September and October 2016 meeting: Gardens and Money

November 18, 2016

Using notes from members Sally, Jenny and Cheng.

Northanger Abbey, Anxious attentions to the weather

Anxious attentions to the weather, Northanger Abbey (CE Brock)

After several attempts to hold our September ‘meeting’ at the Tulip Top Gardens near Sutton were thwarted by intemperate weather, we met at our usual location in October. Perhaps it was meant to be, because we were joined by two unexpected but very welcome visitors, Robyn and Joan, from JASA Sydney.

We talked about our September topic, gardening styles during Jane Austen’s lifetime, as well as the designated October topic, ‘How much money is enough?” into which we managed to include some discussion about the cost of gardens and the incomes of the ‘celebrity’ landscape designers of the era.

To compensate in a small way for our inability to visit the Tulip Tops Garden, Sally showed her slideshow from a previous visit. She also showed a slideshow of her 2014 visit to Chawton Cottage (which included many photos of the garden) and Chawton village, followed by a slideshow of her visit to Blaise Castle House in Bristol. Blaise Castle House is famous both for its Humphrey Repton-designed garden (and the related Red Book which is on display), as well as for being the location of Blaise Castle, which Catherine Morland did not succeed in visiting in ‘Northanger Abbey’.

And why not? Because of inclement weather, of course.

English gardening styles in the late 18th and early 19th centuries

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown  (1715/16 – 1783)

Brown created 170 gardens, and worked for many of the wealthiest aristocrats in Britain. He carved large landscape parks out of old formal gardens and agricultural land, with lawns sweeping right up to the house and parks surrounded by a continuous perimeter.

He was a large-scale contracted who not only designed by also but also arranged the realisation of his works. By the 1760s his earnings averaged £6000 a year ( ie £740,000) a year, usually £500 (ie £61,000) for one commission

He wasn’t ‘picturesque’ enough, and by the 1780s, his harmony and calmness were seen to lack the sublime thrills, climactic conflict and awesome power of wild nature.

Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1818)

Repton created 400 or so gardens, but many remained wholly or partially unexecuted. Unlike Brown, he acted as a consultant. He also charged for his Red Books. He worked for equally important clients (eg Dukes of Bedford and Portland) but often fine tuning earlier work, often Brown’s.

He would sometimes stake out the ground, leaving the client to arrange the actual execution. Where he got the chance to lay out grounds from scratch, it was generally on a much more modest scale. He would cut ‘vistas’ through to ‘borrowed’ items such as church towers, making them part of the designed landscape.

His was a more contrived approach, creating entrance drives and lodges to create impressions of size and importance. He even monogramed milestones on the roads around some estates. He converted farmland into wooded parkland, and often called the areas ‘parks’. (Hence Mansfield Park?)

Repton defended Brown’s reputation during the ‘picturesque controversy’ (1794), but was also the precursor of 19th century styles which saw the re-introduction of formal terraces, balustrades, trellis works and flower gardens. He created created garden areas – Chinese gardens, arboretums etc. He also mae cricket pitches/home lawns, and bowling green lawns.

He emphasised utility and convenience over more extravagant principles of contrived irregularity, and believed that good design had a social and moral aspect.

Money and Jane Austen

In the 18th century, novelists wrestled with the same question as Adam Smith – Does the pursuit of money diminish a person’s moral integrity?

Characters are defined by their incomes and fortunes as much as they are by their appearances and their manners in Austen’s novels.

How much money is enough? What is a competence? What is the very sum necessary to support one’s gentility? According to Marianne Dashwood, it is approximately £2,000 a year or AUD183,000. “I am sure I am not extravagant in my demands,” she announced.  Elinor, on the other hand, says she would be happy with half that amount. She is quite content with £850 to live on. Marianne achieves the £2,000 by marrying Col Brandon.  While it all depends on expectations, all Jane Austen’s heroines are “hunters.” They need security. Mrs Bennet is so afraid of what will happen when her husband dies that she can only think of how to marry off her daughters. They would have been left with only £450 a year. This was the same amount as Jane, Cassandra and her mother had after the death of Mr Austen. Fortunately they had brothers/sons to augment their income unlike Mrs and Miss Bates.

