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|So, what's wrong with Birmingham?
Written by JulieW
(5/4/2008 7:35 a.m.)
As someone who was born there I must admit I have always thought it a bit off that one of JAs characters should be so vocal in her dislike of the place. Its always seemed to me to be to be a vibrant place, full of wonderful culture-orchestras,theatre companies, and ( most important for me) great 18th century hsitory- especially that regarding the industrial revolution ;-)
Recently on other Austen-based sites there has been some comment on Mrs Elton's diatribe against the place, prompted by journalists not quite understanding Mrs Elton's dynamic, and thinking that she represents JA's own voice.
I don't think that can be at all correct.......
If you will allow me take you into my confidence,I can safely report that it would seem that Mrs Elton's comments are very much her own and not those of her creator.Phew...*wipes brow in relief*
Let me explain.
First let's see what The Awful Augusta has to say about Birmingham:
"Only think! well, that must be infinitely provoking! I have quite a horror of upstarts. Maple Grove has given me a thorough disgust of people of that sort; for there is a family in that neighbourhood who are such an annoyance to my brother and sister from the airs they give themselves! Your description of Mrs. Churchill made me think of them directly. People of the name of Tupman, very lately settled there, and encumbered with many low connections, but giving themselves immense airs, and expecting to be on a footing with the old established families. A year and a half is the very utmost that they can have lived at West Hall; and how they got their fortune nobody knows. They came from Birmingham, which is not a place to promise much, you know, Mr. Weston. One has not great hopes from Birmingham. I always say there is something direful in the sound: but nothing more is positively known of the Tupmans, though a good many things I assure you are suspected; and yet by their manners they evidently think themselves equal even to my brother, Mr. Suckling, who happens to be one of their nearest neighbours. It is infinitely too bad. Mr. Suckling who has been eleven years a resident at Maple Grove, and whose father had it before him -- I believe, at least -- I am almost sure that old Mr. Suckling had completed the purchase before his death."
What a half hearted defence of Mr Suckling's great inheritance!LOL He has a lineage almost as august as Mr Knightley's no doubt ;-)
What did JA know of Birmingham?Well to be painfully honest,she was a bit Harriet Smith about it. She didn't really seem to know exactly where it was and confused it with Staffordshire.
Here from the P+P Gazeteerr is the page on Birmingham and I've isolated the Cary map for you below:
You can see that at the time JA was writing it was in Warwickshire.
Here is Cary's 1812 map of Staffordshire,a neighbouring county.
Now , that is where Josiah Wedgewoood , of the famous porcelain products had his factory at Barlaston.
JA seems to confuse this with Birmingham for ,when she take delivery of some new Wedgewood china at Chawton, she is slightly disappointed in the size of the foligae decoration on the plates etc, and says a much to Cassandra in this letter:
On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking, and approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely, and upon the whole is a good match, though I think they might have allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this. One is apt to suppose that the woods about Birmingham must be blighted. There was no bill with the goods, but that shall not screen them from being paid. I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way, for she is just now sending my mother a breakfast set from the same place..
IN 1766 Wedgwood moved to a new purpose-made establishment and workers village called Etruria near Newcastle-upon- Lyme again in Staffroshire, not in Warwickshire .He did not, ever, have a factory in birmingham.
I cant account for this geographical confusion on JAs part, but it seems to me that she bases her view on Birmingham, on those of Thomas Clarkson as expressed in his book,( yes once again we are on the Slave Trade tail).
In his history of the Abolition ,Clarkson recounts his visits to Birmingham and how he had gained support there:
I was introduced by letter, at Birmingham, to Sampson and Charles Lloyd, the brothers of John Lloyd, belonging to our committee, and members of the religious society of the Quakers. I was highly gratified in finding that these, in conjunction with Mr. Russell, had been attempting to awaken the attention of the inhabitants to this great subject, and that in consequence of their laudable efforts, a spirit was beginning to show itself there, as at Manchester, in favour of the abolition of the Slave-trade. The kind manner in which these received me, and the deep interest which they appeared to take in our cause, led me to an esteem for them, which, by means of subsequent visits, grew into a solid friendship.
On the thirtieth of October several letters were read; one of these was from Brissot and Claviere conjointly. In this they acknowledged the satisfaction they had received on being considered as associates in the humane work of the abolition of the Slave-trade, and correspondents in France for the promotion of it. They declared it to be their intention to attempt the establishment of a commitee there on the same principles as that in England: but, in consequence of the different constitutions of the two governments, they gave the committee reason to suppose that their proceedings must be different, as well as slower than those in England, for the same object.
Wedgwood is also mentioned in glowing terms by Clarkson for his support of the Abolition movement:
Nor was the philanthropy of the late Mr. Wedgwood less instrumental in turning the popular feeling in our favour. He made his own manufactory contribute to this end. He took the seal of the committee, as exhibited in the first volume, for his model; and he produced a beautiful cameo, of a less size, of which the ground was a most delicate white, but the Negro, who was seen imploring compassion in the middle of it, was in his own native colour. Mr. Wedgwood made a liberal donation of these, when finished, among his friends. I received from him no less than five hundred of them myself. They, to whom they were sent, did not lay them up in their cabinets, but gave them away likewise. They were soon, like The Negro’s Complaint, in different parts of the kingdom. Some had them inlaid in gold on the lid of their snuff-boxes. Of the ladies, several wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length, the taste for wearing them became general; and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honourable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity, and freedom.
So, IMHO, a place like Birmingham that had provided Mr Clarkson with strong support would have been exactly the sort of place of which Mrs Elton did not approve.
In JA's mind , especially as she associated it with Josiah Wedgwood and his families continued support for the Abolition, apart from the blighting of the foliage of its trees, there was not much else wrong with it,IMO ;-0
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