Tag Archives: Jane Austen

A Noble Expedition in Spain

Battle_najera_froissart

“Battle najera froissart” by 15th century Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (Bib. Nat. Fr., FR 2643, fol. 312v).. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_najera_froissart.jpg#/media/File:Battle_najera_froissart.jpg

 

The Spanish campaign of 1367 set the seal on the Black Prince’s reputation as a soldier of great skill and courage, but also marked the beginning of the end of the English in Aquitaine. Although the campaign was notable for the English victory at the battle of Nájera, it was on this campaign that the Prince became ill with dysentery and was never well again. He failed in all his objectives for the campaign, ending up poorer than when he started and having to tax his subjects in Aquitaine so much that they complained.

The Spanish campaign feels like an odd interlude in the Hundred Years’ War. In 1360 a peace treaty between England and France put a lot of soldiers on both sides out of work. No longer able to make a living from pillaging and ransoms, many of them joined together to form mercenary bands and roamed France terrorising towns and villages for protection money. Some even threatened the Pope at Avignon. These groups were a real problem for most of France, but less so for Aquitaine. The Black Prince is thought to have encouraged them in ravaging France.

The Castilians were the best sailors in Europe and had attacked the south coast of England in support of the king of France, since Don Pedro, the king of Castile, was allied to France. This made him a problem worth solving for Edward III. A peace treaty between the two was made in February 1363, but was not ratified by Don Pedro for another 18 months for fear of retribution from the French king.

Don Pedro had an illegitimate half-brother, Enrique de Trastámara (or Henry the Bastard or just the Spanish Bastard), who had led numerous rebellions against him. He was also fighting a war with the king of Aragón. Under the pretext of going south to fight the Moors, a large band of mercenaries entered Castile to fight for Enrique in late 1365. Edward III had to write to the English mercenaries among them to threaten reprisals against them and their families, since, under the treaty, no Englishman was supposed to bear arms against Don Pedro. Don Pedro had little support in Castile and fled, first to Portugal and then to Aquitaine, where he asked the Black Prince for help. Since Enrique was pro-French, Edward III had already decided to assist Don Pedro, and the Black Prince took an army to Castile in February 1367, crossing the Pyrenees at almost the worst time of the year. His allies in this endeavour were known as Pedro the Cruel and Charles the Bad (of Navarre), although these characteristics apparently came as a bit of a surprise to the Black Prince when he saw evidence of them.

As soon as they knew that the Black Prince was on his way most of the English mercenaries still with Enrique changed side rather than fight their former commander, or they had already been paid off by Enrique, depending on which version of the story you believe.

Initially Enrique followed the advice that he had received from the French king not to face the English in a pitched battle and contented himself with harrying the army when it arrived in Castile. This proved quite effective, but Enrique, like others before him, gave in to pride and decided to stand and fight at Nájera on 3rd April 1367. He was also worried that his army would desert him if he didn’t prove himself.

The English vanguard (the division at the front) of the army at the battle of Nájera was commanded by Sir John Chandos and it’s reasonable to assume that his herald was with him, for it’s this battle that forms the centrepiece of Chandos Herald’s Life of the Black Prince. The Prince himself commanded the main body of the army. Sir Hugh Calvely, one of the English mercenary captains who had originally fought for Enrique, was one of the commanders of the rearguard.

Enrique was supported mainly by French mercenaries under the command of Bertrand du Guesclin, later Constable of France. Enrique’s fears about the loyalty of his troops were well-founded and about half the Castilian army ran away. Enrique himself had to be forcibly removed from the field of battle so that he wouldn’t be killed.

The Black Prince was undefeated in battle and his reputation as a great commander was assured, but the rest of the Spanish campaign did not go as planned. Don Pedro was supposed to pay the Prince’s costs of bringing an army into Castile, but he prevaricated and, rather than return to Aquitaine as he had intended, the Prince had to stay in Castile and prod Don Pedro to collect the promised money. Don Pedro even executed prisoners, a valuable source of income through ransoms. This episode shows one of the main differences between the Prince and his ally. For the Prince ransoming (and trusting) his prisoners was a mainstay of chivalry, although it must have come as a shock to discover that one of his prisoners at Nájera was a man he’d released on parole (that is a promise not to fight against him again) after the battle of Poitiers. Don Pedro, on the other hand, believed that those who had fought against him were traitors and deserved to die.

The Prince soon realised that Don Pedro could not pay what he owed, but didn’t return to Aquitaine until August, by which time he was gravely ill. He lost a great deal of money going into Spain, as he had to pay the army himself. More damaging, for him and for England, his health was ruined and he never recovered from his Spanish adventure.

