2017 Daphne Du Maurier Award Finalist, Twinnings, Child Birth, and a (Sort of) Giveaway

Today, I am taking off my Austen hat to announce that my latest Regency series is making a pleasant noise: Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep is the first book in a new romantic suspense trilogy: The Twins, and it has been named as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. (Last year, my Austen-inspired mystery, The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin, was also a finalist. You can see the complete list of those nominated HERE.) Needless to say, I have been doing my *Happy Dance* (which I must say is infinitely less entertaining than was Elaine’s in the “Seinfeld” series, for I did dance on Broadway in my youth, and I can keep a beat).  The book comes from Black Opal Books. The second in the series, The Earl Claims His Comfort is tentatively scheduled for release in September, and I am currently writing book three: Lady Chandler’s Sister.

In “Angel” there are several sets of twins. The hero, Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, is a twin. Malvern and his sister, Henrietta, Viscountess Stoke, are fraternal twins, as are Henrietta’s boys. She is in the family way a second time in the book and obviously expecting twins again. Her husband, Viscount Stoke, is also a twin. Malvern’s father, the Duke of Devilfoard, possesses a twin. Identical twins become part of the plot of second book, and I return to fraternal twins in book three.

One might think that the preponderance of twins in the first book is odd, but Vital Statics available on the possibility of twinning during the 1700s and 1800s can found in a variety of abstracts. For example in the U. S. at the same time, “Vital records of Saybrook and Plymouth in New England from the 17th century were investigated. Among 8,562 maternities 81 twin maternities were found, the twinning rate being 0.95%. Twinning rate was low at the 1st and 2nd births as compared with the 3rd or later births, and was highest at the 7th and 8th births (1.6%). Twin maternity seemed to be a strong risk factor to terminate reproduction, particularly after 6 or more children had been delivered. The rate of mothers who had any other child (“fertile” mothers) at the 7th or later birth order was significantly lower for twin (13%) than for singleton maternities (63%). Twinning rate also varied by the size of offspring of a mother, and those mothers who had 5 or 6 children showed the highest twinning rate (1.3%). Those fertile mothers who had 7 or more children showed the lowest twinning rate (0.74%), although an exceptionally higher twinning rate was seen at their last births. Elongation of the last birth interval was observed for each group of every family size, and higher twinning rates were generally observed at their last births. Reduction in fecundity and rise in twinning rate seem to have occurred simultaneously at the last stage of the reproductive period of mothers, regardless of their family size.” (U. S. National Library of Medicine)

The birth experience during the Regency Era was very difficult for women. We often hear the reason that men chose a younger woman (and women were on “the shelf” at age five and twenty) was that the younger girls were thought better to survive child birth. And no wonder! Did you realize that during this period a woman would experience pregnancy some ten times. The women gave birth an average of six times during their lifetimes. Edward Shorter in Women’s Bodies: A Social History of Women’s Encounter with Health, Ill-Health and Medicine says, “The indifference of men to the physical welfare of women is most striking in regard to childbirth. …child bearing was a woman’s event, occurring with the women’s culture; a man’s primary concern was to see a living heir brought forth. I am not [Shorter] trying to cast the husbands of traditional society as fiends but want merely to show what an unbridgeable sentimental distance separated them from their wives. Under these circumstances it is unrealistic to think that men would abstain from intercourse in order to save women from the physical consequences of repeated childbearing.”

In her book In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860, Judith Schneid Lewis shares some interesting facts of the time period. Ms. Lewis studied 50 aristocratic women for the book. From these studies we learn that these 50 women averaged 8 children over an eighteen year period. The women in the group married typically at 21 and gave birth to her first child within 2.25 years. They continued to present their husbands with children until the age of 40.

Ms. Lewis tells us that 80% of the women gave birth within two years of marriage, with 50% presenting their husbands with a child within the first year of marriage. The Duchess of Leinster birthed 21 children over a 30 year span. She was 46 years of age when the last one was born.

Typical of the period, a male midwife would ask the woman if she were prepared to “take a pain,” meaning a vaginal examination. For this procedure, a pregnant woman would customarily lie on her left side upon a bed. She would be asked to draw her knees up to her abdomen. This was the position recommended by Doctor Thomas Denman, a prominent male midwife of the period. Denman also cautioned for discretion and tenderness during the examination.

From the examination, the midwife could determine how advanced was the pregnancy, whether the woman’s pelvis was deformed or not, and whether the baby had turned head down. If delivery occurred within 24 hours, it was considered natural. We see much of what happened to Princess Charlotte (daughter of the Prince Regent) as how it was for women during the Regency.

“About 7 o’clock on the evening of Monday, the 3rd of November, at 42 weeks and 3 days gestation, the membranes spontaneously ruptured and labor pains soon followed. The contractions were coming every 8 to 10 minutes and were very mild. Examination of the cervix at that time revealed the tip of the cervix to be about a half penny dilated. On Tuesday morning, around 3 a.m., the 4th of November, Princess Charlotte had a violent vomiting spell and Dr. Croft thinking that delivery was eminent, sent for the officers of the state and Dr. Matthew Baillie.

“The pains continued. They were weak and ineffectual but still sharp enough to be distressing, occurring about 8 minute intervals with little progress in the labor. Around 11:00 a.m. that morning after 16 hours of labor the cervix the size of a crown piece (probably 4 cm). At 6:00 p.m., Tuesday, she was noted to have just an anterior lip of cervix, and by 9:00 p.m., she was completely dilated. At this point, she had had about 26 hours of the first stage of labor.

“Labor advanced, but the progress was very slow. At noon, on Wednesday, the 5th of November after the second stage of labor had gone on for 15 hours, the uterine discharge became a dark green color, which made the medical attendants fear that the child might be dead. Between three and four p.m. after the second stage had gone on for 18 hours, the child’s head began to press on the external parts, and by 9:00 p.m., was born by the action of Charlotte’s pains only.

“The child, a 9 lb. boy, was dead and had evidently been dead for some hours. The umbilical cord was very small and was of a dark green or black color. About ten minutes after the delivery, Sir Richard Croft discovered that the uterus was contracted in the middle in an hourglass form. Approximately 20 minutes later, the princess began to hemorrhage. About 12:45 am. on the 6th of November she complained of great uneasiness in her chest and great difficulty in breathing. Her pulse became rapid, deep and irregular, and she extremely restless and was not able to remain still for a single moment.”(The Death of Princess Charlotte of Wales An Obstetric Tragedy, Charles R. Oberst, Spring 1984) Within hours, the Princess had passed. When we consider such, it is a wonder that any woman of the period would consider the “joys” of childbirth.


















Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep

Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart–and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?

Review: The story is charming, with interesting and realistic characters, a complex plot with plenty of surprises, and a sweet romance woven through it all. The author has a good command of what it was like to be a woman in nineteenth-century England–almost as if she had been there. She really did her research for this one.

Nook * Kobo * Smashwords * Black Opal Books * Amazon

Now for the “Sort of” Giveaway! My publisher, Black Opal Books, has provided me a block of free eBook copies available to readers in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, or Goodreads. If you have accepted this offer previously, I thank you for your willingness to aid me in this matter. If you have not read Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep and are willing to provide a review within a timely manner (by September 1), please contact me at jeffersregina@gmail.com, and I will make arrangements for you to receive the eBook. This will be a first-come basis. When the freebies are gone, that is the end of the promotion. 

Posted in Black Opal Books, books, British history, Regency era, Regency romance, romance, suspense | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Closer Look at “A Touch of Scandal, Book One of the Realm Series”

Until I wrote The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, all I had written were Jane Austen adaptations and retellings, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation,Vampire Darcy’s Desire, The Phantom of Pemberley and Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion. I was very appreciative of Ulysses Press taking a chance on my first true Regency romance. What did not work out was before they could continue the series, Ulysses made the business decision to finish the fiction books under contract (including several of mine) to them and then switch to non-fiction only products. In truth, Ulysses was very much a non-fiction publisher when I joined them, so the decision was not surprising. However, that particular decision left my Realm series in limbo. It was impossible to sell the series to another traditional publisher for who would want to finish a series started by another publisher? Therefore, I ended up self publishing the series.

