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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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The Burden of Artistic License

January 12, 2022
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The Burden of Artistic License 

T his latest blog muses about writing sequels (and this applies to alternate endings and alternate viewpoints just as much) to stories already established by other authors and the problems writers sometimes face with readers.

In particular, this blog is a response to a not uncommon criticism from readers who take umbrage to the plot lines the sequel writer has chosen. This response perhaps comes about because the reader may not understand the sequel writing process, or they just plain don’t like it. I guess I could advise any reader who doesn’t like writers being creative, is not to read sequels and alternates, but besides that obvious admonition, I thought I would broach the point in order to address a not very common (thank goodness) reader belief. This is the strange and unreasonable assumption by some readers, that a writer must not alter in any the surrounding back stories or characters or existing framework of the original novel to create a new story line. Can I immediately point out the obvious here? Great—Sorry, angry reader, but if that was the ‘rule’, you wouldn’t have a sequel. Or alternate ending, or alternate view. You would not, in fact, have fan fiction at all.

I don’t think this happens a lot, but some writers I am sure will have from time to time experienced a bad review from an irate reader who thought they took too many liberties. So this blog is in defence of that. Also, it happened to me and this is my response to readers who feel that we writers take too many liberties with established narratives.
 
My recent novel, The Value of an Anne Elliot, was a sequel to Jane Austen’s Persuasion, and as such, it continued the narrative begun by Austen. Of course, as artists and creatives, writers call upon their creativity to come up with a plot they like and find interesting, and one which they think most of their readers will enjoy. Necessarily, this takes the story to new dimensions. This is what is called ‘artistic licence’ which means that the artist/writer makes use of his freedom to choose any damn story he likes, if he sees fit. This is legal, if anyone is wondering, as you are creating something new, you are not plagiarizing an old work. However, I have discovered that this sometimes gets some readers’ knickers in a knot, as I discovered from an angry review I had (among lots of lovely and supportive ones) for The Value of an Anne Elliot.

Here are some of the comments from that reader (who shall remain nameless, but it’s all there on the Amazon site for any anyone who is curious):

This book displayed a grave misunderstanding of Jane Austen's characters, such that I was unable to finish reading it, so I skipped to the last chapters.

Okay, fair enough, that’s up to the reader if they like the way the characters have been represented. But bear in mind, each writer represents the original characters the way they see fit. This is why fiction is called ‘creative’ writing. It’s okay, of course, for a reader to dislike the characters or storyline, and they should be able to freely say so. But it goes on:

Mary Crawford is not evil, she's a young woman who isn't sure what she wants and probably learned from her experience on Mansfield Park. She did not poison Edmund when she left! That was so insane.

This is just a great example of the misunderstanding that readers sometimes have of what fan fiction actually is. The definition of fan fiction, according to Wictionary, is this: ‘Fiction incorporating the characters and concepts of a commercial media property, created by its admirers, typically without permission from the author or owner.’

Notably, Wikipedia explains it this way: ‘Fan fiction is written in an amateur capacity as fans, unauthorized by, but based on an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the original creator(s) as a basis for their writing. Fan fiction ranges from a couple of sentences to an entire novel […] and fans can both keep the creator's characters and settings and/or add their own.’

When I plotted out a new story line for Anne, Wentworth and the peripheral characters, I decided to do a bit of a mash-up with Mansfield Park characters Mary and Henry Crawford, and yes, I created a new story line (see definition of fan fiction) in which I envisioned Mary and Henry as a little bit darker in character than Austen had hinted…and that is my prerogative as the creator of the narrative. I am under no compunction to create a storyline which conforms to a reader’s ideas of what could or could not have been the case. Actually, Mary did try to poison Henry when she left Mansfield. How do I know? Because I decided that she did.
 
There was more from this reader, like ‘The hint that her and Henry are in some weird incestuous relationship was just gross and unrealistic.’

And so on. Another sequel might have taken different liberties with the original text, and that would be just as valid. I might point out that The Value of an Anne Elliot is not the only sequel to Persuasion on the market! All fan fiction takes liberties with existing plot lines, for that is the nature of fan fiction.