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Emma – Contains Spoilers

Emma

This month sees the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Emma. Not only is this my favourite book by Jane Austen, but it’s my favourite book by anyone. My only regret is that I can never read it for the first time again. I can still remember where I was and what I felt when I realised that Frank Churchill wasn’t going to marry Emma. There’s no one else, I thought, who’s she going to marry? So cleverly had Austen woven her tale that I couldn’t see the obvious answer. Clearly Emma had to marry someone, this was a Jane Austen novel after all. Emma had avoided the very unsuitable vicar, but had been avoided by the very suitable Frank Churchill, although, now that I thought about it, he wasn’t that suitable after all. Perhaps he had been a bit weak what with going off to have his hair cut and forever promising to visit his father and never quite managing it and he was paying rather a lot of attention to that rather dull, but talented, Jane Fairfax. Surely Emma couldn’t be going to go through life a spinster, spending her evenings with her father and the well-meaning, but not always complimentary Mr Knightley.

I came late to Jane Austen, which is probably a good thing. Other girls at school had Persuasion on the syllabus. My class, however, stuck resolutely to twentieth century literature: Nineteen Eighty-Four (still in the future in those days), Poets of the Twentieth Century and Over The Bridge, thank you very much. If you’ve heard of Richard Church in any context other than an exam syllabus you’re doing better than me. I’d never come across him before I read his memoir for O’ Level and I’ve never come across him since. I resented the fact that other girls were reading Jane Austen and Shakespeare while I was reading people I’d never heard of (George Orwell excepted), although I confess that I came to love Louis MacNeice, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke, among others.

It took me a very long time to get round to Persuasion and longer still before I liked it. The jury is still out on Mansfield Park. Apparently people who like and understand Jane Austen are divided into two camps: those who think Emma is the best thing she wrote and those who think it’s Mansfield Park.  I’m obviously not in the Mansfield Park camp, but I’m beginning to appreciate just how sly Austen was being when she wrote it. I think my very first feeling of connection with Austen came when I read in Mansfield Park that Fanny called the Isle of Wight ‘the Island’, which is how I, and everyone who lives on the Hampshire coast, refer to it, so it does have a special place in my heart, even if I don’t love it as much as I should.

What of Emma then? Famously Austen wrote that she was going to “take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”, but everyone thinks that she was joking. Emma isn’t terribly self-aware at the beginning of the novel, but that changes, with a little help from Mr. Knightley. She might be spoiled and she might be lord of all she surveys, but she has a good heart and has been brought up by people with good hearts and wisdom. I include Mr. Knightley among the people who brought her up, despite the distasteful twenty-first century supposition that he was ‘grooming’ her to be his bride, which I don’t think is the case.

Maria Edgeworth, who had been sent a complimentary copy, thought there was no story in it, which rather misses the point. Edgeworth wrote, and presumably liked, stories with morals. Emma has no moral; it’s a story about growing up, realising who you are and marriage.

I have to confess that I love the 1996 film of the book, although you only have to see Jeremy Northam to know that Mr Knightley and Emma were made for one another, which rather ruins the twist. I’m also very fond of the 1972 BBC serialisation in which Mr Knightley is played by John Carson, despite being far too old for the rôle. The portrayal of Emma in that adaptation comes quite close to making her unlikeable.

1815 was the year of Waterloo, the end of more than twenty years of war with France. For all of Emma’s life England had been at war, but you’d hardly know it from Emma, for all it can be read as a celebration of what it is to be English. The only reminder of the war is Colonel Campbell, who takes in the orphaned Jane Fairfax because he was a friend of her father, Lieutenant Fairfax, who died in the wars. Austen herself knew what it was to be at war; with two brothers in the navy, she could hardly be unaware. When she was living in Southampton, she had seen warships being built. Being at war was just like breathing; it simply happened.

It was the move to Chawton in 1809 that finally gave Austen the means to write and to write well. The cottage she lived in with her sister and her mother is now a museum and you can see the room in which she sat and wrote, unless visitors came or there was work around the house to be done or a brother to be visited.

When I first read Emma I didn’t realise that it was about Highbury as much as it was about Emma.  Much as I love my home town and love to think of Austen walking its streets, I know that she was much happier in small country villages. Bath and Southampton must have killed her creativity stone dead.

Anyone who has read Emma knows what it was to live in a small village two hundred years ago. It was a very small, suffocating community, where everyone knew everyone else and their business. An intrigue such as the one between Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax would have kept the village talking for months, if not years.

Emma is a great novel, because it rewards those who reread it. If you want to understand how truly awful Mr. Elton is, why not reread it paying particular attention to him and his wife. Or have a look at Miss Bates, who is so aware of her precarious position as a poor spinster that she can’t stop talking. She is far more intelligent than she seems at first. Or read it to see how Mr. Knightley is patiently and gently guiding the ungrateful Emma to be all that she can be…  so that she can marry someone else. Is he jealous of Frank Churchill? Only on a second reading. It passed me by completely the first time, as it did Emma.

