Monday, February 9, 2009

What was happening in Jane Austen's World in 1795?

We've had some very wintry weather of late, which inspired this painting of Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra. They are walking in the snow near their first home, Steventon Rectory, in Hampshire.

When Jane Austen was nineteen, the winter of 1794/95 was exceptionally severe with very cold conditions setting in on Christmas Eve. The cold was most intense during January, the coldest on record. A rapid but temporary thaw, accompanied by heavy rain began on the 7th February, which resulted in much flooding across large areas of England - much as we seem to be experiencing at present. The severe cold returned after February 12th, and continued well into March with more snow.

For some time Jane Austen had been writing short pieces for the amusement of her family and attempted a novella, Lady Susan. She was possibly just starting work on the book that was to eventually become Sense and Sensibility, and which her sister remembered was first entitled Elinor and Marianne. Perhaps the bad weather spurred Jane on with her writing, especially when snow would have made it difficult to get about. Well, it's a lovely thought to think of her sitting at her desk watching the snow fall through the window as she dreamed up Mr Willoughby, Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon!

We are introduced to the Dashwood sisters in the first chapter. Their father has died and Austen shows us the girls' personalities by their reactions and behaviour. Someone has to keep the household together and cope with callers and guests. Whilst watching her mother and sisters indulge in their grief Elinor gets on with the job.

Elinor, this eldest daughter whose advice was so effectual, possessed a strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualified her, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, and enabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all, that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have led to imprudence. She had an excellent heart; her disposition was affectionate, and her feelings were strong: but she knew how to govern them: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn, and which one of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's. She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything; her sorrows, her joys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable, interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance between her and her mother was strikingly great.

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humoured, well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance, without having much of her sense; she did not, at thirteen, bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.


Vic said...

What a lovely painting and drawing! Jane seems to have lived through a mini ice age - the weather seemed exceptionally cold throughout her lifetime, as you described vividly in this post.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Vic for your kind comment - our freezing temperatures inspired me - it's trying to snow again today. British people are so funny about the snow - one way or another we just can't cope, but that's what I love about it - the chaos, the delays, having my family at home with me, and days spent inside in my cosy little study doing some painting and writing.

Laurel Ann said...

Really special painting Jane. We had a light snow here in WA and I thought of London all white too. So glad that the weather inspires your painting.

Blarney Girl said...

LOVE the painting! Do you happen to make prints and sell them?

Jane did live during a time we now call The Little Ice Age (approx 1550-1850). BRRRR!

You can send some of your cold my way. It was 75F here in Houston today! :|

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you so much - no, I don't really do prints, but that's a very good idea if I ever find the time.

I'm beginning to think we are heading for a mini ice age of our own - I just can't imagine what it's like to be in hot weather at the moment. My lucky son is coming to California on Saturday - I am so jealous!

Jane Odiwe said...

Laurel Ann, thank you - it was partly your comment the other day about Jane walking in the snow that inspired this painting. Our snow has all gone now, but it's still feeling very cold.

Deb said...

Hello Jane, just lovely! That would make a perfect holiday card -please consider doing that! I love your image of Jane beginning S&S looking out upon a snowy scene [we certainly have gotten enough of that this year in Vermont!] Thanks Jane for sharing your talents with us all...

Jane Odiwe said...

Thanks, Deb for your kind and encouraging words - it means such a lot when people say they like a painting. I'm missing the snow now it's gone, but it was lovely to see the sunshine this morning and hear the birds singing again.