Jane Austen's World | This Jane Austen blog brings Jane Austen, her novels, and the Regency Period alive through food, dress, social customs, and other 19th C. historical details related to this topic.
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Inquiring readers,

This time last year, Jane Austen’s World blog recommended our team’s favorite books to read in 2021. For 2022, we recommend ways you can attend Jane Austen workshops and discussions electronically, via either zoom broadcasts or podcasts. Here are some suggestions. Most of these experiences are free, but those that require payment are often worth the cost.

Jane Austen & Co (Free Zoom series)

Logo of Jane Austen & Co.

Logo of Jane Austen & Co.

At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I took refuge in watching workshops offered by Jane Austen & Co, a free public Zoom series focused on the life, histories, and writings of women living in the Regency era. This organization began as a book group in Durham, North Carolina. Since Summer 2020, the group has offered a diverse array of excellent lectures by experts, Q&As, and digital programming. Past series and discussions are archived and can be accessed on the site. While programming is free, the group does passively ask for donations for a Jane Austen summer program. 

The series:

2020: “Staying Home with Jane Austen,” explored domestic life, labor, and practices during the Regency, including dress, music, embroidery, gardening, and gaming.

2021: “Race and the Regency,” explored the role of race, nationalism, colonialism, and identity in the culture of the long eighteenth century, exploring topics such as slavery, abolition, portraiture, and modern representations of historical people of color. 

2022: “Asia and the Regency,” starting off the year with three new talks on adaptations of Jane Austen in Japan and India, entitled “Pride and Prejudice in Japan,”  “Emma in Bollywood,” and “Jane Austen in India, Jane Austen and India.” Click here to sign up for live talks If you’ve missed them, they are archived here.

Conversations with authors of modern Austen adaptations, including Ibi Zoboi (author of Pride), Margot Melcon and Lauren Gunderson (co-authors of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley), and Jo Baker (author of Longbourn).

Banner for Jane Austen Society of North America

Publication banner for Jane Austen Society of North America

Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA virtual conference, Fee required)

Membership to this important organization is not only affordable, but its website acts as a gateway to all news, events, and publications of importance to the Janeite community.

Major Membership Benefit: 

The AGM (Annual General Meeting) – now with Zoom benefits:

This yearly conference was so highly competitive when delivered onsite, that if members did not sign up within hours of open registration, they were out of luck. I attended only two in person. The pandemic has changed this situation. In 2020, I attended a virtual conference and was able to view every presentation online, since my conference fee allowed me to view the links for a month. In 2021, an onsite AGM was given in Chicago. Immune-compromised individuals like myself still didn’t feel comfortable attending such a large function. Right now, I still have over a month (until February 28) to watch most of the workshops and presentations online. What a bargain at $99!

Regional Memberships in local JASNA societies:

Over the years I’ve joined local JASNA societies in Richmond, my former hometown, and Baltimore, my current location. I also belong to the societies in Northern California and New York – all offer a variety of JA discussions and workshops, most virtually until the pandemic subsides significantly.

 Podcasts/Audio Recordings

This list of podcasts is a mixed bag. According to your preferences, you might or might not like some of the choices below. The good news is that they are all free. Many are available on an app for your tablet or smartphone. While not all might suit you, I am sure you can find new and interesting information about Austen and her era. The first two choices are available on websites only.

Audios

Chawton House – Podcasts – Chawton House

In these relatively new offerings, find podcasts that discuss the restoration of Chawton House, their recent acquisitions and writing contests, Caroline Jane Knight, who spent her childhood in Chawton House and is Jane Austen’s fifth great niece, interviews, history of Chawton House, and more!

BBC podcast

Choices of the BBC Radio 4 collection of audios

BBC Radio 4Jane Austen Collection

These radio programmes feature discussions about Emma, Epistolary Literature, Pride and Prejudice Anniversary Special, and so much more. There is nothing more pleasurable than listening to these programmes while sewing or crocheting (even housecleaning)!

Podcasts

Player FM: Jane Austen Podcasts Click here to enter this indexed site 

This mega site lists too many Austen podcasts to mention in one paragraph, so I’ve included two with detailed descriptions and three more links. It is worth looking at this Jane Austen podcast collection to see what suits your fancy. I love listening to podcasts on long drives 

The Austen Connection: podcasts

These podcasts talk about the stories of Jane Austen – how they connect to us today, and connect us to each other.

Reading Jane Austen 3 Seasons completed (Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, & Mansfield ParkAbout us – Reading Jane Austen

Example, in Season One, P&P, Chapters 1-6, Ellen and Harriet, talk about how the book sets up the relationship between love and marriage, the way the characters are introduced so gradually, what we see in Darcy and the fact that we quickly learn how much money everyone has. We discuss Mrs Bennet in some detail, and then Ellen talks about class in the early nineteenth century, and the type of neighbourhood Pride and Prejudice is set in. Ellen is a retired senior lecturer in sociology, and Harriet works for an education publishing company. Both are lifelong Jane Austen readers. 

The following podcasts are for those who think outside the box or who like cheeky humor.

Manners and Madness: A Jane Austen & David Lynch Podcast on Apple Podcasts

Reclaiming Jane: A Jane Austen Podcast for Fans on the Margins

First Impressions: Why All the Austen Haters Are Wrong

In addition to these links, view our page Audio/Podcasts at the top of this blog. Enjoy!