Many times Emma has been named the greatest novel in English. I’m a big fan of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout and Nero Wolfe hates Emma because it’s the book that forces him to admit that a woman can write as well as, if not better, than a man. There must be many in his position. Whenever there are lists of the ‘One hundred books you must read before you die’ Emma is there in the top five, unless it’s been supplanted by Pride and Prejudice, which I can never understand.

There are many books that I return to time after time: East of Eden, Madame Bovary, La Porte Etroite,  To Kill a Mockingbird and all the novels of Jane Austen, but it is Emma that gives me the greatest pleasure and the greatest reward.

Emma has moments of great cruelty and great comedy. There is a lot of cruelty in Emma’s relationship with Harriet Smith. Emma almost robs her friend of the opportunity to marry Robert Martin, the man who is perfect for her, by her constant sneering at his efforts to woo Miss Smith. Mrs. Elton is a comedic creation whom no one is meant to love, with her ‘caro sposos’ and ‘barouche landaus’. The reader knows that they’re meant to laugh at her, and they do.

Marriage is one of the key themes of the book. ‘Poor Miss Taylor’ needs to marry, and it is her wedding that sets the events of the novel in progress. As Emma’s governess she can only expect a barren future as Emma’s companion if she does not marry. Jane Fairfax, as if in her image, is a companion whose life can only go downhill after she becomes a governess, as it seems likely she must. Harriet must also marry. There is no future for her if she does not, as she isn’t even clever enough to become a governess; there is no indication how long the support of her unknown father will last. Emma might not need to marry from a financial point of view, but she needs a husband in order to fulfil her rôle in society. Mrs. Elton is an example of a woman on the shelf who grabs her chance to avoid spinsterhood by marrying the appalling Mr. Elton. Miss Bates is, of course, the future that awaits any of them.

It was as a homage to Mr. Knightley that I called my first Regency hero George, and in recognition of Emma as my favourite book that Lady Anna in The Heart that Lies has three suitors, only one of whom is perfect for her.

Emma is my favourite book, what more can I say? Two hundred years ago, in a cottage less than thirty miles away from here a woman a few years younger than I am now, sat down day after day and wrote the greatest novel in the English language and she never knew what she’d done.

 

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Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball – DVD Review

Having a ball

Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet met at the Netherton ball. The preparations and the ball itself are recreated at Chawton House for this DVD.

Chawton house, now home to The Centre for the Study of Early Women’s Writing, 1600-1830, was one of the houses of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight. When he inherited it he was able to provide a home for his mother and sisters in the nearby village of Chawton.

The DVD is a wealth of information about how people of different ages, classes and gender dressed for a ball and what their expectations were. Some of the many things I learned from the DVD are that the dances were long, usually about twenty minutes; the length of the candles in the chandeliers told the guests how long the ball was going to be; ballrooms were very hot places; and being able to dance well was one of the necessities for finding a marriage partner if you were a member of certain social classes.

The DVD is ably presented by Amanda Vickery, professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary College London and author of Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England and The Gentleman’s Daughter, and Alastair Sooke, art critic and broadcaster. They are assisted by specialists: John Mullan, professor of English at University College London and author of What Matters in Jane Austen, expert in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century novel; Ivan Day, an expert in historic food; and Stuart Marsden, an expert in historical dance.

The DVD is hugely informative. If you want to know what it took to put on a Regency ball, this is the place to go. It’s also entertaining and the clothes, when we eventually get to the ball, are lovely to look at.

The first half of the DVD shows the preparations for the ball: the dancing lessons; the fittings for clothes; the planning of the menu. Then we’re into the ball itself, watching the invited guests turn up on foot and in carriages on a snowy evening. They dance in a small room and people are pressed together far more than you would imagine. There’s plenty of opportunity to flirt in a twenty minute dance. There’s also a lot more touching than I was expecting.

Interestingly there’s a look at one of the Austen family’s music books, kept in the archives at the University of Southampton. The music was copied out by hand, to be played on a piano. Some of it was copied by Austen herself, in very neat handwriting. A piece from this book is arranged for musicians to play at the ball.

Watching this DVD you begin to understand why it would be noticed if a man danced with the same woman twice, something Mrs Bennet makes a great deal of when Mr Bingley dances with Jane. At twenty minutes each, there weren’t many dances in an evening and two would show a marked preference for a woman.

Supper also took up a lot of time. Here the guests sit down to sixty-three dishes, providing plenty of opportunities for more flirting, as the men helped their neighbours to food.

In my imagination, and probably in that of other readers of Jane Austen and historical romances, ballrooms were huge and those sitting out were a long way from the dancers, but here we can see how close they were to one another, with those watching paying close attention to who was dancing with whom and how well.

