Monthly Archives: January 2013

Dueling Fashionistas: Lady Jane Harrington v. Jane Halliday

The latest edition of Dueling Fashionistas is fresh from the press, and ready for a vote.  First though, let’s see where the ladies who bear confusingly similar names stand in Reynolds’s portraiture:

The two Janes before you are painted in a pastoral style by the great Sir Joshua Reynolds.  In both portraits one hand is outstretched, as if directing the viewer toward the majesty she alone has seen.  Their flowing gowns are reminiscent of their muses.  Whereas Halliday’s whips on a violent breeze, Harrington’s seems composed, an extension of her easefulness.  The scenery around Harrington is also less elemental than her opponent’s disturbed backdrop of air and shadowed land.

In terms of movement, I find Halliday’s portrait irresistible.  A pale wrapper streams across her arm; her coiffure is romantically askew.  The wind is an influence she cannot control, and in rippling with it she becomes sylph-like.

Harrington’s portrait possesses more restraint.  Her hair is partially undone where it grazes over her shoulder and her gown puddles where she stands, but her general appearance recollects sublimity.  Overall, her tableau is gentler and dignified, the urn and Grecian style robes a nod to classicism over naturalism.

Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | SIr Joshua Reynolds
Lady Jane Halliday, 1779 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds
Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington. 1778-79 | Sir Joshua Reynolds

Which style do you prefer, and, moreover, does the triumph go to Lady Harrington or Jane Halliday? Which Jane is fairer and why? And do you think Reynolds did the ladies justice?

I’d love to hear your opinion! (Especially regarding Lady Halliday’s shoes — they’re sandals, right?)

Interview with Susannah Fullerton, Author of ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’

I’m delighted to welcome Susannah Fullerton, author of the lovely new book Celebrating Pride and Prejudice: 200 Years of Jane Austen’s Masterpiece to the blog.  As it just so happens, today is EXACTLY  the 200th anniversary for P&P (Pop the champagne, Mr. Darcy and the rest of Meryton’s residents are officially one-fifth of a milllennium old!)  To celebrate I’m hosting a bonafide Austen expert and true enthusiast of the great authoress.  As my regular readers know, I found Susannah’s book incredibly enjoyable (read review here) and Susannah was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions regarding the project.

You’ve been the President of JASA (Jane Austen Society of Australia) for 15 years. How did you first get hooked on Jane Austen and, more specifically, Pride and Prejudice?

It is actually now 18 years since I became President of JASA and it has been a real labour of love. It’s a wonderful, vibrant society and I’ve made so many great friends through JASA and have loved being its President.

My mother read me ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was about 12, and I was instantly hooked, though I’m sure I understood very little of its irony or subtlety at that age. My mother adored JA’s novels and so did her mother and grandmother, so I’m from a long line of women who have gained huge pleasure from reading her works.

Your previous book A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters Went to a Ball was published in October of 2012, three months prior to when Celebrating Pride and Prejudice hit shelves this month. What was it like researching two historically rich writing projects back to back?

Never again will I do two books so close together!! I was asked quite some time ago to write the book on ‘Dance’ for Frances Lincoln. Just as I was close to finishing it, they contacted me about a proposal I’d put to them many months before for a book about 200 years of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and gave me a deadline, so it was all quite tight. However, I adored every minute of writing ‘Celebrating Pride and Prejudice’ – I was for months immersed in the world of the Bennets, Darcys, Bingleys etc, and was just so happy! The tough part was the images, as both books are very beautifully illustrated. Getting permissions and good quality images was the hardest part of the whole project, especially with a deadline to meet.

People kept saying to me that after 2 books about Jane Austen I must be tired of her and need a change, but quite the contrary! I’m so excited about the big ‘Pride and Prejudice’ 200th anniversary year and am looking forward to giving a huge number of talks about my new book and ‘P & P’ in Australia, the USA and the UK. I feel very proud of both my books, but will try in future to make sure that I have a bit of a break in between writing projects.

I enjoyed your commentary in the chapter ‘Did They All Live Happily Ever After?: Sequels and Adaptations.’ It’s indicative of Pride and Prejudice’s everlasting appeal that a great number of writers wish to tell their version of the characters’ happily ever afters. As an expert on Jane Austen, were you ever tempted to have a go at it, even simply for your own amusement?

