Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” – Who Are Catherine Morland and the Tilneys?

What do we know of Catherine Morland and the Tilneys in Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”?

Title page from the original 1818 edition - Public Domain - Lilly Library, Indiana University

Title page from the original 1818 edition – Public Domain – Lilly Library, Indiana University

Much of the description of the Abbey and of the Tilneys come to us from Austen’s heroine, Catherine Morland.

Catherine comes to Bath with dreams of highwaymen and Gothic heroes. She is a 17-year-old girl who loves reading Gothic novels. Something of a tomboy in her childhood, her looks are described by the narrator as “pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty.” Catherine lacks experience and sees her life as if she were a heroine in a Gothic novel. She sees the best in people, and to begin with always seems ignorant of other people’s malign intentions. She is the devoted sister of James Morland, and she is good-natured and frank and often makes insightful comments on the inconsistencies and insincerities of people around her, usually to Henry Tilney, and thus is unintentionally sarcastic and funny. (He is delighted when she says, “I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”) She is also seen as a humble and modest character, becoming exceedingly happy when she receives the smallest compliment. Catherine’s character grows throughout the novel, as she gradually becomes a real heroine, learning from her mistakes when she is exposed to the outside world in Bath. She sometimes makes the error of applying Gothic novels to real life situations; for example, later in the novel she begins to suspect General Tilney of having murdered his deceased wife. Catherine soon learns that Gothic novels are really just fiction and do not always correspond with reality.

imagesGeneral Tilney boasts of owning as “considerable a landed property as any man in the country.”
The general is a commoner, not a member of the peerage. He is a man deeply concerned with politics and national affairs. Although Austen never tells us to what political the general belongs, we know he is a party man. The general studies political pamphlets late into the evenings. Austen never expresses her party alignment in her novels, but we can assume that General Tilney represents the Whigs. Austen, herself, was the daughter of an Anglican cleric and came from a Tory family. Many believe Catherine’s marrying of Henry Tilney is an example of moral reclamation.

General Tilney expects his children and household to conform to strict standards. He despises those who do not adhere to punctuality and pre-described standards. He is overly concerned with material wealth. Early on, he caters to Catherine when he thinks she is to inherit the Allens’ wealth and downright caustic when he discovers she is not wealthy. What is ironic is the general believes John Thorpe in both cases. What does this tell us about the general? The general behaves badly, but in a manner that the real world would recognize. He is not the Gothic villain Catherine assumes him to be (He did not murder his wife.), but he is a snob and a bore. He represents the social concerns of Austen’s time. Shmoop 

The scene where General Tilney and John Thorpe choose to keep company in the smoking room is characteristic of Austen’s plots. The general represents pride, avarice, vengeance, and gluttony. Henry Tilney is a prig who constantly corrects both his sister and Catherine. Thorpe is a vain scoundrel, who practices covetousness, rapacity, and materialism. How often in Austen do we see the heroine being wooed by the bounder and finding “happiness” with the prig? The Watsons, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility.

Henry and Elinor Tilney

Henry and Elinor Tilney

Eleanor Tilney is the perfect Gothic heroine: has the mother who passed away, possesses a strange and singular father, dwells within the abbey’s setting, and is a star-crossed lover. Yet, even so, Eleanor is a bit boring. Is this Austen making fun of the Gothic novel? Eleanor’s character is static; she does not change, where Catherine Morland is the dynamic one. Catherine learns from her hard lessons and improves. Eleanor is also the foil for the vivacious Isabella Thorpe. The more-mature Eleanor becomes the model that Catherine chooses to emulate for Eleanor is well-read, rational, and able to keep up with Henry’s wit (a skill Catherine must master if she and Henry are to know happiness). While Isabella is abandoned by Captain Tilney, Eleanor knows the reward of claiming her long-standing love, a viscount.

char_lg_frederickCaptain Frederick Tilney is a seducer of women. (Ever notice how Austen has such a character in many of her novels?) Henry says of his brother (to Catherine), Frederick “is a lively, and perhaps sometimes a thoughtless young man; he [Frederick] has had about a week’s acquaintance with your friend [Isabella], and he has known her engagement almost as long as he has known her” (19.26) Frederick destroys Isabella’s engagement to James Morland, while ruining her reputation. The captain represents Society’s dual standards for behavior for men and women. He also adds to the mystique of the Tilney family: Like father, Like son. Frederick’s actions make Henry and Eleanor more sympathetic characters and his ruining of Isabelle does the same for that character, who readers sometimes see as selfish and greedy and conniving.

Henry Tilney spends a great deal of time “educating” Catherine. He teases her about her ignorance and naiveté. He instructs her in the ways of Society. He speaks to Catherine of art and literature. We never know for certain whether Henry is a bit of a chauvinist or not. He really does not seem to hold women with much regard. Henry is seen treating his sister Eleanor in the same way as he does Catherine. Henry is the voice of the narrator of the piece, but he is also a character in the story whose actions/speech satirizes everything.

“Henry displays a lot of humorous arrogance and very ironic humor towards Eleanor and Catherine, and women in general. In fact, Henry frequently provides humorous commentary on some of the book’s major themes, such as language and gender. But while Henry comments on these thematic issues, the arrogance (possibly fake, possibly genuine) with which he delivers his commentary is itself a thematic statement. In other words, Henry’s personality makes important statements about themes alongside, and sometimes independently of, Henry’s dialogue. And Henry’s dialogue is often difficult to interpret. Take this address to Eleanor and Catherine:

He laughed, and added, “Come, shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No – I will be noble. I will prove myself a man, no less by the generosity of my soul than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours.” (14.25) Shmoop 

We know nothing about the Tilneys from Austen’s description of the house or the family’s history. In “Perusasion” we are treated to a brief history of the Elliot family, and in “Mansfield Park” Austen provides us a history of the house, but that is the extent of Austen’s “background information.”

imgres.jpg This is Catherine’s first impression of Northanger Abbey
As they drew near the end of their journey, her impatience for a sight of the abbey — for some time suspended by his conversation on subjects very different — returned in full force, and every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows. But so low did the building stand, that she found herself passing through the great gates of the lodge into the very grounds of Northanger, without having discerned even an antique chimney.

She knew not that she had any right to be surprised, but there was a something in this mode of approach which she certainly had not expected. To pass between lodges of a modern appearance, to find herself with such ease in the very precincts of the abbey, and driven so rapidly along a smooth, level road of fine gravel, without obstacle, alarm, or solemnity of any kind, struck her as odd and inconsistent. She was not long at leisure, however, for such considerations. A sudden scud of rain, driving full in her face, made it impossible for her to observe anything further, and fixed all her thoughts on the welfare of her new straw bonnet; and she was actually under the abbey walls, was springing, with Henry’s assistance, from the carriage, was beneath the shelter of the old porch, and had even passed on to the hall, where her friend and the general were waiting to welcome her, without feeling one awful foreboding of future misery to herself, or one moment’s suspicion of any past scenes of horror being acted within the solemn edifice. The breeze had not seemed to waft the sighs of the murdered to her; it had wafted nothing worse than a thick mizzling rain; and having given a good shake to her habit, she was ready to be shown into the common drawing–room, and capable of considering where she was.

An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the general talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved — the form of them was Gothic — they might be even casements — but every pane was so large, so clear, so light! To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stone–work, for painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs, the difference was very distressing.

The general, perceiving how her eye was employed, began to talk of the smallness of the room and simplicity of the furniture, where everything, being for daily use, pretended only to comfort, etc.; flattering himself, however, that there were some apartments in the Abbey not unworthy her notice — and was proceeding to mention the costly gilding of one in particular, when, taking out his watch, he stopped short to pronounce it with surprise within twenty minutes of five! This seemed the word of separation, and Catherine found herself hurried away by Miss Tilney in such a manner as convinced her that the strictest punctuality to the family hours would be expected at Northanger.

Returning through the large and lofty hall, they ascended a broad staircase of shining oak, which, after many flights and many landing–places, brought them upon a long, wide gallery. On one side it had a range of doors, and it was lighted on the other by windows which Catherine had only time to discover looked into a quadrangle, before Miss Tilney led the way into a chamber, and scarcely staying to hope she would find it comfortable, left her with an anxious entreaty that she would make as little alteration as possible in her dress.

Posted in British history, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Changing One’s Name During the Regency

I wish I could recall where I encountered this information, but I cannot. Therefore, I must apologize up front if someone shared it with me, and I am not giving them credit or whether I read it in a Facebook post. 

41Mu6hBzOXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg The question was whether a person could legally change his/her name during the Regency Period [and I would assume during the Georgian Period, as a whole]. A book was suggested: An Index to Changes of Names: Under Authority of Act of Parliament or Royal Licence and Including Irregular Changes from I George III to 64 Victoria. 1760-1901. [ William Phillimore Watts Phillimore and Edward Alexander Fry, Forgotten Books, 17 October 2017] It is one of those books that is reproduced from the original artifact, meaning it is in the public domain.

Here is the book blurb for the book from Amazon: The sources from which this index has been compiled are several. Primarily it is based on the Changes of Name by Royal licence. For this purpose the volumes of the London Gazette, and also the Dublin Gazette from 1760 to 1901 were examined, but it must be remembered that not all Royal licences are advertised in the Gazettes, though the vast majority are so advertised for obvious reasons of convenience, and often also in the Times and other newspapers. Registration at Heralds’ College only, is a sufficient compliance with the Royal licence granted. 

Contrary to popular belief, it has always been possible to change your name without having to register the change with any official body. It is still perfectly legal for anyone over the age of 16 to start using a new name at any time, as long as they are not doing so for a fraudulent or illegal reason.

According to The National Archives: “The Index to Changes of Name for UK and Ireland 1760-1901 by WP Phillimore and Edward Alex Fry is made up of information from the following sources:

  • Private Acts of Parliament
  • Royal Licences published in the London and Dublin Gazettes
  • notices of changes of name published in The Times after 1861 with a few notices from other newspapers
  • registers of the Lord Lyon [King of Arms] where Scottish changes of name were commonly recorded
  • records in the office of the Ulster King at Arms
  • some private information

It does not include

  • changes by Royal licence not advertised in the London Gazette
  • changes by deed poll that were enrolled but not advertised in The Times

First, let us address those “Under Authority of Parliament” and those under “Royal Licence.” What did that mean? Staying with The National Archives, we learn: “

Royal licences to a change of name were common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in later years would be issued where:

  • an inheritance depended on someone taking the deceased’s name
  • marriage settlement required a husband to adopt his wife’s name
  • a change of name also required a change to a coat of arms

Information relating to Royal licences can be found in:

  • The National Archives
  • The London Gazette
  • The Royal College of Arms

“The National Archives holds a small number of warrants for Royal licences to changes of name in the following series of records (please note they are not searchable online):

  • SP 44 for the period up to 1782
  • HO 38 from 1782 to February 1868
  • HO 142 from February 1868 onwards

“There is also some correspondence describing individual examples of changes of name in:

  • HO 45 for the period 1841-1871
  • HO 144 for the period 1868-1959

“The London Gazette can be searched by name on The Gazette website for any references to changes of name.

“Some changes of name were made by a private Act of Parliament – usually for the same reasons as those made by Royal licence (see above). This was fairly common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but since 1907 has only been used once.

“Acts of Parliament are published in printed volumes arranged by year. The National Archives library has a set as do some other libraries. It may be helpful to:

“For more information on where to see copies of private Acts click on the link and scroll to point 6. The Parliamentary Archives also has records relating to change of name by Act of Parliament. See their website for details of how to visit.”

 Wikipedia’s article on Name Change tells us: “From the mediaeval age to the 19th century, the era of family dynasties, name changes were frequently demanded of heirs in the last wills and testaments, legacies and bequests, of members of the gentry and nobility who were the last males of their bloodline. Such persons frequently selected a younger nephew or cousin as the heir to their estates on condition that he should adopt the surname and armorials of the legator in lieu of his patronymic. Thus the ancient family otherwise destined to extinction would appear to continue as a great dynasty in the making. Such changes were also more rarely demanded by marriage settlements, for example where the father of a sole daughter and heiress demanded that as a condition of his daughter’s dowry her husband should adopt his father-in-law’s surname and arms. Thus the progeny of the marriage would continue the otherwise extinct family’s name. Such name changes were generally only demanded of younger sons, where an elder brother was available to inherit the paternal estates under primogeniture and carry on the name and arms abandoned by the younger brother. Such name changes were effected by obtaining a private Act of Parliament or by obtaining a Royal Licence. A less radical procedure adopted from the 18th century onwards was for the legator or settlor to demand only that the legatee or beneficiary should adopt his surname in addition to his patronymic, not in place of it, which gave rise to the ‘double-barrelled,’ even the ‘triple-barrelled name, frequently parodied in literature as epitomising the wealthy ‘squirearchy’ with an embarrassment of inherited estates.

