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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spot Jane Austen in Downton Abbey

(Spoiler Alert - This post contains parts of all the six episodes of Season 1.)
The new glossy costume drama, Downton Abbey, is a contemporary take on life upstairs and downstairs. Set in Edwardian times, the events begin in 1912 and finish right at the onset of the First World War.

In the series, we follow the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants. With a splendid cast – including the impressive Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess and the extremely likeable Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham – the series is a captivating take on life back in the days.

                                                    Maggie Smith fails to disappoint  as the Dowager Countess.

                           Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) is a picture of benevolence and kindness.

There are several interesting references to the changing world; the Titanic has just sunk, the suffragette movement is up and running, and people are just getting used to electric lighting, driving “motors” and using telephones. While the series is a little slow-paced from the beginning, it holds your attention with its intriguing mysteries and humorous moments.

The Crawleys reading about the Titanic in the newspaper: Butler Mr Carson (Jim Carter), Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), Lord Grantham and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery).

But what really took my attention was the fact that the series has got plenty of inspiration from Jane Austen’s classics. The first instance of an Austen-inspired moment is when a distant cousin, Matthew Crawley, arrives.

Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens – Edward Ferrars in the 2008 Sense and Sensibility) with his mother Mrs Crawley (Penelope Winton).


With no son to be heir of the estate, Matthew as the third cousin and closest male relative is to inherit the estate after the passing of the Earl.  As Matthew arrives at Downton Abbey, everyone has their doubts of him, but there is strong pressure on the eldest daughter, Mary (above right), to marry him to secure the future of the estate. Doesn’t this remind of you of Mr Collins’ arrival at Longbourn?

Initially, Lady Mary is unwilling to marry Matthew, as she finds him too common. As she gets to know him better over time, she begins to fall in love with him…


Matthew reminds her of some of the choicest remarks that she made to him when he first arrived at Downton…


…and she goes on to say, “you must pay no attention to the things I said”. Déjà-vu in Pride and Prejudice?


Mary tells her mother about Matthew’s proposal and confesses to her that she loves Matthew, saying “I think I may have loved him for much longer than I knew!”  Think Elizabeth Bennet again…


Then, the story turns into Persuasion. Lady Mary’s aunt, Lady Rosamund (Samantha Bond – Maria Bertram in Mansfield Park 1983) persuades her to turn down Matthew’s offer.


Later, Mary’s sister, Lady Edith, vindictively says to Mary – in an analogy to Jane Austen in Persuasion - “I believe that she who loves last, loves the longest”. This reminds me of Anne Elliott, talking about her love for Capt Wentworth...


To my disappointment, the events in this Austenesque drama were left open and have yet to unfold. I’m left looking forward to the new season in 2011 to find out if Mary and Matthew can overcome their pride and be persuaded to marry.

Watch this space!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Jane Austen’s Christmas


In Jane Austen’s time, Christmas was celebrated from December 6th to January 6th. The Regency Christmas was not celebrated with the same grandeur as it is today; there was no Santa and no stockings, and Christmas trees and cards did not become widespread until the Victorian era decades later. It was a time of charity and goodwill. 

Christmas was also a time with plenty of parties, balls and lively plays and card games. In 1806, Fanny Austen, Jane Austen’s niece, wrote “We have all spent a very merry Christmas…We had different amusements every evening. First we had Bullet Pudding , then Snap Dragon. In the evening we dance or play at cards…”

Playing cards

Christmas feasts were common in Jane Austen’s days. Emma and her circle of friends are all invited to Randalls, Mr and Mrs Weston’s home, for dinner at Christmas. Mr Elton says (Chapter 13),  "This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend's house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se'nnight."

Christmas must have been a lively, even noisy occasion. In Persuasion (Chapter 14), Jane Austen describes the atmosphere like this:

"Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrave were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were trestles and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of the noise of the others."

Lady Russell remarks, "I hope I shall remember in future not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holiday."


