All posts by Robin Floyd

About Robin Floyd

Robin K Floyd works as an educator at Wake County Public Schools. In her spare time she enjoys learning about literature, history, and fashion. Her favorite Jane Austen novel is Northanger Abbey, closely followed by everything else!

How to throw your own Jane Austen holiday party

Have you ever wanted to throw your own Jane Austen themed holiday party? Here are some ideas to get you started!

Decorations

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“Christmas Weather” by George Allen, 1898. 

Holiday decorations looked very different in Jane Austen’s time. Christmas, although an important holiday, was not as big a deal as it is today. Most adults in England at that time observed Christmas by going to church and often giving to charity. If you are looking to be historically accurate with your own decorations, put some greenery (holly branches or laurels) on your window ledges and call it a day. Christmas trees may have been popular in Germany at this time, but they would not have been seen in England until later in the 19th century.

Parties during the Regency would have also called for candles. In the days before electricity, any lighting at an evening party would depend upon them. As the candles ran out, the party, too, would end. Naturally, if you wanted your party to last a long time, you’d get larger candles. Today, you can use electric candles as a precaution against fire hazards.

Activities

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“Hunt the Slipper” by Francesco Bartolozzi, 1787

While Christmas may have been a solemn, pious event for many adults, children still celebrated with games and festivities. In Claire Tomalin’s “Jane Austen: A Life,” she lists many of the games and songs that would have been popular at Christmas at Godmersham, the home of Jane’s wealthy brother Edward.

In one game, Hunt the Slipper, players form a circle on the floor on their bottoms with their knees up. A slipper would be passed around the circle under players’ knees in any direction while the hunter goes around the outside of the circle and attempts to guess who has the slipper. For your party, you can substitute a bean bag or a prize for the winner if you do not have a slipper.

Cards, battledore and shuttlecock, bullet pudding and other parlor games can bring an element of authenticity to your party. For a comprehensive list of such games, check out the Jane Austen Center website

Food

Every good party needs food. According to Roy and Lesley Adkins, in their book “Jane Austen’s England,” a Christmas feast would feature plum pudding and mince meat pies. Despite its name, mince meat pies do not actually contain meat — but instead feature dried fruit and spices. You can find several recipes for each on the Internet. If you are looking to fill out your menu with a few more items, roast beef would have been a popular choice for the gentry and for the truly adventurous cook, Yorkshire pudding is very British indeed!

Music

If you are lucky enough to play an instrument or enjoy singing before a crowd, you may consider making your own music for your party. Be sure to make copies of the lyrics if you intend for your guests to join in any caroling. If, however, you would rather just have music in the background at your party, consider playing the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and other famous composers who would have been popular during Jane’s lifetime.

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“Long ways dance caricature” Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1790

Dance

What Regency gathering would be complete without dancing? There is so much to write about dancing that it deserves its own blog entry, but for your holiday party here is a simple dance game you can play with your guests!

First, select a caller who will be in charge of the music. While the music plays, you may walk in a circle, free dance or even attempt an actual Regency-era dance depending on what you think your guests can handle.

The caller will then stop the music at random times and shout out the name of a Jane Austen novel and then all the dancers must scramble to create poses for whichever novel has been called.

“Sense and Sensibility”

Oh no! Marianne fell down! One person in a set of three will sit on the floor with their legs out while the other two will hold their hands as if to help them up. (Pose requires three people)

“Pride and Prejudice”

Mr. Darcy does not find Elizabeth handsome enough at their first meeting. One person in a pair will sit in a chair while the other will stand turning their back to the person in the chair. (Pose requires two people)

“Mansfield Park”

Fanny is stuck in the middle of a scandalous performance. Two people will make kissy faces at each other while one more looks shocked at them. (Pose requires three people).

“Emma”

Emma is painting a portrait of her friend Harriet. One person will pose for the painting while the other pretends to paint them. (Pose requires two people)

“Northanger Abbey”

You have just discovered a secret laundry list. Look scared. (Pose requires only one person)

“Persuasion”

Captain Wentworth is writing a secret letter while Anne and Harville talk. One person will sit down to write a letter while the other two pretend to have a conversation. (Pose requires three people.)

If you have an especially large crowd to play such a game, you can challenge your guests to find different partners each time.

If you do end up using any of these ideas, please send us pictures of your Jane Austen themed party and we will see you all in June!

Political parties in the Regency Era

As you read Claire Tomalin’s biography, you may see a few mentions of how Jane Austen grew up in Tory country. So what does that mean? Here is a very brief look at the political parties in Jane Austen’s time:

Major parties

Tory

The Tories were mostly wealthy landowners content to keep most policies the same, as those policies ensured their power and wealth. According to “The Regency Years,” written by JASP 2020 speaker Robert Morrison, the Tories as a political party were anti-French, anti-slavery, anti-Catholic and anti-reform. They were the majority party and held on to their power throughout Jane’s lifetime.

Whig

Members of the Whig party were also aristocratic and affluent, although they did occasionally oppose Tories on some key issues. Whigs were particularly critical of the prince and would protect those who openly criticized him. They supported allowing Catholics some religious freedoms, a free press and reforming Parliament, and opposed slavery.

As both of the major political parties opposed slavery, it should not come as a great surprise that England outlawed the slave trade in 1807 and then abolished slavery in 1833.

‘Argus’ by James Gillray, published by W. Renegal, hand-coloured etching, published 15 May 1780. © National Portrait Gallery, London

 

Other groups

Only wealthy land-owning men older than 21 had the right to vote, so not everyone felt represented by the two parties in power. Instead, some organized into small groups or factions to champion certain causes. Here are just a few:

Quakers and Evangelicals

Although they were mostly seen as a religious groups, Quakers and evangelicals both supported prison reform.

Philosophical Radicals

This group comprised individuals who favored radical ideas such as doing away with religion altogether.

Luddites

According to “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy and Leslie Adkins, the Luddites were a radical group opposed to the early stages of the industrial revolution, sometimes going so far as to attack the knitting frames in factories.

To learn more about the political issues facing Jane Austen’s world, check out:

The Regency Years,” by Robert Morrison and “Jane Austen’s England,” by Roy Adkins and Leslie Adkins.

Five things about mourning during the Regency era

Halloween, Day of the Dead, and other pagan traditions that celebrate the harvest also remind us of those who have passed on. Many of our customs and traditions have changed since the early 19th century, but some are not so different. Here are five things to know about mourning during the Regency:

1. Wearing black

Black was a difficult color to maintain through washings and would have appeared as a striking contrast when so many fashionistas (men and women both) preferred to wear bright colors or white. Yet we know through fashion plates from that era, as well as Jane’s own words, that people of Regency England wore black during a period of mourning.

    “I am to be in bombazeen and crape, according to what we are told is universal here, and which agrees with Martha’s previous observation. My mourning, however, will not impoverish me….”

Jane to Cassandra,

Oct. 15, 1808

In this quote, she mentions “crape,” a matte fabric that helped mourners avoid anything shiny or flashy during a time of great sorrow and loss. In a similar letter in that same year, she mentions how her mother intends to have some clothes dyed black.

2. Full Mourning and Half Mourning

Mourning Fashion plate by Rudolph Ackerman 1817 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Mourning Fashion plate by Rudolph Ackermann 1817 (Credit: Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

In the Victorian Era, which followed the Regency, society held certain expectations for how long one was to maintain their state of mourning, depending on who had died and the deceased’s relationship to the mourner. While it appears similar rules were likely followed during the Regency Era, it is less clear exactly how long one was to be in mourning or half-mourning. Full mourning was the time directly following the death of a loved one. During full mourning, their clothing would be all black. After a while, probably six months to a year later, they would enter a time of half-mourning, when they would still wear dark clothes or outfits that would incorporate black elements — but some color could return. When a member of the royal family died, such as Princess Charlotte in 1817, the whole nation would observe a period of mourning.

3. Other Black items

In addition to wearing black clothing, a mourner (widows and widowers, in particular) would have been expected to express their mourning in other facets of their life. The bereaved would have put away their dainty floral tea set in favor of a solid black set.

Just because one was mourning the loss of a loved one does not mean that they must sacrifice their style. Accessories like shawls and hats would also have been black (and later purple during their period of half-mourning).

4. Mourning Jewelry

Shiny, colorful jewelry would have been put away, to be replaced by those with black gemstones. Another form of jewelry would also have been popular, as it would have allowed the mourner to keep a part of their loved ones with them: hair jewelry. Austen mentions hair jewelry in “Sense and Sensibility.”

“Mariannne saw a ring on Edward’s finger that had a lock of hair in it. She asked if it was Fanny’s hair. Edward blushed and, after a long pause, said that it was.”

Jane Austen,

“Sense and Sensibility”

Edward wore his token for a living loved one, but they were also popular for mourning the dead.

Special mourning jewelry would also feature special symbolism. An otherwise simple ring would become a treasured memento with the addition of a rose for love or an elm for friendship, for example. Some designs would feature an inscription of a loved one’s name or perhaps the date of their death. Some pendants may even feature a miniature portrait of the deceased.

5. Memento Mori

A memento mori is different from mourning jewelry; the focus is to remind the living that they, too, will one day die. Many memento mori keepsakes would look very similar to mourning jewelry, especially since  they appear to commemorate the same subject matter. What is the difference? Mourning jewelry could feature a name or date or the words “in memory of” because it was commemorating a specific person. The purpose of memento mori jewelry was to remind the wearer that everyone dies and would feature skulls or coffins or something similarly macabre. Memento mori evolved from the Flemish still-life paintings of the 1600s that would feature something dead or dying, such as a wilting flower or rotting fruit. Memento mori would have been less popular during the Regency Era in favor of mourning jewelry, however such items would have had some, er, die-hard fans.

To learn more about how people of the Regency Era mourned their loved ones, check out these links:

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/regency-mourning/

https://www.janeausten.co.uk/dressing-for-mourning-in-the-regency/

To see more on what was worn, check out:

http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/regency/mourning-ackermanns-1817-1821.html

To learn more about special mourning jewelry (and even see some items for sale) check out:

https://artofmourning.com/

To learn more about memento mori:

https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/memento-mori-or-mourning-jewelry-3995526


PROGRAM UPDATE: We’ve posted a tentative schedule of the 2020 JASP.  We’ve also added supplementary material to our What to Read list and our What to Watch list.