The point is, dear reader, that writers are allowed to be creative, and you don’t have to like it. If you want to write a better/different story, you have just as much right to go right ahead and do that, and make it as outlandish or unbelievable as you like, and publish it too!

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Christmas in the Regency Era

December 20, 2021
Regency Table setting

Christmas in the Regency Era 

By the time of the late Georgian period, Christmas had become a popular celebration, although not in the overly commercial way it is celebrated today. 

It was actually a whole season, which ran from December 6th, Saint Nicolas’s Day, through to Jan 6th, which was called Twelfth Night. It was more often celebrated in the country, and less often in the cities. It was very much about family get togethers, balls, and parties. Austen herself included Christmas celebrations in several of her novels, including Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

At the beginning of the season, on St. Nick’s day, presents were often exchanged, which marked the beginning of the season. Usually this was more for the children than the adults.

Food was a significant way to celebrate and like today, traditional foods were to be found on the table; venison, turkey and goose were popular, and even a boar’s head or pig’s head might be found on the table. Christmas puddings made with prunes, marchpane, (marzipan), gingerbread, and other sweet treats would be offered.

Holly and other greenery had significance, stemming from a tradition going way back to the pre-Christian times, of decorating the houses with holly to celebrate the rebirth of the sun. Kissing under the mistletoe was encouraged by the placement of kissing boughs, made from ivy, holly, mistletoe and rosemary.

Christmas trees as we have today were not part of the Christmas tradition until later on, so no tree would have graced the drawing room or entryway of Georgian homes, but a traditional Yule log on a blazing fire was certainly part of many Christmas decorations. I think I prefer the chocolate kind though!
Singing carols was not really a part of regency Christmases either – in fact, most of the carols we know today were not yet composed! But religious music would have been a part of services at church.

Well, on that note, please have a merry and safe Christmas season, with lots of treats, and hopefully, a stocking filled with regency romances to delight you over the holidays!

Love Kate x

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My Winter Reading Book Reviews

December 1, 2021
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My Winter Reading Book Reviews

Hello everyone,
I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas time! I hope the holiday season brings you lots of wonderful family moments, delicious treats, and most of all, some great books in your stockings! 

Speaking of books, (well, this IS a website about books!) I realized recently that I am in danger of breaking a promise, a promise I made about 6 months ago! Remember my blog My Winter Reading List? Well, winter has come and gone in Queensland Australia, and I promised a review of the titles I had ordered. These were The Jane Austen Diet; Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters; and Jan Ellen Delman’s Love’s Perjuries. So without more ado, let’s do this!

The Jane Austen Diet
by Brian Kozlowski

The Jane Austen Diet: Austen's Secrets to Food, Health, and Incandescent Happiness, by Brian Kozlowski.

What a fascinating book. Kozlowski uses sources ranging from Austen’s letters, her works, and general Regency life, to take a closer look at how the Georgians ate, slept and exercised, and what, if any, science is behind the cultures of that time around lifestyle and food.
I’m going to address the elephant (or cow??) in the room here and jump straight into what some critics of his book found to be the most controversial part of his findings: Yes folks, the Georgians ate meat, and enjoyed good health as well, so get over it and move on! Meat was considered essential for good health and while eaten in moderation, it was fresh, unprocessed, and was the main dish on the table.

I found it amusing that other reviews of this book were sometimes quite scathing of Kozlowski’s findings. It seems some readers took exception to this finding, and couldn’t help but display an unwillingness to accept that perhaps the extreme, religious veganism of the twenty first century which seems to have been almost forced upon us in the west, may not be the only way to enjoy stable, robust health. What critics missed, perhaps deliberately, was that Kozlowski also found that Austen and her contemporaries were all for moderation in everything, including sugar, meat and exercise.