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, conduct literature that advocated ideal conduct and character for young women was common. In the form of letters, pamphlets, and full-length novels, conduct literature covered an array of topics meant to instruct and inform.

Conduct manuals played a large part in forming Austen’s culture and the world of her novels. To better understand her world and her characters, let’s take a closer look at the world of conduct literature for young ladies.

Conduct Books

Whereas etiquette books of the last century, such as Emily Post’s Etiquette, stressed good manners and how to behave in specific social situations, the conduct manuals and letters written for young ladies in Jane Austen’s time focused mainly on propriety. The central purpose was to mold the character of a young woman and teach her how to think, act, and speak in a way that was both morally and socially proper.

Conduct manuals discussed a wide range of subjects, including household chores, religion, and what to look for in a husband. However, the underlying concern evident in most of the conduct pamphlets being written at this time was the cultivation of “virtue” in the female sex. As Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin states in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787), “the main business of our lives is to learn to be virtuous.” And according to many eighteenth-century conduct books, a woman’s virtue was expressed in her attitudes, her carriage, her accomplishments, and her actions and speech. 

But what did these books, letters, and pamphlets actually say? Let’s take a closer look at three examples from the late 1700s to see what young ladies were taught during Austen’s youth and adolescence:

“A Father’s Legacy to His Daughters”

In John Gregory’s popular conduct book, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters (first published in 1774), Gregory told his daughters that they should aspire to the kind of “virtue” their deceased mother possessed and put on “a certain gentleness of spirit and manners extremely engaging in [women].”


Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “A father’s legacy to his daughters.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The topics for this particular conduct book are as follows:

  • Religion
  • Conduct and Behaviour
  • Amusements
  • Friendship, Love, Marriage

On the topic of Amusements, Gregory has this to say:

Some amusements are conducive to health, as various kinds of exercise: some are connected with qualities really useful, as different kinds of women’s work, and all the domestic concerns of a family: some are elegant accomplishments, as dress, dancing, music, and drawing. Such books as improve your understandings, enlarge your knowledge, and cultivate your taste, may be considered in a higher point of view than mere amusements. There are a variety of others, which are neither useful nor ornamental, such as play of different kinds.

John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters

On the topic of Friendship, Gregory makes these comments:

A happy choice of friends will be of the utmost consequence to you, as they may assist you by their advice and good offices. But the immediate gratification which friendship affords to a warm, open, and ingenuous heart, is of itself sufficient motive to court it. In the choice of your friends, have your principal regard to goodness of heart and fidelity. If they also possess taste and genius, that will still make them more agreeable and useful companions.

John Gregory, A Father’s Legacy to his Daughters

“An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters”

In Lady Pennington’s An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters (1761), she covers many topics for young ladies, complete with an index of books her daughters should read as part of her discussion on how her daughters should make “mental improvements” through reading, which gives us insight into other literature of the time period that was considered edifying for young ladies:

Along with Gregory, Pennington suggests that virtue should be a person’s highest goal: “Aim at perfection, or you will never reach to an attainable height of virtue.”

She goes into great detail on an expansive number of subjects, but one interesting highlight that seems to have been common for Jane Austen herself and for her leading ladies is in regard to one’s daily schedule. She explains that mornings should be spent in domestic duties and “improvement.” Afternoons “may then be allowed to diversions” (which includes “company, books of the amusing kind, and entertaining productions of the needle, as well as plays, balls”).

But, she says, the former part of the day should be “devoted to more useful employments”:

One half hour, or more, either before or immediately after breakfast, I would have you constantly give to the attentive perusal of some rationally pious author, or to some part of the New Testament, with which, and indeed with the whole Scripture, you ought to make yourself perfectly acquainted, as the basis on which your religion is founded. From this practice you will reap more real benefit than can be supposed by those who have never made the experiment.”

Lady Pennington, An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters
Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The New York Public Library. “An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters, in a letter to Miss Pennington,” The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Further advice includes studying “your own language thoroughly, that you may speak correctly, and write grammatically.” She suggests being “well acquainted” with French and, if possible, Italian; the history of England other European nations; Geography, as this will “make history more entertaining to you;” Philosophy; and the “first four rules of Arithmetic.” Music and Drawing are humorously described as “accomplishments well worth the trouble of attaining, if your inclination and genius lead to either: if not, do not attempt them; for it will be only much time and labour unprofitably thrown away.”

Finally, a quote I found personally inspiring which I can imagine Austen might have agreed with:

Expect not many friends, but think yourself happy, if, through life, you meet with one or two who deserve that name, and have all the requisites for the valuable relation.

Lady Pennington, An Unfortunate Mother’s Advice to Her Absent Daughters

“An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex

Austen herself read a conduct manual titled An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex, written by Thomas Gisborne (1797), which followed his popular “Enquiries into the Duties of Men.” It covers topics such as the differences between men and women, female education, introducing young women into society, conversation and letter writing, dress, entertainment, the employment of time, choosing a husband, the duties of parents, and so forth.

I am glad you recommended “Gisborne”, for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it.

Letter from Jane to Cassandra, 30 August 1805

To explain Austen’s possible reason for this common, the British Library has this to say:

“We don’t know why Austen had ‘determined not to read’ An Enquiry. Perhaps she expected it to be similar to the Mr Collins-endorsed Sermons to Young Women, referred to in Pride and Prejudice, which stresses the need for women to be submissive and modest. In fact, Gisborne praises woman’s capacity for ‘sprightliness and vivacity’, ‘quickness of perception’ and ‘fertility of invention’ – as well as the more traditional female virtues of offering comfort and cheer to those around them.

