Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen letters’

There seems to have always been a remarkable interest in who Jane Austen was, from the very moment the authorship of her novels was revealed. This interest extended into the Victorian era when her letters and other unpublished novels were made available to the public. Even now, Jane Austen has an ever-growing army of dedicated fans who avidly devour new movie adaptations and “new sequels” of the Austen novels, as well as movies about Jane’s life itself. Recently I have had the opportunity to watch some movie portrayals of the famous Regency authoress.

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen, in Becoming Jane (2007).

Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen, in Becoming Jane (2007).

Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane (2007) is loosely based on the speculative biography Becoming Jane Austen, by Jon Spence. It focuses on the life of Jane Austen during her years living at Steventon, before her family moved to Bath. Starring Anne Hathaway as the 20-year-old Jane, the movie shows the close relationship she has with her sister, Cassandra, and her family.

The movie focuses on the period of Jane Austen’s life when most young women of her time would have been looking for a husband. She meets Mr Tom Lefroy at a family party and strikes up an emotionally charged friendship, despite the initial conflict of his rudeness. They fall in love but realise the impossibility of their union unless they can convince his uncle to agree, as Tom is wholly dependant on his uncle for money and career connections. They end up eloping but Jane suddenly decides en route that their love would not survive their eventual poverty and goes back home.

In addition to Tom Lefroy, Jane is also pursued by a (fictional), Mr Wisely, who is the nephew and heir of rich Lady Gresham. She also has a third proposal from Mr John Warren at the conclusion of the movie.

Jane’s family prefer the match with Mr Wisely, as the marriage will provide their daughter with money and security. As she does not have much dowry, attracting a husband who is not already rich will be difficult for her. Jane talks frequently of her hopes of making her fortune by her pen, rather than by marriage, however her family – whilst they encourage her writing – seem to be skeptical about this.

I remember really liking this movie when it was first released, thinking that it seemed to portray the vivaciousness and wittiness that I believed was accurate to the author’s voice in her novels. It also seemed to cleverly link some of the everyday occasions in Jane’s life to the events in her novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, thus illustrating the ways in which she could have gleaned inspiration from her life. Unfortunately, as I began to research Jane Austen’s life in more detail it became apparent (and irritatingly annoying) that Becoming Jane was almost completely fiction!

Olivia as Jane Austen, in Miss Austen Regrets (2008).

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen, in Miss Austen Regrets (2008).

Miss Austen Regrets

I have also recently seen the movie Miss Austen Regrets (2008), starring Olivia Williams, which follows Jane’s later life as a much-loved spinster aunt and burgeoning author when she lived at Chawton Cottage.

This portrayal sees Jane spending time with her niece Fanny (daughter of her brother, Edward Knight) as she tries to decide whether or not to marry a charming Mr Plumtree. Jane uses her previous experiences in love and life to help guide her young niece in her decision.

The movie focuses on the fact that Jane remained unmarried and was poorer than she might have been if she had chosen to marry. Jane is made to feel responsible for not furthering the family fortunes when she refused to marry Harris Bigg in her earlier years, and maybe it is for this reason that she is preoccupied about writing for money in order to provide for her mother and sister.

The other love interest featured in this movie is that of Reverend Edward Bridges, who was the brother-in-law to Jane’s brother, Edward Knight. According to the screenplay, he had proposed to Jane several years earlier and been refused and had then married a Miss Harriet Foote. As could be expected, their conversations are peppered with the what-if’s and the could-have-been’s that one naturally has when considering what could have happened if a different decision had been made.

Whilst this movie is fairly soundly based on the letters of Jane Austen that were written between 1813 and 1815, the portrayal of Jane as a character seems markedly more melancholy and regretful than her letters indicate her to be. In fact, her conversations often bordered on being bitter and her relationship with her sister seemed equally strained. I found it hard to imagine that Jane could be like this after reading her letters.

