Medicine in the Regency Era

November 28, 2022

"Send for the Doctor! "
Medicine in the Regency Era 

In my up-coming novel, A Return to Norland, one of the main characters (no spoiler alerts here, sorry) becomes ill and medical help is sent for. In the Regency/Georgian eras, however, one did not just go to the doctor or send someone to the doctor to ask for a house call, because depending on the type of ailment, there were different people who performed different functions all under the umbrella of ‘doctoring.’

Generally, the poorer and lower middle class households first referred to textbooks such as Buchan’s Domestic medicine or the family physician (1769). Buchan wrote Domestic Medicine not as a medical text book exactly, but more like a home remedy book, which families could refer to. It described various different ailments, and their treatments, clearly enough that untrained people could diagnose and ‘cure’ (perhaps) whatever it was that ailed the family member. Jane Austen’s family supposedly had a copy.


Unfortunately, many of his remedies were not of the standard, or the wisdom, of what we know today. For instance, Buchan was a proponent of bloodletting, purging, and other treatments we know to be harmful. Not all his theories were bad, and he was a great proponent of common-sense measures such as fresh air, exercise, hygiene, cleanliness.

But what if the ailment or injury was too difficult to cure by home remedies, or that applying leeches to little Sarah for three days merely exacerbated her symptoms? What to do?
Then people had the option to summon an apothecary, a surgeon, (and many times the apothecary doubled up as a surgeon if there was no skilled surgeon in the area, as in rural locations) or if you had enough money, a physician.

Apothecaries were pretty low on the food chain, apothecaries being considered in ‘trade’. Today we would call him a pharmacist, although nowadays pharmacists are highly trained and are afforded a little more respect. But back in medicine’s relatively early days, they were the cheapest form of medical attention one could get, and usually, but not always, would come to a house if asked to call. He was addressed as Mr Whoever, or just Whoever, and would primarily mix and dispense drugs/herbs/poisons. He could prescribe and mix you a sleeping draught, or something for fever, and so on. He might also do the work of a surgeon.

The surgeon, also only addressed as Mr Whoever, or just Whoever, was trained to treat ailments from boils to headaches to broken legs. He was, however, usually trained by a doctor, and did the dirty hands-on stuff which the physician would leave to him. As a rule, he would do things such as dressing wounds, setting bones and so on. He took on the messy jobs that no self-respecting physician would touch. Blood, gore and spurious foul liquids were not unknown to him. When we look at his kit, pictured, you can get the gist of his work.

The physician was the only one of these men who was considered a gentleman. He had a university education and was referred to as Doctor Whoever. His status differs so much from that of the apothecary and the surgeon that he was respected by the families he attended, often being invited to social occasions, to dine with them, or to stay the night. Mostly the doctor’s clients would be members of the gentry and aristocracy. Reimbursement for their services had to be discreet, since a gentleman did not receive wages for labour.

On the whole, doctors were expected to avoid anything hands-on, and simply diagnosed illness or injury by asking questions and prescribed medicines which could be made up by the apothecary. England did not have medical schools, so to further his studies he would often have travelled to Scotland or even to America to study medicine in the newly set up medical schools there. A good deal of his knowledge came from on the job training, and from learning from a practising doctor.

None of this means that his medical attention was efficacious or that richer people got a better quality of expertise. In their education, never did would-be doctors practice on actual patients. All their learning was done by listening to lectures on medicine. A website called ‘Pen and Pension’ has a really interesting page on medicine in Georgian era England, and it seems that medical practice in England in the Georgian era was pretty much a free-for-all, and that there were just as many, if not more, ‘quacks’ than men with a genuine idea of how to go about things.

Just because you could afford a physician, didn’t mean you got a treatment that worked. Nothing worked all of the time, and sometimes, less was more, as in the case of blood-letting and use of narcotics and opiates!

Overall, it might be a reasonable assumption that to call a medical person in the Georgian era would have been as much inviting death as a cure, and it is no wonder people avoided medical help until the last minute, since of course, there was no anaesthesia to help.

I will close with this interesting reference to Emperor Napoleon’s wife Josephine, who became sickly and weak while he was busy with his Egyptian campaign. Apparently, she was ordered to stayed in bed for two weeks and follow this regimen:

“Doctors drew blood from her veins and applied leeches to her wrists, prescribed medicinal drinks, ordered compresses made from boiled potatoes strapped to her limbs. Adopting a remedy centuries old, they ordered a sheep killed and wrapped Josephine in its fleecy skin.”

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Georgette Heyer- The Mother of the Modern Regency Romance

October 28, 2022
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Georgette Heyer- The Mother of the  Modern Regency Romance 

notoriously private woman, who refused to give interviews, Georgette Heyer was one of the most prolific and well-known writers of ‘regency romance’ of her time. In fact, Georgette Heyer essentially established the historical romance genre and its subgenre Regency romance, popularising the genre which had previously been established by Jane Austen, with her domestic-focussed ‘women’s’ novels for, and about, women of the Georgian and Regency periods.

Heyer’s regencies were inspired by Austen’s, but she brought to the genre a new life and a much less ‘serious’ feel than Austen did. Heyer was, however, a stickler for accuracy, which I presume must have come about from a fascination with the Georgian and Regency eras, and which anyone who loves Regency writing can sympathize with—Heyer collected references, books and historic documents, and kept detailed notes on all aspects of regency life. She is, for example, well known for her use of ‘regency cant’ the vernacular of the day, and which she sprinkled liberally throughout her novels. It is generally accepted that she made up some of these words herself, but even if she did, they lend an authentic feeling to her writing. For example, phrases such as ‘doing it too much brown’ (flattery), ‘to become a tenant for life’ (marriage) and ‘to be in damned low water’ (poor). These lend sparkle and life to her sentences and characters—the sparkle which draws us to her writing and which is unlike any other writer then or now. (For more on her regency ‘cant’, here is a great website which catalogues many of her turns of phrase, authentic or made up.)

To me, one of the most interesting facts about Heyer’s novels is that as Heyer's popularity increased, other authors began to imitate her style to the point of plagiarism. Barbara Cartland, a contemporary of Heyer’s, had written several novels in a style similar to Heyer's, reusing names, character traits and plot points and paraphrased descriptions from her books, particularly A Hazard of Hearts, which borrowed heavily from Friday’s Child, and The Knave of Hearts which borrowed heavily from These Old Shades. Heyer complained and took the case to her lawyers, but unfortunately the case never came to court. It was enough, however, to deter the other writer, and the plagiarism ceased.

That was not the only instance of plagiarism. In 1961, another reader wrote of similarities found in the works of another female novelist. These novels borrowed plot points, characters, surnames, and plentiful Regency slang. Apparently, her fans accused Heyer of "publishing shoddy stuff under a pseudonym". In response, Heyer made a complete list of the plagiarisms, including the historical mistakes in the books. Among the phrases that writer ‘borrowed’ were repeated use of the phrase "to make a cake of oneself", which Heyer had discovered in a privately printed memoir unavailable to the public. In another case, the author referenced a supposedly historical incident that Heyer had actually invented, in an earlier novel—a dead give-away for plagiarism, and I read somewhere a long time ago now, that Heyer claimed she had invented some of the phrases herself, and was able to catch out the offending novelist by pointing out the use of the same phrases in the plagiarised novels.

