Jane Austen in London

Jane Austen arrived at her brother Henry’s new London residence in Hans Place on August 22, 1814.  Henry had moved from his previous house in Henrietta Street near Covent Garden to this recently developed area off Sloane Street.

The house now occupying the spot at #23 Hans Place is a Victorian reconstruction, very unlike the house in which Austen stayed.  Below, the blue plaque on the house, commemorating her stay on the premises.

Around the crescent from #23 Hans Place there is a Regency-era house which is probably what Henry’s house looked like in 1814.  Of course, any vehicle that might have been in the road in those days would not have resembled the one here.

The neighborhood around Hans Place was relatively new, developed just off Sloane Street as part of the Cadogan estate and opened out onto uninhabited fields to the west.  The Hans in the name honors to Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), president of the Royal Society and benefactor of the British Museum, for whom Sloane Square is named.

The general neighborhood has been much in the news lately because the Ecuadoran Embassy is located nearby, the place Julian Assange sought asylum.

A quick check of property values in the area shows that these tall Victorian houses, now mostly institutions or condominiums, are extremely pricey. 

Jane Austen described Henry’s house in a letter to Cassandra dated Tuesday 23-Wednesday 24 August, 1814. After sharing a few details of her journey to London, she wrote:  “It is a delightful place—more than answers my expectation. Having got rid of my unreasonable ideas, I find more space and comfort in the rooms than I had supposed and the Garden is quite a Love. I am in the front Attic, which is the Bedchamber to be preferred.  Henry wants you to see it all…”

From Ackermann’s Repository, April 1814

In early September, Jane Austen wrote from London to Martha Lloyd, who was staying in Pulteney Street, Bath.  She shares her impressions of London fashions: “I am amused by the present style of female dress; — the coloured petticoats with braces over the white Spencers and enormous Bonnets upon the full Stretch are quite entertaining…”

From Ackermann’s Repository, 1814

Miss Austen went on to make observations on a recent art exhibit:  “I have seen West’s famous painting and prefer it to anything of the kind I ever saw before. I do not know that it is reckoned superior to his Healing in the Temple, but it has gratified me much more and indeed is the first representation of our Saviour which ever at all contented me. ‘His Rejection by the Elders’, is the subject.–I want to have You and Cassandra see it.”

Benjamin West, Christ Rejected, 1814,
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Jane Austen wrote further of  her brother’s house (his wife, Eliza de Feuillide Austen had died in April 1813): “I am extremely pleased with this new House of Henry’s, it is everything that could be wished for him and I have only to hope he will continue to like it as well as he does now, and not be looking out for anything better.–He is in very comfortable health; — he has not been so well, he says for a twelvemonth.”

Henry Austen was his sister’s favorite brother, for his talents and charm.  He had several careers, first at Oxford, then in the military, and in various business ventures.  His bank failed in 1816 and he went into the church, as curate in the Chawton parish and later as rector in Steventon.  Henry assisted Jane in her publishing ventures, making deals for the sa
le and repurchase of her books.  He oversaw posthumous publication of   Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Today: Garden in Hans Place, London

Miss Benn Dines with Jane Austen

The Jane Austen House Museum, Chawton

On May 25, 1811, Miss Mary Benn dined at Chawton Cottage with Jane Austen, and — one assumes — her mother Mrs. Cassandra Austen and their co-resident, Martha Lloyd. 

We learn this in Jane Austen’s letter of Wednesday, 29 May 1811, to her sister Cassandra who was staying at Godmersham, the Kent home of their brother Edward Austen and his children.  This letter is filled with rambling accounts of family and friends — from seedlings to disinheritances. 

Syringa (Lilac)

Jane tells her sister that the Pinks and Sweet Williams are blooming and the Syringas coming out.  She relates family news, upcoming journeys  and that very day a second encounter with Miss Benn  over their tea table.

