August 25, 2015

Chawton Cottage, to which Austen, her mother, and her sister moved in 1809,  is now in a quiet village within the boundaries of South Down National Park.  The village has one Church of England school and no retail shops; it is the sort of quiet settiChawton Cottage Bricked- Up Windowng that one imagines for an Austen novel.  But in fact, at the time Austen, her mother, and sister lived there, the Winchester Road which ran right in front of the house was a main drag with the 19th century equivalent of a McDonald’s drive thru, a car wash, and a 7-11 parking-lot hang-out. The house had once been an Inn, and passengers waited for coaches at the  pond.  So Austen’s brother, who owned the cottage, had one of the front windows bricked up for privacy and installed what was probably a very fashionable, if architecturally inconsistent, Gothic window with a more scenic view.

Gothic Window Chawton Cottage

I hope that he arranged for this work to be done before the ladies moved in.  Right now I myself am in the middle of replacing all my windows.  This was how things stood one Friday afternoon at  4 pm:

Seidel window

Last Wednesday I had four painters, two carpenters, my cleaning lady, two window installers, and their nine cell phones at my house for the day.   This is not conducive to great thought or even short blog posts.

In Pride and Prejudice the unpleasant Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a widow.  The novel does not specify how her husband, Sir Lewis, died.  But I now know.  Mr. Collins tells us that Sir Lewis had the windows at Rosings Park glazed.  I assume this involved removing the individual panes of glass and replacing the putty, but whatever the procedure was, it would have been enough to kill any homeowner.

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Probably around August 1 or so, 2015

The urgent need for a footman (as opposed to the urgent need for a calendar) does seem like a question that Anthony Trollope or Mrs. Gaskell would address far more than Austen would as Austen didn’t dwell on the domestic trivia that we watchers of Downton Abbey so enjoy.  But being at an isolated cabin for a month has made me think about some aspects of 19th-century life, such as it being very useful to have an extra footman.

My family got phones put in the cabins back in 1996 when we got electricity, but not all the cabins on the lake go to the expense.  My friend Joanne across the lake does not have a land line, and her cell works if she happens to be on the dock, pointing the phone toward the inlet that feeds the lake, but she does not spend her entire vacation on the dock imitating the Statue of Liberty. So if I want to invite her to come on a pontoon boat ride, I have to go talk to her in person.

This is not a hardship. Rather than driving  my mother’s big-ass red station wagon the two miles around the lake (or walking),  I go in a 21-year-old golf cart which motors silently (well, the metal frame does rattle a bit) along a tree-lined sandy trail, rarely encountering another person or vehicle.  It can take twenty minutes, usually longer as I detour through the campground to look at people’s tents and RVs.

Early 19th century folk lacked phones, aging golf carts, and big-ass red station wagons.  The gentry would have sent a servant with their messages.  Jane in Pride and Prejudice  becomes ill when walking through the rain to the Bingleys’.  Undoubtedly a footman had to go back through the rain to tell her family.  So why aren’t we worried about him getting ill? Is he going to be able to stay in bed for the next few days if he is smitten? I would guess that he is a great deal busier than Miss Bennet would ever be.

I assume that many of the country families Austen writes about would not have crowds of underutilized servants sitting around the kitchen, waiting to be put on carrier-pigeon duty. If the message is to go to a house two or three miles away and the messenger has to wait for a reply,  he could be absent for several hours, especially if he, like me, decided to tour the campground to look at the tents and RVs.  That could leave a fair amount of domestic work undone . . .  unless of course children from the serving classes were sent, but then I think that the detours would have been lengthy indeed.

At home my neighbor and I share a driveway so our front doors are perhaps 50 steps apart.  When I want to talk to her, I don’t go over there and ring her doorbell, I don’t even telephone her, I send her an email.

Because neither one of us can ever find our footmen.







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July 21 (I think), 2015

Okay, I accept (not understand, but accept) that wireless signals do not travel easily through metal, aquariums, and other dense obstructions, but pine needles?  Seriously, pine needles?

Yes, pine needles.  In the battle between pine needles and a wireless signal, the signal emerges weakened and bloodied.  Add wind,  and the pine needles are invincible.  The ground is strewn with little Internet corpses.