I must admit that it was liberating to write a story from beginning to end, without a preconceived framework already in place. When an author tackles an Austen storyline, he must stay somewhat true to the original characters or “suffer the ire” of Janeites. In my Austen books, I work in her original wording and use what I know of the lady and the times. With the Realm series, the characters and the conflict were part of my psyche. 

A Touch of Scandal (formerly called The Scandal of Lady Eleanor) is the first book in the “Realm” series. 

The Realm is a covert group working for the British government during the Regency Period. They rescue British citizens, bring about diplomatic portals, etc. Its members are titled aristocrats and minor sons–therefore, the name “the Realm.” The members in this series number seven: James Kerrington, Viscount Worthing (and future Earl of Linworth), who is the hero of A Touch of Scandal; Brantley Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, from Book 2, A Touch of Velvet; Gabriel Crowden, Marquis of Godown, from A Touch of Grace; Aidan Kimbolt, Viscount Lexford, from A Touch of Mercy; Marcus Wellston, serving as the regent for his elder disabled brother, the Earl of Berwick, from A Touch of Cashémere; Baron John Swenton from A Touch of Honor, and Carter Lowery, the youngest son of Baron Blakehell, from A Touch of Love. The series conclusion, A Touch of Emerald, features Kerrington’s son, Daniel. These men have served together for several years in India and Persia, and they possess a stout camaraderie. Each holds reason for fleeing his home and title, and each must reclaim his place in Society, while still occasionally executing a mission in the name of the government. Unfortunately, not only must these men fight their own demons, they must foil the plans of Shaheed Mir, a Baloch warlord, who believes one of them has stolen a fist-sized emerald; and Mir means to have it back.

In A Touch of Scandal. James Kerrington, the future Earl of Linworth and a key member of the Realm, never expected to find love again after the loss of his beloved wife, Elizabeth. But upon his return home, Kerrington’s world shifts on its axis when Lady Eleanor Fowler, literally, stumbles into his arms. Unfortunately, not all is as it seems with Eleanor, as she hides a deep secret. She had hoped the death of her father, William Fowler, the Duke of Thornhill, would offer her family a chance at redemption from their dark past, but when Sir Louis Levering produces proof of Eleanor’s father’s debauchery, she is thrown into a web of immorality and blackmail. It is up to Kerrington and his associates in the Realm to free Eleanor from Levering’s hold.

In writing this series, I chose to use “modern issues” throughout. Just because life appears “simpler” does not mean Regency England did not reek of scandal. Women lacked options. Even women of a wealthier class were the property of first their fathers and then their husbands. As such, Lady Eleanor Fowler is no exception. When her mother dies, her father’s debauched lifestyle invades her privacy, and she is sucked into a situation because she “loves” a parent who does not really understand the meaning of the word. Eleanor’s brother Brantley escaped the Duke of Thornhill’s hold on his household, but Eleanor is left behind to cope in the only way she knows how: Survive.

Readers always like to know who an author imagines when writing a book. So, I am going to indulge you on this matter.

 First let me say, I have been a Matthew Macfadyen fan long before he played Mr. Darcy in the 2005 film – back to his days in Wuthering Heights, Warriors, and The Way We Live Now. When I learned he was to be Darcy, I did a happy dance. He is always the Darcy in my head when I write my Austen pieces, and he is the man I see and hear (Does he not have the most mesmerizing voice?) in my other works. In this series, Macfadyen is James Kerrington. James Mcavoy is Carter Lowery; James Scott is Aidan Kimbolt; Matthew Goode is Brantley Fowler; Toby Stephens (as he was in Jane Eyre) is Marcus Wellston, and Alex O’Loughlin faces Gabriel Crowden (although I am not certain how O’Loughlin would look as a blonde).

As weird as it may sound, I do not have famous women in my head when I choose the females. I see their faces and recognize their movements, but they are ordinary women. In this series, Velvet Aldridge came to mind because I fondly remembered a former student named “Velvet.” I stole Brantley Fowler’s name from a young man I met at an Enterprise Rental Car outlet. I told him I would make him famous. I originally planned only 4 books and possibly 3 novellas bundled as one piece. As the series progressed, readers kept asking for the next character. Each book in the series starts with the same scene on the Persian border, where these men encounter their formal foe, Shaheed Mir. However, with each retelling of the scene, the reader learns more of what actually occurred, because he sees the action from a different point of view. 


A Touch of Scandal: Book 1 of the Realm Series

The men of the REALM have served their country, while ignoring their responsibilities to home and love, but now Bonaparte is defeated, they each mean to claim their portion of a new and prosperous England. However, their long-time enemy Shaheed Mir has other plans. The Persian warlord believes one of the Realm has stolen a fist-sized emerald, and the Baloch intends to have its return or his revenge.

JAMES KERRINGTON, the future Earl of Linworth left his title and his infant son behind after the death of his beloved Elizabeth, but he has returned to England to tend his ailing father and to establish his roots. With Daniel as his heir, Kerrington has no need to marry, but when Eleanor Fowler stumbles and falls into his arms, Kerrington’s world is turned upon its head. He will do anything to claim her.

LADY ELEANOR FOWLER has hidden from Society, knowing her father’s notorious reputation for debauchery has tainted any hopes she might have of a happy marriage. And yet, despite her fears, her brother’s closest friend, James Kerrington, has rekindled her hopes, but when Sir Louis Levering appears with proof of Eleanor’s participation in her father’s wickedness, she is drawn into a world of depravity, and only Kerrington’s love can save her.

The first fully original series from Austen pastiche author Jeffers is a knockout. – Publishers Weekly

Jeffers’s characters stay in the reader’s heart and mind long after the last page has been turned. – Favored Elegance

KIndle   https://www.amazon.com/Touch-Scandal-Book-Realm-ebook/dp/B00JBOA9PW/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Amazon   https://www.amazon.com/Touch-Scandal-Book-Realm/dp/1496180941/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

CreateSpace   https://www.createspace.com/4705915

Kobo   https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/a-touch-of-scandal-2

Nook   http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-touch-of-scandal-regina-jeffers/1119018937?ean=2940149340149

Prologue (Excerpt):

“What do you plan to do?” James Kerrington asked as he leaned across Brantley Fowler, while pretending to reach for the bowl of fruit. Kerrington studied Fowler’s countenance as the man stared at where the Baloch warriors held the girl. Kerrington really did not need to ask. He and Fowler were the two of the original members of a group the British government “lovingly” referred to as the Realm. The unit ranged between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five. As he was the eldest, the others called Kerrington “Captain,” although no such military ranks existed between them.

The group often called Fowler “The Vicar” because the future Duke of Thornhill always wanted to “save” every soul they encountered, especially woman and children. Surprisingly, the baby-faced Fowler was also able to convince those their group captured to confess as readily as any clergyman. “Authoritative persuasion,” was the word they had coined for exacting information from those mean to defy the English government. Fowler had joined the group after a short stint with some shady seamen following the young man’s alienation from Thornhill and the dukedom, as well as a tumultuous time with Wellesley and the Spanish front. Fowler had never said exactly what had caused the rift between him and his infamous father.

Kerrington’s family knew something of Fowler’s. His mother, Lady Camelia Kerrington had made her Come Out with Fowler’s aunt, Agatha Braton, the Duchess of Norfield, and so Kerrington was familiar with some of the family history. Fowler’s father, the Duke of Thornhill, held a reputation for a lusty sexual appetite. Having viewed his friend’s multiple attempts to save more than one woman who suffered at the hands of a brute, Kerrington suspected there was truth buried in the gossip.

