Quote Jane


“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

zondag 15 december 2013

What a Regency Christmas was like!

 
Yet, even during those turbulent years of Napoleonic domination (or, the threat of it) and an overbearing upper class attitude of “anything goes”–England was still “merry old England,” home to large populations of Protestants and Catholics who delighted to observe Christmas.
The Season of Christmas during the Regency was not portrayed to the degree that it later was; nor was it fashionable to be overtly religious or overly sentimental in one’s celebrations; people did not feel the sense of obligation about gift giving that they later developed. Likewise, one did not see the vast commercial exploitation of the holiday that was later evident and seen today. What we did have in a Regency Christmas was an observation of the Season based more on tradition and less on obligation; more on spiritual observance (for those who observed it) than on social expectations or pretensions.

The Regency in England was actually quite a short period, lasting only nine years from 1811 to 1820. Due to what we now know was a condition called porphyria, the King was considered to have gone mad. In 1811, Parliament declared George, Prince of Wales, Regent in place of his father, George III. To understand the Christmas customs of the Regency, one must really begin back in the 17th century, nearly two hundred years earlier, when the holidays were celebrated so boisterously that it led to drunkenness, riotous revelries that often lasted through whole nights, and many kinds of social disorder. People who were not truly celebrating the religious holiday of Christmas were going all out to make it the pagan winter festival of ancient times—or so it seemed. So by the time of Cromwell the holiday was frowned upon, then discouraged, and finally outright banned! Anyone found celebrating Christmas could be seized from his own home and thrown into prison, heavily fined, or even, at times, put to death! The end result was that Christmas in England was dealt a hard blow. Even when it was legalized again in 1660, the repercussions of it having been banned took time to stamp out. Slowly, slowly, however, the old traditions came back, the festive atmosphere returned, and Christmas was once again respectable.
By the time of the Regency people were most assuredly celebrating Christmas, but not with the same expectations of the holiday as is usual today. Instead of, for instance, the intense excitement centered upon December 25th, the Regency Christmas celebration was really spread out over what was considered to be the Christmas Season.
From the beginning of Advent until Epiphany on January 6th, people planned, and held, many different sorts of festivities, balls, parties, card-parties, dinners, small gatherings, skating parties, and other visits and social events. Christmas Day itself was an acceptable time for gift-exchanges, but the emphasis on giving presents was not what it is today. People have always welcomed gifts at Christmas, and giving to charity and the servant class was expected (especially on Boxing Day, December 26th), but December 25th was primarily a day for religious observance and a special Christmas dinner.
Let us now begin our journey in earnest. We are somewhere in the years between 1811 and 1820. Like Jane Austen, we are genteel but not wealthy. It is nearing the end of November and Stir-up Sunday has arrived, and with it, the unofficial start to the Christmas Season. (The official beginning of the Season will be next Sunday, with the start of Advent.) We have just returned from church, and now we are back home helping prepare the Plum Pudding which will be central to our Christmas Day feast!

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Austen werd geboren in Hampshire. Haar vader was een geestelijke. Het grootste deel van haar leven bleef zij in haar geboortestreek. Austen had zes broers en een oudere zuster, Cassandra, met wie zij zeer hecht was. Het enige onbetwiste portret van Jane Austen is een gekleurde schets die door Cassandra werd gemaakt en nu in de National Portrait Gallery in Londen hangt. In 1801 verhuisde de familie naar Bath. In 1802 werd Austen ten huwelijk gevraagd door de rijke Harris Bigg-Wither en zij stemde toe; de volgende dag deelde ze echter mee dat zij haar woord niet kon houden en trok haar instemming in. De reden hiervoor is niet bekend, maar Austen is nooit getrouwd. Na de dood van haar vader in 1805 woonden Jane, haar zuster en haar moeder daar nog verscheidene jaren tot zij in 1809 naar Chawton verhuisden. Hier had haar rijke broer Edward een landgoed met een plattelandshuisje, dat hij aan zijn moeder en zusters schonk (dit huis is tegenwoordig open voor het publiek). Zelfs nadat zij naam gemaakt had als romanschrijfster bleef zij in relatieve stilte leven, maar haar gezondheid ging sterk achteruit. Er wordt nu aangenomen dat zij de ziekte van Addison had, waarvan toen de oorzaak nog onbekend was. Ze reisde naar Winchester om behandeling te zoeken, maar stierf daar en werd begraven in de kathedraal.
Tot Austens beroemdste werk behoort de roman Emma. Het boek wordt vaak aangehaald vanwege de perfectie van vorm. Moderne critici blijven ook nieuwe perspectieven ontdekken op het scherpe commentaar van Austen betreffende de klasse van jonge, ongehuwde, aristocratische Engelse vrouwen in de vroege 19e eeuw.

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