Queer History (Part 1): 18th Century

I, stupidly, checked my comments recently and approved (yes, I can approve or trash comments and mostly I approve them-even the hate filled ones) a commentary from someone stating that they find my Mary Anning post to be racist and anti-Queer because I didn’t like how the filmmaker made Mary Anning a lesbian. Well, I didn’t like the representation because it was poorly written and just historically inaccurate on too many levels. But, to show that I DO actually understand Queer History, I have been compiling, and working on, blog posts showing history we need to be aware of.

For today’s awesome look at Queer History, let’s delve into the Macaroni Scandal of 1772 (and no, this ain’t cheddar).

stovetop Mac and Cheese in bowl with fork
Macaroni & Cheese. Sadly, nothing this delicious is the point of this blog. Courtesy of Cookingclassy.com
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The Macaroni by Philip Dawes, circa 1773. Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

A Macaroni (sometimes spelled Maccaroni) is not the infamous Blue Box we know associate the word with. If you are familiar with the term dandy, then this was what a dandy was called prior to the 1800s. If you don’t know what a dandy is, then the most current modern equivalent would probably be metrosexual. Macaronis were effeminate (often outlandishly so) aristocratic or bourgeoisie men who would mix English and Latin together when talking (often called Macaronic Langauge). They were the extreme influencers of their time, but existed on the fringes of Society. They dressed in ways that skewed feminine and masculine ideals, they exhibited behaviors seen as being effeminate, though there is evidence of the style and way of living as being more gender neutral: “There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately [1770] started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion” (quoted from the Oxford Magazine in 1770 and fond in Shipley’s article from 1984). And while we (historians and Austen aficionados) tend to think of Macaronis as being queer (i.e. homosexuals), perhaps the truth was they also had a range within themselves, having those who were masculine at one end, feminine at the other, and these neutrals in the middle (the Macaroni Rainbow, as it were). I myself had no idea there could be anything other than the effeminate Macaroni before researching this.

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The lyrics from Yankee Doodle, a song that predates the American Revolution. Public Domain Image

If you have ever attended school in America, at some point you may have sung “Yankee Doodle” and probably never thought about the line bout the feather in the cap an the word Macaroni. In reality, the song is stating, in a very funny way, that the Colonists lived in such a backwater area of the world, the thought of adding a mere feather to one’s hat made the person a “Macaroni.” So, it’s funny, but in a way that we don’t quite understand in today’s world. It’s a part of our history that we have forgotten, sadly, because it’s important to Queer History more than anything else. Side note, I have discovered that the tune to Yankee Doodle possibly goes back to the 14th-16th C (or even earlier) and the song itself is the State song of Connecticut (I suspect this will end up on an episode of Jeopardy or has already made an appearance). Peter McNeil, who studies fashion an design, was quoted in Studies in Ephemera, that the Macaroni Sub-Culture could be seen as a precursor the the Molly Sub-Culture, which then morphed into Victorian Gay Culture, and is part of the evolution of the LGTBQ+ community (Past & Present). Dear Reader, such insight blew my mind. Molly Culture is something I will be discussing in the near future, but knowing there was an earlier culture? Incredible! And if you think Macaroni culture was just a passing phase, Oliver Goldsmith mentions it in his 1773 play, She Stoops to Conquer, which makes his play contemporary to the scandal. Ah yes, the scandal.

Two Ladies and an Officer Seated at Tea
1715, Two Ladies & an Officer Seated at Tea (attributed to the Dutch School). Courtesy of the V&A Musuem

1772 was not a good year for Captain Robert Jones. Jones was convicted of Sodomy in July 1772 in the Old Bailey (well-known Court) and sentenced to hang. Pedophilia as something that was, perhaps, not seen as a crime in those days because the person Jones had sex with was a 13 year old boy. A boy, Francis Henry Hay, who from his testimony, was groomed and had been “readied” for sex. The age of consent for males was 14 at this time, so if the child had been 14, he would have been convicted for Sodomy as well. Now, this is the shocking part, Robert ones was given a Royal Pardon in August that same year. George III was not “mad” at this time in his reign, so he knowingly and willingly pardoned a person who raped a child. Scandalous, is it not? So, what makes this something we should know about? Well, firstly, that Sodomy was considered a crime prior to Oscar Wilde (for some reason, people think it was made a crime at that time in history, when it predates Wilde by over 100 years). Also, to acknowledge homosexuals did exist in Society, at all levels of Society, and have for hundreds and thousands of years. Jones was most likely given a Royal Pardon because he was so well-liked by Society (sad, but true). Jones petitioned and was granted a stay of execution, which equates to a pardon, with the understanding he had to exile himself from England. He was a lieutenant in the British Army, but seemed to have been called “Captain” as a sort of nickname (perhaps one he gave himself). Jones was popular for writing two books. The first on figure skating that went thorough several printings in 1772 and was very, very popular. He also wrote a book on fireworks that was published in 1765. Both books helped make such things acceptable and popular outdoor forms of entertainment. Ice skating had been around for years prior to Jones’ book, but his was the first known book on figure skating, with details on how to do maneuvers like the Flying Mercury.

Masquerades in the Pleasure Gardens | Museum of London
April 1795 Masquerade by Laurie & Whittle of London. Courtesy of the Museum of London

It seemed Robert was also very well-known for his costuming choices in masquerades and often written about in gossip news-sheets and mentions in letters (and diaries). So, his trial, and the after effects, would have been well-documented because he was such a pubic figure, which is a boon for us. He exiled himself to the South of France, where he live with another young boy (and yes, it was written that this boy & lover was lovely, which makes me sick). Now, you may ask, why should we talk about this guy? Well, first because this was very much a public trial. This was OJ Simpson type of news media coverage. For a subculture, the Macaronis, were under extreme scrutiny because of the disgusting actions of Robert Jones. It must have been devastating to try and live at a time when knowledge that one could be executed for being gay is ever present. As for the pedophilia, it is a disgusting thing to state, but there is still this belief that having sex with a virgin (male or female) can cures diseases. Back in the 17th Century, men with syphilis would often rape boys and girls, trying to cure their own disease, but managed to infect young children, who died from it. Today, men with HIV & AIDS continue to rape children thinking a virgin will cure them of the disease. I do sometimes wonder if some of the pedophilia I have come across in regards to homosexuality, could possibly be linked to this mindset. Then again, I kind of want them to be gutted publicly for the harm they caused.

17th and 18th century broadsides and pamphlets, 11 volumes | English  Literature, History, Science, Children's Books and Illustrations Online |  Books & Manuscripts | Sotheby's
17th C Broadsheet of the Execution of King Charles. Courtesy of Sothebys

Now, you may ask, was Jones the only scandal to take place in 1772? No, he wasn’t but he is the most well known. The second one is Samuel Drybutter. Poor Samuel lived life as an open gay man in the 18th Century. Probably not the wisest choice to make. He has a well documented case history of brushes with the law, primarily dealing with his selling of luxury items and accusations of theft, fraud, etc. But, what is most interesting, is starting in 1770, he is being charged and convicted of solicitation of men for sex in St. James’ Park. Drybutter is a very repeat offender in this area. From 1770 until about 1781, there are at least two arrests per year regarding Samuel and his attempt to pick up men. A few of them, unfortunately, are also of young men (possibly boys), which considering most of his interactions are with adult men, one does wonder if seeking young men (or boys) was his belief in the syphilis (or another STD) cure, or if he was also a pedophile. Drybutter notoriously allowed Jones to stay with him after the pardon and before Jones left for Europe. Samuel was known to be a prominent member of the Macaroni Club, meaning Society knew he was gay and had known for a long time. Samuel fled to Europe in 1781 after beaten almost to his death, dying abroad in 1787. He continued to live as an openly gay man, which really was a very difficult thing to do at this time.

Samuel Drybutter | British Museum
Satirical Print featuring Samuel Drybutter by Matthew Darly, 1771-1772. Courtesy of the British Museum

1772 was also bad for us Theatre folk as Isaac Bickerstaffe had to flee England for an unknown crime (possibly sodomy). Bickerstaffe was a very popular operatic comedy writer and friend to David Garrick (yes THAT Garrick). He was known to have had a long standing affair with a male opera dancer (no hint of underage shenanigans, thank goodness), and possibly he may have been Garrick’s lover. Possibly as Garrick quite adamantly distanced himself from his once close friend in 1772, even going so far as to refuse to lend the poor man money or even answer his letters. The letters, strangely enough, Garrick kept. Now, considering how difficult it was to be involved in Theatre (even now, there are myths that anyone involved in Theatre is promiscuous for some reason and if by promiscuous, you infer drinking copious amounts of caffeine), it is no wonder Garrick distanced himself from Isaac and homosexuality. Isaac was never a popular writer after he fled and lived in self-exile. He continued to write and send plays to people who could have performed them, bringing him back to his former fame and fortune. Yet that threat of sodomy (and the executions) kept him in poverty and in obscurity.

Love in a village ... The fourth edition. By Isaac Bickerstaffe - Isaac  BICKERSTAFFE - Google Books
Bickerstaffe’s most popular work, which is available for free via Googlebooks.

This brings us back too the concept of the Macaroni. Captain Jones, because his case was the biggest scandal in 1772, was often referred to as the Military Macaroni. Recall, earlier I mentioned Macaronis were more of a style and way of living, not a sexuality. BUT, by equating Jones WITH that lifestyle, one can see how we start to equate certain styles of dress and fashion with sexuality (fashion and sexuality have always been linked, but the concept of linking very specific ways of dressing with sexuality was not, to my current knowledge, that commonplace in previous centuries). If Macaronis tended to be more gender fluid (as in embracing aspects of both genders), then Jones did more harm to the acceptance of homosexuality in the 18th and 19th C by being associated with them. We should discuss, at the same time, how the idea of being flamboyant, or effeminate, now equated male homosexuality and how, the reverse, of being a butch or masculine, (or rough manners) must have also starting to be formed for female homosexuality. We still deal with the aftereffects of this mindset to this day. Major cosmetic companies still have trouble catering products to men because makeup is seen as effeminate, and therefore, unacceptable. If it is perfectly fine for me to have, and use, a face wash, face scrub, toner, moisturizer, and sunscreen, then is should be as acceptable for my BF to do the same (which he has 3 separate products, I am very proud to say). Even though, historically, makeup was worn primarily by men (same with lace, ribbons, bright pastels and silk stockings WITH red heeled shoes). Makeup is just makeup. It should be gender free because it was originally gender free. Ancient Egyptians of both genders wore makeup. So yes, I do blame Captain Jones for starting this division as to what each gender should adhere to. Personally, I also think the bastard should have been executed for raping a child on numerous occasions (because sexually abusing a child is never OK). And because we have no definite way of knowing when gender roles became so rigid, he is now my personal whipping post.

See Stunning Photos of King Tut's Tomb After a Major Restoration - HISTORY
A mural from King Tutankhamen’s Tomb. We should all aspire to that level of eyeliner. Courtesy of National Geographic

Because we have so little positive examples of Queer History out there, I would love a fake historical novel about a Macaroni who lived during this chaotic time and died sometime around 1830. Because it would be an interesting way of looking at what any person who wasn’t straight had to be confronted with, especially when it comes to this scandalous year and the aftereffects. I am also humble enough to know that I am not the right person to write such a tale. I struggle enough as it is writing my male characters, so only writing from the perspective of one is beyond my abilities as a writer. But it is a thought, a wish, that I hope may inspire someone to write such a story.