Perhaps these events make her more interesting to a reader—I certainly found her books fascinating because of it, and one can see why Heyer was so wildly successful enough to have other writers attempt to plagiarize her work. She writes with wit, certainly with a sense of the comedy of life, with an eye to detail and makes use of intricately woven plots, and most of all, she is funny…all of which make for the best reading.

So which of Heyer’s books would I recommend to new readers of hers? To be honest, any of her books are fine to start as almost all of them are pretty accessible. But if I had to state my favourites so far (as I have not read all of her books yet) I would recommend: The Black Sheep, Friday’s Child, Venetia, Regency Buck, Bath Tangle. Heyer wrote thirty-seven romances alone, not counting some thrillers also, so if you like her style, unlike Austen’s mere handful of novels, you will have plenty to keep you going!

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Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout!

September 23, 2022

Rout Cakes—A Must-Have at any 19th Century Rout! 

Mrs Elton was a little shocked at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout cakes, and there being no ice in the Highbury card parties. (Jane Austen, Emma)

If you make a habit of reading Austen and her contemporaries, you may have come across a Regency era party food called ‘Rout Cakes’. In Austen’s Emma, Mrs Elton is contemptuous of the quality of the said ‘rout’ cakes. Rout cakes are also alluded to in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair , when Joseph Sedley, Amelia’s rather overweight brother, virtually inhales twenty odd rout-cakes at a party:

‘Joseph Sedley contented himself with a bottle of claret besides his Madeira at dinner, and he managed a couple of plates full of strawberries and cream, and twenty-four little rout cakes that were lying neglected in a plate near him.

What exactly is a rout, anyway? According to the Oxford English Dictionary a rout is ‘a fashionable gathering; a large evening party or soirée of a type fashionable in the 18th and early 19th centuries.’
Apparently, however, a ‘rout’ was not too large a gathering—under ten card tables, (which I believe seated four people) in fact. The earliest reference to the word rout goes back to 1745 in E. Haywood Female Spectator, the Georgian era equivalent of our modern Woman’s Day Magazine, which qualifies a rout this way. ‘She told me, that when the Number of the Company for Play exceeded ten Tables, it was called a Racquet, if under it was only a Rout.’

Rout Cakes are a kind of rich sweet cake flavoured with brandy and/or orange juice, rose water, Madeira and usually currants. These were traditional at a party/rout—and in the regency, ‘routs’ were very popular. Who doesn’t like boozy cakes!!

Now, I do love trying my hand at Regency era recipes, so for this blog I went looking for recipes—and found that there is a lot of variation in recipes. So for interest, here is the recipe which dates the earliest, and comes from Maria Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery.(1824)

Rout Drop-Cakes
Mix two pounds, one ditto butter, one ditto sugar, one ditto currants, clean and dry; then wet into a stiff paste, with two eggs, a large spoonful of orange-flower water, ditto rose-water, ditto sweet wine, ditto brandy, drop on a tin floured: a very short time bakes them.


But for more modern cooks, below is a recipe which might be easier to follow, and the one I used myself. See my photo below. I had a blast making them, and I can understand why Joseph Sedley ate so many!

Rout Cakes

Method:

  1. Using an electric mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs. Then add the remaining liquids.
  2. Add the flour/currants to the liquid mixture and blend until all of the flour is incorporated into the mixture.
  3. Heat the oven to 160F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper
  4. Wet your hands and roll the dough into small balls, about 2 teaspoons full. Or drop onto the surface with a spoon
  5. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until they are firm and slightly golden brown
Ingredients


Main:

salted Butter, softened

1/2 POUND

Sugar half brown/ half white

1 & 1/2 CUPS

Large Eggs

2

Orange-Flower Water or essence


1 TABLESPOON

Rose-Water or Rose essence

1 TABLESPOON

Sweet White wine –madeira, port or sherry

2 TABLESPOONS

 Brandy

2 TABLESPOONS

 All-Purpose (Plain) Flour

3 & ¼ CUPS

 Currants

1 POUND

If you can’t get the Orange-Flower Water or essence, try orange zest and orange juice together to get the flavour. A good supermarket should have Rose-Water or Rose essence in the baking section.

Store in an airtight container. Note: These were easy to make, and even more delicious than I had imagined! Serve with tea, coffee, sherry or Cointreau, and definitely serve them at your own ‘rout’!

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‘A Brandon by Any Other Name…’

August 30, 2022
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‘A Brandon by Any Other Name…’ 

So said Shakespeare—well sort of—the bard was talking of roses, of course, and he really said, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ 

In other words, roses are just really nice-smelling flowers, whatever they are called, and that is important, because this month’s blog is about Colonel Brandon, of Sense and Sensibility fame, and the fact that, GASP! HORROR! SHOCK!—Austen never gave arguably the nicest guy she ever invented, a Christian name!

Hands up everyone who already knew poor Brandon was only ever called ‘Colonel’ by his mum? Well, according to Austen, anyway. Because truly, she never gave this amazing character, maybe the most swoon-worthy guy next to Captain Wentworth, a first name we could all rush off and name our dogs/cats/children after in honour of our favourite Austen hero.

‘No!’ I hear you all exclaim, ‘it cannot be true!’ But yes, interestingly, it is quite true. In Austen’s novel we are never told Brandon’s first name. Now that has been an interesting problem for film makers who have made miniseries etc, and even more so for JAFF writers, who have gone to great lengths to come up with some fitting names, since Austen herself was so remiss.

Amanda Grange names him ‘James’ in her book Colonel Brandon’s Diary, he’s been called Christopher in many more than one fan fiction, and Jane Odiwe calls him ‘William’ in her book about Willoughby. So although many Austenians now think of him as a ‘Christopher’ since this name has been used so much ( even Wikipedia mistakenly says his name is Christopher!), he is, actually, nameless.

So, this truly leaves fan fic writers with a dilemma; what do we name our Brandon? More to the point, what do I, just beginning my new work, A Return to Norland, name Marianne’s husband, Colonel Brandon?

You would think this wouldn’t be such a big issue—just look up Bryn Donovan’s regency boy names list and pick one, for goodness’ sake. But it wasn’t as easy as that. I mean, naming one of Austen’s very own characters, a very major character, and a smashing stand-up kind of guy too, is quite a responsibility.

To tell the truth, I am in awe of the writers who came up with such wonderful names as Christopher, William and James. But after thinking about it for literally three months into the writing, I decided I could not use one that had been already used; my Colonel Brandon must be his own unique person.

Then I had to pour over long lists of regency boy names, trying each one for fit, for personality and comfortableness, and I rejected about ten or twelve as just not right. Then I came across two more—Philip, and Stephen. These I liked. They were both strong, authentic to the period, and kindness emanated from them—a major personality trait of the Colonel. So of these, I did chose one, and if you want to find out which one, you will have to…dare I tease you….read the novel—when it comes out early next year. Sorry—cliff hanger, much?

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Northanger Abbey; A Novel about Novels!

July 26, 2022
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Northanger Abbey; A Novel about Novels!

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid’ –Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey. 

