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Visions of Virtue: The Art of Female Portraiture in the Regency Era

October 12, 2023

Visions of Virtue: The Art of Female Portraiture in the Regency Era 

I love looking at portraits of women from the regency era because you can tell so much about the women represented. This month I take a deeper look at female portraiture in the Regency era and how the way they were depicted reflected women’s position in society and the cultural and social beliefs and behaviours of the time.

In the Regency era it was extremely popular to have portraits taken. It was, for a society without photography, the only way to capture likenesses. If you are lucky enough to visit a fine art museum, you will probably see lots of different types of portraits of regency era people, from portraits of men, dangling their swords and guns suggestively, well-to-do families posing together in front of their houses or gardens, and beautiful women sitting in a variety of poses meant to symbolize their beauty, rank, virtue and or their purity before marriage, among other things—or a combination of all these.

Women have for centuries been depicted in portraiture for many different reasons, but today I am going to focus on Regency era female portraiture, and look at the reasons such portraits were commissioned, and how poses, colours, symbols and backgrounds conveyed messages to the viewer. Looking at female portraiture of the Regency era offers a glimpse into the lives, aspirations, and societal roles of women. These exquisite portraits not only showcased the physical beauty of women but also reflected the values, aspirations, and social dynamics of the time.

Having one’s portrait taken was very popular in the Regency era. If you had money, you could commission a portrait from one of the renowned portrait artists of the time such as Romney, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Joshua Reynolds, or Caspar David Friedrich.
If you were not so rich as to afford a real artist, you would have your sister or cousin do an informal one. Drawing, including the taking of portraits, was a common pastime for the middleclass. For example, there is a famous portrait in pencil, of no great skill, of the likeness of Jane Austen purportedly done by her sister.

These informal portraits were very common, for the middle class were still of the leisure class and had to fill in their many afternoons and evenings with some hobby or other. Sitting for your portrait or being the ‘artist’ filled the long spaces of time if you didn’t want to read or play cards or go for long walks. But if you were wealthy enough and had a motive for getting a proper portrait done by a real artist, you would commission a portrait and pay big dollars for it, too.

I must point out here that almost never would a woman commission her own portrait. A wife would have her portrait commissioned by her husband. A female who was not a wife would have her portrait commissioned by a male in her family—her father, brother or other relative. Women in the Regency eras and before it, had almost no real agency of their own, including how they were depicted in paintings, although we could argue that she had some ability to subvert the ‘text’ of a painting of herself by the look on her face or the way she cooperated with the artist or not, the clothing she may or may not be given leave to choose, or the pose she was to assume. In most cases, all of these would also be dictated by the male who was commissioning the artwork, whether or not she was in agreement with these details. I am sure that many women were happy to have the portrait taken and were not upset with the process or the results, but there would have been many who did not agree and had to suck it up as the saying goes.

At any rate, depending on how rich your family was, your stage of life, your rank, and your intention, portraits of women were commissioned to depict various combinations of things. Have a look at some of these reasons:

Rank and Importance: Those families of the aristocracy or royal lines, or high-ranking families, would commission portraits of themselves, including of their wives or daughters, to emphasize this link, to remind the household members, servants, and all their visitors, of this link to royalty, aristocracy or important blood lines and families of high rank. Royalty and aristocracy were frequently depicted in portraits that emphasized their regal stature or high status. Women in these portraits were often adorned in luxurious attire, wearing sumptuous dresses, jewels, and elaborate hairstyles. The portraits often conveyed a sense of opulence and grandeur, symbolizing their high social standing. Having one’s portrait taken, or having your wife’s portrait taken, was a way of projecting your own social standing, and I suppose a case may be made that in some ways it allowed women in these portraits to be considered as important, by way of association usually, although sometimes for their own status, although the tropes of beauty and innocence usually pervade even the most regal of portraits.