Mr Bennet’s income is £2,000 a year but his daughters cost him £500 a year. He was not wise with money always having hoped for a son to inherit.

Jane Austen used money to indicate status, but she condemned greed – those who married merely for money (Maria Bertram); Mary Crawford’s desire for Edmund’s elder brother to die so that he can inherit the family fortune; John Dashwood who, having £6,000 a year, denies his step family; his wife, who persuades her husband to do so, even begrudges her step mother-in-law her gifted china and furniture.

Mrs Dashwood senior is able to employ two maids and a man. Five to 10 guineas year was paid to maids.

Curates earned between £20 and £40 a year. One wonders what Mr Collins was earning from Lady Catherine De Burgh. A certain Rev. Thomas Archer earned £85 a year which he found insufficient to support a wife and five children in 1802. However Jane’s brother, James Austen, earned £1,100 a year and possessed two horses.

Navy families depended on wars. Fanny Price’s mother could have brought £7,000 to her marriage if she got the same as Lady Bertram. This would yield £350 a year and her husband’s half naval officer pay would have been about £45 a year. This enabled the Price family to have two servants. The example of Captain Harville’s family was incredible (unless Mrs Harville had brought a dowry.) Clearly they could not afford servants and sought cheap lodgings, but they were enormously hospitable.

The cost of living is hard to gauge. Jane apparently allowed £10 a year for gifts, charities and entertainment, and put aside £40 for clothes and personal items. She earned £684 for her books during her lifetime.

Before Mr Austen’s retirement, the family derived food from their farm. Elinor appears to do the same and Charlotte also kept hens or ducks. A great deal depended upon the skills of housekeeping and economy exhibited by the wives of spendthrifts like Sir Walter Elliot, and the less well-off characters.

The cost of food as revealed in the Letters was as follows compared with approximate buying power in English pounds two hundred years later:

Item 1810 2005
Meat (lb) 8d £1.13
Butter (lb) 12d £1.70
Cheese 9d £1.43
Salmon (whole lb) 2/9d £4.67
4 small soles 6/- £10.14
Bread  (4lb) 2/6d £4.25

While all the monetary conversions may not be entirely accurate it is possible to get some idea from the following table:

Title 1810 GDP 2016 AUD
John Dashwood’s income 6,000 547,654
Mrs Dashwood and daughters’ income 500 45,817
Edward and Elinor’s income 850 77,446
Col Brandon and Marianne’s income 2,000 183,270
Mr Darcy’s income 10,000 916,351
Mr Bingley’s income 5,000 458,176
Mr Bennet’s income 2,000 183,270
Mr Rushworth’s income 12,000 1,099,620
Edmund and Fanny’s income 700 63,617
Emma’s inheritance 30,000 2,749,060
Mrs Elton’s fortune 10,000 916,351
Elliot daughters’ inheritance 10,000 916,351
Wentworth’s fortune 25,000 2,290,880
Catherine Morland’s dowry 3,000 274,905

It is perhaps amazing just how much detail Jane Austen did reveal about money in her time. It was certainly a very important consideration for her.

Young women, not to mention their mothers, generally had but one serious occupation once the girls were of marriageable age, to find a husband with adequate means, who was reliable and not a gambler.


Chamberlain, Shannon (2014) “The Economics of Jane Austen”, The Atlantic
Copeland, Edward (1995) Women Writing About Money Women’s Fiction in England 1790 -1820
Heldman, James (1990) “How Wealthy is Mr Darcy – Really? Pounds and Dollars in the World of Pride and Prejudice“, Persuasions 12, 38-49
“Pride and Prejudice Economics: Or Why a Single Man with a Fortune of 4,000 pounds Per Year is a Desirable Husband”,  Jane Austen’s World (2008)

November Meeting

November 18, 2016

The November Meeting is tomorrow, Saturday November 19th, in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library at 1.30pm. The topic for discussion is the great houses in Jane Austen’s novels.

Apologies for the late reminder.

