The city of London has long been a magnet, calling the people of the countryside with promises of society, entertainment, shopping, and work. It is no less for the characters in the novels of Jane Austen, written and published in the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. I am proposing a mini-exhibition for the Inspiring London display in the Museum of London, “London’s Jane Austen”, providing visitors of all backgrounds with the knowledge and information to fully appreciate London’s influence on one of Western Literature’s greatest writers, hopefully giving them a greater understanding of the time period and lives of the people who lived there.
Beginning with a brief introduction of the period in which the novels are set, the display would cover from about 1790 – when Austen began writing – to 1816, when Emma was published, the last of her novels to be so during her lifetime.
The display itself (Plate 1) begins with the striking yellow carriage currently located in the archives, positioned in such a way so it would front the public and be the first item encountered. The introductory information could be displayed on a large poster-board set up on an easel, with the text printed on an image of a city street as it would have appeared around 1810.
Visitors move from the introduction and the carriage in a counter-clockwise manner, to a large screen featuring a digital map of London at the time, showing the important streets and well-known landmarks, so modern visitors would have a sense of place and location.
This digital map would play on a loop, with the map itself remaining static, while the streets themselves and the houses lived in would be highlighted and brought forward, as a narrator briefly tells of who lived there, their situation in life, and about the street itself and that area of London, including why or how this information was significant in Austen’s characterization.
Maps have been made of Austen’s London before, (Plate 2) but it could easily be done again by the Museum’s staff. The map referenced here focuses purely on location and who Austen assigned to reside there (Plate 3), while the Museum’s map would dig deeper into the city of London itself and the important role it played therein. When each residency was highlighted, for example the Bingley’s residence in Grosvenor Street, a period illustration or even modern photograph of any surviving Georgian homes in that area could be shown on the screen as well, and as the narrator continues telling about the sorts of people who lived there and the activities that would have gone on in the local, period images of these could be shown on the screen.
The second area is a series of vignettes highlighting aspects of London life, coming to London or “Going to Town”, consisting of a floating exhibit behind the carriage and a row of “L”-shaped glass cases along two walls.
Society played a major role in the London season, when there were many opportunities to go out, to see and be seen. Some such examples are mentioned by Austen, like the party attended by Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility where Marianne made the mortifying discovery of Willoughby’s unfaithfulness. The floating exhibit would consist of two cases, the one directly behind the carriage containing two female mannequins, dressed as if they were going to this party (preferably one dressed as Marianne and the other as Eleanor), in the second case a male mannequin also dressed for the party. (Willoughby? These wouldn’t be named as such but instead would provide a point of reference for the curators and as a fun notion for the visitors who are well-versed in Austen, without being distracting for those who are not.)
Attention to detail is key for both, with accessories including shawls, head-dresses, jewelry, stockings, shoes, fans, and gloves – maybe even some smelling salts - for the ladies, with shirt, waistcoat, cravat, tailcoat, breeches, stockings, shoes, fob, gloves, and hat. The information cards for each would have images of fashion plates of the time printed on them as well, in addition to the text, the latter of which would describe the importance of balls and parties and touch on some of the essential items of every well-dressed man or woman attendee’s wardrobe.
Moving on from the floating display and the map will be the “Going to Town” portion of the exhibit, consisting of long glass cases running the length of the wall and forming an “L” shape to continue past the corner and onto the next wall. The vignettes of the displays making up these cases do not need to be separated, but they should blend seamlessly into one another.
The first vignette will be of every-day social interactions. Aside from balls and parties, socializing was carried on in other ways, from leaving cards at the residencies of friends and acquaintances to alert them to one’s being in town, to short visits made throughout the day, and small evening gatherings for music, cards, and maybe dancing.
Nearest the map on a table would be a collection of calling-cards, invitations, and any other such memorabilia the museum may have on hand. Hanging on the wall behind there will be a painting common in the homes of people at the time, perhaps of a landscape, and in the corner a window sash, either original or reproduction to add some visual interest.
A walking dress with appropriate accessories, the type one of Austen’s ladies might wear when visiting her London acquaintance, would bridge the gap between the visiting section and the entertainment area to follow.
