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Sunday, 22 December 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Images: Hugh Thomson illustrations for a story set in Regency times for the Christmas issue of The Graphic, 1889.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Regency Cheshire Talk Photos

 My Regency Cheshire talk at Chester Library last Saturday was a sell-out! Many thanks to everyone who braved the Chester traffic, as the city was very busy with Christmas shoppers.
It was wonderful to see the library staff dressed up in such beautiful Regency costumes, and those members of the audience who took the trouble to come dressed Austen-era style, too.

I'd like to thank Lena Shiell, Debbie, Linda Clarke and all the library staff for making me so welcome.  The meeting room was adorned with a wonderful exhibition of Georgian prints courtesy of Chester Library, too. 
There are more photos from the event on my Sue Wilkes blog and on the Chester Library facebook page.

Chester town crier David Mitchell (top, bottom right) resplendent in his Georgian costume.  
Lena Shiell, the author (centre) and Linda Clarke.
Lena (Chester Library) and Linda Clarke (Cheshire Archives).

All photos on this blog post are © Nigel Wilkes.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Byron in Italy!

This year we had a family holiday in Italy, and one of the highlights of our holiday was a trip to Venice, one of Lord Byron's favourite haunts: he lived there for several years.  

The first apartments which Byron rented in Italy (in 1817, the year Jane Austen died) are in the Piscina di Frezzeria, and the house (right) takes some finding as there is no commemorative plaque: you would never guess that one of the most famous Romantic poets once lived there. It must have been a very noisy household, because Byron kept his pet dogs, monkeys and foxes as there as well as a beautiful Italian mistress, Marianna Segati.

But if you go to Venice and take a ride along the Grand Canal by water-bus (vaporetto) you will see the Palazzo Mocenigo, where Lord Byron lived in 1818.  
During Byron's stay in Venice, as well as writing poems Don Juan and further instalments of Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage, he studied Armenian at the monastery on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni.

The monastery is a magical place to visit; the monks give guided tours to visitors, and you can see their wonderful library and historic manuscripts, and the room where Lord Byron studied the Armenian language.  There's a scholarly introduction and overview of Byron's life and works here.

Lord Byron receives an honourable mention in one of Jane Austen's letters to Cassandra, dated 5 March 1814. She wrote: 'I have read the Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do'.  Tantalisingly, Jane gives no hint of whether she enjoyed reading one of the best-selling epic poems of the day!

Images © Sue Wilkes:
Lord Byron's apartment, Piscina di Frezzeria.
Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice.
Plaque dedicated to Lord Byron at San Lazzaro degli Armeni.
View of 'Lord Byron's Hill' and the gardens at Isola di San Lazzaro where he used to sit and think - thank you very much indeed to the kind guide who gave permission for me to take this picture from inside the monastery.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A Jane Austen Extravaganza!

Just a reminder that I'll be giving a talk at Chester Library on 30 November from 2-3pm as part of the library's 'Jane Austen's Regency Christmas' fun day.   I'll be reading extracts from my book Regency Cheshire, and I will have some books to sell which you can buy on the day.

However, if you've already bought one of my books (or prefer to buy a copy online first), if you bring it with you, I'll be very happy to sign it after the talk.

The library staff will be dressed in Regency costumes, and there will be dancing, music, a choir, 'Regency refreshments' and children's activities.  The ladies can have a 'Regency style makeover' and find out what make-up was like during the Georgian period,  Do join us on the day if you can! 
There are details on how to buy a ticket for the event here.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Jane Austen's Portrait for Sale

A portrait of Jane Austen which was specially commissioned by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh will be put up for auction by Sotheby's in December, according to the BBC. The portrait was painted to accompany Austen-Leigh's Memoir of his aunt 1870 (see engraving, left, from the author's collection - actually from Harper's New Monthly Magazine,
Vol. XLI, 1870).

Somebody will be treating themselves to a wonderful Christmas present!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Austen's Novels Revamped

News just in!
Following the recent report that Austen's Emma will be re-worked by Alexander McCall Smith, the BBC News website has just reported that all of Jane Austen's published novels will be rewritten by six modern authors and translated into a modern-day setting. Joanna Trollope's version of Sense and Sensibility will be launched imminently.

I'm not sure I approve - how do you rewrite a classic? I think Austen's novels have stood the test of time - they are still immensely popular in their own right.

Many authors, including the lovely Jane Odiwe, have created fresh novels and sequels from Austen's original novels and characters, and I personally welcome anything which popularizes Austen and her works.