Tulip Top Farm visit postponed

September 17, 2016

Please note that due to recent wet weather combined with low numbers able to attend, we have postponed our proposed outing to Tulip Top Farm on Saturday 17th September. There will therefore be no JASACT meeting on this day, but we aim to reconvene our tiptoeing through the tulips to a date in the very near future. Watch this space.

August 2016 meeting: Weather in Jane Austen’s novels

August 25, 2016

Prepared by member Cheng

Whilst weather in a Jane Austen novel doesn’t really impact at first reading, it is there all the time and is so crucial that it determines the structure, the course and the pace of the plot. Most of the novels start in autumn and follow the meteorological patterns and the traditional activities of the seasons:

Having arranged her characters and defined their situations , having planned her love stories and hatched the misunderstandings that might impede them, she lets the weather shape events. It is her way of admitting chance into her narratives.  (Mullan)

Weather BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER and thus has a practical impact on their lives. Think of the dramatic ‘driving rain set full in their face’ that results in Willoughby’s rescuing Marianne (Sense and sensibility), of the snow confining Emma in the carriage with Mr.Elton (Emma), the rain that delays Anne in setting out for the White Hart and gives Captain Wentworth the opportunity to write his letter (Persuasion), of Jane riding through rain to Netherfield and of the effect of Elizabeth’s bright eyes and glowing face after her cross-country walk (Pride and prejudice). The weather is often the catalyst for romance.

Weather REVEALS CHARACTER. The snow during the Christmas Eve dinner at Randalls (Emma) sets off vivid little insights into all the characters present: Mr. John Knightley’s grumpy, unsociable satisfaction at having proved the folly of having setting forth at all, Mr.Weston’s hospitable nature, Mr.Woodhouse’s chronic self centredness and nervous alarm, Isabella Knightley’s horror of being separated from her children, Mr. Knightley’s calm good sense, Emma’s readiness to resolve the situation decisively and simply and then, in the hilarious climax in the carriage, Mr.Elton’s presumptuous self-importance and social pretensions. The novel has a surprising number of weather events and they all have some bearing on Emma’s character, self delusions and growing maturity. After her shock at the outcome of her attempt to be a marriage arranger comes her remorse, courage and humility the following day in telling Harriet.

Weather serves as a ‘metaphorical index of character’s inner lives and a portent of impending plot shifts’. (Lodge) Fanny Price’s vulnerability to heat illustrates her greater defencelessness in relation to Mrs Norris (Mansfield Park), just as Jane Fairfax’s quiet determination to fetch the mail in the rain reflects her desperation at her own vulnerable position (Emma, again).

Weather has a PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECT on character’s feelings and behaviour and emphasises their moods: as with the summer heat of the strawberry picking excursion to Donwell when Mrs Elton’s romantic idyll dwindles into a querulous stream of consciousness babble that ends with her ‘tired to death – could bear it no longer – must go and sit down in the shade’. The lethargy and indolence on Box Hill build a languorous mood with Emma having no energy to control her tongue. (Emma)

Jane Austen uses the PATHETIC FALLACY lightly in her work, never indulging in overblown Bronte Romanticism unless in a satirical vein – as with Marianne, gushingly transported by her passion for dead leaves (Sense and sensibility). Instead, we see Emma, affected perhaps more than any other heroine, continually conscious of the weather, looking outward at the rain from her indoors life with her father and dreading the monotony of her future. Later, rain dampens her thoughts of Harriet marrying Mr.Knightley. With the sun comes Mr.Knightly! (Emma)

Used with intelligence and discretion it is a rhetorical device capable of moving and powerful effects, without which fiction would be so much the poorer.

In Northanger Abbey Austen makes a different use of weather – to drive the plot in a wickedly funny parody of the GOTHIC novel. All the elements, rain, wind, storms and sunlight, are chosen to resemble Gothic Fiction but they are actually meant to mock.

Every bend of the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amid a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows. But so low did the building stand, that she found herself passing through the great gates into the very grounds of Northanger, without having discerned even an antique chimney’. She wasn’t in an abbey!


The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals……it blew and rained violently. Catherine……..listened to the tempest with sensations of awe; and, when she heard it rage around a corner of the ancient building and close with sudden fury a distant door, felt for the first time that she was really in an Abbey.