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

A watercolour painting of Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen

So just who was Jane Austen?

Whilst I enjoyed both of these movies in different ways, I was initially puzzled as to why these portrayals of Jane Austen did not match up with the sort of person I had experienced through reading her personal letters.

One thing that bothered me was that these depictions of Jane seemed to be overly modern in terms of ideology. It was almost as though we, as a 21st century world, had infused our own more modern feminist ideologies on this Regency woman, such as the desire to have a career, to earn an independent living, and to marry for love. Whilst these modern ideals are important to the women of today, it is probably not accurate to suggest that the same ideals are ones that Regency women – or Jane in particular – aspired to, at least not in the same way that modern women value them.

However, it could be more simple than that. It could be more to do with movie producers generating a bottom dollar by striving to make a screenplay acceptable to a modern audience, regardless of whether the resulting movie is accurate in its depiction of a historical figure. This makes sense really. These days movies need to have a good storyline with maybe some action or romance to help them attract interest and make money in the box office. In short, the content of a movie (historical or otherwise) needs to meet the ideals and expectations of a modern audience. It is possible that a truly accurate portrayal of Jane Austen might be just too boring for us all to watch!? Heaven forbid, but that could be true!

What are your reflections on these movies? Do they fit with your picture of who Jane Austen was? Do you prefer a historical accurate film or one with a good storyline?

In my next post on this topic, I will attempt to examine some of the realities of Jane’s life, including the men who featured in her life as possible suitors. I will also explore some of the ways in which our modern ideologies may have affected our view of who Jane Austen was. For instance, is it accurate to suggest that she wanted to have a career or that she wanted to be famous, and is it realistic to assume that she could have become rich?

Related Posts

Aunt Jane!? An Author!?

Christmas with Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – a book review

Lady Susan: an eighteenth century epistolary novella – a book review

Sources and Relevant Links

A Portrait of Jane Austen, by David Cecil – Amazon

Becoming Jane (2007) – the movie

Review: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence – by AustenBlog

The Truth about Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy – by Following Austen

Fact and Fiction in Becoming Jane – by Following Austen

Miss Austen Regrets (2008) – the movie

Miss Austen Regrets: How Jane lost her own Darcy – an article by The Independant (April 2008)

Miss Austen Regrets: Brook Edward Bridges – by Jane Austen Society of North America

Jane Austen’s letters, Brabourne’s edition – read online

Memoir of Jane Austen, by James Edward Austen-Leigh – read online

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I happened upon a letter written by Jane Austen in 1817 to her niece Cassandra, daughter of her brother Charles. This particular Cassandra Austen was born in 1808, so would have only been about nine when receiving this letter. The “little Cassy” mentioned in the letter was probably Cassandra Austen, born to Jane Austen’s brother Francis, in 1814.

I thought it appropriate for the New Year, and – since I am away on holidays – a quick and easy post for your entertainment. It is written in a simple code, with the letters of each word backwards.


I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey. Ruoy xis snisuoc emac ereh yadretsey, dna dah hcae a eceip fo ekac. Siht si elttil Yssac’s yadhtrib, dna ehs si eerht sraey dlo. Knarf sah nugeb gninrael Nital. Ew deef eht Nibor yreve gninrom. Yllas netfo seriuqne retfa uoy. Yllas Mahneb sah tog a wen neerg nwog. Teirrah Thgink semoc yreve yad ot daer ot Tnua Ardnassac. Doog eyb, ym raed Yssac.

Tnua Ardnassac sdnes reh tseb evol, dna os ew od lla.

fireworksRouy etanoitceffa Tnua, ENAJ NETSUA.

Notwahc: Naj. 8.

Happy New Year to you all!