Well known examples are:

  • Russell to Gorges (14th century). Ralph IV Gorges, 2nd Baron Gorges, died without issue in 1331. In an effort to preserve his family name and arms he made one of his younger nephews his heir, on condition that he should adopt the name and arms of Gorges. This nephew was William Russell, the second son of his second sister Eleanor de Gorges who had married Sir Theobald Russell (d.1341) of Kingston Russell, Dorset. The event is referred to in one of the earliest heraldic law cases brought concerning English armory, Warbelton v. Gorges in 1347. 
  • Smithson to Percy (18th century). Sir Hugh Smithson, 4th Baronet (1715-1786) (c.1714-`786) in 1740 married Lady Elizabeth Seymour, daughter and sole heiress of Algernon Seymour, 7th Duke of Somerset, and granddaughter of Lady Elizabeth Percy (d.1722), daughter and sole heiress of Josceline Percy, 11th Earl of Northumberland (1644-1670). In 1740, by a private Act of Parliament, Smithson changed his surname to Percy and inherited the title Earl of Northumberland and was later created Duke of Northumberland.  

edwardknight-234x300.jpgFor those of you who relate everything I write to Austen, I offer Edward Knight. Edward Austen was the only Austen brother not to have a profession. Early in the 1780’s he was adopted by Mr. Austen’s Patron, the rich but childless Thomas and Catherine Knight. Instead of going off to University, He was sent on the “grand tour” of continental Europe in 1786-1788, and eventually inherited their estate of Godmersham, Kent, and took the last name of “Knight”. 

James_Edward_Austen-Leigh.jpg austen-leigh-james_edward-memoir-B20137-53.jpgA Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1869, is the earliest full-length biography of Jane Austen, and the only one written by someone she knew. Its author, James Edward Austen-Leigh (1798-1894), was her nephew, the son of her eldest brother James and his second wife Mary Lloyd. The “Leigh” faction of Jane Austen’s family comes from her mother’s side, Cassandra, youngest daughter of the Rev. Thomas Leigh, of the family of Leighs of Warwickshire, who, having been a fellow of All Souls, held the College living of Harpsden, near Henley-upon-Thames. Mr. Thomas Leigh was a younger brother of Dr. Theophilus Leigh, a personage well known at Oxford in his day, and his day was not a short one, for he lived to be ninety, and held the Mastership of Balliol College for above half a century. 

Changing one’s name was generally as easy as simply telling people to “call me Jones instead of Smith” sort of thing. The name couldn’t be blasphemous or profane , nor could one change one’s name to that of princess or prince. [Do you remember on the episode of “Friends,” after Phoebe marries Mike, she decides to change her name. At the department, she learns that she can change it to anything she likes. Her new name becomes Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Mike is not too happy about this, and decides to retaliate to this by changing his name to Crap Bag. Finally Phoebe becomes aware of the mistake she made and decides to rectify it, changing her name to Phoebe Buffay-Hannigan.]

However, when a legacy/inheritance was involved, a more formal means was practiced, for a person’s name was considered part of his identity and was not to be changed in a casual manner. It was given and recorded at the sacrament of Baptism/Christening, and it was confirmed at Confirmation. A change in a baptismal name could result in a marriage being invalidated. That being said, the bishop sometimes changed names at Confirmation if he found them displeasing. One could not change his/her name in order to commit fraud or to cheat one’s creditors or to commit bigamy.

Nancy Mayer at Regency Researcher provides a variety of actual name changes during the Regency and earlier Victorian years. “The prime reason people changed their names was to receive a legacy. That sort of name change cost £50. Though people often substituted one surname for another one, they quite as frequently just added a name to the surname they already had. Earl of Jersey added ‘Child’ to the family surname in compliance with the will of Robert Child who was grandfather of Lady Jersey. Even Byron added Noel to his surname. He and Lord Holland incorrectly added names to their titles as well, probably in an excess of caution as to fulfilling the terms of some will. Fanny Burney wrote a novel based on a legacy to a girl of a tidy fortune when she married if her husband would change his name to that of the benefactor. The man who said he loved her refused to change his name so left her prey to all sorts of problems.

“Most people were willing to change or add a surname  if the change came with money.In Jane Austen’s family there are the Austen Knights and Austen Leighs. Byron added Noel to Byron and Jersey added Child to Villiers. Some families had four surnames. Some families did change surname to appear more aristocratic or sophisticated. A Davy Jones , tired of jokes about his lover or  the ocean, changed his name to David St.Paul. One man– a Thomas J Jones had his son’s name changed from Vere Jones to Vere Jones Vere. Deadman changed to Dedman. The name given a child at baptism wasn’t supposed to be changed except that the Bishop could do so at confirmation if he felt the name was inappropriate. Some thought that a person could only marry by a baptismal or legally changed name. The courts  treated each case separately.”

As noted above, there was a fee for a name change that could, literally, run into the hundreds of pounds. If one changed the name for one’s own pleasure one paid £10. If a will or other document required it, the price went up to £50. Then there was the cost of the advertisements and recording the change in the College of Arms.

The Regency Researcher also explains: “One obtained a royal license to change one’s name by making a application through the Herald’s office. It had to be drawn up with care so as to achieve the exact name requested.
The Royal license is given under the Sign Manual and privy Seal and is countersigned by the Secretary of State for the Home department. The cost was 10£ when changed for one’s own reason’s but the stamp tax paid for a change according to a will was , as I mentioned, 50£. Those fees were the stamp duty. Other fees were charged. 
£ 34 to have the name recorded  by the College of heralds. 
£ 10 to the Exchequer 
£ 2 2s to advertise the name change in the Gazette 
66£ additional if a coat of arms is issued at the time.”

A deed poll is a legal contract involving only one party. Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who issues the document to the person changing his name. The solicitor may keep a copy on file, but it is unlikely to be a certified copy, and the file is unlikely to be kept for more than five years. The person changing his name can ask his solicitor to ‘enrol’ the deed poll, for safekeeping, in the Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature (formerly the Close Rolls of Chancery). However, this is not free, and most people decide against it, making it more difficult to trace a name for genealogy purposes. 

Research by any of the heralds was an extra charge  as was research into antecedents for coats of  arms. So, a person needing to change a name to receive a legacy had to pay around £100 if he already had a coat of arms.


Jane Austen 

The National Archives

Regency Researcher




Posted in Act of Parliament, British history, customs and tradiitons, family, Georgian England, history, Inheritance, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, peerage, real life tales, Regency era, research, titles of aristocracy, tradtions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The “Feejee Mermaid,” Another P. T. Barnum Hoax

I have always been a Hugh Jackman fan, first for his musical performance, and, then, because he portrayed my favorite X-man, James “Logan” Howlett, on a string of Marvel Universe films. Therefore, I dearly loved the film, “The Greatest Showman.” [My grandkids know all the words to the music in this film, and they each have his/her favorite.]

What fascinated me about the film and the character of P. T. Barnum was how easily and expertly he fooled potential customers. Some will argue such is because their was not widespread media, as we have today. Yet, we all likely know at least one person who has fallen for some sort of scam or misinformation, despite how widespread our media outlets may be. We live with the “World” Wide Web, and we are just as easily fooled these days as were people in New York in the 1840s.

https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/feejee-mermaid ~ Gift of the Heirs of David Kimball. Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology, PM #97-39-70/72853 © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Take the “Feejee Mermaid,” for example. According to the Peabody Museum, “While scholars struggled to establish scientific authority and the value of knowledge based on systematic evidence and logic, showman P.T. Barnum (1810-1891) made a fortune stoking curiosity about the speculative and the singular. Barnum’s fame and fortune began in 1842 when he opened his “American Museum” in New York City and exhibited the “Feejee Mermaid,” ostensibly from the non-existent “London Lyceum of Natural History.”

“In reality, Barnum leased the “mermaid” from his friend Moses Kimball, owner of the Boston Museum, who purchased it from the son of a Boston sea captain. When Kimball’s collections were transferred to the Peabody Museum after a fire in 1899, they included the ‘mermaid’ seen here. It is now known that Japanese craftsmen fabricated mermaids by joining the bodies of monkeys and fish, although the head and torso of this example are made from papier-mâché.”

Barnum’s hoax became reality when, in 1842, Barnum manipulated the New York Herald and two other newspapers to publish exclusive articles about these elusive mermaids. How did he accomplish this task? First, using numerous pseudonyms, he wrote to various newspapers in the New York area and told them of an amazing discovery in Fiji, obviously, a place too far removed for anyone to check the authenticity of the stories. Then, he convinced one of his employees to pose as a naturalist named “Dr. Griffin,” who then presented appropriate “credit” to the “reality” of this display. After that, Barnum had pamphlets printed and distributed to hotels, business, small shops, and mercantiles to spread the word of the Feejee Mermaid. It worked. Soon after Barnum’s original display, sideshows all over the world started “finding” similar mermaids. Research has suggested that the original was made as early as 1822 by Japanese sailors. That almost 200-year-old oddity was supposedly lost in a fire, but a few places still claim to have the original “true” mermaid.

Nearly 100 years later, Robert Ripley displayed the mermaid as a debunked hoax in his New York City Odditorium. The brain-child of P.T. Barnum, the Fiji mermaid, was nothing more than the torso of a monkey sewn to the back half of a large fish.

Unlike images of mermaids in folklore and popular culture, such mermaids were unattractive, often described as hideous. In his autobiography, Barnum described the mermaid as “an ugly dried-up, black-looking diminutive specimen, about 3 feet long. Its mouth was open, its tail turned over, and its arms thrown up, giving it the appearance of having died in great agony.”

Other Sources:

Barnum on the FeJee Mermaid, The Life of P. T. Barnum, Written by Himself, 1855

The FeeJee Mermaid Exhibit

Harvard’s FeeJee Mermaid (on YouTube)

Fiji Mermaid

The Lost Museum


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Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” – Literary References Found Within

Title page from the original 1818 edition - Public Domain - Lilly Library, Indiana University

Title page from the original 1818 edition – Public Domain – Lilly Library, Indiana University

Previously, I looked at the history of the writing of Austen’s “first” and “last” novel. Today, we will spend a bit of time with the themes addressed, literary references, etc. Later, we will have a closer look at the main characters in a spoof of the 18th Century Gothic novel. 

Major Themes
The intricacies and tedium of high society, particularly partner selection.
The conflicts of marriage for love and marriage for property.
Life lived as if in a Gothic novel, filled with danger and intrigue, and the obsession with all things Gothic.
The dangers of believing life is the same as fiction.
The maturation of the young into sceptical adulthood, the loss of imagination, innocence and good faith.
Things are not what they seem at first.
Social criticism (comedy of manners).
Parody of the Gothic novels’ “Gothic and anti-Gothic” attitudes.
In addition, Catherine Morland realises she is not to rely upon others, such as Isabella, who are negatively influential on her, but to be single-minded and independent. It is only through bad experiences that Catherine really begins to mature and grow up.