This is a very interesting DVD. The experts are articulate and have plenty to say and suggest. The dancers and other guests put the theory into practice. Watching the DVD has transformed the way I read and think about balls.

 

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Southey – Forgotten Poet Laureate

The poet's pilgrimage

Robert Southey was born in 1774 in Bristol and lived for most of his life in the Lake District. He was a Romantic poet and Poet Laureate from 1813 to 1843. Unlike his friends and contemporaries Wordsworth and Coleridge, he’s barely remembered today. I don’t know that I’ve ever read one of his poems and I couldn’t find one in any of my anthologies. I’ve attached a link to one of them below in case you’re in the same position.

As well as poetry he also wrote histories and biographies. He wrote lives of John Bunyan, John Wesley, William Cowper, Oliver Cromwell and Horatio Nelson. Jane Austen wrote in one of her letters that she was going to read this last, as she believed it mentioned her brother, Frank; it didn’t.

Southey was a great scholar of Spanish and Portuguese literature and history and he translated literary works from those languages into English.  He planned a history of Portugal, but only completed the History of Brazil. He also wrote a history of the Peninsular War.

Initially he tried a writing partnership with Coleridge and they published The Fall of Robespierre in 1794. It was a three act play depicting a very recent event. Robespierre had only been beheaded in July of that year. It was originally envisaged as a project between Southey, Coleridge and Lovell, each writing an act, but Lovell’s work didn’t fit with what Southey and Coleridge had written and Southey rewrote it. The three men each married one of the Fricker sisters. When Lovell died in 1796 Mrs Lovell and her son went to live with the Southeys.

The three poets had plans to found an egalitarian society in America, but it fell through when Southey suggested that Wales would be more suitable.

Although The Fall of Robespierre was a success, the relationship between Southey and Coleridge deteriorated, as did most of Coleridge’s relationships, due to his drug addiction.

Southey married Edith Fricker in 1795 and they moved to Keswick. As well as Lovell’s widow and son, their household included Sara Coleridge and her three children, who had been abandoned by Coleridge.

In 1808 he wrote Letters from England, the account of a tour of England written from a foreigner’s viewpoint. It was considered an accurate depiction of England in the early 1800s, but Jane Austen found it very anti-English.

By 1813 he had become so well-known that he was appointed Poet Laureate after Walter Scott had refused the post.

It wasn’t just poets with whom he became friends. Humphry Davy, the amateur poet and chemist who invented the Davy lamp, was a friend, and Southey accompanied Thomas Telford, on a tour of his projects in the Highlands

Although initially a supporter of the French Revolution, writing an epic poem on the life of Joan of Arc, Southey, like Coleridge and Wordsworth,  became more conservative, to the extent that he blamed the Peterloo Massacre on the crowd. Many of his contemporaries attacked him for selling out for money and respectability. He did, however turn down a baronetcy in 1835 and was extremely critical of conditions in manufacturing towns such as Birmingham and Manchester. He was also outspoken in his condemnation of child labour.

He celebrated the victory at Waterloo by building a bonfire on the top of Skiddaw which could be seen in Scotland. The celebration was attended by many people who walked to the top of the mountain, including the Wordsworths. There were large amounts of food and drink, to the extent that many of the gentlemen were drunk before they went back down. It is not recorded whether Southey and Wordsworth were in their number.

Southey visited Waterloo on 3rd October 1815, three and a half months after the battle. He wrote a poem about the experience – The Poet’s Pilgrimage to Waterloo. Jane Austen, who read it in January 1817 shortly after it was published, was moved by the description in the poem of Southey’s son, Herbert, who died in 1816. Its tone was very different to the anti-war poem After Blenheim that he had written twenty years before.

Byron despised him, in addition to having no respect for his abilities as a poet, for what he considered to be a hypocritical turn to conservative politics. In return, Southey held Byron in very low esteem.

He was far from being a feminist and discouraged Charlotte Brontë from pursuing a career as a writer when she wrote to him to ask for advice. On the other hand he enjoyed Jane Austen’s novels and expressed regret after her death that he hadn’t known her.

After the death of his wife, Southey married again in 1839. His new wife, Caroline Bowles, was also a poet. Shortly after the marriage signs of dementia began to appear and he died in 1843.

 

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Fanny and Jane

Evelina

To complete what has turned out to be a trilogy of female writers admired by Jane Austen we turn to Fanny Burney.

Frances Burney was the daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, the organist and musical historian. He had moved from London to King’s Lynn for the sake of his chest and it was there that Fanny was born in 1752. Music and the arts were very important to the family. They returned to London when Frances was eight and  two years later her mother died. Burney was the third of six children from her father’s first marriage and they were all close. She didn’t go to school, and didn’t learn to read and write until she was eight.  Five years after the death of her mother Burney’s father married a widow he had known in King’s Lynn. The stepmother was not popular with his children and Burney never accepted her. Charles Burney was a doting father and Burney constantly sought his approval, which had been missing in her earlier life. She was his secretary when he wrote his four volume history of music.