With every gloomy scene loaded with dire possibilities, comes the sun to dispel the overdone mood and restore reality.

Granny's Teeth at Lyme Regis

Granny’s Teeth steps, at Lyme Regis (the Cobb)(Courtesy: Elsey 11)

Weather influences HEALTH. There was a 19th century belief that women, being the weaker sex, were more susceptible to ‘environmentally excited diseases’ caused by extremes of weather, damp, shock and bad air. Thus real men scorned the weather, i.e. Mr.Knightly. Marianne Dashwood, Jane Bennet, Mary Musgrove and decidedly non-macho Mr.Woodhouse could be interpreted as examples of this attitude. Doctors believed that cold feet could force the body to keep warm, thereby sapping energy and bringing on chills and fevers, as evidenced by Marianne’s walking ‘where the grass was longest and wettest’ and ‘sitting in her wet shoes and stockings’ (Sense and sensibility). Louisa’s mood was so stirred up by the strong winds on the Cob that she irrationally insists on jumping down (Persuasion).

Although Jane Austen lived through some exceptionally severe winters and grim natural phenomena, such as the aftermath of the volcanic eruption in Iceland in 1783 and the floods of Steventon in 1794-95 when ‘Mr.Austen’s family did not descend [from the upper floor] for two days’, she does not mention such extremes on her books. There are many references to the weather and its adverse effects on their plans in her letters but the only factual link between her real and fictional lives is in the oft quoted ‘orchard in bloom’ during the summer party at Donwell. The year it was written had been remarkably cold with only a brief warm spell in the middle of June.

However, on a far more personal level, the mood and tone of the latter half of Persuasion surely mirrors her feelings as she nears the end of her own life.

In Persuasion Austen uses the weather to underpin and emphasise the time of Anne Elliot’s life – her autumn years and her initial sense of melancholy and fatalism at hearing of Wentworth’s return. The novel is set in autumn and Austen suggests it’s Anne favourite time of year:

Anne, though dreading the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath, and grieving to forego all the influence so sweet and sad of the autumnal month in the country.


Her pleasure must arise from…..the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness.


The sweet scenes of autumn were for a while put by, unless some tender sonnet, fraught with the apt analogy of the declining happiness, and the images of youth and hope, and spring, all gone together, blessed her memory.

Through the weather in Persuasion we have perhaps the most intimate and saddest glimpse of Jane Austen herself.


  • Enhoffer, Tina. “Chances Are – the role of fortune in Jane Austen’s novels”. JASNA, 1999
  • Harayda, Janice. “Weather in novels: How it works, or Jane Austen and the pathetic fallacy” in One-Minute Book Reviews
  • Le Faye, Deirdre. A Year in the Countryside – in Jane Austen’s Country Life. France’s Lincoln, 2014
  • Lodge, David. “Weather” in The Art of Fiction, Penguin, 1992
  • Mullan, John. “Why is the Weather Important” in What Matters in Jane Austen? Bloomsbury, 2012
  • Warboys, Professor Michael.


The meeting concludes as usual with our secret quotes and a quiz on weather in the novels.

Our next meeting will be at the Tulip Top Farm for lunch (bringing our own picnic food). Time: 12:30, at the entrance gate.

Topics for the last meetings for the rest of the year can be found in the Schedule in the sidebar.

August Meeting

August 16, 2016

The August Meeting is this Saturday, August 20th, in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library of Australia at 1.30pm. We will be discussing Jane Austen’s use of weather in her novels.

July 2016 meeting: Brothers in the novels of Jane Austen

July 27, 2016

Prepared by member Marilyn

It was agreed that the topic was broad but that the definition of the brotherly qualities, as defined in Mansfield Park, be considered. That the best of brothers demonstrated filial love which encompassed provision, protection and a genuine love for family and siblings, that was beyond matrimonial love, which could be dissolved by divorce .

Austen’s family situation was one where much-loved dependable brothers provided, protected, genuinely loved and entertained their sisters and each other. Her family situation provided knowledge of men and their behaviour and knowledge of the naval brotherhood to include in the novels but Henry Austen assures us that Jane never based characters on individuals.

