April 2014 “meeting”: Jane Austen Festival Australia

April 15, 2014

Prepared by member Cheng.

Our April meeting was an excursion to ‘Mansfield Park : 200 years’ – an enthusiastic four day celebration of the 200th anniversary of the book’s publication, held by our sister society, the Jane Austen Festival Australia, at University House, Canberra. From Thurs 10th to Sun 13th April the program was packed with talks, demonstrations, tours, workshops, balls and a half-day symposium.

Our next meeting on Saturday 17th May will be a discussion of this wonderfully successful Festival. Our thanks go to its director, Aylwen Gardiner-Garden, for so kindly inviting us to share the event* and indulge our fascination and love of Jane Austen and her world.

* We did of course pay our way, but our attendance was inspired by Aylwen’s attendance at our January meeting at which she outlined the Festival for us.

March 2014 Meeting: Servants in Jane Austen’s novels, with a look at Jo Baker’s Longbourn

March 16, 2014

Having enjoyed last year’s theme of looking at how Jane Austen explored specific emotions – such as anger, desire, envy and jealousy – in her novels, we decided to turn to roles, starting this month with servants. The theme was partly inspired by the publication last year of Jo Baker’s novel Longbourn: Pride and Prejudice, the Servants’ Story, so we included a discussion of this book in our meeting.

Male servants

We began by sharing some interesting snippets of information. One member was intrigued by the reference to “footboy” in Persuasion, as she, like others of us, hadn’t heard the term before. (The term more common to us is “page”). This led to a discussion of taxation on male servants because of the war. Judith Terry states that the number of male servants in a household was “a mark of rank and wealth”. Taxation on male servants was introduced in 1777, at one guinea per head. By 1808, this had been increased to £7 per head in households that had 11 or more male servants. (Note that a dairymaid at that time would earn 8 guineas per annum so this tax was significant). Only the wealthy would have a male cook – and we noted that Bingley’s cook in Baker’s Longbourn is male! We also noted that the gender of Serle, Mr Woodhouse’s cook in Emma, is not identified.

Naming of servants

We discussed the way people in power presume to give names to those less powerful. Housemaid Polly, who was christened Mary, was given the name Polly because Miss Mary (Bennet) already had that name. Bingley’s footman, the mulatto Ptolemy, had the last name of Bingley because:

If you’re off his estate, that’s your name, that’s how it works. (Longbourn)

We also talked a little about servants being called either by their first or last name in Austen’s novels, but rarely with their title – Mr, Mrs, Miss.

Servants as watchers and spies

One member commented on how closely servants watched their masters, while their masters were often oblivious of them (beyond the tasks they performed). Watching was in the servants’ interest of course because their future was often tied to the fortunes of their masters. Baker demonstrates this in Longbourn through Mrs Hill’s concern regarding who would take over Longbourn when Mr Bennet died. Unlike Mrs Bennet she was reasonably happy with Mr Collins’ choice of Charlotte Lucas:

The future was no longer such a terrifying place. Charlotte Lucas was a steady young woman, who knew the value of a good servant, and who had far too much sense to replace staff simply for the sake of appearance or fashion. (Longbourn)

But servants could also be gossips, as Elizabeth was only too aware at the time of Lydia’s “elopement”. She and the Gardiners were pleased when Mrs Bennet withdrew to her room

for they knew that she had not prudence enough to hold her tongue before the servants, while they waited at table. (P&P)

Servants and employers

A member quoted Judith Terry’s comment that, in her novels, Austen suggests that “too much intimacy with servants is a bad thing”. In Longbourn, we noticed, it was bad-boy Wickham who behaved most familiarly with the servants, and while doing so, cast his eyes particularly in Polly’s direction!

One of the servants most visible in Jane Austen’s novels is the housekeeper of Pemberley, Mrs Reynolds. We all remembered Elizabeth Bennet’s reaction to Mrs Reynolds’ praise of Darcy:

What praise is more valuable than the praise of an intelligent servant. (P&P)

The book in which servants play the greatest role is Mansfield Park, largely because of Mrs Norris. The servants provide plenty of opportunities for her to demonstrate many of her unappealing characteristics, such as her bullying. A member noted that Mansfield Park is the only Austen novel in which a servant levels a criticism at his superiors – when Baddeley, with a half-smile (this half-smile being the criticism), makes it very clear to Mrs Norris that it is indeed Miss Price whom Sir Thomas wants, not her!

We, like Terry and Mullan, discussed the fact that Austen often uses servants in the novel to provide commentary on her characters. Her best characters in other words, such as Colonel Brandon and Mr Knightley, treat servants well, while her worst, such as Mrs Norris and Lady Catherine de Burgh, do quite the opposite.

