So quite unlike the beginning of my adventures in Sydney, in Chawton I have launched straight into research on my very first day following my arrival. Now, this is partly because I don’t feel jetlagged after a full day of travelling on planes and resetting my body clock by 12 hours, but it is also because I only have 3 weeks to work through an ambitious research project. I don’t think the staff were quite prepared for my usual pace of working, where I asked for 30 books…to start…
The reason for so many book requests and a particularly brisk working pace is that I am not exactly sure where to find what I am looking for. I know that music is frequently discussed in novels. I know that music teachers are mentioned and I know that most of the characters (as well as the authors) will have had some form of music training – hence why they can give such detailed reviews about the concerts, operas as well as comments on others musical education. Take this quote from Mansfield Park for example:
“How many Miss Owens are there?”
“Three grown up.”
“Are they musical?”
“I do not at all know. I have never heard.”
“That is the first question, you know,” said Miss Crawford trying to appear gay and unconcerned, “which every woman who plays herself is sure to ask about another. But it is very foolish to ask questions about any young ladies – about any three sisters just grown up; for one knows without being told, exactly, what they are; all very accomplished and pleasing, and one very pretty. There is a beauty in every family; it is a regular thing. Two play on the piano forte, and one on the harp; and all sing, or would sing if they were taught; or sing all the better for not being taught, or something like it” (p300).
In this short quote, Austen paints a very clear picture about the expectations of socially polite, moneyed women in early 19th-century Britain. Her character doesn’t even need to meet the Owen sisters to know that they will have some musical accomplishment. So far, I have found similar conversations in novels and memoirs. Most young ladies were expected to have some musical skill but only after skills in sewing, reading and languages had been obtained. In fact, in a novel by Barbara Hofland printed in 1825 called Ellen, the teacher, Ellen explains to her young student Maria who is struggling to grasp the most basic skills that she should not pursue a musical education as she could not give it the time ‘necessary for proficiency’ (p. 128). This is despite the students protests that her friend was already receiving instruction in music and dancing. So while music was an important subject for a young lady, the evidence so far is suggesting it was not as high up on the list of skills to attain as I have previously assumed. More anon…
After a hard day reading book after book, I went for a short exploration of Chawton Village. Chawton House was indeed owned by the Austen family, but it was the primary resident of Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight. However, a quick walk into the village and there pops the Jane Austen House Museum, formally known as Chawton Cottage. This is where Jane resided for the final 8 years of her life and where some of her final books were written. It was closed by the time I arrived, but I will no doubt be heading down for a tour during my trip.