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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

I spotted this article the other day:

What I Learned About My Writing By Seeing Only The Punctuation

Hmm, I said, “That’s interesting in an upside-down sort of a way. I wonder what my writing looks like without, you know, words?”

My first thought was that I probably use too many commas. I headed over to the site developed by the article’s author and lo! I was right.

Punctuation from “Just Like [Illegible] Used to Make,” about 5400 words.

My second thought was to see how that story compared to other authors’ work. I visited Project Gutenberg and evaluated first chapters from a selection of famous and/or cherished books. 

Now that was interesting, both for the differences in punctuation and for the variety and length of chapters. (Nineteenth-century authors also loved commas, it seems. Is it time to hang up my keyboard and pick up a quill?)

This approach certainly provides a new perspective on the building blocks underpinning different authors, eras and genres of writing. Will it help my writing? Maybe, maybe not, but it was fun.

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Photo by Nitty Ditty on Unsplash

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Note: This post is long but both Ray Bradbury and Jane Austen make an appearance, so there’s that.

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We keep a little pad of paper stuck to the side of the fridge to use as a grocery list. Every couple of weeks I get tired of crossing things out and trying to remember what we actually bought and what I only think we bought, and I start fresh. Yesterday I pulled the latest iteration of the list off the pad and turned to toss it in the recycling bin, when the back of the sheet caught my attention. It was blank.

Not a big surprise there, think of all the Post-its you’ve used one side of in the last decades. But! It struck me how much times have changed. Wealth is a continually moving target, and so are our measures of it. 

I mean you’re warm in winter and cool in summer and can watch the World Series on TV. You can do anything in the world. You literally live better than Rockefeller. His unparalleled fortune couldn’t buy what we now take for granted, whether the field is—to name just a few—transportation, entertainment, communication or medical services. Rockefeller certainly had power and fame; he could not, however, live as well as my neighbors now do.

— Warren Buffett, quoted in Getting the Goalpost to Stop Moving

And I’ve always liked this Ray Bradbury quote:

“To hell with more. I want better.”

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In the case of paper, we’ve got both more and better.

Once upon a time, people had to use both sides of the paper. Heck, once upon a time, people didn’t have paper, and after its invention it took centuries to become what we think of today: cheap, high quality, readily available, reliable information storage, bird cage liner, and paper plane in waiting.

Even after paper became widespread in the Western world, wood pulp paper was terrible. Like, sheets of nasty grey pulp held together with weird glues and chemicals that slowly (or not so slowly) destroyed itself.

“Unfortunately, early wood-based paper deteriorated as time passed, meaning that much of the output of newspapers and books from this period either has disintegrated or is in poor condition; some has been photographed or digitized (scanned). The acid nature of the paper, caused by the use of alum, produced what has been called a slow fire, slowly converting the paper to ash.”

— History of paper – Wikipedia

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Depending on the circumstances, writers also did their best to use every inch of a page. Part of that was the paper itself, and part was the cost of postage. (Insert obligatory statement of love for modern postal services here!) 

Click through to see a letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra using cross writing, designed to condense as much information as possible onto a given sheet:

Autograph letter signed, dated Godmersham, 20–22 June 1808, to Cassandra Austen | Jane Austen | The Morgan Library & Museum

Here’s another example from Ontario:

crossed letter written by Mrs. F. L. Bridgeman to Fanny West, December 15, 1837. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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It turns out that paper wasn’t quite as expensive as I’d thought, but the good stuff still wasn’t cheap. 

Based on paper purchases by individuals from the 1570s to the 1640s, paper was “roughly a penny for six sheets… To put this in perspective, the average laborer making 6-12 pence a day could purchase up to 75 sheets of paper with a day’s wages. (Was early modern writing paper expensive? – The Collation)

Later, Regency-ish England did have additional duties that made quality paper, particularly in book-sized quantities, more expensive.

“The excise duty on paper was a frequent problem for all printers and publishers. The reorganisation of the duty in 1794, whereby it was charged by weight rather than ream, had the effect of making the burden heavier”

— Half the cost of a book | OUPblog

So, not prohibitive for a person of good fortune in search of stationery or a good novel, but not nothing.

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

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In researching this I came across a wealth of fascinating economic information. For example, what was one shilling worth in London during the mid-1700s? So many things!

  • Dinner in a steakhouse – beef, bread and beer, plus tip
  • Sign-on bonus for army recruitment: The king’s Shilling
  • Admission to Vauxhall Gardens
  • Admission to Ranelagh Gardens (although it could be as much as 2 guineas on masquerade nights)
  • A dish of beef at Vauxhall
  • 1lb of perfumed soap
  • Postage of a one page letter from London to New York
  • 1lb of Parmesan cheese

— 18th century cost of living – redcoats history

Aaaaand this is where I fell into an internet black hole on commodity pricing vs. real wages in Regency etc. England, and had to take a break. (Step away from the seminal economics investigation of Seven Centuries of Real Income per Wage Earner and Super-cycles of commodity prices since the mid-nineteenth century!)

Photo by David Nitschke on Unsplash

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Since we’re discussing costs, let’s sketch a quick portrait of sample economic expenses for gentlefolk around the time of Jane Austen:

Costs of Living During the Regency Period

  • Silk stockings — 12 shillings (£20.38 or $40.24 in today’s currency!)
  • Woolen stockings — 2 shillings 6 pence (£4.25 or $8.39)
  • A white silk handkerchief — 6 shillings (£10.19 or $20.12)
  • A pair of gloves — 4 shillings (£6.79 or $13.41)
  • A simple white dress — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
  • A fan — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
  • Simple shoes 6-11 shillings (£10.19-18.68 or $20.12-36.89)
  • Walking boots 2 pounds (£67.92 or $134.12)
  • Cotton fabric — 1 shilling per yard (£1.70 or $3.36)
  • Enough cotton fabric for a dress — 6 shillings ($20.12)
  • Velveteen fabric — 2 shillings 10 pence (£4.81 or $9.50)
  • Enough silk fabric for a dress — 1 pound 6 shillings (£44.15 or $87.18)
  • Shawls — if real silk or Kashmir could run £200-300
  • Shoes — men’s shoes went from 10 /6 to several pounds for boots so I think the ladies shoes will be in the same range.
  • A silk purse– a coin purse sort of thing– 2 s

For more of the nitty gritty, including detailed tables (3 cows equalled a pair of coach horses), see “How Wealthy is Mr. Darcy – Really? Pounds and Dollars in the World of Pride and Prejudice” by James Heldman.

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How did we get here? Right, a grocery list, and my appreciation that so many of us now have access to things like affordable paper, postal service, and oh yes, literacy!

Photo by Nav Rashmi Kalsi on Unsplash

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This is fun: 

Eat Like Jane Austen With Recipes From Her Sister-In-Law’s Cookbook – Gastro Obscura

If you’ve ever wondered what Jane Austen ate, or if the menus in her books were true to life, this is the link for you. Here’s the book the article highlights.

And if you’ve ever thought about what life was like on the other side of the scullery door, check out Longbourn by Jo Baker

In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. 

I found the world below-stairs fascinating, and not just because I’m the sort of person who likes to learn about practical and medicinal plant properties, or what chilblains felt like.

It’s good to give every person a chance to be the main character, you know?

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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No writing today, but I did learn a little more Affinity Photo. I spent some of the afternoon playing with images and one of the things I made was this poster with Pride and Prejudice text overlay.

Now it’s time for pizza (which does not intimidate me)!

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Text by Jane Austen, Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

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