of many parts of the Holy Scriptures.” Before the House of Lords could have Wilkes arrested, the man escaped to America, never to stand in answer to the charges against him. In absentia, he was fined £300.

images.jpgAccording to Nussbaum, Martha C., and Alison L. Lacroix, eds., of Subversion and Sympathy: Gender, Law and the British Novel. [New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013, pages 78-79], “For more than a century. . . English law yielded nothing at all definitive about the concept of literary obscenity. There was no definition of the concept, no rationale for its regulation, and only sporadic skirmishes over the issue. The historian Peter Wagner has aptly characterized the “Age of Enlightenment” as the “Age of Eros.” The proliferation of writing about sex in the eighteenth century led to ‘a sort of downward osmosis’ through which an upper-class ‘libertine philosophy’ was, at least, for a time, dispersed and then absorbed by a larger culture. By the 1780s, when the United States was contemplating its Constitution, London was awash with all sorts of sexually explicit material, including lewd novels, racy poems, bawdy songs, erotic prints, and licentious newspapers and magazines. Throughout this era, neither influential citizens or public authorities made any serious effort ‘to curb this sexual Eden,’ though occasional prosecutions were brought when individual libel was involved or ‘when there were personal axes to grind, as in the prosecution of Wilkes. It was against this background that the United States enacted the First Amendment.

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A Marriage of Convenience as a Plot Point in Jane Austen’s Novels


Mr. and Mrs. Collins

What hope was there for the dowerless daughters of the middle class during Jane Austen’s lifetime? Such is a topic Austen explored repeatedly in her novels. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet sought men of a like mind. The Dashwood sisters found their choices limited by their financial situation. Fanny Harville and Captain Benwick could not marry until he earned his future. General Tilney drove Catherine Morland from his home because of the lady’s lack of funds. Charlotte Lucas accepted Mr. Collins as her last opportunity for a respectable match. The intricacies and tedium of high society, particularly of partner selection, and the conflicts of marriage for love and marriage for property are repeated themes.

200_sMarriage provided women with financial security. Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey explains, “… in both [marriage and a country dance], man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal: that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each.” Women of Austen’s gentry class had no legal identity. No matter how clever the woman might be, finding a husband was the only option. A woman could not buy property or write a will without her husband’s approval. If a woman was fortunate, she would bring to her marriage a settlement – money secured for her when she came of age – usually an inheritance from her mother. The oldest son or male heir received the family estate, and the unmarried or widowed females lived on his kindness.

arts-graphics-2008_1182989aThe ladies of Sense and Sensibility have this reality thrust upon them when Uncle Dashwood changes his will and leaves Norland to his grandnephew. In Uncle Dashwood’s thinking, this change will keep Norland in the Dashwood family. However, the four Dashwood ladies suddenly find themselves living in a modest cottage with an income of £500 annually. As such, they have no occasion for visits to London unless someone else assumes the expenses. Their social circle shrinks, and the opportunities to meet eligible suitors becomes nearly non-existent. With dowries of £1000 each, the Dashwood sisters are not likely to attract a man who will improve their lots.

Jane Austen, herself, lived quite modestly. The Austens lived frugally among the country gentry. The Austen sisters were well educated by the standards of the day, but without chances for dowries, Jane and Cassandra possessed limited prospects. Jane met a Mr. Blackall the year Cassandra lost her Mr. Fowle. In a letter, Blackall expressed to Mrs. Lefroy a desire to know Jane better; yet, he confided, “But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it.” To which, Jane Austen responded, “This is rational enough. There is less love and more sense in it than sometimes appeared before, and I am very well satisfied.” Imperfect opportunities were Jane Austen’s reality. In 1802, Jane Austen accepted an offer of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither. With this marriage, Jane would have become the mistress of Manydown.

200px-CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hiresYet, despite her affection for the family, Austen could not deceive Bigg-Wither. The following morning, she refused the man’s proposal. Whether she thought to some day find another or whether Austen accepted the fact that her refusal doomed her to a life as a spinster, we shall never know. In the “limited” world in which Jane Austen lived, she could not have known her eventual influence on the literary canon.

Austen held personal knowledge of young women seeking husbands in one of the British colonies. Reverend Austen’s sister, Philadelphia, traveled to India in 1752, where she married an English surgeon Tysoe Hancock, a man twenty years her senior. When the Hancocks returned to England a decade later, Reverend Austen traveled to London to greet his sister. However, Philadelphia and Tysoe were not to live “happily ever after.” Unable to support his family in proper English style, Tysoe returned to India to make his living. He never saw his wife and child again. Despite its tragic ending, this “marriage” secured Philadelphia’s future and the lady’s place in Society. Only marriage could offer a woman respectability.

