June 20 ~ West Virginia Day ~ “Country Roads Take Me Home…”

June 20 celebrates the birth of my home state. As you are reading this, I am tooling my way along a West Virginia highway, off to visit the homes of some of our country’s Presidents. This past weekend there was a reenactment on Monticello’s ground. The British arrived on horseback for the Revolutionary War!

Personally, I love driving the mountain roads, but I’m certain many others do not. Many are intimidated by the sharp curves. When I exit the tunnel at Bluefield on Interstate 77, the one which separates West Virginia from Virginia, my heart always says “home.”

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Babcock State Park, Glade Creek Grist Mill

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The beauty of a WV highway

On June 20, 1863, West Virginia became the thirty-fifth state in the Union. The land that formed the new state formerly constituted part of Virginia. The two areas had diverged culturally from their first years of European settlement, as small farmers generally settled the western portion of the state, including the counties that later formed West Virginia, while the eastern portion was dominated by a powerful minority class of wealthy slaveholders. There were proposals for the trans-Allegheny west to separate from Virginia as early as 1769. When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, the residents of a number of contiguous western counties, where there were few slaves, decided to remain in the Union. Congress accepted these counties as the state of West Virginia on condition that its slaves be freed. “Montani semper liberi,” “mountaineers always freemen,” became the new state’s motto.

“In 1963, West Virginia Day was the highpoint of a year-long celebration of the state centennial, with President John F. Kennedy speaking from the steps of the state capitol. The state enjoyed its grandest birthday party that day, beginning with a breakfast restricted to people born on June 20 and culminating with evening fireworks. A 35-layer cake was served at noon, and Kennedy’s speech was followed by a 35-gun salute.

“In addition to official observances, West Virginians celebrate their state’s birthday with a variety of tavern toasts, family cookouts, and other unofficial acknowledgments. Long-standing customs include the creation of a special glass-work by Blenko Glass of Cabell County. Issued in a number equal to the state’s age, the limited-edition piece is sold in Charleston to first-comers on the morning of West Virginia Day.” [e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia “West Virginia Day.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 20 June 2014. Web. 22 May 2018.]

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my hometown

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fine shops found in the Arcade in downtown Huntington

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busy downtown streets in Huntington

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Gibbeting, A Grotesque Slow Death

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The reconstructed gallows-style gibbet at Caxton Gibbet, in Cambridgeshire, England https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbeting#/media/File:Gallows_at_Caxton_Gibbet.jpg

A gibbet is an instrument used as part of a public execution. Gibbeting refers to the gallows-type structure used in the execution. A dead or dying body would be hung on public display to deter other potential criminals from committing similar crimes. A gibbet could also be used as the means of execution, essentially leaving the condemned person in a small cage, with no means of escape, to die from exposure to the elements or from thirst and starvation. 

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The Pirates Own Book, by Charles Ellms, Hanging of William Kidd ~ Public Domain ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbeting#/media/File:Hanging_of_William_Kidd.jpg

The Murder Act of 1752 permitted a judge’s prerogative to sentence the guilty to a gibbet in the case of murder, but it was also used for traitors, pirates, highwaymen, and sheep stealers. The Act required bodies of convicted murderers to be either publicly dissected or gibbeted. The gibbet was placed at crossroads of highways and waterways as a warning to others who meant to break the law. Also called hanging in chains, gibbeting was formally abolished in England in 1834. Surprisingly, the need of medical schools for bodies upon which to perform anatomy lessons curbed the use of gibbets. A rotting body held no worth in those cases. Women criminals were not gibbetted because the medical schools were interested in the workings of the female body, and so those women who were condemned were not sentenced to gibbeting. The medical schools were permitted 50 bodies per year through these measures. As they required 200+, they became “creative” cultivators of “fresh” bodies. Grave robbers and restorationists made a living in bodies. At the time, a person could drive through a village with a dead and naked body in the wagon, without breaking a law. If, however, they left the body clothed, they could be arrested for stealing the dead man’s clothes. It was all quite convoluted. 

Prior to that, it was a rare, notorious, horrifying punishment, which gathered quite the crowd to witness the spectacle of a gibbet being erected. According to Rebel Circus, a blacksmith designed and constructed the gibbet to fit the size of the person. The gibbet cages were designed so the rotting body stayed together, holding the shape of the person. “The person’s chin and nose were usually strapped in place, and their arms and legs were left to dangle in the air. If a person had dared to attempt to help a person in a gibbet, their efforts would be futile. The gibbets were held up on poles that were, at a minimum, 30′ high. The gibbets were covered in sharp studs to keep people from attempting to touch them. 