“Though Gisborne’s views seem conservative to modern readers, many of them are similar to those that Austen expresses in her novels. He urges women to spend time each day reading improving books, mentioning as particularly suitable the works of William Cowper, one of Austen’s favourite poets (p. 219). He warns against the ‘absurd and mischievous’ belief that a woman can reform a cruel and immoral man after marrying him (p. 238), and criticises mothers who prioritise wealth over happiness in choosing husbands for their daughters.” (British Library, Conduct Book for Women)

Forms of Conduct Literature

There were countless other conduct books, letters, and pamphlets written during Austen’s lifetime. These, along with sermons and religious writings, were the only kind of reading material that was thought proper for young ladies. Later, didactic novels that taught a moral lesson in story form, became more popular. Still within the genre of conduct literature, didactic novels were written to entertain and instruct. Stay tuned for more on that topic next month.

I encourage you to follow the links above and read some of these books for yourself. It’s quite interesting to find out what exactly young women were taught during Jane Austen’s time. And it’s easy to see where Austen may have found instruction, inspiration, and even, at times, amusement within their pages.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Inquiring Readers, We will soon be ringing in 2022 and celebrating New Year’s Eve. Superstitions and traditions from the Regency era still survive. This post mentions customs Jane Austen and her family probably knew about or personally followed.

Did you know that the New Year’s Day date was changed to January 1st in 1752?

William Savage, who writes about Georgian England in his blog and who lives in England, writes that his oldest relatives still often refer to January 6th as ‘Old Christmas Day.’ The change came: 

from the time in 1752 when Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar to align our dates with those in use on the continent. The calendar was advanced by 11 days: Wednesday 2nd September, 1752 was followed by Thursday 14th September, 1752 and the year shortened to just 355 days to allow the New Year to fall on January 1st.” – The Superstitious Eighteenth Century, William Savage, Pen and Pension: Immerse Yourself in Georgian England 

Black and white engraving of two men in a tavern shaking hands at midnight, singing Auld Lang Syne

The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing the Poems, Songs, and Correspondence. Illustrated By W.H. Bartlett, T. Allom, and Other Artists. With a New Life of the Poet, and Notices, Critical and Biographical by Allan Cunningham, London: George Virtue, ca. 1841. Image, Wikimedia Commons

Cleaning

Savage also mentions that washing any clothes on New Year’s Day was considered as “washing someone out of the family,” resulting in their death in the coming year. Meanwhile, the Chinese avoided any cleaning on New Year’s Eve, since they believed that any scrubbing or cleansing would guarantee that no one in the house would  experience luck in the next twelve months.

Donna Hatch states, however, that “During the Regency and Georgian Eras, one tradition was to clean the house thoroughly, including ashes in the hearth, scraps, and rags, and even eating or discarding any perishable food in order to start the year fresh, discarding bad luck and inviting good luck.” Her source, I believe, is Maria Grace’s book, A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions. 

Doors and Thresholds

As part of their New Year’s celebrations on the final day of the old year on the Gregorian Calendar, also known as Hogmanay, the Scots still practice ‘first footing,’ an ancient Gaelic tradition, in which the first person to cross a home’s threshold can bring good or bad luck in the next year. This individual should be someone who was not in the house before midnight, and  

… should be someone who is tall, dark, handsome and bearing gifts such as coins, coal, salt, bread and whiskey. But beware, as fair-haired males are considered unlucky. It is believed this superstition dates back to the Viking invasion, back when blonde strangers turning up at your door usually meant trouble.” – East Anglian Daily Times, 12 quirky New Year’s Eve superstitions” 

 A Dozen Guests or An Even Number?

In ‘Regency Folklore: An Uneven Superstition,’ Regency Reader writes:

A popular superstition alive in the Regency era had all to do with an uneven number of dinner guests.  Apparently, if the number of guests at a table reached 13, it was a bad omen. Of death. Specifically, death to the youngest at the table and within a year of the dinner party.”

The Last Supper was one obvious basis for this tradition/superstition. The feast featured 13 people, one of whom (Judas) betrayed Jesus. The omen of death makes sense in this context. Less known by many is a Viking legend passed through oral tradition in Christian Britain, one that concerns twelve people sharing a meal in Valhalla, which was crashed by Loki, a cunning trickster and spirit of strife. One person at that banquet ended up dead. The unlucky number 13 figures most highly with superstitious people.

The even number of guests might explain a French theory of why most dinner sets come in multiples of twelve. This article from How Stuff Works describes why

The thirteenth person who ends up with a mismatched plate would feel unloved, and come into bad luck.”

As an aside, my family’s tradition has been to give our guests the matching dinner service, while we use the mismatched ware. It also seems that any uneven number of guests at the New Year’s table might bring ill luck in the new year. Protocol and etiquette, especially in proper Regency and Victorian households, required an even number at the table so that guests were paired. 

Auld Lang Syne

Who hasn’t sung this famous song when the clock strikes midnight?  Kristen Koster writes that Auld Lang Syne translates to “old long since.”

