Recent photographs have come to light taken by scientific inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude-Joseph. Niépce has been credited with the earliest surviving photograph, c 1827. This enlightening discovery from the Frenchmen predates Joseph's earlier photograph, and most delightfully depicts the rooms of Countess Eliza de Feuillide, French emigre, cousin and later sister of Jane Austen. The room-specifically- was the Countess' small bedroom in her living quarters sometime after she fled the Terror in France; why these photographs were taken is unknown. Perhaps fellow Frenchmen -the Niépce brothers, were briefly in England around 1796. This grand confluence of history-art-literature-decoration and fashion is a revealed here exclusively at little augury-with the use of digitally enhanced images.
Eliza de Feuillide returned to England after many years with her mother & her son Hastings in 1790 , just after the Revolution & the onset of the Reign of Terror. (Hastings was 4 at the time-and would live to the age of 15.) Her husband Count de Feuillide remained in France, was arrested for conspiracy, and guillotined in 1794.
"To Madame la Comtesse de Feuillide this novel is inscribed by her obliged humble servant The Author." -Jane Austen's dedication in Love and Friendship, written in 1790
Jane Austen's brother Henry Austen was courting Eliza at the time these photographs were made. The pair were married in December 1797.
Jane would have been about 21 years old at the time-having already completed her first substantially sophisticated work-Lady Susan, a short epistolary novel. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin writes of Susan, "Told in letters, it is as neatly plotted as a play, and as cynical in tone as any of the most outrageous of the Restoration dramatists who may have provided some of her inspiration ... It stands alone in Austen's work as a study of an adult woman whose intelligence and force of character are greater than those of anyone she encounters."
In Lady Susan we glimpse traces of her cousin Eliza- with the courtship between Henry and Eliza mirroring Lady Susan's courtship with Reginald de Courcy.
1780 French portrait miniature of Eliza
"It is reckoned here like what I am at present. The dress is quite the present fashion & what I usually wear"-EdF
Of her rooms, Eliza would write to her cousin Philadelphia, October 17th 1796:
I got here early on Wednesday Afternoon and found nothing ready for my reception...a Beau who occupied one floor was not yet gone out, and how to squeeze my family into a part of this small house when the whole hardly suffices for it, I knew not-at length after a great deal of bustle plague & fretting, we contrived to find sleeping room- ... The house is the nicest little Box You can imagine but I do not like the situation for it is quite at the world's end... and I find it the most inconvenient thing imaginable to reach a Shop of any description... (from Eliza de Feuillide to Philadelphia Austen)
Direct to me No. 3 Durweston Street baker Street Portman Square London
“She must find herself extremely comfortable, at least I know I should greatly enjoy a good house, and a nice carriage that cost me neither trouble nor money.” EdF (writing of an acquaintance living with her brother)- from the letters of Eliza de le Feuillide
Austen's novel Elinor and Marianne was also likely completed by 1796 -later to be published as Sense and Sensibility. The year these photographs were taken, Austen was just 21 years old and also working on First Impressions, later to become this author's favorite Austen novel-Pride and Prejudice.
Austen wrote,"I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together."
stills and dialog from the movie, Becoming Jane, found here-at welovejaneausten
Henry Austen: What do you make of Mr. Lefroy?
Jane Austen: We’re honoured by his presence.
Eliza De Feuillide: You think?
Jane Austen: He does, with his preening, prancing, Irish-cum-Bond-Street airs.
Henry Austen: Jane.
Jane Austen: Well, I call it very high indeed, refusing to dance when there are so few gentleman. Henry, are all your friends so disagreeable?
Henry Austen: Jane.
Jane Austen: Where exactly in Ireland does he come from, anyway?
Tom Lefroy: Limerick, Miss Austen...
The Lefroy family did not approve of the match, intervened, and Lefroy removed himself from Jane's orbit.
Tom was definitely Jane's one that got away.
Eliza's rooms seem to have served her- filled with many pages from periodicals of the day she obviously saved for sentimental reasons (portraits of Marie Antoinette) -and for reasons of fashion, something she would take the lead on as Countess in the Austen family.
Pieces from her life in France, a late 18th century painted bed, & a Louis XVI chair of the period, bits of painted furniture, and a Regency chair somehow become a part of the de Feuillide entourage. Shawls made from Indian saris popular in the day, (Eliza was born in India), appear to be scattered on the bed and chair, along with a discarded gown.
Eliza wrote of Jane and her sister Cassandra, "My heart gives the preference to Jane, whose kind partiality to me indeed requires a return of the same nature." Jane's Outlandish Cousin-self described died in 1813, Jane Austen her close friend, cousin, and sister would be present by her bedside.
Le Faye's book reviewed here
about the movie Becoming Jane, here at the Fansite