Ride Like an Austen Heroine: Sidesaddle

Dear Gentle Readers: I welcome today a member of our South Carolina Jane Austen Book Club, Carol Lobdell, who, besides being a lover of Jane Austen, is also an accomplished horsewoman. She recently tried riding sidesaddle for the first time and writes here about how it gave her a better understanding of each of Jane Austen’s horse-riding heroines – think Jane Bennet (in the rain), Fanny Price, Mary Crawford, Elinor Dashwood (alas! only in the movie)…and anyone else??

Ride Like an Austen Heroine: Sidesaddle

Elizabeth Bennett and most of Jane Austen’s heroines show no hesitation to stride miles about the countryside in order to visit friends and family. They also travel on horseback, in many ways the most practical and efficient means to get around the neighborhood at the time.

And if they rode, they did it in a sidesaddle.

Movies and programs like “Downton Abbey” make riding in a sidesaddle look effortless. The image of a woman trotting and cantering on a horse through the English countryside – garbed in elaborately embellished jackets, flowing skirts, and flattering feathered hats – is graceful, romantic, and powerful.

But, folks, it ain’t easy! Ginger Rogers, as the old saying goes, did everything Fred Astaire did, except in high heels and backwards. So too, lady riders for centuries did everything the men did, except with one stirrup!

Image: pinterest

Brief History of the Sidesaddle

Women in antiquity usually weren’t riding horses unless they were passengers, perhaps on a pillion (pillow or platform) behind a male rider (who rode astride) or in a horse-drawn cart. Part of the reason was culture – the males did most of the hunting and fighting, and they did quite a bit of that on horseback – and part was practicality – women wore long skirts that were not conducive to riding astride and risked immodesty. Riding astride was also seen as a risk to virginity and childbearing.

However, as the centuries went on and the titled elite and leisure classes grew, many women wanted to ride for sporting and social reasons.

Tradition has it that that Princess Anne of Bohemia rode side-saddle across Europe in 1382 on her way to marry King Richard II. Riding sidesaddle was seen as a way to protect virginity.

Sources say that the earliest functional sidesaddle was a chair-like construction, where the woman sat sideways on the horse with her feet on a footrest. Catherine de Medici is said to have developed a more practical design, placing the rider’s right leg around a pommel (a raised, curved projection or “horn”) at the front of the saddle. Riding this way allowed better control of the horse and enhanced stability, enabling the rider to move beyond the walk, to trot and canter safely. Some early sidesaddles had a U-shaped pommel for the right leg.

A second pommel for the left leg, added in the early 1800s, made “riding aside” even more safe, enabling the rider to gallop and jump, while maintaining modesty and decorum (and virginity). Upper-class ladies rode for pleasure and many “rode to hounds” with their local fox hunts, galloping through the English countryside over ditches, hedges, and fences. (As a rider myself, having fox-hunted in England, I can tell you it’s a challenge even in modern saddles!)

Riding attire evolved along with innovations in the tack. After struggling with daywear for riding, less voluminous “safety skirts” were developed in the late 1800s, evolving into an “apron skirt” which buttoned around the waist, covering the legs. Women donned riding britches under these aprons and that’s still the basic structure of formal sidesaddle attire today.

Diagram showing the position of the legs when riding sidesaddle
[image source – Wikipedia]

Modern Sidesaddles

The saddle and posture of a woman riding sidesaddle back in the day was very much as it is today. The rider first sits astride, with the right hip back to allow the shoulders to fall into line. The right leg is then placed on the front of the saddle (around the upper pommel), with the left leg bent and resting on the saddle (with the thigh under the lower pommel) and the foot in the stirrup.

Below: The right side of a modern sidesaddle. The girth is a standard type that could be used on most saddles. The extra stability strap affixed to the rear of the saddle is unique to a sidesaddle.

Below: The left side of a modern sidesaddle. You can clearly see the two “pommels” for the rider and the single stirrup (looped over the lower pommel).