Relevant Posts

Christmas with Jane Austen

Sources and Relevant Links

The Letters of Jane Austen – read online



I wish you a happy new year. Your six cousins came here yesterday, and had each a piece of cake. This is little Cassy’s birthday, and she is three years old. Frank has begun learning Latin. We feed the Ribon every morning. Sally often enquires after you. Sally Benham has got a new green gown. Harriet Knight comes every day to read to Aunt Cassandra. Good bye, my dear Cassy.

Aunt Cassandra sends her best love, and so we do all.

Your affectionate Aunt, JANE AUSTEN.

Chawton: Jan. 8.

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A Regency Christmas

A Regency Christmas

In order to celebrate Christmas this year, I thought I might share with you a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, written on Christmas Day in 1798.

On this particular Christmas, Cassandra was on a visit to Godmersham Park in Kent. It was this property that her brother, Edward Austen, had lived in after being adopted by Mr and Mrs Thomas Knight, who had no children. Edward had inherited this property when Thomas Knight died in 1794.

I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible. I am full of joy at much of your information; that you should have been to a ball, and have danced at it, and supped with the Prince, and that you should meditate the purchase of a new muslin gown, are delightful circumstances. I am determined to buy a handsome one whenever I can, and I am so tired and ashamed of half of my present stock, that I even blush at the sight of the wardrobe which contains them. But I will not be much longer libelled by the possession of my coarse spot; I shall turn it into a petticoat very soon. I wish you a merry Christmas, but no compliments of the season.

Jane does not tend to describe much about the Christmas celebrations in which her family were involved, which probably indicates more about the lack of interest Cassandra would have in such descriptions, as Jane seems to focus more on news items that are of interest to her sister in her correspondence. The thing about Jane Austen’s letters is that they (at least those that survive) are lighthearted and humorous in a very similar way to her novels. They also demonstrate the very close relationship she had with her sister.

Wishing you and your families a very merry Christmas for 2012 and a happy and exciting New Year for 2013!

Related Posts

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

A Happy New Year

Sources and Relevant Links

The Letters of Jane Austen – read online

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The fifth stop on my Regency Journey is to make a morning dress for daywear. Dresses worn during this era were usually made of a light cotton muslin, and were often dotted with small geometric prints or thin vertical lines.

All clothing during this era, up until about 1860, was entirely hand-stitched and fitted for the person it was for. It is therefore understandable that Jane Austen should lament over the decisions required upon ordering a new gown to be made up.

I cannot determine what to do about my new gown; I wish such things were bought ready-made. I have some hopes of meeting Martha at the christening at Deane next Tuesday, and shall see what she can do for me. I want to have something suggested which will give me no trouble of thought or direction.

Jane Austen, in a letter to her sister (1798)

The dress I am making is a bib-front dress, and is a replication of a period morning dress dated around 1798-1805. The pattern for this dress has been drafted in Patterns of Fashion: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold.

Making a Regency Morning Dress

The Pattern

A morning dress; from Patterns of Fashion 1, by Janet Arnold.

As the pattern was printed in inches, I have used imperial measurements for reference, except for seam allowances, which were 1.5cm.

1. Draw out the pattern on 1 inch grid paper, and cut out the paper pattern. Make sure you add seam allowances, either to the paper pattern or when you cut out the fabric. Janet Arnold has not added seam allowances to any of her patterns in Patterns of Fashion. In the end, I used my own body measurements to make sure the pattern pieces would fit, and then added the necessary seam allowances. All measurements stated from here on DO NOT include seam allowances.

2. One very important point about this type of pattern that is drafted from a particular dress from a particular era: they are usually made to fit one particular person and adjustments will need to be made to fit it correctly on a different body, like your own. This particular pattern seems to have been made for a person about 163cm tall, or 5ft 4in, with a waist (underbust) measurement of about 25 inches. As I am both taller and wider than this, the dimensions of the pattern pieces had to be changed.

