Block 1: Bright Star for Jane Austen
by Bettina Havig
Bettina is using pastels to capture the English palette.
For the next 36 weeks we will be making pieced quilt blocks for an Austen Family Album Quilt, creating a patchwork portrait of the life, family and times of the British novelist Jane Austen. The Janeites among us need no introduction to Miss Austen, but we hope future fans taking up this project will be encouraged to discover these 200-year-old novels. We begin with Jane Austen herself.
Jane Austen 1775-1817
This watercolor of Jane commissioned
for an 1869 biography recently sold at Sotheby's for £164,500.
Jane was born to an Anglican clergyman the year before British colonists in North America declared independence from King George III. A single woman, she lived in southeast England with her parents and sister all her life, a deplorably short life. She died at the age of 41 in 1817 of a chronic disease, which has been diagnosed at this distance as possibly Addison’s disease or lymphoma.
She lived during England’s long Georgian era. Six of her romantic novels were published between 1811 and 1818, during the Regency period. They appeared anonymously ("By a Lady") and were well-received by everyone from royalty to fellow literary immortals.
Watercolor of Jane by her sister,
Cassandra Elizabeth Austen,
signed C.E.A. 1804 on the reverse
Jane spent much of her life in Hampshire,
the southern county or shire indicated with a star
on this unfinished, embroidered map of Great Britain.
County maps changed after Jane's death.
Hampshire sometimes confuses Americans
because its abbreviation is Hants.
Bright Star by Dustin Cecil
Dustin is using three pieces of Dupioni silk for this set of blocks.
Jane Austen was neither the first to write romantic fiction nor the first famous female novelist. She was influenced by earlier novels of Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Samuel Richardson and Henry Fielding. But somehow she became the first modernist. Readers still enjoy the world she created with dialogue and description, showing us that people two centuries ago were much like us, flawed, funny, proud, prejudiced, greedy, foolish and stubborn.
The virtuous Cecilia in Fanny Burney’s 1782 novel
overcomes fortune’s loss, skulking villains and
feverish insanity in her long-term goal of helping the poor.
I have no skills as a literary critic so I recommend John Mullan’s 2012 book, What Matters in Jane Austen. He points out that Jane’s heroines, unlike Burney’s Cecilia or Richardson’s Pamela, were not flawless symbols of virtue, noting that Jane declared, “Pictures of perfection... make me sick & wicked.” We see characters such as Lizzie Bennet and Emma Woodhouse growing into a knowledge of their own shortcomings and self-delusion. And that growth is portrayed in unconventional fashion.
"Of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness," claimed novelist Virginia Woolf perhaps because, as Mullan writes: “Any novelist can tell us what a character feels; Austen developed a means of declining to tell us.”
Illustration from The Mysteries of Udolfo by Ann Radcliffe.
Jane’s Northanger Abbey satirizes the improbable gothic novel.
We can start this series with Bright Star for Jane herself. Bright Star was given the name by the Nancy Cabot column in the Chicago Tribune in 1934.
(Each week you'll get a BlockBase number so you can print out
the patterns any size you like. BlockBase is my digital quilt pattern
program for PC's. Read more about it in the column on the left.)
Cutting a 12" Finished Block
A - Cut 10 squares 2-7/8"x 2-7/8" of various shades. Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.
You will need 20 triangles of different shades.
B - Cut 2 squares 6-7/8"x 6-7/8". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.
You will need 4 large triangles.
C - Cut 2 squares 4-7/8"x 4-7/8". Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles.
You will need 4 medium-sized triangles.
Bright Star by Becky Brown
Becky is doing a second set in blues and browns.
See the description of the recently sold portrait at Sothebys auctions:
Here's a link to a review in the Austen Only blog of John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen.
And see a link to the book over in the left-hand column.
Mr. Collins of Pride & Prejudice never read novels.
Illustration by Hugh Thomson.