GET TO KNOW: ZACK PINSENT - HEY GIRL MAGAZINE
Zack Pinsent, courtesy of Hey Girl Magazine. I would love to meet this man and get sewing tips!

The only modern person whom I can think of who truly embodies the whole Marconi/Dandy aesthetic, if we really want to be 18th & 19th C nitpicky here (and I am), is Zack Pinsent of Pinsent Tailoring. He is a very proud member of the LGTBQ+ community in England and when I am trying to wrap my head around how a Macaroni, or even a Regency Dandy, may have dressed, this is the guy I look to. Plus, he really helps me, who loves the fashions and dearly wants to have a few Regency Era dresses to gander about in, understand the sewing of such garments much better and the social implications they may have had. Because, Dear Reader, I am always wanting to better my own understanding of this Era that any useful source of information must be a boon. But also, I mention Zack Pinsent because I am not a gay man. I would have no idea the struggles a gay man in our time, let alone the time of Austen, many have faced. Zack is, I will gladly admit, one of the reasons for this look into Queer History and Austen (this is also why I looked into the history of people of color prior o the 20th C). Because I want to know more and do the characters I have planned to be these representations to do justice to people like Isaac Bickerstaffe, the Macaroni Set, the Mollys, the Boston Marriages.

Part 2 will be a look back at people before the 18th C (which is why it will not be so in depth), then I hope to give a glorious account of Boston Marriages, the Molly Set and Mademoiselle de Beaumont. I have already mentioned the glorious William Brown in the last Part of my Black History Month blog posts, but I many mention them again 🙂

I must also report that I have eaten Pheasant (because, research). Smells a bit like turkey, so a bit gamy meets poultry. Tastes bland, like really bland turkey. I can see why they used so many sauces back then. The cats, however, enjoyed it greatly.

Resources:

Dominic Janes (Keele Uiversity): Macaroni Scandal article for The Conversation (July 2018)

Joseph Twadell Shipley, The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots (JHU Press) 1984:143.

Murphy, Kevin; O’Driscoll, Sally (2013). Studies in Ephemera: Text & Image in 18th C Print

richtornorton.co.uk (this is my go-to for any and all research and sexuality in the 18th C)

homohistory.com

pinsenttailoring.co.uk

heygirlmagazine.com

historic-uk.com

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Re-Editing, Re-editing, and Re-editing

For roughly almost all of last year, I did not work on my first novel at all. One, it was hard because COVID had all of us hunkering down and stressed out that trying to do anything that required a lot of concentration was just pointless. This doesn’t’ mean I wasn’t working on any writing projects. I did many blog posts that were dear to my heart (and a few of those that I started researching last year will finally be completed this year because, yes, I DO take my time with researching and writing these posts). Plus I did more research (general) into the 19th C for the other 5 novels (6 Austen variations because there are 6 completed Austen novels). Then I decided to do some research into Faerie Tales (because I had once scribbled an idea back when I was 15 that I do think may be fun projects). I also adopted another cat (Parker) as companion to Henry. Met a wonderful guy (and still going strong over a year later), watched a lot of films, read a lot of books. Gained a bit of weight (as did we all I imagine). But now, I am back on board with re-editing my novel. Egads!

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney | Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog
JJ Fields as Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey). Courtesy of Pinterest. Also the namesake of my cat, Henry.

So, what’s it like to come back to a novel that once was all consuming, read it, and discover that there are parts you no longer like? A bit weird, to be completely honest. In a way, I feel closer to Jane Austen (who famously re-wrote her novels over and over again, over a period of years) and other writers, both departed and contemporary. We must, after all, be our own worst critic and our most fervent admirer. Re-reading my own novel is surreal. There is no other way to describe it (unless we want to say it’s a bit like schadenfreude, except we are taking our pleasure from our own misfortune). There are parts that I immediately know must be cut because they do nothing to advance the tale. There are parts that can easily be condensed and explained in a sentence or two instead of paragraph after paragraph. In some ways, I was much more into describing than showing, which is a fault most (academically trained) writers probably have. This is why we edit.

Jane Austen Manuscript Chapter 10
Jane Austen’ editing process. Courtesy of the British Library.

Both Cassandra and Henry Austen made statements in their later lives regarding Jane’s writing process. It should come to no surprise that she had outlines and knew how she wanted each of her noels to end (I do that as well). But like most writers, even she probably acknowledged that after writing and editing the first time, sometime things have to be changed because what you thought may have been a good choice (like a name or even an ending), just doesn’t work as well. It seems Jane was forever rewriting her novels into newer drafts, editing them, changing them, chipping way at the excess until she deemed them to be ready to be published. And that is all I am doing as well. Since the age of 19, I had outlined and had these thoughts of re-working Jane’s novels in such a way as to include a bit more history (because we are so removed from her time, we forget some of the most basic knowledge her audience had, we no longer have), but in a way that is fun and gives us the endings we want, but in a different way. Now, in my naivete, I did write a fan letter to Jane Odiwe when I was 19, wanting some advice from an author I admired about whether or not my idea would work. Now, not to besmirch Odiwe (for I do admire her for her storytelling and her love of Austen), imagine how shocked I was when her “Searching For” series started coming out and I realized my fan letter from all those years ago, when I had stupidly written her an outline of my idea, became her reality.

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe
Courtesy of Amazon

Then, I read it. Well, not all of them, just the one regarding Captain Wentworth because it was the one I had foolishly outlined for her in that letter years ago. Dear Reader, hers is enjoyable, but nothing like mine. Other than taking the name (because I did give her the title of my novel as Searching for Captain Wentworth), and the premise of time travel (which, thankfully, I abandoned when I was 21 and opted for another route), I know my novel will not suffer nor (hopefully) be compared to hers. Now, I do not blame Jane Odiwe. After all, a fan letter from over 20 years ago (to which I never received any reply and please recall this was early in the age of emails and twitter did not exist), to which she may have read (or had been read for her and to her), probably installed a nugget of an idea that inspired her. For that, I am humbled because what she ended up writing is nothing to what my plans have become. While hers has involved time travel, and not much accuracy in terms of history, they are sweet pieces of fiction and, dare I state, love letters to Austen herself. While my concept is more about fleshing out some of the characters and giving a bit of background, with some fantasy and witticisms thrown in for good measure. The hard part, of course, is the whole getting of an agent. Because my original title was stolen, I had to change mine. And because it sounds similar to Odiwe’s, some agents refuse to read even the first chapter.

Inside Out in the Office: A Closer Look at Anger
Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Courtesy of Pixar/Disney

Does this anger me? Of course! I’ve also gotten comments such as I seem to write English fairly well for someone with my name (because people with Arabic names can clearly not understand the complexities of the English tongue), or I had no right to be writing Austen (because it’s only the domain of….whites?). I’ve even had agents state my novel is too ambitious (and too much like Austen), I should consider throwing in sex scenes instead of wanting to keep it sex free. The audacity of it all (because while Austen did not show sex and her novels are really sex-free, she did include romance and sensuality, which I have striven to retain). Having not touched it for a year, I am more determined than ever to edit it (again, for it seems to be the 6th or 7th time now), really make it as good as I can, then query agents again later this year. Yes, I expect I will have more rejection letters than acceptance. Yes, I still struggle with HOW to query successfully because no matter how many blog posts and tips (and hints) agents have given, none of them have worked for me.

3 Ways to Get a Literary Agent - Keller Media, Inc.
Courtesy of Keller Media

There is, of course, the more modern route which is to self publish. My boyfriend has self published 2 novels and 1 collection of short stories (and no, I have not read them). I will most likely self publish my poetry (literary agents for poetry is almost non existent and I’m sure the competition is even harder). I do plan on sending poems out to online journals and other publications to get some in print, because I do think having some of it out there would be a good thing. I have, over the past 2-3 years, have sent them to online magazines and journals with no response, but hopefully that will change. Of course, I have also, technically, self published a few poems here on this blog (and a few on Poetry.com-remember that old site? Those poems are long gone, in terms of online presence as I do have them written down). And I did get one or two published in my college days (and one in my high school days as well). So, I have no issues with going this route for poetry. But for the novels? Perhaps I am a bit old fashioned but I really do want to try and find an agent. I know so many books on Amazon are self published (it seems so many go this route and the offerings can be incredible to god awful all in one book that has to be split into 3 or more). And while that is an option, I want the agent for the simple reason that I want to see my books in stores. I want to see them in libraries. I want this little bit of myself to outlive me in print form (my immortality, as it were). Would it be nice to know that 200 years from now, my works could inspire others? Of course! I’d be pleased if my works inspired someone even 10 years down the road!

So, back to editing. That dreaded business for which others have worked with professionals. And yes, a professional editor would probably be very helpful. Yet I want to work the story to the best of my ability FIRST, then sending it off to an agent (hopefully). And then, if an editor is brought in, I would not mind. I see professional editors as that final step in polishing a work. My novel is still a bit rough, so to speak, and I want to be able to smooth it out and have that knowledge that I did so before even thinking of handing it off. Because what I know I can chip away, an editor may also chip away, or they may chip away more than what I think should be done. While I always am astounded with the stories coming out with people who wrote and then found an agent, and saw their book published all during the lockdowns, that is not normal when it comes to the literary world. For one thing, having these tales out and about make it seem as if writing a novel and getting signed to an agency is extremely easy ad those of us who struggle MUST be lacking in some way. This is simply not true. For a novel to have been written, queried, signed, then published in the span of 10 months tells me (as it should others) that the novel is probably very rough or very short and most likely (and I hate to write this), but not well written. Most novels take 2 years MINIMUM from when they are accepted to when they are published. Sometimes more IF one does not have an agent is is looking for one. In other words, this is not a fast sprint to the finish line. This is carving Michelangelo’s DAVID.

Why Tom Holland's Spider-Man/Peter Parker Is The Worst One Yet |  Moviedash.com
Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yes, the inspiration for my cat, Parker/Peter Parker). Courtesy of MCU/SONY

Like any long term anything, patience, fortitude, and stamina is key. Now, with the whole COVID thing, I know my Depression & Anxiety have gotten worse, which means my attention span is not the best.

Red squirrel - Wikipedia
Red Squirrel. Courtesy of Wikipedia. And yes, my attention span has sometimes been THAT short.

HOWEVER, with things improving, and hopefully some medication tweaks, my attention span will be much improved and I can edit for longer periods of time rather than doing half a chapter a week. Naturally, editing on a computer screen is also not ideal, but I am determined to do this more choppy edit on the computer first. Then I may consider getting it all printed out and doing a more traditional edit like Austen did (and that I did my second time around too). So, I am basically trying to tell you, Dear Reader, that if you are also in a similar boat as I am, and struggling with writing or editing, take a break. Walk away for a bit. It seems a bit daft, but it helps. It truly does. I do believe not looking at it for abut a year has made it easier for me to make those bigger edits that the novel needs to be a better, more cohesive, story. We do, after all, tend to get very attached to our writings and it’s hard to look at it objectively when the struggle, the effort it took to bring it all about is still so fresh. IF you are doing a dissertation (as I have friends who are currently doing this), walking away for a long period of time is NOT doable. Sadly. BUT (and this is vitally important), walking away for a day or two does help.