It’s a windy day up here in Northern Minnesota, and  so it is way too hard to post on “Jane Austen and Enlightenment Influences” or something like that.  Now I could take my computer to the little outbuilding on the neighboring lot where the router and modem are housed  (being careful not to step on the little Internet corpses)  and plug directly into the router or the modem (once I had figured out which one to use).  But the little outbuilding used to be a wood shed, and prior to that it was the paymaster’s shack at one of the iron ore mines.

And I just can’t see writing about “Jane Austen and Enlightenment Influences” in  a paymaster’s shack/wood shed.


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July 13 (or so), 2015

I have been traveling (hence the lack of a post last week), but  I have now landed at my family’s cabins in Northern Minnesota.  (I can say this because I have a great house sitter back home.)

Cabin exteriorcabin photo

The cabins are on a lovely sand-bottomed lake,  35 minute from the nearest store, and until we got electricity about 15 years ago  we were one of the last pockets in the U.S. to  have been without.

So we have all kinds of modern conveniences, one teeny-tiny bar on the Internet signal, cell phone coverage that allows you to text from the driveway and occasionally talk from the end of the dock , but despite all these techno-wonders we don’t have flush toilets.

Wait, wait, you cry, do you mean you don’t have indoor toilets?  Of course we do.  You just have to go outdoors to go back indoors.  biffy


I am plagiarizing myself as I used that line to describe a fictionalized version of these cabins in Summer’s End.  (Let’s blame the North-Words Internet on the fact that I don’t know how to make this image clickable, but the book is available both in print and an e-version.) I would certainly rather use a clean outhouse in the beautiful woods than a disgustingly filthy filling station restroom.



Now this blog is supposed to be about Jane Austen.  And it is.  Austen had neither flush toilets nor gas stations.  In  the bedroom she shared with her sister at Chawton Cottage was a narrow closet with a wash stand and a chamber pot.

Wash basin and chamber in Janes room pot Chawton

Another Austen blogger twitched at the notion that Austen would have had to use the chamber pot in front of her sister.  What princesses we have become!  Our outhouse has two very companionable seats, and my sister and I often stop at the end of the driveway for a little sibling urination-time.


But I am now curious about peeing in someone’s else home. One hears about conveniences for men, but what about ladies?  Say you are Harriet Smith on a day-long visit to the very superior Miss Woodhouse.  You are only there for the day so you would not have a bedchamber of your own, and you’ve been drinking tea.  So does Miss Woodhouse escort you to her bedchamber?  Does a maid take you to a spare room?

And what do you say?   What was the polite way of saying that you had to tinkle?lake photo

I have absolutely no idea.  And sketchy one-bar Internet, I am not going to even try to find out.



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June 30, 2015

Here are some of the instructions for “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot” which Elizabeth and Darcy danced in the 1995 movie version of Pride and Prejudice after Mr. Darcy has announced that every savage can dance:

B1 1s couple cross 2nd couple meet. B2 1st couple cast down one place 2nd couple lead up.B3-4 1st couple back to back 2nd couple cast to ends  . . . and so on

What could possibly go wrong?

Upon reading these directions, I, as would any sane person when confronted with a problem that might involve geometry, assembled a group of romance writers.  I decided that we might do better (as we could hardly do worse) if we were wearing costumes.  So our corps de ballet included three hoop shirts (go, Greer Garson!), a cathedral-length wedding veil, a poodle skirt, and what was possibly a Queen-Esther costume. We then struggled/flitted our way through the appropriately named Comical Fellow.

Except for a wedding-veil mishaps,  we managed the dance because I had the week or so  before discovered the Alexandria (VA) English Country Dancers whose dance master is Corky Ohisnthegreat.   At least I assume that that is his last name.  Mention “Corky” to anyone along the Eastern Seaboard in the English Country Dance world, and you hear “Corky? Oh, isn’t he great?”

As a result of Corky and Jack, the dance master at the Jane Austen Summer Program, in the simpler dances, I can, unlike Mr. Collins, generally manage to  the correct place at the correct time(or at least only a few beats behind)  with the correct hand extended,  but I am not dancing, I am shuffling, walking, thinking.   Okay, I am taking a big risk attempting to post a video from the JASP.  If it works,  you will see me at the right-hand edge in my dark red dress.   At this point in the evening my posterior tibia tendon tendonitis had gotten the best of me, and my progress is  . . .  let’s call it stately.  I am channeling my inner Lady Catherine.  I apologize if the video doesn’t work.  You can’t be Lady Catherine and a techno-geek at the same time.

Welcome to the Duchess of Richmond ball. #JaneAusten #JASP2015

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