Burney met many of the leading men in music and literature, thanks mainly to her father. Her brothers and sisters were also interested in writing, one of her sisters also becoming a novelist. As well as writing novels and plays, Burney was a prolific writer of letters and journals. These were intended for posterity rather than for the moment and these were the source of her fame for the last century. Famously she described spending the night before Waterloo in Brussels and her own mastectomy, undertaken without anaesthetic.

Evelina was her first and best novel. She wrote it in her teens and finished it in 1777. It was published in 1778. In the fashion of the time it was published anonymously. Authors tended not to admit to their works until the works were successful. Burney even disguised her handwriting, afraid that the publisher would recognise it from the work she had done writing her father’s manuscript, and sent it to the publisher by her brother.  Dr Johnson was an admirer and said that some of the passages would do honour to Richardson. Walpole, Burke, Garrick and Reynolds praised it.

Burney has long been considered an amateur writer who never developed. Her first published novel is considered her best work. There was an earlier novel that she burnt at the behest of her father. Her novels dealt with the identity and character of her heroines.

In 1779 she wrote her first play The Witlings. It was a satire on the blue-stockings, a group of intellectual women who met to discuss literature and the arts. These women had enjoyed Evelina and supported Burney when she admitted to being the author. Burney’s father and other friends persuaded her against trying to have it put on. Dr Burney thought that it was insulting to people who would otherwise have helped her. It was also recognised that a gentlewoman should not have anything to do with the theatre. Women associated with the theatre were considered immoral.

From 1786 to 1791 she was the Second Mistress of the Robes to Queen Charlotte. It was a tedious job, but she needed the £200 per annum it brought, since she wasn’t sure that she would marry, having already had two failed romances. She was thirty-four when the position was offered to her. Burney wasn’t interested in clothes; she found she had little time to write; and one of the other keepers of the robes made her life so unbearable that she wanted to resign. This would have been an insult to the queen, with whom she had developed a good relationship, so she stayed until she became ill. During this time she had another failed romance, which wore her down still further. When she eventually resigned due to ill health she was given a pension of £100.

In 1793, when he was forty, she married a penniless, exiled French officer, M. d’Arblay. He was a Catholic with no means of support at all. It was a love match, but her father did not attend the wedding. Their son Alexandre was born in 1794. One of them needed to earn some money, so Burney wrote.

Burney’s play Edwy and Elvira was produced in 1795, but was a failure, closing after the first night. Her next novel, Camilla, published in 1796 was a financial success. It was published by subscription and Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth were among the subscribers.

From 1802 to 1812 the d’Arblays lived in France. They had gone there during a period of peace in the hope of restoring M. d’Arblay’s fortunes, but this was not to be. When hostilities began again Burney was a political prisoner and could neither send nor receive mail. D’Arblay took a clerical job, since he was unwilling to join an army that fought for republican ideals. Burney could not receive the money from her writing so d’Arblay eventually joined the republican army. Later he was able to join the royalists.  Burney’s final novel, The Wanderer (1814), written after their return to England, was not well-received. It was considered dated.

In 1810, while still in France, Burney had a mastectomy. This was achieved without anaesthetic and she was conscious throughout the operation. One of her surgeons was Larrey, who was later a surgeon to Napoleon’s army at Waterloo and whose bravery was recognised by Wellington. The surgeons who carried out the operation were the best in France and included the obstetrician of the empress Marie-Louise. Burney later described the operation in detail in her journal and it’s not for the squeamish. Although she recovered, d’Arblay died of cancer in 1818. Burney’s last work was a life of her father, published in 1832. He had died in 1814.

Burney died in 1840, having outlived her husband, her son and her siblings.

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Maria, Belinda and Helen

Helen

Maria Edgeworth was a novelist admired by Jane Austen. She was born in Oxfordshire in 1768. Her mother was the first of her father’s four wives. When her mother died and her father married again, the family moved to Ireland, where her father had his estate. When his second wife died, Richard Lovell Edgeworth rather shockingly married her sister.

Mr Edgeworth favoured Rousseau’s ideas on education. Rousseau believed that we are born good and that that is our natural state. He espoused the romantic view that paying attention to nature makes us better. He believed that education should be focused on the individual and that the educator should be more of a facilitator. Maria Edgeworth approved of his idea that boys and girls should receive the same education.

For a short time she attended school in England. When she returned to Ireland she mixed with the Anglo-Irish gentry, including Kitty Pakenham, later to marry Wellington. She read the novels of Mrs Radcliffe and William Godwin, who wrote what is considered to be the first mystery novel.