Those of us who love the novels of Jane Austen want more!!! She only wrote 6 completed books and it is just not enough. And as her characters are so real to us, we naturally think about their lives after the novel ends, wonder who single characters might end up marrying, ponder the happiness of the various marriages etc. So it’s not surprising that so many people have tried their hand at sequels. However, I am so in awe of Jane Austen’s brilliance as a writer that I would not dare to even attempt to imitate her, and for me no sequel is ever really satisfying because it is not written by Jane Austen.

Pride and Prejudice is rarely, if ever, interpreted on screen as a Georgian period piece. Given that it was first begun in 1796, then later revised and eventually published in 1813, do you think there is anything quintessentially Georgian about the text?

I think Jane Austen was hugely influenced by the Georgian era, rather than the Regency (which was technically Georgian too, though we often tend to think of it as a separate era). Dr Johnson was the quintessential Georgian writer, and quite often Mr Darcy sounds like Dr Johnson. I think the first sentence of the novel (and I write a chapter about that sentence in my book) is strongly influenced by Georgian moralists and essayists. I think the wonderful balance of her prose is typically Georgian, as is the way in which she weighs up various qualities and characteristics, her rationality and good sense.

The fun question comes last. You have a chapter devoted to ‘Selling Pride and Prejudice’ that discusses the merchandizing and tourism worlds associated with the novel. Do you own any memorabilia that you absolutely had to buy, or have you visited any must-see places related to Pride and Prejudice?

I have a car number plate holder with words from the novel, I have notepads and other stationery with quotes, I have a cake of Mr Darcy soap (yet to be used!) and fridge magnets, a nighty, a mug, a trivia game, a jigsaw puzzle, postage stamp, and confetti (I’m waiting for the right bride to throw it at!) so, as you can tell, I’m as addicted as most fans to buying ‘P & P’ related merchandise.

And as I lead literary tours to the UK every year, I have visited the places connected with Jane Austen and her novel. When I cross into Derbyshire and see the sign for it, I immediately think of Mr Darcy. When I enter Hertfordshire I think of the Bennets, and of course Hampshire is Jane Austen country for me.

However, my most treasured ‘things’ are my copies of the novel – I have about 12 different versions, with different illustrations (there is a chapter in my book about the very varied illustrators of the novel), different scholarly notes and introductions, different designs for their covers. No matter which copy I pick up, it somehow always falls open at the right place and is always guaranteed to bring me joy. This 200th anniversary year is so special! For 200 years ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has been delighting the world – long may it continue to do so!

Thank you, Susannah, for allowing me to host you on Life Takes Lemons!  For more information about Susannah and her work, please visit her home on the web.

In Defense of Novels: Jane Austen’s Perspective

In December 1817 Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey was published posthumously.  She’d been a novelist in print since 1811, and presumably, like all novelists, had occasioned to meet with derisive, if not outright patronizing, commentary when she’d discussed that activity which had brought her the most joy and possibly the most angst: writing novels.

The New Novel, 1877 | WInslow Homer
The New Novel, 1877 | WInslow Homer

In the 18th century, as well as throughout the 19th century, reading fiction was a questionable avocation.  It led the mind toward fancies and illusions; for weak-minded females, reading romances could turn the potentially perfect wife into an Elizabeth Bennet, a bluestocking, a virago with irrepressible opinions.  Gentlemen cautioned against these idle amusements, but Jane Austen and erudite intellectuals like herself offered their vehement replies.  Her sentiments on the matter appear within Northanger Abbey.  Couched within is a soliloquy in defense of novels, and I can put her argument in no cleverer words than she already has.  The passage of interest appears shortly after a description of Catherine’s and Isabella’s progressing friendship and informs how novels allow for invaluable ingress into the human condition:

” . . . and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together.  Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding–joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages in disgust.  Alas!  If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?  I cannot approve of it.  Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans.  Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition have been so much decried.

Lady Reading in a Wooded Park, 1770 | George Stubbs
Lady Reading in a Wooded Park, 1770 | George Stubbs

From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers.  And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens–there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.  ‘I am no novel reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.’  Such a common cant.  ‘And what are you reading, Miss –?’ ‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ replies the young lady, while she lays down her books with affected indifference, or momentary shame.  ‘It is only Cecelia, or Camilla, or Belinda’; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbably circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.”

