Jane Austen and Fashion

A discussion on Facebook regarding cover illustrations caught my attention. The subject was clothing style depicted in cover art that was not compatible with the timeframe of the novel on which the art was displayed. Most of those who commented found such incompatibility to be disturbing. As a reader, I enjoy fashion details in historical novels. Such details bring the characters to life in my mind’s eye. Fashion, food, furniture, and other matters set the scene so that a reader can place the story in the time. A common point mentioned regarding Jane Austen’s novels addresses the fact that she does not describe her characters’ persons or their clothing in any detail, which is sometimes cause for lament and sometimes cause for curiosity. Why this lack of detail?

Jane Austen did not write historical novels. She wrote of her time for readers in her time. Some details would not have needed a great deal of stress or attention as her contemporaries would have known what she was talking about. However, one still wonders why so little attention was paid to appearances. We know Jane Austen was interested in clothes; her surviving letters to Cassandra frequently discuss clothing in detail. One example of this is the letter from Sloane Street written April 18th-20th, 1811. In this letter, Jane Austen discussed her shopping expedition, in which she purchased muslins for herself and Cassandra, bugle trimming and other items, including a new bonnet, and confessed a desire for a new straw hat.

We also know that Jane Austen had ideas about her characters’ appearances. In another letter from Sloane Street, this time dated May 24th, 1813, she told Cassandra of her and brother Henry’s visit to the Exhibition in Sloane Street, where she saw a portrait of Mrs. Bingley in which “Mrs. Bingley is exactly herself…dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments….” (1) She lamented not finding Mrs. Darcy’s portrait, and speculated that Mrs. Darcy would wear yellow.

Jane Austen’s earliest novels that were published during her lifetime were written before she was age 30: Elinor and Marianne (which became Sense and Sensibility) was written approximately 1795, when Austen was 20. First Impressions (which became Pride and Prejudice) was written in 1796, and Susan (which became Northanger Abbey) was written in 1798. Some examples of fashion during this time period are:
Wales, James, c.1747-1795; Susannah Wales (1779-1868), Lady Malet
Portrait of Susannah Wales by her father James Wales, c 1747-1795

Man’s Fashion Plate c 1795

It is important to remember that none of these books were published until much later. In 1801, the family left Stephenton and moved to Bath upon her father’s retirement. After his death in 1805, Jane Austen, her mother and sister moved periodically until finally, in early 1809, her brother Edward made a cottage in Chawton available for the Austen women. Although Jane Austen had revised Elinor and Marianne heavily in 1798, and had sold the copyright for Susan in 1803 (the publisher did not actually produce the novel, and Austen finally bought the copyright back in 1810), none of her books had yet been published. The years between 1801 and 1809 had not been nearly as productive as her earlier years, although she had done some revisions on Susan and started The Watkins (which was never finished). Once settled in Chawton, Jane Austen resumed her work. Revisions on Elinor and Marianne, First Impressions and Susan continued.

Elinor and Marianne became Sense and Sensibility and was published in 1811. First Impressions became Pride and Prejudice, which was published in 1813. Here are some examples of fashion during this period:
Fashion Plate Half-Dress November 1, 1810

Five Positions of Dancing 1811

Fashion Plate Morning Dress April 1, 1813

As we can plainly see, fashions changed significantly in the period of time between the first drafts and publication dates of Austen’s first two published novels. It is not known if the first drafts of the novels had contained any fashion descriptions. If they did, all such descriptions would have had to be found and revised or removed (not an easy task in the days before computers). If left unchanged, the details would not have added charming historical colour; they would merely have been dated, outmoded, and would have been a distraction to her readers. Jane Austen was also well aware that there was no guarantee of prompt publication once a work was completed. By removing such descriptions (if they had been included in the original drafts) or not writing them in the first place, Jane Austen allowed her readers to visualize her characters for themselves. Certainly, her later novels, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion, continued this pattern of leaving such details to the imaginations of her readers. I believe Jane Austen deliberately chose not to include such details in her novels. I also believe that this technique contributes to the longevity and freshness of her novels that readers continue to enjoy today.