Edgeworth helped her father to manage the estate. He was a member of the Irish parliament and they wrote Practical Education published in 1798 with together. She continued to collaborate with her father on other works about education and also mechanics. She also began writing stories for her many siblings. Her father had twenty-two children, of whom she was the third. Realising that she had a talent for it, and despite her father’s belief that it was frivolous, she concentrated on fiction after 1801, writing stories for children, stories about the Irish character and romances (or courting novels). Her great skill was in the creation of characters.  Her best known novels are Castle Rackrent (1801), Belinda (1801), Leonora (1806) and Helen (1834).

Belinda

Edgeworth’s third stepmother, Frances Beaufort (sister of the creator of the Beaufort Scale, which measures wind force), was a year younger than her and became her trusted friend. In 1802 Maria travelled with her father and stepmother during a pause in the hostilities during the Napoleonic Wars, visiting Belgium and France.

Her novels were very popular and she initially outsold Jane Austen and Walter Scott. She became a friend of the latter, visiting him in Scotland and he visited her in Ireland. He said that her stories about Ireland inspired him to write Waverley. She also knew Wordsworth and his friend Humphrey Davy, as well as Byron, whom she disliked.

Her first novels were about life in Ireland. She also wrote for children. Her most famous novel is Belinda, far racier in its intimations about sexual relations than anything her contemporary Austen wrote. Edgeworth’s novels had a moral purpose that can seem heavy-handed to today’s readers. Helen is about how destructive lies can be in a relationship. Belinda is also about the negative effect of deceit, but its main purpose is to praise rationality. Belinda’s first two editions featured an interracial marriage but Edgeworth’s father made her remove it from the third edition. My copy is the 1857 edition, published after her death, in which the marriage is restored. The novel must have been a lot less entertaining without it.

In 1837 she was made a member of the Royal Irish Academy.

She died of a heart attack in 1849.

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Gothic Heroine

Mysteries of Udolpho

Mrs Radcliffe was despised and revered in about equal measure at the beginning of the nineteenth century. She wrote some of the gothic novels referred to by Jane Austen in her own novels and was the most famous writer in that genre. For many, novels of any kind were considered frivolous and gothic novels were more frivolous than the rest. In this regard Mrs Radcliffe was not well-served by her fame, as she represented the gothic novel in the mind’s of most people and came in for a lot of criticism. Mrs Radcliffe’s novels are representative of the genre in that the plots are labyrinthine; they have casts of thousands and there is usually a strong supernatural element, although in her case this is always explained later. It’s probably due to her that the gothic novel survived as long as it did as a genre.

Mrs Radcliffe was born Ann Ward in 1764 in London and married William Radcliffe in 1787. He was the owner of a weekly newspaper. Her mother was 38 when she was born and it was her relationships with her parents and her mother-in-law that are believed to have had most influence on her as a writer, since these relationships were very fraught. Ann Ward grew up with an uncle, not with her parents, and Mrs Radcliffe senior was very difficult, demanding that money be sent to her for her support even though it would have been easier for everyone if she had moved in with Ann and William.

Ann Radcliffe was a Unitarian. This was a religion that did not have its first church in England until ten years after her birth. Since I had to look it up, I can share that Unitarians, at least in Mrs Radcliffe’s day, were theists who did not accept the Trinity, nor did they accept that Jesus was God. There were Unitarians in England from the middle of the seventeenth century, but it was only in 1774 that they became a formal denomination. This is of some importance to her readers, as the deity in her works is the Unitarian deity. She was very anti-Catholic, which is quite a feature of the Gothic genre.

Her first book The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne was published in 1789. It was, apparently, dreadful and attracted no attention. A Sicilian Romance was published in the following year and Sir Walter Scott said it was the finest English example of the poetical novel. Another year brought The Romance of the Forest, the book that Harriet Smith was so desperate to read in Emma.

The Romance of the Forest

Mrs Radcliffe’s most famous books were The Mysteries of Udolpho in 1794 and The Italian in 1797. The Mysteries of Udolpho is parodied in Northanger Abbey and there are those who see her influence in other books by Jane Austen. This rather implies that Jane Austen was a fan, both of Mrs Radcliffe and the gothic genre. She must have read and liked a number of such books in order to produce a good parody.

I have tried to reflect the way in which her novels were received in two of my own novels. In The Heart That Lies the earl of Meldon is a fan and has even tried to meet the woman whose writing he admires. His closest friend, Edmund Finch, is dismissive of her talents in The Heart That Hides and would rather have someone read a laundry list to him than one of her novels.

The reason that fans like Meldon didn’t meet their heroine was because she became a recluse in her later years. Very little was known about her and Christina Rossetti had to abandon her plan to write a biography due to the lack of material.

