Anachronisms: Jane Austing at Fastbuck Abbey

Joanna’s Newsletter Answers

As promised in Joanna’s blog on Sunday 16th August [2020], here is her list of deliberate anachronisms from her story of Jane Austing at Fastbuck Abbey. But she slipped in some red herrings, too—things that readers might think were anachronisms but which actually weren’t. So the list below includes the red herrings as well. The items on it are given in the order they appeared in Joanna’s Fastbuck drivel story.

Did you miss any? More to the point, did you spot some that Joanna missed? It wouldn’t be the first time…

  1. Jane is travelling in a post-chaise. But she’s practically penniless. So how can she possibly afford that supremely expensive mode of travel?
  2. all those months at sea: the sea voyage from Brazil didn’t take months—from Falmouth to Rio de Janeiro, it was 32 days out and 52 days back as explained in one of Joanna’s earlier blogs
  3. …without mishap that morning: suggests that Jane’s post-chaise went from Falmouth to Surrey in a day. When the frigate bringing news of Trafalgar docked at Falmouth, it took her captain 38 hours to reach London with the news. And it’s unlikely Jane and Betty Coldsore would have pressed on as hard as that captain did.
  4. metalled turnpike road: red herring and anachronism in one! Roadmaking improved hugely, starting around 10 years before Jane Austing’s return, thanks to Thomas Telford and John Macadam; so the turnpike road could have been smoother. But the expression “metalled” is not recorded for roads until the mid-1820s.
  5. first the left wheel, then the right: suggests a two-wheeled vehicle, but a post-chaise had four. More info on the post-chaise here
  6. …stately limes: a red herring, as lime avenues were not uncommon. The longest lime avenue in Europe is at Clumber Park, planted in 1840. But the lime tree grows best on chalk and…
  7. rhododendrons: are shrubs that require acid soil and so are unlikely to be found alongside lime avenues. More importantly, they weren’t imported from Asia until decades after Jane’s arrival at Fastbuck. See Joseph Hooker.
  8. gloom-filled undergrowth: but it’s spring. If there had been stands of rhododendrons at Fastbuck, at least some of them would have been in flower.
  9. …called out to the coachman: a post-chaise was driven by postilions not a coachman.
  10. …inexpertly mown: a red herring? A Regency lawn would usually have been cut by scythemen, so it might have been more correct for the author to write inexpertly scythed. However, mown was also used to refer to cutting with a scythe, so this phrase is not truly anachronistic, even though it may suggest lawnmowers to a modern reader.
  11. poison ivy: an Asian and American plant that does not grow in England, though common ivy [hedera] does often climb through trees in England.
  12. …bowled him out, middle stump: probable red herring. The cricket laws included the middle stump from 1774. Jane Austing’s story doesn’t mention her age, but unless she was born in the 1770s, she would almost certainly have played with 3 stumps. And the preamble to the story suggests Jane is not middle-aged.
  13. cedar’s lower branches: red herring. The cedar of Lebanon [cedrus libani] was imported into England around 1630-40. Four specimens were planted in the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1683.
  14. …[squirrels like] lethal leaden bullets: suggests Fastbuck’s squirrels were grey. In 1817, the only squirrels in England were red. Grey squirrels were introduced to England in the 1870s.
  15. running commentary: sounds like a 20th century term, relating initially to radio broadcasts, but was used as early as 1811 by Charles Lamb. So a red herring here.
  16. …”And…and Miss Jane, of course”: a baronet’s butler would know better than to address a lady by the wrong title. Jane is the only daughter of Sir Comfrey. She is therefore properly addressed as Miss Austing. Only a younger daughter would be addressed as Miss Firstname. Remember P&P: Miss Bennet (Jane) and Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
  17. tropical heat: red herring. Brazil is the only country in the world to have both the equator and one of the tropics running through it. Rio is tropical.
  18. slow motion: in the sense used here, it’s a term from 20th century cinema and a red herring. Author beginning to get carried away?
  19. hypnotic dream: hypnosis as a medical treatment was introduced  by Franz Mesmer in the 18thcentury so this could be a red herring. But it was called mesmerism. The word hypnosis came into use decades after Jane Austing so it’s an anachronism here.
  20. background noise: debatable anachronism. It’s a familiar modern concept, but there’s no reason why Jane Austing could not have put those two common words together.
  21. robotic buzz: definite anachronism. The word robot was taken from Czech and first used in 1920.
  22. Her trance ended: anachronistic in the sense of a hypnotic trance (see 19 above) but a red herring in the sense of to be in a trance, where the usage is centuries old.
  23. Prince of Wales: anachronism. In 1817, he was the Prince Regent. He was called other things, too, most of them unflattering.
  24. Jolyon’s ego: author definitely carried away now. In this sense of self-importance, the word dates back to Freud and psychoanalysis, at the end of the 19th century.
  25. …such a backdrop: anachronistic because the English term of the period, from theatre, was backcloth. Also because backdrop suggests modern cinema and even computer-generated images against a green background.
  26. jumped-up: sounds like 20th century slang, but first use in OED is 1835. Makes it an anachronism in 1817, though.
  27. …in the limelight: author seems to be fixated on cinema, doesn’t she? This phrase, in this sense, dates from the early 20th century and is particularly associated with Charlie Chaplin, who produced a film of that name in 1952. Limelight for the theatre was invented in the 1820s.
  28. grouse for dinner. Shot it m’self: Jolyon must be a time-traveller. With wings. Jane arrives in spring. Grouse shooting begins on 12th August. And there are no grouse moors in Surrey or anywhere within a day’s ride of Surrey.
  29. honey, can I fix you something?: so many anachronisms in so few words, but dealt with in the original blog. Joanna never forgets the awful lesson of Bothwell and fixing his sandwich.
  30. whisky and soda: Regency gentlemen drank brandy not whisky. The distillation of whisky was actually illegal in Scotland until the Excise Act of 1823.
  31. A whisky and soda: since the soda siphon wasn’t invented until 1829, Jolyon’s offer is anachronistic, even if he were a drinker of illegal whisky.
  32. sandwich?: strictly speaking, not an anachronism. Sandwich is mentioned in 1762, in relation to the Cocoa Tree gentlemen’s [gambling] club. But the idea that a Regency baronet should offer to fix a sandwich for a guest is definitely an anachronism.

How many more did you spot that Joanna did not? Leave a comment on the blog and let her know of her failings. She’ll be grateful. Probably.

[Sadly, comments on that blog are now closed so you can’t point out everything Joanna missed. You could still do so via the Contact page, though, if you like.]