36 free quilt blocks, one a week with a guide to Jane Austen's England and posts about the people in her life.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Block 28: Crossroads for Harris Bigg-Wither

Block 28:  Crossroads for Harris Bigg-Wither by Georgann Eglinski

Harris Bigg-Wither (1781-1833)

Romantic marriages were not the norm in Jane Austen’s England, where class, family, money and social standing motivated upperclass mothers to settle their daughters in a family saturated in wealth or titles.

Vintage Embroidered picture

Faded gentry like the Austens had less lofty goals. A good home was an attractive trade, personified in the character of Charlotte Lucas who marries Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

Recent embroidered picture of Mr. Collins and
Charlotte Lucas by Willow Tree Stitcher

Jane came close to making a similar trade when she accepted the proposal of Harris Bigg-Wither, younger brother of her friends Alathea and Catherine Bigg. While spending a winter holiday with the family at their estate Manydown Park, almost-27-year-old Jane received a proposal from 21-year-old Mr. Bigg-Wither, heir to the estate. With that proposal came promise of a secure future, a mansion and a respected place in local society. Jane accepted.

Jane often visited her childhood friends at 
Manydown Park. Illustration by Ellen Hill.

…And  immediately had second thoughts. It may have been his youth and unromantic demeanor, but I like to think that she realized she would also be trading independence for the conventional status of helpmeet, mother, hostess, and femme covert, a covered woman with no legal rights.

The Dancing Master’s Ball by Isaac Cruickshank.
 Jane Austen and Harris Bigg-Wither grew up dancing at Manydown.

Despite Cousin Eliza’s falling for Henry Austen who was ten years younger, shy younger brothers of one’s girlfriends rarely excite romantic feelings in 27-year-olds.

Silk embroidered picture

Jane was quite familiar with the strict social rules for engagements and proposals. Her novels are based on the prevailing standards of romance, love and propriety. A woman might never declare her feelings first. The man had the right to declare his love or admiration and ask for her hand. She had the right to refuse gracefully.

Illustration for Northanger Abbey by Charles E. Brock

Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey compares marriage to dancing: “In both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal.”

Crossroads by Dustin Cecil

Jane’s acceptance and then rejection was right on the edge of propriety. Women were permitted to change their minds without completely ruining their reputations. Men breaking engagements could be considered a cad and sued for “breach of promise.”

The whole matter was mortifying. Jane’s social faux-pas forced her to cut her visit short. She and Cassandra hurried back to Steventon, a few miles away, and then on to their home in Bath.

Fashion Plate 1808

Mr. Bigg-Wither’s sisters were miffed about the broken engagement but the long-term friendship revived after a cool period between the families. Two years after Jane rejected Mr. Bigg-Wither he married another woman. Alathea and Catherine moved household to Winchester and were very kind when Jane was afflicted by her last illness, helping her find a place to stay near her doctor in the larger city.

BlockBase  #1963

Crossroads by Bettina Havig

Crossroads, an old pattern given the name by the Needlecraft Supply Company in 1938, can represent Harris Bigg-Wither’s proposal and Jane’s night of indecision. At this crossroads she again chose an independent path.

Cutting a 12” Block

A - Cut 4 squares 5”.

B - Cut 12 squares 2-3/8”. Cut each in half with a diagonal cut to make 2 triangles.

You need 24 triangles.

C - Cut 3 squares 4-1/4”. Cut with 2 diagonal cuts to make 4 triangles.

You need 12  triangles.
D - Cut 1 square 3-1/2”.


Crossroads by Becky Brown

Illustration by Hugh Thomson

See an essay in PDF form at Jane Austen’s House Museum site about women, courtship and power.

Jane's sister-in-law Mary Lloyd Austen told her younger daughter Caroline the story of the tearful return to Steventon and years later Caroline in her memoir of her aunt wrote:
"To be sure she should not have said yes---overnight---but I have always respected her for the courage in cancelling that yes---the next morning."

Crossroads by Becky Brown


  1. When I try to open the link to the pdf from the Jane Austen House Museum, Adobe Reader says "This pdf cannot be opened because it is not a valid pdf." I don't really know what that means. I couldn't find a link on the Museum website either. Any suggestions?

  2. Ms. Brackman:

    Your site has somehow stopped sending me these by email. I tried signing up again, but it says I am already subscribed. And I did check the spam folder in case it somehow went there. It did not.

    Thank you for this wonderful quilt along. I would really like to continue getting the emails.

  3. I can fix neither of these things. The Jane Austen House Museum website has been inaccessible to me too for some time. And the email notices are from Google, not me.

  4. Good morning,
    I am a Janeite (in the positive meaning) and love this quilt, but for some reason I don't receive the posts anymore, whereas I still get those from your other blogs. Exactly as Wendy P. wrote I am still subscribed. Just for you to know.
    Thank you for all the knowledge you share with us!