Fowler gritted his teeth, offering a grim smile to the Baloch warriors sitting about the low table, while Kerrington immediately assessed the situation. Fowler hissed, “Each man who enters that tent gives the girl a rupee because Mir says that is all she is worth — one rupee — one shilling and fourpence in England.” His friend’s breathing became shallow, obviously biting back anger. “She is not yet sixteen.”

“You cannot save the world, Fowler,” Gabriel Crowden, another of Realm numbers, cautioned.

Fowler insisted, “I can save her.”

Kerrington shot a glance about the tent to assure himself the others were aware of the change in their situation. He often regretted the fact he had shown more care with these men than he had ever shown to his son. Daniel resided with his parents at Linworth Hall. When he had walked away from his home after Elizabeth’s death, He had also deserted the child, who had cost his wife her life.

“Oh, Lord, here we go again,” Crowden grumbled as he slid the bench and slipped into the shadows. “Permit me time to assume a position.”

Kerrington stiffened in anticipation as he watched Fowler stand slowly and stretch. His friend pretended to exercise his legs. “I believe I will take a walk,” Fowler announced, but before James’s friend could execute more than five steps in the direction of the girl’s tent, a burly-looking soldier, under Mir’s command, blocked Fowler’s path. Without saying a word, the man had told Fowler to reconsider his choices, but James knew the Baloch would be sorry he had crossed the young duke.

Raising his hands in an act of submission, Fowler smiled largely and turned to Kerrington with a warning of what was to come. Fowler shrugged as if to agree with the warrior, but in a split second, he had struck the guard with an uppercut, sending the man reeling with a broken nose.

A heartbeat later, Kerrington and Fowler stood back-to-back, taking on all comers, delivering lethal thrusts after deadly jabs. “I have it,” Kerrington called as he parlayed a broken chair for a weapon. “Retrieve the girl. Take her to the Bombay safe house.” He shoved Fowler in the direction of the girl’s tent.

His friend did not look back; Fowler knew he count on Kerrington and the others in their group to break through Mir’s line of defense. Together, they would provide Fowler time to make a complete escape.

Preparing for the next assault, he wondered about his own sanity. How many times over the previous two years had Fowler staged “a fight to the death” in order to save some female? Somehow, Kerrington had accepted the future duke’s “need” to rescue the disadvantaged. It seemed only fair, if he was to die, he should do so in an effort to save some woman — an act of penitence, so to speak. He had had no skills to save the woman he love — Elizabeth Morris — the woman he had married and had promised to love and to honor and to protect “as long as ye both shall live.” Unfortunately, Elizabeth Morris Kerrington had live but two years, two months, and ten days before she had passed in childbirth — his child — their child. Mayhap by saving this woman, he might atone for for what he could not do for Elizabeth, and what he had done to Daniel — just walking away from the boy, unable to look upon his own child without seeing Elizabeth and experiencing the pain of her loss.

Turning his head, Kerrington noted how Fowler ran for the horses while pulling the scantily-clad girl behind him. Kerrington spun to the right, twirling a sword he had pulled from his walking stick, using the stick and rapier in tandem with swinging figure eights to ward off three Baloch soldiers. “Now!” he called above the battle’s clamor, and the Realm members synchronized their final strikes, leaving their opponents sprawled on the tent’s floor. They had dashed toward their tethered horses, swinging up into the saddles. They would distract pursuers, riding off in three separate directions — all in opposition to Fowler’s exit — to meet again in two days at their common house.

Racing toward the nearest hill, Kerrington pulled up the reins to take a quick look, making certain they had all made it out safely. He felt responsible, although each of his mean were quite capable and very menacing in his own right. “Let us depart, Captain,” Aidan Kimbolt called from somewhere behind him. Kerrington had seen all he had needed to see — they all were moving away from Shaheed Mir’s tents. Turning the horse in a complete circle, he nodded to Kimbolt, the group’s best horseman, to disguise Fowler’s hoof prints in the sand, before galloping away in the direction of the dying sunset.

Posted in Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Jane Austen’s Political Stance (or Lack Thereof), a Guest Post from Collins Hemingway

Miss Austen–No Politician, She

In April, Collins Hemingway included this post on Austen Authors. I thought it worthy and asked his permission to share it here. 

janepict.jpg In this, the 200th anniversary year of Jane Austen’s death, we learn that white supremacists are co-opting the English author in support of a racial dictatorship, shocked opponents are claiming that true readers are “rational, compassionate, liberal-minded people,” and conservatives are chiding Janeites for assuming that great literature can be written only by great liberals.

All these political takes on Austen, yet whenever someone describes her political views, they get them wrong, because they have no idea what hers actually were. As an individual and an artist, she kept her political mouth firmly shut. She had other—I would claim—more important things to write about.

This silence can be confounding, for Austen lived in a time tumultuously like our own. Slavery—the “alt-right” issue of the day—was bitterly fought over. War, political corruption, and disparity in wealth had England on the brink of breakdown. Factory automation was destroying the middle class. Sound familiar?

Yet, when asked about her aunt’s political views, Caroline Austen, who wrote a memoir of the author, said: “In vain do I try to recall any word or expression of Aunt Jane’s that had reference to public events—Some bias of course she must have had—but I can only guess to which quarter it inclined.”

As today, the politics of 1800-1820 had many “quarters.” Radical Tories believed that God had put themselves and the King in charge; the poor deserved their lot because God had made them so. Radical Whigs, full of entrepreneurial zeal, believed that the poor deserved to starve because they were too lazy or incompetent to rise from their rags.

In between was a shifting coalition of moderate Tories, who felt a responsibility to those beneath them, and moderate Whigs, who sought to spread the political and social wealth—mostly to themselves, the rising business and technical class.

Lower-case “republicanism”—power to the people by putting them in charge, rather than an anointed king—drew the same reaction among conservatives then as “socialism” does today—the fear of the leveling of society (and power). A few desperate citizens pushed for revolt out of despair at the lack of economic and political justice.

Many of the issues are woven into the fabric of Austen’s work, but none plays out in the foreground. Thus, people take a slice here and there to justify their own political stances. Sheryl Craig, in her book Jane Austen and the State of the Nation, goes so far as to conclude that Austen’s novels are “carefully constructed texts … about political economics. The love stories came later.” Despite much great information in her work, Craig’s conclusion strikes me as exactly wrong.

A few feminist scholars were also described as “startled” to discover that a Wikipedia entry on Austen claimed she supported traditional marriage. Sorry, but she did.  Every woman in her novels outside of traditional marriage, unless she started out rich, ends up impoverished, disgraced, or dead. The women in traditional marriage end up happy—or make a conscious and occasionally odious tradeoff for its security (see Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins). What Austen insisted upon is that traditional marriage include love and respect.

Naval officers like Frank Austen needed patronage to move up in the navy; otherwise, an officer could languish for years. All but a wealthy oldest son faced an uncertain future.

The poet W. H. Auden wrote a ditty noting that her supposed love stories actually describe the “economic basis” of society. Four of her six novels open with a reference to wealth, and conversations regularly involve finance. But this “economic basis” develops not through political discourse but through her factual descriptions of life.

Being dependent, women must be canny in their romantic choices (see what happens to Marianne and Lydia when they are not). The non-inheriting males must find a career (see all younger sons). The lower classes need patrons to move up (sailor William Price, along with Jane Austen’s sailor brothers).

One sees in these stories her liberal sympathies, but it is not a sympathy of class. While self-made naval heroes return from war to supplant the attenuated aristocracy in Persuasion, the author holds in equal esteem the dull but reliable Col. Brandon, the grouchy aristocrat Darcy, the energetic Mr. Knightley, the farmer Martin—anyone who shares the virtues of industry, intelligence, and generosity.

The telling issue of that era was the slave trade, which became illegal in 1807, when Austen was 31, in her maturity as an author. As I have discussed before, Edward Said and other scholars claim that she turns a blind eye, particularly in Mansfield Park, where the family’s money comes from slavery on a West Indies plantation. Paula Byrne and others, in contrast, claim that Fanny Price in Mansfield Park speaks “truth to power” about slavery.

