Back to Top

Tag Archives: Jane Austen

This past week, I witnessed an absolutely ridiculous attack on American writers (specifically) of Regency-set romances. A couple of English people declared that American writers as a whole simply didn’t know what they hell we were talking about and maybe we should visit England to gain a clue. What was their proof? Muffins. Americans keep putting MUFFINS in their books and no one in England has ever heard of a muffin, English or otherwise. These are not a thing. English people do not eat them. Never have. Never will.

When I responded that they were good enough for Jane Austen and Hannah Glasse, I got blocked.

English muffins, being cooked by me.

So, in case any of you need it, here is my Defense of Muffins in Georgian Fiction:

Firstly, here is the infamous Muffin Man himself, hawking his wears way back in the 1750s.

London Cries: A Muffin Man by Paul Sandby (c. 1759)

Oh, what is this? Is this the famous author Samuel Richardson writing of an Englishman eating muffins for breakfast? Clearly this cannot be…

The History of Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson, 1765

What do I spy with my little eye? Why it’s a record of the cries of the street vendors of London in 1777. What are they hawking? Muffins!

A Set of London Cries, 1777

Whatever can this be? Is it a political poem about Fox and Pitt involving toasted, buttered muffins? How un-English can you get!

A political ditty, 1803

Oh, look. Even that scallywag David Garrick is in on hoodwinking poor Americans into thinking muffins existed.

The Guardian by Garrick, 1805

The rhyme that you are all probably familiar with, recorded in a manuscript c. 1820.

Clearly one can not trust a book entirely devoted to the baking of bread! What rapscallion time travelled back and inserted an entire second on the anachronistic muffin?

A Treatise on the Art of Making Good and Wholesome Bread, 1821

How dare Maria Edgeworth write characters who love muffins! Surely this must be a mistranslation (from English into English!).

Maria Edgeworth, Early Lessons, 1825

I don’t know who this “Lady” is, but clearly she is not to be trusted as her domestic guide includes fake things like muffins. Muffins which no Englishman has ever heard of, let alone eaten.

The New London Cookery and Complete Domestic Guide, by A Lady, 1827

I am trying to determine when the English went off the muffin, leaving themselves with only the crumpet for comfort. Oscar Wilde features them in his work. So do P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy Sayers. In fact, they appear to have been Lord Peter’s favorite food.

One of MANY mentions of muffins in the Lord Peter Wimsey books.

My food history friends blame the depredations of WWII. Rationing has much to answer for when it comes to British cookery. Whatever the reason for the disappearance of muffins in the UK (at least according to Hawt Take UK Twitter), please rest assured that they were beloved and clearly being consumed at least up until WWII.

Cooking recipes 1882How many of you researchers love primary sources? Is anyone’s hand NOT raised?

One of the things I love best about researching is that moment when you stumble across some telling tiny detail that just resonates…. Diaries, letters, and other materials from centuries past offer a trove of detail rich enough to make a researching author sing for joy. Where would we be without Jane Austen’s letters? How would we know what colors were in fashion, or how seams were sewn, without period magazines, dressmakers’ patterns or samples of clothing? Just for examples. While we may learn some of these things through secondary sources, we wouldn’t have THOSE without the primary sources to be studied and interpreted first.

I am currently deep in the middle of two quite different published collections of letters and diary excerpts, Penelope Hind’s (thank you for the loan, Elena!) and James Woodforde’s famous “Diary of a Country Parson”. As is so often the case, parts of them are wonderful and parts less so. Woodforde's Diary  Because these published versions have been edited, I wonder about the parts that have been left out –probably dull, but what if something useful to me (not to the editor) was in there? I would have loved to have the job of reading through the originals. Do you also think this way?

What got me thinking about this topic, though, was spring cleaning. My younger son, temporarily out of work, has been helping out at home by bravely delving into boxes that have been sitting in various corners ever since we moved here –and I don’t want to tell you how many years ago that was. Many belonged to my mother, who passed away four years after we moved here, and that was not recently!