A+man+rides+past+a+gibbet.+Lithograph+by+W.jpg “Gibbets were not removed once the condemned finally became reduced to a skeleton. They were left up for years at a time. They became landmarks, and a few even had streets named after them. There were many different designs and variations of the gibbet. Some kept the condemned in place by impaling the back of his head on a spike, but that was later stopped because it allowed for the condemned to die too quickly.”

There are 16 gibbets remaining in England, the majority of which can be viewed in museums. The practice peaked in the 1740s. 134 men were placed in a gibbet between 1752 and 1832. According to Atlas Obscura, beyond the obvious stench of the rotting bodies, “…unfortunately for its neighbors, the gibbet was not a fleeting visitor. They remained in place for decades sometimes, as the corpses inside were eaten by bugs and birds and turned into skeletons. Steps were taken to prevent people from removing them; the posts were often 30 feet or higher. One was studded with 12,000 nails to keep it from being torn down. They became landscape features; gibbeted criminals lent their names to roads (like Parr) and became boundary markers.

234234-47.jpg“Because gibbeting was so rare, blacksmiths had little to go on when called upon to make a gibbet. Some were heavy, some were very loose, some were adjustable. One had a notch where a nose would go. In some cases, the gibbet held only the torso, allowing the arms and legs to dangle outside its confines. After a gibbet was removed (or fell down from wear) the gibbet and its components were sometimes turned into souvenirs, such as a post that was carved up into tobacco bowls.”

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Artist Thomas Rowlandson’s Crowd by a Gibbet, c. late 18th century. (Photo: Yale Center for British Art/Public Domain)

Harnessing the Power of the Criminal Corpse provides us information on building the gibbet, the cost of the project, the locations chosen for the gibbet, the gibbets that have lasted the longest (as landmarks), ant the end of the practice for those of you seeking more facts. 

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Spooky Isles gives us the story of the last person to be gibbetted. This punishment took place in Baslow, near historic Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Learn what happened when the Duke of Devonshire was awakened by the condemned person’s scream by checking out the story on this link or the one below. 

 

Resources: 

Atlas Obscura

Criminal Corpses

Rebel Circus 

Spooky Isles

 

 

 

Posted in British history, buildings and structures, England, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, spooky tales | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Father’s Day

This is my father. He died too young, barely in his mid 40s. I wish I had known him better. 

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Father’s Day – Part 2

This is my maternal grandfather. My parents separated when I was quite young. It was a time when divorce was frowned upon, so my parents never “officially” parted ways. Yet, for all intents and purposes, my father was never around. It was my grandfather who saw that I had weekly lunch money, who co-signed for my first car, who “encouraged” me to become a teacher when I wanted to be a journalist, and who died one month before my son was born. I hated that he never knew my son. He was a man who worked for American Car and Foundry during the day – making railroad cars. However, of the evening he was dressed in a white shirt and a suit and a hat. It was quite the contrast to the day job.

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Cozy Up to an Austen-Inspired Mystery – The Phantom of Pemberley

The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery was my sixth Jane Austen book. As with many of my author friends, I am more than a bit of a “Jane Austen geek.” I have loved Jane Austen’s works since I was a pre-teen. I also love mystery and suspense. 
 

If he has to kill a thousand men, the Phantom will kill and kill again!

 

The Phantom of Pemberley is what is known as a “cozy mystery,” along the lines of what one would find with Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes. A “cozy” has very specific characteristics: (1) The setting is a country house or small town, customarily without a detective or police or sheriff to assist in discovering the culprit. (2) The murder mystery is a domestic crime, one close to home rather than having far-reaching implications. (3) There is always a gifted amateur who cross examines the suspects and after a clever explanation discloses the guilty person, a person along the lines of mystery writer Jessica Fletcher in the television show “Murder She Wrote.” (4) It generally focuses on solving the mental aspects of the crime (without the assistance of CSI). (5) The “murder” happens off-screen, so to speak. It is spoken of but the reader experiences the violence after the event, rather than reading all the graphic details. (6) Sex and offensive language is kept to a minimum. 
 