Northanger Abbey was the first novel Jane Austen wrote. It is also the novel most closely related to the novels that influenced Austen’s reading, and parodies some of those novels, particularly Anne Radcliffe’s Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. In creating Catherine, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, Austen creates the heroine of a Gothic novel. Both Austen and Catherine portray Catherine’s life in heroic terms—Austen humorously, and Catherine seriously, especially when she suspects  General Tilney of murdering his wife. Because Austen couches her portrayal of Catherine in irony, Catherine is realistically portrayed as deficient in experience and perception, unlike the heroines of Gothic and romance novels. Catherine fails to recognize the obvious developing relationship between her brother James and her friend Isabella; she fails to recognize Isabella’s true nature until long after it has hurt her brother; she accidentally leads John Thorpe into thinking she loves him; and most significantly, she embarrasses herself in front of Henry Tilney  when he finds out she suspects his father of murder. While Catherine is an avid reader of novels, she is inexperienced at reading people, and this is what causes many of the problems she encounters. By the end of the novel, she has become a much better judge of character, having learned from her mistakes with Isabella and General Tilney. She is also, perhaps, a bit more cynical about people, as Henry is. Ultimately, it is her integrity and caring nature that win Henry’s heart and bring her happiness.(Spark Notes)

Allusions/References to Other Works
Several Gothic novels are mentioned in the book, including most importantly The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian by Ann Radcliffe. Austen also satirises Clermont, a Gothic novel by Regina Maria Roche. This last is included in a list of seven somewhat obscure Gothic works, known as the ‘Northanger horrid novels’ as recommended by Isabella Thorpe to Catherine Morland:

“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am!—What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them…”
Though these lurid titles were assumed by some to be Austen’s own invention, Montague Summers and Michael Sadleir discovered that they really did exist and have since been republished. [See my post on the Northanger Horrid Novels.]

{BC217015-517C-40C2-A0F1-F08AE347F481}Img400.jpg Jane Austen, who referred to Fanny Burney as “the first of English novelists,” in Northanger Abbey refers to her inspiring novels:

“‘And what are you reading, Miss—?’ ‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. ‘It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda‘; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.”

John Thorpe, who knows little about literature, tells Catherine that he likes The Monk (an over-the-top tale of lurid Gothic horror):

“Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t’other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation.”
“I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting.”
“Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe’s; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them.”
“Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe,” said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.
“No sure; was it? Aye, I remember, so it was; I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant.”
“I suppose you mean Camilla?”
“Yes, that’s the book; such unnatural stuff! An old man playing at see-saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it.”


There are two kinds of reading in Northanger Abbey: reading books and letters, and reading people. Catherine Morland  is young and naïve, and she has a hard time distinguishing between the two types of reading. Before Catherine can really enter the world of adulthood, she needs to improve her ability to read people as well as novels. Throughout Northanger Abbey, Catherine finds herself unable to “read between the lines.” She does not notice the obvious romance developing between James and Isabella, she does not understand why Frederick Tilney gets involved, she has no idea why the General is so kind to her. All of these behaviors and motivations are clear to the reader and to the characters surrounding Catherine. When Catherine finally tries to do some of her own analysis, she gets her perceptions mixed up with those encouraged by her novel-reading: she recognizes General Tilney’s grumpiness and the tyrannical control he tries to exert over his children, but she attributes his attitude to the grisly murder of his wife, since such a plot twist occurs frequently in Gothic novels. One defining moment for Catherine comes as a result of reading text. She receives a letter from Isabella, and its contents open Catherine’s eyes to Isabella’s manipulative, ambitious ways. It would be going a bit too far to say that Catherine is an expert at reading people by the end of the novel, but she does become better at it, and she has learned when imagination can aid perception, and when it can hurt it.

In Austen’s novels, characters are often partly defined by their wealth and status. In Northanger Abbey, several characters are preoccupied with material longings. Isabella wants to marry someone rich, and forsakes James in favor of the richer Frederick. Mrs. Allen is obsessed with clothing and shopping, and when talking to Mrs. Thorpe, she feels less bad about her own childlessness when she notices the shabbiness of Mrs. Thorpe’s clothes. The General wants his children to marry into rich and wealthy families, and his personal obsession is with remodeling and landscaping. While giving a guided tour of Northanger Abbey, the General constantly asks Catherine to compare his home and gardens to those of Mr. Allen, and is always pleased to find that his belongings are larger or more impressive. In her later novels, Austen linked character’s personalities with the particular items they loved. In this early novel, she makes wealth itself the goal and passion of characters like Isabella and General Tilney. (Spark Notes)


p10722_d_v8_aa The A&E Network and the BBC released the television adaptation Northanger Abbey in 1986.

An adaptation of Northanger Abbey with screenplay by Andrew Davies, was shown on ITV on 25 March 2007 as part of their “Jane Austen Season”. This adaptation aired on PBS in the United States as part of the “Complete Jane Austen” on Masterpiece Classic in January 2008.

An adaptation of Northanger Abbey stage adaptation by Tim Luscombe, was produced by Salisbury Playhouse in 2009. It is published by Nick Hern Books (ISBN 9781854598370), and was revived in Chicago in 2013 at the Remy Bumppo Theatre.

A theatrical adaptation by Michael Napier Brown was performed at the Royal Theatre in Northampton in 1998

“Pup Fiction” – an episode of Wishbone featuring the plot and characters of Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Historical Reference
The book contains an early reference to baseball. (“…Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country…”). [Fornelli, Tom (6 November 2008). “Apparently Jane Austen Invented Baseball”. AOL News.]

References to Northanger Abbey
MV5BMTM0ODc2Mzg1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTg4MDU1MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_A passage from the novel appears as the preface of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, thus likening the naive mistakes of Austen’s Catherine Morland to those of his own character Briony Tallis, who is in a similar position: both characters have very over-active imaginations, which lead to misconceptions that cause distress in the lives of people around them. Both treat their own lives like those of heroines in fantastical works of fiction, with Miss Morland likening herself to a character in a Gothic novel and young Briony Tallis writing her own melodramatic stories and plays with central characters such as “spontaneous Arabella” based on herself.

Richard Adams quotes a portion of the novel’s last sentence for the epigraph to Chapter 50 in his Watership Down; the reference to the General is felicitous, as the villain in Watership Down is also a General.[Adams, Richard (1975). Watership Down. Avon. p. 470. ISBN 0-380-00293-0. …[P]rofessing myself moreover convinced that the general’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern…]

Unless so noted, information in this post comes from the script of Austen’s Northanger Abbey or from  Wikipedia.

Posted in British history, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A Character Study of Charlotte Lucas, a Guest Post from Lelia Eye

This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 8 April 2021. I thought those here might enjoy the close examination many writers of Jane Austen Fan Fiction take before placing pen to paper. Ms. Eye is one of the most thorough I have encountered.

Unfortunately, my morning sickness seems to be clinging to me for longer than I had hoped, but life must carry on.

I thought this time I would take a textual look at Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice. I think she is an often-underutilized character whose practicality and keen eye are quite remarkable. In some ways, I feel she is a mouthpiece for Austen, yet there is always a danger in taking such an approach with a character in any work. After all, despite Charlotte’s general awareness, there is certainly much of the comedic about her (as can be seen with many of the characters in Pride and Prejudice).

On a side note, to my utmost surprise, while preparing this post, I noticed something that I had not before! In chapter 57, we learn that Charlotte is pregnant! But more on that later.

As I went through the text, I realized that Charlotte plays a much bigger role than I had initially realized. The name “Charlotte” occurs 85 times, and “Mrs. Collins” occurs 29 times. There are 25 instances where “Miss Lucas” refers to Charlotte (as opposed to Maria). Finally, “Collinses” occurs 5 times.

For a sense of perspective, “Mary” only occurs 39 times, and “Kitty” occurs 71 times.

Charlotte is immediately painted by Austen in a positive light:

  • The eldest of [the Lucases’ children], a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth’s intimate friend.

Furthermore, Charlotte, coming from a large family, helps her family where she needs to, and she must be quite aware of her plainness of appearance since even her mother has observed it:

  • Elizabeth, for the sake of saying something that might turn her mother’s thoughts, now asked her if Charlotte Lucas had been at Longbourn since her coming away.
    “Yes, she called yesterday with her father. …”
    “Did Charlotte dine with you?”
    “No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince-pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up very differently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome! Not that I think Charlotte so very plain—but then she is our particular friend.”
    “She seems a very pleasant young woman.”
    “Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane’s beauty. …”

Of course, Charlotte also seems (somewhat surprisingly) to be a bit of a gossip:

  • “Something very much to the purpose of course. He begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter, of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases. I shall not sport with your impatience, by reading what he says on that point. What relates to yourself, is as follows: ‘Having thus offered you the sincere congratulations of Mrs. Collins and myself on this happy event, let me now add a short hint on the subject of another; of which we have been advertised by the same authority. Your daughter Elizabeth, it is presumed, will not long bear the name of Bennet, after her elder sister has resigned it, and the chosen partner of her fate may be reasonably looked up to as one of the most illustrious personages in this land.’
  • And her neighbours at Lucas Lodge, therefore (for through their communication with the Collinses, the report, she concluded, had reached Lady Catherine), had only set that down as almost certain and immediate, which she had looked forward to as possible at some future time.
  • “My dear Sir,
    “I feel myself called upon, by our relationship, and my situation in life, to condole with you on the grievous affliction you are now suffering under, of which we were yesterday informed by a letter from Hertfordshire. Be assured, my dear sir, that Mrs. Collins and myself sincerely sympathise with you and all your respectable family, in your present distress, which must be of the bitterest kind, because proceeding from a cause which no time can remove. No arguments shall be wanting on my part that can alleviate so severe a misfortune—or that may comfort you, under a circumstance that must be of all others the most afflicting to a parent’s mind. The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this. And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence; though, at the same time, for the consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age. Howsoever that may be, you are grievously to be pitied; in which opinion I am not only joined by Mrs. Collins, but likewise by Lady Catherine and her daughter, to whom I have related the affair. They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family? . . .”

Charlotte’s intimacy with the Bennets is readily evident through their easy conversation and through various pieces showing her closeness with Elizabeth, and furthermore, her handling of Mrs. Bennet seems well done:

  • That the Miss Lucases and the Miss Bennets should meet to talk over a ball was absolutely necessary; and the morning after the assembly brought the former to Longbourn to hear and to communicate.
    You began the evening well, Charlotte,” said Mrs. Bennet with civil self-command to Miss Lucas. “You were Mr. Bingley’s first choice.”
    “Yes; but he seemed to like his second better.”
    “Oh! you mean Jane, I suppose, because he danced with her twice. To be sure that did seem as if he admired her—indeed I rather believe he did—I heard something about it—but I hardly know what—something about Mr. Robinson.”
    Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr. Robinson; did not I mention it to you? Mr. Robinson’s asking him how he liked our Meryton assemblies, and whether he did not think there were a great many pretty women in the room, and which he thought the prettiest? and his answering immediately to the last question: ‘Oh! the eldest Miss Bennet, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions on that point.’”

    My overhearings were more to the purpose than yours, Eliza,” said Charlotte. “Mr. Darcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is he?—poor Eliza!—to be only just tolerable.”
    “I beg you would not put it into Lizzy’s head to be vexed by his ill-treatment, for he is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be liked by him. Mrs. Long told me last night that he sat close to her for half-an-hour without once opening his lips.”

    “I do not mind his not talking to Mrs. Long,” said Miss Lucas, “but I wish he had danced with Eliza.”
  • But Elizabeth was not formed for ill-humour; and though every prospect of her own was destroyed for the evening, it could not dwell long on her spirits; and having told all her griefs to Charlotte Lucas, whom she had not seen for a week, she was soon able to make a voluntary transition to the oddities of her cousin, and to point him out to her particular notice.
  • When those dances were over, [Elizabeth] returned to Charlotte Lucas, and was in conversation with her, when she found herself suddenly addressed by Mr. Darcy who took her so much by surprise in his application for her hand, that, without knowing what she did, she accepted him. He walked away again immediately, and she was left to fret over her own want of presence of mind; Charlotte tried to console her:
    “I dare say you will find him very agreeable.”
    “Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me such an evil.”
  • While the family were in this confusion, Charlotte Lucas came to spend the day with them. She was met in the vestibule by Lydia, who, flying to her, cried in a half whisper, “I am glad you are come, for there is such fun here! What do you think has happened this morning? Mr. Collins has made an offer to Lizzy, and she will not have him.”
    Charlotte hardly had time to answer, before they were joined by Kitty, who came to tell the same news; and no sooner had they entered the breakfast-room, where Mrs. Bennet was alone, than she likewise began on the subject, calling on Miss Lucas for her compassion, and entreating her to persuade her friend Lizzy to comply with the wishes of all her family. “Pray do, my dear Miss Lucas,” she added in a melancholy tone, “for nobody is on my side, nobody takes part with me. I am cruelly used, nobody feels for my poor nerves.”
    Charlotte’s reply was spared by the entrance of Jane and Elizabeth.