And that portrait of Mrs. Bingley? There were multiple possibilities, but a favourite contender was a portrait of Mrs. Harriet Quentin by Francois Huet-Villiers, painted before his death in 1813. See an engraving of that portrait produced by William Blake in 1820 here:



JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, Deirdre Le Faye, ed. Fourth Edition. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011.

All images from Wikimedia Commons.

Jane Austen and Marriage

Das Ehesakrament by Pietro Longhi c. 1755 via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to movies and television, Jane Austen’s novels, especially PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and PERSUASION, are synonymous with happy-ever-after. Many love her works as romantic courtship novels. Ironically, Jane Austen has also been embraced as a feminist author, thanks to her subtle criticisms of male-dominated education and economics, and her personal unmarried state. In recent years, speculation on her personal love life and reasons for her failure to marry has generated a variety of novels and movies as well. The fact remains that marriage is a central point of her novels. There is a conflict common in all of her novels, again especially visible in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: marriage as a romantic state versus marriage as a means of financial support. This conflict was present throughout Austen’s life, and was the dichotomy for gentlewomen of her time. On one hand, Romantic thought required a marriage based only on mutual love, a one-time event. On the other hand, reality saw many women propelled into marriage solely for financial support. The same reality forced many widows into remarriage, regardless of their desires. A shortage of eligible males and women’s vulnerability to changes of status exacerbated the situation.

Jane Austen knew that marriage did not provide a guarantee of financial security. Money was lost, as in brother Henry’s bankruptcy. (Mrs. Smith in PERSUASION epitomized a woman’s vulnerability when a family fortune was decimated.) Inheritance laws distributed assets, resulting in distress, as illustrated by Mrs. Bennet’s obsession with the entailment that would result in Mr. Collins’ inheriting Longbourn when Mr. Bennet dies. There was no assurance that family members would aid an unattached female. Romantic fervor did not always last. A rise of divorce, particularly well-publicized in Austen’s time as it was still an expensive rarity, showcased a woman’s vulnerability in marriage. High society divorces occurred, such as that of Lord and Lady Worsley, in Jane Austen’s lifetime, and she was aware of them. In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, Colonel Brandon disclosed the sad fate of his first love to Eleanor: an heiress forced into an unloving marriage with his elder brother, mistreated, seduced, ultimately divorced and left with inadequate means of support despite her personal fortune (which remained in her husband’s hands), leading to her complete ruin.

I believe that Jane wanted to be married. However, her definition of marriage seems to have been very specific: a union of shared tastes and interests, mutual affection and mutual respect. Neither financial security nor romantic love (or infatuation) individually was enough. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE contained multiple examples of marriages that were unhappy because the partners were unequally matched in terms of education, interests, respect, infatuation that cooled or other circumstances. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship was the classic portrait of unequal marriage: her pretty face and flirting caught the eye of an educated young gentleman. His disillusionment, loss of respect and withdrawal from his wife had an extremely damaging effect on their children. (The differences between Jane and Lizzie (early products of the marriage), and Mary, Kitty and Lydia (later products of the search for a son and heir) showed the deleterious effect on the family as a whole of Mr. Bennet’s disenchantment with his wife ).

The marriage of Charlotte and Mr. Collins highlighted another unequal match: her need to find a place with a modicum of security so she would not be a charge on her brother or father led her to coolly pursue marriage to a singularly unsatisfactory man. Her superiority of taste and thought versus his foolishness did not lead to disillusionment for Charlotte but resulted in a constant effort to find satisfaction in her own abilities to counter the loneliness and frequent humiliation she experienced in her life with Mr. Collins. Lydia and Wickham was the ultimate mismatched couple, with no hope of any real comfort. Their marriage was the outcome of an elopement propelled by her giddy infatuation with the military and his taste for debauchery, and only occurred because Mr. Darcy had the means to compel Wickham to marry Lydia. They had no real affection for each other, no home or significant money of their own and no welcome from family or friends. Lydia had no significant hope of security (she had no internal or financial resources of her own, and Wickham’s unsteadiness and lack of a stable profession other than the military left them living on the edge of disaster).

