Georgian: great era for nicknames

March 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Athenian Stuart…Single Speech Hamilton…Capability Brown

March’s Literary Review goes in for a little of one of my favorite topics – Capability Brown. In her atrociously titled piece, “The Earth Moved for Him”, Amanda Foreman reviews Jane Brown’s biography of the über influential master landscape gardener, The Omnipotent Magician: Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown 1716-1783, likewise absurdly titled.

But I’m indebted to Foreman’s otherwise cracking piece for putting me on the track of art historian Dorothy Stroud’s 1950 biography, a work I hadn’t heard of and will now endeavor to find.


1800-1803: The Grasmere Journals

December 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, published in 2008, appears to be another work of excellence from my favorite modern literary biographer, Frances Wilson, whose riveting biography of courtesan, author and master blackmailer Harriette Wilson (no relation) I have mentioned on this site before. Dorothy (1771-1855) was an author, diarist and aide to her brother, poet William Wordsworth.

I haven’t read it yet but based on Margaret Drabble’s review in the Times Literary Supplement (April 23, 2008) I intend to as soon as possible. I strongly recommend reading Margaret Drabble’s review, not only for her insights into Wilson’s work but also because Drabble’s expansion on Wilson’s idea of a connection between Dorothy and Emily Brontë is quite fascinating.

“Wilson confines her analysis largely to the period leading up to the writing of the Grasmere Journals (1800–03) and to the journals themselves, and she brings her story to an end with an emotional climax and a textual crux.”

“She describes the immense walks that Dorothy took, “with mud-encrusted skirts banging against her sturdy legs, her flimsy shoes, her neck and face often wet and cold, her eyes and ears alert to the beauty of every sight” and the disapproving reactions of family and landladies to this bohemian mode of travel. She invokes Miss Bingley’s scorn of Elizabeth Bennet’s three-mile walk to see her sick sister at Netherfield…”

“The Wordsworth walks were more Brontë than Austen, and Wilson uses Emily Brontë as a key to her understanding of brother and sister…”

Quoted from “Poor Dorothy Wordsworth, The Shadow Story of the Wordsworths and Wuthering Heights” by Margaret Drabble from The Times Literary Supplement 23 April, 2008

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland in A.D. 1803 was not published until many years after her death and is now considered a masterpiece of Picturesque travel writing. The text is available to read online or download over at Internet Archive


December 23, 2009 § 1 Comment

ssl10043, originally uploaded by roganty.

Blaise castle darling!!


December 23, 2009 § 1 Comment

The Country House, originally uploaded by (Grey Pony) Georgian Era Bookmarking

Wanting to visually explore not only oil and watercolor landscapes but also the paintings and scenes that influenced Georgian era artists I’ve put a new collection together over at my image bookmarking page titled (naturally) The Georgian Landscape

Ethics and Estates

February 1, 2009 § 5 Comments

“My dearest sister, now be serious. I want to talk very seriously. Let me know every thing that I am to know, without delay. Will you tell me how long you have loved him?”

It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began. But I believe I must date it from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley.”

This important exchange, brief though it is, is the key to the most crucial plot development in Pride and Prejudice and is often overlooked, and more often, misinterpreted. Jane Austen did not write profuse descriptions of the experience of love. When her heroes and heroines declare themselves she simply lets the reader understand that they love, and are suited, to one another. When Elizabeth Bennet enlightens her sister Jane about her engagement to Darcy and her feelings for him, she jokes, a little but as ever with Austen, it is not all a joke. The couple’s potential for happiness and respectability is very great. Elizabeth’s assertion that her visit to Pemberley enlightened her as to her feelings for Darcy has been flippantly interpreted as a desire for Pemberley, for the position, prestige and income attending such an estate,  presuming on a hidden ambitiousness in Elizabeth’s character that is not supported by the text. To understand Elizabeth’s statement, the reader must understand the true delicacy of it’s author.

Great estates such as Pemberley were not infrequently subject to improvements in the late 18th century by those who inherited. Landscapes and prospects were of particular interest to the Georgians. There have been occasions when landowners have  shown little feeling for the history, the social obligations and true respectability of these great houses. Large estates were intertwined with the county not only via domestic employment, the leasing of residences and farmland and the produce of food but they affected too the spiritual well-being of the community, holding as they did the parishes within their gift. In Austen’s texts there are several pairings of anti-heroes and improving schemes:  Henry Crawford’s keen eye for improvements and the eschewing of tradional morality at Everingham,  Sotherton and Thorton Lacey, in Mansfield Park to name one example.

It is the non-improvers however, the humane trustees, whom Austen presents to the reader as the most worthy characters,  honouring the Knightly family’s ‘old neglect of prospect’¹ and their estate’s ‘abundance of timber in rows and avenues, which neither fashion nor extravagance had rooted up’ at Donwell Abbey in Emma and highlighting Darcy’s integrity in his stewardship of Pemberley:

“She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste.”

Alistair M. Duckworth wrote² that estate improvements in Austen’s texts ‘go beyond an aesthetic meaning to suggest the nature and quality of an individual’s response to the social, ethical and religious values he inherits, and that ‘in Pride and Prejudice the aesthetic taste evident in the landscape of Pemberley permits Elizabeth and the reader to infer the fundamental worth of Darcy’s social and ethical outlook’.

Related Topics on (Grey Pony): Austen and the Picturesque

¹ ‘neglect of prospect’, ie deliberately not decimating natural growth in order to create a view from or of a house, such as the plan to fell an old avenue of trees at Sotherton in Mansfield Park

² Mansfield Park and Estate Improvements: Jane Austen’s Grounds of Being by Alistair M. Duckworth, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jun., 1971), pp. 25-48

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