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Jane Austen and her Times by Mary Simonsen — 38 Comments

  1. Ahhhh…..giving Jane Austen computer access would indeed have been something! I’ve wondered at her reaction if I showed her the 1995 version of P&P in DVD mode on my laptop.

  2. The last section on food is particularly interesting. With Mrs. Bennet going on about French chefs in many of the variations I’ve read, it appears that she was quite ignorant of their “arts and allurements” for disguising poor quality food. I should think that the Bennets had a much healthier diet at Longbourn with their local food than members of the ton did with their access to the latest culinary trends.

    • Good point. In the original P&P, Mrs. Bennet laments about there being no fish available, but if it’s not fresh, who wants it? I read a fan fiction recently (sorry, don’t remember the name or author), where Caroline is so intent on Impressing Darcy that she has his favorite seafood, clams, brought up from London. Thankfully, he doesn’t eat any. Jane gets terribly ill, and Hurst dies.

    • With their country houses, the wealthy were able to get away from the filth of London. But their rich diets set them up for gout and diabetes. In many ways, the Bennets were better off.

  3. Very interesting article. Would love to time travel back to the Regency times although just for a look, would not want to stay there. We are so lucky living in this century with medical advances, sanitation etc.

    Thanks Mary another enjoyable article.

  4. I find it quite interesting that food poisoning was common place, and it seems it would’ve been more common amongst the members of the ton, rather than the common people. As Florence says, in many variations Mrs. Bennet talks about French chefs, I have seen those where Caroline speaks of them as well making her ignorant, as well, of the sauces used to hide the less than stellar quality of the food.

  5. I can’t imagine what was in some of those concoctions the apothecaries and doctors had people take! They certainly couldn’t drink water unless for tea and then it was boiled and consumed alot of alcohol! What is fantastic are the contemporaries of Jane Austen. She was in good company! The music composers alone were amazing! Thank you Mary!

    • Of course, in this country (US), we know that snake-oil concoctions sometimes resulted in blindness. I really do appreciate food inspectors.

  6. The reason for the high collars was new to me–thanks!

    BTW, the author Jill Heydt-Stevenson, who has written about sexual allusions in Jane Austen’s books, gives a different interpretation of Mr Woodhouse. Based on his trying to recall the poem “Kitty, a fair but frozen maid” (a work full of references to sex–and a man having sex with virgins to ‘cure’ his malady), she posits that Mr W sowed his oats when he was younger and is suffering from tertiary syphilis. His diet being of the type prescribed for that disease.

  7. I’m learning so many interesting facts this month! To wear high collars to hide fat chins… fashion has always been a dictature in people’s lives.

  8. My goodness would Jane have had fun with how the times are now, she would have her own website, fb page and I can only imagine how funny her posts would be. I love thinking about it 🙂

  9. Entire article is very interesting, but the explanation of Mr. Woodhouse’s peculiar dietary habits is fascinating!

  10. All this talk about food brought to mind some remarks made by Benjamin Wjitlow who played Mr. Bennett in the 1995 P&P. In the filming of a dinner scene he was asked what kind of dessert he would like as he would be eating it in the scene. The choice of gooseberry fool proved to be too much as take after take he began to hate the stuff! Even recreating food in Austen’s time proves difficult!

    • I’ve read where all actors hate eating scenes. The food gets cold. Sometimes they spray stuff on it to make it look better, etc.

  11. Thank you for this post – I have often wondered why Mr Woodhouse was so fussy about his own diet and those of his guests. It always felt as if I was about to giggle when he explains about his cook being able to boil an egg correctly or when he turns away food that has arrived from the kitchen and his guests try not to mention it to Emma Woodhouse but maybe I should be more respectful of his care.

  12. I often think about the lack of safe ways to store and preserve foods when I read about meal planning or dinners in these stories. I am sure a lot of people suffered indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. much less food poisoning and even death from that problem. But then they didn’t know any better. Thanks for the information and look at this topic.

  13. Thanks for auch a fascinating article, Mary. Who would have guessed at the reason for those high pointed collars that some of our actors wear with such distinction?

    As for Mr. Woodhouse, I’ll certainly be viewing his dietary foibles in a new light next time I read Emma.

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