Pin on Writing Superboards
Found on Pinterest

Witting is a process and when you first get everything down, like any parent, you think it’s a masterpiece and utter perfection. Dear Reader, it is not. And that can be very hard to understand as well as being very hard to accept. Now, I did do 2 edits back to back after I first finished the novel over 2 years ago, walked way, then came back after a mere 3 weeks and did, I believe, 2 or 3 more edits. It was not enough time for I was still too much attached to certain passages and characters to be objective. But now, having given it nary a glance for 10 months, I can be more harsh, more critical of my own failings and work. It’s much easier to remove one or two entire paragraphs, condensing it to 2 or 3 sentences when I am not so adamantly attached to them. What I am trying to stress, of course, is editing is hard. It’s a lot or work, and it’s not going to be easy. DO edit after you first finish. I found so many typing errors it was not humorous. But then walk away for a least 3-4 months. Then, come back, do another edit. Walk away for a few more months, then come back to edit it again. If I had known this, I do think this novel of mine would be at that stage here I can query an agent. But this is entirely my failing and one I know I will never repeat. Learn from this, Dear Reader, for it’s advice I know I would have liked to have been given and one I have yet to come across elsewhere.

As for Jane Odiwe, I wish her no ill will nor any regrets. My fan letter was so long ago that she probably had no memory what I wrote when she started writing the “Searching For” series. And I am completely at peace with that You have to realize that there are so many people writing Regency type novels out there that anyone who is able to stand out, even a bit, is a credit to those of us who are dabbling in this genre. While mine are more fantasy variations with historical underpinnings, there are variations out there doing “what ifs”, mysteries, sequels, etc. If you ever Google it, there are more variations, sequels, and themes on Pride & Prejudice than any other Austen Novel. And while I could have gone the route of doing P&P first, I wanted to focus on Persuasion because it is the novel (besides Northanger Abbey) that I love the most. Both of those novels are also the least adapted (film & TV wise) and have the least variations, which is a great pity, is it not? For we have Wentworth writing the best love letter in all of Austen and Tilney, who knows his muslin (and smirks quite often). So take heart. Keep typing or writing away (I wrote mine out first on paper, roughly a third, then switched to typing). Keep researching (if that’s your thing). And keep dreaming.

The History of Blacks in Georgian & Regency England (Part 1)

With Brexit and the unfortunate Capitol Insurrection which occurred January 6, 2021, I wanted to write a two part series on the history of Blacks/Africans in England. I already did a three part series about how there were people of color in Europe before the 20th C, but really wanted to take a deeper look at the time of Jane Austen considering how many times I have queried Literary Agents who inform me that no one would believe that there were people of color in my Regency novels. I am hoping with the success of Bridgerton, that outlook will change.

Unknown Lady, circa late 18th C. Public Domain

In 1772, Lord Mansfield (William Murray), Chief Justice of England and Wales, made a decision that was truly a landmark case for the deconstruction of Slavery. That was the Somerset Case and he declared that the enslaved had rights on English soil. He also presided over the 1783 Gregson v. Gilbert case (regarding the Zong) where he again rule that the Captain and his crew were guilty in the deaths of the 132 enslaved Africans they threw overboard and drowned. This influenced the 1791 Parliament ruling which stated insurance companies no longer had to reimburse shippers (and their financial backers) for the loss of slaves (as they were seen as cargo and not people). William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield, raised Dido Elizabeth Belle and no doubt this did influence his decisions in those to cases. While none of these decisions outright banned Slavery, they did push the narrative forward.

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William Murray, circa 1737. Portrait by Jean-Baptiste van Loo. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Dido Elizabeth Belle.jpg
Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay & her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin, circa 1778. Currently on display at Scone Palace, Scotland and considered Public Domain

When William Murray died in 1793, Dido was granted her “freedom” and was left enough money to be considered an heiress. In 1793, she would have still be seen as a slave, so granting her “freedom” allowed her to marry John Davinier and move about Society freely and openly. But she was not the highest ranking person of color during this Era.

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Queen Charlotte, circa 1760s, painted by Allan Ramsay. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust

When Megan Markle married Prince Henry, there was (and is) backlash over Megan being a woman of mixed race. However, it should note that the same hatred Megan still receives is very much on par with what Queen Charlotte received. The Allan Ramsay portraits are considered the most accurate as he never made her appear darker nor lighter, but painted her as she truly was. He was also the preferred painter of her portraits per King George III. Queen Charlotte was a patroness of the Art and her interest in Botany led to the expansion of Kew Gardens. She was a direct descendant of Margarita de Castro y Sousa, who is from the Black/Moor branch of the Portuguese Royal Family. She was often made to look ape like or even dog like in caricature and referred to as “Mulatto Face” in the press. Charlotte endured periods of madness from her husband, the many indiscretions of her sons (Regent was a bigamist and known to have may lovers). She had 15 children, 13 who survived into adulthood, and is grandmother of Queen Victoria. The South African flower Bird of Paradise is named after her as are two China patterns to her name (Royal Lily and Queen Charlotte). She funded orphanages and in 1809 sponsored a hospital for women to give birth in. It’s known today as Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital. Like her granddaughter, Queen Vicotria, she notoriously would keep her daughters close to her, which resulted in them marrying late in life or not at all and having no children of their own. Charlotte was a close and regular correspondent of Marie Antoinette (both were patrons of Music and Arts). She had rooms prepared to received the French Royals and was devastated when they were beheaded. Charlotte is the second longest serving consort in British History, having reigned 57 years and 70 days. Her husband was blind and deaf when she passed in 1818 and except for her jewels, her son (the Regent) had all of her belongings sold at auction (the jerk). The current Royal Family denies the possibility that Queen Charlotte was a person of color, but considering how many people during the Georgian Era made comments regarding her non-whiteness, then I believe it is safe to say she was not as white as the current Royals like to maintain.

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Google’s doodle celebrating the 272nd Birthday of Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equniano was born sometime in the 1740s (it’s given as 1745 in most biographies) and died in 1797. He was enslaved at age 11, renamed Gustavus Vasso, and eventually was sold to a merchant Captain who allowed him to purchase his freedom. He became an author, explorer, and merchant. Olaudah’s first hand narrative pushed the Abolitionist movement forward in both the UK & US. His autobiography went through 9 editions in his lifetime (which was really unheard of) and was a member of the Sons of Africa, a lobby group that was part of the Anti Slavery Society in England. Equniano’s story was key to passing the 1807 law abolishing the trade and capture of slaves (it still allowed the forced breeding, sell, and importation of slaves from one territory to another). He married Susannah Collins in 1792 and had two mixed race daughters. His youngest daughter married a minister in 1821. Some Scholars question if Olaudah was born in Africa[Nigeria specifically] as his baptismal records in England list him as being from the Carolinas. Yet his first owner (and people who knew him) stated that Olaudah spoke no English when he was purchased, making the case that slave traders were possibly lying (GASP) about the origins of the people they enslaved. Susannah died at age 34 and Olaudah died the following year at age 52. It’s sad he didn’t live to see the end to Slavery in England, but at least his daughter was alive to witness it (as it passed in 1833). Considering how popular his autobiography was in his lifetime, there is no chance that Austen would not have come across a copy or would not have heard of him.

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Ignatius Sancho, circa 1768, by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada

[Charles] Ignatius Sancho had a very interesting life. He was born aboard a slave ship and orphaned at around age 2. He was given to three sisters living in Greenwich, England and was a slave to them for 18 years. He ran away to the Duke and Duchess of Montagu, who decided to educated him and encourage his interests in literature (other tales state the Duke visited these sisters and being impressed with Ignatius’ intellect, taught him to read and write). There is no record of the Montagus purchasing him, so it may have been they compensated the three women for after a few years, he left the Montagus (Igantius was listed as a servant, not a slave) and became a shopkeeper in Westminister, wrote and published various forms of literature (books, poetry, and essays). Igantius became the first Black person to have voted in 1774 and 1780 being a male property owner of both a house and shop (which entitled him to a vote under English law). Ignatius married Anne Osbourne, who was West Indian, and had 7 children. His letters were published two years after his death and is widely accepted as one of the earliest first hand accounts of slavery. While it doesn’t seem like much, the Duchess of Montague left him an annuity of 30 pounds a year in her will in 1752 (comes to about 2000 in today’s market). Sancho counted Thomas Gainsborough (who painted him twice), actor David Garrick and abolitionist Charles James Fox among his friends. Igantius corresponded with writers and encouraged them to stand up against slavery. He was a loud advocate for the end of Slavery and lectured frequently. Sancho is the first Black person to have an obituary in the newspapers of that era.

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Francis Williams, circa 1745. Artist unknown. Courtesy of the V&A Museum

Almost all we know about Francis Williams comes from the History of Jamaica (1774) by Edward Long. Long downplays Williams and his family’s contributions, so there isn’t much to go on. We do know that the painting was done by someone in Jamaica. The window appears to overlook a town (The V&A believe it to be Spanish Town) and the library setting is kind of typical Georgian background. Other Scholars think it’s a caricature, while I tend to lean towards a person who had not much training in doing portraits as the landscape shows artistic talent (not everyone can do portraits). Edward Long, while he hated Williams, was the owner of this portrait and it was one of his descendants who gifted it to the museum. Francis may or may not have been born into Slavery. He may have been born at anytime between 1692 and 1700. His father, John Williams, was not granted freedom until 1697-1699, so chances are Francis was born as a slave. He had 2 elder brother and one sister. His father, John, became a wealthy landowner who, unfortunately, had slaves. John Williams in 1708 was granted a trial by jury AND had a law passed that slaves could not testify against him, which was groundbreaking as free Black men did not have the same legal rights as his white counterparts. him. He passed in 1723 a very wealthy man. We do know that Francis live in England long enough to become a naturalized citizen. He was a member of Lincoln’s Inn (a club for Barristers in London), and moved back to Jamaica after his father’s death in 1723. Francis opened and ran a school for free blacks teaching Math, Reading, Writing, and Latin. His legacy is problematic because his wealth, and education, re a product of Slavery while he himself is most likely a former slave. Yet his very existence as a wealthy, highly educated, London Barrister who (apparently) wrote poetry in Latin must cause great distress to those who believe in Wyte Supremacy

The Hon John Spencer and his son, the 1st Earl Spencer and their slave, Caesar Shaw. Circa 1744 by George Knapton. Public Domain

Not much is known about Caesar Shaw. He was a slave owed by John SPncer. Casaer was baptzed in Northampton and we do know he was most likely taken from Africa. However, he was eventually freed and gave first hand testimony regaring the horros of slavery at Anti Slavery meetings and conventions. During the Georgian Era, it was seen as a ign of wealt to have black servants. Peter the Great was known to have black footmen, Valets, an eventually tradesmen and merchnts at his palaces. So while many of these servants are namless, knowing even a few of their names help establish that there were Black people in England (and Russia) during the 18th and 19th Century.

