Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Jane Austen on Film and the Flete Estate

This is a photo of my daughter enjoying the beach on the Flete Estate.
I've just finished writing another Jane Austen Sequel, Mrs Brandon's Invitation, inspired by Sense and Sensibility. I loved the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee adaptation which was made in 1995 and so when I had a special birthday looming on the horizon, I thought I would celebrate it in the house where a lot of the film was shot, at Efford House on the Flete Estate, Holbeton, in Devon. My birthday is in November, but the weather was surprisingly mild and we had a few sunny days which were heavenly. I knew the house would look a little different from the way it looked in the film; its windows were given Georgian proportions and the door was given a canopy and columns, but it was still lovely to walk in the Dashwood sister's footsteps up to the entrance and imagine gorgeous Greg Wise, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman coming to call! Inside, the rooms are recognisable, especially the Dashwood's dining room, which really does have a chimney that smokes! My family didn't know it as they unsuspectingly arrived for what they thought was a party, that they would have to act out their parts - poor things, I hear you cry - at least I didn't make them dress up! It was a very inspiring place to be, the surrounding countryside is gorgeous.
There is a beach within walking distance and the people in the village were very welcoming and friendly. The most wonderful sight was the sky at night. The house is far away from street lights and any noise from town life, which is what I am used to in suburban London. On the night of my birthday the sky was very clear and the velvet night studded with stars like diamonds. I did not want to go to bed even in the early hours and stayed for as long as I could sitting on the window seat in my bedroom enthralled by the view. It was a truly memorable birthday treat.
The second photo shows the view from Efford House

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lizzy Bennet, Lakes and Peaks!

This first photo shows a view from an upstairs room at Brantwood where I was lucky enough to stay a few years ago. My husband and I were working on a project to do with the house which was Ruskin's home in his latter years. The lovely window has an incredible view which looks out over Coniston water. Seeing this photo again made me think of Elizabeth Bennet and her travels with the Gardiners. The Lake District was very fashionable for touring parties and in Pride and Prejudice we learn that Elizabeth is looking forward very much to her holiday. But Elizabeth did not manage to get as far as the 'rocks and mountains' of the Lakes.

The time fixed for the beginning of their northern tour was now fast approaching, and a fortnight only was wanting of it, when a letter arrived from Mrs. Gardiner, which at once delayed its commencement and curtailed its extent. Mr. Gardiner would be prevented by business from setting out till a fortnight later in July, and must be in London again within a month; and as that left too short a period for them to go so far, and see so much as they had proposed, or at least to see it with the leisure and comfort they had built on, they were obliged to give up the Lakes, and substitute a more contracted tour, and, according to the present plan, were to go no farther northward than Derbyshire. In that county there was enough to be seen to occupy the chief of their three weeks; and to Mrs. Gardiner it had a peculiarly strong attraction. The town where she had formerly passed some years of her life, and where they were now to spend a few days, was probably as great an object of her curiosity as all the celebrated beauties of Matlock, Chatsworth, Dovedale, or the Peak.

Elizabeth was excessively disappointed; she had set her heart on seeing the Lakes, and still thought there might have been time enough. But it was her business to be satisfied - and certainly her temper to be happy; and all was soon right again.

With the mention of Derbyshire there were many ideas connected. It was impossible for her to see the word without thinking of Pemberley and its owner. "But surely," said she, "I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me."

From here Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth's story gets more and more exciting. Of course Jane Austen couldn't have Lizzy going off to the Lakes when she was intent on throwing her into the path of our favourite hero, Mr Darcy, but I can't help wondering if they managed to visit the wonderful Lakes once they were married!

Click here to learn more about Brantwood

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dido Elizabeth Belle

This painting of two young girls depicted at Kenwood House which was their home is of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her half cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray.
Dido was born around 1763, the daughter of an African slave and Sir John Lindsay, a Captain in the Royal Navy. Lindsay sent Dido to live with his uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench. Lord Mansfield had a sympathetic view toward the abolition of slavery declaring in the Somersett case that slavery was illegal.
Dido's role within the household seems to have been as a companion to her cousin. She tended the dairy farm and helped Lord Mansfield with his work as a secretary might. Although she was educated to a level beyond most women of the day and enjoyed a comfortable life, her position in the family was a difficult one, living somewhere between the life of a family member and the servants. Dido was not allowed to join the family when entertaining, except after dinner.
Between her father and Lord Mansfield she was left quite a wealthy woman when they died. In 1794 she left Kenwood to marry John Davinier who is believed to have been a clergyman.
It has been suggested that Jane Austen's Mansfield Park was named in reference to Lord Mansfield and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has noticed the parallels in the positions of both Dido and Fanny Price within the family circle and wondered if Jane Austen knew her story. Like Dido, Fanny was neither a servant or considered of a high enough status to be considered really part of the family. Sadly, Dido did not enjoy a long life, dying around the age of forty one in 1804.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Review for Lydia Bennet's Story from Foreword Magazine

