In my little spare time, these days, I'm experiencing a total immersion in the world of Jane Austen and her novels. The enriching, masterful essay by Deirdre Le Faye has revealed itself an unexpectedly pleasant reading.
I've read through Part I: "The world of Jane Austen" and just finished the long chapter titled "England and the world". What I want to share with you is the detailed description Le Faye proposes of the differences between male and female education, career chances, occupations and pursuits.
I've always admired Jane Austen for her witty outlook, her intelligent irony, at dealing with these discriminating decisive differences in her novels; Deirdre Le Faye, instead, collected facts taken from documents and provides the modern readers an outline of that world, so that they can step through the looking glass and find themselves in the England of two centuries ago. They little by little discover what being a man or a woman might be like.
There are lots of important facts to be reported so I'm going to start with only men for now.


Most of the leading male characters in Jane Austen's novels are landed gentry, and in the Georgian period it was accepted that of the several sons a family the eldest son inherited the paternal estate intact and the second son could hope to inherit some land or money from his mother's side of the family. All other younger sons, and the second son if there was no inheritance, would have to make their own way in the world and wuld be expected to do so by entering the Navy or the Army, taking the Holy Orders or being called to the Bar. Gentlemen could become physicians or surgeons but apothecaries and attorneys were definitely lower class. To be a banker or rich merchant -say in the East India Company - was acceptable. The larger landowners would delegate the day-to-day business of farming and parish politics to a bailiff or steward but it was still incumbent upon them to give personal attention to the well-being of their dependants on the estate. Mr Darcy is said by his housekeeper Mrs Reynolds to be"the best landlord, and the best master that ever lived. Not like the wild young men nowadays, who think of nothing but themselves. There is not one of his tenants or servants but what will give him a good name".


During the 18th century the British Royal Navy had become the best in the world, and island's nation symbol of security and prosperity, and popularly regarded as invincible. Younger sons of the landed gentry seized the opportunities afforded by the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars to join the Navy in the hope of gaining both honours and prize-money. The official arrangement was that any hostile ship which the Navy captured , together with cargo, was sold to the British Government, and the proceeds were divided amongst the victorious crew. Captains and admirals could certainly expect to become rich. In Persuasion Captain Wentworth, by 1814, has amassed prize money to the sum of £25,000 and so is able to contemplate buying his own landed property and living in married comfort thereafter. Did you know? Jane Austen's brothers Frank and Charles were away on active service for many years during wartime period,Frank in the Mediterranean and the Baltic and Charles first of all in home waters and then in the West Indies; and both in due course and long after her death, rose to become admirals.
The Army was not so highly regarded as a career as the Navy. Most of the officers were drawn from the younger sons of the local gentry and the colonel was usually some landowner of the country. It is the arrival of a militia regiment in Hertfordshire that starts to thicken the plot of Pride and Prejudice and no doubt Jane was aided in her composition of this novel by her brother Henry's tales of his service with the Oxfordshires.


In the 18th century there was no need for a young man to feel that he had a vocation for clerical life - to be a clergyman in the Church of England was viewed merely as a suitable profession for an educated gentleman, and the main problem was to find a parish rich enough to enable the parson to live like any other country landowner. At that time there were no fixed salaries for the clergy, whose income had instead ti├Čo be made up from several sources - mainly from tithe payments (the right of the parson to receive one-tenth of the annual gross product of all cultivated land in the parish) and the produce of farming their own glebe land with surplice fees (customary payments for baptisms, marriages and burials) in addition. A clergyman was not expected to devote himself full-time to his duties, as the basic requirements were only that he should attend his church on Sundays to take morning and evening service, with or without preaching a sermon, and that he should hold Holy Communion services at least three times a year.


The boys who would grow up to follow these gentlemanly careers received by our standards a very narrow education. Small boys were taught reading, writing and elementary arithmetic by their parents or by a governess; some might then be tutored in a private household, like Jane's father's pupils at Steventon rectory;others might be sent to board at a preparatory school from about eight to thirteen, followed by five years at a public school, and university thereafter. The curriculum was still very limited, consisting mainly of Latin and Greek classical texts
in prose and verse, with some modern history leading on from that of the ancient world; geography (use of the globes), French and Italian were usually taught as extras, along with handwriting, dancing, drawing and miscellaneous lectures on scientific topics. Conditions in the old-established public schools were invariably spartan, discipline was ferocious, for most headmaster still held to Dr Johnson's view of children that "not being reasonable, can only be governed by fear", and flogged their pupils as a matter of fact.


The fashion in masculine clothes changed only slowly during Jane Austen's lifetime, but in the end there were considerable differences in appearance between the boys and men of 1760 and 1820. In the earlier years of the century the basic male suit consisted of a knee-length coat with long and bulky skirts, a long waistcoat, and close-fitting knee-breeches worn with stockings and buckled shoes. The coat gradually evolved by alterations in its cuts, removing the skirts in front and dividing those at the back into two tails that would fall more conveniently when the wearer was on horseback, and likewise diminishing baggy sleeves and wide cuffs to a far neater outline. The waistcoat dwindle accordingly to fit inside a smaller coat. In 1790s the breeches lengthened to become tight pantaloons worn tucked into short boots, and in the early 19th century the pantaloons became looser and evolved into trousers worn with shoes.
Young men started to wear their hair cut short in the 1790s. In Jane Austen's early novels, most of the gentlemen would have had long hair, powdered and tied back in a queue with a large bow of black ribbon.

Well, it's all for now. Till very soon to compare what men's lives were like to women's. If you're interested in getting this precious book you can buy it online at Amazon . CLICK HERE


Anonymous said...

It seems a very detailed book. I have read that Deirdre Le Faye has done a very important and meticulous work with JA's letters, well-appreciated by modern Janeites!
Thank you for sharing your interesting reads with us.

London Belle said...

I love the fashions - I went to the V&A museum and tried on stuff from that period!There is Jane Austen day in Bath I really want to go - you dress in the costumes and, ya know if you pay extra, you get to learn the dances AND attend a ball!!!

Maria Grazia said...

Yes, I'd like to get Deirdre's text about Jane Austen's letters. I like her style, not boring nor pedantic at all.
Thanks for your contribution, Loredana.
@London Belle
I've read about Bath's days dedicated to Jane Austen and I've seen pictures surfing the Net. I must confess, though, that I wouldn't feel comfortable in such costumes. I'd be ... clunky, clumsy, awkward in those beautiful dresses I love. I'd love to be there and watch the others.
Thanks for dropping by!

lunarossa said...

Such an interesting post, MG. You can learn so much about life in Jane Austen's times reading her books but Ms Le Faye's book seems to make everything more clear. We're travelling to Corwall in a couple of weeks and we might stop in Bath. Ciao. A.

Maria Grazia said...

Ciao, Antonella! Lucky you. In a couple of weeks you may be in Cornwall and Bath and I ..."sull'orlo d'una crisi di nervi" . How would you tranlate that? - since you are the expert. Take lots of photos,please.. It'll be a pleasure to see Cornwall and Bath in your blog, at least.

Vic said...

Wonderful post. What a great blog!

lunarossa said...

"On the verge of a nervous breakdown" come il film di Almodovar! Speriamo di no!!! Quando finisce la scuola quest'anno in Italia? Ma poi ci saranno gli esami di maturita', suppongo. Pensa che qui da noi tutti (eccetto le scuole private) andranno a scuola fino al 22 luglio! Buona giornata. Ciao. A.

Maria Grazia said...

Grazie Antonella per la traduzione, pensavo proprio al film di Almodovar quando ho scritto!
The school year will finish 12th of June here in Lazio and the school-leaving examinations will start June 25th. I've got three final classes, 54 students to examinate + external students! I'll finish about mid-July. I'll actually be on the verge of a nervous breakdown then!

Anonymous said...

What a great post, Maria! Very comprehensive. I'm waiting for the ladies. :D

Elvira said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed reading it!!

Maria Grazia said...

Thanks, Sylwia. I hope it'll be soon, as I promised. Have a nice evening!

Maria Grazia said...

Gracias! Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book. I enjoyed reading it. So many different aspects to look at.