Other novels in Ms. Austen’s body of work contain examples of unequal marriages as well: Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in MANSFIELD PARK, and Charles and Mary Musgrove in PERSUASION are only a couple of examples. In PERSUASION, Lady Russell was in no hurry (or was possibly unwilling) to change her widowed state which allowed her full control of her life and her funds. Certainly, she showed no interest in pursuing Sir Walter Elliot. In her Juvenilia, “Catharine or the Bower” in Volume the Third contains the story of a young lady who, against her personal inclinations, went to India to find a husband and was “Splendidly, yet unhappily married.”* (This story is based on her own family experience, as her aunt Philadelphia, her father’s sister, went to India and was married there.)

Jane Austen withdrew into premature spinsterhood, reluctantly yet almost with relief. Was it due to the loss of an early love, or a strong-willed desire to control her own destiny? Were there other factors? Jane advised her niece not to marry without affection. Her novels show the pitfalls of unequal, unloving or imprudent marriages, and the merits of marriages that combine affection, shared tastes and other benefits. Her heroines achieved the ideal state of being married happily and advantageously. However, her novels seem to contain more illustrations of the less satisfactory relationships than the happy ones. While the characters and circumstances involved in these less-than-happy marriages added greatly to the entertainment factor of the stories, one can’t help but see a warning of the dangers of marriage entered into lightly or for the wrong reasons.

With her family’s support and encouragement, Ms. Austen enjoyed writing and earning her own money. She was proud of her work and very interested in the financial reward of it. She saw women’s need for improved education and the ability to provide for their own support. Her sharp wit and keen observations were, and are still, admired. We should also consider her emotions as a girl and young woman, and how those emotions affected her writing. Did she truly feel a “splendidly engaged indifference”*. to marriage, or was she making the best of her unmarried state? When Mr. Bigg-Wither proposed in December 1802, he offered Ms. Austen a comfortable life in a family she knew and liked; his sisters were close friends. However, she did not particularly like or admire him personally. She accepted, and then withdrew her acceptance the next day. Her acceptance shows she was aware of the advantages that marriage to Mr. Bigg-Wither offered; her withdrawal shows that she valued respect and esteem more.

Jane Austen evolved from a girl dreaming of marriage into a determined spinster unwilling to settle for second best, as shown in family records, her letters and her novels. In PERSUASION, Anne Elliot defined good company as “the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation….”*** In my opinion, the character of Anne Elliot and this quote in particular reveal Jane Austen’s personal views and desires regarding relationships in general and marriage in particular most clearly. Jane was a woman of her time, a realist, who understood her family’s situation. She was also a woman of feeling, in a loving family. Choice as well as circumstances led to her decision to stay a spinster. Her wit and observations gave her writings humor, while her emotional growth allowed her to combine the sparkle of youthful hope, the caution of experience in adulthood and the wisdom of maturity in her stories.


*Chapman, R.W., ed. MINOR WORKS The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Vol. 6. 1988: Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 194.
**Walker, Eric C. MARRIAGE, WRITING AND ROMANTICISM Wordsworth and Austen After War. 2009: Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA, p. 226.
*** Chapman, R. W., ed. NORTHANGER ABBEY AND PERSUASION The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen Vol. 5. 1988: Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 150 of PERSUASION.

A wonderful surprise!

Front of dust jacket-Pride and Prejudice 001

My sister has spent the last few weeks packing things to move house. This has been a long and exhausting endeavor for her and,
from time to time, she has sent things my way. Today, I came home to find two small boxes of treasure trove on my doorstep.
A few items were quite thrilling to me. One was my great-grandmother’s text book “The Standard Question Book and Home Study Outlines” which was published in 1920 and signed by her in 1922. I do not know if she acquired this for her own study, or if she was teaching and, sadly, have no one to ask. However, it indicates an interest in study that I share. Maybe my great-grandmother acquired the “Outlines” as a study guide for my grandmother. Another was a text book, “Outlines of European History Part II” which covered from the 17th century to the “War of 1914”, which belonged to my grandmother who was in her junior year. This volume appears to have been published in 1916. I am so excited to see this, as it covers a lot of material in which I am interested from a different perspective than some of the more recently-published histories that I have read. There were some other gems as well. However, the real prize for me was a volume of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen.