In this full-length portrait by Fransico Lacoma y Fontanet, his subject is clearly from a family of upper middle class or higher, that she has status and is likely wealthy or from a wealthy family. How do we know this? Firstly, she is depicted full length, which means the family paid a lot for the portrait since full length and half-length portraits were always pricier than head and shoulders or head only. Secondly, do you spot the ‘royal’ colour splash? That’s right—the colour red (seen here in her strategically-draped wrap) symbolized elevated rank, and is seen in royal portraits also. Colour was always not just pretty, and used to make the portrait attractive, but it was highly symbolic. White, symbolic of purity and chastity, is the colour of the young lady’s gown, implying her purity and chastity, and you will see in other portraits of the period that white is used invariable in portraying young unmarried ladies. What else can you see? Did you notice the Greek figure in relief on the stonework she is leaning against?

 Of course, the Regency era was a time where they idealized Greek civilization. Neoclassicism became all the rage, and this is when gowns became higher waisted and more flowing in order to emulate Greek styles, with their beautiful naturally flowing fabrics and draping. Finally you see she is posing in a garden, a very common place to have ones portrait taken, because it depicts the regency era fascination with the natural world. Women and children were seen as ‘closer to nature’ and to be depicted in a natural setting was saying that the sitter, in this case the young woman, was innocent, natural and to be compared with the natural beauty of the garden. Look closely at the base of the plinth and you will see the artist’s signature.

This painting of the unmarried princess Augusta by William Beechy is a lovely depiction of the much-loved princess, as she supposedly walks in the countryside. What I love about this work is the beautiful flow of lines (in the angle of the road beneath her, to the clouds slanting upwards, and the flow of her gown in the same direction) which denote easy movement from upper right to lower left which seems to urge the Princess onwards as she walks forward. Here she is depicted in white overlaid with red, again used to denote status among other things, and her dainty feet just peeking out from below her dress. Her jewellery is gold, including a cross which depicts her Christian piety, and the little umbrella is a token gesture to the sun, which is shaded from view in a rather Italian pastoral background, harking back to the earlier traditions of golden light of Italian countryside, so idealized in the previous centuries. That umbrella is a symbol of her status also—ladies walked with umbrellas as a way to say, “My skin is that of a delicate female, not a swarthy servant with brown skin from too much sun—my white skin denotes my status as a woman of leisure and rank.”
While the painting is not overt in its depiction of royalty, it is a less formal portrait and is more subtle in its messaging. (I do wonder though, what on earth is going on with that uncomfortable looking left arm!)

This portrait of Henriette Scherrer, the Comtesse Legrand, completed in 1813, is the opposite of the last one above, with its opulent treatment of the subject: the lush velvet of the dress, the elaborate headdress and hairstyle of the lady, and the framing of her face with the high ruff on the neckline, along with the elegant pose pointing to the face, and the sitter’s fingers as long and elegant as the entire portrait. The observer is left in no doubt that this is woman of status and wealth!

The Maternal Figure: For women of the Regency era and prior, motherhood and familial duties were paramount. Portraits often depicted women in their roles as mothers, surrounded by their children, or nursing a child. Portraits of women nursing or holding a child on their knee were a common trope used by artists. They were meant to be ‘read’ by the observer as emulating those paintings of ‘Mary and Child’, sometimes called Maestas (pronounced My-a-star) In this way, they were subtly implying the piety of the woman, her role as mother (the Christian Mary, supposed mother of God/Christ is considered the universal mother figure) and her purity and Christianity. The trope of ‘mother with child’ used in this domestic setting also highlighted the nurturing and maternal aspects of women, reinforcing the idea of the domestic sphere as the primary realm for women's activities.

Below is a real Maesta from the 15th century to compare with a regency portrait of a woman suckling a child. You will see the similarities, and how the mother is represented in both depictions as the embodiment of nurturing. These ideals are perpetuated by art work of women as mothers, as we see below right and centre.

