Thursday, November 14, 2019

John Maynard Keynes and the Dahlia

By Judith Taylor

Possibly the greatest economist of modern times, John Maynard Keynes (1883 - 1946), was born with a silver dahlia in his mouth and grew up in very affluent circumstances. He was the elder son of John Neville Keynes, an economist at Pembroke College, Cambridge and a lecturer in moral sciences at the university. Keynes’ mother, Florence Ada, née Brown, was intellectually and socially active, ultimately becoming the mayor of the city of Cambridge. Most dons had only been allowed to marry since 1871 but at some colleges it was later than that.

John Maynard Keynes

Professor Keynes grew up in Salisbury where his father, also John Keynes, owned a very successful nursery. At one point the father was mayor of the city. The basis of his fortune lay with the dahlia. Keynes had a very good sense of what was popular and profitable. Dahlias became both quite early after their introduction into England and remained so during his lifetime. A semi-tropical flower from Mexico seems like a very fragile basis for wealth and when John Maynard grew up he examined his grandfather’s business affairs very closely.

Neville Keynes
He found that his grandfather had taken the profits from the nursery and invested  shrewdly in land. His investments happened to coincide with the growth of the railways and many of his holdings were in strategic parts of the country where the railways had to     buy land for their tracks. With that under his belt John Keynes also went into banking.

The result was that after the grandfather died and the business was wound up his son Neville inherited an annual income of £800 a year, very serious money indeed. It allowed him to live comfortably and educate his sons at the best schools. John Maynard’s younger brother Geoffrey was a very innovative and distinguished thoracic surgeon. Their sister, Margaret, did what was expected of her by marrying a first class chap, Archibald HiIl.

Like at least two other gorgeous plants from Mexico, the poinsettia and the marigold, the history of the dahlia in England comes down to us shimmering with myth. The facts are a little more prosaic but it is hard to resist a story that the empress Josephine of France had a monopoly on the dahlia and as soon as someone wanted to grow it elsewhere threw one of her alarming tantrums. She threatened to tear out all the plants and burn them. Alas, that is not true.

The first European to record the flower we now know as the dahlia was Francisco Hernandez, a physician/botanist dispatched to Mexico in 1570 by Phillip II of Spain to collect as many useful plants as he could. The local people, Aztecs, showed him three varieties of the plant they called “acocotli, cocoxochitl and acocoxochitl", ie “water pipe”, ”hollow-stem flower” and “water pipe flower”. Each had a specific use. The Aztecs ate the edible bulbs. They used the hollow stem ones as pipes. The flowers did not interest them particularly. They were pretty but that was all. This was all included in Hernandez’s report together with line drawings.

Live seed did not reach Europe until 1789.  Abbé Cavanilles at the Madrid Botanical Garden planted it and everyone was stunned by the tall handsome flowers. He shared the seed with colleagues in Germany and named it Dahlia for Anders Dahl, a Swedish botanist who worked in Berlin. The German scientists sent seed to Paris and from Paris it reached England in 1798.

It shows the power of collegiality among plantsmen that in that apocalyptic decade they were still able to stay in touch with their “enemies” and exchange seed. “Mrs Fraser of Sloane Square” was credited in 1804 with growing the first dahlias in England, Dahlia coccinea, the red dahlia.

Dahlia coccinea

The field was rapidly enlarged by new finds. Alexander von Humboldt sent seed of species he found in the Mexican mountains, much shorter in height and thus more manageable. In London the Horticultural Society sent its own man, Karl Hartweg, to find even more new species. All this allowed the often fanatical breeders to come up with many more colours than just red.

At that stage dahlias had some of the mystique of seventeenth century tulips in The Netherlands or orchids for most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the 1840s a rich iron master in Birmingham might pay two hundred guineas for a unique tuber such as ‘Yellow Defiance’. That was at the time when a kitchen maid in a big house was lucky to earn ten pounds a year.

One of those breeders was John Keynes, 1805 -1878. As noted above he was a very astute businessman who had not wanted to go into his father’s brush factory. He enjoyed gardening as a youth, even winning a prize for the pinks he had grown. Dahlias caught his imagination. He began working with them in 1833. In 1841 he held a one man show of his new cultivars at Stonehenge. It was a sellout. When a winner came up he focused almost entirely on propagating that and did not waste time or effort on other less valuable plants.