As today, racial issues divided society. Economic and religious traditionalists supported slavery and evangelicals led the bitter fight to end it.

Austen’s admiration for the poet-abolitionist William Cowper and for Thomas Clarkson’s abolitionist book indicate her opposition to slavery. Despite a few anti-slavery winks, however, Mansfield Park does not prove these personal views. Apologists cite Fanny’s comment that, when she raises the issue of the slave trade with her family, she is met with “dead silence!” The inability of anyone to respond to her question demonstrates Fanny’s—Austen’s—moral rebuke.

Only it doesn’t.

Fanny explains the silence: Her cousins simply have no interest in their father’s business, and Fanny does not wish to “set myself off at their expense,” by showing any curiosity about his topics. Earlier, she makes similar, maddeningly oblique comments. She could mean that she’s interested in the plantation reforms that were beginning to make slavery somewhat less horrific. We don’t know. Slavery adds a subtle metaphor about Fanny’s own lowly status, but Austen is too talented to turn her most complex novel into a political tract.

In attitude, Austen was a moderate Tory—the equivalent of a moderate Republican. Austen never challenged the existing order. Like the abolitionist William Wilberforce, she wanted to reform it—not abolish it. She believed in merit as the economic salvation for herself and her brothers. She was a proto-feminist in the sense that she was a pragmatist. Dependent on the men in her family for most of her life, she needed to be able to support, as well as express, herself. That ability became critical when her brother Henry’s bank collapsed, taking much of the family’s wealth with it. (Most of Jane’s funds were safely deposited in Navy Fives–stock paying five percent.)

Practical economic considerations fill her books, but to read the novels as political commentary is to miss the point. Austen creates a rich, original world in which complex, believable human beings interact at their best and worst.

Any political lessons flow from the way human characteristics manifest themselves at all levels in the real world. Life experience, not ideology, dictates any political take-aways from her plots. She demonstrates that women should be able to accept relationships on their own terms and to provide for themselves as their needs require.

In the 200th commemoration of her death, it is disquieting that these lessons of a woman’s right to basic self-determination remain too often unheeded—even disputed.


41LI51lIsGL._UX250_ Meet Collins Hemingway Whether his subject is literature, history, or science, Collins Hemingway has a passion for the art of creative investigation. Hemingway’s fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.

For him, the most compelling fiction deeply explores the heart and soul of its characters, while also engaging them in the complex and often dangerous world in which they have a stake. He wants to explore all that goes into people’s lives, to creatively investigate everything that makes them what they are as complete but fallible human beings.

His approach is to dive as deeply into a character’s heart and soul as possible, to address the root causes of their behavior rather than to describe superficial attitudes and beliefs. This treatment, he believes, is at the heart of all good fiction, for it provides the only way to draw a complete, complex portrait of a human being that is rewarding to readers.

As a nonfiction book author, Hemingway has investigated topics as diverse as corporate culture and ethics; the Internet and mobile technology; the ins and outs of the retail trade; and the cognitive potential of the brain. Best known for the #1 best-selling book on business and technology, Business @ the Speed of Thought, which he coauthored with Bill Gates, he has earned a reputation for tackling challenging topics with clarity and insight, writing for the nontechnical but intelligent reader. His shorter nonfiction has won awards for topics ranging from general interest to business to computer technology to medicine.

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Posted in Austen Authors, Chaucer, Jane Austen, political stance, Regency era | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Sir Walter Scott, the Historical Romance, and the Creation of a National Identity – Part II

Recently, we had our first look at how Sir Walter Scott perfected the “formula” for historical romance while creating a national identity. [June 8, Part I

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet http://www.britannica. com/EBchecked/topic /529629/Sir-Walter-Scott-1st-Baronet

Sir Walter Scott’s fiction quite often uses the plot devices of inheritance and lineage. Scott’s generation knew of the defeat of a great stateliest: that of Napoleon Bonaparte. Therefore, it would be an easy jump to the conclusion that Ivanhoe is of the nature of the returning soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars. Patrick Parrinder in Nation and Novel [Oxford University Press, ©2006, 155-156] says, “…Ivanhoe is a returning crusader whose eyes are gradually opened to the ills of his native country. It is true that he belongs to the remnant of the Saxon nobility, grimly hanging on to what is left of their feudal possessions, but Scott sees that their day is over. The imperial unity foreshadowed by the crusading armies represent England’s future. Cedric, the Saxon chief, believes he is the representative of the old English nation, so that his kidnapping and imprisonment in Front-de-Boeuf’s castle ought to give him the status of an important political prisoner. But all the Normans want is to extract a ransom and to rape Rowena, his ward. Cedric, in any case, has divided his followers by disowning Ivanhoe for going on the Crusades, thus separating him [Ivanhoe] from his beloved Rowena. Athelstane, her intended bridegroom, is a renowned Saxon warrior but little else. Eventually, he is exposed as the cock that will not fight against its Norman masters.”

To understand the story, the reader must remember that King Richard mounted the Third Crusade in 1190, shortly after attaining the English crown. Richard had far less interest in ruling his nation wisely than in winning the city of Jerusalem and finding honor and glory on the battlefield. He left England precipitously, and it quickly fell into a dismal state in the hands of his brother, Prince John, the legendarily greedy ruler from the Robin Hood stories. In John’s hands, England languished. The two peoples who occupied the nation–the Saxons, who ruled England until the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and the French-speaking Normans, who conquered the Saxons–were increasingly at odds, as powerful Norman nobles began gobbling up Saxon lands. Matters became worse in 1092, when Richard was captured in Vienna by Leopold V, the Duke of Austria. (Richard had angered both Austria and Germany by signing the Treaty of Messina, which failed to acknowledge Henry VI, the Emperor of Germany, as the proper ruler of Sicily; Leopold captured Richard primarily to sell him to the Germans.) The Germans demanded a colossal ransom for the king, which John was in no hurry to supply; in 1194, Richard’s allies in England succeeded in raising enough money to secure their lord’s release. Richard returned to England immediately and was re-crowned in 1194. (Spark)

We find general disruption among Prince John’s followers. Only the character De Bracy maintains even a semblance of the code of chivalry upon which many early stories thrived. In chapter XXXIV, we find…

“There is but one road to safety,” continued the Prince, and his brow grew black as midnight; “this object of our terror journeys alone—He must be met withal.”

“Not by me,” said De Bracy, hastily; “I was his prisoner, and he took me to mercy. I will not harm a feather in his crest.”

“Who spoke of harming him?” said Prince John, with a hardened laugh; “the knave will say next that I meant he should slay him! —No—a prison were better; and whether in Britain or Austria, what matters it?—Things will be but as they were when we commenced our enterprise—It was founded on the hope that Richard would remain a captive in Germany—Our uncle Robert lived and died in the castle of Cardiffe.”

“Ay, but,” said Waldemar, “your sire Henry sate more firm in his seat than your Grace can. I say the best prison is that which is made by the sexton—no dungeon like a church-vault! I have said my say.”

“Prison or tomb,” said De Bracy, “I wash my hands of the whole matter.”

“Villain!” said Prince John, “thou wouldst not bewray our counsel?”

“Counsel was never bewrayed by me,” said De Bracy, haughtily, “nor must the name of villain be coupled with mine!”

Scott writes an “adventure” story. There are scenes of knights and jousting tournaments; yet there are also scenes with the outlaws of Sherwood Forest and the highwaymen. There are gritty scenes of the attempted rape of both Rowena and of Rebecca. Rebecca is a Jewish maiden, the daughter of Isaac of York. She tends Ivanhoe’s wounds after the tournament at Ashby and falls in love with him, even though she cannot know him as her husband for Ivanhoe is Christian. Rebecca is the most sympathetic character in the novel. She is a tragic heroine. Brian de Bois-Guilbert was a Knight Templar (a powerful international military/religious group dedicated to the conquest of the Holy Land, but often meddling in European politics). It is Brian who attempts to rape Rebecca. During Scott’s time, many believed Bois-Guilbert represented Napoleon’s attempt to unify Europe. 