Amazing things have been coming out of the boxes, besides trash (junk mail still unopened from when we moved, for example) –two items pictured here were too old to belong to my mother. Who knew we had this stuff?  Caduceus 1908

The 1882 recipe booklet (at top) is filled with ads for local businesses on all the pages facing the recipes. It is too old even for my grandmother. Did it belong to my great-grandmother? The ads remind me of my favorite type of primary resource, old newspapers. Do you have a favorite?

The “Caduceus 1908” was a mystery, even after I saw it was a sort of yearbook from the senior class of Classical High School in Providence, RI. Why did we have it??? As I perused the pages, amused by descriptions of events and the humor, I stumbled across write-ups of the individual class members and discovered that my paternal grandmother was a member of this class. I can pick her out clearly in the class photo (blonde in the center of the 2nd row) –because she looks so much like my sister!

Class of 1908I knew she had been a school teacher, but love this glimpse of her earlier life. My imagination runs with it. She did not live in Providence and must have had a long trip by trolleycar and on foot each day to get to school and home again.

I won’t be keeping these, fascinating as they are. But I hope to find good homes for these treasures. “Museum mentality” is the bane of those of us with cluttered homes. We can’t hang onto everything! But what if no one ever did? Those precious letters and diaries, those old newspapers and magazines from long ago that we now enjoy so much, that give us glimpses into the real lives of people in the past? What if zealous spring cleaners had tossed them all?

Do you wonder, as I do, if all the electronic versions of everything we have now were to disappear (or, as we have repeatedly seen, become inaccessible as technology keeps changing?) –what are we leaving for future generations to study? I know it won’t be stuff from my house.  The chorus around here lately is “just throw it out!” However, at least a few treasures deserve to be “re-homed”, as I call it. I just wish that didn’t require so much extra time. What do you do with your clutter?

Money is not an acceptable topic of conversation among the gently-bred, so I beg forgiveness for breaking the taboo. We people our books with wealthy, dashing characters who are the equivalents of today’s super rich –dukes and earls instead of billionaire corporate tycoons –but haven’t you ever wondered, how rich was “rich” in our period? (Alas, I am STILL working on my revisions of The Magnificent Marquess, so no announcement yet that it is up and available! But very soon….)

An income of £10,000 was considered a threshold to “live the good life” among the Beau Monde, with a regular social life in London as well as the country. This is the income Jane Austen gives Darcy. How far beyond that level of wealth could we expect to find in Regency society? A modest estate in Ireland was said to have paid £1,200 a year, enough to live on “comfortably”. Yet in 1815, just the cost of maintaining a stable for hunting could equal that amount. Jane Austen’s Bennett family lived on an entailed estate that paid £2,000 a year.

 Land was the greatest measure of wealth, and in the Regency period, most of the usable land was tied up in great estates held by the peerage and the landed gentry, so acquiring new land ownership was difficult to accomplish. Land provided the income, through the rents and profit-shares from tenant farmers. At least 10,000 acres were generally needed to yield the requisite £10,000 of income.

A quick survey of the holdings of modern-day descendants of peers from our period yields some insight. The family seat of the Earls of Pembroke (current one is the17th), for example, is Wilton House outside of Salisbury, with 16,000 acres. The Earl of Bathurst’s seat at Cirencester Park is 15,000 acres. Those are single holdings. The current Duke of Devonshire owns 70,000 acres in three counties, the 175-room Chatsworth, and a 200-room castle in Eire that the family rents out. The Duke of Argyll has 81,000 acres. The rents from owning land in London also provided a source of great wealth for some. The Portman riches stem from 100 acres of London real estate held since 1553.

What were other sources of wealth? Government or court appointments with a nice yearly stipend could supplement a rent-based income quite handsomely. There was no investing in a stock market as we know it today, but Miss Crawley in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, has £70,000 in the 5% funds, which were securities in the national debt (kind of like U.S. Treasury Bonds). This would have given her a yearly income of £3,500. Other investments, for the less well-to-do, were the consols, which paid 3% and were a set of annuities that had been consolidated into one fund. Brummel was said to have made £30,000/year with successful betting on horse races, until his luck turned against him.