Even after John Keynes died the firm continued to introduce new cultivars, suggesting they had a professional hybridizer.

At that time Stonehenge was privately owned and had not yet come into its own as the unique archaeological treasure it is considered to be now. Here is the earliest known picture of it, painted by Lucas de Heere in the mid 1570s.

While John Keynes used it as a setting for his dahlias the local people casually used it for many humdrum purposes.

The flower could have double petals, come in many colours, be tall or short, even miniature but for several decades the general impression of them en masse was “’footballs on stalks”. By the end of the nineteenth century the gardening world was ready for new shapes. The plant explorers obliged. D. juariezii also came from Mexico but had graceful recurved petals and was the first of the “cactus dahlias”.

Other British nurserymen began to develop and grow new kinds of dahlias too. Charles Turner in Slough is best known for his roses and carnations but he and Keynes collaborated on setting up the first National Dahlia Show in London in 1858. The National Dahlia Society was not formed until 1882 but dahlias were on show at the Great exhibition.

The flowers are now part of the standard gardening repertoire of any amateur and the corms are easily available at any garden centre. They make a very bold statement and remain dramatic, not unlike John Maynard Keynes himself. He was an undergraduate at Kings College, Cambridge and became a fellow there too. Keynes was a member of the secretive Apostles at the university, most of its members becoming famous later in life. Many of them were gay and he seemed to be so too yet in 1925 he married a Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova, one of Serge Diaghileff’s teenage company, Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo from the 1920s and remained very happy with her for the rest of his life. His former lover Duncan Grant was best man.

John Maynard Keynes was 6 feet 7 inches tall. Lopokova was just about 5 feet. He played an important role in the negotiations after the first world war and wrote a seminal book, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” (1936), explaining why governments had to supply money to replace the failing demand of the impoverished pubic in times of crisis. That was the only way to get factories rolling again and business running.

Keynes also seemed to have inherited his grandfather’s head for business. He built up a private fortune and invested in art among other things. Oddly enough he failed to foresee the Great Depression of 1929 and lost most of his money only to recoup it later. It is a great pity he left no children. His ideas had helped millions of people around the world.


Skidelsky, Robert  1983   John Maynard Keynes: Hopes Betrayed 1883 – 1920  vol 1
London      Picador 

Taylor, Judith M.  2014   Visions of Loveliness: great flower breeders of the past
Athens, Ohio            Ohio University Press


Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject.

Dr Taylor’s books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past (Ohio University Press  2018).  In 2019 she published A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989.
Dr Taylor’s web site is:

Monday, November 11, 2019

British Amazons

by Maria Grace

As the Georgian period drew to a close, an increasing fascination with the medieval past led to a revival of the English archery tradition. (Sounds nothing like what we do today, does it? SCA friends, I’m looking at you!) The privileged gentry class, not required to work for their living, had time to indulge in pastimes like sporting activities. And indulge they did.

While most sporting activities effectively barred women from participation—exertion, sweating, running and all the odd postures that might be necessary were decidedly unladylike— archery was not only considered an acceptable pastime, but an activity where women could show off their grace and ‘feminine form’ without risk of being considered vulgar. (Vulgarity was considered the kiss of death in polite society.)

 “The acceptability of women practicing and watching archery was rooted in their presence adding to the pastime’s aesthetics. This was something frequently remarked upon by observers: ‘The beauties in the circle of carriages which surrounded the enclosure upon the Heath, out-numbered and out-shone those of any assembly we ever saw.’ … As one writer put it, archery could not fail to display ‘the graces of the female form, in a considerable degree’. …
The male archers no doubt admired and enjoyed such elegant and graceful female forms. Parallels can be drawn here with the new public cultural venues that were being built in many towns of the period and which were notorious as forums for sexual spectatorship and courtship. Indeed, this was part of the very raison d’être of the assembly rooms, pleasure gardens, theatres and halls.…
Archery, complete with the romantic associations of Cupid and his bow and arrows, offered men and women an opportunity to meet, view and enjoy their social equals.”  (Johnes, 2004)

Archery Societies

Against this backdrop, in 1781 Sir Ashton Lever and Thomas Waring formed the influential Toxophilite Society in London. The organization was dedicated to the sport of archery and to socializing. The society would later gain royal patronage in 1787 with the attention of the Prince Regent (ultimately King George IV), becoming the Royal Toxophilite society, which still exists today.