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Francis Barber, circa 1770s. Attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds or James Northcote. Courtesy of the Tate Collection & Public Domain

Francis Barber was born Quashey around 1740. We do know he was born in Jamaica on a sugarcane plantation owned by the Bathurst family. It was the father and son (both named Richard) who, when they traveled to London in 1752, gave Francis to Johnson after Johnson’s wife died to serve as a Valet. Johnson was a strong voice against Slavery both in the US and the UK and is known as the author of the Dictionary of English Language. Barber was technically granted his freedom when the elder Bathurst died in 1755, and was given an annuity of 12 pounds. However, Francis then worked at an apothecary, then joined the Royal Navy and eventually came back to work for Johnson in 1760. All the time he was away, he and Johnson were regular correspondents as Francis had been given some education by the Bathursts. Johnson then put Barber through school and Barber became his assistant, having worked on the Dictionary’s second revision, a well a other literary works by Johnson. Francis was also key in helping Boswell write a biography of Johnson after his death. Johnson, from all accounts, was very attached to Francis and left him 70 pounds (well over 2000 in today’s market) a year in his will which was widely covered in the press at the time. It was seen as scandalous to leave a black man more than what a nobleman would leave an assistant (50 pounds was considered a lot). Francis married Elizabeth Ball (white) and they had 2 children. Those children went onto marry white people as well, which some people at that time did not like. Francis Barber still has decedents living in Littchfield to this day.

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Lafayette & James Armistead, circa 1780s. Public Domain

The Revolutionary War brought about a lot of change not only for the British Empire, but for enslaved Africans in the Colonies. It is estimated that in 1775, more than a half a million Africans living in the 13 colonies were slaves. Ministers and Quakers such as George Keith and John Woolman were advocating against Slavery in the 1760s, thanks to the rising abolitionist movement in England. They were ignored. Abigail Adams, future First Lady, herself wrote many times on the irony of wanting to fight for freedom from tyranny while keeping slaves who lived in tyranny. In the first battle against the British, 10 out of 15 black soldiers were slaves. In 1777, the 13 states enacted laws enforcing quotas to push black slaves into fighting the British. In 1778, Rhode Island established a Black Battalion because they could not meet their quota for white soldiers to fight for the Continental Army. Many slave owners (particularly the Southern States) gave the Continental Army slaves instead of fighting themselves. Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s Royal Governor, in 1775 established a regiment of runaway slaves, promising them freedom is they fought for the British. It was not a well liked policy, but it established an interesting paradigm. In 1776, it seems some of the enslaved did not like that the Constitution not making all men equal, and rebelled. The British Army used this outrage t their advantage and promised freedom to slaves, and their families, if they joined the British Army. It is not known how many enslaved Africans switched sides or how may ran away for the chance at freedom. We do know that several thousand freed slaves moved to British held territories after the War and over a thousand moved to Dublin, Liverpool, and London in the aftermath. So, while the Founding Fathers advocated freedom, they refused to free those who were forced to fight the British, while the British freed those who were willing to fight, but not those they had already enslaved in their territories. It’s a weird and interesting time period in the Georgian Era as not many historians (both US and UK) like to discuss the role Slavery played in the fight for Independence. With over a half a millions slaves, that gave the Continental Army a clear advantage over the British. Yet it is Britain who passed a law outlawing Slavery in 1833, over 30 years before the US.

Resources

hisoryisfun.org (the Jamestown Musuem Revolutionary WAr website)

npg.org.uk

english-heritage.org.uk

janeaustensworld.wordpress.com

History Today (Sept 1981 issue; available on hisorytoday.com archive section)

Blackamoors in England: Black London, Life before Emancipation by Gretch Gerzina (https://www.dartmouth.edu/library/digital/publishing/books/gerzina1995/)

the V&A Musuem

The British Library

New York Pubic Library

The Smithsonian

Royal.uk (yes, the Royal Family’s official website. It’s a good resource for genealogy)

haringey.gov.uk

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga

Too Many Blackamoors: Deportation, Discrimination, and Elizabeth I by Emily C. Bartels (available on Rutgers website for free via Project Muse)

Bathing During the Time of Austen (or how I survived without a Shower for a week)

There’s this misconception that prior to the Victorian Era, people didn’t bathe. I myself am guilty of this false reasoning as I recall, at the tender age of 12, writing down in a notebook that “people smelled” when I started my journey of researching the 19th Century. In my current notebook (I occasionally rewrite everything with updated notes and information), I have kept the ubiquitous “people smelled” line to remind myself not only of how far I have come, but just how easily we can be led to the wrong conclusion. Yes, people smelled prior to the Victorian Era. In fact, people still smell today (it is, after all, one of the five senses). Of course, I am being a tad silly and what we truly mean by “smell” is bad odors.

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A Lovely period Regency Bathing room in the Chateau de Valancey, France. Photo taken by Anna M. Thane (@Anna_M_Thane) 2019

As the above photo shows, people during the Georgian & Regency Era did have rooms solely devoted to the art of bathing and maintaining hygiene. So it IS a fault (clearly) to believe people did not clean themselves. A majority of this, I feel, comes from adaptations (both TV & Film) of period pieces. Especially films of my believed Classic Era were they showed Kings & Queens arguing about bathing more than once a year (I kid you not). So little of them show bathing, we tend to have this blinded perception of people being utterly filthy. I distinctly recall having professors inform us that the use of incense in Catholic services was done because people smelled. This may be true for those who were poor and couldn’t bathe on daily basis, but the use of incense for religious reasons is as old as religion itself. So maybe, just maybe, the Catholic Church was using incense because it’s kind of the norm. Another example is the concept of indoor toilets. Many people accept that they had ancestors who used chamber pots. In fact, chamber pots are a very common thing one finds in modern period romance novels (I myself reference it once or twice-it seems very hard to not mention them). And we know that they did exist and were used. Yet, indoor toilets (yes, you read that correctly) have existed for hundreds of years and predate our modern bathrooms.

An illustration of a Medieval Era Garderobe, aka an indoor toilet. Courtesy of Pinterest.

The Garderobe is a fairly basic indoor toilet. A hole leads to a pit where the waste is collected and people do rake it (and remove it as needed). Yes, dear reader, there were people who’s job was literally shit and piss. This is really no different from campsites that have outhouses (yes, they still exist), to people who have a self-contained septic system in their yard. Yes, chamber pots (and other such devices) were used for things such as emergencies, invalids, and convenience, yet we must stop with the nonsense that they did their business out in the open. Of course, when traveling, one had no choice BUT even then, there was an attempt at modesty and privacy.

Now,what does this have to do with my week long shower-less regime? The bathroom was undergoing a renovation (new tiling) and that meant no access to the tub and shower for about a week. I am not someone who can go without bathing for very long (unless I absolutely must due to being hospitalized or very ill), so I decided it might be nice to try my had at bathing Regency style in a way. The first day, I used a bucket of warm water, a washcloth, and basically sponged myself off. I must also state I had the day off, so I wasn’t concerned with my hair (though I did run the washcloth through it as well). Did I feel clean? Well, yes and no. I can inform you that I did feel refreshed and less grimy, but I did not feel as clean as I normally would.

Serves Pitcher and Wash Bowl. Divine! Courtesy of Pinterest
Ceramic Bathtubs
Minoan Ceramic Bathing Tub, Minoan Palace of Knossos. Courtesy of JSTOR

Now, I am not so fortunate as to afford to use Serves porcelain in my experiment. My basin was a nice, gray plastic bucket. My pitcher was an old plastic cup measuring utensil. My washcloth, I felt, was at least an attempt at the homespun feeling as it was a crocheted one. Soap was some liquid Ivory (meat for bathing, not the dish one). Not feeling quite so refreshed from just the quick sponging off, I decided to up the experience by using both hot and cold water. I donned a bathing suit, went outside, and rinsed off with warm water. Washed and rinsed with cold water (a la hose). Washed and rinsed my hair with the hose, then dumped the rest of the warm water over myself. It felt like camping, in a weird way and I did feel fairly clean. Also, cold. Was this closer to how Jane Austen must have bathed? Well, perhaps.

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19th C Woodcut of an Egyptian Relief depicting a Lady being bathed by servants. Courtesy of Pinterest.

Showers (well, showering), has existed since forever. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians had indoor bathing rooms where servants would “shower” them with jugs of water. Ancient Greeks were the first to have public showering rooms (look up the Ancient Greek City of Pergamum). The Romans, of course, followed suit with their own bath houses as well. Yet what we would consider the runner up to the modern shower was patented in 1767 by Englishman William Feetham ( stove maker) and featured a hand pump. Around 1810, a much more “modern” version emerged and as to who invented it, it’s hard to say as there are disputes.

Ancient Greek Shower
Anciet Greeks Showering on Pottery. Courtesy of Pinterest
Pompeii residents were screwed before the volcanic eruption
A Public Bath at Pompeii. Couretsy of Pinterst
Life Magazine Image of an 1810 Shower. They describe it as being 12 feet in height with a pump for moving water from the bottom to the top (and to be used continuously) to shower. Courtesy of Life Magazine & Pinterest.

Now, my few days of donning a bathing suit and bathing outdoors was no where as elaborate as using the 1810 Shower, but it did feel closer to what Austen herself must have been used to. Not to say that she used a contraption like that everyday. In fact, she may have never used one. Yet it is possible that she did do something similar to what I had done in my quasi-attempt at cleanliness. Now, I must admit that once the tiling was done, I was told I could use the tub, but not the shower and could use the hot water faucet again. Dear reader, I felt like I was n Heaven!

The first appearance of the shower or "rain bath" in New York ...
A NYT Advertisement for a Shower from November 11, 1914. Courtesy of The Bowery Boys

I felt so much cleaner sitting in the tub, using the hot water as needed to bathe (and shave my legs). I felt my hair got much cleaner not having to be blasted by the cold needle spray of the hose. Or at least, I felt warmer, hence, I felt cleaner. Now the new shower head is not as elaborate as the Kennedy Needle model, but it does a decent job. But I have to admit that I felt more understanding of what it must have been like for Austen (or anyone living before the 20th Century) to bathe.

Bathing (or the ability to bathe) is a convenience we take for granted in our modern society. Bathing requires access to clean water, the ability to heat said water, soap (or similar cleaning items), not to mention time and means to do so. For my part, knowing what I know about the time it took to heat water up, to carry it, etc, it’s most likely Austen did a full bath (like in a tub) once a week but sponged off daily. She may have even sponged off more than once a day. I can see any genteel lady sponging off before dressing for dinner or before a ball. I can definitely see any person doing so after riding a horse. Hair washing probably didn’t occur more than once a week. There are people today who don’t wash their hair on a daily basis, so it should come as no surprise to think Jane didn’t do so. Hair washing probably took more time and effort than washing the grime off of one’s body. After all, they didn’t have our modern shampoos, conditioners, hair dryers, and towels.

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Woman in Bath Sponging Her Leg (1883) by Edgar Degas. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I imagine for most people, bathing was closer to Degas painting than anything else. In fact, for most people around the world, it’s probably how they bathe as modern plumbing does not exist everywhere and probably never will. And that’s the most important item I want everyone to take away from this posting. People have, for centuries, found a way to bathe. Whether it meant going to the pond, river, ocean, waterfall, or using a small pitcher or water, people have always found a way to keep themselves clean. Bathing is not this foreign concept nor is it a modern one. It’s clear period films and shows have done us a disservice by not showing us the daily habits of people. By not showing us, we’ve been taught to think of our ancient ancestors as these dirty, smelly, filthy bunch when in fact, it’s all a lie.