But will readers think that the Austen Project is a step too far? Should Austen's novels be - do they need to be - updated for modern readers? I'd love to know what do you think?

Update 24 October: You can read views by two experts, Professor Kathryn Sutherland from the University of Oxford, and Professor Emma Clery from the University of Southampton, on the Austen rewrites here.

Image: 'Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?' Mr Darcy gives Elizabeth Bennet a letter in the park.  Illustration by C.E. Brock for Pride and Prejudice (Cassell’s Book of Knowledge Vol. VIII, (Waverley Book Co., c.1920)).

Monday, 23 September 2013

Jane Austen's Ring

Great news! Jane Austen's House Museum has been successful in its worldwide bid for funding to keep Jane's turquoise and gold ring (which had been bought by Kelly Clarkson) in the UK, where it belongs!

Image: A commemorative plaque on the wall of Jane Austen's House Museum, Jane's home for the last few years of her life.

© Sue Wilkes

Friday, 16 August 2013


A new Jane Austen-inspired movie, Austenland, produced by Stephanie Meyer, will be released in the UK on 27 September. Reviews (in the US) seem to be rather mixed so far - you can read some here on the NPR site, here on the NY Times website, and here on the New York Daily News site.
And if you'd like more information on the movie, you can see a trailer, plus photos of the cast, here on the Sony Pictures Classics website.
Update 8 October: you can read Louise West's review of Austenland here.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A Visit to Winchester

I've visited Winchester a couple of times before, but recently I paid my first visit to the City Mill. There's been a mill on this site since medieval times; it was rebuilt in 1744, and was in use until the twentieth century.  It has recently been restored by the National Trust, and you can watch flour being ground the traditional way. You can even buy some of the flour and have a go at making your own when you get home.  Otters play on the River Itchen, which powers the machinery, at night when the city is asleep.

We also walked past the house where Jane Austen spent her final days in 1817 (now a private residence). If you're visiting her native county of Hampshire, you might like to download a trail leaflet from here.

Images: Winchester City Mill, and the house in College St where Austen died.

© Sue Wilkes.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Jane Austen Stars

The Bank of England has just announced that Jane Austen will replace Charles Darwin on the new £10 note, which will  be issued in 2017! So if you are flush with cash, and pining for a Jane Austen fix, you'll be able to withdraw a tenner from your reticule and gaze at Jane's portrait.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Robert Owen

Social pioneer Robert Owen (1771-1858), born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, was a self-made man.  He served an apprenticeship to a linen draper at Stamford.  When he was eighteen Robert went to Manchester.  He joined a cotton firm using the revolutionary new cotton-spinning machinery
Owen was appalled by the workers' working and living conditions and wanted to help. His opportunity came when he became manager of New Lanark mills in Scotland, near the Falls of the Clyde.   

Many of the workers at the mill were child parish apprentices; some were from the Edinburgh poor house and charities in the city.  Owen vowed to end the use of parish apprentices when he began running New Lanark.You can find out more about Owen's amazing experiment at New Lanark,  his controversial social and religious theories, and his influence on the co-operative movement in my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World. My book The Children History Forgot also discusses Owen's care for the workers at New Lanark, the school he founded there, and his influence on the factory reform and 'Ten Hours' movement. 

Images from author's collection

Orphan School, Edinburgh, Views of Edinburgh and Its Vicinity, 1819. Children from the workhouse and charities like this one were employed in the mills at New Lanark.  

The Falls of the Clyde.  Water from the river Clyde powered the New Lanark Mills. Ladies’ Cabinet of Fashion, Music and Romance, 1837. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Changing Fashions


This ‘Cabinet of Fashion’ fashion plate for the Lady's Monthly Museum, June 1805 shows a ‘Morning dress of cambric muslin with spencer cloak of blue silk. Full dress of straw-coloured sarsenet (sic) with a tunic of rich embroidered white crape. Hair dressed with ‘Diamonds set on Velvet, with a profusion of White Ostrich Feathers.’ 

Walking dresses had acquired a more free-flowing, gentle style by the time of this undated fashion print from the Lady’s Magazine, dated circa 1813-1814 (right).  The lady's hat is sporting a huge ostrich feather.  

By 1827 waistlines had become more distinct, and the lady in this later Lady’s Magazine print (below) is wearing an enormous poke bonnet. 

You can see some fabulous images of Regency-era fashions here on Jane Odiwe's blog, and there's more info here on the Pemberley website.