So, we open The Phantom of Pemberley to find Darcy and Elizabeth, married for a year and blissfully happy with plans for the future of the Pemberley estate and their marriage. However, we know what happens when we tell God our plans. He has a hearty laugh and sends us a good dose of humility. Enter that humility in the form of the worst snowstorm in a decade. Add the appearances of Lydia Bennet Wickham for a planned visit and of Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh, both making an unexpected call at Pemberley, the first since Darcy and Elizabeth’s wedding. Obviously, an eclectic mix requires a bit more than the Austen standard fare. Because of the storm, Lydia invites her fellow traveling companions from the public coach to stay at Pemberley. As readers we meet Nigel Worth, a country solicitor, and Evelyn Williams, a naval widow. Compound the mix of guests at Pemberley with a friend of Colonel Fitzwilliam, Adam Lawrence, the future Earl of Greenwall, who also finds himself stranded in Derbyshire with no place to stay. Therefore, against his better judgment, Darcy accepts Lawrence and Lawrence’s mistress, Cathleen Donnel, at the estate.
 
You will curse the day you did not do all that the Phantom asked of you!
 
Snowed in for, at least, a week, Darcy and Elizabeth set about entertaining so varied a guest list, but entertainment becomes a minor problem. First, Elizabeth sees an unknown stranger along one of the fields surrounding the manor house, then Georgiana spots a like figure close to the cottagers’ huts. The Pemberley staff think it the Shadow Man, but even that legend does not explain the unusual thefts about the house, the appearance of a disembodied ghost in Georgiana’s room, a staged accident on the stairs, and a series of what appears to be unconnected murders. What Darcy finds at Pemberley is a “phantom,” who is obviously set on revenge.
 
Shadow-Man-orig-opt-200.jpg One of the things I enjoy when I write is exploring history and incorporating it into the story line. First, for The Phantom of Pemberley, I used the legend of the Shadow Man or Hat Man, as he is sometimes called. Most cultures have a variation on this legend. The easiest way to explain a Shadow Person is when one thinks he sees someone from the corner of his eye and then turns his head to find nothing. I found it very interesting that Wes Craven spoke of a scary experience with a shadowy creature as a young boy. Some suggest this incident was the inspiration for Freddy Krueger. To read more of Craven’s story and Shadow People go HERE
Next, discovering creative ways to dispose of the chosen victims was essential. I was very lucky in that women of the Regency era, quite literally poisoned themselves with their beauty products. During this era, white skin signified a life of leisure while skin exposed to the sun indicated a life of outdoor labor. In order to maintain a pale complexion, women wore bonnets, carried parasols, and covered all visible parts of their bodies with whiteners and blemish removers. Unfortunately, more than a few of these remedies were lethal. Into the nineteenth century, ladies used a whitening agent composed of carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide, which the body stored with each use, resulting in muscle paralysis or death. By the nineteenth century zinc oxide became widely used as a facial powder, replacing this more deadly mixture. Even in the early 1800s, we must ask the question: What price beauty? (Ideals of Female Beauty in the 1700 and 1800s from Geri Walton)
 
Hopefully, the red herring is not too obvious for those of you who devour mysteries. I have planned some twists and turns to the story, which I pray will keep it interesting. For example, in The Phantom of Pemberley, I play a bit more with the character of Anne de Bourgh. In Darcy’s Temptations, I gave Anne de Bourgh a life after Darcy’s desertion, but I found I did not like her much afterwards; and I wanted to like Anne. Therefore, in this one Anne finally discovers she has a spine and seeks love in all the wrong places before finding what is important in a relationship: a apt lesson for a woman well on the shelf by Regency standards.
 
One of the things I found in writing this book is I became quite interested in the character of Adam Lawrence, a very “major” minor character in The Phantom of Pemberley. Lawrence has developed into what Francis Henning is to author Victoria Alexander. He makes an appearance in eleven other of my works.  (Visit Adam’s #SupportingRole post HERE.) Therefore, I have written Adam’s story (His Irish Eve) about what happens to Lawrence in the future, six years after the close of The Phantom of Pemberley
 
In dreams, that voice calls to me and speaks my name. And do I dream again? For now I find the Phantom is there, inside my mind.
 JeffersPhantom
 
“It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality.” (Virginia Woolf)
Posted in British history, Georgian England, gothic and paranormal, Great Britain, historical fiction, history, Jane Austen, language choices, legends and myths, Living in the Regency, mystery, Regency era, Ulysses Press | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Love Between Persons of a Certain Age (or) Does the Couple Need to Be Young? a Guest Post from Don Jacobson

This post appeared on Austen Authors on 25 April, 2018. I found it quite interesting to think of “love stories” in novels also including those of a certain age, for I have written several such romances, including one coming out this October. Enjoy!!!

bennets.jpgI have been somewhat cranky over the past several days because The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and A Father’s Lament is slow going.  Most of this is rooted in that I am writing a bit of an espionage book. Yes there will be romance and there will be a ball. And, yes, there are the stories of Denis and Letty (Brouillard) Robard as well as Alois and Elizabeth (Darcy) Schiller.