Now, I’m not going to lie. I would never trade my modern shower and toilet for what Austen had. I thoroughly enjoy being able to have hot water on demand. I completely rejoice that my waste is flushed away and no one has to rake it. I am very much at ease in our modern bathroom. Now, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind having a nice claw foot bathtub and a stand alone shower someday (who wouldn’t). I may even want to indulge in trying a Kennedy Needle Special ;P! But in all seriousness, what I have discovered, about myself primarily, is that when it comes to bathing, we all find a way that suits each of us. I have showered outdoors. I have used an outhouse. Yes, it’s weird but it’s only weird because it’s not part of our daily lives anymore (for the most part). For some, outhouses and outdoor bathing is still the norm and there is no shame in this. So yes, Kevin Costner showering under a waterfall in Prince of Thieves IS accurate. Colin Firth jumping into a pond after riding a horse is perfectly acceptable. Kirsten Dunst being sponged off in Marie Antoinette every morning is actually historically accurate. And that’s kind of fun to know.

A Brief Look at People of Colour before the 20th Century: Part 3

"Portrait of Gustav Badin" (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg

Portrait of Gustav Badin (1775) by Gustaf Lundberg; Public Domain Image

     Gustav Badin was given to Queen Louisa of Sweden as a gift. She, in turn, educated him on the same level as her children. He was in charge of 3 Royal Palaces, had an extensive library of his own containing more than 800 books, and was, at one point, the Swedish Ambassador to France.  While Gustav many have been a slave initially, it’s clear he was a member of the Royal Family and was treated as a member of the Court. His diary is currently being translated and the original is housed at the University of Uppsala. I start off with this tidbit because now we’re entering a time period that I know very well, which is the Late Georgian/Regency period. It has always bothered me that any film depicting anything from this era has no one of colour in it, expect as an oddity or experiment. Clearly, while Gustav may have been an oddity, he became vital to the Queen and her family.

General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, by Olivier Pichat (1883)

     General Dumas should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever read the Three Musketeers or the Man in the Iron Mask ( or seen the film versions). Born in St Domingue to a white Nobleman (Marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie) and his enslaved mistress (Marie-Cessette Dumas), the father did the right thing and shipped Dumas to France, where slavery had been illegal since 1315 CE, thus setting his son free. He also helped his son enter the military. Dumas was one of 2 men of colour to have high military ranking in Europe until the 1970s. He was a major pivotal figure in the French Revolutionary Wars. He married a white French woman and had a son, Alexandre Dumas (aka Dumas-Pére), who wrote the Three Musketeers, Man in the Iron Mask, etc. Dumas-fils (his grandson) was a well-known playwright. Dumas-fils’s illegitimate half brother, Henry Bauër was also involved in Theatre at this same time, as a critic. So yes, this is someone who’s never been portrayed in any film or television show about Napoleon, which is oddly weird considering how many battles this man won for Napoleon. Sidenote, “enslaved mistress” seems to convey consent where most scholars agree that consent is never given when a person is a slave. While I use the term “enslaed mistress”, it is under extreme distaste and only being used as many historical sources (published sources) list her in this pseduo state of consent while being enslaved.

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Bust of Abram Petrovich Gannibal, located in Petrovskoe, Russia.

     Like Guztav, Abram was gifted to Peter the Great as a gift. There has always been a trend of “gifting” slaves to royalty and the aristocracy, but as in the case of Guztav, the “gifting” meant freedom. The Tsar freed Abram, educated him, and bestowed on Abram the status of Godson. Such a status not only made him important in the eyes of the Court, but made him a Peer of the Realm. This man was Dumas’ counterpart. He was a military engineer and General in the Russian Army. He trained in France and fought on behalf of France in the 1720s. Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, considered Abram to be a member of her family, placing him in a position of power. Elizabeth put him in charge of a large Estate in Estonia, which was one of the wealthier private Estates of the Tsars. Abram was married twice-once to a Greek woman (who proved to be unfaithful) and married (secretly while still married to wife #1) a woman of Swedish and Germanic noble descent. His oldest son, Ivan, became a well-known Naval Officer who helped found the city of Kherson and who himself attained the second-highest military ranking in Russia. When his first wife was forced to join a convent, the second marriage was considered valid and legal. Author and Poet Alexander Puskin is his great-grandson. Other descendants of this man include Natalia Grosvenor (Duchess of Westminster), Alexandra Hamilton (Duchess of Abercorn), George Mountbatten (4th Marquess of Milford Haven & cousin to QEII). Yet not many people want to learn about this man. And he’s never shown in any documentary of film about Peter the Great.

Dido Elizabeth Belle - Wikipedia

Dido Elizabeth Belle (cropped from a larger portrait by David Martin)

Dido Elizabeth Belle has become a more well-known woman of colour in recent years due to a new interpretation of the David Martin portrait of her and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The film Belle (2013) is an exercise in trying to tell her story but also explain slavery during this time in English History. This is what we do know: her father was Sir John Lindsay (he passed in 1788) and her mother was a slave Maria Belle. Dido was technically born into slavery in 1761. She was brought to live with William Murray, her great-uncle, in 1765. Her father let her to be educated as a free person. Very little is known about her life, except she was educated and even though treated as a member of the family, was still technically a slave in the eyes of British Law. She lived with her great-uncle 31 years, and seemed to take on the role of a secretary according to observations by Thomas Hutchinson (former governor of Massachusetts) and in the second volume of James Beattie’s Elements  of Moral Science. For now, these are the only contemporary insights we have into Dido’s daily life and existence. William Murray seemingly ruled against slavery in 1772. Dido married Frenchman John Danvinier in 1793. She was left money by her father, her great-uncle (who also confirmed her freedom in his will) and by his wife, her great aunt. She died in 1805 at the age of 43 and her last decedent died in 1975. While not much is known, the mere fact we do have a film about this person clearly shows that people of colour existed in England prior to the 20th Century.

There is another person, or two, or three, I wish to include in this posting. Yet I feel that because these people were influential and important, they each deserve their own write up and not to be included with the ones I have listed here. I did consider making a post just about the Dumas’, and may yet do so.

Becoming Jane: Review

BONUS ADAPTATION! Since we’ve know talked about revisionist history and learned a bit about all of that, I thought it would be fun to do two bonuses to our Austen Adaptations! The first is Becoming Jane (2007).

Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy) and Jane Austen (Anne Hawathay)

This film is based on a book titled Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence and is considered a demi-biography as he uses the plot device of Pride and Prejudice as well as Austen’s Letters to piece together her early life as well as the possibility of her romance with Thomas LeFroy based on her mentions of the man from her letters to her sister, Cassandra. I’ve read the letters myself. She mentions him twice in 1795 and once a few years later. If that’s the basis of an unrequited love affair, color me shocked. Jane also mentions trying to find pink silk stockings with much more fervor. The Jane Austen Society does endorse the book by stating the author does seem to understand the character of Jane Austen. Endorsing the book doesn’t mean his book is accurate, only that it is enjoyable to read. I have looked on the JAS website and no where do they claim that rthis book is historically accurate. They only reviewed it as being an enjoyable read. I do think sometimes they should start off such books with a disclaimer that they don’t endorse such books as being historically accurate first off so people don’t believe it’s truthful, only conjecture (because this is where revisionist history can become an issue).

Jane being confronted by her parents, the Rev George Austen (James Cromwell) and Mrs. Austen (Julie Walters).

Firstly, the film gets many things wrong. I have not read the originally source material (the book that the film is based on) so I do not know if the author made the Austen family out to be poorer than they were in reality. If the author did not make them out to be this poor, then this was Hollywood taking liberties with the truth to make Jane seem more desperate to make a rich match than she was in reality. In Deidre Le Faye’s book, Jane Austen’s Country Life, she points out that Rev. Austen made over 300£ profit on his own farm that he rented during a “bad” year. That’s about $590 (roughly as exchange rates vary daily), but that’s still a fairly decent profit in a bad year, given how much he had to pay in rent, plus the workers who were doing the actual labor. Mrs. Austen was known to grow berry bushes, chickens and other fowls. No where have I ever come across her sowing or digging up her own potatoes. Remember that Mr. Bennet spends around 100£ a year on each of his girl’s allowances in Pride and Prejudice, so having three times that amount extra per year is not a bad thing. Yes, Jane was not from a wealthy family, but she wasn’t as poor as the filmmakers made her out to be. When her father died in 1805, they did sink into poverty, this is true. But at the time of this film (being, I believe 1795), she wasn’t poverty stricken yet.

Mrs. LeFroy (Eleanor Metheven), Jane, Lucy LeFroy (Jessica Ashworth), and Comtesse Eliza de Feullide (Lucy Cohu)

The date this takes place also beings me to a state of confusion in terms of the costuming. Looking at the above scene, both Mrs. LeFroy and Eliza are in late 1790s gowns, but Austen is in a gown closer to 1810. The young girl is also shown as being old enough to attend balls and has her hair down, which we should all know by now I have a distinct hatred for. Either she is too young and doesn’t not attend the balls and can have her hair down (which she looks old enough to start having it up anyways), or have it up.

Jane and Mr. Wisely (Laurence Fox)

In real life, Jane Austen agreed to marry Harris Biggs-Wither. The next day, she called it off. From all accounts, he was not a good looking man and they had nothing in common. She was forced into accepting it by her mother, Mrs. Austen. Mr. Wisely, in this film, takes the place of Mr. Biggs-Wither, except he is much better looking and they actually have things in common. Mr. Wisley did not exist in real life.

Eliza, Jane, and Henry Austen (Joe Anderson)

Wandering waistlines aside, I don’t believe umbrellas had out modern coverings of polyurethane yet. Nice use of the pug though. Henry should either have his hair short or have it pulled back. Eliza’s husband was guillotined in 1794, so this taking place in 1795 is historically accurate (at that point). I don’t mind the blue color on Anne Hathaway because it is a lovely color on her, but they use it a lot and the shifting waistlines just bothers me. For a big budget film, one would think they would do a better job at hiring a historical consultant (and not just the author of the book they used as a source material).

Cassandra (Anna Maxwell-Martin) and Jane

A few things they showed in this film that did happen, but they speed up in order to fit into this film. Cassandra did get engaged to a clergyman, who was accompanying his cousin’s ship overseas. They gave him the name Thomas Fowle, which is odd since his name was Robert Fowle. I don’t know why they didn’t just use the man’s name. He did die of yellow fever, but not in 1795, in 1797. His cousin, left Cassandra a 1,000£ legacy to compensate her for the loss of her betrothed. Cassandra never married. George Austen was sent to a small farm where he lived the rest of his life. No where have I found any evidence that he was deaf or hard of hearing. From all accounts he seems to have been on the Autism spectrum. Sign language did exist (there was a form of it that existed in France around the 1800s at that time, but I have no idea of what they were using in the film was at all accurate or not). I don’t recall Jane ever mentioning her brother George at all in her letters so I highly doubt she had any kind of close relationship with him. It’s possible his parents and even a few of his brothers saw him from time to time, but he spent his life away from his family. Jane Austen also never met Mrs. Radcliffe. I wish these two authors would have met in real life, but alas, that never happened!

Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith)

Now, are there any good points? Yes there are. James McAvoy is a treat to watch in this film. I have enjoyed him ever since I saw him in Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was fantastic in Split and Glass. He is equally talented in this film. Maggie Smith steals what little screen time she has, so it’s always a pleasure to see her whenever she is in a film. Anna as Cassandra is overshadowed by Anne Hathaway, which is a pity since Cassandra is such a vital figure to Jane Austen’s life. Same with Mrs. LeFroy, who barely makes an appearance yet was an important figure to Austen’s life. I do like they showed a game of cricket being played, as the first game was played in Dartford in the early 18th Century (yes, I checked).