 The success of this society inspired the development of other archery organizations throughout England.  Initially, the societies were male-only clubs.  Some permitted female guests of members to visit to shoot. One thing led to another and soon many had female members. In 1787, the Royal British Bowmen became the first archery society to allow women as full members. Interestingly, the Royal Bowmen had a reputation for being one of the most serious archery clubs of the period. They saw archery was a sport to be mastered, not an excuse to party.

Other societies were a bit less serious and more social. The clubs, like modern leisure organizations, had their own rules, and uniforms, and often used their common interest as an excuse to throw lavish parties and socialize among their peers. (Since club dues, uniforms, and equipment were expensive, the lower orders were effectively barred admission.) “In 1787, ‘several young ladies’ who shot with the Royal British Bowmen were said to have ‘added to their conquests the hearts of young gentlemen of honor and fortune’ and thus the society was responsible for the marriage of ‘not a few happy couples’.” (Johnes, 2004)

(Pride and Prejudice fans may find it interesting to note that in the late 1700’s Hertfordshire had an archery club that did admit women. Derbyshire had a club as well, but it is not clear whether or not it included ladies.)

“Female archers in Lewisham even organized a club of their own in 1788, called The British Amazons, the name referring to the mythic female archer-warriors of antiquity, mentioned by Homer in ancient Greece. A news-cutting from 1789 refers to:
"The elegant and beauteous assemblage of Ladies Archers established last Summer at Blackheath under the name BRITISH AMAZONS, on Saturday last gave a splendid supper and Ball to a Society of Gentlemen who practice the science in the vicinity. Not much is known about The British Amazons as they have no preserved records or regulations.” The society seems have been connected to The Kentish Bowmen. (Arnstad, 2019)

Women Archers in practice

When shooting with their societies, women wore the uniform associated with their group. The Hainault Foresters’ uniform as described in their rules:

Nankeen great coat, black silk collar, dark green silk cape; lappels, cuffs, and pockets, bound with black; full green sleeves down to the elbow, tied with black ribbon in the middle of the arm; a single row of uniform but¬tons, the front of the coat bound with green: black beaver hat, plain green band round the crown, buttoned up on the right side with uniform button and gold twisted loop, with green cockade and feathers. (Arnstad, 2019)

A brace to protect the arm from the bow string and a three fingered shooting glove were worn by participants. A belt to hold a tassel for cleaning arrows, a grease box to anoint the glove and brace and a pouch for arrow also made up the uniform. A quiver was not used for target shooting.
Ladies usually shot at a distance of about fifty yards, men often shot at distances up to one hundred yards. Two targets are placed opposite each other and the archers would then shoot from one to the other. When all the group finished shooting at one target, they would walk up to it, gather their arrows, and shoot back to the one they came from, minimizing the effort spent in retrieving their arrows.

Score was kept with printed cards where hits and their location were registered with a pin instead of pen and ink which would have been difficult to manage on the archery ground. Prizes were often awarded based on scores for where the arrows hit and for the hit nearest the center of the bullseye. (The young lady’s book, 1829)

Despite the acceptance of women in archery societies, including Princess Victoria, who later ascended to the throne as queen, it is noteworthy that the birth of the Olympic movement and modern sports in the 1900s suddenly made women’s participation in the sport controversial.


Arnstad, Henrik. The Amazon Archers of England: Longbows, Gender and English Nationalism 1780–1845. Master's thesis, Stockholm University, 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019.

Beard, J.A. Mr. Beard’s Regency Tour Day 3: The Ghosts of Agincourt and the English Artemis, Archery in Regency England. J.A. Beard’s Unnecessary Musings. October 8, 2011. Accessed June 13, 2019,

Beard, J.A. Robin Hood, Agincourt, and Gender Equality? Archery in late Georgian England. English Historical Fiction Authors. August 30, 2012. Accessed June 13, 2019.

Johnes, Martin. Archery, Romance and Elite Culture in England and Wales, c .1780–1840. St Martin’s College, Lancaster. 2004. The Hstorical Associatioin and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.  Accessed May 10, 2019.