But, the most important romance will be the rediscovered fervor between the elder Bennets…that which flared brightly in 1789 and slowly dimmed until by 1800…

As I previously have noted, however, Miss Austen did not fill out either of the elder Bennet’s characters. If I were to use them to advance the Bennet Wardrobe arc, I would have to build plausible pasts and realistic futures for both partners in the marriage.

There is a plot reason for this beyond the fact that I believe that Elizabeth Bennet’s observations of her parent’s loveless marriage—which shaped her firm resolution to only marry for the deepest love—were those of an adolescent girl who is utterly convinced of the veracity of her own conclusions (and who has met a teenager who was not that?). Austen never really explored the reason why Mr. Bennet (I have named him Thomas George) was attracted to Mrs. Bennet (Frances Lorinda Gardiner in the Wardrobe’s Universe) in the first place. We know that he was assumed to be a highly educated and bookish man. Are we to believe that he was also so socially inept—as is the trope of what might be termed as being the problem of all geeks, ancient and modern—that his head was turned by an opportunistic solicitor’s daughter? No, there had to be something more…her manner, her eyes, her joie de vivreAdmittedly, I stole this from Lydia because she has always been offered up as the daughter most like her mother.

mr mrs bennett.jpg Using an author’s authoritative voice, I have decided to let my readers know that I believe that Mr. Bennet—and Mrs. Bennet—married for love and not infatuation.

While it would have been logical to have Fanny Gardiner seeking to improve her station by snagging a landowner, that would have put her in the class of Caroline Bingley. Mrs. Bennet, while annoying, was never consciously despicable.

Would Edward Gardiner’s sister, the daughter of a sober legal man who somehow left the impression for his son that marrying for love was to be desired, have sought less than her brother?  As a daughter of a country solicitor—who, none-the-less, had to have received a lawyer’s education at one of the Inns in Town, although he may have clerked in St. Albans—she could have easily focused her physical charms on a son of one of her father’s professional colleagues without being seen as a social climber. Certainly her mother would have been urging her father to place her in front of suitable men, if Fanny’s exhortations about Bingley and Netherfield grew from her own juvenile experience. That individual could have been a London barrister or solicitor, either of whom would have been well-off and steps up from young Miss Gardiner’s rusticated roots.

Tom Bennet would have been a reach for young Fanny even if his mother, who likely would have objected to such a match even though she was only a country rector’s daughter herself, had not died in the fever of ’77. I note that many Austenesque writers have had Fanny entrapping Thomas through a staged compromise. These stories tend to cast Mrs. Bennet in an avaricious light, and she rarely moves beyond this awful image. I have never been satisfied with such a characterization because I wonder why Jane and Lizzy, the daughters most exposed to her nature, are shown to be paragons of gentle womanhood in these same works. T’is inconsistent…

However, I am recounting the story of the Bennet family in the Universe of the Wardrobe.

And so, using an author’s conceit, I have concluded that Frances Gardiner married for love. I determined that the young lady with the sky blue, near purple eyes, was entranced by the wry man with the hazel orbs.

Early on in “The Avenger,” I have taken the Canonical Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Bennet and turned them into humans with foibles rather than being served up as caricatures. I have spent some pages in the earlier books revealing why each parent acted in the manner they did after 1800. Mrs. Bennet’s story is found in the latter pages of Part 1 of “The Exile.” Mr. Bennet changed his behavior first in response to his wife’s depression after the awful summer of the Year Zero and later as her anxiety mounted. Then he responded to the instructions he received in the “reverse” Founder’s Letter delivered in “Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess.”