In Jane Austen for Dummies (page 134), Joan Klingel Ray breaks down the financial prospects of the Dashwood sisters. Converting the £500 to a modern equivalent, Ray comes out with a figure of $46,875. For the gentry, supporting four women, two maids, a man servant, paying rent, buying clothes, food, coal, etc., that sum would have meant a poor existence. I find in reading Sense and Sensibility that I am often disappointed with the eventual choices of the Dashwood sisters. Edward Ferras and Colonel Brandon have less of the “glitz and the glamour” that my innate Cinderella syndrome requires in a love match. However, if any affection did exist between the couples, then Marianne and Elinor, under the circumstances and the times, made brilliant matches.

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Ireland and the Irish in Jane Austen Novels, a Guest Post from Eliza Shearer

This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on 16 June 2018. Enjoy!

A couple of weekends ago I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in Dublin. I had visited the capital of Ireland on several occasions, but for some reason – possibly the beautiful weather and clear blue skies – this time I paid a great deal of attention to its Georgian architecture. The fluted Greek columns, the refined and delicately moulded cornices, the elegant windows are just outstanding, and such a particular feature of the city that the Dublin Regency doors alone are famous enough to warrant posters and fridge magnets.

A Perfect Regency Town

In Dublin, the spirit of the Regency is everywhere, and no wonder. It was a time of economic bounty for a privileged few, with money from trade pouring into the city, and the local elite opting to expand and beautify their capital rather than eventually have to send it to London. Walking in the wide cobbled streets, contemplating the fine ironwork and majestic bow windows, I inevitably felt transported to Jane Austen’s times.

There are traces of Ireland in Jane Austen’s novels. At the time, it was the second biggest British city outside London, after the 1800 Acts of the Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, so it is no wonder that the country and its people and customs make several appearances. In most cases, the mentions are in passing, but they give a fascinating insight into the way English regarded their neighbours across the Irish sea.

Music, Landscapes and Craic

The Irish have a reputation for being musically inclined, and Irish music makes several appearances in Jane Austen’s novels. In Pride and Prejudice, Mary Bennet, to the mortification of her sister Elisabeth, plays Irish airs at the piano during a gathering at Sir William Lucas’. In Emma, Jane Fairfax’s new pianoforte, of mysterious provenance, comes with a new set of Irish melodies, which were often played during her Weymouth stay, when she becomes secretly engaged to Frank Churchill.

Moreover, Jane’s skills at the pianoforte are much admired by Mr Dixon, the Irishman courting her particular friend Miss Campbell, who often asks both ladies to play together. It is an unusual request, and one that Frank Churchill suggests is proof of Jane’s proficiency, for Dixon is “a very musical man, and in love with another woman”. (Emma, needless to say, thinks otherwise).

Ireland is also known for its breathtaking scenery. No surprise, then, that Mr Dixon often talks about the beauty of his home country when talking to Miss Campbell, with Jane often also present. The wish to see her parents and best friend enjoy the Irish countryside are one of the reasons why the lady, once married and settled in Ireland, insists on their visiting her. And she must be onto something, for once the Campbells are there, they postpone their return, not once, but twice, spending the best part of half a year at their son-in-law’s seat.

No mention of the Irish is complete without talking about their gift for friendly, witty and entertaining conversation, and Jane Austen seems to agree. In Mansfield Park, when the party of young people accompanied by Mrs Norris travel to Sotherton, Maria Bertram is bitter that it is her sister Julia and not her the lucky lady to accompany Mr Crawford in the barouche-box. Maria observes to him later that they seemed to laugh a great deal, and Mr Crawford attributes it to the fact that he “was relating to her some ridiculous stories of an old Irish groom of (his) uncle’s”.

The Irish Charm

In her personal life, Jane Austen indeed met several Irish individuals, but as all Janeites will know, one, in particular, stood out from the rest. Tom Lefroy was a nephew of Mrs Lefroy, an older friend of Jane’s. Tom and Jane appeared to have courted, or at least have engaged in some serious flirting, for the best part of a year, and she refers to him as “my Irish friend” in a letter to Cassandra.

