Monday, April 28, 2008

Jane Austen's House

Jane Austen revised the book that was to become Pride and Prejudice from Jane Austen's House at Chawton. After Jane's father died in Bath in 1805, the Austen women found themselves in very reduced financial circumstances. They moved to Southampton for a while to live with Jane's brother Francis and his wife Mary and in 1809 were finally settled at Chawton in a cottage on her brother Edward's estate. It seems that Jane felt very happy here. Her sister Cassandra took on much of the domestic duties allowing Jane to write. The manuscripts she had worked on in the 1790's were brought out again. Sense and Sensibility was the first to be revised and her brother Henry was instrumental in getting it published and helping to pay an advance on the printing costs. Such was the success of this book, that when Pride and Prejudice was published in 1812 Thomas Egerton paid 110 pounds for the copyright.
Jane Austen's house is now a museum dedicated to the author. There is a wonderful collection of information, including objects of interest which belonged to Jane. I always love going to Chawton where the people who work in the house are always warm and welcoming. If you haven't been and would like to see where Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, I cannot recommend a visit more highly! Click here for Jane Austen's House Museum
This is my idea of a young Henry Austen.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jane Austen in Queen Square, Bath, 1799

Jane Austen wrote the following extracts to her sister from number 13, Queen's Square, on Friday May 17, 1799. She was 23 years of age and had come to Bath with her mother and her brother Edward and his wife. The first photo shows me standing outside the house on Queen Square where they stayed. It is a moment's walk from the shops in Milsom Street and very handy for the Pump Rooms and Baths. Edward was there to try the waters for his health. This is what Jane had to say about their lodgings.

We are exceedingly pleased with the house; the rooms are quite as large as we expected. Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the staircase. Elizabeth has the apartment within the drawing-room; she wanted my mother to have it, but as there was no bed in the inner one, and the stairs are so much easier of ascent, or my mother so much stronger than in Paragon as not to regard the double flight, it is settled for us to be above, where we have two very nice-sized rooms, with dirty quilts and everything comfortable. I have the outward and larger apartment, as I ought to have; which is quite as large as our bedroom at home, and my mother's is not materially less. The beds are both as large as any at Steventon, and I have a very nice chest of drawers and a closet full of shelves -- so full indeed that there is nothing else in it, and it should therefore be called a cupboard rather than a closet, I suppose.

I like our situation very much; it is far more cheerful than Paragon, and the prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a perspective view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house in Queen's Parade.

The second photo shows a view of Queen Square, a little further along the prospect that Jane would have seen.

In Lydia Bennet's Story, I placed Lydia and her friends in lodgings in Quiet Street, just a street away, towards Milsom Street. Their situation is not as grand as Jane's, but I could not resist having Mrs Bromley as their landlady!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eloping with Mr Wickham

In Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice we learn that Lydia Bennet runs away with Mr Wickham. I always wondered how Mr Wickham and Lydia finally came to be together in Brighton and how he persuaded her that it was a good idea to elope. I don't want to spoil their story by revealing all but here is an extract from a scene prior to their elopement. I used the Lydia letter that Jane Austen wrote but we see the scene through Lydia's eyes. She is excited and so in love with her 'angel' that all she can think about is how they can be together at last.
Lydia ran to her room, retrieved her bundle and was about to go, when she was taken by the idea that she could not disappear without leaving Harriet with a hint of where she had gone. She sat down at the desk in front of the window to compose her letter. As she reached for her pen and dipped the quill in the black ink, she was overwhelmed by a desire for mirth. She tried to steady her nerves, breathing the salt tang coming in off the sea, but her laughter rose inside her to erupt into the silence of the room. The muslin at the bow window, caught by a sudden gust, snapped and flapped back, rattling the curtain rings, shaking the blinds. Lydia paused to look out through the glass at the grey clouds massing over the sea and heard the sound made by the waves as they crashed and churned; water sucking up the stones and dashing them down again on the beach below. A summer storm was brewing, but did nothing to dampen her excitement. She could hardly believe that the time to depart had arrived.

She started to write:

Dear Harriet,
You will laugh when you know where I am gone and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed…

She hesitated as a resounding clap like a cracking whip tore across the heavens, lighting up the sky in sulphurous tones, before a roll of thunder crashed overhead. At once the rain began, blowing large, fat droplets across her missive, smudging and dissolving the ink, extinguishing the candle she had lit to provide more light against the dim evening. She stood up and lowered the window, taking in the scene below as figures dashed for cover from the tumultuous downpour. Carriages were arriving, bringing their pretty passengers to dance at the Assembly Rooms below. A girl, shivering in sheer muslin, alighted from a phaeton with her beau and was buffeted along by the wind, which whipped at her legs and threatened to snatch her bonnet. Some high-spirited young men leered enthusiastically at a trio of females who left them in no doubt of their mutual interest as they passed by. Coachmen turned up their collars, pulling down their hats and fastening close their carriage hoods against the unseasonable squall. Satin slippers were soaked through in seconds and shawls clutched tightly in an effort to stay dry, as another coach-load of ladies ran from the streaming gutters, shrieking and hopping through the puddles.