Mr-and-Mrs-Bennet-jane-austens-couples-14290539-360-282.jpg  I believe I am there. In order to rebuild Mr. Bennet’s respect for Fanny, I have portrayed the lady as a clever and practical observer of the world around her. Her fears of society’s treatment of her unmarried daughters after Mr. Bennet’s oft-anticipated death has, by this point in 1814, moderated considerably with the three marriages in 1811 as well as Mary’s betrothal to Mr. Benton who is off in Boston earning his second divinity degree. Now, t’is only left for her to see Kitty settled. And that, of course, is the underlying plot mover…Mrs. Bennet’s desire to see her daughter conflicting with Mr. Bennet’s knowledge that Kitty lives well over 120 years in the future. Except…

In order for Bennet to give Kitty, Jacques, and Schiller justice, he needs to have a confederate who knows him beyond words. This individual also must be utterly committed to the task. While Lord Thomas Fitzwilliam has every motivation to avenge his mother, he only met Mr. Bennet in July 1947. While the two men are of an age, Fitzwilliam does not appreciate the vagaries of Bennet’s weltanschauung. Likewise, he is in awe of his Grandfather. Even though “young” Thomas is the 12th Earl of Matlock, the Managing Director of the Trust, and “M,” he will never be more than a lieutenant to The Founder.

Who better to serve as co-consul than someone who shares the same Georgian/Regency discursive context—in addition to the deeper reaches of a spousal relationship. And, to do that, as I repeat myself, Tom Bennet needs to regain his respect for his wife as well as win back her heart.

This he accomplishes, I believe, in the early chapters of the next book in the Bennet Wardrobe, Volume Three, The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and A Father’s Lament.

Please enjoy this brief excerpt.

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This excerpt from a work-in-progress is (c)2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. No republication or other use of this material without the expressed written consent of the creator of this work is permitted. Published in the United States of America.

It is August 1, 1947. Mrs. Bennet has cut through Mr. Bennet’s prevarication about her current where/when. He has decided to read her into the secrets of the Wardrobe and the situation in which they find themselves.  Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have left Longbourn House to seek privacy atop Oakham Mount.

&&&&&

Chapter V

The path up the side of Oakham Mount gradually rose away from Longbourn’s fields and wound gently up through the ancient deciduous woodland. The undergrowth along the furrowed slopes bore testament to the benign neglect that had been the watchword for at least the last two decades. The economic calamities before and then after the most recent war had dictated different priorities for the current Master of Longbourn. That six-year long cataclysm had, itself, been a great winnowing that had stolen away and never repatriated great tranches of young men who might otherwise have been put to work by a competent forester clearing away the brush and juvenile trees that burdened the hump. Thus, the timberland had undertaken that which it had always: exercising its wooded privilege of entropy by reclaiming that which Man had sought to turn to another purpose.

The two figures toiling up the slope would have appeared, to a Twentieth Century observer, to be play-actors stepping directly from the sound stages at Gainsborough Studios in Shepherd’s Bush.[i] Their quaint and stifling garb—she in a long-sleeved muslin gown, gloves, and a broad-brimmed straw sunbonnet and he decked out in pantaloons, waistcoat, and topcoat…as well as his planter’s hat—were redolent of a sesquicentennial celebration honoring Jervis’ great victory.[ii] The mid-summer heat simmered in full intensity above the leafy canopy. However, the couple was shielded from its glaring worst by shadows thrown by massive branches flying up and away from equally colossal trunks. The air beneath eased and freshened as the pair moved further up and away from the manor house now hidden by thickened forest. The great arbor dwarfed both the Master and his Mistress in all but the enormity of their contemplations.

“I always wondered how Lizzy could possibly wear out boots and slippers at the pace which she did,” gasped Fanny Bennet, “And, now I know. That girl was up top of this knob at least five days out of seven! And this trail…t’is new to me, but, and please correct me if I am mistaken, this path is surely age-old when you consider how deeply it has been worn through that ledge up ahead.”

Bennet marveled at Mrs. Bennet’s powers of observation for he had never considered her able to leap beyond household matters where her knowledge and management skills were unparalleled. Yet here she offered another compelling argument against his earlier estimation of her mind. This was no foolish woman, but rather someone with a laywoman’s appreciation of natural philosophy and longue durée history.[iii]

He, himself, had penned a monograph in which he had employed the findings from excavations of the ruins atop Oakham.[iv] His colleagues at Cambridge had been perplexed to find old strongholds or watchtowers using even older stockades as foundations; stacking fortifications like so many pancakes.[v] Bennet had demonstrated, through the use of recovered artifacts, that the Romans as well as certain predecessor Celts had taken advantage of the full-circle field of vision afforded from the crest, effectively pushing the history of the Meryton region back by 2,000 years.