Of all the great nineteenth-century writers which have drawn me closer to the fascinating Georgian era, it is the works of Jane Austen which have mesmerised me since my teenage years and continue to do so. Austen’s novels draw us into another, irresistible world; a world of mysterious etiquette, unfathomable courtship behavioural rules for men and women, beautiful and elegant regency fashions, richly-imagined balls, card parties, musical performances and routs of yesteryear, mysterious divisions of rank and title, and mostly, the often unrecognisable lives of females of the middle and upper classes—lives of indolence and leisure to outward appearances, but oftentimes too, lives of stifling captivity in what was essentially a man’s world. Out of a world of domestic trivia, Austen creates for us scenes of heartbreak, passion, adventure, delight and human foible, as surely and neatly and quickwittedly as Shakespeare. She is a master craftsman, etching two-hundred-year-old scenes of Georgian life on her ‘two inches wide of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush’ for our delight.

Northanger Abbey is one of my personal favourites, and I think I share that sentiment with many readers. One of its charms, for me, is that it is a novel about novels! Let’s take a closer look at Austen’s third novel and some of the messages Austen was trying to convey..

First drafts of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, initially entitled Susan, were written, according to her sister Cassandra, as early as 1798-99, after she had written first drafts of both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Austen was twenty-three years old at the time. In 1803, the year Austen gave it its final revision and changed the title to Northanger Abbey, it was offered to a publisher and bought for a meagre ten pounds although the publisher never ended up publishing the work, much to Austen’s displeasure. To give the reader an idea of the increasing value of Austen’s manuscripts, her later manuscript for Pride and Prejudice was purchased in 1812 by Thomas Edgerton, for one-hundred-and-ten pounds! Northanger Abbey was finally published posthumously in 1817 along with Persuasion.

Northanger Abbey’s premise is straight forward; a young, naïve woman is taught the follies of allowing herself to be influenced by the absurd, improbable Gothic fantasies in literary vogue at the time. The work has long been considered a parody on the popular gothic novels which were contemporary to Austen’s time, and although it was her third novel, it underwent less revision than other of her works and so it is sometimes considered closer to her juvenilia in style and content than a finely constructed work of her later novels. For all that, though, I feel that Northanger Abbey is seriously underrated and remains one of my favourites. As a coming-of-age novel (and to set this style of novel in a gothic setting, Austen certainly created herself some challenges), I find it quite successful. It is also fun to tease out Austen’s motivations, her messages, if you will, to her reader.

Bear in mind that Austen, a great reader herself, had seen a rise in the popularity of gothic horror novels such as Anne Radcliffe’s novels, The Monk by Mathew Lewis, and The Midnight Bell by Francis Lathom. These are deliciously ‘horrid novels’ as Catherine Morland terms them, novels which inspire thrilling, spine-chilling frissions of the body and mind. Austen certainly read some of these novels herself. Being immersed in such literature and noting its popularity, is it possible that Austen wrote Northanger Abbey as a response to what she had read over the years? It seems probable that her reading of such novels certainly at least influenced her writing of Northanger.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen is sharply critical, not of the extravagant romanticism of such novels, but of taking them too seriously, and indulging in them too much. We must remember that it is actually Henry, Catherine’s older mentor/father figure in Northanger Abbey, who repeats the quote at the beginning of this foreword, and not, as we might think, Catherine herself. But no matter how much pleasure one might take in a ‘good novel’, Austen makes sure to warn us too, through the exploits and humiliation of her heroine, Catherine Morland, that such things are not real life and should be for fun only, that too much of a good thing can be detrimental. As Anne Elliot recommends to Captain Benwick in Persuasion, one is always wise to balance one’s pleasure reading with ‘a larger allowance of prose[…] as calculated to fortify the mind by the highest precepts.’

Austen uses the superior, and older and wiser, character of Eleanor Tilney as an ideal to which Catherine should aspire—and she makes it clear that if Catherine wishes to aspire to the sensible character of Eleanor, she must herself take in a larger allowance of ‘superior’ reading material and less of the fantastical. While they are walking, Eleanor quizzes Catherine on her obsession with gothic horror novels.

‘You are fond of that kind of reading?’
‘To say the truth, I do not much like any other.’
Then Catherine confesses:
‘But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in. Can you?’
‘Yes, I am fond of history.’

Catherine here receives a lesson from a superior mind, for Eleanor Tilney is a female version of her virtuous and wise brother, with just as balanced a view of literature and reading as her sibling. In this sense, Austen cautions her reader to be balanced about one’s choice of reading material, in the same way that Anne Elliot cautions Benwick in Persuasion that too much of a good thing can ‘seldom be safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely.’

In setting the second part of the novel in an ancient abbey, Austen teases the reader, taunting us with our expectations of a gothic ‘read.’ The idea of the gothic is, after all, embedded in the title, Northanger Abbey, along with the expectations which go hand in hand with such a title. But the teasing doesn’t stop there. Austen sets up the expectation of gothic action by giving us a naïve, virginal heroine, and the promise of gothic adventures from the outset. ‘If adventure will not befall a young lady, then she must seek them abroad.’ But where a seasoned gothic reader might expect secret passages and strange apparitions, Austen neatly turns the tables on us, for there are no apparitions, no skeletons, and the only door which holds any horror for Catherine leads to the late Mrs Tilney’s bedroom, which is as ordinary as Catherine’s own bedroom. Austen even titivates us with the classic gothic trope of secret, mysterious documents, then again subverts the gothic trope by giving us mere mundane laundry lists.

Another common gothic trope is the use of the foreign, the ‘other’, to play upon the fears of the reader. The gothic novels which Austen parodies provide romantic, foreign environments like Italy in which to act out spine chilling and sexually titillating action such as that found Radcliff’s The Monk and Mysteries of Udolpho. Austen, however, again grounds her novel in the mundane; her heroine does not even leave the country but must suffice with Bath as the scene of her adventures. Where gothic horror is all about evoking the fear of the unknown by setting the scenes in foreign lands, Bath, a mere twenty-one miles from her home, is as foreign as Catherine is allowed.

In every way, therefore, Austen makes the point that art does not imitate life, and as much as art is pleasurable to indulge in, it must be done with the understanding that such things must not be taken seriously. Austen is reluctant, and shows us that it is indeed superfluous, to resort to those tropes popular in gothic fiction, to create a story worth reading. In fact, Austen shows us that she feels that a truly superior novel, one which might ‘fortify the mind by the highest precepts’, is one which will spurn such tropes. In Northanger Abbey, Austen’s heroine still manages to enjoy herself, even without having to encounter real horrors. Despite the absence of such titivation, with the good counsel and common sense assistance of Henry and Eleanor, she is able to become an independent thinker, to make sound decisions and develop the critical faculties which she was lacking at the beginning of the novel. All in all, Catherine manages to transition from child to adult successfully, once she has learned to judge the real value of the things, and people, around her. All her adventures in Bath are contained to the normal, mundane, probable events of normal life, and, when Catherine blunders at all, it is perhaps fitting that her obsession with gothic horror novels propels her into her most significant personal growth—being able to recognize her mistakes and actively engage in self-development.

There’s a lot to tease out of Northanger, for those who wish to look, but never does Austen need to resort to the uncommon, the absurd or the improbable, to entertain. Her reluctance to seriously participate in the tropes of the classic gothic novel meant that Austen had to work within the realms of the normal to titivate and entertain the reader, despite the expectations raised by her choice of title. Sir Walter Scott once said of Austen, that she makes the ordinary interesting.

