Friday 30 June 2017

A Brief (and not at all definitive) Overview of the Menagerie

It's a pleasure to welcome JL Ashton, author of Mendacity & Mourning, with A Brief (and not at all definitive) Overview of the Menagerie!


One can set a hundred scenes in sitting rooms and ballrooms, on Oakham Mount or in the shrubbery. But if an author has placed her characters in London, there are so many interesting locations ripe for plot twists and full of potential conversations. After all, in London, there was excitement to be had at museums and theaters, opera houses and menageries.

Darcy? Are you with us, man?” Richard’s voice interrupted his reverie. “Miss Bingley was enquiring about Georgiana.”
Darcy sat up a little straighter. “Pardon me. My mind had drifted to an issue with the harvest at Pemberley, and I recalled I must send a letter to the duke about our change in plans. My visit will be delayed at least a week.”
Miss Bingley looked pleased by his news. “How is dear Georgiana?”
“My sister is quite busy with her aunt. During our stay in London, I hope we shall attend the menagerie. In her letters, Georgiana has written of a collection of foreign animals. The tiger and the constrictor are of particular interest.”
“Oh, Lizzy saw the tiger!” Miss Bennet’s face lit up in excitement. “She said it was quite fascinating, if not a bit melancholy.”
While Darcy absorbed the happy news and began forming a query about Miss Elizabeth, he heard Miss Bingley titter.
“A wild cat prone to melancholy? A fierce and bloodthirsty beast such as that has no such feeling.”
In a cool voice, his eyes fixed firmly on Miss Bingley, Richard replied, “I have seen animals feel many things: fear, excitement, joy. Dogs are happy creatures. Horses love to run, but in the face of danger or loud noises, they are frightened. A wild, untamed creature cannot be happy in the city with the cries of children breaking the peace and the eyes of the multitude upon him.”
“Oh, this makes me sad,” Miss Catherine said in a small voice.
“It does, indeed,” Bingley exclaimed. “But to see it makes it real and not a creature of myth and legend.” He smiled when Miss Bennet met his eyes and nodded.
“Yes, Mr. Bingley,” she said softly. “It does.”
Darcy watched as his cousin’s eyes roved over the couple as though assessing the field that lay before him. Shrugging, Richard sat back and enquired as to the whereabouts of Hurst.
Mrs. Hurst averted her eyes as her brother revealed that her husband had met a hearty ragout he deemed the finest of his life but lost the battle. Richard chuckled. “He best not be in the militia or the navy if his stomach is so delicate.”
“Ah, I believe it was the quantity he ate rather than the quality of the dish,” Bingley asserted. “Four servings. And soup, a pudding, and a tart.”
“He is resting upstairs,” Mrs. Hurst added.
Richard coughed out a laugh. “Well. He stands tall in my esteem, even while lying abed.”

Before the London Zoo opened, the menagerie visited by Darcy, Elizabeth and Georgiana in Mendacity & Mourning was the sort of traveling collection of unusual and exotic animals that visited London and other European cities. It was, for many, a walk on the wild side.

Showcasing and exhibiting animals began with William the Conqueror, who established a royal menagerie, including lions and camels, at Woodstock Manor near Oxford. This tradition was maintained by his successors, who received exotic animals as gifts from foreign rulers. It was Queen Elizabeth I who first allowed the public to view the royal menagerie. By then it had been moved to the Tower of London, where visitors could pet the lion cubs that played in the grounds. Entry was free to anyone who brought a dead cat or dog to supplement the animals' diets.
In 1773, to compete with the royal menagerie, showman Gilbert Pidcock (or Pidock, by some accounts) opened his own collection of exotic animals at the Exeter Exchange (or ‘Change) on the Strand. 
The ‘Change was designed with an arcade and small shops on the first floor, and lodgings above. Over time, the upper floor apartments began housing a menagerie formed by Pidcock, who promoted his collection with newspaper ads; in one, he assured the public his wild animals were "so well secured, that the most timorous may approach them in safety.”
In 1812, the animals at the Exeter ‘Change included a Bengal tiger, a hyena, a lion, a jaguar, a sloth, a camel, monkeys, a hippopotamus, a rhinoceros, an elephant, an ostrich, a cassowary, a pelican, emus, cranes, an eagle, cockatoos, elks, kangaroos, and antelopes. “Chunee” the elephant was the star attraction of the menagerie. After arriving in England in 1809, he performed on stage, entertaining audiences in Covent Garden. He often was paraded in the street outside the menagerie. But in February 1826, Chunee killed one of his keepers and, for safety reasons, was put down. Without the elephant, attendance dropped and the Exeter ‘Change was demolished in 1829.