                                                                      Holly clipart from

At the time, Christmas decorations were not quite as elaborate as they are these days. As we read in the previous passage, gentlefolk obviously used silk and gold paper to decorate their homes. It was also common to decorate the house with greenery, such as holly, mistletoe, rosemary, bay and laurel.  Candles and fires were also an integral part of the Regency Christmas.


                                                           12th Night cake from

The 12th Night, marking the end of Christmas, on January 6th, was certainly a grander celebration than Christmas Day. On the 12th Night, families would get together for a feast and have a special cake. What a wonderful way to end the Christmas season!


For those interested in learning more about the Regency Christmas, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath are hosting an exhibition on how Christmas was celebrated in Jane Austen’s days. The exhibition will continue until 31 December 2010. Read more about the exhibition here.

You can read more about the Georgian and Regency Christmas on the Jane Austen Centre website here and here.

Jo Beverley, author of many romantic Regency Christmas stories, has written a thorough article on the Regency Christmas.

To learn more about the 12th Night celebrations, you can visit Austen Only and the BBC History website.

To learn about Christmas games and food, you can visit the Christmas Archives and the Literary Liaisons.  

To read about Christmas decorations, visit Jane Austen’s World and Austen Only.


Season’s greetings to one and all!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas Card 

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas My True  Love Gave to Me…

12 wedding bells a ringing

11 balls for dancing

10 thousand a year

9 lords proposing

8 officers in red

7 ponds for swimming

6 single men of fortune

5 Bennet sisters

4 shelves in the closet

3 daughters married

2 Fitzwilliam brothers



I came across this hilarious card at


Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Home Is Where the Heart Is


                                                                                            Image from:

Forgive me the clichéd title – I could think of nothing better to describe my learnings from Part One of At Home with the Georgians.

The documentary shows the historian, Professor Amanda Vickery delving into family histories from the Georgian era. In the series, she discusses the significance of having a home of your own and what it meant for the men and women of the Georgian era. For her research, Vickery visits houses both grand and modest and reads through the letters and account books of Georgians.

From the first episode, I have learnt the following about the Georgians:

1) A home would define an individual’s status in society and be a matter of pride.

2) Like Jane Austen, the Georgians in general were very transparent about money and property, with open directories displaying the funds of eligible bachelors.

3) If you were a spinster dependent on family support or a bachelor, you would be an object of ridicule and lead a lonely life, perhaps ending up either depressed or drinking.

4) Everyone wanted to be married, and had a clear idea of what a good wife or husband would be.

5) A good husband would have a good income and a comfortable home to offer his wife. He would appreciate his wife’s wishes and taste, and give her a lot of power in the running of the household.

6) A good wife would be an efficient manager of the home, a multi-tasker, who would also have the energy to be good in bed.

7) Only in a comfortable home would you feel you had achieved your aim in life and be able to lead a productive, happy life – like Jane Austen at her permanent home in Chawton.

I enjoyed watching Vickery’s visit to Chawton Cottage. I also had the chance to look into Chawton House, which I have yet to see from inside. A grand house indeed!

The first episode is a fascinating account of the Georgian lifestyle and domestic values.  The dramatisation pieces make the documentary all the more interesting to watch, and Vickery’s humour and expressive face make it personal for viewers. A real treat for any history lover – or a new history lover for that matter, as this documentary truly makes history come alive.


For a more thorough recount of the episode, you could visit the following blogs:

Austen Only

Jane Austen’s World

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!


Jane Austen was born on this day, 235 years ago.  December 16th, 1775, was a bitterly cold winter’s day.

Mr Austen wrote, “We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy, and a future companion. She is to be Jenny, and seems to me that as if she would be as like Henry as Cassy is to Neddy”. Baby Jane looked like her brother Henry.

Personally, for me it’s fascinating how close Jane Austen’s birthday is to my own – just 5 days apart! My birthday is on December 21st, which makes us both Sagittarians…hmmm.