The Young Ladys Book: A Manual of Elegant Recreations, Exercises, and Pursuits. London: Vizetelly, Branston, and, Fleet Street, 1829.

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, November 10, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's English Historical Fiction Authors round-up. Never miss a post - subscribe for updates via email, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

by Diana Birchall

by Kimberley Jordan Reeman

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Eyewitness to History

By Kimberley Jordan Reeman

When I came into this Country, it was my only view to do all in my power for your good and safety. This I will always do as long as life is in me. But alas! I see with grief, I can at present do little for you this side the water, for the only thing that now can be done, is to defend your selves.
Charles Edward Stuart, April 1746, after Culloden

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16, 1746, 11 a.m. A raw morning, with a bitter north wind scything up from the Moray Firth, bringing heavy showers of rain and sleet. Two armies, some fourteen thousand men, although perhaps only three thousand will engage, are manoeuvring two and a half miles apart on this sloping, boggy ground six miles from Inverness, which adjoins Drummossie Moor and climbs from the elegant parks of Culloden House, owned by Duncan Forbes, the Lord President of the Court of Session.

The Jacobite army, under the command of the Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, who even in these final, fateful hours radiates the charisma and optimism of his ancestor Mary, Queen of Scots, stumbles into some order of battle with a confusion and disorganization that reflects the rifts, quarrels and indecision of its generals. The British army, under the command of William Augustus, H.R.H the Duke of Cumberland, the charmless, corpulent third son of George II, deploys with a silent purpose that moves a French officer to remark to Charles that ‘he feared the day already lost, for he had never seen men advance in so calm and regular a manner’.

Charles Edward Stuart - Public Domain Image

The onslaught of sleet assaults them all: princes and peasants, volunteers and conscripts, the criminals and the idealists, the men of noble blood and the butchers, gardeners, apprentices; and the veterans recalled from Flanders and the War of the Austrian Succession, professional killers whose service is for life, and whose ages range from seventeen to fifty-four.

The Jacobites stand ankle-deep in water, with empty bellies, sleet beating on their backs: volatile, exhausted, ill-fed. Many have deserted because there is little food and less pay: because their fields are lying unsown; because they fear for their families; because they sense the animosity and dissension among their leaders, who cannot agree on anything from the ground on which to fight what they know will be their final battle to the order of precedence to be accorded to the clans. Some have deserted because prescience has warned them that their cause is lost, and they have foreseen their deaths.

They are not all Highlanders, although there are many Gaelic-speaking clansmen, conscripted and threatened into service by chieftains or landlords. There are also Lowland Scots, many conscripted; volunteers; deserters from the Scottish militia regiments of the British army or enlisted from among those prisoners taken after Charles’s victory at Prestonpans. Two infantry battalions and a squadron of cavalry are French, as well as artillerymen, engineers and volunteers: these are the ‘Wild Geese’, the Irish Brigade of the French army, whose red coats among the coarse homespun of the clansmen are clearly visible across the moor, as are the blue coats of the Royal Écossais, a Scottish unit of the French army raised in 1744.

The wind is now northeasterly. Five hundred yards away, across ground laced with streams and springs, drystone walls and scattered cottages, the standards and colours of the British regiments snap and billow, blowing forward: the wind is at this army’s back, and the smoke of battle will blind the enemy. Many of these officers are Scots, many Anglo-Irish: the 1st, 21st and 25th Foot are Scots regiments, as are the Gaelic-speaking Argyllshire Militia, the Duke of Kingston’s Light Horse, and the regulars of Loudon’s 64th Highlanders. There are many here who wear Highland dress, many for whom the ranting slogans and skirling pipes of the rebel clans are echoes of a culture shared.

The Battle of Culloden, oil on canvas, David Morier, 1746

The sleet stops abruptly: the sky is torn with blue. A little after one o’clock, the Pretender’s artillery opens with irregular fire. The royal artillery, carefully sited, responds with a devastating, sustained barrage aimed at the massed ranks of the Jacobite army. Mud spatters the mounted Charles’s face: behind him a groom is decapitated. The roundshot is followed by canister, sweeping the field with a hailstorm of grape and reaping a terrible harvest. Blinded by the smoke and by unbearable rage and anguish, eight clan regiments break into the charge. At a range of fifty yards, the hardened veterans of the British front-line regiments, Barrell’s, Munro’s, and the Scots Fusiliers, open fire with muskets, inflicting carnage. The shock of the Jacobite charge splits Barrell’s and engulfs it: of four hundred and thirty-eight officers and men, both English and Scots, seventeen are killed and one hundred and eight wounded, many grievously: the colonel of Barrell’s, Robert Rich, falls with a severed hand and serious head wounds; others are dismembered. The naked courage of the Highlanders imprints itself so forcibly upon the mind of a young aide de camp to Cumberland that in Quebec on September 13, 1759, that man, now Major-General James Wolfe, will unleash its fury himself against the forces of the Marquis de Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham.