The family circle is seen as an innovative, social and moral power base of a fraternity of brothers and sisters.

In Fanny and William’s relationship we see

Their eager affection in meeting, their exquisite delight in being together, their hours of happy mirth, and moments of serious conference, may be imagined; as well as the sanguine views and spirits of the boy even to the last, and misery of the girl when he left her .( Mansfield Park Book 1 Chapter 2.)

Is this the brother sister relationship against which to judge others? Especially that of Henry and Mary Crawford who are cordial rather than intimate, and ultimately villains. William writes frequently but Henry rarely.

In those novels where sibling dynamics are driven by primogeniture in the case of the brothers or by brilliant marriage for sisters, where an individual’s success and that the family’s future were affected, suggests the reality of family survival in 18th century England. The narrow social group meant that lovers are often brother substitute figures, often a brother’s friend or the good brother of persons unknown. (1)

None of the heroines have effective, strong, protective brothers and all marry good brothers, dependable, intelligent, educated, sensible, morally upright and loving. Perhaps Austen is suggesting that good brothers make good husbands, as we know Robert Martin has proved himself worthy of Harriet. Henry Tilney is heroic in his devotion to his sisters, compared to the anti-hero John Thorpe in his mistreatment of his younger sisters at Bath.

Noting that the heroines of the novels don’t have wise and supportive fathers, would the addition of capable caring brothers have been an impediment to the plot?

The vulnerable women, dependent on the whims of male family members is clearly drawn and evidenced in Austen’s life experience.

Austen uses sets of brothers to contrast values and worth in drawing Edmund and Tom Bertram and the conceited younger brother Robert and Edward Ferrars who by contrast is honourable, friendly and sensible. Still family fortunes are affected by the irresponsible deeds of the less worthy. Tom’s debts affected the entitlement of his family, and Robert inherits a less desirable wife.

The actions of brothers which may appear incidental, have dynamic effects on the plot. Col. Brandon’s unnamed brother takes Eliza leaving Brandon to be Marianne’s suitor. Robert Ferrars marries Lucy leaving Edmund free to marry Elinor. Tom Bertram introduces his friend Yates with whom Maria Bertram elopes. Captain Wentworth’s brother remembered old friends and kept up a correspondence and strong friendships between himself, his sister and brother. “His inclusion in the novel provides the reason for Anne Elliot, despite her secluded life, being in a position to make the acquaintance of a dashing naval captain.” (2)

The irony of Wickham’s claim to be half-brother to Darcy suggests that breeding must be heeded. Wickham is a cuckoo in the Darcy family nest.

The financial future of the brotherless Bennet family is in jeopardy as is that of the Dashwood women as a result of negligence by John Dashwood, the weak-minded, money grabbing heir. Emma is also brotherless but is guided by the brother substitute suitor Knightley. Both George and John are ideal brothers and George as brother substitute, corrects her, guides her and shows extraordinary forgiveness and forbearance , proving himself to be an ideal brother figure and husband. Just as Edmond Bertram is a classic leading man, kind, honest, sensible, loyal, good-hearted.

It is in Emma, that the issue of incest is glossed over. Engendering discussion, it is seen that in the closed communities of the novels the security, familiarity and comparable class of cousins is an accepted pairing, given there is little chance of geographical or social mobility. In both Mansfield Park and Emma, the brother-sister relationship is shown to be a solid relationship where sisters are valued and respected.

Austen is concerned to show the home as inviolable in times of change by cementing sibling loyalty, strengthening the home and spiritual and moral values it represents and unions among relatives as some of the novels end .

The navy family is expected to provide a future brotherhood for Anne Eliot, a worthy society compared to the emptiness of the gentry about her.

  1. Souter, Kay Tomey. Heads and arms and legs enough: Jane Austen and sibling dynamics  (JASNA)
  2. Whalan P. The men in the background. Sensibilities Dec 2005 p 32

July Meeting

July 11, 2016

The July Meeting is this Saturday, July 16th, in the Friends’ Lounge of the National Library at 1.30pm. We will be discussing brothers in Jane Austen’s novels.