‘…keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy
the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such spirit and
originality, that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a
narrative of uncommon events…’

That is, perhaps, the greatest delight for her readers. It is because Austen’s characters are just like us, with the same faults and tendencies, that they are interesting to us. Northanger’s characters as finely-nuanced as we would wish, and her understanding and insight into human nature and the human condition, combined with that superb ironic wit, combine to create a story sure to please as she leads us through the busy scenes of a bustling Bath, and into the pseudo-gothic abbeys and ruined castles of the later parts of the narrative. As much as within the scenes of Northanger Abbey the reader will never encounter ‘uncommon events’, we are treated to as many regency gowns and costumes, balls, Georgian life and customs, as any Austen addict could wish for. Regardless of what we love and sometimes dislike about the novel, for most Austen lovers, Northanger Abbey will always be a timeless classic, to be read over and over again with as much pleasure as we began it the first time.

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What are Bath Buns?

June 17, 2022

What are Bath Buns? 

Bath buns were one of Jane Austen’s weaknesses. She said as much to her sister in one of her letters. One of the problems was that when Austen went to stay in Bath with her Aunt Leigh-Perrot, the meals were so stingy that ‘I will endeavor to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns.’ Of course, Jane was being her usual humorous self, but although too many Bath buns may not be good for the digestion, she obviously had a liking for them.. 

Now if you have read my blogs, you will probably know that Regency food fascinates me and brings me closer to Jane and her Georgian era peers. So, when I wrote ‘A Bath Affair,’ I have my heroine’s family regularly having Bath buns for breakfast, as this was generally when they were eaten. So, what are Bath buns?

I am sure you have heard of the Sally Lunn bun—well, it seems Bath buns were the cousin of this sweet doughy delight. The Lunn was a brioche, and lighter, while Bath buns are more dense, and have the delightful addition of caraway seeds. When they first appeared in English cooking, Bath buns often were sprinkled with sugared caraways, known as comfits, rather than just plain. To make caraway comfits, I have included the method below the recipe for the buns.

Although you can still eat Bath buns in the many tea houses in Bath geared to tourists and Jane Austen fans, you might like to try making them at home if you cannot, like me, get to Bath any time soon!

This is Jamie Oliver’s recipe (thank you Jamie!) for Bath buns:

Bath Buns

Method:

  1. Gently heat the milk until tepid, then stir in the yeast
  2. Combine the flour, sugar and 1 teaspoon of sea salt in an electric mixer or another large bowl.
  3. Using your hands or the mixer’s dough hook on medium, work in the butter till the mix is like fine breadcrumbs.
  4. With a wooden spoon, stir in the caraway seeds (if using) and yeasty milk until well combined. It will appear a bit wet, but don’t add any flour. Rest the dough for 10 minutes.
  5. Skip this stage if using an electric mixer. Grab a handful of dough, stretch it out and slap it back into the bowl. Continue to stretch and slap for 5 minutes until it’s more elastic and easier to handle.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a flour-dusted work surface and, with floured hands, knead it for 8 to 10 minutes (or 6 to 8 minutes using the mixer’s dough hook) until it is smooth and elastic.
  7. Place the dough in a large clean bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for 1 hour 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  8. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/gas 5. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper (or use a non-stick baking tray).
  9. Knock back the dough and turn it out onto a work surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces and roll into balls.
  10. Place them seam-side up and push a sugar cube into the centres. Pull the dough around it so it is completely enclosed. Reshape into balls.
  11. Place sugar-side down on the tray and cover with a damp cloth. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.
  12. Beat the egg, then brush over the buns. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden and sound hollow when tapped underneath.
  13. Just before you take them out the oven, warm the milk and sugar for the glaze until the sugar has dissolved.
  14. Transfer the buns to a wire rack and brush generously with the milk glaze while they’re still hot.
  15. Lightly crush the sugar cubes for the topping, then sprinkle on top with the caraway seeds (if using). Eat while warm.
Ingredients


Main:

milk

250ml

fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast

14g

strong white flour, plus extra for dusting

450g

sugar


30g

butter, at room temperature

225g

tablespoon caraway seeds, optional

1 x

 rough-cut white sugar cubes

12

 rough-cut white sugar cubes

1x


Milk Glaze:

tablespoon milk



1x

2 tablespoons sugar


2x

Sugar and Caraway Seed Topping:

rough cut white sugar cubes


4x

1 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional


1x

TIPS:

The buns will last for 3 days in an airtight container, but you may want to reheat them before eating.

To make the caraway comfits if you want them to be REALLY authentic:

4 tablespoons of water
4 tablespoons of sugar
5 tablespoons of caraway seeds

Put water and sugar into a saucepan and stir over a medium heat until dissolved and boiling. Add caraway seeds and stir over the heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue to stir until the mixture is dry. Pour onto a plate or wooden board and cool.

If you would like your seeds doubley crunchy, do the whole process again, with the pre-sugared caraways. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container until ready to sprinkle on your Bath buns!

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Speed-dating Austen’s Heroes: Which Would You Marry?

May 25, 2022
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Speed-dating Austen’s Heroes: Which Would You Marry?

Y ou are Miss Lizzy Bonnet, the tolerably-handsome, decently-educated middle-class daughter of a gentleman, and you are of marriageable age. You have been invited to a ball, and present are several eligible men, who just happen to be the heroes (and antiheroes) from Austen’s novels. You get to dance with them all, and your doting Mama, Mrs Bonnet, gives you the low-down on the eligibility of them all. At the end of the night, you must choose one to be your husband!

It should be noted that while Austen’s hero/husbands ranged from decent blokes to downright naughty playboys, she never stereotyped her characters, so you will never find any of her husbands portrayed as saintly, nor will you find evil men in her novels. Austen painted her characters with all the colours of human nature, and that means you will find a mixture of good and bad in all. Therefore, be warned; not all of Austen’s ‘good’ husbands are as decent as you think! Let the speed-dating begin!

Mr George Knightly

Occupation: Gentleman Farmer/Landowner
Income: Unspecified, but owns a large estate, from which the chief of his income is made. Is considered wealthy although strapped for ready cash.
Previous attachments: Sometimes suspected of having a ‘thing’ for his sister-in-law, Emma, as he visits the family almost daily. Admires Jane Fairfax openly.

Pros: Financially stable, hardworking. He is certainly a decent enough bloke; kind to the less fortunate, hospitable to all, he shows good judgement, is an excellent businessman, and is a good friend to those around him. He is a part time local magistrate also, which means he must be in very good standing in the community. However, I suspect that any wife of his will have to suffer his long absences from home due to work commitments and don’t expect flowers and poetry, because he is not at all romantic! If you married Mr Knightly you would live at Donwell Abbey, a not insignificant estate, and be content with a quiet, country life.

Cons: Cannot love-talk to save himself (‘if I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more—but you know what I am’), possibly could at times be accused of moral superiority and self-righteousness. Tendency to be authoritarian and slightly overbearing. Reprimands his friend Emma a lot. Would definitely wear the pants in the relationship. As previously mentioned, not home a lot as very busy.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 8.5/10

Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy

Occupation: Gentleman landowner
Income: Ten Thousand a year.
Previous attachments: Unspecified. There may be a passing interest in a local girl called Eliza Bennet—he was said to have once thought her eyes ‘fine’. But they argue continuously, so its likely there is nothing between them at all!

