Tag Archives: Emma

Blunders in two Emmas or Anachronistic Tree Blossoms

Jane Austen planned her stories very carefully. She seems to have worked out the action of her tales with a calendar or diary beside her. This has meant that later scholars could work out exactly when they were written but, apart from Persuasion, the actual year the tale is set doesn’t seem to have mattered to Jane Austen. Rather she wanted to avoid the mistakes of other novelists, who can suggest June lasts eight weeks, or summer has eight or nine months.


Another aspect of her work is the absence of description, we hardly know what any character or place looked like, so when she does describe a scene it is noteworthy. This comes from Emma, in the novel we are told that it is in June, a party is going to Donwell Abbey to pick strawberries, when they stopped to look at Abbey Mill Farm.


The considerable slope, at nearly the foot of which the Abbey stood, gradually acquired a steeper form beyond its grounds; and at half a mile distant was a bank of considerable abruptness and grandeur, well clothed with wood; and at the bottom of this bank, favourably placed and sheltered, rose the Abbey Mill Farm, with meadows in front, and the river making a close and handsome curve around it.

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.

….. There had been a time also when Emma would have been sorry to see Harriet in a spot so favourable for the Abbey Mill Farm; but now she feared it not. It might be safely viewed with all its appendages of prosperity and beauty, its rich pastures, spreading flocks, orchard in blossom, and light column of smoke ascending.

And this is one of Jane Austen’s most famous mistakes. Can you spot it? well here’s a clue. These pictures were taken in our village orchard yesterday, 7th May.

The apple trees are in full bloom, indeed some are already beginning to go over. As Edward, Jane’s brother, who was a very practical gentleman farmer said.
“Jane, where did you get those apple trees that blossom in June?”


Fast forward two hundred years, to the latest film version of Emma, a very entertaining version, with absolutely brilliant costumes. When it comes to the proposal scene, in the film given as mid-summer, in the book it can be dated to 9th July. Emma is seen standing by a Horse Chestnut tree in full bloom,

and guess what is also flowering in our village at this very moment.

Did the film maker deliberately reference Jane’s blunder, or did she just think that the candles of a Horse Chestnut make a beautiful backdrop to a pretty young woman, as indeed they do.


Filed under Gardens, Georgian, Jane Austen, Regency

The Wizard of the North

Written in response to Charli Mills May 18, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a wise story. It can be about wisdom, expressing wisdom or advice for turning 50! It can be a wise-cracking story, too. Go where wisdom leads you. So I am writing about a real wizard, though this is not one of my imagined historical events, as most of the words are not my own.


The Wizard of the North

“Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones.”

“But Jane, nobody knows who wrote it. How can you be so sure?”

“Because it is just like him, but it’s not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and shouldn’t be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.”

Cassandra smiled as her sister picked up the book again.

 “I do not like him.” Jane continued, “And do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must.” Silently she thought, “I wonder if he will like Emma?”

He did.


Emma title


Sir Walter Scott, who was known as The Wizard of the North, was a very well-known and successful poet, so he published his first novel Waverley anonymously and for years no one knew for certain who had written it. Jane Austen, however identified the author almost immediately. All her words in the above passage are taken directly from her letters.  Emma was published shortly after Waverley, Sir Walter Scott was delighted with the novel and gave it what we would call a rave review in The Quarterly, the top literary magazine of the day.


Purists may notice that, in order to meet the word count, I have edited Jane Austen’s words slightly, turning is not into isn’t and should not into shouldn’t.


Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Jane Austen, Literary puzzle, Regency

Jane Austen the apt Nomenclator

This is the first of my series of blogs, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.

Like many writers Jane Austen was a nomenclator, in that she is the first recorded user of particular words or phrases. In her case the Oxford English Dictionary credits her with four neologisms.

This would not be unusual, however what is unusual is that all of the terms she pioneered are very apt for the ‘domestic’ nature of her works. In most cases the nature of the authors work has nothing to do with the type of word they used for the first time. For example one of the words credited to Johnathon Swift in Gulliver’s Travels is a term for the measurement of agricultural land.

The four words or phrases credited to Jane Austen are;

Double-bedded 1798 In a letter dated 24th October. ‘We have one double-bedded and one single-bedded room.’


Illustration to Emma by Hugh Thompson

Sponge-cake, 1808 In a letter dated 17th June. ‘You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.’