Women began to ride astride – wearing split skirts or riding britches – in the early 20th Century. Sidesaddle fell out of favor for many years; however, traditionalists and riders looking for variety kept the sidesaddle alive. Today, groups across the country and around the world continue to “ride aside” for fun as well as for sport and competition.

What’s it like to ride like an Austen heroine? I’ve always ridden astride in English saddles, so the basic feel of the saddle was not very different, although it’s a flat saddle seat, not curved like many English saddles. English riding also calls for a straight posture, which is even more important in a sidesaddle to maintain balance. I found the basic posture to be comfortable, much like sitting in a chair with one knee crossed over the other.

Above: The author in a modern sidesaddle, about to take her first trot “aside.”

The biggest difference is that one doesn’t “post” in a sidesaddle (the up-and-down motion riders generally use at the trot) or rise into a half-seat for a jump. No matter what gait the horse is doing – walk, trot, canter or jumping – the sidesaddle rider stays glued to the seat of the saddle. For jumping, the rider bends forward at the hip to follow the motion of the horse, instead of rising into a half-seat as the horse jumps.

The first few minutes in the sidesaddle felt very unbalanced, though, as I’m used both legs hugging the horse and a firm seat on the horse’s back. With only one stirrup, I was very wary about stability and steering. However, I was able to walk in both directions in the sidesaddle pretty quickly, once I got the hang of the balance and kept my weight over on the right hipbone. Trotting took a bit more practice, with the key, again, keeping the balance to the right hipbone, an upright posture and firm seat on the saddle. It did feel odd not to have the right foot in a stirrup. The left foot (in the stirrup) was useful for steering, as always. Without the right stirrup, it was a little more difficult to steer, but happily, I was on an experienced sidesaddle horse for the lesson (Lulu, a lovely mare), so she was able to interpret my body language and instructions pretty well. A sidesaddle rider also uses a crop or whip in the right hand to help make up for the missing right stirrup. The riding was really quite comfortable, I thought. (Next time I give it a try, maybe a short canter!)

There are a number of sidesaddle groups around the USA and the UK. In the US, women don safety aprons and fox hunt as well as compete. Sidesaddle jumping is a standalone sport; only the brave need apply! The current world record for sidesaddle jumping has stood since 1915, when Esther Stace, of Australia, cleared a record 6’6” at the Sydney Royal Show.

In Mexican-style rodeos, the women in California’s Escaramuza Charra drill teams perform complicated patterns at high speed in sidesaddles. They ride aside, or “to mujeriegas,” in a saddle known as an albarda, in quick, complex maneuvers often performed on horses with reining training. Traditional costumes with layers of petticoats under decorated skirts or breeches and jackets are the usual garb. [image from damacharra.com]

I enjoyed my sidesaddle lesson and plan to take a few more. Whether I invest in a saddle and attire remains to be seen, but it’s always fun to try something new in a sport that I love, with the extra fun of riding like an Austen heroine!

For Further Reading:

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Thank you Carol! Anyone out there want to share their own sidesaddle experiences? (and one question: is it side saddle, side-saddle or sidesaddle??)

c2017, Jane Austen in Vermont. Text and photographs (unless otherwise noted) by Carol Lobdell

 

Happy St Patrick’s Day to One and All! – from ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’

‘Jane Austen in Vermont’ wishes you all a Grand & Green Day!

[Vintage Postcard, printed in Germany L. & B. Serie 2230:
-domestic mail one cent, Foreign two cents!
-from the author’s collection]

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont

Recovering Katharine Metcalfe, Jane Austen Editor ~ With Thanks to Janine Barchas

When I have given talks on the publishing history of Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite editions to share is the little-known Pride and Prejudice edited by K. M. Metcalfe and published by Oxford University Press in 1912.