Pros: A single man with a fortune. Said to be in want of a wife. Very picky when it comes to females, as he requires that they are ‘accomplished’. Still, could be persuaded if an exceptional woman comes along. She will have to be lively-spirited, however, for he is not into simpering, boring women.
Capable of generosity when inclined. Once gave his sister an expensive piano. Owns Pemberely, a sprawling, grand estate in Derbyshire with beautiful grounds. As Darcy’s wife you would likely enjoy the season in London each year.

Cons: Rude, snobbish and aloof. Continually gives offence to others. Has been accused of being a millionaire playboy. We don’t know his past with regard to women, but based on his highly electric conversations with Eliza Bennet, we may assume that while in the drawing room he is all moody, supercilious snobbery, he may be a lot more fun in the bedroom…hmmm…perhaps this comment belongs in the Pros section…. Still, he for the most part seems rude, distant, and emotionally unavailable, even to his family. Bossy. Tells his friends who they can and cannot marry. Has way too much influence with his friend Bingley. By the way, his relatives are all rude and snobbish also—whoever marries into this family had better have a thick skin and a sharp wit! Also, you would also have to suffer tedious visits to his odious aunt, Lady Catherine.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 8.5/10

Mr Charles Bingley

Occupation: Gentleman
Income: Five thousand a year
Previous attachments: None known. Was said previously to be rather attached to Jane Bennet, but seems to have gone off her. Maybe her relatives are too embarrassing!

Pros: Described as a man of general handsomeness, with a pleasant countenance and easy unaffected manners. He is lively and enjoys dancing. Ready to be pleased with everybody and everything, it would be hard to have any disagreements with him. Rich enough to enjoy a life of idleness, I suspect his wife would be given full rein to do as she liked, and to be as idle a creature as he seems to be. Just wants to have fun. As his wife you would loll about at Netherfield with Bingley’s sisters, drink a lot of tea, waiting for him to come back from a day’s shooting. You would probably entertain Mr Darcy, his Best Friend, frequently, and be invited to Pemberly a lot.

Cons: Easily influenced by his friends, so eager to please he may be in want of judgement, and certainly a backbone. His sisters walk all over him. Probably spoiled as a child. Especially spineless when it comes to his friend Mr Darcy, who dictates whom he should and should not marry. At 22 years he is quite naïve in many ways. A virgin, obviously. Could work for or against him. Always hanging out with Mr Darcy, like two twins joined at the hip.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 8/10

Mr John Willoughby

Occupation: Of Allenham. Idler and Gentleman.
Income: Undisclosed, but rumour has it he will inherit from his Aunt and hold two estates, making his income sizable.
Previous attachments: A seducer and womanizer, he has left a string of women in his wake. Strung poor Miss Marianne Dashwood along for some time then disappeared to London. Is now said to be engaged to Money. May have his head turned for a better proposition, one never knows!

Pros: Rich. Will own two estates. Handsome, pleasing manners, highly cultivated, enjoys poetry and art. Gallant, is able to recue maidens caught in the rain. Despite unfortunate past, has the potential to be a loyal devoted husband. Really did love Miss Marianne, and money was the only thing which prevented him from marrying her. Not a bolder rider in England. Has the nicest bitch of a pointer.

Cons: A womanizer, his wife may have to get used to possible affairs. But life with two estates from which to choose, security for life, and a pleasant, witty partner, may suffice in that case.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 8/10

Colonel Brandon

Occupation: Colonel in the army, no longer in service. Gentleman Landowner
Income: Around two thousand pounds per year
Previous attachments: Fell in love years ago with a woman who was betrothed to his brother, and never got over it. Currently has a thing for Marianne Dashwood, which is the talk of all the neighbourhood. But his interest in her is obviously unreturned, so he may look elsewhere.

Pros: Too good to be true, almost. Spurned repeatedly by Marianne, but still wants her to be happy. Dislikes his competition, but remains civil, and backs off when he thinks Marianne prefers him. The woman he once loved ended up marrying his brother and then dies, so he raises her daughter. A guy he barely knows loses his inheritance, and he offers him a rectory. Reliable in a pinch—will drop everything to rush to the aid of those close to him. Just an all-round sweet guy. Brooding and sexy. Owns Delaford, an estate of some size. His wife would live a quiet country life and have to like hearing war stories.

Cons: Appears to have no first name other than ‘Colonel’. The wrong side of thirty-five. Has rheumatism. The kind of man whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and no one remembers to talk to. Known to be grave and silent. Emotionally traumatised. Hung up on his ex. His wife would have to get use to the flannel waistcoats.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 9/10

Mr Frank Churchill

Occupation: Gentleman
Income: Heir to his aunt’s fortune, excellent prospects.
Previous attachments: Seems to have been smitten by Miss Emma Woodhouse of Highbury, but rumours have it that he is secretly engaged to some female from Weymouth!

Pros: Rich. Enjoys dancing and parties. Nice relatives. His mum likes him.

Cons: Cad. Tells lies. Selfish. Won’t tell his parents about you in case he gets disinherited. Probably won’t marry you anytime soon, for the same reason. Openly flirts with other women. A silly, trifling fellow. Vain—and weird—will go on horseback to London just for a haircut.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 6.9/10 but only because he is rich.

Captain Frederick Wentworth

Occupation: Naval Captain, Active.
Income: Twenty thousand pounds
Previous attachments: Was once suspected of having an attachment to one of the pleasant but one-dimensional Musgrove girls, but she has since married another, and so Frederick is unshackled and free, and will have to begin all over again.

Pros: Rich. Hard working. Brave. Polite to a fault. Respected in his profession. Will probably be awarded a baronetcy within the twelve-month. Has a really nice sister and lots of fun naval friends. Would fetch anything from the end of the world for his best friend. Likes to joke and tease. More ‘air’ than one usually sees in Bath. Writes really romantic love letters.

Cons: Resentful and ungallant, holds grudges for years. Prone to fickleness. Won’t have a woman aboard a ship. Half agony, half hope.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 9/10

Mr Henry Crawford

Occupation: Professional Idler
Income: Undisclosed, but rich enough. Has a large property in Norfolk from which his income is derived.
Previous attachments: Has flirted with the Bertram girls, and Fanny Price, but no serious attachments known. Unless you count his sister.

Pros: Rich. Irresistibly attractive to women. A charmer. Flirtatious and fun. Lively and pleasant. Devoted to his sister. Could make a good husband for someone who can handle him. His wife would enjoy country summers, and seasons in Town with no expense spared. His sister Mary seems pleasant enough. As his wife you would have to get used to her living on your doorstep. Likes naughty plays. Probably fun in bed.

Cons: An actor, plays whatever part is required to make the ladies fall for him, plays with the hearts of females then leaves them hanging. Narcissistic. Will probably be a cheater. Lacks emotional depth. Says anything to get what he wants.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 7.5/10

Mr Edward Ferrars

Occupation: Gentleman, wishes to go into the church.
Income: A semi-pittance of 850 pounds per year if he does not marry to please his mother.
Previous attachments: Was for a time secretly engaged to the niece of his old school master, but she has since broken the engagement and betrothed herself to his older brother.

