Read Jane Austen For Dummies Online

Authors: Joan Elizabeth Klingel Ray

Jane Austen For Dummies (42 page)

BOOK: Jane Austen For Dummies

• The bedrooms could have adjoining dressing rooms and closets — actual small rooms with bookshelves, a desk, and a chair.

• A husband and wife usually shared a bedroom, but separate bedrooms weren't uncommon. (This separation was the only sure form of birth control.)

• The master bedroom or master's and mistress's bedroom contained a study and dressing room for him and a sitting room and dressing room for her.

• Some bedrooms had adjoining water closets (WCs) — bathrooms with primitive toilets and plumbing. But water for baths had to be heated separately and poured into the tub. This was a job for the servants.

• Bedrooms for frequent houseguests. Austen writes of the many guests who are staying, coming, and going at Godmersham Park while she is visiting in autumn 1813. It's as if Godmersham is a mini-hotel, and no one is sleeping on the sofa!

The offices:
Because the country house and estate were places of work, as well as residence and entertainment, the mansion had a part of the house separate from the family's residence that contained rooms called offices — all rooms to carry out the many jobs that kept the country house operating smoothly:

• The kitchen

• The pantry

• The laundry room

• The wine cellar

When the Austen daughters and their mother visited the massive Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806, the wing with the offices was so large that Mrs. Austen suggested posting directional signs!

The servants' quarters:
Servants, male and female, had their bedrooms in the mansion's attic, basement, or even a separate wing of the house. However, the estate's lady's maid sometimes had a room of her own near her mistress's room. The head butler might also have his own room.

Picking up Austen's hints about a modern-built house

Austen is very careful to note when a house is modern — that is, constructed in the 18th century. With class structures starting to change, the recently wealthy tradesman or newly rich and titled baronet could join the gentry by purchasing a country house and estate. So a modern-built country house signified that the residents weren't an old family of the gentry. They have the money, but not the heritage of someone like Darcy, who comes from “‘respectable, honourable, and ancient, though untitled'” paternal ancestors PP 3:14). Not that Austen resented those with new money who bought country estates. On the contrary, a character like
's Admiral Croft, who earned his money in the Napoleonic Wars, serves Kellynch Hall better as a tenant than Sir Walter Elliot, baronet, with a long family heritage, served Kellynch Hall as its owner. Likewise, she admires the same novel's Captain Wentworth for his professional success and rise in status. While he is still a naval officer on active duty, chances are he will have enough money to retire with his wife to a country house. But Austen's readers can infer her opinion of country-house owners who have let their new status go to their heads.

Here are some examples:

Mrs. Elton's sister and brother-in-law, the Sucklings, have lived at Maple Grove for 11 years. She considers them among the “old established families,” for she's sure that his father, old Mr. Suckling, “completed the purchase before his death” (E 2:18). Obviously, Maple Grove existed long before the Sucklings, who now consider themselves old timers, took possession! From the way Mrs. Elton always refers to her sister Selina Suckling's opinions and behavior, we can infer that the vulgar Mrs. Elton's pride in her in-laws' estate mirrors the Sucklings' pride. (And what a surname: Suckling! Austen is unusually heavy-handed here and in naming the Sucklings' good friends, the Bragges.) In fact, Mrs. Elton looks down upon the Sucklings' new neighbors, the Tupmans, who bought an estate merely a year and a half ago, because they give “‘themselves immense airs'” (E 2:18). Look who's talking. . . .

Pride and Prejudice:
Charles Bingley, Darcy's friend, plans to buy a country house and estate with the money he's inherited from his father — a wealthy tradesman or manufacturer from a northern English city. When he finally does buy the estate, he will officially become a member of the gentry. In the beginning of the novel, he leases an estate, Netherfield Park, but soon after marrying Jane Bennet, he buys an estate 30 miles from Pemberley (PP 3:19). Bingley, himself, is modest, but his sister, Caroline, can't wait for her brother to buy an estate so she can say that she has a brother who's a member of the gentry. Like Mrs. Elton, Miss Bingley will claim to be gentry herself through a sibling!

Keeping the country house running

Given that the country house was a large family home, as well as a place of business for the surrounding estate on which it stood, it required a staff to keep the place running. Each worker had a specific role to play in ensuring that a house like Pemberley or Mansfield Park was clean, well-stocked, and functioning comfortably for the family and their guests. And just as society was based on a hierarchical structure, so was the household staff.

Respecting the role of the steward

Of all the help working at a country house, the steward was at the top of the heap. A steward worked at the largest estates, and smaller estates or farms employed a bailiff. The steward managed the estate for the owner so that he didn't have to deal directly with tenant farmers who rented acreage or the workers who tended it. Other responsibilities included

Overseeing the estate's accounts

Settling any squabbles that arose among the tenants or workers

Purchasing animals and seed and so on

This position was a highly trusted one, and a concerned estate owner met with his steward regularly. Even a smaller farm like that of the Austens at Steventon had a supervisor, a bailiff, named Bond, James — no — John Bond.

Pride and Prejudice,
Austen makes Wickham the son of the steward who worked for Darcy's father. Darcy describes the senior Wickham as a “very respectable man, who had for years the management of all the Pemberley estates” (PP 2:12). (Sometimes, the owners of large estates also owned smaller estates, which they rented out or gave to their elder sons so they and their young families could live nearby. This was true of the father of Austen's friends, the Bigg Withers, whose son and heir lived with his family on a Bigg Wither-owned estate.) The closeness between the senior Darcy and Wickham, Jr. is evidenced in the senior Darcy's being young Wickham's godfather and paying for his godson to attend Cambridge University. After graduation, the senior Darcy held a church living for him. In essence, the senior Darcy was giving Wickham, Jr. the education and life of a gentleman, even though the young man's father was an employee. (For more on the class system, see Chapter 2. For more on church livings, see Chapter 10.)

Appreciating the roles of the housekeeper and lady's maid

The housekeeper was to the lady of the estate what the steward was to her husband. While the steward was actually superior in the household hierarchy to the housekeeper, she acted as his surrogate in his absence. She was the most important female servant who carried some clout. The housekeeper's duties were as follows:

Hired the other household help

Oversaw the household accounts

Supervised the help who weren't reporting to the steward

Managed the ordering of all the household supplies

Austen talks about Pemberley's housekeeper in
Pride and Prejudice:

When Elizabeth and the Gardiners visit Pemberley, the housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, escorts them through the house. She's an “intelligent servant,” a “respectable-looking, elderly woman,” with “manners easy and pleasant” (PP 3:1). She has been the housekeeper at Pemberley since Darcy, age 28 in the novel, was 4 (PP 3:1). So a good housekeeper stayed around a long time as a valued employee.

While the Bennets aren't as rich as Darcy, they, too, have a housekeeper, Hill (PP 1:13). When Lydia disappears with Wickham, Mrs. Bennet takes to her room and “vents all her feelings” about the situation (PP 3:5). Her brother and sister-in-law recognize that because Mrs. Bennet “had not the prudence to hold her tongue before the servants,” she should remain in her room with the “
only of the household . . . the one whom they could most trust:” the housekeeper, Hill. Thus, a trusted housekeeper was an important member of the household.

Equal to the housekeeper in household stature was the personal maid to the lady of the house: the lady's maid. She took care of all of her lady's personal needs, from keeping her company to dressing her, looking after her lady's clothes, and styling her hair. In
Mansfield Park,
Lady Bertram thinks Fanny looks so good at the ball that her lady's maid, Chapman, must have helped Fanny dress (MP 2:10).

Meeting the other household help

Below the housekeeper and lady's maid was an army of female household help, ranging from the cook down to the laundry and kitchen maids, with the chamber maids and the housemaids, who respectively cleaned the bedrooms and the rest of the house, in the middle. The country house's male servants included grooms for the horses and a coachman to drive and look after the family's carriage(s). Other jobs included

A cook:
The person holding this job could be male or female. Large estates had an array of cooks with specialties like brewing, baking, or pastry.

A butler:
This job included overseeing the household china, silverware, glassware, and what went into it: the wine and beer. Most country houses had butlers, too. The Bennets in
Pride and Prejudice
had one, as well.

A personal valet:
No, a valet doesn't park your carriage; he was the person who took care of his boss's clothes. The valet is the counterpart of a lady's maid. A wealthy man like Darcy would employ a valet.

A gamekeeper:
He oversaw the protecting and breeding of game — after all, the estate owner wanted enough deer on his property to hunt!

These servants worked inside the house. They could do any number of jobs, from serving as doormen to serving meals at the table.

A coachman:
He was the chauffeur of the period, driving and maintaining the family's carriages.

Carpenters, blacksmiths, and huntsmen:
Large estates like Pemberley, Mansfield Park, and Norland Park would also have these employees.

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