Father Christmas at the Fortnightly

Wasn’t it thoughtful of Jane Austen to arrive in the world near the Christmas holidays so that for all these years, her devotees could celebrate in beautifully decorated surroundings and toast not only her birthday but also the Winter Solstice, the Festival of Lights, Christmas, Kwanza, and many other events, not to forget the New Year.

One of many Christmas Trees
Victoria here, inviting you to share a celebration held on Saturday, December 5, 2015, at Chicago’s Fortnightly. Every year on the first weekend of the month, JASNA-GCR holds a tea at this beautiful club just north of the Magnificent Mile (by the way, the stores and streets were mobbed with busy shoppers).  
Another St. Nick
This year, the speaker was Sara Bowen, on “Village Life in Jane Austen’s World”: The View from the Parsonage,” a talk enthusiastically and gratefully received by the large audience. Ms. Bowen first presented this talk at the JASNA AGM in Louisville last October; she is a popular speaker at AGMs and many other JASNA events.
Sara Bowen
Ms. Bowen told us that the rector of the village church might be a very lonely post; he might even be one of the only literate people in the community.  He often held additional responsibilities besides his church, including supervising the farming of his glebe property and schooling young boys in preparation for schools such as Eton or Winchester. A large percentage of Anglican rectors were also magistrates or Justices of the Peace. As one of the leading citizens of the area, he might also be called upon to settle all sorts of disagreements and to supervise whatever educational opportunities there were for young people.
Some parsons spent time on their sermons, while others read previously collected works to their congregation, many of whom might respond as below.
The Sleeping Congregation by William Hogarth, 1736, 1764
Some of the few sources on actual village life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were the letters, diaries and memoirs of clergymen and their families.  George Crabbe’s writings include poetry and present a realistic view of life.
George Crabbe 1754-1832
Letters and Journals 1781-1832
William Jones left a readable diary, often available only in specialized libraries, but an excellent source.
William Jones’ Churchyard
Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
Also of value are the sketches, watercolors, and oils of artists of the time such as those of George Morland and William H. Pyne.
A Village Fete by William Henry Pyne, 1791

James Woodforde and his left valuable accounts of village life, some available at the Parson Woodforde Society, here. His niece Nancy Woodforde also left some interesting diaries as well as her day books.

The Rectory where Jane Austen lived as the daughter of the rector in the Hampshire village
of Steventon from her birth in 1775 to 1800 when the family moved to Bath
All in all, these views of village life add greatly to our understanding of Austen’s life and work. They provide an excellent context for her novels and her letters, which are so full of comments on friends and family, most of whom lived in Hampshire villages. 
Thanks to Sara Bowen, JASNA-GCR, the Fortnightly, and our ever-fascinating birthday girl, Jane Austen.  


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