The book also talks about different foods available, mealtimes, quantities of food taken, timing of food, exercise in the Georgian period, and drinking (Jane herself was no teetotaller!)
Mental and emotional health as related to what foods they partook of is also looked at, and overall the book brings to our sometimes extreme views an admonition from Austen and her contemporaries, that moderation is the key to good mental, emotional and physical health.
Kozlowski brings in lots of ‘modern’ scientific morsels which back up the wisdom found in the Regency lifestyle as presented by Miss Austen, and although the writer almost borders on being a tad preachy at times, this quality was very infrequent and I would not say it was intrusive. He did well to balance the ‘sciency’ aspects with the literary aspects, and the quotes were really quite fun.
Overall a well-researched and interesting look at the Regency table and lifestyle, from which the reader may take morsels of knowledge which they might then incorporate into their own lives, as they see fit. Strongly recommended for its clear, accessible style and fun presentation of fascinating details of the Georgian lifestyle. Nine out of Ten.

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters
by William Austen-Leigh

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters by William Austen-Leigh

It is always fascinating to peer behind the curtain and observe how others live, and to be able to have access to Jane Austen’s private letters to her family and friends is no exception. This book, compiled and supplemented with commentary from her brother William Austen-Leigh, is a really fascinating and detailed look at Austen’s life as seen through her letters. Her voice, so unique, really comes through just as clearly as if she was speaking to us directly, her acerbic wit and sarcasm are combined with her very humble attitude to life, and her love for her family and friends. I learned so much about Austen reading this book, and it was a pleasure from beginning to end.
 
Having said that, I think you would have to be a Janeophile to enjoy it, or very interested in Regency life, as some parts of the book might read very slowly with an attention to detail which might deter anyone but the most avid Austen fans. My rating: Eight out of ten.

Lovers' Perjuries
 by Joan Ellen Delman

Lovers' Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman

Oh, what a delight to read this gem! Delman’s Austenian style just shines, and her talent is amazing. The style of writing was my most favorite thing about this novel; she truly captures Regency idiom, spoken English and written. It could have been Jane writing her own sequel. I always look for authenticity, and strive to create it in my own novels, so I am in awe of Delman’s ability to do this. The story, that of the love affair between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill, which is merely implied in Emma, is given thorough justice to, and nothing is left wanting in the way of a satisfying experience. The characters are given much loving attention, so that they blend seamlessly with Austen’s, and are the very same we came to know in Emma. The story is faithful in its detail to Emma, and it blends, again seamlessly, with the narrative given us by Austen in Emma. Everything is in place, nothing is wanting, to enjoy a transition from one writer to another, telling the same story but through different eyes. Ten out of ten to Delman.

So there you have it, three great books you might like to order for yourselves, as a new year treat, or pop onto your wish list for your next birthday maybe! Enjoy, and catch you all again soon!

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Bridgerton: Playing the Race Card Badly

November 11, 2021
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Bridgerton: Playing the Race Card Badly 

have been reading recently a lot of critical reviews of Bridgerton and I have found it fascinating, although not surprising, at the range of reactions to the show. This post will look at the gamut of emotions the show has inspired, and I will particularly talk about historical accuracy or lack thereof.

Based on a fictional set of novels by Julia Quinn, Bridgerton the televised series spanned one season with another in the works. It is steamy, juicy and opulent, a visual spectacle in terms of the costuming and scenery. It has garnered a lot of interest, and reportedly has an audience of 82 million viewers. However not all viewers were pleased with what they saw. Hardcore regency buffs have been quick to point out the sometimes glaring historical inaccuracies, which a quick google search will find listed in lots of different articles and reviews. As a pure fantasy, however, it excels, and as much as I consider myself a regency buff, I definitely found myself lured in by the sumptuous costuming and entertaining characters, and on that basis willing to overlook the historical inaccuracies.

Die-hard regency buffs have criticized the show for various reasons, not least of which is the ethnic diversity which seems contrived for the greater part. The number of ‘NPC’ non-white characters which inhabit the background scenes, as well as those in the main storyline, is quite large. And when anyone questions the historical accuracy of this particular motif, there seems to be a hysterical response to a genuine enquiry. It got me thinking and wondering, how wrong have we got history? Were there really that many African people in England at the time? Just how black was Queen Charlotte? And if the show appears to address race in its themes, does it actually say anything worthwhile about the issue?