Of course, mother and son portraits were favourite commissions to commemorate the birth of an heir. In these portraits, mother and son were commemorated, although the star of the show was well and truly the baby, and his birth was immortalized on the walls of his ancestral home for future generations.

As Creatures of Leisure and Therefore of Class: As seemingly informal as these scenes were, and no matter how happy the participants sometimes seem, these types of art works which depict their womenfolk at leisure was a way to confer status on the family—an observer reads the message as “Here you see our daughter/wife/sister engaged in reading, playing a musical instrument or walking, by which activity you will see that we are middle to upper class and don’t need to work” is what they are saying.

I really enjoy these portraits because the woman is a little active rather passively sitting—a huge change from the previous century’s depiction of women just sitting passively with no agency of her own, but still, even though they are now a little more active in these portraits, they are not given too much agency—they can read, they can sew, they can play the pianoforte, but still they are confined to a drawing room, a house, or a garden

Note on the lower right image, the girl’s beautiful fingers painted so meticulously and actually depressing a key on the piano! Her arm is so elegantly presented to the viewer, as if she has just looked over her shoulder to see if we like what she is playing! The opulence of her silk dress and elaborate hair style tells us she is from a family with money.
The lower left artwork depicts the young woman, maidenly in her white dress, opulently decorated with flounces and frills—she has the leisure to sit and read—she does not participate in the scene outside her window, she is rich enough to merely observe the world go by.

The Idealized Beauty: Regency era female portraits frequently showcased women as embodiments of idealized beauty. Artists used techniques to enhance their subjects' features, emphasizing flawless skin, delicate features, and graceful poses. These portraits idealized femininity, reinforcing and contributing to the creation of contemporary cultural standards of beauty. Beauty was important, for the more good-looking a girl was, the more she was to find a husband. Likewise, beauty was prized, and therefore, if you daughters or wife or sister was had good looks, you would want to show your pride by having a portrait taken.
It is interesting to note the changes to cultural ideals around what constituted beauty by looking at different portraits over the centuries, but in the regency era, beauty was idealized as pure, and so a woman who had her portrait taken would have certain features played up or painted in, and those which were considered less pretty, painted out or downplayed. White skin, rosy cheeks and lips, plumpness (which again indicated wealth) and fine clothing were all common features attributed to the sitter, allowing of course for personality and strong features to also shine through where permitted, as per the instructions of the commission.

The Subtle Rebellion: While adhering to societal norms, some portraits also hinted at subtle forms of rebellion. Some women were depicted with a hint of confidence or playfulness, challenging the conventional notions of femininity. These portrayals hinted at the complexity of women's identities beyond the roles they were expected to play. Although portraits often reinforced traditional gender roles, they also provided glimpses of the evolving roles of women in society. These portraits subtly challenged societal expectations by presenting women as more than just decorative or maternal figures.

Note the above portraits; upper left has an almost heavy-lidded, wonton look about her, and her clothing is deliberately twisted and flowing, as if in a controlled chaos—did the artist try to represent the personality of his subject as closely as he could without giving the game away? The middle portrait by Arthur Williams circa 1810, is called ‘A Saucy Regency Lady’. Here the playfulness of her look and pose is echoed in the playful look of the dog beneath her arm—she is pure, chaste—the white of the dress tells us she is a lady—but her personality has been captured here despite the trope of the white dress as pure symbolism. Note too, the hint of wild natural work in the background, meant also to give us a hint into the personality of the sitter. The lovely portrait of Selina Meade, Countess Clam-Martinics, by Sir Thomas Lawrence on the right is one of my favorites—in fact I used it as a book cover for my novel Beauty and Beast of Thornleigh. In this painting, she has the appearance of sedate, calm loveliness, but there is a look in her eyes which is eloquent—‘I am not all that I appear, there is more to me than meets the eye in this portrait,’ she seems to be saying to the viewer. Her painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence, purportedly said of her, “in beauty and interesting character, one of the most distinguished persons in Vienna.” She looks full of supressed fun—I’d love to have known her as a friend!

