Tag Archives: Darcy

Picking Darcy’s Pocket – A Model Dinner

As people who have read my blog before may realise, my study is a little cluttered, OK very cluttered. For this reason when I am looking for something in the back of a cupboard, or a draw, I often find something I had either forgotten I had, or which I thought I had lost. This happened the other day when I came across a box containing a group of old, miniature, china.

 Model plates

Now I had been looking for this group of china ever since I saw a compete set in Lytes Cary, a National Trust house not too many miles from here. There it was suggested that it dated from about 1800 (with which I would agree) and was a travelling tradesman’s sample set (with which I disagree). The pottery is simply too coarse to be a sample set of anything other than the roughest kitchen china, and who would carry around a set of that. No, I suspect that it is an educational toy, to help a young Georgian or Regency lady learn the complicated business of laying a table.

Today we dine in courses, a dish of fish or meat or something similar is served with a range of accompanying vegetables. These are all placed on the table, served, then the table would be cleared before the next course. This is technically called dining ‘à la russe’, however in the eighteenth century the practice was for dining ‘à la française’ where all the dishes, savoury as well as sweet would be laid on the table at once, the diners would then sit and serve themselves. If there were a large number of dishes, or the dinner was very formal or elaborate there would be two or three removes, when all the dishes would be cleared and a fresh set of dishes laid on the table.

This system was so complicated that cookbooks and advice manuals gave outline plans of how the table should be laid.

 Female Instructor Family Dinner Plan

From; The Female Instructor or Young Woman’s Companion being a guide to all the accomplishments which adorn the female character C1811

And this is where I think the miniature china comes in. I believe that it would have been used by a girl in about 1800 to lay out an imaginary meal, I like to think of Georgiana Darcy with such a set, laying out an elaborate dinner, under the helpful eye of Mrs Younge (before she turned bad and tried to arrange for Wickham to seduce her). Then nervously using this knowledge to plan the dinner at Pemberley for Elizabeth and the Gardiners, that they were never to eat as the letter from Jane announcing Lydia’s elopement arrived at just the wrong time.

But what was it like to go to a real dinner at this time, that will be the subject of a later blog.

 

In May 1812, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is walking down a London street. As has been his practice of late, he had been turning over the words of Elizabeth Bennet in his mind. ‘Had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner’. Distracted, he doesn’t notice a shabby young man in a long coat brush past him. Israel Fagin, at the beginning of his long and disreputable career (which was to lead to literary fame and the condemned cell at Newgate), had taken something from his pocket – but what?

In the case of these toys, perhaps it is in about 1820, and Mr Darcy has just seen a group of china in a shop window, remembering the set his sister once owned he buys one for his own, or Jane Bingley’s, daughters.

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Picking Darcy’s Pocket – Money, money, money

In May 1812, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is walking down a London street. As has been his practice of late, he had been turning over the words of Elizabeth Bennet in his mind. ‘Had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner’. Distracted, he doesn’t notice a shabby young man in a long coat brush past him. Israel Fagin, at the beginning of his long and disreputable career (which was to lead to literary fame and the condemned cell at Newgate), had taken something from his pocket – but what?

Of course, the one thing that a pickpocket wanted to get every time was money. You could spend it straight away, it didn’t need to be sold to a fence – though in the early nineteenth century that wasn’t always true.

Though before I talk about the actual money that might have been in the pocket of a Regency gentleman, I want to consider how it might have been carried. Very low denomination coins, pennies, half pennies and farthings might have been carried loose, as they were relatively large (as I will discuss later some were very large), but as there were a number of high value, small size coins, purses were common. Banknotes were carried in pocket books, these looked exactly like modern wallets. Indeed some even have spaces that look as if they could take credit cards! – thought these were for visiting cards.

Purses were another matter, they were very varied and gentlemen, as well as women, might carry brightly coloured ones.

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Miser’s or ring purses are long, sausage shaped, purses with a slit in the middle where the coins could be inserted, then slid to one end and held in place with a moveable ring. The practice seems to have been for one end to hold lower value coins, and the other higher value. They were common from the late eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries. They were called miser’s purses because of the difficulty removing money, it takes time to get the coins out so the user seems to be reluctant to hand over their coins.

Featured imageNetted purses, this type of purse is just the sort of thing that might have been made by a lady and given to friend or relation (I can imagine Georgiana Darcy making one of these under the tutelage of her governess, the replacement for the disreputable Mrs Younge, and giving it to her brother). Netting was a very popular handicraft at that period, so much so that it led to a revolution in fashion that reverberates today. Up until the late eighteenth century women had pockets under their skirts, which were tied to a band round their waist and accessed through a slit in the skirt or petticoat. Then fashion changed, the Empire Line came in with a straight, close fitting, dresses with nowhere to hang a pocket without spoiling the line of the garment.

However ladies no took to carrying their netting equipment in small bags, which the French thought silly and called them Ridicules, in England they were welcomed and as they carried netting tools were named for the craft Reticules – from the Latin Reticulum, netting. These bags have been carried by women ever since, as the craft disappeared they were renames simply hand bags, though in America for some reason they were thought to look like purses, and that name had stuck to them.

The clasp, of gilded brass, would have been bought from a haberdasher. It was almost certainly made in Birmingham – where absolutely everything was made at this time.

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This simple leather purse is very small and plain, it has two compartments and will only hold a few coins. However in the past century it has had another, much more unusual and romantic role, holding wedding rings. At my parents wedding, at my and my brothers weddings and at my son’s wedding, the best man kept the wedding rings safe in this purse. I hope to keep up this tradition if and when my other son and nephew and nieces get married.

I am currently working on a project called Picking Darcy’s Pocket, where I will be using objects that might have been found in the pocket of a Regency gentleman, to discuss various aspects of the period. In due course I will be doing this as a lecture/ performance, but for now I am just collecting the objects real or facsimile

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The Identity of a Sequel

When you finish a novel, do you ever wonder what happens next? Do you create scenarios in your mind? The journey might have ended in lovers meeting but then? I suppose we all do, it’s fun. But, unless you are the original author, I wish people wouldn’t write them down.

I am a great fan of Jane Austen, I love her works and am fascinated by the period when she lived and wrote. But she only wrote six novels (seven if you include Lady Susan), left two unfinished and a bundle of bits and bobs she wrote whilst training to be a writer. Unfortunately generations of writers have wanted to remedy this lack of material and have written hundreds of sequels and continuations of the novels. The majority of which I find dreadful. As you might guess I am one of those irritating people who spot anachronisms in films and books. They ruin my appreciation of the work, mainly because they tell me that the author just hasn’t done their research properly.

Another issue that arises with Jane Austen is that people are constantly trying to identify the ‘real’ Mr Darcy, or claim that Chatsworth is the inspiration for Pemberley.  Despite the fact that Jane Austen herself said that her characters were all invention, and that she had too much respect for them to suggest they were based on real people.

The names she chose are another matter, authors will collect names for characters, my brother looks on gravestones for example, and if you look in Hampshire papers of the early nineteenth century you will find many of the names that appear in Jane Austen’s novels. Here is one I found a little while ago.

Featured image The steps where Louisa Musgrove fell

The Cobb in Lyme Regis, a remarkable ancient harbour, has a key role in Persuasion, Louisa Musgrove falls from steps on the Cobb, suffers severe concussion and changes her affections from one character to another. Alongside the steps, which it is almost certain Jane Austen meant in her description of the accident, is a plaque detailing repairs to the Cobb in 1793 by Captain D’Arcy! I suspect it has absolutely no connection whatsoever with the hero of Pride and Prejudice.

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The inscription celebrating the work of Captain D’Arcy

Now where is this taking us? Well, at the end of Persuasion readers will recall that the villain, William Elliot, who is also the cousin of the heroine and heir to her father’s baronetcy, is revealed to have been involved in some shady financial dealings which ruined the husband of Anne Elliot’s friend, Mrs. Smith.

Now if you were to write a sequel to Persuasion, you might set it ten years later, when Sir Walter Elliot has died, leaving his title (and not much else) to Sir William. The new baronet is still having financial problems, and hasn’t paid his taxes. Under those circumstances one might imagine his agent receiving a letter like this.

Tax Office

Jedburgh 15th Dec 1826

Gentlemen,

I cannot retain Sir William Elliot of Stobs’ Receipts for Taxes without giving them over to our Collector of Arrears in Hawick unless they are paid on or before the 26th inst. I hope you will save Sir William the additional expense which must be incurred if this is not done.

I am

Gentlemen

Your most ob serv

Geo Scott

Apart from the fact that the letter is real!

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A little while ago I bought an early nineteenth century letter as material for a project I am working on provisionally entitled, “Picking Darcy’s Pocket”, of which more another time.

A complete coincidence, but, I think, a great one.

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Filed under Jane Austen, Picking Darcy's Pocket, Regency