Parrinder [156-157] says, “So, although the Saxon-Norman conflict is the official national historical issue around which Ivanhoe revolves, Scott’s interest in this conflict seems perfunctory at best. He had described his heroes as ‘very amiable and very insipid sort of young men…’ We many say that Scott’s heroes are insipid because they are respectable nineteenth-century young gentlemen [with whom his readers could easily identify] dressed up as actors in history, but Ivanhoe seems like a burlesque even of the normal Scott hero. So marked is his passivity that he is first discovered lying prone, whether from exhaustion or depression, at the foot of a sunken cross near his father’s house. He enters and leaves the house incognito and spends much of the remainder of the novel prostrate, carried from place to place in a litter as he is cured by Rebecca of the wound he receives at the tournament. It is true that we twice see him in his appointed role as a champion on horseback, as if he only comes to life when encased in steel from top to toe. The qualities which have brought him high in King Richard’s counsels are never on display. In his second fight with Bois-Guilbert he is ‘scarce able to support himself in the saddle’ and too weak to strike an effective blow. The day is saved, and Rebecca vindicated, by an act of God, since the Templar is seized by an apoplexy in the moment of combat.”

ivanhoeStructurally, Ivanhoe is divided into three parts: (1) Ivanhoe’s return to England in disguise and the tournament at Ashby constitutes the first section. [Disguise, at a point of reference, is a major motif in the novel, as not only Ivanhoe, but also Wamba, Richard, Cedric, and Locksley assume disguises.]; (2) Sir Maurice de Bracy kidnaps Cedric’s party. De Bracy lusts after Rowena. Richard and Locksley free the prisoners.; (3) The Templars and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert take Rebecca captive. The trial-by-combat decides whether Rebecca will live or die. 

One of the major criticisms of Scott’s Ivanhoe is the freedom with which Scott employed historical fact. Also, Scott’s depiction of Jews is considered stereotypical at best. Yet, we must recall this is a “romance,” not a historical novel. As I write Regency romance, I am told often by those who write historicals that my novels are meant to please, not to instruct. Needless to say, I would beg to differ. I spend more hours than I would care to count in research, but my purpose here is not to debate whether there is room for imagination in the mist of research. What I wish to point out is how Scott’s opinion of King Richard goes against the idealized image of the King, especially that found in 19th Century England. Rosemary Mitchell, an Associate Principal Lecturer in History and Reader in Victorian Studies at Leeds Trinity University College, UK, says, “This is the message of Ivanhoe, with its equivocal chivalry: you can learn from the past, you can even recreate it, but ultimately you cannot and perhaps should not try to return to it.” [Mitchell, Rosemary, ‘Glory, Maiden, Glory’: The Uncomfortable Chivalry of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review]

“The resolution of the novel has never been universally popular: the very earliest readers found fault with Scott’s decision to marry the hero to the blonde Anglo-Saxon princess, Rowena, rather than the beguiling brunette Rebecca, daughter of Isaac the Jew. Scott’s decision was not taken lightly: the marriage of Ivanhoe, the friend of the Norman King Richard and the flower of chivalry, was intended to symbolise the reconciliation of the Anglo-Saxons with their French conquerors and the foundation of an inclusive English nation. But not that inclusive: Scott, no mean medieval scholar and no rosy-eyed observer of his own time, does not pretend that Rebecca and her fellow Jews were acceptable to the new English people – or even to their nineteenth-century descendants. At the close of the novel, Rebecca and her father depart to Spain and we hear no more of them.

“This was – and still is – very unsatisfactory for many readers. True, Rowena is Ivanhoe’s childhood sweetheart: he was disinherited before the novel begins by his father, Cedric the Saxon, for threatening to disrupt her dynastic marriage to the portly Anglo-Saxon pretender Athelstane, and returns in disguise to try and win her hand. That was what brought him to the tournament illustrated on the cover of your abridged copy. But then it is Rebecca who has ensured that he has a horse and armour and could participate in the chivalric combat; it is she who will nurse him after he is wounded at the tournament, and it is for her that he fights in the concluding trial by battle at Templestowe. What a disappointing ‘happy ending’ it is then, when he marries the marginalised Rowena: Rebecca might be a Jewess, but then this is a romance and surely a timely conversion to Christianity and a runaway marriage to Ivanhoe (in the style of Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, and her Christian lover Lorenzo) is a narrative possibility? Not for Scott, whose nationalist and historicist agenda demanded the union of Saxon princess and Norman sympathiser under the aegis of the self-declared king of the ‘English’ people, Richard the Lionheart.

51vpBF6OpOL “Scott’s original readers loved Ivanhoe, but they often did neither liked nor understood what the novel had to say about the creation of nationhood, the character of historical change and the human consequences of it. So they frequently rewrote the plot to satisfy their narrative desires for a happier ending. In Thackeray’s comic sequel, Rebecca and Rowena (1850), the marriage of Ivanhoe swiftly becomes a penitential one, as Rowena develops into a monumentally pious nag. Ivanhoe’s escape to join Richard I’s campaigns in France proves less than entirely successful, as the crusader king has become debauched and unappealing. Relentlessly engaged in the non-stop slaughter of all the enemies of England and Christendom (and these appear to be many, and remarkably poor at warfare), Ivanhoe works his way round Europe like a middle-aged backpacker in armour. In his absence, he is presumed dead, and Rowena marries her old suitor, the fat and jovial Athelstane. He keeps her firmly and affectionately in her place – until she eventually dies in prison, having tactlessly taken King John to task. This neatly emancipates the long-suffering Ivanhoe, whose tour of duty now takes him to Spain: here he again encounters Rebecca, who does now obligingly abandon her faith in favour of Christianity, facilitating their eventual union. One of the great Victorian realists, a still greater satirist, Thackeray was not entirely comfortable with his ‘improved’ ending to Ivanhoe: the couple have no children and are rather melancholy in their mirth. Perhaps Thackeray realised that Scott’s ending was, after all, a more meaningful one.” [Mitchell, Rosemary. Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review]


As many of you expected, I must bring Scott back to my dearest Miss Austen. This is what Sir Walter Scott said of Jane Austen in 1826.

Jane Austen. (1775–1817). Pride and Prejudice. The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917. [Bartleby.com]
Criticisms and Interpretations
I. By Sir Walter Scott

“READ again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of “Pride and Prejudice.” That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”—From “The Journal of Sir Walter Scott,” March, 1826. 1

“We bestow no mean compliment upon the author of “Emma” when we say that keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and originality that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners, and sentiments, greatly above our own. In this class she stands almost alone; for the scenes of Miss Edgeworth are laid in higher life, varied by more romantic incident, and by her remarkable power of embodying and illustrating national character. But the author of “Emma” confines herself chiefly to the middling classes of society; her most distinguished characters do not rise greatly above well-bred country gentlemen and ladies; and those which are sketched with most originality and precision, belong to a class rather below that standard. The narrative of all her novels is composed of such common occurrences as may have fallen under the observation of most folks; and her dramatis personæ conduct themselves upon the motives and principles which the readers may recognize as ruling their own, and that of most of their own acquaintances.”—From “The Quarterly Review,” October, 1815.

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The Rise and Fall of the Empire Waist, a Guest Post from Alexa Adams

Alexa Adams returns to my blog with an excellent piece on the fashion of the Regency Period. This post first appeared on Austen Authors. 
Dancing dress featuring Grecian elements, 1809.