Thus, Fanny had the right of it, almost as if she had read his essay. Not only had the dainty booted feet of Elizabeth Rose Bennet trod this path, but also those sporting medieval English clogs and imperial Roman sandals. Perhaps the leathery bare feet of Wessex warriors were the first to ascend the chalky slopes. Oakham’s prominence above Longbourn’s rolling fields gave its owner control of the reaches of the Mimram Valley as it coursed through the alluvial deposits between the shire and the Thames.

Bennet stopped for a moment—as much to catch his breath as to respond to his wife—and asked, “Have you been listening at the door as Lizzy and I talked about archaeology?”

At his wife’s look of reproof, he raised his hands in defense and quickly added, “I was simply teasing, my dear. I was offering what turned out to be, I am afraid, a backhanded compliment. I am afraid, Fanny, that I will have to relearn proper behavior. I have been lax, and you have been the victim.

“Let me try a ‘forehand’ compliment.

“As you said, you have never climbed Oakham through all the years of your life. Yet, you just offered a sophisticated reading of the apparent antiquity of the path beneath our feet.

“You may recall my journey up to Cambridge in ’03. T’was then that I delivered my paper Considerations On the History and Pre-History of the Mimram Valley in Roman and Celtic Hertford to the fellows at Trinity.[vi] You may have heard me mention the late Professor Gibbons. I thought to revise his assessment of the historiography of the scholars of the last century…”

His voice tailed off when he almost could hear the <click> as she rolled her eyes in response to his rambling soliloquy. Bennet glanced expectantly at her. Those blue to near purple orbs peered up at him from beneath the brim of her hat; said lip fetchingly bowed down beside her ears by a broad azure ribbon tied neatly beneath her chin. A small smile played across her lips and showed a hint of even teeth.

She asked coquettishly, “And the compliment?”

Bennet stammered, having lost his ability to speak when she had speared him with those sparkling beams emanating from her orbs, “Uh…I meant to say…that…you sounded just like Elizabeth. Oh, no, not that…rather that Lizzy sounded like you! No…uuuh.”

He stopped talking, and, using his long legs, loped off up the hill a few paces, leaving Mrs. Bennet standing where she had halted. He then arrested his flight, and froze in place, his back to the lady, one fisted hand planted in the small of his back, the thumb worrying the forefinger as he sought to regain his composure. Mrs. Bennet, using the wisdom earned through a quarter century of managing her husband, waited for his assured return.

After two or three minutes, during which she closed her eyes and focused on the sounds of the birds calling to one another across the forest, he rejoined her.

At first, a solemn Bennet faced his wife. Then the façade cracked to allow the wry Thomas to escape. He had begun to smile before long. Finally, he spoke to her.

“I thought I had become immune to your arts and allurements so long has it been since I have appreciated you as an object of desire. Yet, when you turn those lighthouses of your soul…your incredible eyes…my way, I nearly forget how to breathe.

“Miss Frances, for now I address you as such because you sparkle much like the girl who poured me tea in her mother’s parlor facing out onto Meryton’s High Street, you are nonpareil. You are an original. You are the woman without whom I would not have become half the man I am today.

“Wait, that statement is not well put for you may believe I am implying that I became the indolent man I am because of you.

“On the contrary, I would have only become more lackadaisical and more withdrawn in my own anguish and pain if you had not found your way Home from whatever ring of Hades to which you had consigned yourself after that horrible day. Only the good Lord knows what would have happened to our girls if you had withered like a bloom way past its prime.

“Even though you were distracted, you found a path to becoming the Mistress of my house and the truest, fiercest, and, might I suggest, only defender of our daughters.”

He paused, grief coloring his hazel eyes as he recalled all those years he had closed his heart to the woman he had loved for nearly a dozen before.

In a voice thick with emotion, Bennet continued, “As you so aptly noted earlier, I have the ability to convince myself of the veracity of my acts. And, upon reflection, that is what I did with you.

“T’was easier to ascribe your uneven moods to nerves or silliness. That allowed me to ignore my responsibility to you—for did I not vow to protect you that day you changed your surname to mine? However, what did I do to help you ride the waves of loss? Nothing…absolutely nothing!”