Austen-Leigh, W. /Austen-Leigh, R. (2009) Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters - A Family Record. Echo Library.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Celebrating Jane Austen’s Birthday at Walcot Church


The Jane Austen Centre in Bath are organising a celebration on the occasion of Jane Austen’s birthday on December 16th. The event takes place at St Swithin’s church, Alcot, where Jane Austen’s parents got married and her father, George Austen, is buried. St Swithin’s Church is located off the Paragon (below), where Jane Austen stayed with her uncle and aunt Leigh-Perrot when she first visited Bath in 1797 at the age of 22.

A wonderful chance for those in the UK to celebrate our favourite author! 

(I wish I could be there)

Here’s the invite:


Celebrating Jane Austen's Birthday


Music, Mulled wine, Mince pies and Musings!


Thursday 16th December 2010
St Swithin's Church, Paragon, Bath BA1 5LY
Doors open 7pm starts at 7.30pm till 9.30pm
Tickets £5 each includes interval refreshments
Available from our online giftshop
By telephone 01225 443000 ext 202
By post and in person from:-
Jane Austen Centre, 40 Gay Street, BATH BA1 2NT

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Writing Jane Austen (with difficulty)

Meet Georgina, an author with a highly acclaimed (yet not successful) debut novel behind her, who has just been told (not asked) by her publisher to write a sequel to an unfinished Jane Austen novel with a deadline of 2 months. Georgina, a researcher of the Victorian era, has never read a Jane Austen novel but is highly critical of her style. The first half of the book describes her struggle to learn to like Jane Austen, until she finally opens Pride and Prejudice, and gets hooked.

Then starts writer’s block. Until p. 221, Georgina has not been able to produce a page for her novel. Once she eventually starts writing, she is faced with one hurdle after another… and with the publishers watching her progress like a hawk and spying on her to get the job done, the process is daunting.

Elizabeth Aston - with a name similar to Austen’s but a style entirely her own - has written a story about the difficulty of writing a book in the style of Jane Austen. We follow the main protagonist through her struggle to write a book, trying to find motivation to start writing, doing research into the period, drawing out characters and a plot in the style of Jane Austen… living and breathing Jane Austen during the writing process.

At the beginning, any Jane Austen fan likely to read this book would not be able to relate to the main character, who has a deep dislike of Jane Austen. It is only when she “discovers” the ingenuity of Jane Austen in chapters 16-17 that you start to identify with the character. I enjoyed these chapters  where Georgina reads one novel after another, unable to put a book down… comparing the experience of discovering Austen to seeing Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro for the first time or a magical performance of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which “left her floating on air for days afterwards”.

This noteworthy piece of modern chicklit delights you with some sharp dialogue and lively characters. Many of the characters resemble those of Jane Austen, such as the snobbish, Lady Pamela – a modern-day reference to Lady Catherine De Bourgh – very disagreeable indeed! Some of the characters, such as the hideous publisher, Livia Harkness,  border the ridiculous and are too unlikely to  be realistic.

The novel does include plenty of delightful references to Jane Austen’s life, showing the author’s familiarity with and love for Jane Austen.  She has also picked out dozens of character names from Austen novels, from Mrs Goddard and Harriet Smith to Dr Perry and a dog called Wickham… but personally, I found this mildly annoying. 

Though fairly well written and partly entertaining, the negative vibes from the beginning of the book leave you exhausted. If you are planning to write a book of your own, I would steer clear of this, as Writing Jane Austen will do anything but encourage to write!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Charming Villain Vs The Boring Hero?

In her recent post, Raquel from Jane Austen in Portuguese discussed how she’s always in doubt if Marianne would have been happy, or not,  had she married John Willoughby. She asked her readers if that was simply a female romanticist view on life and would men think in a different way.

Heroes and Villains 

Lovely collages provided by:

Interestingly, I’ve had this conversation over and over again with a Jane Austen-sceptic friend. He is a typical Brontë-ite, believing that literature should bring out our passions and our deepest emotions and describe characters that are vivacious and passionate, even mischievous.