Important Measurements to take for this pattern:

  • Bust circumference
  • Waist circumference (the waistline is high under the bust in this case)
  • Arm circumference: at both the underarm and above the elbow (with the arm bent! or you might not be able to drink a cup of tea with your garment on!)
  • Arm length
  • Circumference of the arm at the shoulder (armhole measurement)
  • Shoulder width
  • Shoulder to bust (or to waist) height
  • Waist (underbust) to floor measurement (for skirt length)

These measurements can then be checked against the pattern pieces. It is important to remember that you do not want a garment that fits you so tightly that you can hardly move for fear of splitting the seams, so remember to allow a little extra for this on your pattern pieces.

3. Adjust your pattern pieces accordingly. I made the bodice back wider by 3 inches (shown un-enlarged in the picture below), the back shoulder strap longer by 3 inches, the sleeve pieces wider down the arm length by about 1 inch. The skirt length was also lengthened by 5 inches.

The pattern pieces for short sleeve (cut on bias), long undersleeve (cut on bias), sleeve lining, bodice back (outer cut on bias, lining cut on straight grain), bodice front (cut outer and lining) and back shoulder (cut outer and lining).

The pattern for the skirt front and back were merely two large rectangles. The front was cut on the fold, measuring 20″ x 49 “, and the back was cut on two layers of fabric, measuring 30″ x 49”. The original dress was trained (with the back skirt 15 inches longer than the front), but I decided to have mine untrained.

The waistband was 81 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. All additional pattern pieces (such as the front stomacher piece and the various edging bands) are described below.

Construction Steps

Whilst Patterns of Fashion shows accurate pictures of the pattern pieces, it gives only brief desciptions of how to construct the garment. These descriptions are also limited to the manner in which the particular garment was constructed in that particular era, which is not all that helpful unless you are sewing the garment completely by hand. This meant that there was a significant amount of work to do in order to figure out how to put the dress together! For these reasons, the patterns in this book are more suited to the experienced seamstress rather than the beginner.

1. Skirt: Sew the skirt together first, beginning with the centre back seam. The two skirt side seams are then sewn, leaving an 11 inch opening at the top on each side.

2. Bodice: Sew bodice lining together at shoulder seams, pinning side back seams to check that it fits. Then sew bodice outer together at shoulder seams.

3. Bodice cont’: Sew the lining and outer bodices together (right sides together) along neckline and around centre front panels.

The bodice outer and lining pinned around the neckline.

4. Bodice cont’: The side seams of the bodice outer and lining can then be sewn, but make sure you check that it fits!

The bodice, with side seams sewn.

At the sides of the picture above, you can see that the outer bodice has an extra piece of lining attached to it to form the front section. The resulting piece mirrors the front lining piece, but it could have been cut entirely from the outer material. This small area of lining will be pinned under the bust and will be hidden by the front stomacher piece that attaches over the top of it.

5. Attaching the skirt back to the bodice: Gather 16 inches of the skirt at the centre back, fitting all the gathers into the back bodice panel. Pleat the remaining sides of the skirt back piece in the following manner. On each side of the gathers, measure 4 and 1/2 inches and fold this towards the back to form a large pleat. Repeat to make a second pleat on top of the other. Then, working from the sides, and leaving a 2 inch space from the side seam, measure 2 and 1/2 inches and fold towards the front to form a pleat. Repeat to form a second pleat on top of the other.

You should end up with four back pleats (two either side of the gathers), and four side-back pleats (two on either side). You can see them pinned in the picture below.

The skirt back pinned to the bodice outer (with bodice lining free). The centre is tightly gathered, with one set of pleats folded towards the back and then the next set of pleats folded towards the front.

When sewing the skirt back to the bodice, leave the bodice lining free.

6. Attaching the skirt front to the waistband: Gather the skirt front in 3 sections. The centre front 14 inches should to be eased into 11 inches and pinned to the centre front of the waistband. The remainder of the two sides of the skirt front are then gathered to fit within the next 5 inches of the waistband.

The skirt front, gathered and pinned to the waistband. You can see the three separate areas of gathering.

