A Latter-day Bluestocking

For the love of reading

Tag: women’s history

Jane Austen Knits

I picked this magazine up because clearly I am crazy.  This Jane Austen obsession is becoming all consuming.  I can’t even knit but the projects in this magazine are so enticing that I could not resist.  I want to learn and I am told that learning to knit is not that difficult.  So perhaps I will give it a go if only because I really, really want a knit Spencer to go with my Regency day dress.  But perhaps, it is best if I start off simply beginning with a scarf or a pair of mitts.

Did Jane Austen knit?  And if she did, what would she have knit?  In a period before industrialization it is not unlikely that women knitted blankets, shawls, scarves, cushions, and stockings.  Austen makes mention in Sense and Sensibility Mrs. Jenning’s plans for a knitting project and in an 1807 letter she describes her own knitting of a lap rug.

Martha’s rug is just finished, & looks well, tho’ not quite so well as I had hoped.  I see no fault in the Border, but the Middle is dingy.–My mother desires me to say that she will knit one for you, as soon as you return to chuse the colours & pattern.

The knitting of stockings was an undertaking easily employed by the poor to supplement their meager incomes.  It is probably not an unlikely supposition that Jane Austen and her sister, as daughters of a clergyman, may have knitted stockings for charitable distribution amongst the impoverished members of their village.

And besides, how can one not want to undertake some of these very beautiful pieces?

What is a bluestocking, you ask? Why let me tell you.

english pavillon

Image by extranoise via Flickr

Bluestocking, n.:  a term in use during the 18th and 19th centuries to describe a woman who exhibited a taste for learning, a woman who pursued intellectual and literary interests and was often derogatory.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the term was in use in England as early as the 17th century and had a more mundane attribution.  Wearers of blue worsted stockings rather than the more fashionable black silk were held in contempt as not properly dressed and homely.  It was used often when referring to the plain puritanical dressed members of Parliament during the time of Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

In the 18th century and continuing into the 19th century, the expression was used to describe males and females who attended assemblies held at the homes of Mrs. Montague, Mrs. Vesey, and Mrs. Ord beginning around 1750.  These three ladies desired their gatherings to be less of card-playing and more about diversions of an intellectual slant.  Their parties were often frequented by the great literary men of the day.  Conversation was of literary subjects and formal dress was eschewed, many guests wearing home-spun blue worsted stockings, comfort rather than fashion being the objective.  The term gradually became the description of the learned ladies, having or affecting literary tastes, who frequented these gatherings.

It sounds to me, that these women were the nerds and geeks of their day and it is this notion that inspired this blog.  My intention is to create a cyber equivalent to these 18th and 19th century literary assemblies.

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