Miss Benn is a poor spinster who lives in reduced circumstances in Chawton; though we know little about her, she is mentioned in Jane Austen’s letters more than a dozen times in the few years between the Austen’s arrival in Chawton and Miss Benn’s death at age 46 in early January, 1816.  Some biographers have speculated that her extreme poverty caused the Austens to invite her for meals frequently.  In her 1997 biography Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin  writes, “‘Poor Miss Benn’ appears very much oftener in Jane’s letters than their few better-off neighbours; she was not very interesting, but then nor were they” (p.210)

In January 1813, Jane Austen reported from Chawton to her sister in Steventon that “I have got my own darling Child from London…” meaning a copy of the three-volume first edition of Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s second published novel.  In the letter of Friday, 29 January 1813, Jane tells Cassandra that she had read half of the first volume to Miss Benn, who was “amused, poor soul.” Miss Benn “seemed to admire Elizabeth.”

In her next letter, Austen writes that her mother had read further in the novel to Miss Benn.  Austen did not care for “my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on…Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough and well satisfied enough.–The work is rather too light and bright and sparkling…” — an opinion that generations of readers would deny, finding precisely the correct light, bright and sparkling qualities in the novel.

Mary Benn was the sister of Reverend John Benn (1766-1875) who presided over the parish of Farringdon, nearby Chawton in rural Hampshire.  Mr. Benn and his wife had as dozen children, which probably meant they could not do much to help Miss Benn.

Nevertheless, Miss Benn has found her place in the eternal pantheon of Jane Austen fans.  I am sure she would be surprised even to be mentioned in the year 2012, two hundred years after that dinner in Chawton.

I was alerted to this less-than-earth-shattering meal in my weekly perusal of  A Year with Jane Austen: A Calendar for 2012, the production of JASNA-WI.  Events from Jane Austen’s life and/or events in her novels fill almost every day of this wonderful calendar, accompanied by appealing color reproductions of the 1898 illustrations for editions of Austen’s novels by artist C. E. Brock.

These calendars are still available — and you have half of 2012 left to enjoy one.  Go to the JASNA-WI website  here and click on Merchandise.

A Day with JASNA-GCR

On May 5, in the Crystal Ballroom of Chicago’s Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, JASNA-GCR (Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Chapter) held its Spring Gala, Chawton Comes to Chicago, a day of excellent presentations, good food, shopping, meeting and greeting old friends and new.

Jeff Nigro, JASNA-GCR’s regional coordinator, welcomed everyone and enumerated the events of the day.

Elizabeth Garvie, long a favorite of Janeites as the “real” Elizabeth Bennett for her role in the 1980 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, gave a charming performance of selections from Jane Austen’s life and works, “Jane Austen Delights.”

I particularly enjoyed her reading from Lesley Castle (from the Juvenilia), in which the writer of a letter pleads with her correspondent for pity over her disappointment at having prepared a wedding feast which could not now be eaten as intended because the groom had been stuck down, completely ignoring the real tragedy. She thinks only of her own wasted expense and effort — and how they will ever consume the victuals she has prepared.  The ironic humor of the passage has never before struck me with such vivid force.
Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul as Lizzy and Darcy
Clearly the audience’s favorite part of the performance was Ms. Garvie’s portrayal of Emma‘s Miss Bates. Every nuance of the lady’s overwrought arrival at the ball (Ch. 38) was perfectly articulated and left us all laughing and applauding.  We could have listened all day!  Despite the fact that Ms. Garvie has played innumerable characters by a wide variety of authors since her turn as Lizzy Bennet, we were all convinced of her special affinity for the works of Jane Austen.
Elizabeth Garvie
Author Lindsay Ashford told the story of how she moved to Chawton and became immersed in the life and times of Jane Austen.  As she learned more and more about the writer, reading in the very rooms in which Jane herself might have read, eating where she would have frequently dined, Ashford was more and more obsessed with Austen and her early death at a mere age 41.
Victoria Hinshaw and Lindsay Ashford
When she learned arsenic had been detected in an analysis of a lock of Jane’s golden hair, her imagination took flight.  Could the author — – also beloved daughter, sister and aunt — have been murdered with arsenic?  And by whom?  Now Ashford has published The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen, a novel in which this is exactly what happens.  Written from the point of view of Jane’s dear friend Miss Anne Sharp, once the governess to Edward Austen’s children, the novel has enjoyed considerable attention around the world.
Ashford is the partner of Steve Lawrence, CEO of the Chawton House Library.  Below they are pictured in the costume promenade at last October’s Fort Worth, TX, JASNA AGM.
Following Ashford’s talk, Steve Lawrence brought us up to date on activities at Chawton House Library, showing pictures of the latest projects, such as the “new” 18th C. barn discovered nearby and rebuilt on the edge of the property. 