Specific critique of Longbourn

Several members felt that Jo Baker generally made the Bennet and Lucas families poorer than they were: Longbourn is presented as smaller and “meaner” than the Bennets’ house would have been; the descriptions of horses and carriages (chaises and calashes) did not accord with the “reality” of the novels; the housekeeper of Hunsford parsonage is unlikely to have used a term like “dolly-mop” (slang for prostitute or strumpet) for Sarah.

One member shared her research into Eau de vie and the Cordial Balm of Gilead. She suggested that the cost of the Balm of Gilead – a small bottle would cost the same as one week’s wage for a labourer – emphasises Mrs Bennet’s frivolousness.

Some members found the novel a rollicking read, while others enjoyed the historical information but felt the story was “wrong” or too melodramatic. All agreed that Baker was sensible in not attempting to emulate Austen’s style.


Baker, Jo (2103) Longbourn: Pride and Prejudice, the Servants’ Story. London: Doubleday
Mullan, John (2012) What matters in Jane Austen. London: Bloomsbury
Terry, Judith (1988) “Seen but not heard: Servants in Jane Austen’s England”, in Persuasions #10, 1988, pp. 104-116

Other business and next meeting

The meeting concluded with a quiz focusing on servants in Austen (which we managed better than usual due to many of the answers having been revealed during the meeting!) and our quotes.

Various pieces of information were shared, including:

  • the invitation to the launch of Roslyn Russell’s book;
  • an article on the television miniseries, Death comes to Pemberley;
  • a Sotheby’s ad for an auction of 18th century postilion boots; and
  • information regarding Dale Spender’s book about women novelists before Austen, Mothers of the novel.

There will be no formal meeting in April, enabling members instead to attend some or all of the Jane Austen Festival of Australia (JAFA). Our May meeting, 17 May, will be devoted to a discussion of our JAFA experiences.

Invitation to a book launch on 3 May 2014

March 15, 2014

Bobby Graham Publishers and author Roslyn Russell invite interested readers to a launch of Russell’s novel:

Maria Returns: Barbados to Mansfield Park


The Common Room, University House, ANU, on 3 May 2014 from 2-4pm

The guest speaker will be Susannah Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.

Roslyn Russell, Maria ReturnsRussell’s novel is being published in the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, Austen’s third novel to be published. In her novel, Russell explores what might have happened to Maria Bertram after her disgrace and exile from Mansfield Park at the end of the novel. As you might have surmised from the subtitle, a visit to the sugar plantations in the West Indies seems to be part of her future! What will Maria think of slavery when she sees it first hand?

Please RSVP by 25 April 2014 to: mariareturnsrsvp@gmail.com

March Meeting and apologies for late reminder.

March 14, 2014

The next meeting is tomorrow, March 15 at 1.30pm in the Friend’s Lounge of the National Library. The topic for discussion is servants in Jane Austen’s novels with reference to Longbourn by Jo Baker.

My apologies for the late reminder. My confusion springs from the discussion about the April Meeting. However, there are no excuses and I’m sorry.

February 2014 meeting: Catharine, or The Bower

March 1, 2014

Prepared by Marilyn, with contribution from Jessie

The time has come – after a few false starts the meeting discussed Catharine, or The Bower. The work has been dated most likely at 1792, and was written at Steventon when she was aged 17. It appeals as the item in the Juvenilia that had most potential.

It is inevitable that readers would look for predictions of the style we have become accustomed to in Austen’s work. Catharine is a work on the threshold of becoming a mature novel. There is evidence of revision as the final paragraph was in a different hand, suggesting it was transcribed in the 1800s perhaps in part by nieces or nephews, and may have been edited at Chawton (Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, 2009). Changes that suggest a later transcription include references to the ‘regency walking dress’ as the text was updated to conform to details that would appeal to Regency readers.

The first sentence is a memorable piece of Jane Austen’s writing. It recalls the expectation that heroines are often orphans (cf Northanger Abbey’s opening paragraph describing Catherine Morland and her mother’s not dying, and the motherless Emma Woodhouse).

The concept of the bower or a retreat is revisited in later works such Richardson’s Clarissa and Charlotte Collins’ private space used as a retreat from Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

As a work indicating a developing style, the characterisation is more impressive than the plot creation. Catharine’s desire for independence, despite the restricted upbringing imposed by her Aunt who insisted, for instance, that she avoid the company of officers who were not sought-after companions in 18th century fiction. Perhaps Catharine is an independent thinker, despite her upbringing, and may be an early Elizabeth Bennet in her questioning and satirising the behaviours of the day – commenting that Stanley took half an hour to get ready. Catharine loved dancing, was intelligent and was given the key to her aunt’s library so that she had read Charlotte Turner Smith whose novels Emmaline and Ethelinde were a favourite of Austen and may have influenced her writing. As a character, Camilla, by comparison does not sparkle and foreshadows Isabella Thorpe in her ignorance of geography and reading, her focus on fashion and her empty-headedness. Mr Percival and Stanley are perhaps precursors of Mr Woodhouse and Willoughby or Henry Crawford.