After producing five very popular novels, she stopped writing in 1797 at the age of 32. There is some suggestion that this was due to pressure from her husband, but there are also clues that she was not entirely stable mentally. She appears to have had a mental breakdown in 1812 and there were rumours that she died in a lunatic asylum. For some months after her breakdown it was believed that she was near to death, but she recovered and returned to London and her husband in 1815.

Mrs Radcliffe died in 1823 from some kind of respiratory problem. It’s not known if it was asthma, pneumonia or a chest infection; it seems each is equally possible.

Her contemporaries regarded her as a dramatic poet and it was the poetry that established her in the literary world. Women novelists were considered frivolous, but she rose above this. The poems in her novels aided her readers’ understanding of the story.

She was a strong influence on Sir Walter Scott and he acknowledged his debt to her.

Her novels are long and rambling for today’s tastes, but still worth investigating.

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Jane Austen lived here: Part Five

Return to Castle Square

Medieval Merchant's House

The Austens had barely arrived in Southampton before they were thinking of leaving and they received the happy news that a house would be made available for them towards the end of 1808. The house was a property owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, in Chawton, fifteen miles away from where she had grown up in Steventon. Edward had been adopted by a distant cousin as a child and had inherited Chawton House in Hampshire and Godmersham Park in Kent.

In Southampton the Austens were far from cut off from their family, even after Frank and his wife went back to sea. Austen and her sister Cassandra went often to Godmersham Park. Usually they visited alone and it is to this that we owe Austen’s letters during their time in Southampton. She wrote frequently to her sister either to or from Southampton. Her eldest brother, James, was the rector of Steventon, the post formerly held by their father. James and Edward visited Southampton often. Another brother, Henry, a banker at that time (for he had a number of careers), lived in London and the sisters usually visited him on their way to and from Kent. The youngest brother, Charles, was, like Frank, making a successful career at sea. Along with the brothers came sisters-in-law and various nephews and nieces. When Edward’s wife died while Cassandra was visiting Godmersham Park, two of his sons stayed with their Aunt Jane and their grandmother in Southampton. Austen’s letters told both of their morning and of the things she had done to entertain them, as well as asking if Cassandra had seen their sister-in-law’s body.

As they had been wherever they lived the Austen were busy. Austen’s letters tell about altering dresses and bonnets. They walked almost every day in the Spa Gardens, by Southampton Water which was doubtless very bracing. They visited friends, although, knowing that their stay in Southampton was not permanent, they did not make a great effort to make new friends. They visited locally, taking ferries across Southampton Water to the New Forest and across the Itchen to Northam. As we have seen, they attended balls. As well as in the Dolphin they danced in the Long Rooms, which were even closer to Castle Square. Dances were held there four nights a week. Nothing remains of this building. Its location would have been in the road by the second lamppost in this photograph.

View from the bottom of the garden

It’s very easy to forget that there was a very real fear of invasion at the time. The invasion of Britain had long been one of Napoleon’s aims, although the threat had diminished greatly after Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar in 1805. Southampton was very much involved in the war. Austen talks in her letters about seeing warships being built. With two brothers in the navy, she would have taken an interest in this. As well as being a port, Southampton also had shipyards and ships were also built on the other side of Southampton Water at Bucklers Hard. Until shortly before the Austens arrived the town had been a busy garrison.

The Austens also went to the theatre. The Theatre Royal was in French Street, a few minutes’ walk from their house in Castle Square. It was a few yards past the Medieval Merchant’s House which is [pictured] at the beginning of the post. It, too, is no longer with us. The Austens loved amateur dramatics and the theatre must have provided them with much entertainment.

It was this very busyness that probably kept Austen from writing as much as she would have wanted while she lived in the town. Even though the Austens could not afford to keep a carriage, there was a wealth of diversions within walking distance. The Austens left Southampton in July 1809 for Chawton, where they lived very quietly. There was little to distract Austen from her writing and she entered her most productive period.

Due to the RNA Conference and a concert there will be no post next week.

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Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Four

Other Delights

This week I’m looking at some buildings within the Southampton town walls that Jane Austen would have known well.

St Michaels

Not far from Castle Square is the medieval church of St Michael. It dates from 1066-1076 and is the oldest church still in use in Southampton. It stands a couple of hundred yards from Castle Square. The spire dates from 1732, so the Austens would have been familiar with it. The church was built over several centuries, with new sections being added to the original structure and different styles can be seen in different parts of the church. As with the cathedral in nearby Winchester, building was interrupted by the Black Death. Unlike the cathedral, where the temporary west front, put up because it was clear that the plans were never going to be completed, has lasted six hundred and sixty years, work on St Michael’s was resumed, resulting in a change of building style. This was the norm for medieval churches, which were rarely built in a single style.

St Michael’s was the church of the French population of the town shortly after the Conquest. At that point Southampton was approximately two thirds French and one third English. This division is shown in the names of the roads; French Street was to the west and English Street (now the High Street) was to the east. It was ironic, then, that it was in this church that a massacre took place during the French raid on the town in 1338. The building was reconsecrated a year later.