The tradition of portrait sitting during the Regency era was used for various different purposes. While there were many differing types of representation, and we can allow for the personal requirements of the commissions to dictate certain aspects of them, we can learn a lot from the women by looking at how they were represented. These portraits captured the essence of women’s lives in a complex society where women lived primarily a domestic life. Through these portraits, women’s beauty, roles, and family status were documented and immortalized. While many portraits reflected the prevailing gender norms and societal expectations, they also contained nuances that hinted at women's spirit and desire for agency.
Next time you come across a portrait from the regency era, take a moment to reflect on this lovely and interesting tradition of portraiture and the very real women behind the oil paint!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Pride and Periods: What did Georgian women do at ‘that time of the month?’

August 30, 2023

Pride and Periods: What did Georgian women do at ‘that time of the month?’

Ah, the Georgian era – a time of elegant manners, lavish balls, and whispered conversations about everything…well almost everything… except ‘that time of the month.’ As you might expect, very little has ever been described in either fiction or non-fiction, about how women coped with their menstruation. Periods just were not discussed openly…period! So let's embark on a journey into the hidden world of Georgian women's lives, where menstruation was dealt with in private. In this blog, we'll bravely lift the skirts of secrecy and delve into the practices of Georgian women when it was ‘that time.’ So, fasten your bonnets and prepare for a tale of periodical proportions!

In researching this topic, there was, not surprisingly, very little information about what women did when ‘Aunt Flo’ came to visit. Women would have had to rely on mothers, sisters or female relations to guide them through the process, and those conversations would have always occurred behind the closed door of the bedroom, using euphemisms similar to those we have today.

During the 18th and early 19th centuries, women lacked the modern sanitary products we have today. Instead, they used a variety of materials to manage their periods. Fabric strips, folded pieces of cloth made into homemade pads were commonly used to absorb menstrual flow. These rudimentary products were washable and reusable, as of course disposable products were not yet available. We can guess that the euphemism for having one’s period as being ‘on the rag’ most likely originated from this practice of using rags

It may surprise you to discover that tampons are not a recent development, but their rudimentary form was used even since the ancient civilizations. Historians believed that tampons were commonly used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and looking at this practice might help us to guess at what Georgian era women might have been able to create at home.

The earliest information we have about homemade tampons comes from ancient times and speaks of ‘suppositories’ for the ‘privy place’. These suppositories were in fact early tampons. Their core could be made from a smoothed stick and were about the ‘length of a little finger.’ These were then bound in absorbent linen rags and securely stitched. A long cord was sewn in and could be tied about the leg if desired. These were made at home and I assume were washable or disposable as needed. Hieroglyphics interpreted by historians reveal that in Egypt they also made their own tampons using rolled-up cotton, or softened papyrus. These home-made tampons were cheap to make and so individuals of different socioeconomic backgrounds were able to benefit. Women in ancient Greece also used tampons by wrapping bits of wood together with lint, and others used sea sponges as tampons, which interestingly, is still in practice today! Romans were also known to use pads as well as tampons made of wool. Other tampons were made from small drawstring bags filled with wadding or sponge which could be replaced

Information on the use of such ‘tampons’ in the Georgian era is limited, so my ideas must be speculation, since I could find nothing on the topic, but I’m guessing that at least some of the lower classes might have made and used their own insertables, as this might have been simpler than the messy rag method, and was as easy for them to make as for the Egyptian and Roman women. We have no reason to believe that these rudimentary home-made tampons were not used in the Georgian era—although I would assume that practice would have been confined to use in mainly lower class women, some married women, and those ‘fallen’ women for whom proof of one’s ‘purity’ was not important.

