About this Blog
As a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, I’m fascinated by how important “female accomplishments” are in the world she creates. Each heroine is evaluated on the depth and breadth of her skills and her knowledge, which reflect sharply on her character. What better way to learn more than by practising the arts Accomplished Young Ladies were expected to master?
Since I don’t have access to governesses and masters, I’m relying on texts from Jane Austen’s era to learn these skills and pastimes. Many amazing resources from the period are just a Google Books search away- if you know what you’re looking for. I share all my sources and a lot of my process so that you can learn to be an Accomplished Young Person too- or just dive in to the wonderful world of late 18th/early 19th century books. Part craft blog, part history blog, and part Austen fan blog, I hope this project will have something to entertain everyone who reads Jane Austen and has an interest in the Regency period.
Since Jane Austen’s novels are the starting point for this project, I chose the time period 1770-1820 to focus my research. Those dates embrace Jane Austen’s entire life (1775-1817), but also a range of significant cultural and political events: the Regency period understood broadly (from the first Regency crisis in 1795 to the death of George III in 1820), and Britain’s wars with Revolutionary America, Revolutionary France, and Napoleon. When possible, I rely on sources from within that date range. However, sometimes earlier books remained popular and were reprinted within my time period, and sometimes later texts give the most detail about historical developments in particular arts and sciences- I consider those fair game, but I try to explain why they are appropriate.
The title, “Her Reputation for Accomplishment”, comes from Jane Austen’s novel Emma. The heroine, Emma Woodhouse, is in an unusually reflective mood while surveying her achievements to date:
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
For me, this passage captures some of what I find fascinating about the ideal of the Accomplished Young Lady. Learning to draw or to sing is supposed to be an end in itself, a rewarding pastime. But accomplishment it is also an expression of a woman’s character: her talent, taste, patience, gentility, intelligence, elegance . . . etc. And so, a reputation for accomplishment is even more desirable than the accomplishments themselves- even for Emma, with all the advantages of private education and wealth. I sympathize with Emma- I’ve always dabbled in this or that craft and pastime, but steadiness has always been wanting for me too.
About Lady Smatter
The original Lady Smatter is a character in Fanny Burney’s play The Witlings. Written in 1779 (but unpublished and unproduced until long after her death), it’s a satire on the pretensions of the fashionable world. Lady Smatter hosts a fashionable club that discusses all the latest literature and she always has a quotation for every occasion- but she can never remember who wrote it or exactly how it goes. Hers seemed to be an appropriate nom de plume for this project, especially because of this line:
I declare, if my pursuits were not made public I should not have any at all, for where can be the pleasure of reading books & studying authors if one is not to have the credit of talking of them?
I am not like Jane Austen’s heroines in many ways: I am no longer young, I already have a husband, I have already finished a thorough modern education (preschool to PhD), and I am not at all English. But my love for Jane Austen’s novels has deepened into a love of the history of her era more broadly, and I’m enjoying getting deeper into her time and her works by trying to become accomplished myself.