Of Wednesday, April 16, 1746, no man could know, as he shivered in the prelude to battle, that no British regiment would ever bear Culloden among its honours, or that its very name would become synonymous with infamy. No man, neither prince nor apprentice, could perceive that he was ‘only a mote of dust, and of as much consequence’ in the affairs of nations, and that Culloden was only a footnote, albeit scrawled in blood, across the vast canvas of the eighteenth century, a microcosm in which the hereditary enemies, Britain and France, grappled for supremacy. A turbulent century, which sees America’s bloody and protracted struggle for independence, the insurrection and revolution which will convulse France, and the tragic repercussions, for a people and a culture, which haunt Scotland still.


About Kimberley:
Kimberley Jordan Reeman was born in Toronto, graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts (hons.) in English literature in 1976. She worked in Canadian radio and publishing before marrying the author Douglas Reeman in 1985, and until his death in 2017 was his editor, muse and literary partner, while pursuing her own career as a novelist.

About Douglas (Alexander Kent)
Douglas Reeman was born in Thames Ditton, Surrey, England in 1924. With the outbreak of war, and despite belonging to an army family, he joined the Royal Navy without hesitation at the age of sixteen. In June of 1968 To Glory We Steer was published under the pen name Alexander Kent. Douglas Reeman died in January of 2017. Today, the exploits of Richard and Adam Bolitho feature in twenty-eight Alexander Kent novels.

Buy Coronach on Amazon (Universal Link) :

Douglas’s Website

Monday, November 4, 2019

Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun—A Brilliant, Adventurous French Portraitist During Jane Austen’s Era

by Diana Birchall

In Jane Austen's novel, Northanger Abbey, we are told that Catherine Morland was a naïve young girl, her mind “about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.” Fond of “horrid novels,” as Jane Austen termed the scary tales of the period, Catherine fancied that visiting Northanger Abbey, home of Henry Tilney, the clever, delightful young man she admired, would involve all sorts of delicious, romantic Gothic thrills. Instead she learned, with Henry pointing out to her, that such imaginings could not be real, not in a modern, Christian England; yet she still had to discover that people of ill will could be as troublesome as anything that sensational fiction could produce.

Catherine is, in my view, a true heroine. Therefore, I have longed for a portrait in which she might look out at us in what is called a speaking likeness. Where better to turn than to the beautiful female portraits painted by the famous French artist of the period, Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun? As she lived from 1755 to 1842, she encompasses Jane Austen’s own much shorter lifetime (1775 – 1817) and although Vigee Le Brun was French, she was by no means confined to France, as Jane Austen was to England, but lived an extraordinarily wide-ranging, adventurous, and remarkable life for a woman of her period.

Self portrait of Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, 1790

Louise Elisabeth Vigee was born in Paris, daughter of a portraitist and a hairdresser. Her father died when she was twelve, and her mother remarried a jeweler, who exploited the young girl’s precocious artistic talents. Trained by her father, by the time she was fifteen she was a popular and prodigious painter, producing portraits highly sought by fashionable aristocrats, who saw her as a phenomenon. In 1776 she married Jean-Baptiste Le Brun, an artist and art dealer. Her star continued to rise, and by 1779 she painted the first of some thirty portraits she made of her patroness, Marie-Antoinette. This sealed her reputation and won her acceptance into the Academie Royale de peinture et de sculpture. Her talent for painting luminously flattering portraits of women in lovely Neoclassical fashions, was prized among courtiers. At the height of her fame, in 1789, with the arrest of the Royal Family and approach of the Revolution, Vigee Le Brun fled danger with her young daughter, Julie. Her husband remained in France during the dozen years of her exile and was obliged to divorce her. She traveled widely, in Italy, Spain, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Russia (she spent six years in St. Petersburg and painted Catherine the Great), Switzerland, and England. She was wildly feted and famed both as a painter and in high society everywhere she went, having as brilliant a career abroad as at home, and except for a brief sojourn in her homeland under Napoleon, she did not return to live in France permanently until 1805. She painted many famous people along the way, including Lord Byron, Madame de Stael, and King George IV as the Prince of Wales. After the death of her husband and then her daughter, she settled in Louveciennes, continued to paint, and wrote her gossipy, name-dropping memoirs, Souvenirs.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette, 1783

