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Monday, 20 March 2017

Review of Gone to the Continent: The British in Calais 1760–1860

‘Dessein’s’ hotel in Calais was immortalized by Laurence Sterne’s novel, A Sentimental Journey, first published in 1768. The hotel was run by Pierre Dessin and his family.  
In Gone to the Continent, Martin Brayne gives us a series of snapshots of British travellers’ experiences at this romantic destination.

Fans of Georgian and early Victorian social history will find much to enjoy in this engaging exploration of the L’Hotel d’Angleterre’s visitors. Calais was the start and end point for thousands of Brits journeying on the Continent, whether for business or pleasure.

Visitors included young barristers like Harry Peckham; the poet William Wordsworth, with his sister Dorothy and wife Mary; and novelist Fanny Burney (Mme D’Arblay).  Using original sources and contemporary letters and diaries, Brayne relates the perils of the Channel crossing; seasickness; the battles with petty officialdom; food and drink; and theatrical performances in the hotel. Famous debtors like Beau Brummel, Emma Hamilton and Charles James Apperley (Nimrod) also stayed in the hotel after fleeing their creditors in England.

I enjoyed the book immensely. I was particularly interested by the story of the Nottinghamshire lace-makers who settled in France and set up factories there, in an attempt to escape the post-Waterloo economic slump at home. (Nottingham was home to Luddite attacks on machinery during this period). Later, during the 1848 revolution in France, many of these English families returned home. However, there are still lace-makers in Calais today, some descended from these English migrants.

The book has several charming contemporary illustrations (some plates are in colour), and contains detailed references, a bibliography, and appendices.

As Brayne says, ‘The Calais of Sterne and Mrs Thrale, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, Beau Brummell and Harriette Wilson, Thackeray and Dickens has long since disappeared but thanks to what is written by and of them, they can still be seen dining at Dessein’s, sauntering about the Place d’Armes or strolling on the sands.
Old Calais lives on’.

Monday, 6 March 2017

No Dreaming Spires for Jane!

My latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine discusses the limited education available for girls and women in late Georgian times. Jane and her sister Cassandra could not go to university like their father George, and brothers James and Henry, who went to St John’s College, Oxford.
Radcliffe Camera, Oxford. 

Girls’ education was designed to prepare them for the marriage ‘market’ and their future lives as wives and mothers. Authors like Mary Wollstonecraft and Catherine Macaulay argued passionately that girls should have as good an education as boys - but no higher education colleges were open to women until over three decades after Jane Austen's death.
Cartoon: ‘Farmer Giles & his wife shewing off their daughter Betty to their neighbours, on her return from school. Gillray, 1809. Courtesy Library of Congress LC-USZC2-3803.

Update 7 March: For some reason none of my replies to comments are showing online - so many thanks to Tony for all the informative comments!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey, 1833.
One of the odd things about Austen's novels, letters and diaries is that she seemingly never mentions Bath Abbey, even though she must have walked past it many times, and perhaps even attended divine service there.
Visitors today don't see the Abbey as Jane would have known it; the building was re-modelled by George Manners in the 1830s, and restored in the 1860s and 1870s by that serial 'improver' of ancient churches, George Gilbert Scott.
The Abbey, also known as the church of St Peter and St Paul, may have been founded as early as 675; there's a
timeline here on the Abbey website. 
The Abbey in the 1890s. 

During Jane Austen's day, services were held daily at 11am; the tower had a peal of ten bells. In 1785 (when Jane was ten years old), several Sunday Schools were set up in Bath; one was attached to the Abbey Church. Within a few years, over 500 children attended the schools (they had to be recommended by a subscriber to be able to attend).