According to popular history, black people numbered around 20,000 in England around the time of the late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. Predominantly, these would have been people in service as footmen, valets, housemaids and the like, or even poorer folk, who had low trades such as seamstresses, staff at inns and cooks and cleaners. Some black people turned to trades such as army, navy and other trades, so a black tradesperson, storeowner, or soldier would not have been so rare that it raised eyebrows. But as for the middle and upper classes, I contend that there were so few people of colour in these realms that to suggest that every third person in a ballroom in London was a finely dressed black male or female, is ridiculous. Certainly there were historically named black figures of rank and wealth: Dido Elizabeth Belle and Queen Charlotte spring to mind. But on the whole, it was unusual to see person of colour who was not of the lower classes.

It can be garnered that black people were still not really thought of as equals, which can be seen from the 1803 illustration below. Entitled ‘Advertisement for a Wife’, the artist has drawn a black woman in the gathering of potential wives for the gentleman on the right. However, if you read the commentaries, the black woman’s supposed thoughts are not very erudite and make fun of her by stereotyping her speech, as she thinks, ‘You be pretty man, Massa’ while the other white figures think using full grammar and proper English. The poor would-be husband also makes it clear that the black woman is not his equal in contending for his hand. “Mercy me, there’s a black among them!”
If this idea that black people are not equal to white people in society, then it is unlikely that the scenes presented in Bridgerton are a faithful representation of society in England—in 1803 at any rate!

But Bridgerton takes artistic license with these historical details, and does so freely. The actress who plays the part of Queen Charlotte, a real historical figure in the regency era, is very much of African origin, with quite dark skin, whereas the real Queen Charlotte (1738-1820), the wife of the English King George III (The Mad King) was apparently not so dark-skinned. She is supposed to have directly descended from Margarita de Castro y Sousa, of the black branch of the Portuguese Royal House, although this is speculation. However, even with a somewhat light skin, she was ‘black’ enough to be often called ‘Mulatto Face’ as an insult. Again, this shows a general trend toward non-acceptance of blacks in English society. Allan Ramsay painted several portraits of her, and although we may surmise that her negro features may have been downplayed in his paintings, to create an image which was more acceptable to society, her appearance in these portraits bears little resemblance in skin tone to the actress who plays her in the show.
 
All this aggrandizing of black people in Bridgerton, this romanticization of colour and race, of course is almost what most audiences have come to expect; we now live in a society where truth and historical accuracy is less important than not offending anyone. But this does not mean Bridgerton is necessarily “bad” although it might be fair to question if Bridgerton’s creators are trying to socially manipulate its audiences. But as a fantasy piece it excels, and we must grant that the show allows opportunities for actors who would benefit from playing parts and genres they normally would be excluded from playing. We could even consider Bridgerton’s overuse of black characters of rank and consequence as an overt statement about the ease with which history can be diluted and even deleted, according to whoever has control of the history books—or the film.

But in deliberately provoking its audiences to divide like the Red Sea in front of Moses, and form two standing parts, one all for the truth and one all for the fantasy, did Bridgerton succeed in creating a meaningful dialogue about the age old ‘race question,’ or didn’t it? Could we accuse Bridgerton of not actually creating a meaningful dialogue about race and inclusion, but rather of burying the real issue, Imperialism, under a heap of luscious, glistening costumes, and behind beautiful sets, and distracting us from distasteful truths with head-turningly gorgeous actors? When real Imperialist stories which are galling and chilling, are hidden and given mere lip service, (yes there are some black people in service in the show, but where are the slaves, bought and sold on the markets? Unless in Bridgerton’s phantasmagorical universe, slavery was abolished way, waay, before 1833) where the show’s heroine, Daphne, is pure white, and has the whitest worldview to impose on her audience (she just want to get married and have children, a narrative so powerful and so pervasive that it overpowers and crushes the race issues which Bridgerton ought to raise), when the real issues are hidden behind the glitz of a fantasy piece, and where no other cultures and races are showcased as ‘equal’ ( I did see one token Asian female in a diaphanous gown) I cannot take Bridgerton seriously in terms of its colour-baiting promises to address the race question.

