Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Exasperating Emma Binghamton Meeting

"EmmaTitlePage" by Jane Austen - Lilly Library, Indiana University.

It is such a happiness when good people get together--and they always do.Emma chapter 21. Spoken by one of the most exasperating characters in Emma.

Jane Austen’s Emma was published in 1816. As the title page attests, it was written by the author of Pride and Prejudice, but its main character, Emma Woodhouse, is not nearly as universally loved as the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet. Indeed, Emma is often considered as Jane Austen’s literary masterpiece, yet many people would rather read Pride and Prejudice. So how does the technically superior novel give way? Perhaps it is because, as Marie Sprayberry puts it, “its heroine, and many of her relatives and neighbors, are often thoroughly exasperating people?”

From the very beginning Emma and Elizabeth are presented differently. We first hear about Elizabeth from her father as “Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.” (Pride and Prejudice chapter 1). Later, after she is insulted by Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield Ball, Lizzy reacts. “She told the story however with great spirit among her friends; for she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in any thing ridiculous.” (Pride and Prejudice chapter 3)

Lizzy is quick, spirited, lively, and playful.

"Come, Darcy," said he, "I must have you dance"
Spirited Lizzy Bennet deals with the proud Mr. Darcy. 
(C. E. Brock at

Then we read about Emma.

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition,
The real evils, indeed, of Emma's situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself; these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments.” (Emma chapter 1.)

Handsome, clever , and rich to be sure, but also a tad arrogant and spoiled. It’s downhill from there.

"I planned the match from that hour"
Emma matchmaking 
(C. E. Brock at

Then there are Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, Mr. Woodhouse, and Miss Bates, all of them exasperating in some way. Frank is off to London for a haircut, Mr. Woodhouse wants everyone to eat thin gruel, Jane hardly speaks, and Miss Bates speaks far too much. Only the farmers, Mr. Knightly and Robert Martin, seem to make sense.

In the little village of Highbury, Jane Austen layers relationships on relationships; emotions and status mingle in a complex brew that leaves us wondering, as Marie Sprayberry puts it, “how can it all end happily?”.

Hypothetical map of Highbury by Penny Gay 

A story of “three or four country families,” Emma challenges us to truly understand some of the basic truths about character and relationships that can leave us a little uncomfortable.

It’s all a great theme for discussion. Please join us in Binghamton as Marie Sprayberry leads a discussion of Emma: Exasperating Characters. Here are the details:

Event:   Emma: Exasperating Characters a meeting of the former JASNA Syracuse region
Where: RiverRead Books, 5 Court Street, Binghamton
When:  Saturday, November 7, at 2 pm

It will be a great warm up for next year’s AGM. Marie will also discuss our recent reorganization. Rest assured, you will only discuss and not meet any exasperating characters.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

JASNA AGM - Return to the Regency

It is such a happiness when good people get together…Emma, chapter 21

Last weekend was JASNA’s Annual General Meeting in Louisville Kentucky and Jane Austen was correct in noting that when good people come together happiness follows. The weekend was full of creative company, intriguing insights, fabulous food, and merry music.

On Saturday we will all have the opportunity to savor the highlights of the weekend as we review the AGM at our JASNA CWNY meeting. Please join us at the Barnes and Noble in Pittsford at 1 pm. To tempt you, here are just a few of the things we considered:

How did a naval surgeon treat his patients?

 Royal Navy Surgeon

Surgeon's Instruments

How proficient was Mary Bennet at the pianoforte?

"Hammerfl├╝gel Conrad Graf rem" by Andreas Praefcke

Who was George Wickham? Impoverished soldier or master spy?

"Pride and Prejudice CH 15" by C. E. Brock

How did a Regency lady dress for visiting friends?

Regency Dress

How did a Regency lady travel?

Sedan Chair

How much would Darcy’s £10,000 per year be worth today?

What is an AGM really like?

 Salad to start dinner at the AGM

Belle of Louisville outside our hotel

Where is the best place to rent or buy Regency goods?

Why Regency Rentals and A Lady's Maid of course.

Hope to see you on Saturday.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Dollars and Cents and Sensibility

Edward Austen Knight

…as a farmer,…, he had to tell what every field was to bear next year,….The plan of a drain, the change of a fence, the felling of a tree, and the destination of every acre for wheat, turnips, or spring corn, ..." Emma, chapter12

Generally, I don’t like to do book reviews. It is too much like homework, and, for me, the idea of reviewing a book detracts from the enjoyment of reading. However, I have just finished reading a book that deserves to be read by all those who are interested in Jane Austen’s life and times.

The book is Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton Commerce and Community by Linda Slothouber (1). This book is the result of work done by the author as  a participant in JASNA’s International Visitor’s Program. The purpose of that work and the book is to examine the finances of Edward Knight’s estate and use that information ”to provide a historical context for Jane Austen’s allusions to estate management in her novels, and to help those who study or visit the village of Chawton understand the estate economy there” (p. 2)

The book succeeds beautifully and provides a wonderful window into the lives of the landed gentry in Jane Austen’s time. Edward Knight was, of course, Jane Austen’s brother. He was adopted by wealthy relatives and became heir to a large estate primarily in Hampshire and Kent. He provided the home in Chawton where Jane Austen wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion, and where she, perhaps, put Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility into their final forms. Jane Austen is also known to have visited Edward at his main residence at Godmersham Park in Kent. As her wealthiest relative, Edward would have provided Jane Austen with a close example of the land owning class in Regency England.

Godmersham Park, Home of Edward Knight 
Attribution: David Anstiss)

The book focuses on the finances of Edward Knight’s estate, but opens with a description of Edward Knight himself and his inheritance. Suffice to say, he was more Knightly than Rushworth and he took a great interest in the management of his estate. 

The book then focuses on the details of the finances and management of the estate. While the estate records are often incomplete, some of the best documented years are from 1808 to 1819, spanning the time of Jane Austen’s residence at Chawton. During this time the property in Hampshire generated an average income of £4,278. Income from Edward Knight’s other properties probably added about £3,800, for a total income of about £8,000. Mrs. Bennet would have been impressed. However, Edward Knight needed to be a careful steward since his income varied significantly over this period. The postwar years were especially difficult, as the income form the Hampshire properties fell to £3,722 in 1815 from a high of £4,909 in 1813.

Chawton House, Edward Knight's Residence in Hampshire, now Chawton House Library

Of course, Edward Knight wasn’t the only one living on the estate. Linda Slothouber also introduces us to all the others who lived around Chawton: the magistrate, justice of the peace, steward, estate servants, genteel tenants, farmers, and day laborers. We learn about how they lived, how much they earned and what roles they all played in the working of the estate.

Slothuber focuses on the finances of estate management, but if you are not inclined toward numbers, never fear. Slothouber’s clear prose and accessible style work to bring these characters to life. By the time I finished reading the book, I felt as if I had been living at Chawton for a few days, getting to know the people who lived there. I would highly recommend this book for anyone interested in understanding Jane Austen’s world.

For me, the next step will be to open up a spreadsheet and start working with the numbers to better understand Regency economics.

1. Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton Commerce and Community, Linda Slothouber, Woodpigeon Publishing, 2015.