What about period pain? There are records of herbal concoctions for relief of menstrual cramps and also for the lightening of very heavy bleeding, or irregular bleeding. How effective these methods were we can only speculate, but even today you can go to a herbalist for various tinctures and herbal remedies for period pain and heavy bleeding issues which are very effective. Most households also had a book on herbal remedies which they would make up for themselves. I would speculate that the local ‘herbal’ woman or the herbal remedy book, would have been quite popular in the Georgian era since Tylenol and Nurophen had not yet been invented!

When Georgian era women got their periods, they typically avoided social gatherings, attributing it to various reasons such as illness or personal reasons. Politeness and modesty were paramount, since during this era there were strict social expectations for women, which extended to their behaviour during menstruation. Menstruation was shrouded in secrecy and deemed a private matter. Because there was no overt discussion of periods in public spaces, women found ways to communicate their needs and experiences discreetly, and just like we do today, they had euphemisms such as being visited by ‘a friend’ to infer that they were indisposed, and the family or their acquaintance would be told that they were simply ‘unwell’ or ‘indisposed.’

Men's attitudes towards menstruation during this period were often shaped by societal norms and beliefs. While there were certainly exceptions, many men had limited understanding of the biological processes involved in menstruation. Consequently, menstruation was sometimes seen through a lens of ignorance and superstition. Some men held deeply ingrained stereotypes that linked menstruation to notions of impurity or even viewed women as fragile and emotionally unstable during their periods. However, it's important to note that attitudes varied widely, and there must have been men who supported and empathized with women's experiences, although nothing was ever discussed in the drawing room. I hope that many husbands who were kind-hearted would have at least understood a little what women went through each month and cut their grumpy, PMS-ing wives some slack!

As the 18th century gave way to the 19th, social and scientific advancements began to shape new attitudes towards women's health. The advent of medical knowledge and the gradual spread of women's education enabled a more informed understanding of menstruation. This, in turn, contributed to the development of improved sanitary products and a shift in societal perceptions.
So if you are a woman who is still visited by ‘Aunt Flo’, as annoying and inconvenient as periods are, just be thankful that things are so much easier these days than they were for a woman in the Regency era!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Child-rearing in the Georgian Era

May 25, 2023

Child-rearing in the Georgian Era 

Despite the high incidence of mothers returning to work as quickly as they can these days, in the modern world it is still accepted practice for one parent to stay home with the children for at least the first few years, and often until they can go to school. But the Georgian era was very different, at least for upper- and middle-class families.

To begin with, giving birth to a child was a life-threatening event, and the mortality rates of both mother and infants was high. Records are hazy as data wasn’t kept at that time, but based on historical records and estimates, it is believed that the maternal mortality rate for mothers during the Georgian era was between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths per 100,000 live births, and for babies it is supposed to be somewhere near 150-200 deaths per 1,000 live births. I would assume that this is only the counted data, as many families of poorer status would not have bothered to record the death, so the actual rate could be much higher.

Factors contributing to high maternal mortality rates during this time included poor hygiene practices, lack of medical knowledge and technology, and the absence of effective treatments for complications such as haemorrhage and infections.

If birth did not kill them, many babies died in their first year of life. This was due to a number of factors, including poor sanitation, inadequate medical care, and a lack of understanding of the causes of disease. 

Lady with a wet nurse

If the child was fortunate enough to survive birth, middle and upper-class families would then likely send the child out to a wet-nurse to be fed or have a wet-nurse brought in. This might seem unnatural to us, but for the Georgian era, this was very common. Breast-feeding was seen as a lowly activity and many upper-class women preferred to delegate it. Also, having the mother’s milk dry up as soon as possible meant most importantly that she could conceive again as quickly as possible—with infant mortality rates so high, women knew that it was likely that not all their children would survive, and so, especially if a male heir was expected, it was important to carry through as many pregnancies as possible until an heir (and a spare!) was produced. There was also the matter of stays and corsets, which made suckling your own baby difficult and uncomfortable.