Of course, the flighty Mrs. Bennet seems to alternate between praising Charlotte, disparaging her (of course, when Charlotte chooses to marry Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet is not the only one with negative comments to make!), and viewing her in a neutral light:

  • “I hope, my dear,” said Mr. Bennet to his wife, as they were at breakfast the next morning, “that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party.”
    “Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in—and I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home.”
  • “ . . . A great many changes have happened in the neighbourhood, since you went away. Miss Lucas is married and settled. . . .”
  • Bennet was really in a most pitiable state. The very mention of anything concerning the match threw her into an agony of ill-humour, and wherever she went she was sure of hearing it talked of. The sight of Miss Lucas was odious to her. As her successor in that house, she regarded her with jealous abhorrence. Whenever Charlotte came to see them, she concluded her to be anticipating the hour of possession; and whenever she spoke in a low voice to Mr. Collins, was convinced that they were talking of the Longbourn estate, and resolving to turn herself and her daughters out of the house, as soon as Mr. Bennet were dead. She complained bitterly of all this to her husband.
    “Indeed, Mr. Bennet,” said she, “it is very hard to think that Charlotte Lucas should ever be mistress of this house, that I should be forced to make way for her, and live to see her take her place in it!”
    “My dear, do not give way to such gloomy thoughts. Let us hope for better things. Let us flatter ourselves that I may be the survivor.”
    This was not very consoling to Mrs. Bennet, and therefore, instead of making any answer, she went on as before.
    “I cannot bear to think that they should have all this estate. If it was not for the entail, I should not mind it.”
  • “Well, Lizzy,” continued her mother, soon afterwards, “and so the Collinses live very comfortable, do they? Well, well, I only hope it will last. And what sort of table do they keep? Charlotte is an excellent manager, I dare say. If she is half as sharp as her mother, she is saving enough. There is nothing extravagant in their housekeeping, I dare say.”
    “No, nothing at all.”
    “A great deal of good management, depend upon it. Yes, yes. They will take care not to outrun their income. They will never be distressed for money. Well, much good may it do them! And so, I suppose, they often talk of having Longbourn when your father is dead. They look upon it as quite their own, I dare say, whenever that happens.”
    “It was a subject which they could not mention before me.”
    “No; it would have been strange if they had; but I make no doubt they often talk of it between themselves. Well, if they can be easy with an estate that is not lawfully their own, so much the better. I should be ashamed of having one that was only entailed on me.”
  • Elizabeth was sitting with her mother and sisters, reflecting on what she had heard, and doubting whether she was authorised to mention it, when Sir William Lucas himself appeared, sent by his daughter, to announce her engagement to the family.

    Elizabeth, feeling it incumbent on her to relieve him from so unpleasant a situation, now put herself forward to confirm his account, by mentioning her prior knowledge of it from Charlotte herself; and endeavoured to put a stop to the exclamations of her mother and sisters by the earnestness of her congratulations to Sir William, in which she was readily joined by Jane, and by making a variety of remarks on the happiness that might be expected from the match, the excellent character of Mr. Collins, and the convenient distance of Hunsford from London.
    Mrs. Bennet was in fact too much overpowered to say a great deal while Sir William remained; but no sooner had he left them than her feelings found a rapid vent. In the first place, she persisted in disbelieving the whole of the matter; secondly, she was very sure that Mr. Collins had been taken in; thirdly, she trusted that they would never be happy together; and fourthly, that the match might be broken off.
  • A week elapsed before [Mrs. Bennet] could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.
    Mr. Bennet’s emotions were much more tranquil on the occasion, and such as he did experience he pronounced to be of a most agreeable sort; for it gratified him, he said, to discover that Charlotte Lucas, whom he had been used to think tolerably sensible, was as foolish as his wife, and more foolish than his daughter!
    Jane confessed herself a little surprised at the match; but she said less of her astonishment than of her earnest desire for their happiness; nor could Elizabeth persuade her to consider it as improbable. Kitty and Lydia were far from envying Miss Lucas, for Mr. Collins was only a clergyman; and it affected them in no other way than as a piece of news to spread at Meryton.
    Lady Lucas could not be insensible of triumph on being able to retort on Mrs. Bennet the comfort of having a daughter well married; and she called at Longbourn rather oftener than usual to say how happy she was, though Mrs. Bennet’s sour looks and ill-natured remarks might have been enough to drive happiness away.
    Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again. Her disappointment in Charlotte made her turn with fonder regard to her sister, of whose rectitude and delicacy she was sure her opinion could never be shaken, and for whose happiness she grew daily more anxious, as Bingley had now been gone a week and nothing more was heard of his return.
  • “ . . . First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her! But, however, he did not admire her at all; indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance. . . .”
  • “ . . . The Collinses will turn us out before he is cold in his grave, and if you are not kind to us, brother, I do not know what we shall do.”

Regardless of Mrs. Bennet’s opinions, Charlotte’s observations are often on-point:

  • “His pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”

One of Charlotte’s most important observations is one that would rectify the misunderstandings of Jane’s affection for Bingley – if only Elizabeth had passed on the information to Jane and encouraged her to modify her behavior!

  • It was generally evident whenever they met, that he did admire her and to her it was equally evident that Jane was yielding to the preference which she had begun to entertain for him from the first, and was in a way to be very much in love; but she considered with pleasure that it was not likely to be discovered by the world in general, since Jane united, with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner which would guard her from the suspicions of the impertinent. She mentioned this to her friend Miss Lucas.
    “It may perhaps be pleasant,” replied Charlotte, “to be able to impose on the public in such a case; but it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a woman had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.”
    “But she does help him on, as much as her nature will allow. If I can perceive her regard for him, he must be a simpleton, indeed, not to discover it too.”
    “Remember, Eliza, that he does not know Jane’s disposition as you do.”
    “But if a woman is partial to a man, and does not endeavour to conceal it, he must find it out.”
    “Perhaps he must, if he sees enough of her. But, though Bingley and Jane meet tolerably often, it is never for many hours together; and, as they always see each other in large mixed parties, it is impossible that every moment should be employed in conversing together. Jane should therefore make the most of every half-hour in which she can command his attention. When she is secure of him, there will be more leisure for falling in love as much as she chooses.”
    “Your plan is a good one,” replied Elizabeth, “where nothing is in question but the desire of being well married, and if I were determined to get a rich husband, or any husband, I dare say I should adopt it. But these are not Jane’s feelings; she is not acting by design. As yet, she cannot even be certain of the degree of her own regard nor of its reasonableness. She has known him only a fortnight. She danced four dances with him at Meryton; she saw him one morning at his own house, and has since dined with him in company four times. This is not quite enough to make her understand his character.”
    “Not as you represent it. Had she merely dined with him, she might only have discovered whether he had a good appetite; but you must remember that four evenings have also been spent together—and four evenings may do a great deal.”
  • He declared himself to be totally unsuspicious of her sister’s attachment; and she could not help remembering what Charlotte’s opinion had always been.

Charlotte also expresses a very practical view on marriage which helps explain her willingness to accept Mr. Collins:

  • “Well,” said Charlotte, “I wish Jane success with all my heart; and if she were married to him to-morrow, I should think she had as good a chance of happiness as if she were to be studying his character for a twelvemonth. Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
    “You make me laugh, Charlotte; but it is not sound. You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
  • In as short a time as Mr. Collins’s long speeches would allow, everything was settled between them to the satisfaction of both; and as they entered the house he earnestly entreated her to name the day that was to make him the happiest of men; and though such a solicitation must be waived for the present, the lady felt no inclination to trifle with his happiness. The stupidity with which he was favoured by nature must guard his courtship from any charm that could make a woman wish for its continuance; and Miss Lucas, who accepted him solely from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment, cared not how soon that establishment were gained.
    Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Mr. Collins’s present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. Lady Lucas began directly to calculate, with more interest than the matter had ever excited before, how many years longer Mr. Bennet was likely to live; and Sir William gave it as his decided opinion, that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both he and his wife should make their appearance at St. James’s. The whole family, in short, were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s dying an old maid. Charlotte herself was tolerably composed. She had gained her point, and had time to consider of it. Her reflections were in general satisfactory. Mr. Collins, to be sure, was neither sensible nor agreeable; his society was irksome, and his attachment to her must be imaginary. But still he would be her husband. Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it. The least agreeable circumstance in the business was the surprise it must occasion to Elizabeth Bennet, whose friendship she valued beyond that of any other person. Elizabeth would wonder, and probably would blame her; and though her resolution was not to be shaken, her feelings must be hurt by such a disapprobation. She resolved to give her the information herself, and therefore charged Mr. Collins, when he returned to Longbourn to dinner, to drop no hint of what had passed before any of the family.
  • Miss Lucas called soon after breakfast, and in a private conference with Elizabeth related the event of the day before.
    The possibility of Mr. Collins’s fancying himself in love with her friend had once occurred to Elizabeth within the last day or two; but that Charlotte could encourage him seemed almost as far from possibility as she could encourage him herself, and her astonishment was consequently so great as to overcome at first the bounds of decorum, and she could not help crying out:
    “Engaged to Mr. Collins! My dear Charlotte—impossible!”
    The steady countenance which Miss Lucas had commanded in telling her story, gave way to a momentary confusion here on receiving so direct a reproach; though, as it was no more than she expected, she soon regained her composure, and calmly replied:
    “Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza? Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman’s good opinion, because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?”
    But Elizabeth had now recollected herself, and making a strong effort for it, was able to assure with tolerable firmness that the prospect of their relationship was highly grateful to her, and that she wished her all imaginable happiness.
    “I see what you are feeling,” replied Charlotte. “You must be surprised, very much surprised—so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
    Elizabeth quietly answered “Undoubtedly;” and after an awkward pause, they returned to the rest of the family. Charlotte did not stay much longer, and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins’s making two offers of marriage within three days was nothing in comparison of his being now accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she had not supposed it to be possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.
  • From his garden, Mr. Collins would have led them round his two meadows; but the ladies, not having shoes to encounter the remains of a white frost, turned back; and while Sir William accompanied him, Charlotte took her sister and friend over the house, extremely well pleased, probably, to have the opportunity of showing it without her husband’s help. It was rather small, but well built and convenient; and everything was fitted up and arranged with a neatness and consistency of which Elizabeth gave Charlotte all the credit. When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really an air of great comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.
    She had already learnt that Lady Catherine was still in the country. It was spoken of again while they were at dinner, when Mr. Collins joining in, observed:
    “Yes, Miss Elizabeth, you will have the honour of seeing Lady Catherine de Bourgh on the ensuing Sunday at church, and I need not say you will be delighted with her. She is all affability and condescension, and I doubt not but you will be honoured with some portion of her notice when service is over. I have scarcely any hesitation in saying she will include you and my sister Maria in every invitation with which she honours us during your stay here. Her behaviour to my dear Charlotte is charming. We dine at Rosings twice every week, and are never allowed to walk home. Her ladyship’s carriage is regularly ordered for us. I should say, one of her ladyship’s carriages, for she has several.”
    “Lady Catherine is a very respectable, sensible woman indeed,” added Charlotte, “and a most attentive neighbour.”
    “Very true, my dear, that is exactly what I say. She is the sort of woman whom one cannot regard with too much deference.”
    The evening was spent chiefly in talking over Hertfordshire news, and telling again what had already been written; and when it closed, Elizabeth, in the solitude of her chamber, had to meditate upon Charlotte’s degree of contentment, to understand her address in guiding, and composure in bearing with, her husband, and to acknowledge that it was all done very well. She had also to anticipate how her visit would pass, the quiet tenor of their usual employments, the vexatious interruptions of Mr. Collins, and the gaieties of their intercourse with Rosings.