Hurrah for Jane!  The above is a total smack-down, and I can’t say I blame her for the rebuke, but I do adore history. Of course today’s society is much more approving of novels, but I, too, have heard many an opinion on the uselessness of fiction–from people who have obviously never read Austen! The bottom line is: can we not applaud both pursuits and be all the more finely tuned by what the two subjects have to offer each other? I like to think so, but I also can’t help but wonder that if Austen were alive today, would she be writing incisive commentary on modern day life, something along the lines of (don’t smack me) Lena Dunham’s Girls? Or even Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary?

A Beautiful Anatomy: Gautier d’Agoty’s Mezzotints

Jacques Fabian Gautier d’Agoty was an 18th century French anatomist and engraver, a Marseille native, and a painter of Court ladies including Marie Antoinette.  For his anatomical and naturalist art he worked with colored mezzotints, using red, yellow and blue impressions on copper plates, a method he’d learned during his brief six-week employment under Jacob Christoph Le Blon.

After leaving his post over a low wage dispute, he shed the role of assistant and, immediately upon Le Blon’s death in 1741, assumed that of principal inventor, but his assertions were part fiction.  He’d added black or brown to make a four-plate mezzotint, “perfecting” Le Blon’s method, but this was not considered revolutionary by his peers.   He was nevertheless awarded a patent by Louis XV to continue making his art–a patent that remained in his family throughout the 18th century.

‘Anatomical Angel’ is his most well-known anatomical print.  The female depicted is eroticized, young and refined despite her presumed death.  She’s morbidly beautiful, the skin on her back splayed into red angel wings, her coiffure curled and pinned, her hips and upper buttocks exposed.

Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d'agoty (Back of Female) 1746
Jacques-Fabien Gautier-d’agoty (Back of Female) 1746

Aside from the fact his models are stripped to their flesh, his mezzotints are similar to 18th century portraiture in posture and graceful expression.  It’s disarming, to say the least.

Pregnant Woman | 1773
Pregnant Woman | 1773

 

And lastly, the Queen whose tragic anatomy was exposed by the guillotine:

Marie Antoinette | 1775
Marie Antoinette | 1775

Lord Chesterfield on Trivial Pursuits, Day 7 REPOST

Originally posted 1/2/11

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

As a lady of substantial cranial proportions, I say with all humility that I simply cannot countenance the follies of my age.  To dance and make merry?  Bah!  ‘Tis a waste of sturdy, spinster feet.  Likewise, I do not care to garland my person in the most dear and newfangled fashions, thereby bankrupting my paltry accounts, simply to join in the happy pursuits of society.  Yet what choice have I but to make myself a lemming?

Verily Yours,

Miss Anthrope

Marie-Adelaide de Bourbon, one of Louis XV’s spinster daughters

Dear Miss Anthrope:

In truth, whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be done well without attention: I therefore carry the necessity of attention down to the lowest things, even to dancing and dress. Custom has made dancing sometimes necessary for a young [wo]man; therefore mind it while you learn it that you may learn to do it well, and not be ridiculous, though in a ridiculous act. Dress is of the same nature; you must dress; therefore attend to it; not in order to rival or to excel a fop in it, but in order to avoid singularity, and consequently ridicule. Take great care always to be dressed like the reasonable people of your own age, in the place where you are; whose dress is never spoken of one way or another, as either too negligent or too much studied.

Adieu!

From Bath, October 9, O.S. 1746

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs and On Secrets and On Political Atmosphere.
 

Lord Chesterfield on Political Atmosphere, Day 6 REPOST

Originally posted 12/31/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I solemly swear before God and country that all politicians are liars and thieves!  They never accomplish what they vow, and upon my soul, there is a not a noble man among such a house of fools.  I dare say, in the next election I will not suffer to vote.  What say you on this most important matter?  Given the day’s unsavory climate, am I wrong to feel apathetic towards these demmed pimps?