After a long tradition of being sung during the Scottish celebration of Hogamany on New Year’s Eve, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, collected and wrote down the lyrics in 1788 and it was first published in 1796. It quickly spread to much of the English-speaking world and is now sung at the stroke of midnight instead of when the guests leave the party. – A Regency Primer on Christmastide & New Year’s

“Auld Lang Syne” – Music and Lyrics by Trad.(Robert Burns). Arranged by Dougie MacLean. Published by Limetree Arts and Music (PRS & MCPS UK), Butterstone Studios.

Happy New Year, ALL!

In conclusion, our blog team wishes you a Happy New Year’s Eve and a joyous 2022. May the pandemic release its stranglehold on our world citizens and may we experience freedom of movement once again to go where and when we like.

Other Resources

New Year’s articles on this blog

English Historical Fiction, English History Authors: A Regency Holiday Calendar

Regency Folklore: An Uneven Superstition

Custom Survived: New Year’s Day First Footing 

by Brenda S. Cox

“This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.”–Mr. Elton, Emma

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays. In Austen’s novels, Christmas is a time for parties and for family and friend to gather, just like today. It was also a day for attending church (see Emma ch. 16 and Mansfield Park ch. 23), after weeks of Advent when prayers focused on the coming of Christ. For more on the prayers and readings that Austen would have prayed and read for Advent and Christmas, see my post Advent with Jane Austen. You can also find many posts at this site (and others) on Christmas customs in Jane Austen’s England.

I recently gave a presentation on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” at JASNA’s Annual General Meeting (you can read it in this month’s Persuasions On-Line, or, if you are a JASNA member, you can watch it in the AGM on Demand).  Today I’d like to share a few cartoons about Christmas in Austen’s England. (I didn’t find many; perhaps Christmas was not a popular subject for caricatures.)

Triumphal Procession

Let’s start with this wild one.

The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, Richard Newton, 1794.
© Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In an earlier post about the Clerical Alphabet cartoon, I wrote about Richard Newton, a prolific young artist of the time. Newton drew the above cartoon in 1794, satirizing the general gluttony and drunkenness associated with Christmas. In The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, men on a carriage feast on large pieces of meat while behind them a naked man sits on a barrel, probably of wine or another alcoholic beverage.

Academics at Christmas

Christmas Academicks, Playing a Rubber of Whist, Thomas Rowlandson, 1803.
Public domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

University professors have a much more restrained celebration, though still not a devout one. Thomas Rowlandson’s The Christmas Academicks Playing a Rubber of Whist (1803) shows four academics playing cards, while a fifth stands nearby and a servant brings drinks. All are clergymen, probably fellows (professors or tutors) at the University of Oxford or Cambridge, who would be single clergymen. (Jane Austen’s father was a fellow at Oxford until he married.) As in many satirical cartoons of the time, the clergymen are pictured as overweight and self-indulgent. They are gambling and drinking, not in church. 

Farmer Giles’s Establishment, Christmas day, 1800, by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Farmer Giles: Christmas Through the Years

Some years later, in 1830, William Heath drew a series on Christmas as a political satire. It begins with a delightful version of an 1800 country Christmas, such as the Musgroves or Westons might have enjoyed in Austen’s novels.

Farmer Giles was a symbol of the unsophisticated country farmer. Here he feasts with his joyful family at Christmastime. As we see in Austen’s novels, Christmas was a time for parties and feasts. Greenery decorates the fireplace and the wife is slicing plum pudding. Farmer Giles is apparently prosperous and he becomes more so.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment Christmas 1816 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

By 1816, the farmer has done well and moved up into fashionable society. This Christmas he and his wife are playing cards (gambling) while guests dance in the ballroom. However, they look much less happy than in the first print. The children are grown now, and looking on. The farmer’s hand appears to be bandaged for the gout, from overeating and excessive drinking.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment!!! Christmas 1829 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Their financial prosperity doesn’t last, though. The agricultural economy crashed.

In the third plate, Farmer Giles’ Establishment!!! Christmas 1829, the farmer is in a debtors’ cell. He holds a paper saying his children have been sent to the work house. His wife is doing laundry in a tub.

So this series becomes political satire, criticizing the government for its policies which led to an agricultural depression. A very sad Christmas.

The Merry Musgroves

But let’s return to Austen’s happier times. 

The Musgroves and children at Christmas
C.E. Brock, Persuasion, Volume 2, chapter 2

As Austen describes Christmas at the Musgroves, in Persuasion:

On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. . . .

Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa’s illness must have so greatly shaken; but Mrs. Musgrove, . . . concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself, by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home. . .

“I hope I shall remember, in future,” said Lady Russell, as soon as they were reseated in the carriage, “not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays.”

Every body has their taste in noises as well as in other matters . . .

I hope this Christmas is just to your taste! Many blessings to you in the New Year.

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England.

 

For more on satirical cartoons in Jane Austen’s England, see:

Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England

The Stereotype of the Self-Indulgent Clergyman: Rowlandson’s Parsonage 

The Clerical Alphabet: Problems in Austen’s Church of England 

Keeping Within Compass  Mike Rendell also shows and discusses many other fascinating cartoons from Austen’s era on this blog, but be aware that many are risque. I am indebted to Mike for posting on the Newton Clerical Alphabet cartoon that got me started looking at cartoons and the clergy.
 

For more on Christmas in Austen’s England, see:

Party Like the Musgroves, by Rachel Dodge, to have your own party like the Musgroves did in the passage above!

