Friday 14 April 2017

Austen, Bennet and Pansies

It's an utter pleasure to welcome Linda Beutler to the salon with a tale of pansies and two ladies; one named Austen, one named Bennet...


Dear Readers,

It is true confessions time. I have owed our fair hostess this particular guest post for an embarrassingly—one might say mortifyingly and impolitely—long time. When I saw, intrepid creature that she is, our Madame Gilflurt had signed on to the My Mr. Darcy & Your Mr. Bingley blog tour, I immediately asked if she wanted a guest post about the novel, or the long-promised pansies article. Her response was, “Pansies, pansies, pansies.” This should make a nice (if strange) intermission for all of you following the tour.

The heart of this research came about as I was preparing my first novel, The Red Chrysanthemum. Making certain—absolutely certain—that flowers mentioned in my stories are plants in cultivation in England in the Regency era is a thing with me—a mania, a fixation, an obsession. I have, since starting on this JAFF lark, put myself out there as anyone’s horticultural researcher. It means that much. 

Most plants have a Wikipedia page, and when I looked up sweet peas and found they had not been developed, as we know them, until well after Jane Austen’s lifetime, it occurred to me there might be other common flowers not strictly available in the Regency era. So I looked up pansies, and to be honest, I’ve not been quite the same since. So here’s what I’ve learned and fantasized.

Violets to Pansies to Pride and Prejudice? By Linda Beutler

…& gained a promise for the latter of two roots of hearts-ease, one all yellow & the other all purple, for you. From Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, 1800

The mother of modern pansies was a little known and largely unsung Regency gentlewoman. My mission here is to bring her, her eclectic parents, and the hybridization of pansies to light without burying us all in stultifying botanical wonkiness. My intention is to keep my plant-nerdy self on a short lead. We shall end this tale with a conspiracy theory from my heart, one that may never be proved. It’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Let us begin with a dispassionate few historical facts about pansies. When Ophelia says in Hamlet, “And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts”, she is speaking of the Elizabethan transition of the French “pensée”, meaning thoughts, into the sloppy [written with a wink-lb] English pronunciation “pansies”. Pensée is the French root of pensive. The plant we know as a pansie did not yet exist, only the word for it. Shakespeare was speaking of Viola tricolor, one of several English native violets. 

Viola tricolor

Likewise, Jane Austen was also speaking of Viola tricolor when she was able to bring solid color versions of the flower back to Cassandra Austen from Jane’s visit to Oakley Hall. Jane used the most common of common names, hearts-ease, but it was also well known as love-in-idleness (see Oberon’s directions to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Shakespeare gave all common names of Viola tricolor equal regard). In America, where it is not native, it is called Johnny-jump-up for the vigorous way in which it puts itself around—projectile seed distribution is highly effective. 

Viola tricolor is exceptionally genetically unstable. The flowers have five petals (two up, two sort of sideways, and one straight down), and may be any variation of purple (upper petals usually), white-to-lavender (sideways and downward petals) with a dab of yellow at the center.  However, in any given wild population, or even in modern seed packets of the species, there might be solid color forms: all lavender, all yellow, white with very little other color. This variation was a source of obsessive fascination to the mother of the modern pansy.

Intermediate violas very like the color and form selections by the mother of modern pansies.
A word about her: she was the third daughter and youngest child of the 4th Earl of Tankerville and his wife, the former Emma Colebooke. The 4th Earl was cricket mad. He had a gardener, Edward “Lumpy” Stevens, likely kept on the payroll more for the accuracy of his arm than his precision hedge trimming. The earl sat on committees establishing the laws of cricket, was a patron of the Surrey cricket club in younger wilder days, and proposed “the leg before wicket rule”. Could I fathom the intricacies of cricket, and if I gave a flying rat, I would explain more. 

When the earl retired from playing cricket in 1781 he went into politics and began collecting maps and seashells. There are species of mollusks named for him. His wife was also given to a fixation for the natural world. She collected (with her pin money, no doubt) orchids and other exotic plants. The “nun’s orchid”, Phaius tankervilleae was named in her honor. Emma also collected botanical illustrations. Her collection (600+ drawings on vellum) was sold to the Royal Botanic Garden Kew; they still have it. 

Hence, we have fertile ground for our mother of the modern pansy to follow her mania for the variations within Viola tricolor. Her father assigned another of the family gardeners (William Richardson) to assist her, and in 1812 her selections were displayed to the public, including the young Royal Horticulture Society, receiving wide acclaim. She had taken the plain species to greater prominence by stabilizing the solid colors, enlarging the flowers, and selecting for more prominent “whiskers”, the deep purple lines radiating from the flower’s center. 
Modern pansies (Viola wittrockiana, or Viola tricolor of hort.)
A nurseryman, Mr. Lee, was so taken with her hybrids that he spread them to yet another aristocrat fiddling about with Viola tricolor, James, Lord Gambier and his gardener William Thompson. (You can see the trend: the gentry paid for stock material and plant explorers, directing the selection of seedlings that met their aesthetics, letting the gardeners get their hands dirty doing the actual work.) Lord Gambier introduced Russian species into the genetic stew, and by 1833 there were 400 named pansies—now called pansies—which we would recognize as more-or-less the same plants we know as pansies today (Viola x wittrockiana or Viola tricolor of hort.). 