       Pride and Prejudice, ed. K M Metcalfe, Oxford, 1912

I first “discovered” this edition several years ago when reading an essay by Margaret Lane in her book Purely for Pleasure (London, 1966), a collection of biographical pieces that never quite made it into book form. In a chapter on R. W. Chapman, she writes of an edition of P&P published by Oxford in 1912, edited by K. M. Metcalfe – that is, Katharine Metcalfe, a young tutor at Oxford’s Somerville College [there is, for the trivia minded, a Lady Metcalfe in P&P!]. It was “a new, textually accurate edition of P&P” [Lane] – and included an introduction, an overview of Austen’s life and works; essays on social history, domestic life, and language in the Regency period; as well as criticism and textual notes. There are no illustrations…

R W Chapman in 1928 – OED

At some point in 1912, Metcalfe met Chapman, he an editor at the Oxford University Press – by all accounts it was a whirlwind courtship – they shared a love of book collecting! – and they married in 1913. Metcalfe clearly introduced Chapman to Austen and they planned to jointly produce an edited complete works.  All was cut short by the First World War in which Chapman served, and Metcalfe, now married with children (and thus required to give up her fellowship) “had little time or strength for editorial labours.” [Lane, 197].  Chapman’s Oxford set of the novels was published in 1923. But Metcalfe had also published her own Northanger Abbey four months earlier [see Gilson, E151, what Kathryn Sutherland calls “an unexplained oddity” in her Jane Austen’s Textual Lives (Oxford, 2005)[Sutherland, 43].  The interesting bit is that the text of her own P&P edition (as well as her Northanger Abbey) was used for Chapman’s edition – same pagination, etc. – yet he does not mention her anywhere. In his 1948 Jane Austen: Facts and Problems he pens grateful acknowledgments to those critics…, etc., etc. and “my wife” in his preface.

[photo courtesy of J Barchas]

In Chapman’s Jane Austen: A Critical Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), again there is no mention of Metcalfe, but he annotates her 1912 edition of P&P thusly:

“This unassuming edition is equipped with a perceptive introduction and notes, and anticipates the textual rigours of the next item.” [Chapman, 6

That next item is his 1923 edition of the novels! – which takes up a full page of annotation!

And he makes no mention at all of her 1923 Northanger Abbey!

Sutherland believes that Metcalfe essentially provided the model for Chapman’s editions – and she wonders at his public silence – I wonder what went on at their dinner table!! In studying Chapman’s papers, Sutherland does find that Metcalfe continued to work on editing the novels – there is a note in the margin of the Mansfield Park work in progress: “I want, oh so badly, to do it at least once with you.” [Sutherland, 44].

Don’t’ ever say that bibliography isn’t interesting!! – there is a novel in there somewhere!

So I have long had lingering questions – there has to be more to this story than just these few references in scholarly texts – who was she? what did she look like? how did Chapman seem to take over her earlier editing work? what really was Metcalfe’s influence on Chapman in the making of his great Oxford edition of Austen’s works, and what were her feelings about being surpassed as Austen’s editor, and barely referenced by her own husband for the work she did do.

Well, thanks to the diligent scholarly detective work of Janine Barchas, Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, and three years in the making, my questions, and yours, have finally been answered! Her essay has just been published online in The Review of English Studies: you will need access to their database – it will be in print in the next issue. [ link: https://academic.oup.com/res/article-abstract/doi/10.1093/res/hgw149/2999313/Why-K-M-Metcalfe-Mrs-Chapman-is-Really-the?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Finding many letters and notes in both the Chapman and Metcalfe papers at Chawton and the Bodleian, Barchas traces the complete history of Metcalfe’s editing and her hand in the subsequent work by Chapman.

Barchas found her own copy of this edition in an Australian bookstore – it is a presentation copy with Metcalfe’s inscription to her Uncle Hugh, sure proof of pride in her creation:

Presentation copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, edited by K. M. Metcalfe and inscribed by her to ‘Uncle Hugh’ (Oxford, 1912).  Photo courtesy of J Barchas

[You might like to note that Janine has just loaned this copy to the Chawton House Library, where it will be on display in their upcoming Austen/De Stael exhibition beginning in July 2017].

