Third Time’s the Charm: More Fun Facts about Austen

Though this may not be as exciting as Sheldon’s “Fun With Flags” segments on The Big Bang Theory TV show, today’s episode features the “Third Time’s the Charm Quiz” with questions about Jane Austen’s life and times. (It’ll also be the last quiz, so all those who stress over test-taking can look forward to a quiet future.)

For those who want to revisit the previous torture, here is Quiz #1 and here is Quiz #2. (Hint: Each will help with one question today.)

Like John and Fanny Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility winnowing their contribution little by little to their stepfamily, the number of questions has been reduced in each quiz, but by and large the questions have gotten harder. Today’s quiz may tax your Regency knowledge. It pertains to people and events current during Jane Austen’s time, but not all of them popped up directly in her novels. Let’s call these the graduate-level questions. However, two questions relate to the earlier quizzes, and one is included for extra credit. As before, there’s no rhyme or reason to topics or order. The answers appear below each question to avoid vertigo from excessive scrolling.

Rating scale:

0-5: You’re the bumbling Mr. Collins of Austenia.

6-9: You’re Edward Ferrars/Edmund Bertram: solid but dull.

10-12: You’re Henry Tilney, learned on topics from muslin to crown lands to Udolpho.

13-15: You’re Liz Bennet, fiercely demolishing all comers.

The quiz:

Why were both the French and English slow to let women fly in hot-air balloons?

Both the French and the English hesitated to let women ascend in a balloon for fear of the effects of altitude on their “delicate” bodies.

Beyond the possible biological effect of altitude on women, what was the major fear about women “going into space”?

Just as it was considered improper for an unengaged man and woman to have private carriage rides, society was concerned about the morality of an unchaperoned couple in a hot-air balloon. One can only wonder what Elinor’s reaction would have been in Sense and Sensibility if Marianne and Willoughby had soared alone into the wild blue yonder. (She would not have looked on benignly as she does when Willoughby brings Marianne flowers, in the above photo from the 1995 movie!)

Even before they read the newspapers that came from London, how would ordinary citizens know of a British victory in the wars with France?

To celebrate British victories, the coaches were decorated. At night, candles and lamps were lit, and formal illuminations were held in large towns.

Lord Nelson won the major sea battle at Trafalgar, off the Spanish coast, that ended the threat of a French invasion. How was hero-worship for him expressed?

Egyptian-style ladies’ hats celebrated his earlier victory on the Nile; special needlework stitching was created; and housing developments were named for him. Jane Austen satirizes the commercialization of military victories in her last, unfinished novel, Sanditon. A real-estate developer laments his having named a building Trafalgar House because “Waterloo is more the thing now.” However, he’s keeping Waterloo in reserve for the name of a housing crescent (a semicircle such as in Bath).

What was the major cause of death in the French army during Napoleon’s catastrophic winter retreat from Moscow in 1812?

The French suffered hideous losses from typhus as well as from defeat in battle.

What likely most antagonized the British public over the behavior of His Royal Highness as both Prince Regent and later as King George IV?

Though his philandering and his personal attacks on his wife, Caroline, riled many citizens, his worst fault was extravagant spending at a time when England was heavily in debt from the war. Repayment of his personal debts earned its own line item in England’s budget. When the Prince Regent, now George IV, died, the Times of London remarked that “there never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures.”

What were the political ramifications and the unintended consequences of the tax on hair powder during the Napoleonic wars?

A tax on hair powder in the early 1800s made it possible to tell political affiliation at a glance. Tories wore wigs, paying the hair-powder tax. Whigs, who opposed the war, stopped wearing wigs to avoid the tax. By the time the government reduced the tax, a more natural hairstyle had become fashionable. This marked the start of the Romantic era, when hair could be as wild as the heath.

Though Janeites recall the intelligence, wit, and character of her father and brothers, what medical problems did the males in Jane Austen’s family suffer?