How much was a pound worth? Sources vary on this, and equivalents are hard to fix, since modern life is so very different in most ways. How do you compare the cost-of-living? No one is buying carriages these days, and we aren’t using candles to light our homes. I have notes that say a Regency era pound was worth about $50 in 1990’s dollars, but I have also seen a valuation of $33 given for 1988 dollars, and more than twice as much elsewhere! If anyone has more recent figures, or different info, please share? If you use the $50 value, Darcy’s annual income was $500,000 –a handsome sum, to be sure, but far from princely. A man who had an income of £30,000, however, which many of the greater peerage did, had 1.5 million dollars coming in. Hm, maybe now in 2017, the $100= pound valuation does begin to look appropriate? Inflation!!

Taxes were perhaps the heaviest burden on the English populace. Such a vast array of daily necessities and features of good living were taxed, the ability to have or use them was itself a fine mark of one’s status. In The Magnificent Marquess, my heroine is impressed when she sees that Lord Milbourne, my hero, is extravagantly burning candles in his music room –during the day!! Everything from candles to soap was subject to taxation, including windows and servants. Male servants were subject to a higher tax than females. Employers paid a guinea per male servant (21 shillings, or £1.1), a tax instituted in 1777 and not lifted until 1937.

Servants were a necessity for the upper classes. Since a large country estate would include a sizeable house, plus park, gardens, stables, paddocks, and a home farm in addition to all the tenant farms, the army of servants required could be large. Blenheim was said to have employed 180 servants, including both indoor and outdoor. Lord Fitzwilliam employed 70 servants to keep Wentworth Woodhouse running. In the 18th century the “average” number of servants to keep a large country house running was 40.

The wealthiest landowners might own several estates in multiple counties, and while house servants might travel with them from site to site, the servants tending to the physical aspects of each estate stayed there to tend to their continuing duties, requiring a separate set of such workers for each estate. This would include stewards, gamekeepers, gardeners, parkkeepers, dairymaids, stablehands, and a minimal house staff, etc.

The cost of living fashionably in London varied, of course. The Duke of Northumberland might spend £10,000 to run his London establishment in 1810, but if you were of more modest means, like the Bennetts, the average cost of running a London townhouse would be about your entire income for the year, so you would rent one, and only when necessary.

The cost of maintaining a London house did not include such things as a season subscription to a box at the Royal Opera House, which could cost as much as £2,500 (I assume depending on the box location). A 3 month subscription to Almack’s for the weekly Wednesday night dinners with supper “only” cost 10 guineas, or £10.10, but was worth a great deal more in terms of social consequence!

That £10 doesn’t sound like much, but consider that a governess might only be paid about £12 per year (although she also received room and board); a Private in the military might only earn £7.7 per year after deductions for food and some other expenses. Compare the Bennett’s income to that of an average clergyman, who might be paid £150/year, or less. Curates might earn £50/year if they were fortunate. Compare that to Byron’s rent for his London lodgings, at 4 guineas per week, or about £230 a year.

Other trappings of wealth were also dear. A carriage could cost between 45 and 100 guineas ($2,475-$5,500 @ $50=pound), depending on the size and style; a pair of horses to pull that carriage could cost another 50-65 guineas. (Then you might also need a coachman to drive it.)   Renovations to a London house or country seat could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds: the Londonderrys spent £200,000 on Holdernesse House, and the Lambs spent £100,000 on Melbourne Park. Lavish entertaining was expected of the rich. In 1799 the Duke of Rutland turned 21 and spent £5,000 for food and entertainment for a 3-day celebration at Belvoir Castle.

If you’d like to read more, here are some additional sources for information of this sort:

http://web.stanford.edu/~steener/su02/english132/conversions.htm  (using the 1988 valuation, offers tables to compare Jane Austen characters’ incomes and wealth, by books, also offers a list of typical Victorian incomes.

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/cost-of-living-in-regency-england/ (excellent article focused on Sense & Sensibility, but also including links to additional articles)

http://haleywhitehall.com/wealth-position-regency-england/  (nice article contrasting Darcy and Bingley to explain their respective social status)

How rich are your characters, or favorite heroes and heroines you’ve read? How rich do you want your fantasy heroes to be, or don’t you care? Have any favorite anecdotes of Regency extravagance you want to share?

Save

Save

Follow
Get every new post delivered to your inbox
Join millions of other followers
Powered By WPFruits.com