The church escaped the bombing raids of 23rd and 30th November and 1 December 1940 with minor damage. It was said the German pilots were told to avoid destroying the church, since the spire was used by them as a landmark, together with the clock tower of the Civic Centre in the centre of the town.

Tudor House

On the other side of St Michael’s Square is Tudor House. Now a museum, it is a late fifteenth century timber-framed building. It backs onto the same stretch of walls as the Austens’ garden. Built by Sir John Dawtrey, who was Southampton’s Member of Parliament, it contains graffiti from Tudor sailors and privateers.

It was almost demolished in the 1880s, but was purchased by a philanthropist, who refurbished it and sold it to the town for a museum. During the Second World War the wine cellar was used as an air raid shelter. At the beginning of this century it was closed for almost a decade for significant structural repairs.

Bargate from High Street

The Bargate is the most famous building in Southampton and is the symbol of the modern city. It was the main gate out of the town to the north, going to Winchester and London. Jane Austen would have seen it almost every day. It was at the top of the High Street, which was the main shopping street of the town. It is a hundred yards from All Saints’ Church which the Austens attended. This is the view that they would have seen. The statue in the middle of the four windows is George III in Roman dress.

It dates back to the end of the twelfth century and is the earliest of the town’s fortifications. The earliest part is the Norman tower enclosed in the north front. The first floor was built in the fourteenth century.

Bargate from Above Bar

Henry II arrived in Southampton from the continent in 1174 to put down a rebellion. Realising that the rebellion was seen as just retribution for his part in the murder of Thomas Becket, Henry decided not to go north to quash the rebellion, but east to Canterbury, to do public penance. He set off through the Bargate. Those responsible for the Southampton Plot (the Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope and Sir Thomas Grey) were executed in front of the Bargate at the beginning of August 1415. Henry V then set sail for France and Agincourt. The Southampton Plot was a plan to replace Henry V with Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. The latter had a better claim to the throne than Henry V. Over the centuries thousands of soldiers have marched under the arch to join ships taking them to fight, mainly France.

This has nothing to do with Jane Austen, but is a rather wonderful film taken from a tram passing through the Bargate in the 1900s. Because of the shape of the arch, special trams had to be built to pass through it. The film shows the tram pass from the High Street, which was well-known to Austen, into Above Bar, which was an area that was being built up in her time. In Jane Austen’s time there were buildings on either side of the Bargate. These were demolished in the 1930s. This a photograph of a road which runs parallel to Above Bar and contains some Georgian terraced houses and were close to the Spa Gardens where Austen walked most days with her mother.

Portland Terrace

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Jane Austen Lived Here: Part Three

Jane Austen Danced Here

The Dolphin

The Dolphin is one of two coaching inns still standing in Southampton. Jane Austen attended balls here and it’s rumoured that she celebrated her eighteenth birthday here.

When Austen lived in Castle Square winter assemblies were held in the Dolphin every other Tuesday. At the beginning of December 1808 she wrote to tell her sister Cassandra that she had been asked to dance at the ball on the Tuesday before by a man she had met on Sunday and whose name she was unable to remember, which makes her sound very flighty for a spinster a few days short of her thirty-third birthday. In her letter she reminds Cassandra that they had danced there fifteen years earlier, which would have been around her eighteenth birthday. Viscountess Palmerston, mother of the future prime minister, travelled from the Palmerston estate in Romsey for a ball at the Dolphin. It was clearly a very fashionable place.

The first recorded mention of the Dolphin was in 1267. In 1454 it was documented as being the property of the wardens of the parish of Holy Rood and it stands only a few doors away from the ruins of the fourteenth century church in the High Street. It wasn’t uncommon in the fourteenth century for an inn to be built fairly quickly near the site of a church so that it could accommodate the travelling artisans who would build the church over several years. Like Austen’s own parish church of All Saints, Holy Rood was bombed in the air raids at the end of 1940. The site is now a memorial to sailors in the Merchant Navy killed during the Second World War.

The Dolphin Hotel that you can see in the photograph above dates from the mid-eighteenth century and reflects the prevalent coaching inn style of the time. The building fronting the street allows entry to a coach or a carriage from the street through a central arch into a courtyard and the stables are at the back. In the Dolphin’s case the stables date from the sixteenth century.

The bow windows mark the Dolphin as a particularly elegant example of its type. It is much more elegant than the Star, Southampton’s other remaining coaching inn. Both are hotels today.

The Dolphin managed to escape destruction during the Second World War and remains the most elegant building in the High Street. It is said that William Makepeace Thackeray wrote Pendennis sitting in one of the bay windows. Other visitors have included Nelson and Queen Victoria.

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