Christmas Georgian Style 

Archive for Regency Christmas Traditions (various posts on this site)

Christmas Traditions (various posts from various sites)

More Regency Christmas Traditions (and scenes and stories, various posts from Maria Grace’s site) 

Joy to the World: Psalms, Hymns, and Christmas Carols in Austen’s England

Regency Christmas Carols

Handel’s Messiah in Jane Austen’s England 

Advent with Jane Austen: Now, and Not Yet 

Georgian Christmas Pie Recipes

Regency Christmas Songs and Games

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, book by Maria Grace

Christmas in Jane Austen’s Time

Jane Austen’s Christmas

. . . and much more!

I love the idea of a Regency-style Christmas season, complete with gifts, foods, and traditions that Jane Austen and her heroines might have enjoyed. Though Christmas traditions were different during Jane Austen’s time than they are today, as I share in my article about Regency Christmas Traditions, it’s fun to think of creative ideas that can make for a truly Austen-tatious holiday season.

In Persuasion, Austen paints a Christmas scene. It’s one of my favorite festive scenes, and I love to think of ways to recreate it:

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. […] Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Evergreen Decor:

Create your own holiday decorations the way people did during Jane Austen’s time. Trim your windows and home with holly branches and evergreen trimmings.

On Christmas Eve the children laid out the traditional holly branches on the window ledges…

Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, p. 4.

For Regency-inspired holiday decorating ideas, check out this Jane Austen’s World article on Regency Era Christmas Evergreen Decorations.

Craft Table with Silver & Gold Paper:

Create a craft station for children and adults to make ornaments or other crafts like these: Christmas Crafts for Kids and Adults from Abbi Kirsten.

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper…

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Tressels and Trays:

…on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies…

Persuasion, Jane Austen
A pot of simmering wassail, infused with citrus fruit slices and cinnamon sticks. (Wikipedia Commons)

Riotous Games:

…riotous boys were holding high revel…

Persuasion, Jane Austen

A Roaring Fire:

…the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

Jane-Inspired Gifts to Buy

This holiday season, add a little “Jane” to your gift giving! Here are a few shops and lists to peruse:

Austenesque Homemade Gifts

Want to make your own gifts? Check out these creative ideas!

Charitable Giving

Finally, charitable gift giving was a large part of the Regency Christmas season. On the day after Christmas, on St. Stephen’s Day (now called Boxing Day), people gave gifts to charities and to those in need.

The gentry gave gifts to the servants who worked in their homes and those hired to help on their land. Read The History of Boxing Day And How To Celebrate It (Lindsay Schlegel – Verity.com) for some modern-day ideas for ways to celebrate Boxing Day.


Now it’s your turn! What do you like to do around the holidays to make your gifts and get-togethers special? Do you have any Jane Austen traditions this time of year? I enjoy attending one of the local Jane Austen Birthday Teas in my area at this time of year. At home, I love to decorate the house with greenery and bake family recipes! -Rachel

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is coming this January! You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

Northanger Abbey, Vol 2, Chapter XIII + XIV

Inquiring readers, 

In Volume Two, Chapters 13 & 14, the emotional drama that Eleanor Tilney and Catherine Morland share almost explodes from its pages. After discovering that Catherine Morland was not the great heiress he thought her to be, General Tilney ordered his daughter, Eleanor, to oust Catherine from Northanger Abbey. Heretofore, Jane Austen has depicted Eleanor as a quiet, genteel, and deferential young lady, who had not been given much of a center stage. Now Austen reveals us to her inner thoughts and emotions. Catherine, as usual, continues to be an open and wide-eyed innocent.

Image of Lismore Castle in a setting of trees and fields.

Lismore Castle, Ireland, County Waterford served as Northanger Abbey in the 2007 film of the same name, Wikimedia Commons. Image taken by Ingo Mehling, 18 August, 2010. CC BY-SA 3.0

Eleanor’s Reluctant Message

“Eleanor, stood there. Catherine’s spirits, however, were tranquillized but for an instant, for Eleanor’s cheeks were pale, and her manner greatly agitated. Though evidently intending to come in, it seemed an effort to enter the room, and a still greater to speak when there. Catherine, supposing some uneasiness on Captain Tilney’s account, could only express her concern by silent attention, obliged her to be seated, rubbed her temples with lavender-water, and hung over her with affectionate solicitude. “My dear Catherine, you must not — you must not indeed — ” were Eleanor’s first connected words. “I am quite well. This kindness distracts me — I cannot bear it — I come to you on such an errand!”

“Errand! –to me!”

“How shall I tell you! — Oh! how shall I tell you!” 

The above scene is more about Eleanor’s mortification at being the messenger of bad tidings than Catherine Morland’s reaction, which was concern for another, not herself. Eleanor knew the consequences of her angry’s father’s actions and is devastated. Catherine, perplexed, wonders about the reason for her departure. 

A new idea now darted into Catherine’s mind, and turning as pale as her friend, she exclaimed, “‘Tis a messenger from Woodston!”

Catherine’s only concern is for Henry Tilney. Woodston is his residence, about 20 miles away from the Abbey.

“You are mistaken, indeed,” returned Eleanor, looking at her most compassionately — “it is no one from Woodston. It is my father himself.” 

Eleanor could not lie. Indeed, she could not implicate her brother, who had no part in this deception. 

Her voice faltered, and her eyes were turned to the ground as she mentioned his name. His unlooked-for return was enough in itself to make Catherine’s heart sink, and for a few moments she hardly supposed there were anything worse to be told. 

Eleanor bravely continues, telling Catherine of her part as an unwilling messenger. She also reveals how much Catherine’s friendship means to her:

She  [Catherine] said nothing; and Eleanor, endeavoring to collect herself and speak with firmness, but with eyes still cast down, soon went on. “You are too good, I am sure, to think the worse of me for the part I am obliged to perform. I am indeed a most unwilling messenger. After what has so lately passed, so lately been settled between us — how joyfully, how thankfully on my side! — as to your continuing here as I hoped for many, many weeks longer, how can I tell you that your kindness is not to be accepted — and that the happiness your company has hitherto given us is to be repaid by — but I must not trust myself with words. My dear Catherine, we are to part. My father has recollected an engagement that takes our whole family away on Monday. We are going to Lord Longtown’s, near Hereford, for a fortnight. Explanation and apology are equally impossible. I cannot attempt either.”

Eleanor-Catherine-closeup-Tomson

Detail of Catherine (L) and Eleanor (R), Hugh Tomson drawing, 1897, entitled “General Tilney was Pacing the Drawing Room.”

Although the General’s excuse was a lie, poor Eleanor was forced to give it. She could not hide her shame. Anything Eleanor said between the lines escaped Catherine, who must have known that Lord Longtown could not be ignored.

“My dear Eleanor,” cried Catherine, suppressing her feelings as well as she could, “do not be so distressed. A second engagement must give way to a first. I am very, very sorry we are to part – so soon, and so suddenly too; but I am not offended, indeed I am not. I can finish my visit here, you know, at any time; or I hope you will come to me. Can you, when you return from this lord’s, come to Fullerton?”

Eleanor answers:

“It will not be in my power, Catherine.”

This sentence illustrates Eleanor’s story in a nutshell – she has no power and is entirely ruled by her father. Her oldest brother is largely absent. Henry is the only male in her family who shows her respect and deference, but she still must depend on him to escort her in public. 

Catherine, Eleanor, and Henry had forged a close relationship because of their genuine like for each other. The brother and sister loved Catherine for her guileless utterances. She in turn admired them for the attention they paid her, which she found flattering. She trusted them like an eager puppy and reveled in their company, especially Henry’s, with whom she had fallen in love. 

Astounded by Eleanor’s answer, she swallows her disappointment, but still can’t understand why she must leave the Abbey.

“Come when you can, then.” —

Eleanor made no answer; and Catherine’s thoughts recurring to something more directly interesting, she added, thinking aloud, “Monday — so soon as Monday; — and you all go. Well, I am certain of — I shall be able to take leave, however. I need not go till just before you do, you know. Do not be distressed, Eleanor, I can go on Monday very well. My father and mother’s having no notice of it is of very little consequence. The General will send a servant with me, I dare say, half the way — and then I shall soon be at Salisbury, and then I am only nine miles from home.”

Her sweet speech hurt Eleanor more than harsh words ever could. Eleanor must have steeled herself before answering her friend. Someone new to reading Jane Austen’s novels or who has recently been introduced to the Regency Era with all its strict customs, mores, and rules of etiquette could only guess why Eleanor was so distressed by her father’s behavior. The truth was that no genteel Regency lady of Catherine’s station was allowed by her family to travel as an unescorted passenger in a public coach. 

“Ah, Catherine! were it settled so, it would be somewhat less intolerable, though in such common attentions you would have received but half what you ought. But — how can I tell you? — tomorrow morning is fixed for your leaving us, and not even the hour is left to your choice; the very carriage is ordered, and will be here at seven o’clock, and no servant will be offered you.”

The General’s edict was dangerous and indefensible. Both Eleanor and Catherine understood the full import of the message. Catherine was to be banished without even the most common decency or courtesy, alone, and without funds – her nightmare has come true, except she was not to be abducted but evicted.

carriage-Northanger Abbey-HThompson-Sm (3)

Catherine’s nightmare: Three villains force her into a carriage. Hugh Tomson, 1897. Catherine’s imagination takes her to Gothic levels, but the danger of a single woman in a public carriage was real.

Catherine sat down, breathless and speechless. “I could hardly believe my senses, when I heard it; — and no displeasure, no resentment that you can feel at this moment, however justly great, can be more than I myself — but I must not talk of what I felt. Oh! that I could suggest anything in extenuation! Good God! what will your father and mother say! After courting you from the protection of real friends to this — almost double distance from your home, to have you driven out of the house, without the considerations even of decent civility! Dear, dear Catherine, in being the bearer of such a message, I seem guilty myself of all its insult; yet, I trust you will acquit me, for you must have been long enough in this house to see that I am but a nominal mistress of it, that my real power is nothing.”

Catherine searches for an answer:

“Have I offended the General?” said Catherine in a faltering voice.

Eleanor can give no good excuse:

“Alas! for my feelings as a daughter, all that I know, all that I answer for, is that you can have given him no just cause of offence. He certainly is greatly, very greatly discomposed; I have seldom seen him more so. His temper is not happy, and something has now occurred to ruffle it in an uncommon degree; some disappointment, some vexation, which just at this moment seems important, but which I can hardly suppose you to have any concern in, for how is it possible?”

Catherine still grasps for excuses and is still sorry for offending the General. She is only sad that he had not recalled his assignation with Lord Longtown earlier, so that she could have written to her parents for funds and an escort. 

Eleanor responds:

“I hope, I earnestly hope, that to your real safety it will be of none; but to everything else it is of the greatest consequence: to comfort, appearance, propriety, to your family, to the world. Were your friends, the Allens, still in Bath, you might go to them with comparative ease; a few hours would take you there; but a journey of seventy miles, to be taken post by you, at your age, alone, unattended!”

“Oh, the journey is nothing. Do not think about that. And if we are to part, a few hours sooner or later, you know, makes no difference. I can be ready by seven. Let me be called in time.” Eleanor saw that she wished to be alone; and believing it better for each that they should avoid any further conversation, now left her with “I shall see you in the morning.”

Catherine must have had an accurate idea of her journey’s long distance and its travails. (Northanger Abbey is over twice the distance from her home than the thirty mile journey with the Allens to Bath.) She also must have known that the General’s order was grossly uncivil. However, she was given no choice as to the time and day she was to depart, or of her mode of travel, and thus, stripped of choice, she spent a sleepless night. 

As good as her word, Catherine was ready early.

Soon after six Eleanor entered her room, eager to show attention or give assistance where it was possible; but very little remained to be done. Catherine had not loitered; she was almost dressed, and her packing almost finished.” 

The silence between the two women spoke volumes. 

Very little passed between them on meeting; each found her greatest safety in silence, and few and trivial were the sentences exchanged while they remained upstairs, Catherine in busy agitation completing her dress, and Eleanor with more good-will than experience intent upon filling the trunk.” 

One can imagine the discomfort both women felt at that moment. They were quiet and deep in thought, and for the first time experienced awkwardness in each other’s company. Catherine, her appetite gone, silently reminisced how cheerful and carefree her previous breakfast in this room had been with brother and sister. 

The appearance of the carriage, a hack post chaise, brought Catherine and Eleanor back to the present. A hack post chaise was a basic hired carriage guided only by a post-boy or postillion on a lead horse. (Jennifer S. Ewing states in her JASNA article: “Olsen observes that “There is always something vaguely tacky about hack vehicles in Austen.  When she wants to convey a sense of comfortable, sophisticated travel, she uses the phrase ‘post-chaise’ or something similar.  Hackney coaches are associated with poverty, disgrace, anonymity, and disappointment…”)

Eleanor turns to her friend:

“You must write to me, Catherine,” she cried, “you must let me hear from you as soon as possible. Till I know you to be safe at home, I shall not have an hour’s comfort. For one letter, at all risks, all hazards, I must entreat. Let me have the satisfaction of knowing that you are safe at Fullerton, and have found your family well, and then, till I can ask for your correspondence as I ought to do, I will not expect more. Direct to me at Lord Longtown’s, and, I must ask it, under cover to Alice.”

Eleanor asks Catherine to send word of her safe arrival at Fullerton to someone named Alice. This person was probably her maid or a servant, as Eleanor would not have called Lord Longtown’s wife or daughter by their first names. The secrecy was necessary, for her controlling father would have the mail delivered to him before distributing the letters to his family.

Eleanor would not rest until she learned of Catherine’s safe arrival. Catherine balks at first, but then gives in – “Oh, Eleanor, I will write to you indeed.”

This gave Eleanor some comfort, but she suspected Catherine might not have had enough money left from her personal allowance to pay for the ride home. This…

proved to be exactly the case. Catherine had never thought on the subject till that moment, but, upon examining her purse, was convinced that but for this kindness of her friend, she might have been turned away from the house without even the means of getting home…”

Catherine’s artless utterances during her visit with the Tilneys must have clued Eleanor about the true state of her family’s finances, and so her father’s reason for evicting her from the Abbey was probably no surprise.

The Journey Home

Catherine was too wretched to be fearful. The journey in itself had no terrors for her; and she began it without either dreading its length or feeling its solitariness. Leaning back in one comer of the carriage, in a violent burst of tears, she was conveyed some miles beyond the walls of the abbey before she raised her head…”

During this first stage of the ride Catherine must have been alone in the carriage. Had passengers been present, she would not have burst violently into tears. Gentle ladies were taught to hold their emotions in check. While she was impulsive and naive, she also had impeccable manners.

A public coach was generally cramped and dirty. The straw on the floor was rarely changed. Passengers sought the four corners for some privacy, but some passengers in a six-seater coach were squeezed into the center, like the filling in a sandwich. 

Sandy.Lerner.Carriage.JASNA

Crammed quarters. Image of Sandy Lerner’s Part 2 video of Pen and Parsimony: Carriages in the Novels of Jane Austen. Copyright Sandy Lerner. JASNA

Watch the beginning of Part 2 of two videos from a JASNA article about riding in a public coach, by Sandy Lerner .

The distance between Fullerton and Northanger Abbey was seventy miles. Carriages during that time could go as fast as 6-7 miles per hour on a post road. They often slowed down significantly on secondary roads, which were rutted after heavy rains and badly maintained. Austen writes:

…”she traveled on for about eleven hours without accident or alarm, and between six and seven o’clock in the evening found herself entering Fullerton.” 

The journey lasted from ten to eleven hours, which meant that the horses reached speeds of up to 7 miles per hour. The added time was due to the stops in stages when fresh horses were exchanged with spent horses. Horses could pull a carriage for an average from 15 to 20 miles at most before needing to stop. The exchanges were rapid, and took as little as five minutes per stop (think of the speed of NASCAR pit stops – Regina Jeffers). 