Pros: Sweet, if you like timid, insipid men. Quiet – always a good thing. Honorable. So insipid that there’s not much more to be said.

Cons: Exceedingly boring when reading poetry. Clumsy and inarticulate when expressing his feelings. Excessively shy. Idle. Lacks spine. Was too scared to stand up to his family when he became engaged to Lucy Steele. Under the thumb of his sister. Let the woman he actually loves arrange his marriage to her rival. Lacks artistic taste, no idea of the picturesque. His wife will have to endure his unpleasant and snobbish family members. If he marries against his mother’s will, his wife will have to endure a quiet country life as the wife of a country parson. Thinks the Nile is located in South America.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 7/10

Mr Henry Tilney

Occupation: Clergyman, has the living at Woodston.
Income: Undisclosed, but he is said to have one of independence and comfort— has an extremely rich family from which he will further benefit on his father’s death.
Previous attachments: None known, but he has been seen walking at Beechen Cliff with a young friend of his sister’s.

Pros: Gentlemanlike, thoughtful and kind. Witty and charming when he wants to be. Doesn’t take himself too seriously (eg. reads Gothic novels for fun). Well-rounded man of the world. Adores his sister. Treats his unpleasant and overhearing father with respect. Knows his duty. Not prone to jealousy at all. Dry sense of humour. Loyal to a fault. Knows muslin.

Cons: Definitely a chauvinist. Sarcastic and patronizing. Irritatingly eager to ‘educate’ his protégés—guilty of ‘mansplaining’. Takes teasing too far. A bit spineless and wishy-washy—will marry the first person who comes along who likes him. Annoyingly particular about using the word ‘nice’. Reverts to taking the moral high ground when irritated. Can appear supercilious and unkind. Satirizes everything! Prefers innocent, uninformed females that will hang off his every word, defers to his authority, and agree to think only the thoughts he dictates! His wife will have a comfortable life at Woodston as a parson’s wife, but will have to put up with his thinking he knows best in every matter.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 8/10

Mr Edmund Bertram

Occupation: Gentleman but has recently taken his orders to enter the church.
Income: Has the Living at Thornton Lacey, with its income of 700pounds. If he succeeds to the Mansfield Living also upon the death of Dr Grant, his income will double to 1400pounds per year, a not inconsiderate sum to live upon.
Previous attachments: Thought to be somewhat attached to Miss Mary Crawford, Henry Crawford’s sister, a conniving and scheming female from the city who thinks the profession of Clergyman too low for her standards. We are all wondering what on earth he sees in her! Room for another, more deserving female to nab him.

Pros: Kind-hearted on the whole. Treats his sisters with respect, and his live-in cousin, Fanny, with great kindness—most of the time. Thoughtful—most of the time. Principled and highly moral. Probably why he is secretly attracted to bad girls.

Cons: Boringly solemn, serious and moralistic. Bad judge of character. Forever sermonizing and ‘educating’ those around him, irritatingly blind to the motives of others, prone to deferring to his family. Constantly talks of God, house frontages, and horses. Blind to the feelings of others. Selfish—once made his poor, sickly cousin Fanny give up her riding lessons for his own selfish pursuit of Mary Crawford. Would probably be good mates with Edward Ferrars.

Mama Bonnet’s Eligibility Score: 7.5/10

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What is Michaelmas?

April 25, 2022
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What is Michaelmas?

"Netherfield Park is let at last! and the gentleman who is to take it, will take possession before Michaelmas."
—Pride and Prejudice.

I am sure many of you who follow my work, know that I have a new release, called Married by Michaelmas. In my novel, Louisa Waverly’s rather domineering Mama mentions her expectations that her daughter will be married by Michaelmas, although she ends up running away from home, and spending the holiday season with her uncle instead! But I chose Michaelmas as a date because it was moderately important to the Georgians as a time period marker, (even if it was not celebrated with the fanfare that we treat Christmas) and because it was an important day to people living in the Regency era.

Michaelmas is mentioned as a ‘marker’ of time/season/date in Austen’s books twelve times, one of which is quoted above, as well as in her letters. So, the date being so important to Jane, it occurred to me that perhaps a short blog on Michaelmas would be in order, to explain what might be a mysterious Georgian-era, and definitely Austenian, cultural fixture.

Country life very much revolved about the seasons and the religious holidays which went hand-in-hand with these. This was a significant day business and legally wise, because Michaelmas was when labourers received their harvest wages, servants renewed their yearly contracts, rents were due or contracts expired, school and university terms began, and court sessions began again in parliament.

In truth, Michaelmas has been a religious holidays for centuries, and was observed as far back as the Middle Ages. It was usually observed as a feast day, and coincided with the harvest season, September in the Northern Hemisphere. Pronounced ‘Mikle-mas’, it was more of a religious day and seasonal marker by the time of the Regency era, although the degree to which one paid attention to the holiday depended on if you lived in the country or the city and if you were religiously inclined. Michaelmas was short for Michael’s Mass, after the archangel Michael, and is now known in the Catholic church as the Feast of Saints.

Falling on 29th September each year, Michaelmas coincides with the beginning of autumn, and was a signal of shorter days to come. The harvest was timed to finish on Michealmas and this was a way of marking the seasonal cycle of summer/fall.

There were many popular customs associated with Michaelmas, and in Regency England it was the custom to eat goose on that day, which was supposed to protect against poverty in the coming year.

‘He who eats goose on Michaelmas day;
Shan’t money lack or debts pay’


Jane Austen herself wrote to her sister Cassandra at Michaelmas 1813: I dined upon Goose yesterday, which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2nd Edition.’

As an autumnal feast, foods eaten would have strongly represented the harvest, and reds and orange foods like carrots and pumpkins, but as I said above, goose was also a traditional meat. Michaelmas is said to be a day where the archangel Michael battles Lucifer the Devil after his fall from heaven. Part of the legend is that when Lucifer fell from heaven, he landed in a blackberry bush and spit on the berries to curse them and make them sour. So blackberries are also eaten on this day. Another traditional food eaten was called St Michael’s Bannock, a type of bread cooked in a pan.

For pure fun, here is a recipe, if you are so inclined, for St Michael's Bannock.

St. Michael’s Bannock

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix together:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cut in 2 tablespoons butter (not margarine)
  • 1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
  • handful of raisins or currants

On a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, then pat into an 8 inch round loaf, and bake on a greased cookie sheet for 40 minutes.

For a more festive look, score the dough with crosses.

Cool on a cookie rack.

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Love and Marriage in Austen’s Novels

March 12, 2022
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Love and Marriage in Austen’s Novels

"I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state."
—Pride and Prejudice.

As an avid Austen reader and a realist myself, I have always enjoyed Jane Austen’s rather unsentimental approach to love and marriage. There is definitely an ever-present romantic tension in all her novels, but never does Austen allow love to become idealistic or sentimental. Her heroines and heroes do feel passion and fall in love, but even so, there is a good case to be made that almost all of her major protagonists never can be said to fall in love because they were predestined to be together, or that they choose their partners with a great deal of forethought and as part of a great search for a perfect ‘Mr/Miss Right.’ It seems that for Austen’s heroes and heroines, that Mr/Miss ‘Pretty Good’ will suffice. All that is required is for the prospective partners to be basically decent, good people, and hard work will do the rest. 