As you can see, the dust jacket had a picture of Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier, who starred in the 1940 film version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. This volume was published by Grosset & Dunlap, a publisher who was one of the first (if not the first) to use movie still on dust jackets and as inserts. There is also another illustration inside the volume, which shows Miss Bingley, played by Frieda Inescort, trying to catch the attention of Mr. Darcy (Lawrence Olivier). Although the dust jacket is damaged (the spine, back and back flap are missing), the book itself is in pretty good condition and has my grandmother’s signature on the fly leaf. I know she kept the remaining portion of the dust jacket carefully in the back of the book (I suspect she was a fan of Mr. Olivier-who can blame her?). As best I can tell, this was published sometime in the 1940’s, but there is no date in the book. This book was accompanied by The Pocket Library paperback edition of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE published in 1954, and printed in 1958. This little volume is complete worn out-I have a feeling that this was my grandmother’s “reading copy” while the other was one of her cherished possessions. The best part is that my sister, knowing of my interest in all things Austen, made the effort to pack these up and send them to me. It was so thoughtful of her to think of me-the links between my great-grandmother, my grandmother and sister make these items very special treasures.

Sheer Delight…

Recently, I read a blog post about a book titled, Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823. I had never heard of this book, so I ordered it. I am so glad I did!

My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823
My copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823

This is a collection of watercolor paintings by a young woman named Diana Sperling, with text by Gordon Mingay and a foreward by Elizabeth Longford. Diana was clearly one of those accomplished young ladies one reads about in Jane Austen, and Regency novels in general. (It’s important to note that the Mrs. Hurst of the title is a real Mrs. Hurst, not Caroline Bingley’s sister in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!)

These paintings have so much humor and life. It has given me an entirely new perspective on this facet of young women’s education. Somehow, I never thought of the use of drawing and painting pictures as a way to record family life. Diana’s pictures include captions (most by her), and give a wonderful view of her life in a country home. In a way, sitting down with this book is not unlike sitting down with a friend’s scrapbook or photo album today. So often, my view of the late Georgian/Regency period is shaped by portraits of the rich and famous (or infamous!), or prints lampooning those same people. This is a lovely, human look at the life of a real family in a comfortable country home. The text is most enjoyable, filling in the details so we know who is portrayed and what’s going on.

It turns out that there have been a number of blog posts about this book in the last few years. (How did I miss them??) I can’t remember whose blog I read that steered me to this book, but I wish I could thank that author. This is not only a delightful, entertaining read, but an excellent reference as well. I highly recommend this book!

Details: ISBN 0575030356 London: Victory Gollancz Ltd., 1981. I found it on Amazon.com.


     In Jane’s surviving letters, there are tantalizing hints of political awareness. It must be remembered that the surviving letters are a fraction of those actually written-Cassandra destroyed many more. It is a mistake to assume, based on the surviving letters, that Jane did not more fully express herself on political subjects and matters. In my opinion, it is also a mistake to assume a completely one-sided view on her part.
Let’s take a look for some hints at political views in Jane Austen’s surviving letters ( JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS, ed. Deirdre LeFaye):