“Why do Jane Austen’s heroines always end up with the boring type? Why are the charming, handsome men always portrayed as villains?” “Look at Sense and Sensibility – Marianne ends up marrying the old, brooding Colonel Brandon, in Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth goes for Mr Darcy instead of the charismatic Wickham, Emma ends up with the patronising Mr Knightley instead of the mysterious, irresistible Frank Churchill…the pattern repeats itself again and again.”

Strictly speaking, that isn’t always the case  - Persuasion’s Mr Wentworth is certainly as charming as any man, beating Mr Elliott any day. In Northanger Abbey, Mr Tilney is far more attractive than the bragging John Thorpe. In Mansfield Park, Mr Crawford appears too snooty and self-important to strike one as an attractive character.

What I feel Jane Austen is trying to imply is that a woman will always be happier with a sensible man with good morals. In her stories, she often “tests” her heroes to find out if they are responsible characters. Mr Darcy shows his kindness by paying off Wickham. Colonel Brandon rescues Marianne and looks after her, showing that he has been there all along despite her flirtation with the irresponsible Willoughby. We also know that the Jane Austen heroes improve on acquaintance,  once we have seen their true colours.

What are your views on this? 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sense and Sensibility the Tamil Way


I enjoyed seeing Aisha – the Hindi version of Jane Austen’s Emma – recently, so I decided to get hold of the Tamil version of Sense and Sensibility, too. The film from 2000 is called Kandukondain Kandukondain (translating “I Have Found it”) and is a typical South Indian film with its colourful song and dance sequences and plentiful tears and drama.

The film features some of the biggest actors and actresses from Tamil cinema, such as Ajith, Aishwarya Rai and Tabu, as well as a score by A. R. Rahman who recently received an Oscar for his score for Slumdog Millionaire.

The film begins with an action scene, showing an Indian army commando fighting Tamil rebels in the jungle. We then move onto the beautiful setting of South Indian countryside, with scenic images of swaying palm trees and lush paddy fields and characters dressed in brightly coloured sarees.


You soon begin to see similarities to Sense and Sensibility. The film is about two very different sisters: Sowmya (Elinor - right)  – the quiet and sensible big sister, Meenakshi (Marianne - left) – the romantic, passionate younger sister. They live with their mother, little sister and grandfather in a grand family house.


                                                                                                      Sowmya (Tabu)

Sowmya is the village school principal, whereas Meenakshi, full of energy, dreams of becoming a singer and is shown to spend her days running on fields, singing and reading classical poetry.


                                                                                        Meenakshi (Aishwarya Rai)

As their grandfather is about to die, the girls face the dilemma of marriage. Both sisters have differing views on marriage; Sowmya is determined not to marry a man of her own choice, whereas Meenakshi wants to marry for love. They both know that the wisest thing would be to marry a wealthy doctor or engineer to ensure a comfortable future for all of them.


                                                                                       Sowmya and Manohar (Ajith).

Manohar (Edward), an aspiring film director, has decided not to continue his father’s business against the parents’ wishes. He comes to shoot a film at the family home, and falls in love with Sowmya. However, he can’t get married until he becomes more successful in his career. In the meanwhile, Major Bala (Colonel Brandon), a wounded ex-officer (shown fighting as a commando at the beginning) who now runs an attractive florist business, falls in love with Meenakshi.

Meenakshi is not interested in this older man and falls desperately in love with a well-known businessman, Srikanth (Willoughby). The scene is a direct copy from S & S; Meenakshi is out in the rain, slips off a stone and falls, Srikanth miracuously appears from nowhere and rescues her – the next day they are seen romancing over poetry.

image                                                  Srikanth (Abbas) rescues Meenakshi in the rain.


                                                                                                       Love over poetry.

Following the original story, the grandfather dies, and the ladies are ousted from their family home. While everyone else despairs, the sensible Sowmya suggests that they move to Chennai – the capital city – and find work. Both the girls succeed in their careers – Sowmya at a software company and Meenakshi as a singer – and make enough money to buy a flat for the family.