It seems impossible that
the library is already about to celebrate it’s tenth anniversary.  Where have all these years gone?  On the other hand, it his hard to imagine the world in the village of Chawton, of Austen studies, or of on-line availability of many heretofore impossible-to-find novels without the library and its holdings.  For more information, here is the website.

JASNA-GCR Program Chair Elisabeth Lenckos and Steve Lawrence
The luncheon was enjoyed by all, and featured short readings from works by four members of the organization —  whose writings are “inspired” by Jane Austen.

Victoria Hinshaw read from her novel The Fontainebleau Fan; Holly Bern read from her story “People of the Book” in Wooing Mr. Wickham,” a collection of prize-winning stories chosen in a Chawton House Libary contest and edited by Lindsay Ashford; Elisabeth Lenckos read from her story, “Jane Austen 1945,” also a winner in the Wooing Mr. Wickham collection; and Karen Doornebos read a selection from her novel Definitely Not Mr. Darcy.  Karen’s website is here.

Karen and Victoria with a Chawton House Library poster
Sandy Lerner, seated, and Diane Capitani, JASNA-GCR education outreach coordinator
Dr. Sandy Lerner, aka Ava Farmer, author of Second Impressions, related her experience fulfilling her long-held ambition of writing a sequel to her favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice.  One of her motivations for assembling the collection of books which form the nucleus of the Chawton collection today was to immerse herself in the world and sensibilities of Jane Austen’s times, aimed at finishing that novel.  It was published recently, and is available everywhere.
Dr. Lerner is the founder and benefactor of the Chawton House Library; all proceeds from the sale of Second Impressions are donated to the library.  She told us of her many acquisitions of novels by early women writers whose work, while popular at the time, was never catalogued in libraries or preserved in any organized fashion.  She particularly was interested in works such as letters and diaries which might never have been published but had been saved among family papers.  Of particular note, she said, were accounts of travels in the 18th and early 19th centuries, often recorded for the enjoyment of family members.
Sandy Lerner; Marsha Huff, past president of JASNA; Elizabeth Garvie
Gail Murphy, Laura Whitlock, Debra Miller and William Phillips enjoy the program.

Tempting our pocketbooks were lovely items from Vintage Pine (http://www.vintagepine.com/), Figaro Interiors, and Jane Austen Books (http://www.janeaustenbooks.net/).

The lively and active JASNA-GCR group has recently updated its website, here.  Please visit soon. 

Catching Up on 2011

Victoria, here. In the early days of 2012, I find myself sorting some books I acquired in the last year and some I still have to find, many of them concerned with Jane Austen.  Gee, isn’t that a shock!

Two are short story collections.

I enjoyed many of the stories in these two collections and admired the creative ways in which Jane
Austen inspired these writers.  I recommend both.

My friend and consummate author, Carrie Bebris, published Deception at Lyme, or The Peril of Persuasion, the sixth in her Mr and Mrs. Darcy mystery series.   See her website here.  Elizabeth and Darcy have solved a number of puzzles since their first outing in  2004’s Pride and Prescience (or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged).  And more are in the works.

Here is a book I haven’t read yet, and have receive conflicting reports about: P.D. James version of Carrie’s idea of having the Darcys investigate murder: Death Comes to Pemberley.

Of course, Baroness James gets a great deal of attention from the media, and no one can say she has not had a distinguished career.  I have had many hours of delight from her books. But this one? Somehow, it smacks of jumping on the Austen bandwagon unnecessarily, but that could be unfair. I would love to hear from readers who have tried it out.  I have a copy waiting for me next month, I think, when I get to the sunny south of Florida.  I’ll report back. (Note from Kristine: Yes, it’s here waiting for you. I love James and so gave it a shot when Jo sent it to me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past Chapter Two).

Another book I will read soon is The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford. I met Ms. Ashford at the JASNA-AGM in Fort Worth TX in October 2011, but I must have been extremely distracted since her authorship of this book, talked of widely at the AGM, escaped me when we met.