I came across this article on the net from Foreword Magazine. I was very excited to see the new version of Lydia Bennet's Story given a mention.


Of writers of classic literature, few are more beloved than Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. Their witty, mysterious, proud, and strange characters stay with readers like old friends. Indeed, these two authors have such a devoted following that a whole genre exists of sequels and retellings of their novels.

Because Austen presents such a narrow view in her novels—she usually focuses the point of view on only one character from a cast of dozens—the possibilities for sequels to her novels are endless. What is life like for Sense and Sensibility’s Eliza, Colonel Brandon’s ward? What kind of adventures does Pride and Prejudice’s Lydia have in Brighton? What happens to the characters after the stories end? These are the questions that a variety of authors seek to answer with the fifteen sequels published by Sourcebooks’ Landmark imprint.

Lydia Bennet’s Story (978-1-4022-1475-8) follows the youngest sister of Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. Her infamous elopement with Mr. Wickham was the scandal which eventually brought Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy together. Here, author Jane Odiwe presents her version of what could have happened during Lydia’s vacation in Brighton to bring about their elopement, and a look at their life together after the wedding.

Odiwe’s Lydia is as wild and reckless as readers of Austen’s novel could imagine. It is satisfying to see a plausible description of their relationship and lifestyle during their marriage, and the few glimpses readers are offered of Elizabeth, Darcy, and other original characters is faithful to the original. Lydia’s story is told in narrative, and through letters and diary entries.

Part One tells the story that readers have already heard. Part Two is more inventive: Lydia’s wild actions were probably hard to imagine for Austen, who traveled little, and probably always in the company of respectable family and friends. Odiwe’s story takes Lydia sea-bathing where she watches half-clad men ride horses in the surf, and to parties where she has to fend off the advances of an over-eager army captain. Her new acquaintances are interesting and well developed, and Wickham is just as scandalous as ever. The ending will be a complete surprise.
Whitney Hallberg, Managing Editor

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Young Lady dressed as a Redcoat! That's What!

Phoebe Hessel was born in Stepney in 1713. A colourful character in and around Brighton in her later life, she enthralled passers by with her tales of being a soldier in her youth. Phoebe disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the British army to be with her lover Samuel Golding according to the stories told about her. It is believed that she served as a soldier in the West Indies and Gibralter. She and her lover both fought and were wounded in the battle of Fontenoy in 1745. Eventually, she admitted to the Colonel's wife that she was indeed a woman, which led to their being discharged in order for them to marry. They moved to Plymouth where they had nine children, none of whom survived Phoebe.
After Golding died, she moved to Brighton to marry Thomas Hessel, a fisherman. After he died, leaving her a widow at 80, she made a living by selling fish. Later Phoebe became something of a celebrity in Brighton amusing people with her tales as she sold oranges, toys and gingerbread on the corner of the Steyne and Marine Parade. In 1808 the Prince Regent granted her a pension of half a guinea a week. Phoebe was the grand age of 108 when she died and is buried in St. Nicholas churchyard in Brighton.
The inscription on Phoebe Hessel’s gravestone reads:

In Memeory of PHOEBE HESSEL who was born at Stepney in the Year 1713. She served for many Years as a private soldier in the 5th Reg. of foot in different parts of Europe and in the year 1745 fought under the command of the DUKE of CUMBERLAND at the Battle of Fontenoy where she received a Bayonet wound in her Arm. Her long life which commenced in the time of QUEEN ANNE extended to the reign of GEORGE IV by whose munificence she received comfort and support in her latter Years. She died at Brighton where she had long resided December 12th 1821 Aged 108 Years

This gravestone was paid for by the local pawnbroker, Hyam Lewis, shortly after her burial, and was later restored by the Northumberland Fusiliers, who considered Phoebe a member of their regiment.