Austen mentions several entertainments that her characters amuse themselves with, the three included here are very different from one another: the menagerie at Exeter Exchange, from Sense and Sensibility, when Mr. John Dashwood takes his son Henry to see the wild beasts; Kensington Gardens, also from Sense and Sensibility, where Nancy Steele goes with her friends and cousins; and the Little Theater, mentioned by Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice as being open, although she wasn’t permitted to go.
Enlarged original images of the locations would be on the walls, as would banners or advertisements if there are any available. Any objects relating to the locations will be displayed in front of the pertaining imagery, such as gardening tools, bonnets, and parasols for Kensington; toys, souvenirs, and animal restraints used at Exeter; and finally a good use for the theater collection, with programs, brochures, costumes, and props put out.
This is where we come to the corner of the glass case, with red theater curtain on the one side and drapery fabric from a merchant on the other.
Shopping London for the latest styles and fashions was just as commonplace then as it is now, and Austen writes of characters going out on purpose of shopping or other forms of “business.” The area devoted to shopping should be stuffed full of beautiful wares that would have tempted Londoners both real and imagined, while conveying the way shopping was done at the time. Department stores were not yet invented, and people would go from specialist to specialist collecting what they needed as they went. This is already very well done in the “Victorian Walk” exhibit in the Museum proper, and would need to be done here on a smaller scale, and should also include an ensemble of what would be worn by a shopkeeper of the period.
There will be focused areas throughout the portion, one for haberdashery (hats), cobblers (shoes), drapers (fabric), trims, buckles, gloves, basically anything and everything that will fit and look lovely.
Business comes next. The section on business and that of shopping can run together quite easily, for in many cases “business” is in fact some sort of shopping errand, although I would choose to separate them with a floor clock, something that can be both purchased and is functional in the keeping of business appointments.
In Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Jennings goes into Pall Mall to a stationer’s shop where she has business, while Eleanor has her version of business at Gray’s in Sackville Street, in the carrying on of a negotiation for the exchange of a few old-fashioned jewels of her mothers. It is also at Gray’s where the sisters first meet Robert Ferrars, as he gives orders for an ivory, gold, and pearl toothpick case for himself. I would dearly love to find a toothpick case in the museum’s collections to use here.
There were of course the aspects of business involving banks and legal firms, the purchasing and selling of horses and carriages, all involving lots and lots of hand-written documents. For these, a desk could be set up as if it belonged to a lawyer, complete with an ink well and pens, letter opener, a wax seal stamp and wax, with a chair set up behind. A gentleman’s outfit suitable for a lawyer would be next to the desk at the end of the glass case.
Two doorways in the Inspiring London room create a little corner area separate from everything else, it is here I would place a case devoted to the dark side of London, at which Austen hints in two of her novels.
The first is the issue of concealment, London as a place for sinners and the immoral to hide, lost in the winding streets and crowds. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Wickham go to London after their elopement so no one will be able to discover them, they are found due to Mr. Darcy’s knowledge of the location of Wickham’s friend, Mrs. Younge, who has let a house in Edward Street, likely in Soho, which even then had a reputation for immorality and decadence. 2
The second is the issue of illegitimacy and unwanted children, touched on in Emma 3: Harriet Smith is the natural daughter of “somebody” 4 who paid for her to stay as a tenant in a respectable house, while Jane Fairfax is an orphan who was taken in by a friend of her father.
These topics will be covered through images of the rougher sides of London at the time, such as of Soho and of St. Clement Danes Church in The Strand, where Wickham and Lydia were married, and of the Foundling Hospital located in Brunswick Square, founded in 1756 for abandoned children. 5 An example of either the clothes typical of poorer areas of the city, or a uniform or some such belonging to a worker at the Hospital would be in the corner next to the walls. Children’s toys and/or unskilled laborers’ gear can be included as well.
The final area, between the second doorframe and a protruding wall, would hold another glass case containing the “Working in London” display. Several of Austen’s characters’ work and live in London, the most prominent of those being Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner of Pride and Prejudice. The Gardiners live in Cheapside in the City, on Gracechurch Street, and Mr. Gardiner is in a line of trade. Jane Austen doesn’t specify what line of trade he is in, only that he lives “within view of his own warehouses.” 6 She does give both profession and location in Mansfield Park, when Dr. Grant, a clergyman, succeeds to a stall in Westminster and he and his wife move to London.
This case would consist of two parts, the tradesman half and the clergyman half, with the former being closest to the doorway and the latter on the side of the wall.
The tradesman half would have the ensemble of a respectable man of trade, like Mr. Gardiner, in the rear corner, and an image of Gracechurch Street or Cheapside would be on the wall. In front on a table would be various ephemera on the trades that went on in Cheapside, and tools of the trades would be located on the floor or arranged around the display.
For the clergy, a clergyman’s ensemble would be in the other corner, with an image of Westminster on the wall. On a table in front would be a Bible, hymnals, prayer books, and other items a clergyman needs in the carrying out of his duties.
The end of the display would have a concluding poster board, set up on an easel in the same fashion as the introductory board, on the opposite side of the carriage (where they hitch the horses) and across from the wall. To be found hanging on the wall are dress-up clothes from the time period that children could put on: empire-waist dresses, waistcoats, top hats, clip-on cravats, bonnets, shawls, and the like. A small sign would invite the kids to do so, and recommend posing in front of the carriage for a picture. The Museum could encourage parents to send the photographs in via email, or tag the Museum in Tweets and Facebook posts that contain the pictures, and the pictures could appear on the Museum’s website, getting people involved and hopefully encouraging their friends and family to come out as well.
This exhibit brings to the forefront the important role London played in Jane Austen’s novels. All throughout her works, London is there, whether mentioned in passing or instrumental in the unfolding of events; always intertwined with the plots and characterizations, ready to provide depth and insight into the people who move across the pages if one knows how to find it, and this exhibit at the Museum of London will show its visitors how.
My initial rough plan for London’s Jane Austen. The idea was to create a circular flow while establishing an idea of mystery: with the carriage obscuring a large part of the exhibit from view and focal points directly behind, visitors will be drawn into the display and then funneled along, finally reaching the dress-up area and hopefully taking a picture in costume with the carriage to share with friends and family.
Information on the individual objects would be presented along the front of the cases, as in the displays in the other permanent exhibits. Each category would have a brief overview, with quotes from Austen’s books and letters punctuating the curator’s text.
London in the time of Jane Austen 7
Jane Axelrod of the Jane Austen Society of North America drew up this map showing that Jane Austen was familiar with and provided the locations for many of her characters’ homes and various dramatic situations in which they found themselves.
Buckingham Palace, in the lower left corner, would have been known at the time as Buckingham House or The Queen’s House. 8
Key to London in the Time of Jane Austen 9
- Astleys - Emma
A stadium used for horse shows in Westminster Bridge Road where Robert Martin joins the John Knightleys and Harriet Smith
- Baker Street - Mansfield Park
The London address of the Andersons, friends of Tom Bertram
- Bartletts Building - Sense and Sensibility
The address in Holborn of the Miss Steeles’ cousins where they stay upon arriving in London
- Bedford Square - Mansfield Park
The residential square in London near the house of the Bertrams' cousin where Julia stays
- Berkeley Street - Sense and Sensibility
The address off Portman Square where Mrs. Jennings lives
- Bond Street - Sense and Sensibility, Emma
The address of John Willoughby
Where Mr. Elton takes Harriet Smith’s portrait to be framed
- Brunswick Square - Emma
The address of the John Knightleys
- Cheapside - Pride and Prejudice
A district and street between St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England
- Conduit Street - Sense and Sensibility
The address of the Middletons
- Covent Garden (not in a novel but a well-known London location)
- Drury Lane - Sense and Sensibility
The common name for the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane
- Edward Street - Pride and Prejudice
The address of Mrs. Younge, Georgiana’s ex-governess
- Gracechurch Street - Pride and Prejudice
The address of the Gardiners in Cheapside
- Grays - Sense and Sensibility
The jewelers in Sackville Street where Robert Ferrars purchases a toothpick case
- Grosvenor Street - Pride and Prejudice
The address of the Hursts
- Hanover Square - Sense and Sensibility
The address of the Palmers
- Harley Street - Sense and Sensibility
The address of the John Dashwoods
- Hill Street - Mansfield Park
The address of Admiral Crawford
- Holborn - Sense and Sensibility
A district and street where the Miss Steeles stay in Bartletts Buildings
- House of Commons - Persuasion
Where Sir Walter was with Mr. Elliot on two occasions
- Kensington Gardens - Sense and Sensibility
Where Nancy Steele meets with Elinor to relate the overheard conversation between Lucy and Edward
- Manchester Street - Emma
The temporary address of the Churchills
- Pall Mall - Sense and Sensibility
Edward moves to Pall Mall after refusing to break his engagement with Lucy Steele
- Park Street - Sense and Sensibility
The address of Mrs. Ferrars
- Portman Square - Sense and Sensibility
A square in the fashionable part of London near Mrs. Jennings’ townhouse
- Sackville Street - Sense and Sensibility
Address of Gray, the jewelers
- St. Clements - Pride and Prejudice
Lydia and Wickham are married at St. Clements Danes Church in The Strand
- St. Georges - Mansfield Park
A fashionable church in Hanover Square where Mary Crawford envisions Fanny and Henry getting married
- St. James - Pride and Prejudice
The residence of the Royal Family in London
- St. James Street - Sense and Sensibility
Colonel Brandon’s address
- Tattersalls - Persuasion
A London club where Sir Walter must have been seen with Mr. Elliot
- Temple Bar - Persuasion
Where young Mr. Elliot had chambers
- Tower of London - Northanger Abbey
Henry Tilney tells Catherine that Eleanor believes the Tower of London is threatened with attack
- Westminster School - Sense and Sensibility
Public school where Robert Ferrars was educated
- Westminster Abbey - Mansfield Park
Dr. Grant succeeded to a stall at Westminster Abbey
- Wimpole Street - Mansfield Park
Address of the Rushworths
- Little Theater - Pride and Prejudice
Where Lydia wants to go during her stay with the Gardiners, one of the few places in London open in the off-season
The list above is rather exhaustive and is merely illustratory of the scope of material available to anyone interested in pursuing the connection between London and Austen. By no means would the display need to include every item here, optioning to use locations and names (like Grosvenor Square and Bingley, or Bond Street and Willoughby) that will be familiar to visitors and that provide the most scope throughout both the city locals and of the various characters.
Jane Austen Society of North America. Accessed 20 July 2015. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol32no1/kaplan.html
Kaplan, Laurie. “London as Text: Teaching Jane Austen’s “London” Novels In Situ.”
- Austen, Jane. Four Novels: Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice; Emma;
Northanger Abbey. Canterbury Classics: San Diego, 2009. 424. 4. Cook, Samantha and Rob Humphreys. Pocket Rough Guide: London. Rough Guides Ltd. London, 2015. 79.
- Kaplan, Laurie. “London as Text: Teaching Jane Austen’s “London” Novels In Situ.”
Jane Austen Society of North America. Accessed 20 July 2015. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol32no1/kaplan.html
- Austen, Jane. Four Novels: Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice; Emma;
Northanger Abbey. Canterbury Classics: San Diego, 2009. 279. 7. Jane Austen Society of North America. “Map of Jane Austen’s London.” Accessed 21 July 2015. http://www.jasna.org/info/maps-london.html 8. The British Monarchy. “40 Facts About Buckingham Palace.” Accessed 21 July 2015. http://www.royal.gov.uk/latestnewsanddiary/factfiles/40factsaboutbuckinghampalace.aspx 9. Wilson, Patrick. “Where’s Where in Jane Austen . . . and What Happens There.” Jane Austen Society of Australia. Accessed 21 July 2015. http://www.jasna.org/info/maps-london-key.html
Austen, Jane. Four Novels: Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice; Emma; Northanger Abbey. Canterbury Classics: San Diego, 2009.
British Monarchy, The. “40 Facts About Buckingham Palace.” Accessed 21 July 2015.
Cook, Samantha and Rob Humphreys. Pocket Rough Guide: London. Rough Guides Ltd. London, 2015. Jane Austen Society of North America. “Map of Jane Austen’s London.” Accessed 21 July 2015.
Kaplan, Laurie. “London as Text: Teaching Jane Austen’s “London” Novels In Situ.” Jane
Austen Society of North America. Accessed 20 July 2015.
Wilson, Patrick. “Where’s Where in Jane Austen . . . and What Happens There.” Jane Austen
Society of Australia. Accessed 21 July 2015. http://www.jasna.org/info/maps-london-key.html