Austen shuns overblown sentimentality with her love themes; almost always, her couples fall in love conveniently with the nearest suitable person. For Austen, love is not a product of destiny. She does not appear to espouse the ‘he’s my soul-mate and no one else will do the job’ ideal; love is as much up to chance and right timing, as happiness in the married state is up to the attitudes and expectations of the parties involved. Indeed, Charlotte’s Lucas’s comment above could sum up most of Austen’s fictional couplings.
 
What Austen could have turned into cloyingly sentimental love stories, she ties firmly to reality and never allows us to idealize love and romance. Love is grounded in practicality; when two people come together, the day-to-day problems of survival and human foible mean that one must have sensible expectations. Therefore, even in a novel as poignant and beautiful as Persuasion, in which Wentworth and Anne are seemingly made for each other, their love enduring over eight years, Austen carefully balances what is perhaps her most romantic and sentimental of stories with the rather grounding admission that even Anne and Wentworth only fell in love in the first place because Wentworth was home from sea and bored, and that Anne, eager for love since she was so neglected by her family, would have bestowed her affections on any half-deserving party willing to receive it. ‘Half the sum of attraction on either side might have been enough; for he had nothing to do and she hardly anybody to love.’

Henry Tilney too, by the author’s admission, really only marries Catherine Moreland because there is nothing more flattering than believing oneself admired by someone of the opposite sex and because he has been ‘directed’ to gain her heart by his sister. ‘He felt himself bound as much by honour as in affection to Miss Moreland, […] believing that heart to be his own which he had been directed to gain […] and as steadily declared his intention of offering her his hand.’ Thus Austen firmly rejects sentimentality in and of itself, by always balancing it with a pragmatic realism.

It seems that a great many of Austen’s couplings are the result of propitious timing, not destiny or an idea that there is one soul-mate out there and no other will do. The hero is always of the age and inclination to be looking for a wife; there are no reluctant brides or grooms in Austen’s novels, no flapping of fans and breathless ‘you took me quite by surprise because I was not even looking for someone.’ It is important to remember that in those days, it wasn’t just women who were expected to marry as soon as they reached the marriageable age, but men too. Marriage was a cultural and religious institution, a cornerstone of society. Due to a shortage of available males, this pressure on men to marry was probably even more intense, and I am sure they felt their duty to marry quite strongly. Men of marriageable age, having come into their majority and established themselves, were then expected by society to take a wife. In Pride and Prejudice, after Mr Darcy arrives in Meryton, the very first comment Mrs Bennet makes about him is that, like all men who are single and in possession of a good fortune, he would very likely as a result, be ‘in want of a wife.’

And for females, it was disadvantageous to remain single unless one was rich, and marrying for most was the only sensible option to save them from having to earn their own bread as a governess or worse. As Austen said in a letter to her niece Fanny, ‘Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor – which is a very strong argument in favour of matrimony.’ Eliza Bennet’s mother, having five daughters, makes clear the expectation that they all be married off as soon as she can find husbands for them. ‘The business of her life was to get her daughters married.’ Bingley was expected, as a single man of the right age and circumstance, to take a wife from among his society. Mrs Bennet certainly expected him to choose from among her girls. Even Mr Bennet even helps the marriage process along by visiting the Bingleys, in order to make it possible for Charles Bingley to call upon the Bennets, allowing the young bachelor to view the goods he would be expected to at least consider purchasing.

The fairly prompt coupling up of Elizabeth and Darcy, and Jane and Bingley is not unusual then, nor is it unexpected, for any man of marriageable age and established financially is expected to marry the pretty much the first girl he likes, so long as there is at least a lukewarm sentiment between them, and for men and women in the Georgian period, a mere liking of the other person was enough to persuade many of them to fulfill their duty in marrying, so long as there were no obstacles or objections on either side. Engagements were not long as they are today, and it was sometimes only weeks before two former strangers tied the knot. It was not considered necessary to ‘get to know’ one’s potential spouse. ‘It is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life,’ says practical Charlotte to romantic Eliza Bennet. Eliza might have counteracted with, ‘it is not sound, you know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself,’ but in fact Charlotte does believe her own maxim, and marries a pompous, bottom-kissing buffoon accordingly, for the pleasure of having her own home, and the financial stability it will bring her. This, says Austen, is the necessary course for sensible females who have little to live upon.

If not knowing one’s partner well is not a deterrent to marriage, neither is not loving your prospective mate. Austen cautions against marrying without some sort of affection, however. She told her niece Fanny in a letter, ‘Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection,’ but loving him was certainly not required. For Austen, love is great, the icing on the cake if you will, but loving your partner has little bearing upon one’s marital happiness and is not at all considered as necessary to a successful marriage. As Charlotte says quite prosaically to Eliza in Pride and Prejudice, ‘In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection that she feels.’ For Charlotte, securing marriage to a solid man with good basic morals, is of more importance than loving him, and even Maria Bertram is willing to marry the ‘inferior’ Mr Rushworth for his ‘character and disposition’ alone. Although she did not particularly like him, Maria assures her father that she ‘could not have a doubt of her happiness with him.’

Therefore, love and marriage for many of Austen’s characters are justly based in opportunism and good timing; Jane is the first girl Bingley has a chance to interact with after arriving, and he singles her out soley because of her angelic beauty. And we must suppose that he is the first properly eligible man she has met with in their small circle of acquaintances. Too, Darcy doesn’t swerve after he singles out Eliza for her ‘fine eyes.’ Catherine Moreland falls for the first nice guy she meets and as far as we know, the same goes for Anne Elliot, and both Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Love, says Austen, is not a product of destiny, but is really down to the coincidence of marriageable singles being thrown together in the right place at the right time.

A huge feature of modern romantic ideals is the meet-cute. Here again Austen refuses to partake in these larger-than-life romantic ideals. None of Austen’s heroines or heroes ever meet their future partner in unusual or exciting circumstances that our modern-day romance novels portray. Although Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, and Cathy Moreland can giggle over their meet-cutes—a ball seems the most romantic of places to meet one’s future partner—assemblies were given pretty regularly and were commonly considered by most parents to be as good a place as any to display one’s daughters and sons with the explicit hope of pairing them up with a suitable match. When pairing up her characters, Austen really doesn’t give us chance meetings that are out of the ordinary when her protagonists meet for the first time. There are no carriage accidents where the hero rescues the maiden (in fact she counters this trope deftly in Emma when Frank Churchill comes to Emma’s aid on their first meeting when her carriage is stuck in mud—it has all the beginnings of a swooning romance—but Austen is toying with our expectations; there is no heart pounding romance budding—and Emma goes on to marry Knightly anyway!) or storms in which the heroine manages to drag herself to the door of a remote mansion and the guy who answers the door just happens to be rich and single. There are no eyes meeting over a crowded room, and only one bedraggled, storm-tossed heroine—Marianne Dashwood—and like Emma and Frank Churchill’s non-starter romance, that relationship didn’t last anyway. That was Austen’s point. Romances like those from books rarely occur in real life and she was not going promote the idea to her young female readers that they did.
 