He shook himself like a sheepdog as if doing so would rearrange his turbulent feelings around his longish frame.

“Frances Lorinda, you are the soul that makes my life meaningful. I had forgotten that singular fact and, instead, began to find all the ways I could moderate and diminish my respect for you because I had lost my own self-respect. And convincing myself that you had a second-rate mind was the worst of my transgressions!

“True, you are unschooled as are almost all women in England. And, unlike Madame de Staël, you never had the advantage of a parent who would see to your informal education.[vii] That you bravely entered Longbourn, the estate of a Cambridge don, as the younger daughter of a country solicitor, and meekly submitted to instruction from first Sally Hill and then our current Mrs. Hill, speaks volumes about your modesty and self-effacement.

“Every step of the way you never asked what was best for you, only your family and Longbourn. I could not be prouder of you or your list of accomplishments that, I assure you, would put any female of the ton to shame. I imagine they would succumb to fits of vapors if they had to undertake half of what you have since ’89!

“Now, all that remains is for me to beg your forgiveness, and pray that I will live long enough to earn it.”

There amongst the softly swaying blades growing in the shade of Oakham’s boughs, Mrs. Bennet forgave Mr. Bennet in the tenderness of her wifely embrace.


[i] From the filming of, perhaps, The Young Mr. Pitt (1942). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Young_Mr_Pitt accessed 3/31/18.

[ii] The Battle of Cape St. Vincent (February 1797) is considered to be one of six fleet actions (the others being the Glorious First of June—1794, Howe; Camperdown—1797, Duncan; The Nile—1798, Nelson; Copenhagen—1801, Parker/Nelson/Graves; and Trafalgar—1805, Nelson) across the 25-year long war that confirmed British naval supremacy and enforced the Blockade against Napoleon’s Continental System.

[iii] See Fernand Braudel who argued that the regularities of social life whose change is almost imperceptible except over vast stretches of centuries. http://www.sunypress.edu/pdf/62451.pdf

[iv] Please see Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess, Ch. XII.

[v] Not an unusual situation in human construction. See the ruins of Troy discovered by von Schliemann in the 1870s where he found over one dozen distinct cities built atop the ruins of the previous town.

[vi] T. M. Bennet, MA, unpublished mss, 1803, Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge University.

[vii] A leading French intellectual of the Napoleonic era. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germaine_de_Sta%C3%ABl

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Very “Real” Estate: Axminster

Axminster is a market town and civil parish of about 6,000 on the eastern border of Devon. The town is built upon a hill and overlooks the River Axe. The town dates back to around 300 BC. There was once a Roman fort on the crossroads at Woodbury Farm, south of the present town center. Axminster is one of only 15 British town on the Peutinger Map (also referred to a Peutinger’s Tabula or Peutinger’s Table). It is an illustrated itinerarium displaying the road network of the Roman Empire. It is a 13th C copy of a Roman original, drawn upon parchment. Aixminster lies on two major Roman roads: the Fosse Way from Lincoln to Seaton and the Dorchester to Exeter road. 

Part_of_Tabula_Peutingeriana

Tabula Peutingeriana (section)—top to bottom: Dalmatian coast, Adriatic Sea, southern Italy, Sicily, African Mediterranean coast ~ Public Domain ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabula_Peutingeriana#/media/File:Part_of_Tabula_Peutingeriana.jpg

Aixminster was registered in the 1086 Domesday Book as “Ascanmynster,” meaning a monastery located near the river Axe. In 1210, the town was granted the privilege of holding a weekly cattle market. This weekly market continued until the 2006 UK foot-and-mouth breakout. The town was on the London to Exeter coaching route, and in 1760, a coaching inn named The George Hotel opened on the corner of Lyme and Chard streets. Nearly 20 coaches a day stopped at The George. 

 

 

The town has lended its name to a type of carpets, which are known worldwide. The carpets are consider among England’s finest. They were first made (1775) at Court House near the town church. The carpets in those days were hand tufted, and, traditionally, the completion of a carpet was marked by a peal of bells from the parish church. The bells celebrated the hard work put into the carpet, and the town folk would flock to the workshop to have a look at the latest production.