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At Chawton, Barchas discovers a letter addressed to the founder of the Chawton Cottage Museum (now the Jane Austen House Museum) where Metcalfe states “I was really the originator in the editing of Jane Austen (when I married my publisher in the process!)” (Letter to T. Edward Carpenter, 22 May 1954) [Barchas, 12].

Ferreting out the documented facts of the Metcalfe / Chapman collaboration, Barchas conveys the truth of the times:

“The mundane facts of the case may be sexist but it would be naïve and anachronistic to think these professional restraints surprising in historical context. Here is not a grand conspiracy but a commonplace wrong. Plenty of parallel examples exist in the history of editing where a woman’s scholarship became merely contributory to that of her male partner…” [Barchas, 7]

Find this essay however you can – it is brilliant in its recovery work of the woman who, long before Chapman, saw the importance of returning to Austen’s original editions to truly give the modern reader a pure printing of her work.

Katharine Marion Metcalfe, 1912. Photo was provided by the Chapman family for use in the RES article by J Barchas. This detail is used with her permission here.

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I treasure my copy of Metcalfe’s Pride and Prejudice, despite a fair amount of writing and it smells a tad off (!), but I am very happy to own it, flaws and all!  The introduction is a lovely meditation on Jane Austen and should be more readily available. Find this as well if and where you can. Hopefully the work now done by Professor Barchas might induce a publisher to issue an edition with Metcalfe’s insightful introduction. It should certainly stand proudly aside and before any of Chapman’s works.

About the author: Janine Barchas is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.  She is the author of  Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2012).  Her  first book, Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge UP, 2003), won the SHARP book prize for best work in the field of book history.  You can visit (and spend hours browsing!) her online digital project What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org) which includes the gallery of the British Institution that Jane Austen visited on May 24, 1813 and the “Shakespeare Gallery of 1796.” Barchas, along with colleague Kristina Straub, recently curated an exhibition at the Folger on Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity. (You can read more about that exhibition here.)

c2017, Jane Austen in Vermont

Museum Musings: “Cut! Costume and the Cinema” ~ with a little bit of Jane Austen

Cut! Costume and the Cinema has been showing at the Columbia Museum of Art since November and closes today February 19, 2017. The exhibit takes us chronologically through the various fashions made for the movies by COSPROP, a London-based designer of authentic period costumes.

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Step into the exciting world of costume design with CUT! Costume and the Cinema. Through more than 40 period costumes we will expose the art of making costumes for film. The exhibition will reveal how film costumes set the scene and establish authenticity in films. These perfectly crafted costumes uncover clues about a character’s status, age, class and wealth as well as their role in the story.  The films represented in the exhibition depict five centuries of history, drama and comedy with period costumes worn by famous film stars Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, Uma Thurman, Angelica Huston, and many others. In all, more than 30 actors will be represented from 26 films…

World-renowned British costumer Cosprop Ltd. earned its first Academy Award for Costume Design in 1986 in A Room with a View.  Since then, the costumier has been nominated more than a dozen times. In 2007 three of the five Oscar nominees came from the Cosprop shop, only to be topped by winning the following year for The Duchess. Like their period prototypes, these opulent costumes are crafted of sumptuous fabrics and decorated with intricate embroidery and lace.

[From the distributor’s website: http://www.exhibitsdevelopment.com/Cut!.html]

Watch this youtube of the exhibit when it was at the BYU Museum of Art:

This exhibition has been traveling for the past ten years and finally made it to South Carolina. Joyful that I could take pictures (no flash), and as alas! there is no exhibition catalogue, I here offer a good sampling of what was on view. A picture cannot nearly capture the exquisite detail of these fashions – they must be seen up close and personal. And quite amazing to see how tiny some of these actresses (and actors) actually are! It also offers a terrific list of must-see movies, some that had somehow fallen through the cracks and others to be revisited with a new-found appreciation for the costumes.