Once the child reached the age of weaning, it would then very commonly be sent away to a foster family until the child could walk, talk and was toilet trained. This may seem heartless, but in the era of large families, it had the practical use of freeing up the time of the mother to run a large household, and must have saved the staff the extra work of hand washing nappies (diapers).

Jane Austen and her siblings were all supposedly sent away to a local village and raised there by an acquaintance of the family. Middle class families like Austen’s could afford to do this, but not all incomes could support this cost. Those more impoverished families would simply employ a nurse to give babies and toddlers the most basic care, keep them out of sight in the upstairs areas, wait for them to gain the age they could behave themselves at the dinner table.

Once children were older, around eight to ten, boys of middle and upper-class families would often be sent away again, this time to formal boarding schools. Girls were typically educated at home, either by a governess, if the family were of high enough status or wealth, or her parents would typically do the job. Recall that Elizabeth Bennet, when asked about her education, confessed that her mother had educated her and her sisters.

Occasionally, if the mother had too many children to have time to teach her older girls, and they had the means to do so, girls might also be sent away to school for the most basic educations. Then they were expected to come home, help around the house, and wait to be married. Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were sent away to school for a few years, where they received the most basic instruction. Skills commonly taught females were skills that would help around the home—embroidery, sewing and darning, and basic accounting or math. Some girls might receive extra classes in painting, music and French if they were lucky.

In the regency-era portrait on the left of two upper class children, you can see the different expectations on men and women as far as education and preparation for the future goes; the boy is the one who holds the pen, and is engaged in the intellectual pursuit of writing, whereas the girl simply passively looks on. This really symbolizes the beliefs and social mores of the period, that women were not educated in a scholastic way (beyond basic reading and math) whereas the boys were given better and more thorough education to prepare them for their very different roles in society. Girls were rarely educated in anything ‘cerebral’ at all for they would not need it as housekeepers and baby factories. Society generally believed that a girl's primary role was to marry and bear children, and that education beyond basic literacy and numeracy was unnecessary. Therefore, the length and depth of a girl's education varied greatly depending on her family's beliefs and social status.

Discipline was strict in Georgian households, with parents using physical punishment as a means of correcting misbehaviour. This included spanking with a cane or switch, and even locking children in dark closets as a form of punishment. Despite these harsh methods, Georgian parents were also as affectionate towards their children as we are today, and to a great extent, parenting was as good or bad as it is today, depending much upon the temperaments of the adults and the children. Georgian life placed a great deal of importance on family relationships. Children were expected to show deference and respect towards their parents and elders, and were taught to value hard work and good behaviour.

Georgian era children played a variety of games and pastimes, many of which would be recognizable today. However, the types of games and activities that were popular varied depending on the child's social class and location. In wealthier households, children might have had access to toys such as dolls, stuffed animals, and board games. They might have played games of skill such as jacks, marbles, or card games, or participated in group games such as hide-and-seek, blindman's buff, or tag. They might also have had access to books, musical instruments, and other forms of entertainment.

The image to the far left depicts two Georgian era children playing with a ball.

In the painting to the left the girl cradles a doll—foreshadowing her expected future role, of course, as a mother.

Children from less affluent backgrounds might have had fewer toys and less elaborate games to play. They might have spent more time outdoors, playing games of skill and chance such as hopscotch, skipping, or ball games. They might also have engaged in simple crafts or creative activities, such as making dolls or paper boats.

Regardless of their social class, Georgian era children were often expected to help with household chores and other duties as they grew older. They might have been expected to help with cooking, cleaning, or caring for younger siblings. This would have varied depending on the family's circumstances, but would have been a common expectation for children in both cases.

In the image on the left we see a family of nine siblings posing for a portrait—note how the younger children and older children are all dressed similarly—this is because after a certain age children were expected to behave like little adults, even from a young age—and of course, they are all dressed up for their portrait!