By that time, menageries were not found only in the City. Shoemaker George Wombwell recognised that interest in wild animals, and the populace to pay to see them, went beyond London’s borders. In 1810, he founded one of the first travelling menageries; by 1839 it had 15 wagons of animals and a brass band. His menagerie inspired circuses to start using animals in their shows, but the main attractions remained in London. 
In 1828, as Victorian interest in natural science grew, the London Zoo was founded in Regents Park. Run by The Zoological Society of London, the collection was open only to members. However, exclusivity had it price. With a large collection of animals—including many inherited from the Royal Menagerie—that were costly to feed and maintain, the zoo opened to the general public in 1897. The curiosity of thousands could now be sated.
JAFF writers are not the only ones to utilize London’s menageries and zoo in their stories. Fans of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach might remember that James Henry Trotter was orphaned when his parents were killed by a zoo escapee. 
“Both of them suddenly got eaten up (in full daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street) by an enormous angry rhinoceros which had escaped form the London Zoo… They were dead and gone in thirty-five seconds flat.”
Menageries and zoos…still a walk on the wild side.

Thank you so much for hosting me and Mendacity & Mourning here at A Covent Garden, Catherine!

Mendacity &Mourning
By J. L. Ashton 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a gossip in possession of misheard tales and desirous of both a good wife and an eager audience need only descend upon the sitting rooms of a small country town in order to find satisfaction. And with a push from Lady Catherine, Mr. Collins sets alight a series of misunderstandings, rumours, and lies that create obstacles to a romance between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

This slightly unhinged romantic comedy follows Darcy as he sets off to find himself a wife and instead finds himself pulled into the mire of his aunt’s machinations and his own fascination with Elizabeth, whom he believes betrothed to another. As Meryton judges him the grieving groom of Anne de Bourgh and a caddish dallier with the hearts of others, Darcy must ferret out the truth behind his cousin’s disappearance, protect his sister from the fretful fate of all Fitzwilliam females, and, most importantly, win Elizabeth’s heart.

Author Bio: 

Jan Ashton didn’t meet Jane Austen until she was in her late teens, but in a happy coincidence, she shares a similarity of name with the author and celebrates her birthday on the same day Pride & Prejudice was first published. Sadly, she’s yet to find any Darcy and Elizabeth candles on her cake, but she does own the action figures.

Like so many Austen fans, Jan was an early and avid reader with a vivid imagination and a well-used library card. Her family’s frequent moves around the U.S and abroad encouraged her to think of books and their authors as reliable friends. It took a history degree and another decade or two for her to start imagining variations on Pride & Prejudice, and another decade—filled with career, marriage, kids, and a menagerie of pets—to start writing them. Today, in between writing Austen variations, Jan lives in the Chicago area, eats out far too often with her own Mr. Darcy, and enjoys membership in the local and national chapters of the Jane Austen Society of North America. 

Mendacity & Mourning is her second book with Meryton Press. She published A Searing Acquaintance in 2016.


Buy Links: 

Blog Tour Schedule: 

06/19   Babblings of a Bookworm; Vignette, GA
06/20   My Jane Austen Book Club; Author/Character Interview, GA
06/21   Half Agony, Half Hope; Review, Excerpt
06/22   From Pemberley to Milton; Guest Post, Excerpt, GA
06/23   More Agreeably Engaged; Vignette, GA
06/24   Just Jane 1813; Review, GA
06/25   Margie’s Must Reads; Guest Post, GA
06/26   Of Pens and Pages; Review, Excerpt, GA
06/27   Tomorrow is Another Day; Review, GA
06/28   Austenesque Reviews; Vignette, GA
06/29   My Vices and Weaknesses; Character Interview, GA 
07/01   Darcyholic Diversions; Author Interview, GA
07/02   Laughing With Lizzie; Vignette, Excerpt, GA
07/03   Diary of an Eccentric; Review


Vesper said...

Sad that these zoos still exist

Suzan Lauder said...

You know why I am particular to the Menagerie at the Exeter 'Change. This was a very good vignette and article. Thanks, Jan and Madame G.

Jan Ashton said...

Thanks for hosting me, Catherine. What a great site you have!

darcybennett said...

Although I've read books that mention visiting menageries I had no idea what they entailed. Thanks for sharing.

Patty said...

Looking forward to reading this book. I liked the history given in this blog.

Anji said...

Thanks for a fascinating post, Jan and Catherine. The thing that crosses my mind about the menagerie at the Exchange is that, being indoors, it must have been rather whiffy! And if it was upstairs, I bet they had fun getting the larger animals up there.