Charlotte’s acceptance of Mr. Collins comes to us in a few pieces:

  • [After Mrs. Bennet asked everyone but Mr. Collins to leave the room,] Elizabeth passed quietly out of the room, Jane and Kitty followed, but Lydia stood her ground, determined to hear all she could; and Charlotte, detained first by the civility of Mr. Collins, whose enquiries after herself and all her family were very minute, and then by a little curiosity, satisfied herself with walking to the window and pretending not to hear.
  • The Bennets were engaged to dine with the Lucases and again during the chief of the day was Miss Lucas so kind as to listen to Mr. Collins. Elizabeth took an opportunity of thanking her. “It keeps him in good humour,” said she, “and I am more obliged to you than I can express.” Charlotte assured her friend of her satisfaction in being useful, and that it amply repaid her for the little sacrifice of her time. This was very amiable, but Charlotte’s kindness extended farther than Elizabeth had any conception of; its object was nothing else than to secure her from any return of Mr. Collins’s addresses, by engaging them towards herself. Such was Miss Lucas’s scheme; and appearances were so favourable, that when they parted at night, she would have felt almost secure of success if he had not been to leave Hertfordshire so very soon. But here she did injustice to the fire and independence of his character, for it led him to escape out of Longbourn House the next morning with admirable slyness, and hasten to Lucas Lodge to throw himself at her feet. He was anxious to avoid the notice of his cousins, from a conviction that if they saw him depart, they could not fail to conjecture his design, and he was not willing to have the attempt known till its success might be known likewise; for though feeling almost secure, and with reason, for Charlotte had been tolerably encouraging, he was comparatively diffident since the adventure of Wednesday. His reception, however, was of the most flattering kind. Miss Lucas perceived him from an upper window as he walked towards the house, and instantly set out to meet him accidentally in the lane. But little had she dared to hope that so much love and eloquence awaited her there.
  • He scarcely ever spoke to her, and the assiduous attentions which he had been so sensible of himself were transferred for the rest of the day to Miss Lucas, whose civility in listening to him was a seasonable relief to them all, and especially to her friend.
  • She owed her greatest relief to her friend Miss Lucas, who often joined them, and good-naturedly engaged Mr. Collins’s conversation to herself.

Charlotte serves as good method for Austen to display the ridiculousness of Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins:

  • “ . . . Mrs. Collins, did I tell you of Lady Metcalf’s calling yesterday to thank me? She finds Miss Pope a treasure. ‘Lady Catherine,’ said she, ‘you have given me a treasure.’ Are any of your younger sisters out, Miss Bennet?”
  • “ . . . I have told Miss Bennet several times, that she will never play really well unless she practises more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room. She would be in nobody’s way, you know, in that part of the house.”
  • Collins, seeing that she was really unwell, did not press her to go and as much as possible prevented her husband from pressing her; but Mr. Collins could not conceal his apprehension of Lady Catherine’s being rather displeased by her staying at home.
  • “But if that is the case, you must write to your mother and beg that you may stay a little longer. Mrs. Collins will be very glad of your company, I am sure.”
    “I am much obliged to your ladyship for your kind invitation,” replied Elizabeth, “but it is not in my power to accept it. I must be in town next Saturday.”
    “Why, at that rate, you will have been here only six weeks. I expected you to stay two months. I told Mrs. Collins so before you came. There can be no occasion for your going so soon. Mrs. Bennet could certainly spare you for another fortnight.”
  • “Mrs. Collins, you must send a servant with them. You know I always speak my mind, and I cannot bear the idea of two young women travelling post by themselves. It is highly improper. You must contrive to send somebody. I have the greatest dislike in the world to that sort of thing. Young women should always be properly guarded and attended, according to their situation in life. When my niece Georgiana went to Ramsgate last summer, I made a point of her having two men-servants go with her. Miss Darcy, the daughter of Mr. Darcy, of Pemberley, and Lady Anne, could not have appeared with propriety in a different manner. I am excessively attentive to all those things. You must send John with the young ladies, Mrs. Collins. I am glad it occurred to me to mention it; for it would really be discreditable to you to let them go alone.”
  • “May I take the liberty of asking your ladyship whether you left Mr. and Mrs. Collins well.”
    “Yes, very well. I saw them the night before last.”
    Elizabeth now expected that she would produce a letter for her from Charlotte, as it seemed the only probable motive for her calling. But no letter appeared, and she was completely puzzled.
  • The promised letter of thanks from Mr. Collins arrived on Tuesday, addressed to their father, and written with all the solemnity of gratitude which a twelvemonth’s abode in the family might have prompted. After discharging his conscience on that head, he proceeded to inform them, with many rapturous expressions, of his happiness in having obtained the affection of their amiable neighbour, Miss Lucas, and then explained that it was merely with the view of enjoying her society that he had been so ready to close with their kind wish of seeing him again at Longbourn, whither he hoped to be able to return on Monday fortnight; for Lady Catherine, he added, so heartily approved his marriage, that she wished it to take place as soon as possible, which he trusted would be an unanswerable argument with his amiable Charlotte to name an early day for making him the happiest of men.
  • After a week spent in professions of love and schemes of felicity, Mr. Collins was called from his amiable Charlotte by the arrival of Saturday. The pain of separation, however, might be alleviated on his side, by preparations for the reception of his bride; as he had reason to hope, that shortly after his return into Hertfordshire, the day would be fixed that was to make him the happiest of men. He took leave of his relations at Longbourn with as much solemnity as before; wished his fair cousins health and happiness again, and promised their father another letter of thanks.
  • Collins and Charlotte were both standing at the gate in conversation with the ladies; and Sir William, to Elizabeth’s high diversion, was stationed in the doorway, in earnest contemplation of the greatness before him, and constantly bowing whenever Miss de Bourgh looked that way.
    At length there was nothing more to be said; the ladies drove on, and the others returned into the house. Mr. Collins no sooner saw the two girls than he began to congratulate them on their good fortune, which Charlotte explained by letting them know that the whole party was asked to dine at Rosings the next day.
  • Her ladyship, with great condescension, arose to receive them; and as Mrs. Collins had settled it with her husband that the office of introduction should be hers, it was performed in a proper manner, without any of those apologies and thanks which he would have thought necessary.
  • Elizabeth was ready to speak whenever there was an opening, but she was seated between Charlotte and Miss de Bourgh—the former of whom was engaged in listening to Lady Catherine, and the latter said not a word to her all dinner-time.
  • She enquired into Charlotte’s domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers, and instructed her as to the care of her cows and her poultry. . . . In the intervals of her discourse with Mrs. Collins, she addressed a variety of questions to Maria and Elizabeth, but especially to the latter, of whose connections she knew the least, and who she observed to Mrs. Collins was a very genteel, pretty kind of girl.
  • Lady Catherine then observed,
    “Your father’s estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think. For your sake,” turning to Charlotte, “I am glad of it; but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s family. . . .”
  • She had spent six weeks with great enjoyment; and the pleasure of being with Charlotte, and the kind attentions she had received, must make her feel the obliged. Mr. Collins was gratified, and with a more smiling solemnity replied:
    “It gives me great pleasure to hear that you have passed your time not disagreeably. We have certainly done our best; and most fortunately having it in our power to introduce you to very superior society, and, from our connection with Rosings, the frequent means of varying the humble home scene, I think we may flatter ourselves that your Hunsford visit cannot have been entirely irksome. Our situation with regard to Lady Catherine’s family is indeed the sort of extraordinary advantage and blessing which few can boast. You see on what a footing we are. You see how continually we are engaged there. In truth I must acknowledge that, with all the disadvantages of this humble parsonage, I should not think anyone abiding in it an object of compassion, while they are sharers of our intimacy at Rosings.”
  • “I know not, Miss Elizabeth,” said he, “whether Mrs. Collins has yet expressed her sense of your kindness in coming to us; but I am very certain you will not leave the house without receiving her thanks for it. The favour of your company has been much felt, I assure you. We know how little there is to tempt anyone to our humble abode. Our plain manner of living, our small rooms and few domestics, and the little we see of the world, must make Hunsford extremely dull to a young lady like yourself; but I hope you will believe us grateful for the condescension, and that we have done everything in our power to prevent your spending your time unpleasantly.”
    Elizabeth was eager with her thanks and assurances of happiness. She had spent six weeks with great enjoyment; and the pleasure of being with Charlotte, and the kind attentions she had received, must make her feel the obliged. Mr. Collins was gratified, and with a more smiling solemnity replied:
    “It gives me great pleasure to hear that you have passed your time not disagreeably. We have certainly done our best; and most fortunately having it in our power to introduce you to very superior society, and, from our connection with Rosings, the frequent means of varying the humble home scene, I think we may flatter ourselves that your Hunsford visit cannot have been entirely irksome. Our situation with regard to Lady Catherine’s family is indeed the sort of extraordinary advantage and blessing which few can boast. You see on what a footing we are. You see how continually we are engaged there. In truth I must acknowledge that, with all the disadvantages of this humble parsonage, I should not think anyone abiding in it an object of compassion, while they are sharers of our intimacy at Rosings.”
  • “You may, in fact, carry a very favourable report of us into Hertfordshire, my dear cousin. I flatter myself at least that you will be able to do so. Lady Catherine’s great attentions to Mrs. Collins you have been a daily witness of; and altogether I trust it does not appear that your friend has drawn an unfortunate—but on this point it will be as well to be silent. Only let me assure you, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that I can from my heart most cordially wish you equal felicity in marriage. My dear Charlotte and I have but one mind and one way of thinking. There is in everything a most remarkable resemblance of character and ideas between us. We seem to have been designed for each other.”
    Elizabeth could safely say that it was a great happiness where that was the case, and with equal sincerity could add, that she firmly believed and rejoiced in his domestic comforts. She was not sorry, however, to have the recital of them interrupted by the lady from whom they sprang. Poor Charlotte! it was melancholy to leave her to such society! But she had chosen it with her eyes open; and though evidently regretting that her visitors were to go, she did not seem to ask for compassion. Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms.

Elizabeth’s feelings toward her friend are usually positive, though they become much more complex when Charlotte becomes engaged to Mr. Collins:

  • “ . . . The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense. I have met with two instances lately, one I will not mention; the other is Charlotte’s marriage. It is unaccountable! In every view it is unaccountable!”
    “My dear Lizzy, do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper. Consider Mr. Collins’s respectability, and Charlotte’s steady, prudent character. Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune, it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, for everybody’s sake, that she may feel something like regard and esteem for our cousin.”
    “To oblige you, I would try to believe almost anything, but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who married him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me, that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness.”
    “I must think your language too strong in speaking of both,” replied Jane; “and I hope you will be convinced of it by seeing them happy together. . . .”
  • “She is abominably rude to keep Charlotte out of doors in all this wind. Why does she not come in?”
    “Oh, Charlotte says she hardly ever does. It is the greatest of favours when Miss de Bourgh comes in.”
  • [Mr. Collins’s] marriage was now fast approaching, and [Mrs. Bennet] was at length so far resigned as to think it inevitable, and even repeatedly to say, in an ill-natured tone, that she “wished they might be happy.” Thursday was to be the wedding day, and on Wednesday Miss Lucas paid her farewell visit; and when she rose to take leave, Elizabeth, ashamed of her mother’s ungracious and reluctant good wishes, and sincerely affected herself, accompanied her out of the room. As they went downstairs together, Charlotte said:
    “I shall depend on hearing from you very often, Eliza.”
    That you certainly shall.”
    “And I have another favour to ask you. Will you come and see me?”
    “We shall often meet, I hope, in Hertfordshire.”
    “I am not likely to leave Kent for some time. Promise me, therefore, to come to Hunsford.”
    Elizabeth could not refuse, though she foresaw little pleasure in the visit.
    “My father and Maria are coming to me in March,” added Charlotte, “and I hope you will consent to be of the party. Indeed, Eliza, you will be as welcome as either of them.”
    The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door, and everybody had as much to say, or to hear, on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard from her friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequent as it had ever been; that it should be equally unreserved was impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and though determined not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what had been, rather than what was. Charlotte’s first letters were received with a good deal of eagerness; there could not but be curiosity to know how she would speak of her new home, how she would like Lady Catherine, and how happy she would dare pronounce herself to be; though, when the letters were read, Elizabeth felt that Charlotte expressed herself on every point exactly as she might have foreseen. She wrote cheerfully, seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing which she could not praise. The house, furniture, neighbourhood, and roads, were all to her taste, and Lady Catherine’s behaviour was most friendly and obliging. It was Mr. Collins’s picture of Hunsford and Rosings rationally softened; and Elizabeth perceived that she must wait for her own visit there to know the rest.
  • March was to take Elizabeth to Hunsford. She had not at first thought very seriously of going thither; but Charlotte, she soon found, was depending on the plan and she gradually learned to consider it herself with greater pleasure as well as greater certainty. Absence had increased her desire of seeing Charlotte again, and weakened her disgust of Mr. Collins. There was novelty in the scheme, and as, with such a mother and such uncompanionable sisters, home could not be faultless, a little change was not unwelcome for its own sake. The journey would moreover give her a peep at Jane; and, in short, as the time drew near, she would have been very sorry for any delay. Everything, however, went on smoothly, and was finally settled according to Charlotte’s first sketch. She was to accompany Sir William and his second daughter.
  • Collins and Charlotte appeared at the door, and the carriage stopped at the small gate which led by a short gravel walk to the house, amidst the nods and smiles of the whole party. In a moment they were all out of the chaise, rejoicing at the sight of each other. Mrs. Collins welcomed her friend with the liveliest pleasure, and Elizabeth was more and more satisfied with coming when she found herself so affectionately received. . . . They were then, with no other delay than his pointing out the neatness of the entrance, taken into the house; and as soon as they were in the parlour, he welcomed them a second time, with ostentatious formality to his humble abode, and punctually repeated all his wife’s offers of refreshment.

    But though everything seemed neat and comfortable, she was not able to gratify him by any sigh of repentance, and rather looked with wonder at her friend that she could have so cheerful an air with such a companion. When Mr. Collins said anything of which his wife might reasonably be ashamed, which certainly was not unseldom, she involuntarily turned her eye on Charlotte. Once or twice she could discern a faint blush; but in general Charlotte wisely did not hear. After sitting long enough to admire every article of furniture in the room, from the sideboard to the fender, to give an account of their journey, and of all that had happened in London, Mr. Collins invited them to take a stroll in the garden, which was large and well laid out, and to the cultivation of which he attended himself. To work in this garden was one of his most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command of countenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness of the exercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible.
  • She continued in very agitated reflections till the sound of Lady Catherine’s carriage made her feel how unequal she was to encounter Charlotte’s observation, and hurried her away to her room.
  • Sir William stayed only a week at Hunsford, but his visit was long enough to convince him of his daughter’s being most comfortably settled, and of her possessing such a husband and such a neighbour as were not often met with. While Sir William was with them, Mr. Collins devoted his morning to driving him out in his gig, and showing him the country; but when he went away, the whole family returned to their usual employments, and Elizabeth was thankful to find that they did not see more of her cousin by the alteration, for the chief of the time between breakfast and dinner was now passed by him either at work in the garden or in reading and writing, and looking out of the window in his own book-room, which fronted the road. The room in which the ladies sat was backwards. Elizabeth had at first rather wondered that Charlotte should not prefer the dining-parlour for common use; it was a better sized room, and had a more pleasant aspect; but she soon saw that her friend had an excellent reason for what she did, for Mr. Collins would undoubtedly have been much less in his own apartment, had they sat in one equally lively; and she gave Charlotte credit for the arrangement.
    From the drawing-room they could distinguish nothing in the lane, and were indebted to Mr. Collins for the knowledge of what carriages went along, and how often especially Miss de Bourgh drove by in her phaeton, which he never failed coming to inform them of, though it happened almost every day. She not unfrequently stopped at the Parsonage, and had a few minutes’ conversation with Charlotte, but was scarcely ever prevailed upon to get out.
    Very few days passed in which Mr. Collins did not walk to Rosings, and not many in which his wife did not think it necessary to go likewise; and till Elizabeth recollected that there might be other family livings to be disposed of, she could not understand the sacrifice of so many hours. Now and then they were honoured with a call from her ladyship, and nothing escaped her observation that was passing in the room during these visits. She examined into their employments, looked at their work, and advised them to do it differently; found fault with the arrangement of the furniture; or detected the housemaid in negligence; and if she accepted any refreshment, seemed to do it only for the sake of finding out that Mrs. Collins’s joints of meat were too large for her family.
  • “Mr. Collins appears to be very fortunate in his choice of a wife.”
    “Yes, indeed, his friends may well rejoice in his having met with one of the very few sensible women who would have accepted him, or have made him happy if they had. My friend has an excellent understanding—though I am not certain that I consider her marrying Mr. Collins as the wisest thing she ever did. She seems perfectly happy, however, and in a prudential light it is certainly a very good match for her.”
    “It must be very agreeable for her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”
    “An easy distance, do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”
    “And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”
    “I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

    “ . . . Where there is fortune to make the expenses of travelling unimportant, distance becomes no evil. But that is not the case here. Mr. and Mrs. Collins have a comfortable income, but not such a one as will allow of frequent journeys—and I am persuaded my friend would not call herself near her family under less than half the present distance.”

Of course, Austen is sure to point out a bit of the hypocrisy in Elizabeth’s negative feelings toward what Charlotte has chosen in terms of her marital prospects:

  • The sudden acquisition of ten thousand pounds was the most remarkable charm of the young lady to whom he was now rendering himself agreeable; but Elizabeth, less clear-sighted perhaps in this case than in Charlotte’s, did not quarrel with him for his wish of independence. Nothing, on the contrary, could be more natural; and while able to suppose that it cost him a few struggles to relinquish her, she was ready to allow it a wise and desirable measure for both, and could very sincerely wish him happy.

Charlotte, perhaps knowing even early on of Darcy’s feelings, attempts to temper Elizabeth’s attitude toward him and help display both of them in a positive light (and otherwise kindly schemes for Elizabeth to have good marital prospects):

  • “What does Mr. Darcy mean,” said she to Charlotte, “by listening to my conversation with Colonel Forster?”
    “That is a question which Mr. Darcy only can answer.”
    “But if he does it any more I shall certainly let him know that I see what he is about. He has a very satirical eye, and if I do not begin by being impertinent myself, I shall soon grow afraid of him.”
    On his approaching them soon afterwards, though without seeming to have any intention of speaking, Miss Lucas defied her friend to mention such a subject to him; which immediately provoking Elizabeth to do it, she turned to him and said:
    “Did you not think, Mr. Darcy, that I expressed myself uncommonly well just now, when I was teasing Colonel Forster to give us a ball at Meryton?”
    “With great energy; but it is always a subject which makes a lady energetic.”
    “You are severe on us.”
    “It will be her turn soon to be teased,” said Miss Lucas. “I am going to open the instrument, Eliza, and you know what follows.”
    “You are a very strange creature by way of a friend!—always wanting me to play and sing before anybody and everybody! If my vanity had taken a musical turn, you would have been invaluable; but as it is, I would really rather not sit down before those who must be in the habit of hearing the very best performers.” On Miss Lucas’s persevering, however, she added, “Very well, if it must be so, it must.”
  • When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times his consequence.
  • Collins knew not what to make of him. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s occasionally laughing at his stupidity, proved that he was generally different, which her own knowledge of him could not have told her; and as she would liked to have believed this change the effect of love, and the object of that love her friend Eliza, she set herself seriously to work to find it out. She watched him whenever they were at Rosings, and whenever he came to Hunsford; but without much success. He certainly looked at her friend a great deal, but the expression of that look was disputable. It was an earnest, steadfast gaze, but she often doubted whether there were much admiration in it, and sometimes it seemed nothing but absence of mind.
    She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea; and Mrs. Collins did not think it right to press the subject, from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friend’s dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be in her power.
    In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was beyond comparison the most pleasant man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible; but, to counterbalance these advantages, Mr. Darcy had considerable patronage in the church, and his cousin could have none at all.
  • Charlotte had seen them from her husband’s room, crossing the road, and immediately running into the other, told the girls what an honour they might expect, adding:
    “I may thank you, Eliza, for this piece of civility. Mr. Darcy would never have come so soon to wait upon me.”
  • A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensued, on either side calm and concise—and soon put an end to by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from her walk. The tête-à-tête surprised them. Mr. Darcy related the mistake which had occasioned his intruding on Miss Bennet, and after sitting a few minutes longer without saying much to anybody, went away.
    “What can be the meaning of this?” said Charlotte, as soon as he was gone. “My dear, Eliza, he must be in love with you, or he would never have called on us in this familiar way.”
    But when Elizabeth told of his silence, it did not seem very likely, even to Charlotte’s wishes, to be the case; and after various conjectures, they could at last only suppose his visit to proceed from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which was the more probable from the time of year.
  • Before any answer could arrive from Mr. Collins, or any congratulations to Elizabeth from his wife, the Longbourn family heard that the Collinses were come themselves to Lucas Lodge. The reason of this sudden removal was soon evident. Lady Catherine had been rendered so exceedingly angry by the contents of her nephew’s letter, that Charlotte, really rejoicing in the match, was anxious to get away till the storm was blown over. At such a moment, the arrival of her friend was a sincere pleasure to Elizabeth, though in the course of their meetings she must sometimes think the pleasure dearly bought, when she saw Mr. Darcy exposed to all the parading and obsequious civility of her husband.

And of course, there are some more minor pieces of text with regard to Charlotte:

  • Lady Catherine, Sir William, and Mr. and Mrs. Collins sat down to quadrille; and as Miss de Bourgh chose to play at cassino, the two girls had the honour of assisting Mrs. Jenkinson to make up her party.
  • When Lady Catherine and her daughter had played as long as they chose, the tables were broken up, the carriage was offered to Mrs. Collins, gratefully accepted and immediately ordered.
  • This, however, was no evil to Elizabeth, and upon the whole she spent her time comfortably enough; there were half-hours of pleasant conversation with Charlotte, and the weather was so fine for the time of year that she had often great enjoyment out of doors.
  • Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much.
  • Elizabeth was sitting by herself the next morning, and writing to Jane while Mrs. Collins and Maria were gone on business into the village, when she was startled by a ring at the door, the certain signal of a visitor.
  • He never said a great deal, nor did she give herself the trouble of talking or of listening much; but it struck her in the course of their third rencontre that he was asking some odd unconnected questions—about her pleasure in being at Hunsford, her love of solitary walks, and her opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Collins’s happiness; and that in speaking of Rosings and her not perfectly understanding the house, he seemed to expect that whenever she came into Kent again she would be staying there
  • On their being joined by Mr. Bingley himself, Elizabeth withdrew to Miss Lucas; to whose enquiry after the pleasantness of her last partner she had scarcely replied, before Mr. Collins came up to them, and told her with great exultation that he had just been so fortunate as to make a most important discovery.
  • “She is a very fine-looking woman! and her calling here was prodigiously civil! for she only came, I suppose, to tell us the Collinses were well. She is on her road somewhere, I dare say, and so, passing through Meryton, thought she might as well call on you. I suppose she had nothing particular to say to you, Lizzy?”
  • As soon as they had driven from the door, Elizabeth was called on by her cousin to give her opinion of all that she had seen at Rosings, which, for Charlotte’s sake, she made more favourable than it really was.
  • Darcy looked just as he had been used to look in Hertfordshire—paid his compliments, with his usual reserve, to Mrs. Collins, and whatever might be his feelings toward her friend, met her with every appearance of composure. Elizabeth merely curtseyed to him without saying a word.
    Colonel Fitzwilliam entered into conversation directly with the readiness and ease of a well-bred man, and talked very pleasantly; but his cousin, after having addressed a slight observation on the house and garden to Mrs. Collins, sat for some time without speaking to anybody.
  • After an affectionate parting between the friends, Elizabeth was attended to the carriage by Mr. Collins, and as they walked down the garden he was commissioning her with his best respects to all her family, not forgetting his thanks for the kindness he had received at Longbourn in the winter, and his compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, though unknown.

And finally, here is the piece about Charlotte that most surprised me for having missed it before—the announcement of her pregnancy:

  • “ . . . The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte’s situation, and his expectation of a young olive-branch. . . .”

I have to say that the above is a great piece of text. I love Mr. Bennet calling Collins’s child a “young olive-branch,” already expecting that the apple (or shall I say olive?) won’t be falling far from the tree!

Charlotte seems to be primarily painted as clever and willing to work with what she has to make her situation for herself better. Certainly, there are few who would wish to be married to a man like Collins, but at least he is not an unkind man, and she is able to figure out ways to minimize her exposure to his foolishness. What seems most surprising about her character is her gossipy nature. Of course, it is a little difficult to tell what gossip comes from her and what gossip comes from her family, but based on Mr. Collins’s wording, Charlotte certainly seems to be no innocent.

Of course, living with such a boring man means that she must take some solace in interesting gossip. And the Bennets are certainly not the type to avoid gossip themselves!

I rather like Charlotte, but I think the reason she may be often underused is that she does not seem terribly flawed. If one were to utilize this gossipy side of her, however, might that potentially lead to something interesting? It is certainly worth considering!