“Lord, what fun! What delights have been mine whilst here,” mused Lydia. “I will never forget my time in this pleasure haven. I could never have imagined, when I begged mama to let me go dancing with my sisters all those months ago, that my life would change so much, that I would not only be in love, but with the dearest and most handsome man in the whole world.” She felt another wave of sheer joy, mixed with the hope that her dreams were at last to be realised, and she laughed again to relieve the feelings bubbling inside.
But there was no time to stand and ponder, especially when her eye caught sight of a certain young Captain she wished to avoid running out across the road. She quickly drew back behind the curtain, returning to the desk to resume her letter.

I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel, I should never be happy without him, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send them word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater when I write to them, and sign my name Lydia Wickham. What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing. Pray make my excuses to Pratt for not keeping my engagement and dancing with him tonight. Tell him I hope he will excuse me when he knows all, and tell him when we next meet at a ball I will dance with him with great pleasure. I shall send for my clothes when I get to Longbourn; but I wish you would tell Sally to mend a great slit in my worked muslin gown before they are packed up. Goodbye. Give my love to Colonel Forster. I hope you will drink to our good journey.

Your affectionate friend,
Lydia Bennet

Extract from Lydia Bennet's Story

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Elizabeth Bennet encounters Mr Darcy

I love the following extract from chapter three of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen cleverly shows the characters of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy by illustrating their behaviour and attitude to dancing in a few sentences. It's the beginning of a long 'dance' between our beloved heroine and hero, Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy!

Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes, to press his friend to join it.

"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance. I hate to see you standing about by yourself in this stupid manner. You had much better dance."

"I certainly shall not. You know how I detest it, unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner. At such an assembly as this it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with."

"I would not be so fastidious as you are," cried Bingley, "for a kingdom! Upon my honour, I never met with so many pleasant girls in my life as I have this evening; and there are several of them you see uncommonly pretty."

"You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room," said Mr. Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.

"Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

"Which do you mean?" and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."

Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings towards him. She told the story, however, with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Lydia's Elopement - Another Exchange of Letters between Lydia and Lucy

Lydia, my dear,

I have had the most awful time keeping your secret. If I do not reveal your whereabouts with Mr Wickham, my papa threatens to cut off my pin money and send me packing to live with my Aunt Beatrice – who, I am sure, you will hardly recall, for she is so dreadfully dull and boring! However, I am hardened in my resolve to help you, and my lips remain sealed.

Mr Bennet and Mr Gardiner have been beating down the doors in Brighton, searching for any clues that might lead them to you. My papa says Mr Wickham should be horsewhipped for having abducted you, and for placing your family in such an untenable situation. He declares that none of your sisters will ever make advantageous marriages now. And I must admit, this situation has all the earmarks of a most spectacular SCANDAL.

To be sure, your Mr Wickham is ever so handsome and dashing. Still, I shall always wonder how you found the courage to run off with him. (La, what a silly observation. You are the MOST adventuresome person of my acquaintance.) Pray, do tell me, how is it that you are living in London? Did you not whisper to me at the ball that you and Mr Wickham were ELOPING to Gretna Green? What happened to change your mind? And, oh, Lydia, how did you ever manage to get married in England? Are you not too young? Did you LIE? Oh, this is all too delicious to keep inside, but I shall. Do not worry.

Well, I must end this letter in haste. Soames promised to post my missive, but in order to catch the Royal Coach he must leave within the half hour. You can trust that his lips are sealed, for he owes me a favor for helping his sister find employment as a lady's maid. He also promised to deliver any letter of yours addressed to me! So, do hurry and write.

Your loyal, admiring, and most anxious friend, Lucy

My Dearest Lucy,

I cannot thank you enough for keeping my secret - I always knew you were a true confidante!

As for beating down doors, I cannot believe a word of it. My father has never shown the slightest interest in me in my life - why should he start now? But, if it is as you say, I am glad I am holed up in Candlewick Street with my darling George, from whom I shall never be separated and where my papa cannot reach me. I daresay he is a little vexed and needs to cool down before I see him, so George's idea to stay here a bit longer seems a good one.

My friend, I needed no courage to run away with my angel, the man of my dreams, the love of my life! We were and are in love and have been since we were thrown together in Brighton - to be honest, there were others vying for my affections, but George captured my heart completely. As perfect a couple you could never imagine. I never believed I could feel this way and to have my love returned a hundredfold - well, I do not exaggerate when I say that Mr Wickham is in a passion for me - indeed, there is little time for anything but love! La! You would laugh to see us!

It was our greatest wish to go to Gretna, but at the last, we were forced to come to London - there are some very wicked people in the world - gambling vagabonds tricked my Georgie out of his funds. It does not matter, we still have my winnings from the Brighton Races and a little of my allowance, though this morning I could not but help treat myself to a bonnet from the shops. Such a divine confection of ribbon and lace, you never did see. And when he can, Mr Wickham has promised to take me to the theatre at Drury Lane, Astley's to see the horses, and Bond Street for a few trifles, so you see, dear Lucy, it has all turned out for the best.

As for a wedding, I have to tell you our plans are for the present postponed. I am sure we will be wed soon but I am so happy I do not care when that will be. My wish is to be married from home in Longbourn Church where all my friends can see me, but whenever I broach the subject of leaving our love nest, George pretends he does not hear me! Wickham is so funny, he does not want to share me with anyone else, the darling man!

I must go, George is impatient for my attendance upon him. La! Lucy, his insatiable appetite for my company is quite exhausting! Can Charlotte Collins know of such bliss?

Yours affectly,

Thanks again Ms Place (aka Lucy). Follow Ms Place's wonderful blog at Jane Austen Today

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