The costumes are arranged chronologically. And YES, there is a Jane Austen, but alas! only one … we begin in the Renaissance period with this stunning dark green velvet: (you can click on any picture to enlarge it and see more detail)

everafter-huston

Angelica Huston in Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)

cassanova-ledger

Heath Ledger in Cassanova (2005)

pirates-depp-2

Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

kingcharles-henderson

Shirley Henderson as Catharine of Braganza “The Last King: The Power and the Passion of Charles II” (2003)

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The Georgians: outlandish (and to-die-for) fashions from The Duchess (2008):

And a close-up of Keira Knightley’s Whig-inspired outfit, and this helpful description from the “Family Guide” to the exhibition:

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Finally Jane Austen!  Kate Winslet as Marianne in Sense and Sensibility (1995)

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Victorian times with Dickens:

littledorrit-foy

“Little Dorrit” (2008) with Claire Foy

and Bronte:

The wedding dress in the 1996 Jane Eyre (with William Hurt)

And the all important hoop for Victorian ladies:

hoop

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Phantom of the Opera (2004) gives us these two stunning outfits, worn by Emmy Rossum and Minnie Driver:

portraitlady

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We now head into the later 1880s and beyond with this from Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, here a dress worn by Nicole Kidman (I want this!)

prestige

and this worn by Scarlett Johansson in The Prestige (2006)
– one of my favorite movies…

Renee Zellweger as Miss Potter (2006):misspotter

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Finding Neverland (2004) with Kate Winslet yet again and Rahda Mitchell as Mrs. Barrie (look at the detail in this dress!)

We’ll give the men a short nod here with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes (2009):

sherlockholmes

[click on picture for info]
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A stunning Emma Thompson in Howards End (1992):howardsend-thompson

lovewar-pettigrew

In Love and War (1997) with Sandra Bullock (left) and
Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)

And finally, the costume that headlines all the publicity, this from The Land of the Blind, a movie I confess to knowing nothing about other than it starred Ralph Fiennes and had this gorgeous dress!

landblind

Movies included in the exhibition but my pictures were not worth posting (all movies worth seeing!):

  • Hamlet (1996), with Julie Christie, Kenneth Branagh, and Kate Winslet (!)
  • Gosford Park (2001), Maggie Smith pre-Dowager Lady Grantham…
  • Mrs. Dalloway (1997) with Vanessa Redgrave 
  • The New World (2006) with Colin Farrell as Captain Smith and Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas
  • The Golden Bowl (2000), with Kate Beckinsale,,Uma Thurman and Jeremy Northam

Join the discussion: What are some of your favorite fashions from period movies or TV?

c2017 Jane Austen in Vermont, all photos by the author

Happy New Year One and All!!

New Years postcard

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year, with gratitude to all for your visits, your comments, and your discussions of all things Jane!  ~ Thank you for including Jane Austen in Vermont in your daily blog surfing!  Welcome to 2017! – Yikes, how did that happen?

Today in Jane Austen’s life:  [from the JASNA-Wisconsin “A Year with Jane Austen” calendar]

  • 1787: Cousins Edward and Jane Cooper come to stay at Steventon for the New Year holidays.
  • 1812: Princess Charlotte of Wales writes that she intends to read Sense and Sensibility soon.
c2017, Jane Austen in Vermont

“Happy Christmas to All ~ And to All a Good Night!” from ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’

christmas-postcard[Image: Vintage Postcard, illus. Marion Miller]

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I send you to a previous post on Jane Austen’s Very Own Scrooge!

[Dinner at Randalls at Chrismologist.blogspot.com]

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Wishing You All a Very Merry Christmas!!

With Love from Deb 
at Jane Austen in Vermont
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Copyright @2016, Jane Austen in Vermont