Austen had an uncle and a brother who suffered the same serious mental and physical handicaps, apparently genetic. Both were reportedly “deaf and dumb.” Both lived away from the family. The son of her cousin Eliza died of epilepsy. More distant male family members also suffered serious neurological problems.

Before England ended the slave trade in 1807, how much did slaves cost in the West Indies and other British possessions?

The average selling price for a healthy adult male was about £50; women and children were less. It was usually cheaper to work a slave to death and buy a new one than it was to feed and care properly for a slave.

Several Austen family members, including Jane, were abolitionists, or at least no fans of slavery. Did Britain’s 1807 abolition act end slavery?

No. In the U.S., “abolition” usually meant the end to slavery, which did not begin to occur until 1863. In England, “abolition” meant only the end of the slave trade—the capture and sale of slaves in Africa. The hope was that the end to the slave trade would lead to better treatment of existing slaves. Both sides of the argument thought that the end of the slave trade would eventually end slavery itself. After the legal end to the slave trade in 1807, the British government did little to enforce the ban until 1811, when violation of the act was made a felony.

Two generations of Austen naval officers—her brothers Frank and Charles and their self-named sons—intercepted slave ships.

England did not abolish slavery until six months after the death of the great abolitionist William Wilberforce in July 1833. The end to slavery was phased in over several years, beginning in 1834. Slave owners received twenty million pounds in recompense.

Does Jane Austen ever touch upon the slave trade in her novels?

Yes, a surprising number of times. In Mansfield Park, the Bertram family’s wealth comes from a sugar plantation in Antigua. The heroine, Fanny Price, brings conversation to a halt when she asks about the slave trade. In Emma, both Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Elton make a passing reference to it. Mrs. Elton’s remark is hypocritical. She claims that her family, which has likely been involved in the slave trade, is “rather a friend to the abolition.” In Persuasion, Mrs. Smith’s estate is tied up in the West Indies, meaning a slave-based business. In her barely begun novel Sanditon, Austen introduces a wealthy “half mulatto” teenage girl. The wealth would have come from her white parentage, almost certainly a slave business. It’s unclear whether Miss Lambe would have become a major character.

What were the most dramatic changes to transportation during Jane Austen’s lifetime?

Steamboats and railroads entered service in England in 1812, though railroads did not become commercially feasible until 1825.

What was an obvious marker of the huge disparity of wealth in England during Jane Austen’s lifetime?

The cost of housing. The finest houses in London rented for £750 a year—more than what Jane Austen earned in her lifetime from writing.

Why did Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, give up her carriage in 1797?

The major reason was a new tax on carriages to support the war against France. These taxes would have affected all the wealthy in Austen’s novels, not only for carriages but for sporting horses. In December 1797, Eliza, who was soon to marry Jane’s brother Henry, complained: “These new Taxes will drive me out of London, and make me give up my Carriage.”

What Austen relative narrowly escaped hanging or banishment to Australia?

Jane Austen’s Aunt Leigh-Perrot was acquitted of stealing a card of lace from a shop in Bath. Though the theft may have been a setup by the store proprietors, Aunt Leigh-Perrot had a reputation for kleptomania. Her own lawyer questioned her veracity. Another case against her, for stealing a potted plant, was dismissed when a witness conveniently left town.

For extra credit:

Where did “bobbies,” the nickname for London police, originate?

English policemen are known as “bobbies” after Robert Peel, who created the first English police force, in London, in 1829. Early on, they were also called “peelers.” Peel served in Parliament almost nonstop from 1809 until his death in 1850. A protégé of Lord Wellington and a moderate Tory, he nonetheless supported many liberal reforms that kept the country from coming apart. These included Catholic emancipation in 1829, the voting reforms of 1832, the end to slavery in 1833, and child-labor reform in 1833. Because of the Great Famine in Ireland in 1845, he broke with the Tory Party to help end the Corn Laws, which had kept grain prices artificially high for more than thirty years.

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *