Members Meeting - March 16 2019
The Geography of Jane Austen
Judith gave a wonderful presentation called "The Geography of Jane Austen - What This Reader Didn't Know". The main element of Judith's presentation centered on what people reading Jane's novels in the Regency era would have known that would have added context and meaning to the books that readers of today's age might miss.
Judith advised us that young ladies in the Regency era would know about geography, the British Empire and its influence, and they would also have an understanding of the monetary and moral implications of distance and cost.
The introduction of Cary's New & Correct Atlas published in 1787 would have allowed Jane to have had a modern understanding of the distances to various locations. For example, a reader in those times would have known that to travel from (the fictional) Barton Park to London was a distance of about 200 miles and would require several very long days in the carriage and overnights at inns. These are things a reader in current times may not appreciate.
Additionally, for Colonel Brandon to have collected Mrs. Dashwood from Barton to bring her Cleveland to be by Marianne's side in her illness shows not only how quickly he must have travelled but is also a reflection on the Colonel's character in his ability to have organized the horses he would need at each change, etc. Certainly, the reader is meant to not only see that he did something kind and useful for Marianne, but also that he is practical, efficient and self-sacrificing.
Similarly, in Pride and Prejudice, a reader in today's age might read Lydia's intention to elope to Gretna Green and believe there may have been a possibility of the elopement happening. When Judith broke down the possible cost of such an elopement for our group (about $20,000 of modern-day funds), it became much clearer why Elizabeth was so certain that it would never take place.
After tea and treats we broke into 3 groups to discuss the following topic: 'What do we know about the people in (Emma, Northanger Abbey, or Pride and Prejudice) by the forms of transportation (or lack) and where they go?' The three groups each discussed one of these novels. Group shared a lively conversation regarding Frank Churchill's going to London for 'a haircut', Mrs. EltonÕs brother-in-law's barouche-landau, John Thorpe's horse and gig vs. Henry Tilney's curricle, and the use of the carriage to take Jane for tea at Netherfield. Thanks to Judith's explanation of cost and distance, these subjects held an all new meaning!