Predictions of the outcome of this unfinished work were that Catharine may retreat to the Bower, or be swept off her feet by Stanley, or perhaps she would be rejected by his family because of her poverty and face a lonely future.

The work is suggestive of a conduct book for women. The Indian journey reflects that taken by Jane Austen’s cousin Philadelphia Hancock who was orphaned and sent to India where she entered an unsatisfactory marriage as a result.

Catharine’s aunt provided further unsuitable modelling in her conservative political views of the French Revolution and the Jacobin threat and criticism of Queen Elizabeth I. Such references to politics appear here but political comments are absent from future works.

The setting in a village with four families suggests the focus of future works.

We noted the evolving writing style with use of assonance and alliteration that is already highly developed such as ‘Who from her solitary situation’ (p. 209), ‘To pity and persecute her friend’ (p. 222) and ‘His father’s forgiveness of faults’ (p. 252).

The lengthy conversations between Catharine and Camilla could have been read aloud to provide evening entertainments for the family.

This was an enjoyable read and valuable discussion that was followed by quotations and a quiz prepared by Jessie.

Next meeting

Our next meeting on 15 March will focus on servants in Jane Austen’s novels, and will include discussion of Longbourn by Jo Baker.

February Meeting

February 10, 2014

The February Meeting will be held this Saturday, February 15th at 1.30pm in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library of Australia. We will be discussing Catharine or the Bower.

January 2014 Meeting: Talking about the Jane Austen Festival Australia

January 21, 2014

After ending our year on a wonderful Christmas-cum-Jane Austen Birthday lunch at the Poachers Pantry, JASACT members reconvened on Saturday 18 January for our first meeting of the year. Our main topic of conversation was the Jane Austen Festival Australia, with guest speaker Aylwen Gardiner-Garden, the conference director.

Aylwen started by giving us a brief history of the Festival which was first held in 2008. It is a volunteer run festival which aims

to provide a platform from which to explore all aspects of Jane Austen’s world, we are also keenly interested and engaged in exploring Australia’s place in history during the lifetime of Jane Austen – hence our strong links locally with the ACT Heritage Festival and nationally, with the Australian Heritage Week. Associated with the festival have been full length plays, film screenings, short story writing competitions, rapier demonstrations, participatory archery, musketry displays, maypole dancing, grand Napoleonic Balls, afternoon teas in the Regency Manner, graveyard tours, costume promenades, period games, period food and much more. (from About on the website)

Aylwen calls the Festival “a living history event” and says it is evolving each year, with much of the program guided by the presentations offered. Some of the regular attendees and presenters include experts in historic reenactment, costume, music and dance of the Regency and Georgian eras. There are also presentations, of course, on Jane Austen and her novels and on the social and political history of the times. The Festival’s program has three concurrent streams for participants to choose from according to their interests. As 2014 is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, it will be the feature novel for the conference.

She talked about this year’s speakers/presenters, including Caroline Knight, who was living at Chawton House prior to its sale to the Chawton House Library trust in 1993. This year, the conference will include a new strand: a special Sunday Morning Symposium dedicated to Mansfield Park. It is separately ticketed so that those unable to attend the full Festival can attend the Symposium. Symposium speakers will include Dr Gillian Dooley, Dr Heather Nielsen and Professor Will Christie. There will also be, she said, other literary-focused presentations throughout the conference, including a Jane Austen Book Club session which will run like, well, a book club meeting.

Other activities include a Market Day, a ball, and a pre-conference trip to Yass with involvement by the Yass Historical Society.

This year, she said, will see a big change to the Festival – it is moving to a new venue, University House, which means the food will be catered and there will be less demand on volunteers to run the day-to-day events.

Early bird tickets for the full festival are on sale now until 30 January for $295. The Mansfield Park Symposium costs $50. (A small administrative fee is added to these by EventBrite). To buy tickets, click here.

The meeting ended with our traditional quiz and sharing of quotes.

Show and Tell

Jane Austen Fridge Magnets

From MaggieMagnets

Our meetings usually start with a show and tell, in which members share news and objects they’ve acquired or come across since the previous meeting – relating to Jane Austen and other things relevantly historic or literary. Here are some of the things we shared at this meeting:

  • Facsimile edition of Volume the First, the first volume of Jane Austen’s juvenilia, published by the Bodleian Library, edited by Kathryn Sutherland
  • Jane Austen Fridge Magnets at Maggie Magnet’s Etsy Store
  • Pen Vogler’s book on Regency dining and recipes, Dinner with Mr Darcy
  • Two articles by Mary C Gildersleeve in PieceWork magazine: “Spencer Jackets: A Regency era fashion phenomenon” (a brief history) and “Jane’s Kerseymere Spencer Jacket” (a knitting pattern)

Next meeting

Our next meeting will be February 15, and we will be discussing Jane Austen’s juvenilia work, Catharine, or the Bower.


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