She had always wanted to do everything, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang; — and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. She was not much deceived as to her own skill either as an artist or a musician, but she was not unwilling to have others deceived, or sorry to know her reputation for accomplishment often higher than it deserved.
– Jane Austen, Emma, Chapter 6
Jane Austen’s novels are deeply concerned with female accomplishments. Each character is evaluated on the depth and breadth of her skills and her knowledge, which reflect sharply on her character. Emma Woodhouse, for example, lacks the motivation to improve on her native cleverness, but not the desire to be considered accomplished by her circle of friends.
I am not like Jane Austen’s heroines in many ways: I am no longer young, already married, already endowed with a thorough modern education (preschool to PhD), and not at all English. Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by the ideal of polite education for ladies in the late 18th/early 19th century. What better way to learn more than by practising the arts young ladies were expected to master?
Different sources give widely different advice about which skills a young lady must acquire in order to be considered accomplished – just think of Mr. Darcy and the Bingleys discussing what it means to be truly accomplished in chapter 8 of Pride and Prejudice! I’ll be starting with one of the most basic accomplishments, handwriting, and one of the most popular arts, drawing. Since I’ve always been more of an Emma than a Jane Fairfax, I expect that there will be digressions and diversions along the way.
Part craft blog, part history blog, and part Austen fan blog, I hope this project will have something to entertain everyone who read Jane Austen and has an interest in the Regency period.