Verily Yours,

Straight Suffering from Lack of Having Sovereigns

joseph, baron ducreux

Dear Straight Suffering, etc., etc.,

Another very just observation of the Cardinal’s [de Retz] is, That the things which happen in our own times, and which we see ourselves, do not surprise us near so much as the things which we read of in times past, though not in the least more extraordinary; and adds, that he is persuaded that when Caligula made his horse a Consul, the people of Rome, at that time, were not greatly surprised at it, having necessarily been in some degree prepared for it, by an insensible gradation of extravagances from the same quarter. This is so true that we read every day, with astonishment, things which we see every day without surprise. We wonder at the intrepidity of a Leonidas, a Codrus, and a Curtius; and are not the least surprised to hear of a sea-captain, who has blown up his ship, his crew, and himself, that they might not fall into the hands of the enemies of his country. I cannot help reading of Porsenna and Regulus, with surprise and reverence, and yet I remember that I saw, without either, the execution of Shepherd,—[James Shepherd, a coach-painter’s apprentice, was executed at Tyburn for high treason, March 17, 1718, in the reign of George I.]—a boy of eighteen years old, who intended to shoot the late king, and who would have been pardoned, if he would have expressed the least sorrow for his intended crime; but, on the contrary, he declared that if he was pardoned he would attempt it again; that he thought it a duty which he owed to his country, and that he died with pleasure for having endeavored to perform it. Reason equals Shepherd to Regulus; but prejudice, and the recency of the fact, make Shepherd a common malefactor and Regulus a hero.

Adieu!

From London, September 13, O.S. 1748

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs and On Secrets.

Lord Chesterfield on Secrets, Day 5 REPOST

Originally posted 12/30/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

Recently at a party a most scintillating secret was relayed to me by an acquaintance and I simply cannot bear to keep it to myself!  If I go and whisper this trifle of a tale to say, a few of the fashionable ladies with whom I play the lute , would this be a violent breach of trust?  The secret did, after all, come by way of a rakish acquaintance.

Verily Yours,

The Gossipmongering Gent from Kent

Dear Gossipmongering Gent from Kent,

My word of advice from the Cardinal de Retz is, “That a secret is more easily kept by a good many people, than one commonly imagines.” By this he means a secret of importance, among people interested in the keeping of it. And it is certain that people of business know the importance of secrecy, and will observe it, where they are concerned in the event. To go and tell any friend, wife, or mistress, any secret with which they have nothing to do, is discovering to them such an unretentive weakness, as must convince them that you will tell it to twenty others, and consequently that they may reveal it without the risk of being discovered. But a secret properly communicated only to those who are to be concerned in the thing in question, will probably be kept by them though they should be a good many. Little secrets are commonly told again, but great ones are generally kept.

 Adieu!

From London, September 13, O.S. 1748

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendship and On Giving Compliments and On Domestic Affairs.

Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs, Day 4 REPOST

Originally posted 12/29/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

After fighting with my beau, I decided to confide the subject of our quarrel to several of my closest friends. Now I’m afraid I have made a mess of the situation, for where my beau and I have promptly forgotten our dispute, my friends, taking my momentary poor constitution to heart, now quite thoroughly detest him! As the damage is already done (and woefully irreversible in the near future) what advice have you to offer so I do not err further?

A Whimsical Woman

Dear A Whimsical Woman,

Cautiously avoid talking of either your own or other people’s domestic affairs. Yours are nothing to them, but tedious; theirs are nothing to you. The subject is a tender one; and it is odds but you touch somebody or other’s sore place; for in this case there is no trusting specious appearances, which may be, and often are, so contrary to the real situations of things between men and their wives, parents and their children, seeming friends, etc., that, withthe best intentions in the world, one often blunders, disagreeably.

From Bath, October 29, O.S. 1748

Come back the day after tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Secrets

Missed the previous Lord Chesterfield’s posts? See On Friendshipand On Giving Compliments.

Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments, Day 3 REPOST

Originally posted 12/28/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I was recently watching a splendid film called ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (centuries ahead of your time, I’m afraid, old boy) and couldn’t help but cringe upon the following scene involving how to (or how not to) give delicate compliments.

Mr. Collins (the creepy toad): It’s been many years since I had such an exemplary vegetable.

Mr. Bennet: How happy for you, Mr. Collins, to possess a talent for flattering with such . . . delicacy.

Elizabeth Bennet (the serpent-tongued yet lovely chit): Do these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are they the result of previous study?

