Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 7 - 8 (22 - 23)

To Austen-l

Date: Fri, 5 Dec 1997
Reply-To: Jane Austen List
From: Don Taylor
Subject: Rumford and the dating of Northanger Abbey

I was planning to mention the following point when a recent posting by Ellen Moody added even another motive.

JA's descriptions of the settings of her stories - the food, the clothes, the furniture, etc, are usually so vague that we note with delight the occasional meaningful reference. Although NA is considered a lightweight work in comparison with the others, it seems to have more than its share of significant historical references. One is at the beginning, where the casual reference to baseball as one of Catherine's childhood enjoyments is recognized as significant in dating that game. Another occurs in Chapter 20 just as Catherine reaches the abbey. At least I think it is very interesting, but I suspect that there are not many other engineers on this list. When she arrives, Catherine notes that the fireplace in the hall had been "contracted to a Rumford" from its original medieval proportions. Rumford, of course, was a major scientist of the period who did important work on the properties of heat and energy. He studied the theory and design of fireplaces and showed how they could be much more efficient with narrow and tall proportions. His ideas were broadcast around the mid-1790's and attracted considerable interest. It is perfectly in character for such an improver as General Tilney to modernize his fireplaces, but it impresses me that they came to JA's knowledge at such an early stage. I doubt if anything can be proved from this reference about the dates of these chapters, but I would find it hard to believe that JA could have been familiar with the Rumford fireplace in her pre-1800 days at Steventon. A date like 1810 would be much more plausible.

Don Taylor

To which I replied:

Ah. Now I find this very interesting. I would never have known this kind of information--and I doubt many Austen scholars or readers would either. It is precisely this kind of external evidence that is most important in trying to gauge over what a long period of time most of Austen's texts seem to have been written and rewritten. Some of Miss Bates's comments have lead some critics to suggest a first draft of that novel was begun in 1802 because of the way she names Ireland. Myself I think the least rewritten of them are Persuasion and Sanditon.

Ellen Moody

Date: Sat, 6 Dec 1997
Reply-To: Jane Austen List
From: Ursula Rempel
Subject: Rumford and the Dating of Northanger Abbey

I hope Gina Wallace will respond to this thread. She's written before about her Rumford fireplace--fascinating stories which people new to the list may not know about. We had some interesting posts some months ago about Rumford which will be in the Austen-L archives. (Easier said than done! Accessing our archives is not for the computer-challenged!)

Anyway--Gina, I hope you'll contribute to this discussion.

Ursula Rempel

Date: Sun, 7 Dec 1997
Reply-To: Jane Austen List
Subject: Rumfords

Of course, Austen could have read about Rumfords if she read the popular magazines of the time, which often had essays on just such topics of technological interest. Having read a bunch of such magazines in my time, I can attest one can learn all about a wide variety of antiquarian and contemporary material (such as about balloon launches and the military conflicts England had with Denmark and Sweden.

Linda Troost

Date: Mon, 8 Dec 1997
Reply-To: Jane Austen List
From: Don Taylor
Subject: Rumford again

I couldn't prove that JA would not have known about Rumford fireplaces before 1800 but I remain very skeptical. This was not a discovery like a new planet, it was a new design for a fireplace that was claimed to be better. It takes years for enough people to build them and try them, and for masons to be willing to learn how to make them, before their reputation could spread through the country. This is not a topic that would naturally appeal to a young woman in her early twenties, and I don't recall anything in her letters or biographies to suggest that she or her family had any particular interest in such inventions. Even if she had heard about the Rumford fireplace at an early stage I doubt that she would put a reference into her book until she was sure that it was widely known and accepted. To me, all these factors point to the later revision rather than to the first writing of NA.

Another Rumford "invention" that we have tried in our kitchen is his recommendation to roast meat much more slowly than the usual practice. He found and we have confirmed that with a lower oven temperature and about twice the time, the roast comes out much juicier and more tender, even if well done. Try it!

Don Taylor

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Update 22 March 2003