Jane & Tom; the red overdress is too 1970s with the thin straps.

The bad points: the costumes are hits and misses. A lot is made of the supposed love affair between LeFroy and Austen base don three mentions in a few letters and LeFroy mentioning years later that he had a “boyish love” for Austen in his youth. The fact is he was already engaged with he went to visit his aunt and met Jane in 1795. If he flirted, Mrs. LeFroy may have seen him as going too far and sent him on his way before he hurt her young friend. That’s probably all there was to the tale. His “boyish love” years later was most likely a bit of a crush looking back on his memories. We want to make much of this instance when there may have been nothing there. Also in 1795, based on her letters, Jane was working on Sense & Sensibility, not Pride & Prejudice, so the author using the second novel as a basis for her love affair is a little bit…awkward.

Thomas LeFroy (1798) after his marriage

Love & Friendship (Lady Susan) Adaptation

Love & Friendship came out in 2016 and was adapted fro the screen by Whilt Stillman, who also directed. When it first came out, I mistakingly read Jane Austen’s juvenilia piece entitled Love & Friendship and then became utterly confused as the piece I read had nothing to do with the film I saw. Instead, Stillman borrowed the title of one piece and adapted another, Lady Susan, to the screen. This is the only adaptation of Lady Susan for the screen at this time. Lucy Prebble has been hired by BBC and Celdor Films to adapt Lady Susan as of 2009, but nothing about that adaptation has been made available. There has been three different stage versions in recent years as well as three different re-writes of the novella. However, this is about the only screen version and how truthful and accurate is it to the novella.

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan

I think that for the only adaptation for this Jane Austen novella, it’s pretty decent. It’s not an easy novella to adapt, first of all, simply because it’s written as a series of letters.  I believe Sense & Sensibility was first conceived that way before Austen decided to change it, so we can be thankful that she only played with this format once. It’s a tale that we are not used to seeing from Jane Austen as it deals with sex, manipulation, obvious social climbing, adultery, and all sorts of things one would expect in a a rollicking good Georgian novel like Tom Jones, not Austen. Most scholars date this to have been written in 1794 and the adaptation was said to have taken place at around the same time. I believe the costumes are pretty accurate.

1790s Dress from the Kyoto Fashion Museum

1790s Dress from the Museo del Traje (Madrid, Spain); Both gowns are from the same time period.

Portrait of Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton) by George Romney, Museum of Fine Art, Boston

1790s Portrait of Emma Hart (Later Lady Hamilton); her hair and hat are very similar to Lady Susan’s as pictured below. [Public Domain]

Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) and Lady Susan

An interesting choice made, which at first I didn’t like, but upon watching it again, I ended up enjoying was to make Mrs. Johnson, Lady Susan’s confidant, an ex-Patriot from America. Making her someone who was loyal to the Crown and having to flee the Colonies for her British sentiment made her husband’s (Stephen Fry) threats to send her away both comical and frightening. Especially since the Revolutionary War had recently ended and the War of 1812 was soon to start (plus there were still some skirmishes occurring between American and Britain at this time). While the director admitted to changing the film a few times on set because of the ingenuity of the actors (and allowing them to have input into their characters), a majority of the lines do come from and are influenced by the actual letters from the novella. I would state that 90% of the dialogue is based upon those letters, which is fairly decent in my mind.

Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwell) with her brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel)

I appreciated the use of wigs, especially the non-white ones on the men (the older men particularly). One thing is apparently clear and that is income (loss of income) is a running theme in all of Austen’s published works (this work wasn’t published until 1871). I did love the use of agricultural and farming news because that was an important part of living on an estate and part of Austen’s daily life. I also love how they had all the characters introduced in the beginning, which is a very classic silent film era technique.

Fredrica Vernon (Morfydd Clark), Lady Susan’s daughter

There really isn’t much criticism for this film. It’s very witty and charming. I really wished they had not changed the title because it deserves to be known as Lady Susan since she is the main character and the subject of almost everyone’s thoughts and concerns. A very good job was done to take the text from the novella and build it into dialogue to make it sounds like dialogue from the Georgian Era instead of a sentence from a letter (which is much harder than it sounds). I did find it weird that Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin) is shown and interacts with Lady Susan, but never speaks. He is there, but silent.

Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) is Fredrica’s suitor

The music used in the film is very lovely and even the servants in this piece are well dressed and colorful, which is always nice to see. This may not be the nest adaptation of a Jane Austen work out there not of this particular work, but I have not read nor seen the plays and this is the only version that is accessible to everyone. I don’t think it’s a requirement to read Lady Susan before watching this film. The novella is a bit hard to read because it’s only a series of letters and can get a trifle dull and confusing at times. As a film, this shows a side of Jane Austen we rarely get to see outside of her personal letters. We see her as an author being more witty and more sexually aware of how women are seen in society. She’s having fun with this character and doesn’t punish Lady Susan for enjoying pleasures of the flesh. Which is interesting for the daughter of a clergyman to take. I highly recommend it and do believe it should be a part of any Austen collection for who knows if we’ll ever get another adaptation of this novella.

Reginald DeCourcy, Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), and Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray)

Got to adore the way the film introduces each character!

Sense & Sensibility: 2008 Sexed Up Version

This brings up to the last adaptation and the one that’s just…weird and shouldn’t be. Andrew Davis did the adaptation and normally he’s really good at adapting Austen, but this time he really screwed up. He explicitly stated his intent was to make people forget the Ang Lee film by making this version “overtly more sexual” than previous versions because this was a novel about two sisters going on  “a voyage of burgeoning sexual and romantic discovery” (BBC Online 2008; I kid you not). The costume designer was Michele Clapton who described Marianne as a “Wild Child” and bright colors were needed to convey this wildness. Karen Hartley-Thomas (hair and makeup designer) stated ringlets seen in portraits didn’t exist in real life, and only lower classes wore makeup.

Pinterest

After my melt down at the utter pomposity of the statements I read, I did watch it. I regretted it almost immediately (thank god I checked it out from the library is all I am saying. It starts off with Willoughby seducing an underage girl, presumably Brandon’s ward, as a way to “sex up” the production. Per Davis, it was “quite interesting and steamy stuff like a lot of underage sex that goes on and is just talked about. I want to put it on the screen (Trinity Mirror 29 May 2006).” I am going to have to say that it’s not needed. You don’t need to see Willoughby behaving like the jerk we know he is because seeing it lessens the emotional impact when it’s revealed what he’s done later on. It actually ruins the reveal Austen made in the novel. Same with adding a duel between Willoughby and Brandon. The duel exists in one little segment in the novel where Brandon reveals to Elinor what Willoughby has done and that they fought. It’s not a significant moment and no adaptation has ever shown it because it’s not important. Davis used it as an excuse to add more sexual overtones to the adaptation. I wish he didn’t.

Mrs. Dashwood (Janet McTeer), Elinor (Hattie Morahan), Marianne (Charity Wakefield), and Margaret (Lucy Boyton)

Right after the seduction scene, we get the death of the father, John Dashwood Senior and the arrival of John Dashwood, his wife Fanny, and their very portly son, Henry. And I do take offense to this. It’s clear they cast a fat child for laughs and it’s really beneath the casting director at this point to be doing this in this day and age. Yes, it’s nice to cast a child for the adaptation since most don’t have John and Fanny’s son, but to purposefully go out of the way to make the son an object of ridicule is just wrong at this point in Society. Likewise the casting of Mark Gatiss as John Dashwood and Claire Skinner as his wife Fanny is just odd. On screen they look fine, but they don’t act like there’s any kind of relationship there. With the other John & Fanny pairings, I believed that they were a married couple. I didn’t feel it was believable this time.

John Dashwood, Little Henry (Morgan Overton), and Fanny Dashwood

We also have an issue with hair (quelle surprise) in this adaptation. It seems the designer in charge fail to realize that since people only washed their hair once a week to every other week, things like ringlets could be easily maintained using rags and pomade. There were also (get this) curling rods once heated up in the fireplace to curl hair. Then one would probably coat with pomade as it would probably singe the hair a little bit to lessen the frizz. Al lthis is available at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which they claim they spent a month at doing research (yes, I am doing a major eyeroll right now).

Marianne and Willoughby (Dominic Cooper)

Other issues are Marianne either has her hair up, which is correct, or down, which is not proper at all. She is technically “out” and not in the schoolroom. There is no verifiable reason for her long hair to be down in front of anyone in public. Then Willoughby looks like they are giving him a Harry Styles kind of look with enough hairspray that his hair doesn’t even move in the wind. hairspray didn’t exit yet! They won’t use makeup, even though it existed, but will use hairspray? Oh, but they did allow the women to use corrective foundation because that is period correct. Sweet lord this production is just all kinds of inaccuracies. It’s the complete opposite of the type of work Andrew Davis was putting out in the 1990s. Then he really did do research and tried to handle the material with care. This time, he’s all about sexing it up because he thinks that’s what the people want. I hate to tell you but we don’t. Don’t put sex into Austen. Don’t add sex into something that doesn’t need it. There’s enough sensuality and romance in her works without the modern titillation.

Miss Grey (the actress’ name is not listed anywhere I can find)

There are issues with the costumes as well. As you can see, Miss Grey’s ballgown is sleeveless, which is not acceptable and was not worn. This production did not use any costumes from any previous adaptation or any stock clothing and claimed it made everything fresh. They should have done better research then because they have wandering waistlines and clothing from different time periods. Miss Grey’s gown is more 1970s than anything else. Margaret’s gowns usually sit at her natural waist, which is weird for an adaptation set in 1810. Lucy Steel has a long curl over her shoulder like a woman from the 1770s with puffed sleeves more from the 1815 era. Mrs. Jennings has hair more like Marie Antoinette in a Vigee Le Brun portrait while her daughter, Lady Middleton is more 1830’s Victorian. The color palettes range from bright pastels to greys, to earth tones, which I don’t mind. Then you get these bright pops of color, which don’t make sense in the overall view. Plus with the overall grey filter they were using, everything looked dull, lifeless and was depressing.

Mrs. Jennings (Linda Bassett), Sir John Middleston (Mark Williams), and Lady Middleton (Rosanna Lavelle)

Now, there are some good parts of this adaptation. The relationship between Mrs. Jennings, Sir John Middleton, and Lady Middleton was all right. Lady Middleton was quite blasé and uninterested in anything, which fits from her description from the novel, accept she’s more languid in this version than one would expect.. Sir John is energetic and delightful while Mrs. Jennings is utterly forgettable as a character. That’s actually quite tragic considering Mrs. Jennings is such a fun character and Linda Bassett is a terrific actress. Dan Stevens portrays Edward Ferrars and is a much more charming and more easy going version than seen previously, though he seems to be imitating Hugh Grant at times. He also seems to stutter a bit, so there seems to be a general consensus that Edward has difficulty in speaking in all the adaptations even though it’s never mentioned in the novel. Lucy is annoying as is her sister, Anne (I always get confused as to whether her sister is Anne or Nancy because each adaptation that has her keeps changing her name back and forth). I don’t mind having the two Steele sisters, but I also didn’t mind just having the one as Ann is annoying and really offers nothing significant to the novel, other than talking about men and spilling the beans about Lucy’s secret engagement (which Ang Lee’s version has shown how poetic it is to have Lucy betray her lover to his own sister).

Edward visits and chops wood in the rain.