I’ve been cagey until now, but there are a few more things I want to explain about the mother of modern pansies before I reveal her name. Her family lived at Mt. Felix at Walton-on-Thames, Surrey. If you take the train from Waterloo Station to Alton, Hampshire (the closest stop to Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s house), you pass through Walton-on-Thames (the Mt. Felix manor and grounds are now what we call in the States a “housing development”). It would have been the same on the main carriage road in Jane Austen’s day. Our young lady was born in 1785, ten years younger than Jane Austen. When her Viola tricolor hybrids were on public display in 1812, she would have been 27—on the shelf, but part of a family to which such things were of little concern compared with being educated and engaged in the world. 

Her name was Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet.

Lady Emma Tankverille nee Colebrooke,
and her two eldest daughters
If that doesn’t raise the hair on the back of your neck, you have no heart and even less imagination. After all, what do we really know about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice except that it was originally written in about 1798, was epistolary in style, and was called “First Impressions”? There are no drafts, but we know the story was heavily rewritten. Was the heroine’s family name Bennet in “First Impressions”? Is it not possible, that loving gardens, Jane Austen might have heard of Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet, or even have met her? There are gaps in Jane’s letters (Cassandra Austen, you have much for which to answer). And what must Lady MEB have been like? Maybe Jane Austen met the family? The 4th Earl of Tankerville was Charles Bennet. Lady MEB’s elder siblings were Caroline, Charles, Henry, and Anna. Oh, it’s all too much! What if…what if…what if…? My mind spins with what-ifs.

Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet inherited her father’s fickleness as regards hobbies. Shortly after the successful display of her nascent pansies, she studied with two prominent artists of the day, John Varley and the engraver John Linnell, forsaking her pansies. She was also that rarest of Regency maidens, she married late. On 26 July 1831, at 46, she wed Sir Charles Miles Lambert Monck, 6th Baronet of Belsay Castle Northumberland. His first wife produced his children and conveniently died. Being beyond childbearing years, we assume the second Lady Monck made a marriage of true minds. Her husband was a self-avowed hellenist, devoted to all things Greek, and his new wife abandoned botanical illustration for architectural renderings. It seems it took her a goodish while to find her Mr. Darcy, but she was not deterred. It was by all accounts a happy marriage, lasting 30 years, until her death in 1861.

Ah, oh yes…that feels so much better, to have done and be able to meet Madame Gilflurt again in society without avoiding her or fearing the cut divine for my shocking tardiness. My karma is again all it should be. And now, back to the blog tour! —LB

About the Book

Jane Bennet had a heart to break after all, and I am a party to it.
                          —Fitzwilliam Darcy

One simple, uncharacteristic subterfuge leaves Fitzwilliam Darcy needing to apologize to nearly everyone he knows! When Charles Bingley reaps the sad repercussions of Mr. Darcy’s sin of omission, Elizabeth Bennet’s clear-eyed view of the facts gives her the upper hand in a long-distance battle of wills with Mr. Bingley’s former friend. By the time Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth meet (repeatedly) in the groves of Rosings Park, neither knows the whole truth except that somehow, someway, their future is inextricably linked to the courtship of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet. 

In this Pride and Prejudice “what-if”, the additional dash of backbone and “far-sighted” action to the character of Mr. Bingley begs the question: how is Mr. Darcy to impress Elizabeth Bennet if Bingley does his own matchmaking? And how is Elizabeth Bennet to trust Mr. Darcy when even faith in a most beloved sister falters? ( Includes mature content )

 About the Author  

Linda Beutler’s professional life is spent in a garden, an organic garden housing America’s foremost public collection of clematis vines and a host of fabulous companion plants. Her home life reveals a more personal garden, still full of clematis, but also antique roses and vintage perennials planted around and over a 1907 cottage. But one can never have enough of gardening, so in 2011 she began cultivating a weedy patch of Jane Austen Fan Fiction ideas. The first of these to ripen was The Red Chrysanthemum (Meryton Press, 2013), which won a silver IPPY for romance writing in 2014. You might put this down as beginner’s luck—Linda certainly does. The next harvest brought Longbourn to London (Meryton Press, 2014), known widely as “the [too] sexy one”. In 2015 Meryton Press published the bestseller A Will of Iron, a macabre rom-com based on the surprising journals of Anne de Bourgh.

            Now, after a year-long break in JAFF writing to produce Plant Lovers Guide to Clematis (Timber Press, 2016)—the third in a bouquet of books on gardening—we have My Mr. Darcy and Your Mr. Bingley bursting into bloom. 