In the meanwhile, Srikanth goes bankrupt and marries a rich girl for money. Meenakshi hopes to meet Srikanth in Chennai, but he never answers her calls. When she finds out that he has got married, she runs out in the rain and (instead of falling ill) falls in a drain and gets hurt. It is Major Bala that rescues her and this heroic act makes Meenakshi fall in love with this older man.


                                                                                 Meenakshi walking in the rain.


                                                            Major Bala comforting Meenakshi at the hospital.

Sowmya, on the other hand, reads in a tabloid that Manohar has been romancing an actress from his movie. When he comes to see her, she refuses to see him. Manohar convinces her that he has done nothing wrong, proposes to her, and is accepted. The film ends in an Austenesque double wedding and everyone is happy.


                                   Manohar proposes to Sowmya who is watching him from the balcony.

Once again, I have to reiterate how well Jane Austen’s stories adapt to Indian culture, India being a traditional, class-conscious society with strong family values. Jane Austen’s characters are so much at home in a traditional and modern Indian setting. Thanks to Jane Austen’s wonderful characterisations, it is no wonder that Kandukondain Kandukondain became one of the biggest hits in the history of Tamil cinema.

So if you don’t fall asleep while watching a film extending to three hours in length, don’t feel too sorry for the gorgeous sisters ending up with revolting looking men with various amounts of facial hair, and don’t mind the endless song-and-dance sequences, I recommend this experience to any fan of Sense and Sensibility.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

My Regency Ball Gown

When I was 17 years old, we had a prom at school. For the ball, we rehearsed traditional ballroom dances for months before the event.  It was a custom to dress in a period dress for the ball, and the style of dress was an obvious choice for me. It was to be a Regency-style dress: a long gown with a high waistline.

My mum designed and stitched the dress for me overnight, and I loved it! She still has the dress in her wardrobe, so I asked her to send a picture of the dress.

Here are some photos of the gown, with mum’s beautiful friend as a model:


The fabric is a heavy silk (unlike the light muslins of the period) with lace trimmings on the puffy sleeves and neckline.



At the back, there are four buttons for dressing and undressing.


The dress flows beautifully and is a delight to dance with. 


I wonder if the dress still fits me… I hope to wear it to the Jane Austen festival in Bath one day. :)

Now where can I find a bonnet to match?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

‘Twas about time…

…to laminate the covers my paperback copy of The Complete Novels of Jane Austen. It was starting to become tattered due to over-usage. Now I can safely continue browsing through my favourite novels!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jane Austen and The Oxford Connection

During my trip to the UK, I stayed with my brother in Oxford. Through family connections, Oxford was also a place familiar to Jane Austen in many ways.

Jane Austen’s father and two of her brothers, James and Henry, studied at Oxford. Her father, and later James, became Fellows of St John’s College.

Jane’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Leigh, was a Fellow at All Souls College (below).

Thomas Leigh’s brother, Theophilus, was President of Balliol College (below) in the early 18th Century.

                                                           From the Balliol College website:

In the spring of 1783, when Jane was just seven and Cassandra was ten, the sisters were sent to a boarding institution in Oxford. Being so young, Jane was probably sent there as a companion to Cassandra. At the time, Theophilus Leigh was President at Balliol and James was resident at St John’s, and could chaperone the girls.  The sisters were tutored in Oxford by a Mrs Ann Cawley, who was the widow of the former Principal of Brasenose College. Mrs Cawley was in the family – her brother, Dr Cooper, was married to Jane’s Aunt. Jane Cooper, Jane’s cousin, accompanied the sisters to Oxford.  