Trying to top his infamous Darcy in the Lake scene, Davis has decided upon Edward chopping wood in the rain. While Darcy wishing to cool down after a long ride made sense historically and logically, chopping wood in the rain does not. One, it’s dangerous because wood gets slippery. Secondly, the actor got sick because of this and was ill for most of the shoot. Never, ever put your actor’s health at risk for something this stupid. It’s not sexy and it makes no sense whatsoever. And I highly doubt Edward Ferrars would do any physical labor of this kind. This sort of labor was not done by men of his social status. Men of his social sphere boxed, fenced, rode horses-they did not chop wood.

Colonel Brandon (David Morrisey)

Like previous BBC versions, Colonel Brandon is at the ball when Marianne confronts Willoughby and Miss Steele, which is not in the novel at all. And while Andrew Davis stated he wished to distance himself from the 1995 film version, he pulled a lot of imagery and script ideas from it. Namely the relationship between Edward and Margaret, Marianne getting sick from standing in the rain at Cleveland Park and being rescued by Colonel Brandon, expanding Margret’s role from the novel, Marianne getting injured int he rain and being offered help by Willoughby (while he helps her in the novel, no where does Austen state it takes place in the rain). There’s even similar costumes and color palettes being used for the same characters.

Brandon from 1995 & 2008; similar rich tones and even striped waistcoats

Elinor 2008

Elinor & Marianne in 1995

There was also the very odd choice of making Mrs. Dashwood sensible and suspicious of Willoughby, which is the complete opposite of her character in the novel and in every adaptation. Austen describes Mrs. John Dashwood as being very much like Marianne-romantic, flighty, emotional. She is charmed by Willoughby and cannot think ill of him. To have her be suspicious of him is just wrong on so many levels. Then the trip to Allenham that Willoughby takes Marianne to is weird. There are no servants ever seen and the place looks deserted. For a place he visits every year that belongs to his aunt (and we assume she lives there year round), doesn’t it seem very unlikely that there would be no one around, especially his aunt, when they arrive? Plus her hair is down the entire time and that just bothers me to no end. She comes off of some kind of cheap floozy instead of a gentleman’s daughter.

Miss Eliza Williams (Caroline Hayes)

I don’t mind showing Eliza and the baby in this adaptation. I think it’s nice to see Brandon react and show that he forgives his ward for her mistake and that he will always see that they are taken care of. I believe I mentioned earlier that the seduction scene was not needed and I stand by that. I do think David Morrisey did a decent job of portraying Brandon, but I felt there was no connection between him and and the actress who portrayed Marianne. This Marianne just is too crazed, too unpredictable to be likable. She’s too over the top that it’s really hard to have any kind of sympathy for her. This Marianne is selfish, a bit cruel, and uncaring. One kind of hope she dies of her illness, to be honest.

Miss Steele (Daisy Haggard) and Lucy Steele (Ann Madeley)

There are some good points in this production. Lucy Steele comes across as a young girl who is unsure of Edward’s affections and is worried he is in love with another (Elinor) and so confides in Elinor hoping to persuade said woman to not pursue the man she loves. She is pitiable in her own way. Her sister is crude, they are not wealthy, and her only chance to escape the poverty she is from is to marry a rich man. Lucy comes across as being less evil and more of someone who is trying to survive.

Mrs. Dashwood & Margaret

I do like Janet McTeer as Mrs. Dashwood. While I don’t agree with the script changes, I do like the inner strength she conveys. If this was an interpretation instead of an adaptation, I would like it much better. She would make a fantastic Lady Catherine de Burgh. Margaret likewise is really good. She isn’t as charming as the 1995 Margaret, but she is a little bit more mature, which is fine too. Though the obsession with sea shells was something I didn’t understand. And I thought it would have been nice to see Margaret being taught language and other subjects like they did in Ang Lee’s version because while it’s not int the novel, it would have been a part of a daily routine.

I have to say that this Willoughby by far was the worst I’ve ever seen on screen and I’ve seen this actor before, so I know he can act. The script played an issue here. As well the hair and costume. The hair was awful, the seduction scene just killed any kind of sympathy we may have had for him. And having Marianne overhear his confession to Elinor just didn’t make any sense. He played a straight up cad who was unredeemable and Austen does give him some redeeming qualities. A few, but they are there. Andrew Davis stripped him of those qualities.

The ending is just weird, but what else can we expect from this hyper-sexualized version. Edward proposes to Elinor, but it doesn’t end with a wedding. That would be too easy and simple. No, we must end with Brandon taming some horses while Marianne is watching. Clearly a euphemism about how he will be taming her sexually (or dominating her sexually) very soon. So, do I recommend this version? Absolutely not! I don’t understand why it got the high praise that it did, unless people just really went for the sex and completely forgot that the sex wasn’t in Austen to begin with. It really saddens me as a person who loves Jane Austen to see this progression to push more and more more sex into literature that never had it to begin with. 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, for example, pushed a more heightened sense of sexuality into the novel that wasn’t there because they felt the novel needed it in order to make it relevant to modern audiences. Actually, it doesn’t Modern audiences just want a good, faithful adaptation that’s done well and done historically well. We don’t want sex added to it. We don’t want modern ideals put into it. We want it done faithfully and respectfully. That’s  it.

Plus, there was that weird trip to LYME COBB that is no where in the NOVEL! What the Hell Andrew Davis?! Lyme is in Persuasion! Not Sense and Sensibility!

Sense & Sensibility: 1995 Adaptation

We now come to what most of us have probably all ready seen. The screenplay was adapted by Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar for it and the film was directed by Ang Lee (a golden globe winner at this time). Costumes were designed by Jenny Beaven and John Bright (they both designed the costumes for Room with a View in 1986 and won Oscars for their designs). So, this production had impressive talent behind the screen and in front of it.

Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones), Marianne (Kate Winslet), Margaret (Emilie François), and Elinor (Emma Thompson) in front of Barton Cottage.

So, unlike previous adaptations, it starts off with the father dying (Tom Wilkinson is a brief cameo) and extracting a promise from his son to look after his stepmother and his half-sisters. This is from the novel and is also spoken of but never seen. I actually like seeing it because it makes the nest scene, where John and Fanny are discussing it, all the more evil for not anting to abide by the promise he made to his dead father. It really highlights just how miserly the pair of them area as to deny helping his half sisters even though he promised his own father on the man’s deathbed.

Fanny Dashwood (Harriet Walter) and John Dashwood (James Fleet)

There is no mention of them having a son (it’s in the novel) and this isn’t the first adaptation to not have him present. I don’t think the son really adds to anything other than to give them a slight excuse for being so miserly (wanting to save the money of their son). Not having him just allows them to be seen as being greedy and for who they truly are. Though I do love the substitution of a lapdog for the son. It’s period correct that wealthy women had ornamental lap dogs and who’s to say that they don’t have a son, but he was sent away for schooling by this time? This is also the first adaptation to include Margaret, the youngest sister, which makes the meagerly 500£ for four people seem even more strained (as it should be).

Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy) and Mrs. Jennings (Elizabeth Spriggs)

Next to his role in All Creatures Great and Small, this has to be my favorite role for Robert Hardy (others will remember him as Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter films). He was also an expert on the Medieval Longbow and wrote two books on the subject. But in this role, he really sparkled as Sir John. He’s funny, charismatic, playful, and does everything he can to be of assistance to his cousins and neighbors. I actually don’t mind that he’s a widow as Lady Middleton really does play no significant part in the novel other than to be annoying. As for the Middleton children, I would assume that if there are any, they are being taken care of at a local farm (if they are too young which was customary) or are of an age that they are away at school. If not, then he probably has a cousin who will inherit. He seems to be happy nonetheless. Elizabeth Spriggs portrayal of Mrs. Jennings is as lighthearted and fun as Patrica Routledge’s version from 1971. She is also overly bubbly, vivacious, and has grand gestures and it works for her character. She is also sweet natured and kind, which does endear this character to you.

Elinor, Margaret, and Marianne

The hair in this film was extremely well researched and done very well. Now, if one is gong to have children with their hair down, this is how to do it properly. Girls who were not out could have their hair down, but it had to look neat and tidy as well. Once a girl has transitioned from the school room and was “out”, her hair was up. So, notice how Elinor and Marianne have hair that is up, but Margaret, being only 12 and still in the schoolroom, is allowed to have her hair down. Also let’s talk about how they all, at a glance, look like sisters. All have similar colored hair and texture. Margaret has the curliest, with Marianne with curls as well, Elinor, one presumes, has more wavy hair. Yet they all look like they are related. Plus the use of natural light in this film makes it stand out more than any other adaptation. One can truly see the colors and textures without a lot of influence of gels on top (gels being colored filters). Though some filters were probably used to soften the light, there was a push to try and use or mimic natural light for this film by the director. It gives it a freshness and clean look that was not seen before.

Willoughby (Greg Wise) and Marianne

Willoughby’s hair is also very well done. The fading of the mutton chops highlights his cheekbones, which plays up his mouth. He is a rake, but is meant to be romantic at the same time. Very Lord Byron with his hair and the colors used on  him are very warm, very autumnal, which was a nice contrast with Edward, who was very cool (and so mimicked Elinor).

Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman)

Brandon likewise had a nice fade and while his hair was longer, I think the intent was to show he was not as fashionable as Willoughby, so perhaps didn’t get his hair cut and styled as often, which is in line with the character. This is probably the first film most people know Alan Rickman from and fell in love with him. I liked him in Die Hard and didn’t like it when they killed his character off (also didn’t like it when he died in Robin Hood either-he made villains seem more charismatic). This version of Brandon is less like Darcy and more in like the character from the novel. He’s more in tune with his feelings, more soft spoken and more romantic. Less brooding too, which I appreciated. Brandon should be allowed to be his own person and not some kind of Darcy wannabe, which is what the previous versions have done.

Elinor and Edward Ferrars (High Grant); Norland is shown to have a working farm on it.

Now, some critics didn’t like that the scene where Elinor and Edward go riding was added as it’s not in the novel. I think it worked for the film because it shows these two spending time together away from the house. People did ride horses on their estates as a form of exercise. And it shows Norland to be a working estate with the sheep and cows in the background. All of these things are period correct. So they changed Elinor drawing to her riding a horse and I don’t mind. It’s a minor change and doesn’t affect the main story at all. Likewise, they cut the scene where the Dashwood sisters meet Mrs. Ferrars, which isn’t important to the plot, and they cut Nancy Steele as well. Again, not important to the plot as long as Lucy Steele is still there (which she is and somehow making her responsible for revealing her own secret is somehow much more poetic).

Marianne, Margaret, and Elinor; notice all three are wearing aprons.

I really cannot find fault at all with the costumes. A lot of detail went into them and a lot of research as well. I can tell that period undergarments were being worn based on the silhouettes. The attention to detail in having them all wearing aprons or smocks when when teaching Margaret as to protect their gown from ink is such a little, tiny historical accuracy that I wish more productions put in. Especially when you see all the correct period instruments like the pounce, and ink bottle is there.

Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs) and Elinor

There are some key scenes that were cut that some people do complain about, but I think given the restrictions of time, they were not so pivotal to the plot. One being Edward visiting them on his way back from Plymouth. Yes, it’s a nice scene in the novel and other adaptations have included it, but this is a film and if it comes down to Edward visiting the Dashwoods or the Dashwoods going to Cleveland Park, the latter is the more important scene. People also didn’t like that Willoughby didn’t come and visit Elinor to confess and, therefore, redeem himself. But, in a way, Brandon redeems Willoughby when he informs Elinor that he heard from Lady Allen that Willoughby’s intentions towards Marianne were honorable. So, while that scene was cut, the information that he did love Marianne, that he was going to marry her, is still related to Elinor so she can inform Marianne. And it’s done in a way that works and still fits the world of the novel.