You can see from the picture above that I have also sewn a facing onto each side where the opening of the skirt is. Instead of a facing, you can finish off the seam by folding the seam allowance over to hide any raw edges.

7. Front Stomacher: The front stomacher piece, which sits over the bust, is a piece of lining that is sewn with 1/16 inch tucks on the straight grain. I did rows of 4 tucks, each tuck 1/8 inch apart, which were then separated from the next set by 7/8 inch, all over the fabric. The stomacher piece (14″ x 5″) is then cut on the cross grain.

Lining material sewn with tucks, then laid out with pattern piece.

The stomacher is edged on each side with 1″ x 5″ lengths of material. The top edge of the stomacher is gathered in two places above each breast and edged with a 1″ x 11 and 1/2″ piece of material. The bottom edge is then attached to the waistband, making the finished width of the waistband 3/8 inch.

The front stomacher piece sewn to the waistband.

The waistband can then be finished off. For the part where the stomacher is sewn, the seam allowances can be trimmed and then folded in so that a piece of bias binding can be hand sewn to hide any raw edges. For the rest of the waistband, fold it under and down on itself to hide any raw edges, and then sew.

The inside view of the waistband with the bias binding pinned.

8. Sleeves: The three sleeve sections (short sleeve, long sleeve, sleeve lining) are each made up separately. Then the sleeve lining can be hemmed.

The sleeve lining is put inside the short sleeve (wrong sides together) and the back area (between the shoulder seam and the back bodice seam) of the short sleeve is tucked to fit. A small section of the lower edge of the sleeve is gathered and an arm band, measuring 1″ x 12”, binds the lower edge of the sleeve.

A back view of the short sleeve, tucked to fit. The sleeve arm band and gathers can also be seen.

The sleeve and the lining are then sewn as one to the bodice.

After the long undersleeve is sewn, it can be hemmed top and bottom, and then hand-sewn to the sleeve lining. Sleeves of this era reached below the wrist to the mid-hand level.

I had a lot of trouble with the sleeves fitting, so I ended up unpicking them to make the armhole bigger. I also re-cut the sleeve lining to be the same size as the outer sleeve, which seemed to fix my problem!

9. Finishing off! Handsew bodice lining to bodice (where it is attached to the skirt back). Attach two small loops at the back for the waistband to thread through.

The back panel, with two loops to thread the waistband through.

Attach some hooks and eyes on the underbust piece at the centre front. You could also use eyelets and cording or pins to hold it in place.

The underbust piece, with hooks and eyes attached

Attach two buttons to the bodice front, to hold the stomacher piece in place.

The stomacher piece, held up with buttons

Hem the bottom edge.

How to put it on!

1. Put your arms through the sleeves and then hook the underbust piece closed.

2. Thread the waistband through the back loops from each side and then tie it up at the front, under the bust.

Hook the underbust pieces together and tie up the waistband.

3. Button the front stomacher onto the bodice.

The front stomacher buttoned up, all dressed and ready to go!

The back view, all finished!

This dress is a perfect costume for pregnant women (as most Regency dresses are) or breastfeeding mothers, due to the bib-front design. Though it can make the wearer look a bit frumpy! Adjusting the gathers at the front so that all the gathering is at the sides of the dress can improve this.

Janet Arnold mentions that this type of morning dress would be worn with a chemisette of some description to fill in the neckline. I will be making one of these soon.

For the next stop on my Regency Journey, I will be making another morning dress.

To view all my posts in order, go to My Regency Journey.

Related Posts

My Regency Journey: In the beginning…

My Regency Journey: Making a Bodiced Petticoat

How to Make a Regency Poke Bonnet in Ten Steps

Sources and Relevant Links

Patterns of Fashion 1: Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c. 1660-1860, by Janet Arnold – buy through Amazon

Sewing Tucks

Jane Austen Festival – website

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