This book reportedly attributes the death of Jane Austen to arsenic poisoning.  In one of those coincidences that seem to happen every so often, shortly after meeting Ms. Ashford,  I attended a talk on poisons by Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning science reporter who teaches journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is the author of The Poisoner’s Handbook, actually a catchy title for a history of forensic science in crime investigation.

Ms. Blum commented on reviews of the Ashford book and the report that a lock of Jane Austen’s hair showed evidence of arsenic when tested.  Arsenic, in Austen’s day, was a common ingredient of many lotions and potions used to whiten complexion and for dozens of other uses. It did not surprise Blum to learn of the possibility of Austen having arsenic in her system as she probably used arsenic-laced skin  products.

I have heard several people say they enjoyed Mysterious Death, so I will read it soon.  (Note from Kristine – this, too, is here waiting for you. Haven’t read it yet – too distracted by Thirkell).

I haven’t kept track of all the Austen sequels and continuations that came out recently — and there are lots of them.  I know some of the authors and they are all hard-working, devoted people — success to all of you!  For more information, take a look at the website of Austen Authors

Two quite different but related genres to the sequels are the modern restructures of the novels and the JA-experience novels.  I read two of those this year, perhaps not quite on top of their publication dates.

 The Three Weissmanns of Westport came out in paperback, and I found it an engaging read, based loosely on the plot of Sense & Sensibility.  It is well done.

Beth Pattillo’s Jane Austen Ruined My Life is also worth your time and energy.  I resisted, because JA has done ANYTHING but ruined my life!  She has provided great pleasure and stimulation, great companionship and friends, and a lifetime of interesting research topics related to her life and times.  But a very well-respected friend loved it, and so did I. (Note from Kristine – I loved it, too!)

Finally, Stella Tillyard, author of The Aristocrats, Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832, published a novel of the Peninsular War this year, another entry on my TBR list.

This is anything but an exhaustive list, but it looks like I’d better stop blogging and get reading if I am ever to catch up.  Here’s to a 2012 filled with wonderful books!

Jane Austen's 236th Birthday December 16, 2011

On Saturday, December 10, the Wisconsin region of JASNA celebrated Jane Austen’s birthday with a gala luncheon. 

Marylee Richmond and Susan Flaherty at the registration table.
Suan and Diane Judd made individual souvenirs for all participants, a series of stunning silhouettes (as below).  What an acomplishment!

We dined on individual Beef Wellingtons or Quiches, followed by delicious desserts not to be believed. (Remember, desserts is stressed spelled backwards.) 

Below, Sara Bowen and Jane Glaser have a chat before the luncheon.

Above, our Chicago colleague, William Phillips, gave the annual toast to our favorite author’s birthday.
Below, Jeff Nigro, Regional Coordinator for the neighboring Chicago group,  as he presented his talk on “Austen and the Beauty of Place.”

Jane Austen did not write a great many long descriptions of locations in her fiction.  Sometimes, Nigro said, when characters spoke rhapsodically, their fawning images illustrated the superficial nature of the speaker, such as Mr. Collins talking of Rosings (Lady Catherine’s estate) or Mrs. Elton in Emma with her inflated images of Maple Grove.
Above, Chawton House and Church, by an unknown artist

Austen favors descriptions, such as that Edward gives in Sense & Sensibility, of a landscape that unites beauty and utility.  An excellent example would be the view of Wivenhoe Park by John Constable,  1816, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C., below.

Among the best known of Austen’s landscape descriptions comes from Emma:    “It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive.” 

Nigro went on to compare such images from Austen to sets and locations used in various movie and television series based on the novels, sometimes finding the film version less than accurate.

Instead of trying to define a universal standard of beauty, he concluded, Austen raises queries about what constitutes true  beauty;  more than just a nice view, she finds perfection is based on a complex web of emotions that we bring to our personal images  — of home.  Thank you, Jeff, for your stimulating talk!

Above, Sue Zimmerman and Victoria Hinshaw

bsp;          Liz Cooper with Beverly Levin

The Wisconsin Region invites you to its website, here.
The renowned calendar prepared by Liz Philosophos Cooper and Kim Wilson has even more entries on the activities of Jane Austen, her family, and her characters to fill almost every day.  This year’s pictures are all on color, some of everyone’s favorites from the Brock Brothers. To order, contact Liz Cooper at
or click Merchandise on the website.

Below, a sample page (October 2012)