Austen never really swerves from this determination to portray love as more a matter common sense and proximity than love at first sight and high romance. Emma marries her neighbor, basically because they were thrown together and he is a nice enough fellow. Knightley is actually conveniently situated, as her neighbour, for Emma to eventually decide upon him, but he really is, among all her acquaintance, the only man who she could consider, when you take her rank and situation in life into consideration. So, the coupling is still a sensible and convenient one. Elinor and Marianne, too, both accept the first eligible handsome bachelor who comes along, and Marianne then accepts Colonel Brandon only because she has been ill and is in a vulnerable state of gratitude, and he is thrown into her company enough for her to finally notice him. I could also write a whole other article on why that romance was a dangerous one, since it is most clearly a rebound romance.

Likewise, in Persuasion, Louisa falls for Benwick only because he spent so much time with her at Lyme when she was in a vulnerable state, and the transference of her allegiance from the worthy Captain Wentworth to the insipid Benwick was so easily done that she might be accused of more fickleness even than Lucy Steele, if it were not for Wentworth’s culpability in the affair by his deliberately leaving her to Benwick’s sole company. Likewise, Fanny Price’s love for Edmund in Mansfield Park is based primarily on his proximity and her gratitude. Considering Fanny is an intense, intelligent, deep thinker, this coupling is even more of a head-shaker when you consider that Edmund is quite the opposite, being a near-sighted and wishy-washy character who only comes to offer for Fanny when there is no-one else left to choose.

Austen is not shy to point out the real dangers of marrying with high-blown ideals of romance. We see in the marriages of Mr and Mrs Bennet, Wickham and Lydia, and in the failed romance of Willoughby and Marianne, a candid reflection on the ill effects of marrying for passion alone, for money or upon the mistaken ideal that love is all you need. (Thank goodness the Beatles never worked that one out!) Willoughby, who did truly love Marianne, chose to marry for money and his lot, Austen tells us, will be a perpetually unhappy one. The Bennet marriage, we are told in Pride and Prejudice, was based on an early passion, and the lady’s beauty. By the time we encounter the pair, poor Mr Bennet’ has had his ideals and his passions quelled; he find himself with wife who is ‘a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper.’ Lydia, full of high-blown ideas of romance, is put in her place by Austen as firmly as in a moral tale. The girl marries in the most dramatic and romantic way—elopement—and is then forced to beg her sister to get a court appointment for her husband, ‘for I do not think we shall have quite enough money to live upon.’ A blow indeed, to Lydia, and to romantic ideals!

The best marriages in Austen’s novels, then, are grounded in reality rather than in romantic idealism. Her happy couples make good, sensible marriages with good, sensible people, based on a mutual liking for the other person. Love sometimes happens along, but it is bestowed by the author upon heroines and heroes who have earned it, rather than as a prerequisite. Most of these couples have to work hard to change some aspect of themselves to become better people before Austen rewards them with mutually returned love, but successful love relationships in Austen’s works are always grounded in reality. Love is a reward for hard work, just as it is in any relationship. Admiral and Mrs Croft are a fine example, being in perfect harmony with each other, and both working hard to accommodate the needs of the other person. Never a more devoted and loving couple can we find in Austen’s novels.

It is clear then that Austen deliberately shuns idealistic romanticism simply by offering gentle corrections to such idealist expressions in the way of giving her readers sensible couplings which happen largely because of chance and opportunity, and continue because of hard work. Expectations of exciting first meetings and endless romance, says Austen, are foolish, the stuff of idealism. Better instead to be as sensible about it as Charlotte, for most of us will not see our romantic dreams come true without effort and compromise. But after a time, perhaps we, like Emma Woodhouse, will be rewarded with true, abiding love, based on mutual affection. As Emma notes, ‘It’s such a happiness when good people get together.’

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What is Pigeon Pie?

February 11, 2022

What is Pigeon Pie?

In the course of writing blogs, regular readers will be aware that I from time to time post a blog on regency era food and drink. I am not sure why regency era food and drink are so fascinating to me, but I think, apart from the fact that I am a keen ‘foodie’ anyway, it’s because I like the idea that I can replicate authentic foods from the period using old recipes, unlike some of the other aspects of Regency life which we can only read about. 

And of course, getting a feel for the Regency era must include looking into what people naturally spend so much of their time doing—eating and drinking. After all, for Regency era enthusiasts, half the fun of immersing yourself in an historical time is experiencing it for yourself!

So, I was looking around the internet for ideas on what to try cooking next, and seeing as in the southern hemisphere we are well into summer, I thought, picnic food!!

Any true blue Janeite has probably watched the movie ‘Emma’ (any version) where they have a picnic on Box Hill (it’s where Emma makes her terrible faux pas and insults poor Miss Bates by implying that she talks too much). Austen liked picnics herself, apparently, and readily spoke of enjoying her food. For example, she is known to have noted to her sister, “You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge cake is to me.” References to food abound in her novels and meals are obviously important social occasions.

Eating out-of-doors was quite common in history, not just for the Regency period. Apart from small, quiet picnics among friends, many were quite formal picnics with servants to carry hampers filled with delicious items cook has rustled up for them and eaten in a scenic spot. Mrs Beeton’s cookbook from that era mentions the items she felt necessary for a decent outdoor meal, including ‘a joint of cold roast beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal-and-ham pies, 2 pigeon pies’.  Plus she mentions endless other items like lobsters, calf’s head, various fruits and veges, dozens of pastries, puddings and blancmanges, plus countless other items ranging from loaves to cakes. A feast indeed!

Of all the items mentioned by Mrs Beeton, the pigeon pie caught my eye, especially as in Emma, having been promised a picnic, Mr Elton grows ‘impatient to name the day and settle with Mr Weston as to pigeon-pies and cold lamb.’

Pigeon pie was sometimes called a squab pie, squab being a young pigeon. These days apparently mutton is often used to substitute for the pigeons, and apples are a traditional ingredient also.

Squab has a sweetness to it and a slight berry flavour, as well as a metallic taste (so I am told by my butcher), so perhaps the apples and mutton were intended to mimic these flavours. An authentic recipe for what looks like a pigeon pot-pie, written apparently from a cookbook in 1904, a little after the regency era, but presumably passed down for a few decades, was the following:

For an excellent pigeon-pie for a small family singe and draw three birds, split them down the back, wipe with a clean cloth, but do not wash. Fry half a dozen slices of salt pork and brown the pigeons in the pork-fat. Then put them in a deep baking-dish, slice a small onion, brown in the hot fat and add a pint of stock and a tablespoonful of flour. Stir until slightly thick, then strain over the pigeons. Cover them tightly and cook for two hours in a moderate oven. Remove the cover and replace it with one of pie-crust. Bake until brown.

However, when I tried to buy pigeon or squab in Queensland, Australia—well, let’s just say it was not easy to source, and at $50 per bird and the same for freighting from Melbourne, I decided to use a substitute recipe, which I found on the internet.

So here is the recipe, from Bon Appetit and it looks really amazing! I will definitely be cooking this myself very soon. The substitute meats are pork and chicken thighs. I hope you have lots of fun cooking it, and then imagining yourself sitting on Box Hill with Emma eating it…Bon Appetit!

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