My newest book, Darcy in Wonderland (look for it this summer), is both a Pride and Prejudice sequel and mashup with Alice in Wonderland. The action takes place at some unspecified point during the early Victorian Era. Honestly, the timing is very sketchy, as Darcy and Elizabeth are supposed to be married for over twenty years, putting the year in the early 1830’s, but Carroll didn’t publish his masterpiece of children’s literature until 1865. In my head I split the difference, dating the book somewhere around the late 1840s, but this ambiguity is causing my illustrator no little strife (Katy Wiedemann is an amazing artist! See her work in scientific illustration here: http://www.wiedemannillustrations.com/index.html). We have spent a great deal of time discussing the transition between Regency and Victorian fashions, and it has caused me to reflect upon why the fashions of the Regency Era are so drastically different from those that proceeded and followed. An answer can be found in the name of the silhouette that dominated the period: the Empire waist.

Left: Full dress (Spring, 1799) in the Grecian style. Right: Day dress (1802) leaving very little to the imagination.

The Empire waist gown, the most defining element of women’s fashion during the Regency Era, has far more political implications than most Austen fans and period reenactors realize. In truth, it was revolutionary: a sartorial celebration of the times. “Empire” refers to the one built by Napoleon, and is the name given in France to this period of history. High-waisted, loose gowns inspired by the peasantry began to be worn in elite French fashion circles prior to the Revolution, largely in response to the philosophies put forth by Jean-Jaques Rousseau, an advocate for society’s return to more a natural state (often using peasants as an example), and whose ideas permeate Romantic thought. Yet this uncorseted look that shocked so many was not de rigueur until after the Revolution, when it became a reflection of the values of the new French state: simple fabrics and lines were far more egalitarian than complex court dress, their unrestrictive shapes were literally liberating, and the overall look was evocative of ancient Athens, where Democracy was born. Structured gowns became as passé as the wigs that went with them.

1807 gowns display the continued popularity of Grecian and Roman styling. Left: Full dress and walking dress. Right: Full dress

The earliest examples of this look from the late 18th century still featured trains, but as the 19th century began the gowns became straighter, emphasizing a woman’s true shape. Thin fabrics left little to the imagination. The English took their initial cues on this new look from the French, but as contact between the two countries diminished over decades of war, the Empire look began to take on a distinctly English flare. Tight fitted spencers and redingotes, while marvels of tailoring, acted to bring the liberated look a bit more in control, as well as providing some much-needed warmth. Many ladies also found that to achieve the desired silhouette, they still required a great deal of confining undergarments. Tudor and military embellishments further increased the structure of the gowns. Notions of simplicity in women’s clothing were soon abandoned, and ornamentation became just as ostentatious as ever. The death of Napoleon in 1821 coincides nicely with the beginning of the waistline’s gradual journey back to, well, the waist (it took less time in France). It wasn’t until the early 1830’s that women’s fashion began to take on truly Victorian dimensions in England, returning to the tight corsets and voluminous skirts of the previous century.

Evening dresses from 1816 (left) and 1819 (right) feature helmet like-headdresses reminiscent of Athena’s, the Greek goddess of war.

One need not be an historian to know the Victorian Era was a period of rigid social conservatism. It is easy to read the fall of the waistline as a rejection of revolution, but feminist historians are quick to point out that Rousseau’s philosophies and the fashions they inspired were far from liberating. Boys and girls of the era dressed in miniature versions of the gowns grown ladies wore. Boys were “breached” and allowed to grow into men, but girls were kept in a perpetual state of infancy. In Emile, Rousseau’s treatise on education, he describes a vision of womanhood rather chilling to the modern reader. The vast bulk of the book describes the education of Emile, his fictitious pupil, and only contemplates the education of girls in Book Five: Marriage. Here he describes the ideal mate for Emile, one Sophie, and the education she ought to receive to keep her as natural a woman as possible:

Morning and evening dress (1818) showing military influences.

As I see it, the special functions of women, their inclinations and their duties, combine to suggest the kind of education they require. Men and women are made for each other but they differ in their measure of dependence on each other. We could get on better without women than women could get on without us. To play their part in life they must have our willing help, and for that they must earn our esteem. By the very law of nature women are at the mercy of men’s judgments both for themselves and for their children. It is not enough that they should be estimable: they must be esteemed. It is not enough that they should be wise: their wisdom must be recognized. Their honor does not rest on their conduct but on their reputation. Hence the kind of education they get should by the very opposite of men’s in this respect. Public opinion is the tomb of a man’s virtue but the throne of a woman’s. 

Walking dress demonstrating both Tudor and military influence, 1821 (left) and 1822 (right).

His words, though rather infuriating, perfectly describe the reality in which Jane Austen lived and wrote. Recall what Mary Bennet has to say on the subject:

“Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable — that one false step involves her in endless ruin — that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, — and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.”

Elizabeth might find such a statement annoying under the circumstances, but Mary is undoubtedly correct about life in the Regency. If Wickham did not marry Lydia, the entire Bennet family would have been tarnished by her actions, throwing their very survival into doubt. All this from a lack of active patriarchal protection. Women were entirely at the mercy of public opinion, yet at the same time fashion exposed their bodies in ways unheard of in Europe for centuries past. They were taught to court and relish masculine attention, just like Lydia Bennet, but then were punished for indulging in it. What a double edged sword!

The falling waistline. Left: Walking and dinner dress (1822). Right: Evening dress (Winter, 1826).

Even if Rousseau was not an advocate for any real form of female liberation, his notions undoubtedly influenced philosophers who were, like Mary Wollstonecraft. The ideals of freedom and liberty that marked the period would gradually spread their wings and encompass more and more of the globe, a process that is ongoing. One truth that can be universally acknowledged is that after a few decades of Victorian austerity, corsets again fell out of fashion, hemlines raised, and a new era of women’s fashion was born. With it came suffrage, women in the work place, and birth control. Pretty revolutionary, wouldn’t you say?

Boy and girls fashions, 1834. The younger boys, like the three on the far left, are still wearing skirts resembling those of the girl the same age (second figure from the right). The older boy standing behind her has been breached.

This post owes a great debt to Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing, an excellent overview of the subject from Shire Library that I highly recommend.

The images featured are from the Claremont Colleges Digital Library: http://ccdl.libraries.claremont.edu/cdm/.

Posted in Austen Authors, British history, Georgian England, Guest Post, history, Jane Austen | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Knight Family Estate at Chawton, a Guest Post from Antoine Vanner

This guest post from Antoine Vanner in April 2017 on Austen Authors was a huge success. I though perhaps others might wish to view the wonderful pictures of Jane Austen’s “home” that Vanner shared. 

The “Jane Austen House” in the village of Chawton in Hampshire, where she lived with her mother and sister – both called Cassandra – in the later years of her life, is today preserved as a much-visited museum. Of equal interest however, about a quarter-mile distant, is Chawton House, the centre of the splendid Knight Estate, which had been inherited by one of Jane’s brothers, in a manner that would not have seemed out of place in one of her own plots.

Jane Austen's House (2)

Jane Austen’s House in the village of Chawton, Hampshire

A major concern for Britain’s gentry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – when the words “gentleman” and “lady” referred very specifically to social status – was provision for large families. The rules of primogeniture meant that property and wealth – if there was any – would pass to the eldest son only and his brothers would have to make their own way. For daughters, the only route to avoiding the dreaded fates of spinster or governess was to marry well – a recurrent theme in Jane Austen’s own books. The options for the younger sons were limited, since no gentleman could retain his status as such if he were to participate in “trade”, essentially commercial activity of any kind. The Church, the Army, Medicine and the Law were all however considered appropriate occupations. Particularly popular with families living on the edge of genteel poverty was the Royal Navy since, unlike the Army, it was not necessary for an officer to purchase his commission or to pay for promotion thereafter. The Navy promoted on merit and had the added advantage that, in times of war, substantial fortunes could be made through “prize money” – shares in the value of captured enemy shipping. A boy could be entered into the navy while still a child – often under ten – and his board and lodging would be provided. It would be up to him thereafter to make his own career and fortune. The most notable example was Horatio Nelson, son of a country clergyman, and indeed many officers had fathers had similar backgrounds.