…after the first stage she had been indebted to the post-masters for the names of the places which were then to conduct her to it; so great had been her ignorance of her route. She met with nothing, however, to distress or frighten her. Her youth, civil manners, and liberal pay procured her all the attention that a traveller like herself could require; and stopping only to change horses…”

Of the journey, Jane writes that “the hours passed away, and her journey advanced much faster than she looked for”, but Catherine had not eaten since breakfast, which ended around 7 AM. She must have been hungry and exhausted when the coach stopped in Fullerton. Her spirits lifted, however, when she was met with joy by her family and she reveled in their unconditional love.

The chaise of a traveller being a rare sight in Fullerton, the whole family were immediately at the window; and to have it stop at the sweep-gate was a pleasure to brighten every eye and occupy every fancy — a pleasure quite unlooked for by all but the two youngest children, a boy and girl of six and four years old, who expected a brother or sister in every carriage…”

“…Her father, mother, Sarah, George, and Harriet, all assembled at the door to welcome her with affectionate eagerness, was a sight to awaken the best feelings of Catherine’s heart; and in the embrace of each, as she stepped from the carriage, she found herself soothed beyond anything that she had believed possible. So surrounded, so caressed, she was even happy!” 

This heartwarming homecoming was the balm Catherine needed after such a heartsore night and day, but after the homecoming, reality set in and the family noticed her pale looks:

In the joyfulness of family love everything for a short time was subdued, and the pleasure of seeing her, leaving them at first little leisure for calm curiosity, they were all seated round the tea-table, which Mrs. Morland had hurried for the comfort of the poor traveller, whose pale and jaded looks soon caught her notice, before any inquiry so direct as to demand a positive answer was addressed to her.”

As Catherine spoke for half an hour, her family’s distress on her behalf increased.

…but here, when the whole was unfolded, was an insult not to be overlooked, nor, for the first half hour, to be easily pardoned. Without suffering any romantic alarm, in the consideration of their daughter’s long and lonely journey, Mr. and Mrs. Morland could not but feel that it might have been productive of much unpleasantness to her; that it was what they could never have voluntarily suffered; and that, in forcing her on such a measure, General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor feelingly — neither as a gentleman nor as a parent. Why he had done it, what could have provoked him to such a breach of hospitality, and so suddenly turned all his partial regard for their daughter into actual ill will…”

Mrs Morland was struck by General Tilney’s actions of sending her away without even a servant to escort her, and the needless trouble he caused her daughter. Not only could travel be dangerous during this era, especially at night when highwaymen roamed (recall the earlier Hugh Thomson image), or in the bitter cold of winter, but the journey might be delayed due to a broken wagon wheel, a lame horse, or impassable roads, rivers, or streams. Mrs Morland, ever the positive thinker, concludes that this experience was a character builder for her daughter.

“Well,” continued her philosophic mother, “I am glad I did not know of your journey at the time; but now it is over, perhaps there is no great harm done. It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets.”

Catherine Keeps her Promise and Writes a Letter

Catherine reproached herself for coolly saying goodbye to Eleanor. The funds she gave her provided for a safe journey instead of one that was fraught with danger. If she had run out of the ability to pay, she might have been stranded miles from home without the means to contact her family.

According to Deborah Barnum, author of the Jane Austen in Vermont blog, the estimated cost of a hired post-chaise in 1800 was “about £1 / mile [i.e @1 shilling / horse / mile, to include the postillion.]”  Eleanor’s gift was truly generous when one considers that Jane Austen’s annual allowance for personal purchases (which included gifts) was around £ 20 per year. Cassandra’s yearly income from the investments she made with the  £1,000 that Tom Fowler bequeathed to her was around  £35 (Lucy Worsley). The sisters’ combined income could not have paid for this expensive journey. 

The money therefore which Eleanor had advanced was enclosed with little more than grateful thanks, and the thousand good wishes of a most affectionate heart.”

Mrs Morland observed how sadly out of luck Catherine had been in making friends during her ventures in Bath and at the Abbey, and says ”the next new friends you make I hope will be better worth keeping.”

Catherine coloured as she warmly answered, “No friend can be better worth keeping than Eleanor.”

Eleanor, who had largely been invisible before this drama, became a three-dimensional character in these two chapters. She reacted with real feeling and emotion when her father ordered her to remove Catherine from the Abbey, and when she had to put the plan in motion, but when Austen sped the novel to its conclusion, she was placed in the background again. 

General Tilney’s behavior so disgusted his son Henry that it irrevocably altered their relationship. Henry hurried to Fullerton to apologize to Catherine and ask for her hand in marriage. She was just the sweet acquiescent girl he’d been searching for as his wife.

Additional Resources

Jane Austen Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition, edited by Susan J. Wolfson, 2014.Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, US. London, UK. 363 pp.

Worsley, Lucy.Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, 2017. St. Martin’s Press, 1st. Ed. NY

Jane Austen’s World, Tagged with royal mail coaches

Jerry Abershaw, Highwayman, Tony Grant

Regina Jeffers: Every Woman Dreams: Traveling by Coach During the Regency, an Overview

Susanna Ives’ Floating World: Lost in the Regency Mail

As the Wheel Turns: Horse-Drawn Vehicles in Jane Austen’s Novels » JASNA