Mr. Collins: They arise chiefly from what is passing of the time. And though I do sometimes amuse myself with arranging such little elegant compliments, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

Elizabeth Bennet: Oh, believe me, no one would suspect your manners to be rehearsed.

I trust you can see how I would positively shudder at being considered a Mr. Collins.  Please do advise.

Lost in Austen

Dear Lost in Austen:

You will easily discover every man’s prevailing vanity by observing his favourite topic of conversation; for every man talks most of what he has most a mind to be thought to excel in.  Touch him there, and you touch him to the quick. 

Do not mistake me, and think that I mean to recommend you to abject and criminal flattery: no; flatter nobody’s vices or crimes: on the contrary, abhor and discourage them.  But there is no living in the world without a complaisant indulgence for people’s weaknesses, and innocent, though ridiculous vanities.  If a man has a mind to be thought wiser, and a woman handsomer, than they really are, their error is a comfortable one to themselves, and an innocent one with regard to other people; and I would rather make them my friends by indulging them in it, than my enemies by endeavouring (and that to no purpose) to undeceive them.

There are little attentions, likewise, which are infinitely engaging, and which sensibly affect that degree of pride and self-love, which is inseperable from human nature; as they are unquestionable proofs of the regard and consideration which we have for the persons to whom we pay them.   As for example: to observe the little habits, the likings, the antipathies, and the tastes of those whom we would gain; and then take care to provide them with the one, and to secure them from the other; giving them genteely to understand, that you had ovserved to like such a dish or such a room; for which reason you had prepared it: or, on the contrary having observed they had an aversion to such a dish, dislike to such a person, etc., you had taken care to avoid presenting them.  Such attention to such trifles flatters self-love much more than greater things, as it makes people think themselves almost the only objects of your care and thoughts.

Adieu!

From London, October 16, O.S. 1747

So why did Mr. Collins blunder?  First he asked which cousin to compliment on such a fine meal (An insult.  The Bennet’s were well-off enough to have a cook.  Harrumph!)  Then, he proceeded to compliment them on boiled potatoes, calling such a basic and ordinary food exemplary.  Yikes!  Hopefully none of you endured this sort of exchange over Christmas dinner.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Domestic Affairs!

Missed the previous day?  Lord Chesterfield on Friendship

Lord Chesterfield on Friendship, Day 2 REPOST

Originally posted 12/27/10

Dear Lord Chesterfield,

I find myself in a common predicament these days: I have an abundance of friends when I have no real need of them and few friends when I do. What, pray, is the difference between a true friend and friend to pass the time, and why, when in most cases companionship is not wanting, should I care?

Adrift and Addlepated

Dear Adrift and Addlepated,

People of your age have, commonly, an unguarded frankness about them; which makes them the easy prey and bubbles of the artful and the inexperienced: they look upon every knave, or fool, who tells them that he is their friend, to be really so; and pay that profession of simulated friendship, with an indiscreet and unbounded confidence, always to their loss, often to their ruin. Beware, therefore, now that you are coming into the world, of these proffered friendships. Receive them with great civility, but with great incredulity too; and pay them with compliments, but not with confidence. Do not let your vanity, and self-love, make you suppose that people become your friends at first sight, or even upon a short acquaintance. Real friendship is a slow grower; and never thrives, unless ingrafted upon a stock of known and reciprocal merit.

There is another kind of nominal friendship, among young people, which is warm for a time, but, by good luck, of short duration. This friendship is hastily produced, by their being accidentally thrown together, and pursuing the same course of riot and debauchery. A fine friendship, truly! and well cemented by drunkeness and lewdness. It should rather be called a conspiracy against morals and good manners, and be punished as such by the civil magistrate. However, they have the impudence, and folly, to call this confederacy a friendship. They lend one another money, for bad purposes; they engage in quarrels, offensive and defensive, for their accomplices; they tell one another all they know, and often more too; when, of a sudden, some incident disperses them, and they think no more of each other, unless it be to betray and laugh at their imprudent confidence. Remember to make a great difference between companions and friends, for a very complaisant and agreeable companion may, and often does, prove a very improper and a very dangerous friend.

Adieu!

From London, October 9, O.S. 1747.

Missed the first post The Sagacious Letters of Lord Chesterfield?

Come back the day after tomorrow for Lord Chesterfield on Giving Compliments!