Jane Austen’s father George was, like Nelson’s, a country clergyman, and with her mother faced the familiar challenge of the time – provision for numerous offspring, in their case six sons and two daughters. Though their circumstances were modest, they did however have the advantage of having rich relations, most notably Thomas Knight, the wealthy husband of George’s second cousin, who appointed George to the “living” – the position of parish clergyman – of Steventon in Hampshire. This brought with it accommodation as well as a small income.

Two of the Austen sons – Francis (1774–1865) and Charles (1779–1852) – followed the time-honoured path of clergyman’s sons into the Navy. Both had quite spectacular careers, serving with distinction throughout the Napoleonic Wars and, as hoped, winning prize money that could make them financially independent. A touching mention by Jane tells of how one of her brothers made use of the first money he came into: “Charles has received £30 for his share of the privateer, and expects £10 more; but of what avail is it to take the prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his sisters? He has been buying gold chains and topaz crosses for us. He must be well scolded.” Two centuries later, the obvious familial affection still moves the reader. These brothers were to rise steadily in their profession in the decades that followed, directing major campaigns in various parts of the world and managing the navy’s transition for sail to steam. Charles died as a Rear-Admiral while Francis attained the highest rank in the Royal Navy, Admiral of the Fleet. They provided the model for the dashing Captain Wentworth in Jane’s last novel, Persuasion.


Jane Austen’s House in the village of Chawton, Hampshire (Copied, with thanks, from the Chawton House website).

Another of Jane’s brothers, Edward (1768 –1852), was, however, to become the most prosperous of all.  Thomas Knight – the relation who had provided George Austen the living at Steventon – was, with his wife Catherine, childless and therefore lacking an heir to their wealth and their estates, including that at Chawton. Liking Edward, they made him their legal heir and funded his education, including the Grand Tour of Europe, which was obligatory for any cultivated gentleman.

Knight Estate (5)

The entrance to Chawton House – could Pemberly have looked any better?

When Thomas died in 1794 he left one of his estates, Godmersham, to his wife for her lifetime, with the remainder going to Edward immediately.  She in turn left Godmersham to Edward with the stipulation that he change his legal name to Knight. He thus inherited three estates, in Steventon, Chawton and Godmersham, wealth of which Mr. Darcy himself would have been proud.  Attentive of the welfare of this mother and two sisters, Edward provided them with the use of the house which had formally been the residence of the bailiff of the Chawton Estate. It was here that Jane was to live from 1809 until her death in 1817. Her mother and sister, the two Cassandras, remained there until their own deaths in 1827 and 1845 respectively.

Knight Estate (9)

The key feature of the Knight Estate is Chawton House, its home farm and the church of St. Nicholas in its grounds. Magnificently maintained today, one has a strong impression of how self-contained and self-supporting such a community would have been from the middle ages onwards – a church has occupied this location since 1270, though the present structure is more recent. Jane worshipped here and her mother and sisters were buried outside it – she herself having been buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Knight Estate (7)

Chawton House with St. Nicholas Church to the right

Cassandras' Graves (1)

Chawton House with St. Nicholas Church to the right

Chawton House itself started as an Elizabethan manor house and was added to over the years. Today it is home to The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600-1830, including a collection of over 9,000 books and related original manuscript. The credit for rescue of the building and for establishment of the centre goes to a foundation established by Sandra Lerner and Leonard Bosack, co-founders of Cisco Systems.

Knight Estate (12)

Chawton House – side view

Jane herself not only knew the house but walked extensively in the area – it’s possible to trace some of the walks she mentioned, including one across fields and through a small wood to the nearby village of Farringdon. The greatest interest of all is however the house itself, splendidly restored inside and out.

Knight Estate (11)

The view for Chawton House garden – Jane walked to Farringdon across the field, beyond the daffodils

Mr. & Mrs. Vanner

Mr. and Mrs. Vanner celebrating their wedding at Chawton House

 And here I must declare an interest. It is available for social functions, and it was here that my wife and I held our wedding reception in 2011. Having recalled that “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”, we thought of no more appropriate location for the occasion, even though the extent of my fortune might not compare with that of Mr. Darcy, even allowing for inflation!

I’m attaching some further photographs below. I trust that they will give some idea of how the Knight Estate is today. It’s well worth a visit if you are in Britain and more information can be found on https://chawtonhouse.org/

Knight Estate (1)

The estate, including working farm, seen from the roadway outside

Knight Estate (8)

Knight Estate (2)

Housing, probably originally build for estate workers

Church interior (2)

Altar-piece in St. Nicholas’s Church

Church interior (3)-1

Monument to a Knight ancestor in St. Nicholas’s Church

These were the comments left by Caroline Jane Knight, Edward Austen Knight’s fourth great granddaughter, on the original post. 

I’m glad you enjoyed Chawton, I am the last Austen descendant (Edward Austen Knight’s fourth great granddaughter) to be raised at Chawton House when it was our family home. It was a magical place to grow up, in the cocoon of 400 years of our history, and great Aunt Jane’s legacy. Granny ran a tearoom in the Great Hall and I earned my pocket money serving Jane Austen devotees who had come to see Jane Austen’s cottage in the village before following in Jane’s footsteps and taking the short walk to her brother’s manor for tea – happy days. I was 17 when my grandfather, Edward Knight (EAK great great grandson) died and his heir, Uncle Richard, inherited the depleted estate….Chawton was magnificent when I lived there, but in desperate need of repair. It is wonderful to see the house now, beautifully restored and being enjoyed.

  • The William Wellings silhouette you have shown hung in Granny’s bedroom, I saw it all the time….we were surrounded by such things and I didn’t realise at the time how extraordinary it is – I knew what it was, but you accept your childhood surroundings without much thought!


img-profile.jpg Meet the Author: Antoine Vanner

Antoine Vanner is the author of the Dawlish Chronicles, centred on the Victorian-era naval officer Nicholas Dawlish RN and his indomitable wife, Florence. Five novels so far feature plots linked to real historical events and the most recent, Britannia’s Amazon, tells of Florence’s unexpected confrontation with the corruption, vice and abuse of power that are the underside complacent Victorian society. Check Antoine’s author page for more details: http://amzn.to/2oklJG8 or join his mailing list on http://eepurl.com/bt5aRn and receive a free copy of the short story Britannia’s Eventide.

51O3qD9+aKL._SY346_ Britannia’s Wolf: The Dawlish Chronicles: September 1877 – February 1878

This is the first volume of the Dawlish Chronicles naval fiction series – action and adventure set in the age of transition from sail to steam in the last decades of the 19th Century.

It’s late 1877 and the Russian and Ottoman-Turkish Empires are locked in a deadly as the war between them is reaching its climax.  A Russian victory will pose a threat to Britain’s strategic interests. To protect them an ambitious British naval officer, Nicholas Dawlish, is assigned to the Ottoman Navy to ravage Russian supply-lines in the Black Sea. In the depths of a savage winter, as Turkish

It’s November 1879 and on a broad river deep in the heart of South America, a flotilla of paddle steamers thrashes slowly upstream. It is laden with troops, horses and artillery, and intent on conquest and revenge. Ahead lies a commercial empire that was wrested from a British consortium in a bloody revolution. Now the investors are determined to recoup their losses and are funding a vicious war to do so. Nicholas Dawlish, on leave of absence from the Royal Navy, is playing a leading role in the expedition and though it could not be much further from the open sea he must face savage naval combat. forces face defeat on all fronts, Dawlish confronts enemy ironclads in naval combat and Cossack lances and merciless Kurdish irregulars in battles ashore. But more than warfare is involved, for Dawlish finds himself a pawn in the rivalry of the Sultan’s half-brothers for control of the collapsing empire. And in the midst of this chaos, unwillingly and unexpectedly, Dawlish finds himself drawn to a woman whom he believes he should not love.