In many ways raising a child in the regency era posed no greater challenges than raising one in the twenty first century, give or take a few variations in child-raising methods and social mores. Even these differences changed depending on social status of the families. Both eras have different challenges, both for parents and children! I will leave you to judge if you would rather raise—or be—a child in the regency era, or a child in 2023!

Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration


Kate Westwood regency romance site decoration

Cats in the Regency Era

April 29, 2023

Cats in the Regency Era 

Leonardo Da Vinci famously once said of cats, "The smallest feline is a masterpiece."

 Another quote, unknown origin, is this: “Cats leave paw-prints on our hearts.”

Now I know not everyone admires cats quite in this same way, but anyone who is a cat-admirer will admit, if you are looking for beauty, companionship and comfort, you might find them all bundled up together—in the soft fur and regal lines of a cat. In this month’s blog, I look at how were cats viewed in the Georgian and Regency eras. Were they as beloved as companions back then as they are today? We'll explore the role of cats as pets during the Georgian era in England and take a look at some famous cat owners of the time, as well as how cats were depicted in art of the period.

"A cat has beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, all the virtues of man without his vices" -Lord Byron

During the Georgian era in England (1714-1830), it may not surprise some cat-loving readers to know that cats were widely kept as pets. Well, of course! Although these feline companions were popular for their ability to catch mice and rats, which were common pests in households at the time, they were also often beloved pets. Although previous centuries had viewed cats as associated with witchcraft, and having to earn their keep by hunting mice and vermin, this view began to change in the 18th century, and cats became more accepted as pets and even a status symbol.

"I love a cat because it never tells a lie." -Samuel Johnson

During the Georgian era, cats were commonly kept as pets by both men and women, particularly in the upper classes. Many famous people during the Georgian era were known to be cat lovers, including Queen Victoria, who was an avid cat owner and had several cats throughout her life. Other notable cat owners of the period included Horace Walpole. This writer and politician was a cat lover and kept several cats in his home. He wrote about his cats in his letters and even wrote a poem about his cat Selima, who, sadly, met his demise in February 1747, by falling accidentally into a white porcelain tub in Walpole’s house. The famous writer Samuel Johnson was known to have a cat named Hodge, of whom he was very fond. Hodge was often seen with Johnson on walks and was even immortalized in a statue of Johnson in London's Gough Square.

The poet Christopher Smart was also known to have a cat named Jeoffry, whom he wrote about in his poem "Jubilate Agno". Jeoffry was Smart's loyal companion and comforted him during his periods of mental illness.

Cats were often portrayed in art and literature of the period, and these images tell us a lot about the different relationships between owners and pets, as well as how they were viewed by society on the whole. These beautiful animals, with their elegant appearance and playful nature made them a popular subject for portraits and sketches. Cats were often depicted as pets or as part of domestic scenes, and in many of these images, cats were shown as valued companions and beloved members of the household. A common motif was the depiction of young girls with kittens as we see below:

Right: Miss Brummel and her Kitten by Thomas Gainsborough, 1782

Left: Jean-Baptiste Perronneau’s mid-18th century depiction of a Girl with Kitten.

Here the kittens paired with young girls are meant to symbolize the tender relationship between the two as well as implying that the young girl is as fragile and innocent as the kitten. These images make me think of today’s photographic portraits of toddlers in flowerpots and other cute scenarios, that adoring parents have done of their children—these images are meant to remind proud parents of the sweetness and innocence of children…at least in the pictures!

Many loving cat-owners wished to be portrayed with their beloved pets, such as this painting by Perronneau by which depicts a rather irate-looking kitty, in the arms of his ‘mom’. Like any cat, he is probably tired of being held, and wanting to escape! I have to add that this cat looks uncannily like my own ‘grumpy cat’, Roxie! The cat is shown as a soft, warm presence that adds to the intimacy of the scene. The cat is a symbol of the lady's refinement and gentility, as well as her wealth and status. Cats were often seen as elegant and fashionable pets, and owning them was a sign of cultural sophistication. Note the woman is compared to the cat in elegance and beauty—both are wearing a neck-collar, and both have their heads in a nose-up, proud attitude…a rather apt way to depict a cat!