Letter 29 (p. 69) Reference to a threatened act of Parliament as not an issue of concern: per Ms. LeFaye, this referred possibly to measures in regard to alleviating the distress of the winter of 1800-1801 (one such measure involved fixing the price of wheat, which was vigorously opposed.)
Letter 61 (p. 154) Reference to politics (electioneering, canvassing)-Jane reported that, although offered the opportunity to run unopposed, Mr. Thistlewaite declined to run due to previous electioneering costs.
Letter 72 (p. 186) Reference to Weald of Kent-Canal Bill-Jane congratulates Edward because she read that the bill was delayed. “There is always something to be hoped from Delay – .”
Letter 79 (p. 202) Jane asked Cassandra if she could find out if “Northamptonshire is a Country of Hedgerows….” – this is a reference to enclosure (common lands being acquired and enclosed, usually for sheep, which affected not only the livelihood of others no longer able to access this land for open field farming or shared grazing, but also affected tithing (land in lieu of yearly tithes). [Enclosure was bad if for superficial reasons, such as improving a view; good if it will increase profit or efficiency, per Celia Eston’s article in PERSUASIONS.]
Letter 96 (p. 252) Reference to Napoleonic War –Jane’s letter referred to speeches in parliament: 11/4/1814: Marquis Wellesley, in the words of Mr. Pitt, indicated that England saved herself and others; 11/8/1814: The House of Lords thanks to Marquis Wellesley for skill and ability in action subsequent to battle of Vittoria (this reflected the Tory desire to win the war); see also remarks about Lady B (Brooks or Bridges?).
Letter 106 (p. 273-274) Reference to the War of 1812 – Jane discussed Henry’s opinion that England would not defeat America, but that England was a nation improving in religion, which Americans don’t possess (Jane’s view). (This reflects Tory conservative religious views.)