Oxford appears to have been a gloomy place for young Jane to stay in. Mrs Cawley is said to have been “stiff and solemn” in her approach, imposing petty rules and regulations on the girls. James took the girls sightseeing through “dismal chapels, dusty libraries, and greasy halls than Jane at least could bare to remember” . Later, Jane described the experience, saying “it gave me the vapours for 2 days afterwards”. Luckily the girls were soon moved to another boarding school, which is another story altogether…

Oxford certainly influenced Jane in many ways, indirectly if not directly. With limited formal education, Jane learnt literature from her father and poetry from James, both Oxford scholars. As suggested by Issawi, her vivid style of writing may have been influenced by The Loiterer, the weekly periodical edited by James and Henry between 1789-90, while they were at Oxford.


What is interesting is that many of Jane’s prominent male characters,  all clergymen, went to Oxford: Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, James Morland and Edward Ferrars. These are all respectable characters with strong moral values.

In Sense and Sensibility (Chapter 19), Edward describes his unfashionable choice of profession, saying “I was… entered at Oxford and have been properly idle ever since."

In Mansfield Park (Chapter 28), “Fanny proceeded in her journey safely and cheerfully, and as expeditiosly as could rationally be hoped in the dirty month of February. They entered Oxford, but she could take only a hasty glimpse of Edmund's college as they passed along”. Fanny, of course, admired Edmund for his choice of profession and was excited to see where he studied to become a clergyman.


Oxford must have left an impression on Jane, as in 1816, Jane wrote to her nephew Edward, persuading him to go to Oxford. “You must go to Oxford…a little change of scene may be good for you”, she wrote.

I can only conclude that you must go to Oxford, if you wish to know Jane Austen better!

Austen-Leigh, J. E. (2002). A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections. Oxford World Classics.
De La Faye/Austen-Leigh, W. (2004) Jane Austen - A Family record. CUP. 
Issawi, C. (1983). Jane Austen, Oxford and Cambridge: Pride and Prejudice. Persuasions. Jane Austen Society of North America.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The First Biography of Jane Austen

I’ve finally got my hands on the most authentic piece of work on Jane Austen’s life – the memoir written by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, who knew Jane Austen when he was still young. No longer do I have to rely on an e-book!

Interestingly, this edition has been edited by Kathryn Sutherland of the disputed Austen manuscripts fame. 


                   James Edward Austen-Leigh

In 1870, over 50 years after Jane Austen’s death, Austen-Leigh asked for letters, opinions and reflections from his sisters, brothers and cousins - all those who knew Jane - and wrote this memoir with what little information he had. The memoir also features Jane’s brother, Henry Austen’s brief Memoir from 1833, Jane’s niece, Anna Lefroy’s Recollections and Caroline Austen’s Memoir, as well as letters from Jane’s nieces.


               Henry Austen

Although the Memoir is the most authentic piece of work ever written on Jane Austen’s life, we have to bear in mind that it has been written with Victorian sensibilities in mind. Some interesting details of her life were shunned to maintain the reputation of the family, such as the existence of Jane’s handicapped brother, George, and other family histories of negative connotation, such as the arrest of Jane’s aunt, Mrs Leigh-Perrot. 

AnnaLefroy2 CarolineAusten

                               Anna Lefroy                                                                         Caroline Austen

The interesting letters included in the contemporary edition truly shed light to the work behind this memoir and to what was omitted and what was included in the final edition, e.g:

  • Caroline Austen asks Austen-Leigh not to mention the name of  Harris Bigg-Wither (who proposed to Jane and was later turned down), as his family were, at the time, still living in the neighbourhood. 
  • Caroline also asks Austen-Leigh not to “rake up” the “old story” about the “Chief Justice” (her youthful romance with Tom Lefroy).
  • Caroline says to Austen-Leigh that he has been “merciful”  in omitting the most ridiculous parts of Mr Clarke’s (The Prince Regent’s librarian) letter, where he made suggestions to Jane on what she should write about in her novels (Jane subtly ignored his suggestions).

It was fascinating to read all the different accounts – while reading the memoirs and letters, you almost feel like these people are still alive and sharing all these beautiful memories of their aunt…  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to become well acquainted with Jane Austen!