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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Snippets of Georgian Pop Music by Lady Georgianna

Jane Austen is known to have played classical music on the pianoforte and attended classical concerts. However, there existed a more light-hearted, teasing, popular style of music in the Georgian times that you may not be aware of: the music of the pleasure gardens of London, which reminds one of various scenes in Fanny Burney’s Evelina with its rogues and harlots.

Lady Georgianna

Image from

The newest issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World (52) writes about an 18th-century girl band called Lady Georgianna (purposefully with two n’s to differentiate themselves from Lady Georgiana Cavendish, a famous 18th-century socialite). The band consists of three members who dress up in elaborate, 18th-century costumes to perform pop music of the Georgian times:

  • Allegra (Abigail Seabrook) – Mezzo Soprano
  • Isabella Wrighten (Hetti Price) – Cello
  • Signora Storace (Micaela Smitz) – Harpsichord

To get a feel of the humorous, light-hearted music performed by this fun-loving group of musicians, click The group will be performing at the Jane Austen Festival in Bath this September, so some of you may get the opportunity to hear them live.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jane Austen’s Colonial Connections

Having lived in India and travelled widely across the country, it has been fascinating for me to explore the connections between Jane Austen and India’s colonial past. While Jane Austen herself never travelled beyond southern England, the affairs of her well-travelled aunt Philadelphia Hancock (née Austen) and captivating, beautiful cousin Eliza De Feuillide were widely discussed at the rectory. According to Jane’s nephew, William Austen-Leigh, these discussions must have generated an interest in Jane in the affairs of France and India.


Philadelphia Hancock. Image from:

Jane’s aunt, Phila, certainly lead an eventful life. A penniless orphan, she ventured to India at the age of 21 in search of a husband. At the time, men would travel to India to make a fortune in trade, while women would travel East in search of a profitable marriage.


                 Fort William, the centre of British power in Calcutta. Image from

Six months later, Phila was married to Tysoe Hancock, a man 20 years older than herself, who was working as a surgeon for the East India Company. The marriage was unlikely to have been a happy one. Hancock was apparently a melancholy, sickly man who seemed older than his years. Jane wrote about her aunt as follows:

“She had been… unhappily married…united to a man of double her own age, whose disposition was not amiable, and whose manners were unpleasing, though his character was respectable.” (p. 27, Austen-Leigh)

In 1759, the Hancocks moved from Madras to Calcutta and formed a friendship with Warren Hastings, an administrator with the East India Company, who was later made the first Governor General of Bengal. Hastings was an influential administrator who laid the foundation for British power in India but had respect on the local ways of government or culture. In Calcutta, the Hancocks became close to Hastings and they set up various business ventures together. 

NPG 4445, Warren Hastings

Warren Hastings. Image from:

Warren Hastings had lost a daughter, and he soon became a widower as his wife, Mary, died at childbirth. At Phila’s recommendation, Hastings sent his son, George, to England to be under the care of Mr Austen who may have been acquainted with Hastings from his youth. Frail George, however, died of diphtheria at the age in of 6. Mrs Austen is said to have felt great grief at the demise of George and Hastings always remained grateful to the Austens for looking after him.

Warren Hastings’ house in Calcutta. Image from:

In the meanwhile in India, Phila became pregnant and in 1761, a daughter was born: Elizabeth, to be known as Bessy and, later, Eliza. Hastings was made her godfather and she was probably named after Hastings’ stillborn daughter, Elizabeth.

The Hancocks’ marriage had been childless for 8 years and there is some speculation amongst biographers as to whether Bessy really was Hancock’s son. Unsurprisingly, malicious rumours began to spread about a possible affair between Phila and Hastings. Lord Clive, who was the Governor of India at the time, wrote to his wife, saying Mrs Hancock “abandoned herself to Mr Hastings”, urging his wife not to keep company to Philadelphia. We do not know whether these rumours reached Steventon, but perhaps the Austens had their own doubts about Bessy’s father. 


Bessy Hancock/Eliza de Feuillide. Image from

The Hancocks later moved to England. While Warren Hastings never officially acknowledged paternity, he stayed closely in touch with the Hancocks , supervising Bessy’s education and providing for her upkeep. He set up a trust fund of £10,000 for Bessy, which would support her for years to come. When Eliza was 10 years old, her mother told her that her godfather had left her a fortune. Mr Hancock warned his wife not to talk to anyone about it.

“Let me caution you not to acquaint even the dearest friend you have with this circumstance. Tell Betsy only that her godfather has made her a great present, but not the particulars” (AP, p. 68) .

Perhaps Mr Hancock was insecure about his status as Bessy’s father?

After Mr Hancock died in 1774, Phila’s income reduced more than expected, and she decided to take Bessy to the Continent where the cost of living was lower than in England. They stayed in touch with Hastings, who was becoming more influential  in India. In a letter, Hastings affectionately writes  to Phila,

“My dear and ever-valued friend…Kiss my dear Bessy for me, and assure her of my tenderest affection. May the God of goodness bless you both!” (AP, p. 59-60).

Later in life, Bessy – then known as Eliza – married a French count, Comte De Feuillide, and had a son whom she called Hastings in honour of her loyal godfather. After the Comte was guillotined in the French Revolution, she went on to marry her cousin, Henry Austen (Jane’s brother), who also corresponded with Hastings.

The Austens had a lasting admiration for Warren Hastings.  When Hastings was in England, the Austens probably met him. With a taste for classical learning as well as a great knowledge of the Indian culture, Hastings was an inspiration for the Austens. The scholarly Mr Austen was impressed by his knowledge and urged his sons to emulate his learnings.  When Hastings stood trial for charges for corruption in London, the Austen family were ready to defend him. Mr Austen also approached Hastings for help with Jane’s brother, Frank’s naval career in the East Indies.