     In my opinion, these letters indicate that Jane Austen was in fact politically aware, and had definite opinions on the political issues of the day. I believe that this reflects a strong probability that women in general shared these traits, even though women could not vote and were discouraged from participating in political debate or discussion at any level.
     A frequent criticism leveled at Jane Austen’s novels is her failure to mention current events or political issues. In JANE AUSTEN Women, Politics, and the Novel, Claudia Johnson said on page 10: “Considered from within the compelling rhetorical structures conservative novelists build, to suggest, as Austen among many others, frequently does, that fathers, sons, and brothers themselves may be selfish, bullying and unscrupulous, and that the ‘bonds of domestic attachment’ are not always sweet, is to attack the institutions which make morality possible and so to contribute to the dissolution of the government.” She also says, “If, as we have seen, women novelists [Jane Austen included here] were able to appropriate a reactionary type in order to advance modest but distinctly reformist positions about female manners, they developed other narrative strategies to examine Burkean premises about marriage and patriarchy while eluding the accusation that they favored a radical reconstitution of society.” To summarize, these novelists made their commentary subtle, to avoid being accused of attacking societal norms or of being desirous of radical change, thus making their works acceptable while still getting their opinions out there.
     There are many political clues in Jane Austen’s novels. Looking specifically at PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and PERSUASION, I will address a few of them.
     PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was supposedly the most free spirited of Jane Austen’s novels, but was actually the most conservative, i.e. truer to older values and social structure (Johnson). Mr. Darcy is identifiably a Whig, as a wealthy landowner of high standing, who spent significant time in London, etc. (away from Pemberly), rich, definitely “high society” (he had danced at the Court of St. James, though seldom). Early in the novel, Darcy is seen as the handsome, wealthy, powerful hero (true to Cinderella story) but he had flaws and had to change to become worthy of winning Elizabeth. (Jane Austen showed a certain reluctant reverence for society, wealth and position, with Tory-esque values for individual merit and reward also). George Wickham was a classic Whig villain: although he was the son of Darcy’s father’s steward, he was treated as a son of the house, sent to Cambridge, and had expectations, which he squandered. Wickham expected advantages to be handed to him. After frittering away his advantages, he became a predator.
     Mr. Bingley, on the other hand, is recognizably a Tory, whose father made a fortune in trade; his success allowed his children to move up in society and become landowners. Mr. Bingley’s sisters especially aspired to Society roles (Whig “wanna-be’s”), as shown by Caroline’s relentless determination to catch Darcy. Other sympathetic Tory figures were the Gardiners: Mr. Gardiner was successful in the City, yet the couple’s manners and deportment made them acceptable in society.
     The Bennets themselves reflect the political divide. Mr. Bennet was a landowner and gentleman (inherited entailed property) who had no occupation. He married beneath him socially (she had a pretty face, was not educated, and brought little to the marriage). He was occupied with his own interests and place. Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth and Jane had the intelligence and ability to be able to fit into higher strata of society, while Mrs. Bennet and the younger girls did not. Elizabeth, as a gentleman’s daughter of charm, wit and intelligence, was found worthy of Mr. Darcy, despite the disparity of fortune and status. (This is a suggestion that Jane Austen may have felt that reform of social order was needed to allow for individual merit, but the hierarchical structure still basically sound. (CAMBRIDGE COMPANION P. 156.)
     In PERSUASION, Jane Austen’s last novel, her opinions had clearly matured. Sir Walter Elliot, Elizabeth Elliot, Lady Russell, the Dalrymples, Mary Musgrove are all classic Whig characters, convinced that  title, inherited wealth and property conferred status, regardless of personal merit. They did not perceive or readily value individual efforts to improve one’s circumstances. Of these, Lady Russell was the only one who really made an effort to value Capt. Wentworth as a man of merit because of her fondness for Anne. Anne Elliot was born a Whig, yet embraced the concept of earned value. Mr. Elliot was a Whig villain in the story: he was the heir to the title, the property entailed to him. Mr. Elliot lived in London “Society”, and married beneath him for gain. When his fortunes declined, he decided to reacquaint himself with Sir Walter and the family. His pursuit of Anne was predatory, to gain influence over Sir Walter, and to ingratiate himself. There are some striking similarities between Mr. Elliot and Wickham.
     Captain Wentworth, Admiral and Mrs. Croft, Captains Benwick and Harville represent a Tory ideal: they rose through their own merits; their personal worth made them acceptable and valuable. They embodied intelligence, hard work, and solid values and merit. Capt Wentworth being the hero and victorious suitor, combined Anne’s regard for his family and friends, show Austen’s solid Tory leanings and her ideas of the best company.
     Clearly, women’s interest in politics depended hugely on what issues had direct impact on them personally, and on the amount of information about the issues to which they had access. Literate women with access to print matter, including newspapers and gazettes, broadsheets, pamphlets, etc. would, for the most part, have been in households with the ability to provide the materials, and with the opportunity and time to read them. I submit that any woman who had family members participating in the war, or who had the opportunity or the ability to observe the effects of inequities in law (as in inheritance laws, debtor laws, civil penalties, etc.) would have some interest in political matters. Jane Austen, in particular, was encouraged to read widely and had multiple family issues, ranging from inheritance to war, which make it highly unlikely that she took no interest in politics. Although clearly having Tory sympathies, there are indications that she is not totally biased. There are hints of certain older establishment sympathies as well. I think it highly possible that Jane was actually of a moderate persuasion, perceiving the positive and negative of both the Whig and Tory positions. The glancing references in her letters and the subtle clues in her books assure us of her knowledge of these matters but only hint as to her opinions.
Washington & Lee University, “The World of Jane Austen” 2009 Alumni College – Dr. Taylor Sanders- Lectures: ‘The British Empire at Full Attention (or Why were all those men in uniform?)’ on 7/21/09, and ‘The Court Jester: Was George III Truly Mad?: The Political Scene’ on 7/23/09; Dr. Marc Conner-Lecture ‘The Economies of Jane Austen: Wealth/Religion/Marriage’ on 7/24/09. (Outlines and my notes)
Austen, Jane. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. London: 1813.
PERSUASION. London: 1817.
Copeland, Edward and McMaster, Juliet, ed. THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. “Religion and Politics” by Gary Kelly, PP. 149-169.
Erickson, Carolly. ROYAL PANOPLY Brief Lives of the English Monarchs. “Epilogue: Historical Turning Points, ‘England in 1714’”, pp. 350-352. New York: History Book Club, 2003.
Johnson, Claudia L. JANE AUSTEN Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
LeFaye, Deirdre, ed. JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Mitchell, Leslie. THE WHIG WORLD. London and New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2005.
PERSUASIONS, No. 24, 2002. “Jane Austen and the Enclosure Movement: The Sense and Sensibility of Land Reform,” by Celia Easton. PP. 71-89.
Pool, Daniel. WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
ELECTIONEERING (from Robert Southey’s “Letters from England,” written in 1802 [originally published in 1807])
On-Line Research Sources:
Bloy, Dr. Marjory. A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY – THE AGE OF GEORGE III. http://www.historyhome.co.uk
FIND A GRAVE http://www.findagrave.com
THE EFFECTS OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ON POLITICS , http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0858818.html
GEORGIAN BRITAIN: British History Under George I/II/III/IV and William IV http://www.ukstudentlife.com/Britain/History/Georgian.htm
A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY: THE AGE OF GEORGE III http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/ministry/ldgrenmi.htm
THE GEORGIAN INDEX http://www.georgianindex.net/Election/election.html
REGENCY COLLECTION. “Whig or Tory?” http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/regency/whig.html

Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft: Did Jane Read A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN?