The Dashwoods around the Pianoforte

The only complaint I can make is the gift of the pianoforte by Colonel Brandon. In the novel, they all ready have one. Willoughby spends time at the Cottage signing and sharing music with Marianne over the instrument. This gifting of the piano actually comes more from Emma than Sense & Sensibility and in that case, such a gift was considered highly inappropriate by Jane Austen herself. However, I can see how the filmmakers wanted Brandon to make some kind of grand romantic gesture and decided that this would be his way of declaring his intentions to Marianne in a way that she would understand.

That uniform is so beautiful it makes me want to cry! Oh, and her veil is attached to a bonnet.

So, I do recommend this film because it’s the only film adaptation we have. And I do mean ONLY. There are 3 loose adaptations (Material Girls, From Prada to Nada, Scents & Sensibility), but I am only concerned with actual adaptations, not so loose as to be practically unrecognizable, which these are. I’ve checked and there are no plans to do another film version anytime soon. It’s actually weird because it seems filmmakers tend to focus on Emma and Pride & Prejudice than any other novel. If you love Austen, then this should be in your collection. If you’ve never watched it, please go and rent it from your local library. It’s charming, beautiful, and such an amazing adaptation of the novel. Plus you get the infinite joy of seeing Hugh Laurie as Mr. Palmer (which makes me laugh every time).

Sense & Sensibility 1981 (or haven’t I seen this version somewhere before?)

The 1981 BBC adaptation of Sense & Sensibility is the one which is included in the Jane Austen collection. After watching the 1971 version, on some level I had felt that I had seen it somewhere before, yet knew I had never watched the earliest version in my life. The reason for this being, oddly enough, is the 1981 adaptation was dramatized by Alexander Baron who used the 1971 outline by Denis Constanduros. So the 1981 version is an adaptation of an adaptation. In fact, many of the scenes are eerily familiar as are the characters that are used and the ones that are cut. Watching this gave me a sense of déjà vu. Rodney Bennett is the director (his name is familiar to me as he directed some Dr. Who episodes in the 1970s).

Marianne Dashwood (Tracey Childs) and Elinor Dashwood (Irene Richard)

This adaptation starts out differently and at first, one thinks the Dashwoods are coming from the funeral of the late John Dashwood. They are all in mounring, in a carriage, and heading away from a location back towards Norland Park. You find out during their conversation that they have in fact been inspecting a house in the neighborhood that is far above their means, since they have only 500£ to live on a year. Like the 1971 version, Margaret doesn’t exist, which means that amount of funds seems a little more manageable between three ladies instead of four. The money, of course, leads to the great discussion brother John has with Fanny and the possibility of giving them money; knowing how little they have, 100£ more a year would really have benefited the Dashwoods and would not have inconvenienced John at all. Though we must recall Fanny is a skinflint as the son is not in existence in this version either.

Elinor and Edward Ferrars (Bosco Hogan) at Norland Park

Elinor shown drawing on very nice rustic benches. I do appreciate showing the drawing as it was something I could connect to Elinor over.

Like the 1971 version, Elinor is shown as someone who draws, which is straight from the novel. I did enjoy the way in which she was trying to educate Edward in trying to see things with an artistic eye, because it was sweet and showed how theire relationship could have started. Bosco Hogan is wonderful as Edward, has no stutter, but does have moments of hesitation in his actions which is appropriate for that character. Marianne is mentioned as not yet being 17 (though do recall she is 15 at the beginning of the novel), so this is an attempt to making her closer in age with her novel counterpart. Like the 1971 interpretation, Marianne is overly dramatic in the ways in which she says farewell to Norland Park, which is something she never does in the novel. Fanny is perfectly evil though.

Fanny Dashwood (Amanda Boxer)- perfectly evil in every way

Elinor and Marianne in London

The hair in this version was pretty good. We don’t have that overly puffy look on the men and the women seem to have decent hairdos with curls and buns. Some variety is obtained with the use of mobcaps, braids, and occasionally bonnets when outdoors. Now, we do have mutton chops on the men, but they are not overly large and are more inline with what would be period appropriate (for the most part). There are, of course, portraits of men during this time period with massive mutton chops, which people have emailed me to point out my fallacy, Trust me and believe me when I state that I am well aware of these portraits. But these portraits are few and far in-between and the norm seems to be smaller to no mutton chops rather than the bushy examples that tend to be used. Having a few men here and there with the bigger versions would not bother me as a designer and as a historian. It bothers me when it’s practically all the men.

Colonel Brandon (Robert Swann) looking very Darcy-esque with massive mutton chops

John Willoughby (Peter Woodward) with smaller, more delicate mutton chops

French, "Miniature Portrait of an Unknown Officer", c. 1815. Gift of Herbert DuPuy

1815 Miniature of an Unknown Soldier (French I believe); no mutton chops but a really sweet Mustache & Soul Patch combo (courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art)

Captain Gilbert Heathcote RN (1779-1831) ~ William Owen

Captain Gilbert Heathcote RN (1779-1831) ~ William Owen; pretty decently sized mutton chops [Public Domain Image]

The costumes as well aren’t bad. There seems to be an attempt to use more cotton or cotton blend fabrics to get more of that airy, light feel we associate with the Regency dresses. They do seem to use silk (or at least something that resembles silk) for the most dressier gowns worn by Fanny or Mrs. Jennings at times. A few of the dresses used by the extras in the background looked familiar and were no doubt dresses from previous adaptations, so could be from the 1970s or be stock costumes from local theatrical agencies as well. The colors were sometimes a bit too pastel and while that isn’t historically accurate, at least the use of cotton instead of polyester is an improvement.

Elinor, Marianne with Mrs. Charlotte Palmer (Hetty Baynes); I believe Charlotte is meant to look pregnant, but it’s hard to tell. The dresses do look to be of cotton or cotton blends,just very pastel in coloration.

Lucy Steele (Julia Chambers) in a red Spencer and bonnet. The material looks velvet, but I believe to be more of a polyester blend. The red is also too dark; reds at this time were more bright like a poppy red.

I did like the use of jewelry, even if some of the necklaces looked to be too tight and short. Too often adaptations today shy away from the use of jewelry and makeup, thinking they weren’t used nor worn. They were very much in use at this time.

Empress Josephine's Malachite Parure

Empress Josephine’s Malachite Parure (Jewelry Set: 2 Bracelets, Chocker, Necklace, Pin/Brooch, Tiara, 6 Hairpins, Smaller Pin); most sets included 2 bracelets, a necklace, a brooch/pin, and possibly a tiara or hair pins.

Georgian set of Pink Topaz. From the book “Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830”

Pink Topaz dating from the Georgian Era (from the book Georgian Jewelry 1714-1830); one would fully expect a Regency lady to still wear something like this if it was an item passed down ion her family. This set is a pair of earrings, necklace and a brooch/pin.

Queen Louise's set of make up powder.

Makeup set belonging to Queen Louise (1776-1810); courtesy of stadtmorgen.de (my German is rudimentary at best)

So yes, jewelry was worn, as was makeup which is something we have got to acknowledge and push for when it comes to adaptations of not only novels written during this time, but any films being set during these times as well. It’s ludicrous to presume that people stopped wearing jewelry and makeup during the American and French Revolution only to pick it up again during the reign of Queen Victoria. All I am saying is due better research costumers. I know you often have to also be in charge of makeup and hair, but expect better research from assistants. I may add I am always available to do this research for you and would gladly do it for money (I do have bills to pay as do so many of us, so might as well put such skills to good use!).

Mrs. Dashwood and Edward at Barton Cottage

What makes this version different from the 1971 one is Edward does visit the Dashwood family at Barton Cottage after visiting Lucy at Plymouth nearby. It’s mentioned he visited Plymouth in the 1971 version but never stopped to see them, even though Plymouth is near Exeter. First, this does happen in the novel, so that’s nice and it’s good because it introduces Edward to the Middletons and Mrs. Jennings, which allows them to kid Elinor about him when they go to London in front of Lucy Steele, not knowing it’s Lucy Edward is engaged to. It helps create that little bit of chaos in the Edward-Elinor relationship that we all do enjoy, even though we find it heartbreaking. Lucy is shown to be very pretty, if not spiteful and cruel in her own way, while Ann (Nancy in the novel) is very coarse and spinsterish, which fits with how they act and how Austen seems to describe them. You also feel some pity for Lucy because she is faithful to Edward for so long and he is not the best correspondent.

Lucy Steele

Ann Steele (Pippa Sparks) in the Striped Dress with Lucy (Julia Chambers) in Pale Yellow.

There are some weird choices in this version as there were in the previous one. Margaret is gone and doesn’t exist. John and Fanny have no child, and therefore no reason to not want to give any monetary assistance away. Nancy Steele’s name was changed to Ann, which I am puzzled over. Sir John and his wife only have one child, a son, and no other kids. Sir John also doesn’t have any dogs, but at least they show Willoughby out hunting with one (that bitch of a pointer flossy line which always makes me smile). They did include Robert Ferrars and his quest for the perfect toothpick case through is talking (which almost is always cut even though it’s really a funny little tidbit on his character). Charlotte Palmer used to have a really green bedroom in London. I’m not kidding (seriously, it’s GREEN). And as for the dresses, it’s really hard for me to tell if the back of them are buttoned, laced, or have zippers. I suspect that it’s a mixture of all three and depends on if they are a main character, secondary, or just background extras.

Elinor, Marianne, and Willoughby. At least this time, Marianne really does fall down a hill.

I did have to suppress a giggle when they show Marianne writing letters on thick parchment paper (and I mean thick paper). I suspect the paper was art paper meant for watercolour, perhaps charcoal or pen and ink because of the thickness and coarseness that I could surmise. I giggled because whenever they received a letter, it was on extremely thin onion skin type paper. Somehow, magically, thick coarse paper was used by everyone to write letters, but through th magic of the post-chaise, they all became smooth and delicate pieces of paper. There was also the obligatory nightgown with hair all free flowing and loose scene because of course there is. Considering women didn’t wash their hair every day, and probably more like once to twice a month if they qwere lucky, they kept that hair plaited (braided) and in caps when sleeping to keep it clean and free from things like fleas and lice. Free flowing and loose looks romantic and erotic on screen, but not very realistic.

Marianne & Elinor in front of Barton Cottage. I do like the rustic benches.

So while this is very familiar to anyone who’s watched the 1971 version, it’s just slightly different, and updated enough in terms of costumes and hair to be worth watching. I found some of the scenes and lines to be almost exactly like the 1971 version that I was hard pressed to not roll my eyes. While this version is the one most people believe to be the first adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, it is the first one that was shown in the US and it’s probably why it was included int he Jane Austen collection over the 1971 version. So yes, do try and find it and watch it. It’s seven episodes, but each one is short and one can watch this in a day. You don’t have to, but you can.

This version has one of the best Fanny freak out scenes ever.

Marianne and Bradon bonding over books; he looks very Darcy-esque in this version.

Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood pouring out cordials. Not often this is shown as most show tea.

The Dashwoods leaving Norland Park