Members Meeting - May 10 2014

Member Topics

It seems there is no topic that cannot be related to Jane Austen, her books and her world. On May 10, JASNA Calgary met to discuss the fascinating topics of plumbing and gardening. 


Stuart's plumbing research focused on the three topics of Supply, Waste and Fittings. Plumbing in Austen's time was little changed from the technologies developed in Roman Times. It wasn't until the late 1800s that plumbing became standardized. Private home water supply was still very rare, so water was mostly brought in from the outside. Toilets were commonly holes the in ground or chamber pots. Bathing was generally done weekly, with water carried into the home to be heated and poured into a bath, used by each family member in succession. Servants usually brought the water in and carried waste away. In cities, waste was dumped into holes in the sidewalk, while cesspools were more common in the country.


Diana's talk on Gardens in Mansfield Park focused on the questions "Why does Fanny dislike improvement?" Diana quoted several characters in Mansfield Park in relation to gardens and their improvements. As Fanny "always thinks as she ought", Diana surmised that her thoughts on all subjects must, therefore, be correct.

Fanny is very loyal to her home at Mansfield Park, while she distrusts the improvements being done at Sotherton. Mansfield is described as "well-placed" by Mary Crawford, while Sotherton is noted as being ill-placed since it is down a hill. Fanny respects the house at Sotherton and the avenue of oak trees. She thinks it is a pity to cut down the avenue as suggested by Humphry Repton.

Humphry Repton was famous for his Red Books, which showed a drawing of a landscape and then had flaps to show what his suggested improvements would look like. Repton was not a great landscape artist, but was more of a 'timid' improver. In the book, Repton is hired to improve Sotherton. 

Diana also showed pictures of real homes and gardens of Jane Austen's time. The best documented was Stowe. She explained the improvements of Stowe from 1753 to the 1800s, whereby Stowe moved from having more symmetrical, walled and separated areas to being more natural in appearance. She also explained the use of the ha-ha, as mentioned by Mary Crawford, which was a wall with a ditch, used to keep wild animals out of gardens without obscuring the view.