An older Warren Hastings. Image from

During his reign in India, Hastings was a patron of the arts and literature, and it is no wonder that Jane Austen approved of him. When Pride and Prejudice was published, Hastings wrote about it admiringly. Jane was delighted and wrote to Cassandra,

“I long to have you hear Mr H.’s opinion of P. & P. His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me.” (p. 197, Austen-Leigh)


This imposing structure is the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta, which I visited in 2006. It was built in 1921 in honour of Queen VIctoria and houses a statue of Warren Hastings, his ivory chair and pistols.


Hastings had a successful career and he died in India at the mature age of 86. While it is not known whether Hastings really was Eliza’s natural father, the evidence does seem to point towards his paternity. If you look at their portraits carefully, you can actually see a resemblance between godfather and goddaughter. But perhaps we will never know for sure…

NPG 4445, Warren HastingsElizaHancock - Copy



Austen-Leigh, R.A. (ed.) 1942. Austen Papers, 1704-1856. (cited in Tomalin, C. )

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

Le Faye, D. (2002) Jane Austen – The World of Her Novels. Frances Lincoln.

Tomalin, C. (1997) Jane Austen – A Life. Viking.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Memoriam– Jane Austen 16.12.1775-18.7.1817

Jane Austen lived her last days in Winchester, and she is buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. Here is a photo of Jane Austen’s gravestone, words of which have been written by Jane’s loving brother, Henry Austen.

In Memory of
youngest daughter of the late
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County
She departed this Life on the 18th of July 1817,
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and hopes of a Christian.

The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.

Their grief is in proportion to their affection
They know their loss is irreparable,
but in their deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm but humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity, have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Exploring the Domestic Lives of the Georgians

I enjoyed watching the first part of the documentary series “At Home With the Georgians” by Amanda Vickery that explores the domestic lives of the Georgians. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get hold of the rest of the series as yet, but the other day my husband surprised me with a copy of Vickery’s book “Behind Closed Doors – At Home in Georgian England” that the documentary is based on. I was keen to read this, as I felt that I could learn a lot from reading about the topic in more detail.

In her study, Vickery delves into historical archives, records and letters to bring out the histories of individuals who lived in that era and discusses their ideas and feelings about the home. She examines everyday household objects to get an idea of the lifestyles and of the aesthetic and practical values of people who lived in the 18th Century.

With her work, Vickery highlights the vital significance of the home for the Georgians. Marriage signified an important transition from being single to becoming a housekeeper – economical, practical and wise. The ideal Georgian home was one that was economically managed, comfortable, yet aesthetic. As one married and became a housekeeper, one’s status would rise immeasurably; it was infinitely better to be married or a widower with a home of one’s own, than to be a spinster dependent on others for support – just as our favourite spinster, Jane Austen, brings out in her novels. Just think of poor Miss Bates…

Amanda Vickery obviously considers Jane Austen’s literature as a valuable source of information for her study, as she frequently cites her characters when exploring the value systems of the Georgian era. Chapter 3, in particular, would interest any reader of Jane Austen, as the chapter is largely dedicated to the voices of Jane Austen’s characters. Here is a summary of some of the interesting themes that Vickery discusses in Chapter 3:

  • Catherine Morland is shown around Northanger Abbey to tempt her with the beauty of the building and its potential to a future householder. Viewing the house in such a way would imply an imminent offer of marriage.
  • Willoughby’s taking Marianne to view his house, Allenham, in Sense and Sensibility, leads others to assume that the couple are engaged. Only a betrothed couple would discuss the details of a future home in such an intimate manner as they do in the novel.
  • Its is Elizabeth’s visit to Mr Darcy’s estate in Pride and Prejudice that begins to change her feelings towards him. Although she jokes that she  began to love Mr Darcy from her “first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley”, there is a hint of truth in that; the visit would show her the true taste an elegance of the proprietor of the estate and shed light to his domestic happiness. His providing a feminine sitting room for his sister would demonstrate his kindness as a person and a readiness to take care of the women around him.
  • In Persuasion, as Mary, the youngest daughter of the baronet, Sir Walter, marries the young squire Charles Musgrove, his house is elevated with pretty features. On the entrance of a young wife, femininity would bring about changes in the architectural features of a home.
  • In Sense and Sensibility, Mrs Dashwood fails to appreciate the comforts of a cottage, as she is disinherited and her status is lowered to a cottage-dweller. The fact that she has unrealistic dreams for improvements to Barton Cottage reveals that she is unable to accept that she is no longer a lady of the manor.
  • Mansfield Park’s stylish Mary Crawford refuses to marry a clergyman, as the idea of Edmund Bertram’s mere parsonage would counterfeit her dream of a “respectable, elegant, modernised and occasional residence of a man of independent fortune”. As a result of his heartbreak, Edmund Bertram delays the renovations to his parsonage, telling Fanny that improvements will only be made for the benefit of the mistress of the home.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas is prepared to put up with the folly of her husband, Mr Collins, in return for a comfortable home and an elevated status. In her new home of Hunsford Parsonage, Charlotte displays her clever organising skills and resourcefulness as a mistress.

According to Vickery, “Austen relied on the social, economic and emotional importance her readers would attach to the drama of setting up a home” (p.87). Vickery is right to recognise that homes have a huge significance in each of Austen’s novels, and an understanding of Georgian home life would certainly help any of Jane’s readers in following her novels. 

It has to be noted, however, that despite the name “At Home in Georgian England”, Vickery’s work concentrates on the entire 18th Century and not only on the times of Jane Austen. While her book is a useful read, I enjoyed watching the TV series more, with its fascinating visual input and frequent dramatisations.