Posted in Austen Authors, Guest Post, historical fiction, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Character Study of Charlotte Lucas, a Guest Post from Lelia Eye

Two Attempts to Assassinate King George III in a Single Day, 15 May 1800

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

On 15 May 1800, George III went to Hyde Park to review the 1st Foot Guards. During the review, a shot was fired which narrowly missed the King. Mr Ongley, a clerk in the Navy Office, who was standing only a few paces away, was struck, and it was said that “had the wound been two inches higher it must have been mortal”.

Undeterred, later that same day, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, James Hadfield tried to shoot King George III while the national anthem was being played, and the king was standing to attention in the royal box, along with other members of the Royal Family.

It’s reported that after missing his target, Hadfield then said to the king:

‘God bless your royal highness; I like you very well; you are a good fellow.’

From Regency History and Wikimedia, we learn, “Michael Kelly, the musical director of the theatre at the time recorded: ‘When the arrival of the King was announced, the band, as usual, played ‘God save the King’. I was standing at the stage-door, opposite the royal box, to see His Majesty. The moment he entered the box, a man in the pit, next the orchestra, on the right hand, stood up on the bench, and discharged a pistol at our august Monarch, as he came to the front of the box. Never shall I forget His Majesty’s coolness – the whole audience was in an uproar. The King, on hearing the report of the pistol, retired a pace or two, stopped, and stood firmly for an instant; then came forward to the very front of the box, put his opera-glass to his eye, and looked round the house, without the smallest appearance of alarm or discomposure.”

“The orchestral performers seized the perpetrator – an ex-soldier named James Hadfield who was later judged insane – and dragged him into the music room under the stage. The audience demanded that Hadfield should be brought on the stage, but Kelly succeeded in calming them with the assurance that he was in safe custody and that, if he were brought forward, he might have the chance to escape. Despite the Lord Chamberlain urging him to retire, George III determined to remain and see the performance.”

We know very little of Hadfield’s early years, but we do know that he was captured by the French at the Battle of Tourcoing in 1794, supposedly after being struck on the head eight times with a sabre. Over the years that followed, these wounds were spoken of for their prominence, especially in the accounts of his trial. We also know that he followed the millennialist movement [Millennialism, also called millenarianism or chiliasm, the belief, expressed in the book of Revelation to John, the last book of the New Testament, that Christ will establish a 1,000-year reign of the saints on earth (the millennium) before the Last Judgment. More broadly defined, it is a cross-cultural concept grounded in the expectation of a time of supernatural peace and abundance on earth.] As such, Hadfield thought the Second Coming of Jesus Christ would be advanced by his own death, specifically at the hands of the British government. He, therefore, resolved to conspire with Bannister Truelock to kill King George III and bring on his own punishment. T

The Past Tense Blog tells us, “In other witness accounts, after James Hatfield received more wounds from prisons and escaped, he said he had found a lake where he could bathe his wounds, claimed he was in heaven and that he was the biblical Adam and made himself a ‘covering of boughs of trees’ to put round his waist. He was taken to prison again after that where he smashed a water jug and proceeded to cut his feet with it to ‘purge away his sins’ whilst claiming he was the ‘Supreme Being’.

“After some time, he got well again and escaped to Calais, where he then took a boat to Dover, arriving in London in September 1795. He rejoined his army regiment, arriving in Croydon Barracks on 5 April 1796 and was discharged soon after due to insanity and was collected by his brother. He eventually found work as a silversmith. But he became very depressed, and began to believe that God had big plans for him. God told Hadfield that when he died the world would die too. According to the usually trumpeted account, ‘after several ‘fits of insanity’ including one where he threatened to dash his child’s brains out (just days before), he made the assassination attempt on Mad King George.‘”

King George was in attendance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on the evening of 15 May 1800. During the playing of the national anthem, King George stood in place in his royal box. Hadfield took the opportunity to fire a pistol at the King. Thankfully, the shot was unsuccessful.

Thomas Erskine, the leading barrister of the time, defended Hadfield during the trial. Hadfield pleaded insanity, but such was a hard road to prove, for in the Georgian era, to be “insane” the defendant must be “lost to all sense … incapable of forming a judgement upon the consequences of the act which he is about to do”. Hadfield’s planning of the shooting appeared to contradict such a claim. Moreover, according to the 1795 Treason Act, plotting treason was equal in severity as was committing treason

According to European Royal History, “Erskine chose to challenge the insanity test, instead contending that delusion ‘unaccompanied by frenzy or raving madness [was] the true character of insanity’. Two surgeons and a physician testified that the delusions were the consequence of his earlier head injuries. The judge, Lloyd Kenyon, 1st Baron Kenyon, at this point, halted the trial declaring that the verdict ‘was clearly an acquittal’ but ‘the prisoner, for his own sake, and for the sake of society at large, must not be discharged.'”

In 1800, Parliament passed the Criminal Lunatics Act to make it easier to define “insane” in such cases. That was quickly followed by the Treason Act of 1800, which made it easier to prosecute those who attacked the King.

Hadfield was confined to the Bethlehem Royal Hospital, although he did one briefly escape, but was recaptured at Dover as he attempted to flee to France. He was held at Newgate Prison for a time, but then transferred back to Bethlehem Hospital, known commonly as “Bedlam.” Hadfield died from tuberculosis in 1841.

The Past Tense Blog also tells us, “Truelock was also held in Bedlam; he was still there in 1816, ‘perfectly quiet and always occupied at his trade…‘ he ‘had an insight into his own condition an acknowledged that his religious views were preventing his discharge, although he considered them perfectly orthodox‘. Another observer thought him ‘cool, steady, and deliberate in all his actions…‘ Mad Truelock and Hadfield may have been, but then madness is a reasoned response in the face of class oppression, war and exploitation.”

This medal commemorates the two failed assassination attempts on the life of King George III in a single day. When a gun went off in Hyde Park and wounded a man a few steps away, George III calmly offered his assistance. Later that day, the unflappable monarch took in a comedy at the Theatre Royal. As the national anthem played, a disturbed war veteran named James Hadfield fired his pistol at the royal box, convinced he could hasten the Second Coming of Christ by being killed in an act of regicide. When he missed, he offered friendly words to the unfazed sovereign – and the play went on. Hadfield was acquitted of treason due to insanity and should have been freed. But the prospect of an assassin on the loose was so worrying that new legislation was drafted, allowing insane offenders to be detained indefinitely ”at His Majesty’s pleasure.” ~ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:King_George_III_Assassination_Attempt_Medal,1800(35535720232).jpg

Sources of Interest:

The BNA Blog (Contains links to other tales in the British Newspaper Archives of Hadfield’s escape from prison and recapture)

European Royal History

James Hadfield


Past Tense Blog

Regency History

Posted in Act of Parliament, British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, political stance, Realm series, royalty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Two Attempts to Assassinate King George III in a Single Day, 15 May 1800

Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” – The Writing of the Novel

Today, a bit of background of the novel…

Title page from the original 1818 edition - Public Domain - Lilly Library, Indiana University

Title page from the original 1818 edition – Public Domain – Lilly Library, Indiana University

Many Austen fans are not aware that NORTHANGER ABBEY was the first novel Jane Austen wrote. It was true that Austen started what were later to be titled SENSE AND SENSIBILITY and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, but according to Cassandra Austen’s Memorandum, Northanger Abbey was written circa 1798-99. Of course, at that time, the book was not called Northanger Abbey. It was entitled Susan.

Austen revised the book and sold it to Crosby & Co. (a London bookseller) for £10 in 1803. Unfortunately, Crosby & Co. did not choose to publish the book. In 1816, Jane’s brother Henry Austen negotiated with Cosby & Co. to resale the book to him for the same £10 that Crosby originally paid for it. Crosby & Co. had no idea at the time that the author of Susan was the same author as “the lady” who wrote the popular novels of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.

Jane Austen revised the novel during 1816 and 1817. She wished to have the book published, going so far as to changing the main character’s name and the book’s title to Catherine.

The final result was a Gothic fiction parody, in which Austen mocks the conventions of the 18th Century novel genre. Catherine Morland, unlike Gothic heroines, is a plain girl from a middle class family. Catherine falls in love with the hero, Henry Tilney, before he has a serious thought of her, and exposing the heroine’s romantic fears and curiosities as groundless.


Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s Gothic parody. Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

 Claire Tomalin, Austen biographer, states that “Austen may have begun this book, which is more explicitly comic than her other works and contains many literary allusions that her parents and siblings would have enjoyed, as a family entertainment—a piece of lighthearted parody to be read aloud by the fireside.” (Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Vintage, 1997, p. 165.)

Moreover, as Joan Aiken writes, “We can guess that Susan [the original title of Northanger Abbey], in its first outline, was written very much for family entertainment, addressed to a family audience, like all Jane Austen’s juvenile works, with their asides to the reader, and absurd dedications; some of the juvenilia, we know, were specifically addressed to her brothers Charles and Frank; all were designed to be circulated and read by a large network of relations.” (Aiken, Joan (1985). “How Might Jane Austen Have Revised Northanger Abbey?”. Persuasions, a publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America.)

Austen addresses the reader directly in parts, particularly at the end of Chapter 5, where she gives a lengthy opinion of the value of novels, and the contemporary social prejudice against them in favour of drier historical works and newspapers. In discussions featuring Isabella, the Thorpe sisters, Eleanor, and Henry, and by Catherine perusing the library of the General, and her mother’s books on instructions on behaviours, the reader gains further insights into Austen’s various perspectives on novels in contrast with other popular literature of the time (especially the Gothic novel). Eleanor even praises history books, and while Catherine points out the obvious fiction of the speeches given to important historical characters through, Eleanor enjoys them for what they are.


Getty Images A print from an edition of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey ww.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/scene-from-jane-austens-northanger-abbey-a-print-from-an-news-photo/463992357#scene-from-jane-austens-northanger-abbey-a-print-from-an-edition-of-picture-id463992357

The directness with which Austen addresses the reader, especially at the end of the story, gives a unique insight into Austen’s thoughts at the time, which is particularly important due to her letters having been burned at her request by her sister upon her death.

Austen died in July 1817. Northanger Abbey (as the novel was now called) was brought out posthumously in late December 1817 (1818 given on the title page), as the first two volumes of a four-volume set that also featured another previously unpublished Austen novel, Persuasion. Neither novel was published under the title Jane Austen gave it; the title Northanger Abbey is presumed to have been the invention of Henry Austen, who arranged for the book’s publication.

Posted in British history, Great Britain, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

The “Filles du roi” or Women of the King

Jean Talon, Bishop François de Laval and several settlers welcome the King’s Daughters upon their arrival. Painting by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale ~ Public Domain ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_Daughters#/media/File:Arrival_of_the_Brides_-_Eleanor_Fortescue-Brickdale.png

Most of Canada during the 1600s was known as “New France.” French men had flocked to the new land with promises of wealth. However, few French women had done the same. This was a great concern to the French government because English settlers, both men and women, were greatly outnumbering the French in the area.

Therefore, the French government, during King Louis XIV’s reign, paid nearly 800 women to make the journey and settle in the colony. These women were between the ages of 12 and 25. They were chosen for their health and “good” character. Most were of lower class, but some destitute French nobility were chosen to “hook up” with French officers and gentlemen. These were young girls, grown women, and widows. Many were orphans. The Intendant in Canada assisted in establishing the women in the area. They received at marriage the King’s gift of 50 livres for commoners and 100 livres for those in society. These gifts are reflected in some of the marriage contracts entered into by the Filles du roi at the time of their first marriages. Out of the 768 women who accepted the King’s charge, 737 claimed marriages. The result was a population explosion, leading to the success of the colony.

The women disembarked in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, and Montreal. After their arrival, their time to find husbands varied greatly. Some women found a husband in a matter of a few months, while others took a couple of years before finding an appropriate husband. Some married in church, while others chose to employ a notary, to sign a marriage contract.

The Arrival of the French Girls at Quebec, 1667. Watercolour by Charles William Jefferys ~ Public Domain ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King%27s_Daughters#/media/File:The_Arrival_of_the_French_Girls_at_Quebec,1667-_C.W._Jefferys.jpg

The marriage contracts represented a protection for the women, both in terms of financial security if anything were to happen to them or their husband, and in terms of having the liberty to annul the promise of marriage if the man they had chosen proved incompatible. A substantial number of the filles du roi who arrived in New France between 1669 and 1671 cancelled marriage contracts; perhaps the dowry they had received made them disinclined to retain a fiancé with whom they found themselves dissatisfied.