I found this image on Google, but unfortunately could not find the artist. It depicts a regency era woman with a large white and ginger cat sitting on the table in front of her. The artist clearly wanted to show the closeness of the animal to its owner because you will note that both their heads lean in toward each other, symbolizing tenderness and affection. Also, the woman’s hand is just brushing the fur of the cat’s forelegs, another symbol of a close relationship. She looks almost melancholy to me, as if she derives some comfort from the presence of her feline friend. Again, the depiction of woman and cat emphasize her status—the privileged idleness of the upper classes is cleverly embodied in the privileged, idle nature of the cat itself!

The Cat's Lunch by Marguerite Gerard,circa 1800

I love ‘The Cat’s Lunch’, left, not only because the cat is being looked after by a loving mistress, but the look on the dog’s face! Clearly the cat is being fed before the pup, and he is waiting for her to finish so that he can have his own lunch! Kitty is perched on a red stool—red being associated with royalty, at almost the height of the girl. This says much about the cat’s personality and place in the household—her expectation that she will come first and will be treated royally—and anyone with a cat will know the truth of this! I also love the rounded lines, the softness of the shapes in this painting, and the way the eye is drawn to the curve of the cat’s back, which is repeated in the curve of the girl’s back.

As time passed from the 1700s through to the 1800s, there were some differences in the way that cats were viewed and treated during the Regency era. One notable change was the increasing popularity of purebred cats, which were bred for their specific physical characteristics and temperament. This led to the creation of many new breeds of cats, including the Siamese, Persian, and British Shorthair, which were highly prized for their beauty and elegance.

Many of these types of artworks also depicted cat as affectionate and playful companions (as in the untitled image below) or curled up in laps or napping on cushions or chairs. They also show the close relationship between cats and their owners during the Georgian era, highlighting their importance as household pets.

As time passed from the 1700s through to the 1800s, there were some differences in the way that cats were viewed and treated during the Regency era. One notable change was the increasing popularity of purebred cats, which were bred for their specific physical characteristics and temperament. This led to the creation of many new breeds of cats, including the Siamese, Persian, and British Shorthair, which were highly prized for their beauty and elegance.

Additionally, there was a growing interest in animal welfare during the Regency era, which led to increased concern for the health and well-being of pets, including cats. This can be seen in the work of animal rights activists such as William Wilberforce and the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1824.

If you are an Austen fan you may wonder if Jane herself had a cat? We cannot know for sure but in a letter dated September 23, 1811, Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra about a cat that had taken up residence at a friend's house: "We have got a new cat; a black kitten, almost as large as a full grown cat, very cunning & wild." In another letter dated January 23, 1801, Austen described a cat that belonged to one of her acquaintances as "a fine large cat, black and white, who appeared highly pleased with her situation."

Needless to say that cats were, then, often a favourite pet in the Georgian era, and some were very highly regarded by their owners. Nothing much has changed in two hundred odd years! I shall finish with my favourite cat quote, although it is not from the Georgian era, but from recent times:

"Cats are like glasses of champagne. Beautiful, full of life, but with the power to get you drunk in a few seconds." - Tove Jansson

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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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‘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


  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.




fresh yeast or 7g dried yeast


strong white flour, plus extra for dusting




butter, at room temperature


tablespoon caraway seeds, optional

1 x

 rough-cut white sugar cubes


 rough-cut white sugar cubes


Milk Glaze:

tablespoon milk


2 tablespoons sugar


Sugar and Caraway Seed Topping:

rough cut white sugar cubes


1 tablespoon caraway seeds, optional



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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