For a show that wanted to declare itself ‘woke’ (a political term I dislike immensely by the way, for its inherent untruthfulness and inverted intentions), it did not do very well. Bridgerton pleases the eye, and that is what it does well. But as for anything else, it is clear the show’s creators and producers did not wish to do anything more than soothe the guilty white conscience through active denial, and in the end, instead of celebrating race, it has succeeded only in creating a raceless, homogenous, snow-white fantasy world.

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What would Jane Austen have ordered if she had Amazon?

October 11, 2021
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What Would Jane Austen Have Ordered if She Had Amazon?

A  few months back I revealed my winter reading list, and invited you to share with me your own winter/summer line up, depending on where you are in the world. But while I was writing that post, I began to wonder: if Jane Austen had had access to Amazon, what exactly would she have picked out for herself? (Besides a Thermomix and a Kindle). Just what did Jane Austen read on a rainy afternoon when she wanted to curl up with a glass of hot negus and a good book? If you want to know what negus is there is a blog on my website.

Austen mentions several books that she seems to favour in her letters and novels, as well as ones that she would have been familiar with, including those which she allows her characters to be fans of, so I thought I would make a list of books which she appears to favour – and which she might, if she had had Amazon, have ordered for her own winter/summer vacation reading fare. On researching, I found a really comprehesive list which someone had already compiled, saving me the trouble! It was on a great little website called Bookriot, a book recommendations and literary chat website. I had a look around and it seems like pretty cool place to hang out if you are a book lover. While the purpose of this blog is not usually to talk up other websites, but as a reader myself I could not help being impressed by this one, especially as they had this page on Jane Austen all written up. The link to Bookriot is below, which will take interested readers to the page on Jane Austen, where you can peruse this list and even better, you can apparently download free version of these books. How cool!

https://bookriot.com/who-jane-read-who-read-jane/

Okay, so below is a list of some of the books which Jane Austen was at least familiar with and would likely have read herself. Some of these appear in her letters to family members, and some of them appear as ‘mentions’ in her own novels. I’ve no doubt there would have been many more, (including Pamela, by Samuel Richardson—a long book, and quite didactic in style, and as I recall I think it is epistolary in form, ((letters)) but I really enjoyed it in any case) and other works by the novelists mentioned below. In any case, these are a great start; hopefully, like myself, you will find that there is something satisfying in knowing you are reading something Jane Austen read and enjoyed!

  • 1752 – Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennon
  • 1753 – The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson
  • 1778 – Evelina by Frances Burney
  • 1782 – Cecilia; Memoirs of an Heiress by Frances Burney
  • 1783 – Adelaide and Theodore, or Letters on Education by Madame de Genlis
  • 1785 – The Task: A Poem, in Six Books by William Cowper
  • 1791 – The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe
  • 1794 – The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • 1796 – Camilla: A Picture of Youth by Frances Burney
  • 1796 – The Monk by Mathew Lewis
  • 1798 – A Practical Education by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1800 – Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1801 – Belinda by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1801 – The Children of the Abbey, a Tale by Regina Maria Roche
  • 1806 – Letters from The Mountains by Anne Grant
  • 1808 – Calebs in Search of a Wife by Hannah More
  • 1808 – Marmion (poem) by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1809 – Woman; or, Ida of Athens by Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan
  • 1810 – The Lady of the Lake (poem) by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1811 – Self Control by Mary Brunton
  • 1813 – The Heroine; or, Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader by Eaton Stannard Barrett
  • 1814 – The Corsair by Lord Byron
  • 1814 – Alicia De Lacy, an Historical Romance by Jane West
  • 1814 – Patronage by Maria Edgeworth
  • 1814 – The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties by Frances Burney
  • 1814 – Waverly by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1816 – The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott
  • 1816 – A Narrative of the Events… by Helen Maria Williams
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