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Winter 2024 Meeting: Socio-political Implications of Jane Austen’s Jewelry, and the Jewelry in Austen’s Novels

 

Date: January 21, 2024

Time: 2:00 - 3:30 p.m.

Venue: Virtual Meeting (Zoom Link)

 

Presentation Overview:

The history of jewelry styles and materials during Jane Austen’s lifetime is well documented in numerous books, articles and museum collections in which wearing jewelry is viewed an important instrument of self-expression. Jewelry makes a statement about the wearer’s manners, fashion sense, socioeconomic status, and political situation. My presentation, through lecture and PowerPoint visual aids, will make connections between the global nature of jewelry (sources of materials and their pathways from mine to consumer) in Austen’s historical context, the geopolitical situations that impacted the styles of jewelry and availability of gem materials, and the burgeoning social mobility and economic power of the middle class of Jane Austen’s time period. I will utilize these connections to construct a socio-political interpretation of jewelry in Austen’s novels and also the author’s own jewelry.

Major transitions in European jewelry styles and materials occurred over the course of Jane Austen’s lifetime, from the audacious and jewel-encrusted splendor of the pre-revolutionary French court to the more rational and understated Neoclassical-style jewelry following the French Revolution into the Regency Era. These changes in style, and the materials used in the jewelry, represent shifting sources of gem materials in an increasingly global economy, changing geopolitical situations, and the continued rise of the middle class. These evolutions resulted in changes in social politics, and the ability of several of Austen’s characters to navigate these new and mutable social waters is reflected in their relationship with jewelry in the novels. The infrequent yet revealing instances of jewelry in Austen’s novels illuminate the characters’ manners in the context of the increasing social mobility of the middle class. Mrs. Elton and Lydia Wickham, for instance, are depicted as lacking socio-political understanding through their display or discussion of jewelry. In contrast, Fanny Price is portrayed as acutely aware of the socio-political implications of jewelry via her concern over the amber cross she receives from her brother, William. The simultaneous scarcity and importance of jewelry in her novels parallels that of Austen’s discussion of her own jewelry in her surviving letters, with only one mention of her topaz cross from her brother Charles in a letter to her sister, Cassandra, for example. Austen’s epistolary attitude towards her jewelry, as well as the jewelry itself, reflects aspects of Austen’s character and class, as well as the geopolitical and economic circumstances of Austen’s lifetime. I will examine the associations between Austen’s use of jewelry in her novels to depict social political understanding and manners of her characters, how these connections parallel our knowledge of Austen’s own jewelry, social political understanding and manner, and the styles and materials of jewelry as a representation of Austen’s middle class in the context of the social, political and economic circumstances of the Regency Era.

 

Speaker's Bio:

Carrie Wright has taught geology at the university level for over twenty years, including courses she has designed like the Geology of Gemstones. She holds master's degrees in Geology, Science Teaching, and English, and she is currently working on her doctorate in Educational Leadership. Her interest in Jane Austen kindled while taking English courses for fun while teaching geology at the University of Southern Indiana. The spark turned into a conflagration during her Master of Arts in English during which she gave several talks at AGMs and at regional meetings relating Austen's life and works to gemstones, geology, and Gothic literature. Three of these are published in JASNA's Persuasions On-line. Carrie also has a YouTube channel, A Janeite Sews, where she sews historical costumes, including Regency ones, and relates clothing (and geology) to history.