Their love, sadly, was not to be. Tom was ambitious and had a large number of siblings to support, so the logical step for him was to marry a wealthy woman, which he went on to do. Some scholars say that Jane was brokenhearted, others that her pragmatic approach made the disappointment much easier to bear. In any case, she certainly appreciated the charm of the young Irishman.

Many years later, when penning Persuasion, perhaps she thought of Tom when writing the concert scene that takes place in the Octagon Room in Bath, with Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth as protagonists. Anne overhears her father remark to his cousin, Lady Dalrymple, that the Captain is “a very well-looking man”. Lady Dalrymple who also happens to be a member of the Irish nobility, could not agree more:

“A very fine young man indeed!” said Lady Dalrymple. “More air than one often sees in Bath. Irish, I dare say.”

Persuasion, Chaapter 20

Whether the sentence was intended as a secret message for Jane’s former love, we will never know.


51ZCMhjyFnL.jpg If you would like to immerse yourself in Bath and meet Anne Elliot, Lady Dalrymple and many other well-loved Austen characters in the company of Georgiana Darcy, check out Miss Darcy’s Beaux, a Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice Continuation.

A Jane Austen variation featuring Georgiana Darcy, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and many other characters from Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion.

Fitzwilliam Darcy’s beloved sister Georgiana is now a woman of twenty. After living in the enclosed safety of Pemberley for years, she is sent to London for the season with Lady Catherine de Bourgh as her chaperone. Lady Catherine is determined that her niece shall make a splendid match. But will Georgiana allow her domineering aunt to decide for her? Or will she do as her brother did, and marry for love? 

What readers are saying about Miss Darcy’s Beaux:

“… a wonderful debut…”

“… a journey of discovery for Georgiana to find herself and what really matters in life…” 

“There is deception, mystery, jealousy, backstabbing, romance and true love.” 

“… the sort of story that makes you care for the characters; the kind of book that stays with you long after you finish reading it.” 

“I loved how the story includes appearances by characters from three different Jane Austen novels.”

“Eliza Shearer’s delightful Pride and Prejudice sequel is packed with surprises for the fans.” 

“Romantic, sensitive and faithful to the spirit of Jane Austen’s work.”

ElizaShearer-283x435.jpgMeet Eliza Shearer: 

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Very “Real” Estate: Vicars’ Close, Wells, Somerset, England

The oldest purely residential street in England is known as Vicars’ Close, which is located in Wells, Somerset, England, and dates from the mid 14th Century.  Planned by Bishop Ralph of Shrewsbury, at one time it was 42 separate houses, built of stone from the Mercia Mudstone Group, a rock strata found in plenty in the English midlands. 22 houses were on the east side of the street and 20 on the west side. They line a quadrangle, which is visual delight because it appears longer than it actually is because the houses at the northern end of the quadrangle and nearest the chapel are nine feet closer together than those at the lower/southern end, which is closer to Vicars’ Hall. 


Each house had two storeys, both approximately 20 x 13 feet. Both storeys had sport a fireplace. The latrine is outside the back door.  The date of some of the buildings is unclear but it is known that some had been built by 1363 and the rest were completed by 1412.

The street is comprised of Grade I listed buildings, nowadays consisting of 27 residences (some of the originals were combined when the clergy were permitted to marry), a chapel and library at the north end, and a hall at the south end, over an arched gate. It is connected at its southern end to the cathedral by way of a walkway over Chain Gate.  


Choristers walking down Vicars Close – Wells Cathedral School ~

“The Close is about 460 feet (140 m) long, and paved with setts. Its width is tapered by 10 feet (3.0 m) to make it look longer when viewed from the main entrance nearest the cathedral. When viewed from the other end it looks shorter. By the nineteenth century the buildings were reported to be in a poor state of repair, and part of the hall was being used as a malt house. Repairs have since been carried out including the construction of Shrewsbury House to replace buildings damaged in a fire.

“The Vicars’ Hall was completed in 1348 and included a communal dining room, administrative offices and treasury of the Vicars Choral. The houses on either side of the close were built in the 14th and early 15th centuries. Since then alterations have been made including a unified roof, front gardens and raised chimneys. The final part of the construction of the close was during the 1420s when the Vicars’ Chapel and Library was constructed on the wall of the Liberty of St. Andrew. The south face includes shields commemorating the bishops of the time. The interior is decorated with 19th century gesso work by Heywood Summer and the building now used by Wells Cathedral School.”


The Vicar’s Hall ~

Wells Cathedral‘s website tells us, “The first building of the new College was the Hall, with its kitchen and bakehouse, where the vicars met and ate their meals. This was in use before the end of 1348, because, in her will dated 7 November 1348, Alice Swansee bequeathed a large brass pot for the use of the Vicars, together with a basin with hanging ewer and a table for the Hall, in memory of her son, Philip, a Vicar who had just died, probably of plague; the Black Death was raging in 1348. The east window, the fireplace and the lectern were added about a hundred years later.


“On 30 December 1348, Bishop Ralph made over to the vicars ‘the dwellings newly built and to be erected by us for the use of the vicars, and ‘quarters with appurtenances built and to be built’. The houses were built in two rows running north from the Hall, and were completed by the time of Bishop Ralph’s death in 1363. The quadrangle was finally completed with the building of the Chapel at the north end in the early fifteenth century. The Chapel was dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Katherine, and it is first mentioned in a charter of 1479, but shields on the Chapel door carry the arms of Bishops Bubwith and Stafford, suggesting that the chapel was begun in the episcopate of the former and finished under the latter, giving it a date of c.1424-30. A room over the Chapel served as the Vicars’ Library.” 



travelling-back-in-time.jpg db89cf47f31ca7446e8930e3aa355f1d.jpg



Bush, Robin.  (1994). Somerset: The complete guide. Wimborne, Dorset: Dovecote Press. pp. 221–222.

Wells Cathedral 

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Wilkin & Sons, Jam Making Extraordinaire

Arthur Charles Wilkin took over his family farm, located in Tiptree, Essex, England,  in his late 20s. The family had owned the farm since the early 1700s. Arthur had a vision for the farm, which was not producing as well as it could. He was determined to specialize in growing fruits to market to the London jam-makers of the mid 1800s. Originally, he thought to ship his fruit via the Kelvedon and Tollesbury Light Railway, which operated in Essex at that time (and did so until 1962). But reliable transportation of his fragile product forced Wilkin into the jam making business himself. He was introduced to an Australian merchant who agreed to take as much strawberry jam as Wilkin could produce. This Australian did not want the jam that was being produced in London at the time. He wanted jam that was glucose free, as well as free of preservatives and added colouring. It was decided to call this new product “conserves” to distinguish it as a higher-quality product. Moreover, the name Britannia Fruit Preserving Company was chosen because that name would be more marketable in Australia than would the Wilkin & Sons Limited. Since 1885, the Wilkin family has made some of the finest preserves, marmalades, etc., marketed to the public. William Gladstone, the British Prime Minister from 1868 to 1894 praised Wilkin’s product.

Wilkin used his wife’s recipe and her kitchen to make the first jam. Three boiling pots and tractor engines were required to make that jam. Mechanisation came about in the 1890s. Nowadays, the company produces 90 different conserves, chutneys, honeys, marmalades, and preserves. The Tiptree trademark was set in place in 1905, when the company became Wikin and Sons, Ltd. 


Arthur Charles Wilkin

 As the business grew, Wilkin & Sons leased other farms to meet the demand for the company’s product. By 1900, 100 tons of fruit was needed to make jams and preserves. “By 1906, the company owned 800 acres (320 ha) of land on farms in Tiptree, Tollesbury, and Goldhanger, producing 300 tons of fruit per year, and feeding a factory capable at peak production of making 10 tons of strawberry jam per day. The company has held a Royal Warrant for preserves and marmalades continuously since 1911.” (History Timeline)



“With the need for a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit to produce 2 lb of preserves, production was halted during World War I due to a lack of essential supplies. But by 1922, and now owning 1,000 acres (400 ha) of farmland across eight farms, the company was creating new record outputs of fruit and preserves. An integrated production facility, the company also owned 100 houses, the village’s windmill and blacksmith’s forge, the Factory Club and the freehold of the Salvation Army hall. During World War II, the company and factory came under the control of the Ministry of Food, and kept producing its preserves alongside other essential food products. In 2010, the company celebrated its 125th anniversary, highlighted by a visit from Her Majesty Elizabeth II.” (Wilkin & Sons)

The company also owns a chain of tea rooms in Essex, as well as a specialty bakery and patisserie.


“History Timeline: 1885 – The First Jam,” Tiptree

“No Additives or Secrets, Just Fruity Jams,” The New York Times

Wilin & Sons Celebrate Their 125th Anniversary, Essex Life

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