Vigee Le Brun is a fascinating figure among 18th/19th century personalities, radical in her behavior and her professional independence, her life was a striking contrast to that of the more retiring Jane Austen. The two never met; Jane Austen visited none of the countries where Vigee Le Brun travelled. They had only very slight, tangential connections in common, such as Vigee Le Brun painting Emma Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress, and Jane’s brother Frank serving with Nelson. Or Jane’s cousin the Comtesse Eliza de Feuillide (whose French husband was guillotined) once writing a letter home to England about having seen Marie Antoinette at court, though there is no way of knowing if she ever came in contact with the Queen’s artistic friend. In her memoirs Vigee Le Brun tells an amusing story of spending time with an Englishwoman who spoke no French, while she spoke no English, and they determinedly each spoke for hours each in her own language, not understood by the other. Had Jane Austen ever met Vigee Le Brun, she might have done better, knowing at least some French; but she who refused an introduction to the clever worldly Madame de Stael, author of Corinne, might have been no more eager to meet the French woman painter.

Looking over a gallery of Vigee Le Brun’s works, searching for a face – one face, the face of Catherine – one is struck by how little the two artists’ worlds intersected. The painter was not only French but one who moved easily in aristocratic circles, a courted, public personality wherever she went. The faces she painted were mostly not English middle class or country family people such as are portrayed in Austen’s novels and letters. Moreover, we sense a faint disapproval of French culture in Austen, even apart from the fact that the two nations were at war for most of her life. The right-thinking Mr. Knightley disapproves of Frank Churchill in Emma, saying, “No, Emma, your amiable young man can be amiable only in French, not in English. He may be very ‘amiable’, have very good manners, and be very agreeable; but he can have no English delicacy towards the feelings of other people: nothing really amiable about him." And when young Catherine Morland comes despondently home from Northanger Abbey, her mother anxiously chastises her for talking too much about “the French bread at Northanger.”

Portrait of Madame de Stael as Corinne, 1809

By the end of her life Vigee Le Brun had dropped in fashion as a painter; her portraits probably seemed to hark back to the days of the Ancien Regime, and she mainly painted historical subjects. Nevertheless, during the years when she was painting lovely young women who were contemporaries of Jane Austen’s heroines, we do see a few faces that might have come out of Austen’s novels; and I recognized 'Catherine' as soon as I saw her. This young lady happens to have been exactly of an age with Catherine, painted in 1800 when she was eighteen, at just around the time as Austen was writing her early version of what became Northanger Abbey. The image in question is not however that of a naïve English country girl, but a French aristocrat, Corisande Armandine Leonie Sophie de Gramont (1783 – 1865). Corisande was a granddaughter of the Duchesse de Polignac, the favorite of Marie Antoinette, and she married an English Member of Parliament, Charles Augustus Bennet (there’s an Austen name for you!), 5th Earl of Tankerville, and settled in England.


Diana Birchall worked for many years at Warner Bros studios as a story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading manuscripts went side by side with a restorative and sanity-preserving life in Jane Austen studies and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and attempted investigation of the secrets of Jane Austen's style. She is the author of In Defense of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Elton in America, Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma, and the new The Bride of Northanger. She has written hundreds of Austenesque short stories and plays, as well as a biography of her novelist grandmother, and has lectured on her books and staged play readings at places as diverse as Hollywood, Brooklyn, Montreal, Chawton House Library, Alaska, and Yale. Visit Diana at her Austen Variations author page, follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads

The Bride of Northanger is now available for purchase through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, November 3, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's English Historical Fiction Authors round-up. Never miss a post - subscribe for updates via email, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

By Michael Ward

By Caroline Miley