The inspiration for Thomas Whitty’s founding of Axminster Carpets is uncertain. Some claim he was inspired by watching several French carpetmakers at work in Fulham. Others say he saw a large Turkish carpet at the market in London’s Cheapside and was compelled to learn more of the workmanship. It is said he returned to Axminster and went to work creating a piece of similar quality. He invented and built a new type of loom to permit the hand knotting of carpets. Axminster carpets graced the floors of the Brighton Royal Pavilion, Saltram House, Warwick Castle, and Chatsworth House. It is said King George III and Queen Charlotte purchases Axminster carpets and even toured the small factory from which they came. 

axminster-19th-c-george-iii

George III Axminster Carpet, England, by Thomas Whitty, late 18th century ~ This enormous late 18th century Axminster carpet was made by Whitty for the Music Room at Powderham Castle, 1798. Image @Eloge de l’Art par Alain Truong ~ https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/samuel-whitty/

 

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Large Axminster carpet, late 18th century. From Cowdray Park and Dunecht House, At Cowdray Park, West Sussex. Image @Christie’s. https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/samuel-whitty/

 

According to Axminster Heritage, “In order to support his young family, Whitty travelled to London to seek a fresh trade. Here, in the warehouse of a William Freke, he saw some carpets imported from Turkey. He marveled not only at their vibrant colours but also their size and the fact that they were seamless. For a long time he puzzled as to how they could be made.

A Turkey Carpet

After much thought, Whitty had some ideas that he wished to try out. On Easter Fair day that year (25 April 1755), as his employees were away at the fair, he conducted some trials and succeeded in making an eight-inch square of ‘Turkey’ carpet. Although excited by his success he realised that he did not know of a loom that would enable him to make them economically.

“Many years later, in a 1790 letter to his sons, Whitty described how he overcame this difficulty. By chance he saw an advertisement for a carpet manufactur- ing company in Fulham owned by Peter Parisot, a French immigrant. He tells how he went to an inn close to the factory with the hope of making the acquaintance of some of the workers. He started talking with a man whose son was an apprentice at the carpet factory and, through him, was able to gain access to the works. Whitty wrote: “Accordingly, I obtained a view of everything I wanted, by which every remaining difficulty was removed from my mind and I was thoroughly satisfied.”

“Although he had seen how to make his carpets at the Fulham factory, he knew that the carpets made there were much too expensive and a cheaper method of production needed to be found. Although he reduced the number of knots per square inch, the labour cost was still too high. Thus, when he started to make his first carpet on Midsummer’s Day 1755, it was his own children, under the watchful eye of their aunt Betty Harvey, who were his first workforce. Throughout his life, Whitty employed mainly girls of between ten and seventeen years. His competitors employed mainly men, so not only was he able to gain the advantage of lower labour costs, but the girls’ fingers were much more nimble than those of the men, giving him an edge in productivity.

“Thomas Whitty’s first carpet was to have been bought by a Mr Cook of Beaminster but was seen by the Countess of Shaftsbury, who insisted on having it herself. Further orders followed and, in 1757 the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (the forerunner of the Royal Society for the Arts) ran a competition for the best value carpet submitted to them. Although the carpet submitted by Thomas Moore of Moorfields was judged to be the finest carpet – being made of the highest quality materials – it was very expensive (forty guineas). The one made by Thomas Whitty was deemed the best value in proportion to its price (£15), and the prize was divided between them.

“Whitty’s prize-winning entry was bought by a William Crompton who, putting it on display in his warehouse in Charing Cross, received so many enquiries that he asked Whitty to supply as many carpets as possible for him to sell. In the following year a similar competition was held and again Whitty shared the prize – this time with a Claude Passavant of Exeter. Interestingly, Peter Parisot moved his Fulham factory to Exeter in 1755 and the following year sold it to Passavant. As Whitty had observed in Fulham, the carpets made in Exeter, although very fine, were much too expensive. (The one submitted for the competition was valued at eighty guineas).”

For some 80 years, until a fire in 1828 destroyed the weaving looms, Axminster produced the best hand-knotted carpets in Europe, and they made them with a small staff and only one workshop. Even today, some of the best homes have Axminster carpets. The largest of the carpets produced was for the Sultan of Turkey’s Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Made in 1822, it measures 74 feet by 52 feet. Alas, the palace is now a museum, but no one can account for the missing carpet. 

In 1835, Samuel Rampson Whitty, the grandson of the founder, declared bankruptcy, having never recovered from the fire seven years earlier. Blackmores of Wilton, near Salisbury, bought the remaining stock and looms and extended their business to include hand-knotted carpets, which are still called “Axminsters.”

 

 

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