Illustration to Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thompson

Dinner-party, 1816 In Emma ‘He was much out of humour at not being able to come even to Hartfield for forty-eight hours without falling in with a dinner-party.’


Illustration to Sense and Sensibility by Hugh Thompson

Door-bell, 1817 In Persuasion ‘Lady Russell could not hear the door-bell.’

So if you ever leave your double bedded room, ring the doorbell to be admitted to a dinner party, where you enjoy a sponge cake. You can thank Jane Austen.


Filed under Georgian, Jane Austen, Regency

Eggs for Easter – in the time of Jane Austen

I recently came across a couple of curious egg cups, they bear the inscriptions, ‘[A] Trifle from Ramsgate’ and ‘A Present from Clifto[n]’. They date from the early nineteenth century and are tourist souvenirs.

Then, as now, Ramsgate was a seaside resort on the Kent coast, and so was an obvious place from which a souvenir might be sent. Clifton was a fashionable part of Bristol (I believe it still is) and was where Jane Austen moved with her mother and sister after her father’s death. It was also just above the Hotwells, a spa which had a certain popularity, Catherine Morland missed out on a trip there in Northanger Abbey, but it never seriously rivalled Bath and was in decline by the 1820’s.

Egg production, was unusual in British agriculture, it was essentially a female pursuit. In The Lady’s Country Companion, the indomitable Mrs Louden tells her correspondent;

My hints for teaching you how to enjoy a country life would be sadly deficient if I were to omit poultry, as the duties of attending on them are so completely feminine, that even in farm-houses they are entirely under the care of females; and, indeed, few artists or authors would think a picture of rural life complete, if they did not introduce into it the image of a fair young girl feeding poultry.

She then quotes a few paragraphs from a popular novel, before returning to her usual style.

I must now, however, return from the region of poetry to plain matter of fact.

And goes on to discuss the correct methods of heating a hen house, and ways of looking after chickens.

As poultry rearing was such a feminine occupation it is hardly surprising that Lady Lucas was concerned to know about her married daughter’s, ‘health and poultry’, whilst it was the theft of Mrs Weston’s turkeys that finally precipitated Emma and Mr Knightly’s marriage.

Stephens curing a sick chicken by hunting it round the yard – Harriet and Diana looking on.
An unusual method of curing a sick chicken, drawn by the talented Diana Sperling, and published many years ago as Mrs Hurst Dancing.

Eggs were semi seasonal, in that far fewer were laid in the winter than in the summer, recipes abound for preserving eggs, and for testing that they were fresh. Indeed it was around Easter time that hens began to lay well again, and the price of eggs dropped. Eggs for breakfast were commonplace.

After seeing William to the last moment, Fanny walked back to the breakfast-room with a very saddened heart to grieve over the melancholy change; and there her uncle kindly left her to cry in peace, conceiving, perhaps, that the deserted chair of each young man might exercise her tender enthusiasm, and that the remaining cold pork bones and mustard in William’s plate might but divide her feelings with the broken egg-shells in Mr. Crawford’s.

And they were cooked in similar fashion to today.

Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see–one of our small eggs will not hurt you.

Actually Mr Woodhouse is right to praise Serle, as to successfully soft boil an egg in days before egg timers took quite a bit of skill.

An if you want to enjoy chocolate in the manner of Jane Austen, you will have to wait until after dinner – and drink it.


Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Regency

Beer for the memory, or Ales well that ends well.

A curious article in the Daily Telegraph suggests that Beer, instead of being drunk in pints in a pub, should be drunk with food, like wine. Whilst the subject of the article, a ‘beer sommelier’ sounds rather pretentious, the idea was immediately attacked, with a good deal of humour, in the newspapers opinion column.

However, despite what the paper said, instead of being a very new concept, the idea of drinking high quality beer in small glasses with food is actually an old one. I own a small, late eighteenth century glass, it is slightly larger than contemporary wine glasses and is clearly a beer glass. The reason I know it is a beer glass is the engraving. On one side is a sprig of barley, on the other a bunch of hops, the principle ingredients of beer.