An early problem in recruitment was the women’s adjustment to the new agricultural life. The filles du roi were mostly town girls, and only a few knew how to do manual farm work. Eventually, adjustments were made to recruit girls from rural areas.

The program, generally, was a resounding success. It was reported that in 1670, most of the girls who had arrived the previous year, 1669, were already pregnant and by 1671, a total of nearly 700 children were born to the Filles du Roi. The colony was expected to gain population self-sufficiency soon afterward.

Most of the millions of people of French Canadian descent today, both in Quebec and the rest of Canada and the USA (and beyond!), are descendants of one or more of these courageous women of the 17th century.

Other Sources:

Gagné, Peter J. (2002). Before the King’s Daughters The Filles à Marier, 1634-1662. Quintin Publications.

Hallowell, Gerald (2004). The Oxford companion to Canadian history. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press. 

Juliana L’Heureux, “Les Filles du Roi”, Portland (Maine) Press Herald, March 19, 1998.

La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan, has links to a listing of the Filles du roi and other information

Posted in history, marriage, marriage customs, real life tales | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Opera in Jane Austen’s London

Covent Garden Theatre
Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 1806

I think you judge very wisely in putting off your London visit, and I am mistaken if it be not put off for some time. You speak with such noble resignation of Mrs. Jordan and the Opera House, that it would be an insult to suppose consolation required… Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, 8 January1801

The opera, as we know it, was and was not performed separately during Jane Austen’s time. Many evening performances had more than one type of entertainment  on a night’s billing, meaning a lighter piece in the form of a comedy or even an opera would follow a more “classic” production. 

From what we know of her life, Jane Austen attended the opera often, especially when she spent time with her brother Henry in London. We can only assume she was privy to many of the great performances and performers of her time.  In 1814, she wrote to Cassandra that, “We are to see “The Devil to Pay” to-night. I expect to be very much amused. Excepting Miss Stephens, I daresay “Artexerxes” will be very tiresome.” 

Also known by the longer title The Devil to Pay: Or, The Wives Metamorphos’d, it was part of a group of ballad operas produced in the wake of the success of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. It was first performed at the Royal Theatre on 6 August 1731. 

According to Jane Austen World, “This [meaning Jane Austen’s opinion] was an unusual position on a play that was, “one of the most successful and influential English operas of the eighteenth century”. The story, adapted from the 1729 Italian opera, was written by Thomas Arne, in English, thus appealing to both English Music lovers and Opera fans alike. It was performed over and over again after its premiere in 1762. Mozart attended a performance in 1765 as did Hayden, who exclaimed, “I had no idea we had such an opera in the English language.” Despite her profession that she was, “very tired of “Artexerxes,” highly amused with the farce, and, in an inferior way, with the pantomime that followed”, Jane nevertheless copied out the score of the overature of the opera into one her music books. These handwritten books give an insightful glimpse into the musical taste of the Austen family. They are held by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, at Chawton Cottage, and contain selections from Handel, Mozart, Gay, Gluck, Clementti, and Haydn, as well as popular songs of the day. The aria, ‘The Soldier Tir’d of War’, from Artexerxes remains a popular showpiece to this day.

There is a book about the opera in London entitled Fashionable Acts: Opera and Elite Culture in London 1780-1880 by Jennifer Hall-Witt that I would recommend.

Book Blurb: In a brilliant reassessment of British aristocratic culture Hall-Witt demonstrates how the transformation of audience behavior at London’s Italian opera–from the sociable, interactive spectatorship of the 1780s to the quiet, polite listening of the 1870s–served as a sensitive barometer of the aristocracy’s changing authority. She explores how the opera participated in the patronage culture and urban sociability of the British elite prior to the Reform Act of 1832 when the opera served as the central meeting place for the ruling class during the parliamentary session. The vertical tiers of boxes at the opera highlighted not only the gendered nature of elite political culture, but also those features of aristocratic society most vulnerable to critique by political and moral reformers.

Hall-Witt shows how the elite adjusted its behavior in public venues, like the opera, partly in response to such criticisms. Offering a revised chronology for the decline of the British aristocracy based on such cultural compromises, Hall-Witt reveals how the very adaptations that helped the landed elite to survive as the ruling class into the Victorian period also undermined its ability to maintain its power in the long run.

One function of the opera was for the audience to see and be seen.  It took time for  the audience to come and listen to the music and see the drama. Most of the book is concerned with the time to 1840 and less afterwards.

“The Covent Garden Theatre, the original theatre on the site, was opened (1732) by John Rich and served for plays, pantomimes, and opera. During the 1730s, when George Frideric Handel was associated with the theatre, opera was emphasized, but later the focus shifted to plays. Managers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries included the noted actors George Colman the Elder, John Philip Kemble, and Charles Kemble. The structure burned in 1808 and was rebuilt in 1809. In 1847 it became the Royal Italian Opera House under the noted conductor Michael Costa and, later, Frederick Gye. The building burned in 1856, and a new building was opened in 1858. The Royal Italian Opera failed in 1884 and was replaced in 1888 by what came to be called the Royal Opera Company under Augustus Harris and, later, Maurice Grau; the repertoire was largely Italian opera.” [Britannica]

For more information on the type of people who attended the theatre, I would recommend Rachel Knowles’s piece found HERE

“According to Feltham’s The Picture of London for 1807 the numbers of people that could be accommodated in the theatre and the prices for each type of seat were:

“The doors opened at 5.30pm and the performance started at 6.30pm. People could be admitted for half price at the end of the third act of the play which, according to the The Picture of London (1809), was ‘generally a little after eight o’clock.’3 The Picture of London (1813) went into a little more detail, specifying that half-price began at the end of the third act of a five-act play but at the end of the second of a three-act play.”

In the early 19th century, box subscribers received a reduced price for the season in exchange for payment up front. They were supposed to let the management know when the box was not being used so the tickets could be sold again by the theater. Since the members of the ton were notoriously lax about this, at times theaters actually hired people to question servants and find out what people were doing. I am guessing that if the box holder provided use of the box to a party that did not include anyone on the subscriber list (the box holder provided the theater with a list and families quite often shared a box) they had to inform management.

I am fairly certain that by 1864 things had changed dramatically. There were a greater numbers of rich people in London by then and I assume the opera house had no problem selling out on a regular basis without the subscription method of financing the season. You could check the Annals of Covent Garden (available on Google Books) and see if it says anything about when things changed in that manner.  Most of my information comes from a compilation of newspaper clippings about the King’s Theatre in the British Library, plus various other theatrical histories.

If one is planning to include an opera scene in a book, etc., I would suggest he/she conducted research on individual theaters. There were a limited number of theaters and not all of them preformed operas (or even dramas). They also had set seasons when they were open and performing, which might affect a particular story line.

Some possible sources include: 

Plays About the Theatre in England, 1737-1800 or, The Self-conscious Stage from Foote to Sheridan by Dane Farnsworth Smith and M. L. Lawhon 

The Cambridge Companion to British Theatre 1730-1830, Edited by Jane Moody and Daniel O’Quinn

A good basic bit of info is here:

http://main.thebeaumonde.com/archives/5171 Most who liked the theater or opera would keep a box subscription. This would be kept up in several of the theaters (for the rich, cost wasn’t a problem). It would be unlikely that anyone would let their box to another–but they might offer its use to friends and/or relatives if it was not in use. Otherwise, it would be left vacant for that performance.

For a reference book on opera – http://www.pickeringchatto.com/titles/1092-9781848931657-london-opera-observed-1711-1844

Posted in British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Living in the UK, Regency era, theatre | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Origin of a Sea Shantie: “What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?”

“What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?” was a work song, mainly sung on ships with a large number of crewmen. According to Song Facts, it is one of the oldest Anglo-Saxon sea shanties, one sung by the Indiamen of the Honourable John Company. It the one of the few songs the British Royal Navy permitted its crew to sing aboard ship. Supposedly, all hands would sing the song in unison while raising the anchor or hoisting the sails. “Wey, hey up she rises.” Reportedly, the first published reference to the tune was in the books an American whaling ship sailing from New London, Connecticut, to the Pacific in 1839. John Masefield, Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, described the tune “as a ‘walk away’ shanty used for tacking, which would have been sung at a walking pace.” (Karen Dolby, Auld Lang Syne: Words to Songs You Used to Know, Michael O’Mara Books, ©2015)

220px-TenLittleInjuns1868.png The actual music was “a traditional Irish dance and march tune, ‘Oró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’ (Translated as ‘Óró, you are welcome home’).The same tune has also been used for other songs, possibly Ten Little Injuns.  (“Ten Little Injuns” is a popular song written by Septimus Winner in 1868 for the minstrel trade. It was based on an 1850s minstrel skit about one John Brown whose American Indian boy grows from “one little Injun” into “ten little Injuns,” and then back to one.) [You might know the “Ten Little Injuns” poem/song if you have ever read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which was originally entitled Ten Little Indians.)

The music was first reproduced in printed form in 1824 in Cole’s Selection of Favourite Cotillions published in Baltimore. ClassicCat tells us, “However, the lyrics were first published in 1891 under the title “What to do with a Drunken Sailor?”. Another version appears in The Shanty Book, Part I, Sailor Shanties, by Richard Runciman Terry, categorised as a ‘Windlass and Capstan’ shanty. He says of it: ‘Although mostly used for windlass or capstan, Sir Walter Runciman tells me that he frequently sang to it for ‘hand-over-hand’ hauling. Whall gives it on page 107 under the title ‘Early in the morning.’ It is one of the few shanties that were sung in quick time.'” Its lyrics are much older, and comprise several verses full of various unpleasant things that could be done to sober up an inebriated sailor, including “stick him in the scrubber with a hosepipe on him” and “shave his belly with a rusty razor.


Melody and first verse of “Drunken Sailor”, culled from R. R. Terry’s The Shanty Book, Part One (1921). via Wikipedia

 ClassicCat also provides us this list of parodies and variations: 

The main theme from the first movement o Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major, Op. 102, mimics the song.

The Kingston Trio recorded “Early in the Morning” the chorus of which has the same tune but these lyrics: “When you lift your eyes and/see the sun a risin’/on the far horizon/early in the morning.”

American band Firewater recorded a song entitled “Snake-Eyes and Boxcars” that borrows the melody but changes the central lyric to “What shall we do with a drunken failure?”

Montreal band The Prowlers adapted the lyrics to suit the title “Drunken Skinhead” on their album “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow”, released in 2001.

Folk singer Country Joe McDonald adapted the chorus for his song Save the Whales.

The melody is often used in Spongebob Square Pants.  

The song has also been used by Bleeding Hearts as the basis for ‘Siren Songs’ which was released in 2002 on their live acoustic album ‘Anarcoustica’.

Don Janse produced a particularly artistic arrangement in the early 1960s which has been included in several choral music anthologies. 

This song has been recorded by Sam Spence under the name “Up She Rises,” and is frequently used as background music for NFL Films.

In 2005, Toyota used the tune in a U. S. television commercial.


Melody and first verse of “Drunken Sailor”, culled from R. R. Terry’s The Shanty Book, Part One (1921). Public Domain. via Wikipedia

Further reading:

Stan HugillShanties from the Seven Seas, Mystic Seaport Museum, 1994 ISBN 0-913372-70-6


If the song is now in your head, check out the Irish Rovers version HERE.

What will we do with a drunken sailor?
What will we do with a drunken sailor?
What will we do with a drunken sailor?
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Shave his belly with a rusty razor,
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

Put him in a long boat till his sober,
Put him in a long boat till his sober,
Put him in a long boat till his sober,
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

Stick him in a scupper with a hosepipe on him,
Stick him in a scupper with a hosepipe on him,
Stick him in a scupper with a hosepipe on him,
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

Put him in the bed with the captains daughter,
Put him in the bed with the captains daughter,
Put him in the bed with the captains daughter,
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

That’s what we do with a drunken sailor,
That’s what we do with a drunken sailor,
That’s what we do with a drunken sailor,
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!

Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Way hay and up she rises,
Early in the morning!


Posted in American History, British history, British Navy, music, tradtions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments