Jane Austen Society of North America, Southwest Region
Jana Bickel (left) substituted popular song lyrics with her own humorous versus about carriages in Austen’s novels.
Horse and Carriage
April 10, 2010
Calamigos Equestrian Center, Burbank
Sandy Lerner — Gentlemen Never Drove Gigs
Alice Villaseñor — An American in Chawton
Jana Bickel and Company — Performance of Ditties Written by Bickel
Sandy Lerner provided a fascinating talk on 19th century transportation at the Spring 2010 meeting. She co-founded Cisco Systems, the internet communications company and, in 1992, used some of her fortune to save Chawton House from hotel developers. Jane Austen lived in a cottage on the Hampshire, England, estate in the latter years of her life, and the now-restored manor house is a center for women’s writing from 1600 to 1830, stocked largely with Lerner’s donated book collection.
In her talk, she demonstrated how Austen used carriages, coaches and curricles as a way to advance characterization in her novels, in much the same way that her descriptions of estates like Pemberley and Rosings Park reflect Austen’s attitude toward their owners.
Calamigos Equestrian Center in Burbank was an ideal setting for Lerner’s recounting of the role that horse-drawn carriages played in Regency England. As stylish equestrians took jumps in nearby riding rings and grooms brushed horses outside rows of stables, Lerner traced the history of carriages from their first appearance in Hungary in the mid-15th century to their rise in dominance beginning in 1775 to their fading importance by the 1830s, when trains began to replace them. British coaches earned a reputation as the best built, she said, while the French exceled at decorating them.
Lerner researched her topic by creating a spreadsheet detailing the 394 times Austen mentioned vehicles in her six novels. Because of the immense expense of stabling and feeding horses as well as employing grooms, Lerner equated owning a carriage in Regency England to owning a Lear jet today. Only 1 percent of the population owned a carriage — and everyone else walked.
Austen’s heroes and even heroines (driving was one of the rare activities that women could engage in alone) drove vehicles that were first and foremost practical. Less sympathetic characters in Austen novels are depicted as owning or coveting carriages as status symbols, Lerner said. The social-climbing Mrs. Elton in Emma repeatedly name drops her sister and brother-in-law’s barouche-landau, a vehicle that was extremely expensive to maintain with its four, or sometimes six, horses.
The Spring meeting also included readings from Austen’s novels, songs about Austen characters with lyrics by JASNA-SW board member Jana Bickel and a personal account by former JASNA-SW board member Alice Villaseñor about her experiences studying at Chawton House as a Jane Austen Society international visitor. JASNA-SW Vice President for Programs Carla Washburn, Regional Coordinator Nancy Gallagher and Past President Claire Bellanti organized the event.
Lunch at the Equestrian Center
John and Shirley Cosgrove were the basket raffle winners.