Contact Info:  
Buy the Book:

The eBook is available on Amazon. The Paperback should follow in two to three weeks.


Demetrius said...

The name Emma Colebrooke etc. set bells ringing. Especially if Jane Austen knew her fairly well. If she knew her and had any sort of contact or knowledge about Emma's family and other connections around Hampshire and in Kent then it raises some interesting questions.

Anji said...

Wow, that defintely was a departure from the norm, Linda, but totally fascinating all the same. We get so many "wild" pansies (the hearts-ease type) cropping up every year in our vegetable garden that they're almost a weed! If they're not in the way, I tend to let them grow, as they add some colour to what is a mainly green leaved area of the garden, with few other colours. Hubby isn't so tolerant and tends to pull them out if he's doing the weeding!

Ah, the leg-before-wicket rule in cricket! Beloved of umpires and players alike, I think not! I could actually explain it to you as it's one of the very few sports I do follow, but I suspect anyone else would likely be rendered somnolent by it and I'd hate to do that to your's and the good Madame's readers!

Thanks again for another interesting stop along the tour. By the way, I've found a reference to those taxes on horses we talked about on Ceri's blog and I've posted a link to it over there.

Vesper said...

Never thought I would find out about pansies in a Jane Austen article

Ginna said...

The things we learn via JAFF.....
I have always wondered if there is a true pink pansy. Are we limited to the purple, blue, yellow, white and burgundy that are commonly available?

darcybennett said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing and for the lovely photos.

Unknown said...

Demetrius, care to join my in my theories about Jane Austen's inspirations? Seems there is a lot to work with here!

Unknown said...

A year ago January, when I slipped away from the world for a week of writing, I was supposed to be working on the pansies post for Catherine. Instead, I worked on MMD&YMB. So you see, to Catherine and me it makes perfect sense to work in the pansies article here, complete with my wacko theories, to interrupt the blog tour for the story that interrupted my working on her article...kind of like a writer's hall of mirrors. My head is spinning! (But that might be the Friday night Boodle's G&T, too.

Unknown said...

The only souls who have heard my theory about Lady Mary Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Austen are the 100 or so souls who attended a talk I gave at the JASNA convention break-out session where I gave the presentation: "Garden Like Austen, Plants Jane Knew and Grew (and so can you)". I end the talk with pansies, being the drama queen that I am.

Unknown said...

Yes, there is a true pink pansy (pictured, I think). Pansies (for thoughts), columbine (for folly), and lupine (voraciousness) are just three of the types of flowers to be found in every color (if not in Jane Austen's time, they are now!).

Unknown said...

You are quite welcome! The Viola tricolor was taken at a garden in Vashon Island, the intermediate viola's were photographed in Talent, Oregon, and the modern pansy was found at Schreiner's Iris display gardens outside Brooks, Oregon. I get around.

Janet T said...

This post was such a nice departure from the regular blog tour and it was extremely informative too. As I dearly love these little flowers it was even more fascinating to me. The history of them does bring quite the mystery with it. Certainly makes one wonder. I would love to hear more about your theories on Jane Austen's inspiration, Linda! I am intrigued!

Thanks, Catherine, for holding her to this post! It was awesome!

Demetrius said...

Hampshire + The Isle of Wight (and Bath) in her period were interesting places. At one time in Bath the Austen's were on the same street as Mrs. Piozzi, formerly Hester Thrale. The notable and the now off the radar families in the area were a complicated lot. Jane had to tread carefully. In my blog (click on Demetrius) if you put Jane Austen into search there are a handful of items that might interest you. Am not on social media at all, just mail.

Demetrius said...

Mansfield Park Chap 5 end, JA mentions Sneyds. Go to Oxford DNB Colebrooke Nesbitt 1755/6-1798 married Elizabeth Sneyd d/o Jeremy Sneyd of Testwood House Iping near Southampton. He was Private Sec to 2 Prime Ministers and a Foreign Sec. Close friend of Sheridan, families go back to 17th Century. In 1800 his nephew Rev. Wetenhall Sneyd pitches up on IoW with most of his brood. Eldest son in India with Skinner later neighbour of Duke of Wellington. A daughter, Marianne, marries Colonel Arthur Brooke, flighty girl, affair on ship and later has daughter by heir to Earldom of Belmore. Brooke was Deputy Commander in USA 1814 when British torched Washington DC. And more involving others.

Demetrius said...

Flowers etc. While Emma, and others, were exotic, down the road at Selborne the Rev. Gilbert White was writing "The Natural History of Selborne". In my blog on 21 September 2016 "Life And Literature" I mention this, along with the question of the Austen servants. One of Cassandra's, who may have been present when she destroyed so many of Jane's papers, lived until 1919.

SummerJade said...

I am all surprise about the name Lady Maria Elizabeth! But for me it is not a coincidence!