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Hops & Barley

I have, of course, tried drinking a good quality beer out of the glass, and it tastes very nice indeed, especially as one is almost forced by the size of the glass to sip the brew. This is one historical reconstruction I am happy to try (unlike the reconstruction I described in an earlier blog). These would, perhaps, have been used by a landowner who was proud of the beer produced on his estate, to try and give a Jane Austen link, I can easily imagine Mr Knightley being proud of the good beer produced on the Donwell estate, showing it off to his neighbour Mr Weston (who we know enjoyed ‘good wine’) or discussing its manufacture with Robert Martin, the young farmer interested in agricultural improvements.

Good quality beer has a long history;

Turkeys, Heresy, Hops and Beer

Came into England all in one year

Goes the old rhyme, remembering the introduction of hops as a flavouring for beer in the early sixteenth century. Then towards the end of the century a remarkable discovery was made. Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral was a keen fisherman. One day he decided to go fishing and packed a picnic, for drink he took a couple of bottles and filled them with beer. At the time beer was kept in barrels, whilst bottles were only used for bringing drink from the cellar to the table. To make sure the drink didn’t get spilt he pushed a cork firmly in the neck and tied it down. Walking the short distance along the banks of the Thames from St Paul’s into the countryside he paced the bottles under a hedge to keep them cool. He had very good sport that day and forgot about his beer.

A week or so later he returned to his fishing spot, and found the bottles. Curious to see what the beer tasted like after having been left of so long, he opened one bottle and tried it, it was amazing, it was light and sparkling. He had discovered bottled beer! As a good renaissance man he experimented and soon had discovered how to make this delightful, refreshing drink. A generation later a Herefordshire gentleman tried the same experiment with wine, the newly formed Royal Society published his discovery, it was translated into French, who then claimed sparkling wine was their discovery.

It was another clergyman who made a key invention in the enjoyment of good wine and beer, the corkscrew. Based on the screw used to clean out a musket, the corkscrew was perhaps the finest example of turning a sword into a ploughshare.


Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Regency

Putting Lead in a Pencil – reconstructing the first propelling pencil

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. I will be using either genuine or facsimile artefacts, and was recently thinking about writing equipment. A gentleman might have a pen, ‘travelling’ pens were made where the nib was fitted into the handle and there were ‘travelling’ inkwells with specially tight lids, but these often leaked. Therefore more commonly gentlemen used pencils when travelling. Most pencils were similar to those we use today, a lead made from a strip of graphite, surrounded by a wooden sheath. Though there was one slight difference, as the graphite was quite valuable the end of the pencil had no lead in it, hence in Emma. ‘It was the end of an old pencil,—the part without any lead.’ But our gentleman might have had a propelling pencil. The mechanical pencil as we know it was invented in the 1820’s, but before that there was a curious wooden propelling pencil. The only surviving examples come from two shipwrecks, on opposite sides of the world. HMS Pandora which was wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef in 1791 and the East Indiaman Earl of Abergavenny which sank in Weymouth Bay in 1805. I have often handled the examples from the latter wreck, so decided to try and make a copy. The version was made of balsa wood, as it is easy for the unskilled worker to carve. I also made the pencil thicker than the original, simply because I didn’t have the tools to do the fine carving, that the Georgian carpenter would have had.

Featured image  Featured imageCarving the two sections

First the two halves of the pencil were cut out, and the ‘male’ and ‘female’ section were carved. The groove in the ‘female’ was the hardest part to carve as when fitted together it has a dovetail section. When the two parts slid together easily the pencil was whittled to give it a circular section.

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Fitting the two sections together

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The final cross section, showing the ‘dovetail section of the joint and the grove for the lead.

The pencils from the Earl of Abergavenny have square ends, they were part of a collection of artists equipment being taken out to India and the Far East for sale to western artists, and would have been trimmed to a point. Ordinary pencils found on the Abergavenny also awaited trimming (just like modern pencils) the one from the Pandora had been pointed. Featured image

The reconstructed pencils. Featured image

Using the reconstructed pencil.

The pencil works by holding a separate lead in a groove in the ‘male’ section. It is held in place by pressure between the two parts of the pencil. As it wears out it can be pulled down, until the lead has to be replaced. This must have been a very inefficient system as, when the modern type of propelling pencil was developed in the 1820s, this type of pencil vanished almost completely. As for the phrase ‘Putting Lead in your Pencil’, signifying increasing male sexual potency, that phrase must be connected with a propelling pencil (the only type of pencil you can put lead into), but is recorded no earlier than the 1940s (in Australia) though I suspect is very much earlier. It leads to my next Regency reconstruction, but that will be another story.


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