51l5b3cnbGL._SY346_.jpg Brittania’s Reach: The Dawlish Chronicles: November 1879 – April-1880

It’s November 1879 and on a broad river deep in the heart of South America, a flotilla of paddle steamers thrashes slowly upstream. It is laden with troops, horses and artillery, and intent on conquest and revenge. Ahead lies a commercial empire that was wrested from a British consortium in a bloody revolution. Now the investors are determined to recoup their losses and are funding a vicious war to do so. Nicholas Dawlish, on leave of absence from the Royal Navy, is playing a leading role in the expedition and though it could not be much further from the open sea he must face savage naval combat.


51Aap7r-ihL Britannia’s Shark: The Dawlish Chronicles: April – September 1881

It’s 1881 and the British Empire’s power seems unchallengeable.

But now a group of revolutionaries threaten that power’s economic basis. Their weapon is the invention of a naïve genius, their sense of grievance is implacable and their leader is already proven in the crucible of war. Protected by powerful political and business interests, conventional British military or naval power cannot touch them.

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The Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange, a trapezoid-shaped structure, was opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571. Cornhill and Threadneedle Streets flank the exchange. The original building was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666. It was rebuilt in 1669 and again destroyed by fire in 1838. The first building was a gift from Sir Thomas Gresham. It was rebuilt by Edward Jerman, a contemporary of Sir Christopher Wren. Jerman’s design rose from the ashes of the Great Fire and were built upon Elizabethan foundations. Statues of the kings of England from Edward I to Charles II graced the interior courtyard. Eventually, those of William and Mary, Anne, George I, George II, George III, and George IV followed.

Info Britain tells us a bit of the background for the original Royal Exchange, “London has always been a trading centre, lying as it does on a river estuary opposite the mouth of the Rhine, which places it ideally for trade with Europe. London also occupies what was once the lowest fordable point of the Thames, which made it a natural place for internal trade. When the Romans arrived after their invasion in 43AD, they found a regular market being held roughly on the site of what is now Southwark Market. This was an obvious place to build a town. By the sixteenth century Richard Gresham, supplier of tapestries to Henry VIII’s palace at Hampton Court decided that London should have a purpose built centre for trade, using the Bourse in Antwerp as a model. Richard was unable to make his vision a reality, but his son Thomas followed his father into the world of trade. Thomas made his home in Antwerp, and gained royal favour by arranging loans for English monarchs. In 1559, one year after the succession of Elizabeth I, Thomas was knighted for his services. Then in 1565, remembering his father’s vision, Thomas offered to build the City of London its own bourse at his own expense if the City would provide suitable land. Work started in 1566 on an arcaded building housing small shops, surrounding a central courtyard used for trading. Thomas Gresham used the rental income from these shops to fund a programme of free public lectures given at what would become known as Gresham College, based at his house in Bishopsgate.”

British History Online provides us a detailed description of the costs for and the look of Gresham’s project. (Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878, pages 494-513.) “Lombard Street had long become too small for the business of London. Men of business were exposed there to all weathers, and had to crowd into small shops, or jostle under the pent-houses. As early as 1534 or 1535 the citizens had deliberated in common council on the necessity of a new place of resort, and Leadenhall Street had been proposed. In the year 1565 certain houses in Cornhill, in the ward of Broad Street, and three alleys—Swan Alley, Cornhill; New Alley, Cornhill, near St. Bartholomew’s Lane; and St. Christopher’s Alley, comprising in all fourscore householders—were purchased for £3,737 6s. 6d., and the materials sold for £478. The amount was subscribed for in small sums by about 750 citizens, the Ironmongers’ Company giving £75. The first brick was laid by Sir Thomas, June 7, 1566. A Flemish architect superintended the sawing of the timber, at Gresham’s estate at Ringshall, near Ipswich, and on Battisford Tye (common) traces of the old sawpits can still be seen. The slates were bought at Dort, the wainscoting and glass at Amsterdam, and other materials in Flanders. The building, pushed on too fast for final solidity, was slated in by November, 1567, and shortly after finished. The Bourse, when erected, was thought to resemble that of Antwerp, but there is also reason to believe that Gresham’s architect closely followed the Bourse of Venice.



“The new Bourse, Flemish in character, was a long four-storeyed building, with a high double balcony. A bell-tower, crowned by a huge grasshopper, stood on one side of the chief entrance. The bell in this tower summoned merchants to the spot at twelve o’clock at noon and six o’clock in the evening. A lofty Corinthian column, crested with a grasshopper, apparently stood outside the north entrance, overlooking the quadrangle. The brick building was afterwards stuccoed over, to imitate stone. Each corner of the building, and the peak of every dormer window, was crowned by a grasshopper. Within Gresham’s Bourse were piazzas for wet weather, and the covered walks were adorned with statues of English kings. A statue of Gresham stood near the north end of the western piazza. At the Great Fire of 1666 this statue alone remained there uninjured, as Pepys and Evelyn particularly record. The piazzas were supported by marble pillars, and above were 100 small shops. The vaults dug below, for merchandise, proved dark and damp, and were comparatively valueless. Hentzner, a German traveller who visited England in the year 1598, particularly mentions the stateliness of the building, the assemblage of different nations, and the quantities of merchandise.

“Many of the shops in the Bourse remained unlet till Queen Elizabeth’s visit, in 1570, which gave them a lustre that tended to make the new building fashionable. Gresham, anxious to have the Bourse worthy of such a visitor, went round twice in one day to all the shopkeepers in “the upper pawn,” and offered them all the shops they would furnish and light up with wax rent free for a whole year. The result of this liberality was that in two years Gresham was able to raise the rent from 40s. a year to four marks, and a short time after to £4 10s. The milliners’ shops at the Bourse, in Gresham’s time, sold mousetraps, birdcages, shoeing-horns, lanthorns, and Jews’ trumps. There were also sellers of armour, apothecaries, booksellers, goldsmiths, and glass-sellers; but the shops soon grew richer and more fashionable, so that in 1631 the editor of Stow says, ‘Unto which place, on January 23, 1570, Queen Elizabeth came from Somerset House throught Fleet Street past the north side of the Bourse to Sir Thomas Gresham’s house in Bishopsgate Street, and there dined. After the banquet she entered the Bourse on the south side, viewed every part; especially she caused the building, by herald’s trumpet, to be proclaimed ‘the Royal Exchange,’ so to be called from henceforth, and not otherwise.’”

The west side of the building saw extensive repairs at the hands of William Robinson, the surveyor of the Gresham Trustees, in 1767.

Lloyd's Coffee House - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org

The Royal Exchange quickly became London’s door to international business. In the 17th Century, London’s importance as a trade centre led to an increasing demand for ship and cargo insurance. Edward Lloyd’s coffee house became recognized as the place for obtaining marine insurance, and this became the Lloyd’s of London that we know today. “Lloyd’s Coffee House” moved to the first floor of the Royal Exchange in 1774. The RE was forced to move to South Sea House after the 1838 fire. 

George Smith, architect to the Mercers’ Company, replied Jerman’s wooden tower with a stone one between 1820-1826.

A tower to replace the one designed with the Gresham grasshopper symbol was rebuilt in 1842 under the direction of Sir William Tite in the centre of the facade towards Throgmorton Avenue. “The third Royal Exchange building, which still stands today, was designed by William Tite and adheres to the original layout–consisting of a four-sided structure surrounding a central courtyard where merchants and tradesmen could do business. The internal works, designed by Edward I’Anson in 1837, made use of concrete—an early example of this modern construction method. It features pediment sculptures by Richard Westmacott (the younger), and ornamental cast ironwork by Henry Grissell’s Regent’s Canal Ironworks. It was opened by Queen Victoria on 28 October 1844 though trading did not commence until 1 January 1845.In June 1844, just before the reopening of the Royal Exchange, a statue of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, was unveiled outside the building. The bronze used to cast it was sourced from enemy cannons captured during Wellington’s continental campaigns.” (The Royal Exchange)

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