Rus Articles Journal

What treated with and as received guests at the time of Jane Austen of

“And that if we, modern fans of Jane Austen, would suddenly be had on several centuries ago and had an opportunity to be present at the lunches and dinners described in its novels?“ - Maggie Blek and Deyrdra Le Fey, authors of “The recipe-book of Jane Austen“ ask a question.

As action of novels of Jane Austen belonged to her time, it did not go deep into details of life of heroes on which readers were already perfectly informed. She was interested in the relations between characters much more, than what they ate at supper therefore in descriptions of ceremonial lunches and dinners the emphasis is placed on talk and reflections, but not on the dishes given to a table. Pay attention that only the most near or unattractive characters of Jane Austen directly speak about food. Nevertheless, though the author also does not give us the chance in detail to study life of the time, some mentions of food are present at its novels as the background information helping to depict characters of heroes.

the House and social life at the time of Jane Austen

“Invite it to have dinner, Emma, treat to perfect fish and a bird, but provide to him to choose to itself the wife“. Series of an embarrassment and warm peripetias in secular society Highbury which will last for the whole year - because of Ms. Vudkhauz who is self-confidently undertaking such difficult business as courtship begin with this council of Mr. Knightley at the end of chapter 1 of “Emma“. If we, modern readers and fans of Jane Austen, would suddenly be had on several centuries ago and had an opportunity to be present at the lunches and dinners described in the novel - at Uestonov at Rendalsa in Christmas Eve, at Koulov in February, at Emma at Heartfield in April, - immediately would notice that how since then the customs connected with meal changed during the gradual process of social evolution happening since the beginning of the 19th century.

For a start should note

that time of meals strongly differed during this period from our habitual way. We got used that to our services there is always an electricity and artificial lighting allows to prolong light day though at all twenty four o`clock: thanks to it we can have breakfast earlier, have dinner later, read in a bed and go quietly by the car at night. At the end of the eighteenth century when Jane Austen was born, people tried to use as much as possible daylight as driving constituted big danger even at a moonlight at night; candles, firewood and coal cost much in comparison with modern gas, gasoline and electricity, they should have been saved, and in severe winters their stocks sometimes came to an end earlier, than owners planned.

Of course, rural toilers depended on natural lighting stronger, than their owners, however rural squires and representatives of middle class whom Jane Austen described in the novels, preferred to get up around seven too - eight o`clock in the morning and to be engaged in affairs before taking seat for a big breakfast at ten o`clock. Such about an hour then “morning“ - in georgiansky times began lasted tomorrow and in the period of a regency this concept extended to time till a lunch, approximately to three - four hours which we call “the second half of day“ now.“ In the mornings“ ladies went with visits or shopped while gentlemen were engaged in the duties connected with a profession or management of estates. The lunch proceeded about two hours; in the summer it was followed by walk, and in the winter a family and guests usually gathered in a drawing room at a fireplace where played cards, talked, and sometimes gave the improvised musicales with dances. Then, approximately at eight o`clock, gave tea with cakes or light meals. Depending on circumstances at eleven o`clock in the evening or at midnight could offer guests a cold dinner with wine.


Approximately so distributed meals at the time of Jane Austen; their exact schedule and the menu depended on the social status of a family, and also on the residence - in the city or in the village. In secular circles of London it was accepted to have supper at five o`clock p.m. and even later, and tea or an easy dinner was covered after return from theater; families from middle class had dinner earlier and not so densely, and finished day with a nourishing hot dinner instead of more refined, but less dense tea with cold appetizers. Guests were invited to a lunch, meaning that they will remain for all evening, or - presently in such cases invite to after-dinner tea “to glance on coffee after a lunch“.

Long and eventful morning meant that in a lunch there was no special requirement and for it was not allocated concrete time - this meal was included into custom only in the second half of the eighteenth century. By that moment began to have breakfast earlier, and to have supper still later therefore the lunch was considered family meal, accepted at mothers with children who needed a reinforcement of forces in the middle of the day; to invite to it guests it was not received. After-dinner tea in a drawing room with what we know it now - with sandwiches cookies and sweet pies, approximately in four - - appeared five hours the last, thanks to habits of women of fashion of an edvardiansky era.

Though during lifetime of Jane Austen the lunch did not exist yet, the foundation to it was laid: offered the guests who glanced in the morning, that is from eleven in the morning to three o`clock in the afternoon an easy entertainment and drinks. It could be cold meat dishes, sandwiches, pie and seasonal or tinned fruit - everything together represented rather dense meal. If morning was taken the lady with purchases, but not traveling on neighbors, she usually looked in a candy store to have a bite cakes or rolls, having washed down them with a glass of buttermilk, for very moderate payment. On inns travelers received with themselves to the road a set of products to have a bite between traditional meals. Such small having a snack in England, especially in the southern part, was usually called “nanchony“ (nuncheon) - a dialectal word with several options of a pronunciation.

Having finished morning affairs and having spent about an hour for changing clothes by a lunch, family members gathered in a drawing room and received guests; if in a family there were small children, they were dressed up in their best dress and brought into a drawing room for several minutes, and then sent upward where they had dinner in the nursery. The following distinction which for certain would draw our attention it appear we in the past, was that in those days it was not accepted to invite the equal number of guests man`s and female serially to seat them at a table - actually, and “seating“ per se did not exist too. The owner the first entered the dining room, accompanying the most senior of ladies, then took the place at the head of a table, opposite to the hostess, and suggested the senior lady most to choose to himself the place. Places up to both hands from the hostess were considered as especially honourable and intended for most guests of honor. Freedom at the choice of the place suited youth: the gentleman could occupy the town near the girl who was pleasant to it, and the girl, in turn, could escape the importunate boyfriend and sit down near that on whom reckoned.

Be continued.

From the book “Recipe-book of Jane Austen“