     Mary Wollstonecraft was born 4/27/1759. Because of an abusive father and her family being in poor financial straits, she worked as a companion and a governess (her experiences as a governess were highly influential on future writings).  She also started a school with a friend, and worked as a reader and translator, and was a published author, providing financial support for her family. She reported on the French Revolution. Mary was obviously affected by the ideas of the era-rights of man, questions regarding the morality of slavery etc. A pamphlet “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters” published in 1787 argued against many of the accepted theories and practices of raising and educating girls, and is the forerunner of her book A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN, published in 1792. In this book, she protested the false life (“the doll’s life”*) approved for the women of her age. She felt that, as human beings, women were rational, should have the same rights as men, and should be allowed to take up the work for which each was best qualified, whether solely domestic or not. She considered neglected education to be the source of misery, with women rendered weak and wretched, resulting in a puppet like situation with women being pretty to look at, vain and helpless, with no other object than to gratify the whims and passions of men. She did not want to change the order of things and acknowledged men’s characters, superior physical strength, etc. Her viewpoint was that there was no reason to conclude that men’s virtues were superior to women’s virtues, and that both would benefit by better education and improved characters. (She made the interesting point that, if men were really concerned about the morals and virtues of their wives, daughters and sisters, they should improve their own morals and strengthen their own characters first-a virtuous, loving husband being far less likely to have an unfaithful, immoral wife!)
     Mary Wollstonecraft lived a highly unconventional life-she lived with Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American army officer in France, with whom she had a child. They were not married though she presented herself as his wife, and she would not give him up until she had no choice (they were not living together, he was unfaithful and indifferent). After two suicide attempts, she went back to her literary life, and formed a relationship with William Godwin, whom she married when she became pregnant again (with her daughter Mary Godwin who became a writer-FRANKENSTEIN, born 8/30/1797). She died 9/10/1797 from complications resulting from childbirth. Mr. Godwin’s subsequent biography of his wife, which included a frank discussion of her unconventional ideas and relationship issues, was published in 1798 and succeeded in ruining her reputation.
     Mary’s experiences as a governess in the household of an Irish noblewoman led to her view of the current “false system of education”* which was designed to make women “alluring mistresses”* rather than affectionate wives and rational mothers. She said that the minds of women were enfeebled by false refinement, resulting in women being treated as subordinate beings. She also condemned the education of rich ladies as tending to “render them vain and helpless, and the unfolding mind is not strengthened by the practice of those duties which dignify the human character.”* The focus of women’s education was for them to become “pleasing” instead of functional partners. “When the husband ceases to be a lover, and the time will inevitably come, her desire of pleasing will then grow languid, or become a spring of bitterness; and love, perhaps, the most evanescent of all passions, gives way to jealousy or vanity.”
     Did Jane Austen read A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN ? I contacted Jane Austen’s House and Museum, Bath Central Library, Jane Austen Centre, and Chawton House Library.  No catalog of Rev. George Austen’s library is known to exist. (Jane Austen’s House and Museum does have a copy of the inventory of the contents of the Steventon Rectory but no catalog of his books.) The Bath Central Library indicated that VINDICATION was on the catalog for Marshalls Circulating Library on Milsom Street dated 1808; it is the only one they have in Jane’s time frame. Since VINDICATION was published in 1792 and was a well-known work, this argues that the book was probably available via a circulating library when Jane Austen lived in Bath, or visited in London or other cities.
     Jane is known to have had a copy of HERMSPRONG, or man as he is not by Robert Bage (philosophically, Mr Bage embraced the idea of the superiority of the “natural man”, considered women the equal of man and supported women’s rights, and was known to have had a high regard for Mary Wollstonecraft; these ideals are demonstrated by the story in HERMSPRONG)/ Jane’s copy is in the Huntington Library (her signature in all 4 volumes). This would argue a mind open to the ideas expressed in VINDICATION. There is also a theory that Jane would not necessarily referred to Mary Wollstonecraft’s work or influence, due to Mary’s unconventional morals and lifestyle (see Claire Tomalin and Miriam Ascarelli).
     It is clear that Jane Austen was exposed to and affected by Mary Wollstonecraft’s A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN. As previously quoted, “…to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers”- Mrs. Bennet and Lydia Wickham in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE are clear illustrations of this. When we re-read the passage “When the husband ceases to be a lover…” , we see that the marriages of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and Charles and Mary Musgrove in PERSUASION, and Jane’s comments on them, are superb illustrations of the unequal marriage. The marriage of Admiral and Mrs. Croft in PERSUASION, especially where Mrs. Croft refers to women as “rational beings”, and the discussion of their unorthodox style of driving (he holding the reins, while she puts out a hand to correct his steering) as a metaphor for their marriage, is a clear illustration of what a marriage should be, according to the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft. The characters of Lady Catherine DeBurgh, Elizabeth Eliot and Miss Bingley, reflecting their vanity, and minds not strengthened by performance of duties and activities, are also very illustrative of Ms. Wollstonecraft’s ideas. In SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, the discussion between John Dashwood and his wife resulting in him doing little for his sisters parallels an example in VINDICATION. Also worthy of note is the relationship of Mrs. Jennings’ daughter and her husband: she is empty headed, and he is surly because he can’t give her back, according to Mrs. Jennings (another example of an intelligent man caught in an unequal marriage.)
     That Mary Wollstonecraft’s work was known to Jane Austen is not a point of serious debate that I can find. However, I find it striking that there are so many illustrations in Jane Austen’s novels that support points raised by Ms. Wollstonecraft, indeed are almost direct references to A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN. I think it is very clear that Jane was profoundly influenced by Ms. Wollstonecraft’s work, and, using her light touch and subtle humor, highlighted the issues Ms. Wollstonecraft raised. While she could not very well have acknowledged this influence at the time she published, Ms. Wollstonecraft’s reputation being what it was, I think Jane Austen clearly carried Ms. Wollstonecraft’s ideas regarding the education of women, and a higher concept of marriage, forward.

Books:                                                                                                                                                        Austen, Jane.  PERSUASION, from The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen NORTHANGER ABBEY AND PERSUASION.3rd edition.  Oxford University Press. Reprinted 1988.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.                                     Bage, Robert. HERMSPRONG, or man as he is not. Originally published 1795. Edition used: The Folio Society, London 1960.
Ivins, Holly. THE JANE AUSTEN POCKET BIBLE. Richmond, Surrey, England: Crimson Publishing, 2010.
Ray, Joan Klingel, PhD. JANE AUSTEN FOR DUMMIES. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc. 2006.
Tomalin, Claire. JANE AUSTEN: A Life. Edition used: Vintage Books Edition, May 1999, New York NY.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN. Originally published 1792. Edition used: Introduction by Elizabeth Robins Pennell, London: Walter Scott 1891.

On-line Articles:
“Jane Austen”-Brandeis University; http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/austenbio.html
“More Views of Jane Austen”. Smith, George Barnett.http://www.mollands.net/etexts/other/gbsmith.html
“Mary Wollstonecraft”. Biography Resource Center. http://galenet.galegroup.com
“A Feminist Connection: Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft.” Ascarelli, Miriam. Persuasions On-Line V 25 No 1 (JASNA)
“Feminism In Jane Austen”. Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice–Notes on Education, Marriage, Status of Women, Etc. Republic of Pemberly. http:www.pemberly.com/Jane info/pptopic2.html
“’Hermsprong or man as he is not’ Robert Bage”. Perkins, Pam. University of Manitoba. The Literacy Encyclopedia. http://www.litencyc.com

JASNA 2004 AGM-Huntington Library information