Having just taken a month long sojourn in Belize only to return to the belly of the beast (aka WINTER), I have to ask myself whether or not I would have survived winter in Jane Austen’s day.
Simply put, I hate winter. I hate cold. I hate gray. I hate snow.
When I wake up, I find that it’s hard to get out of my warm toasty bed in the morning. The air is cold. The floor is cold. It takes a good half an hour or so to start feeling the impact of the heat.
And then forget about going outside and having to sit in a carriage to travel to other homes! I would never have left my house, that’s for sure and certain!
How did they survive winter in the late 1700s?
Interestingly enough, the way that general population kept warm during Jane Austen’s life was very similar to how the Old Order Amish keep warm today!
I bet you hadn’t made that connection, right?
Amish families have wooden burning stoves or, in some cases, small space heaters, fueled by a propane line, in the main room of their house which is always the kitchen. The families gathered together and spent the day cooking, sewing, reading the Bible, and talking. Imagine that! No children with their heads bent over cell phones, furiously taking selfies to post on Instagram or Snapchat!
Think of Fanny Price and her family in Jane Austen’s book, Mansfield Park. Bedrooms were for sleeping and the only extra warmth came from bodies sharing mattresses. Once people woke up, they would shiver as they dressed before running downstairs where the fireplace provided their heat throughout the day and night (if the dying embers managed to make it until morning). Wealthier families, such as Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, could afford to have more rooms kept warm as their houses had multiple fireplaces and the staff to monitor them.
As for travel, the Amish mostly use horse and buggy to travel. Some communities have closed buggies (but the sides are made of a heavy vinyl, not wood and glass) while others use open buggies, despite the elements. And let me tell you…it’s COLD! I know that some Amish use hand-warmers for their hands and feet. But that’s about it.
In Jane Austen’s time period, the wealthy could escape the elements by riding in their covered carriages. The rest of the population was not so lucky. Horses provided travel for long distances and, if that wasn’t available, people had to walk. Clothing played an important role then as it does now. Layers upon layers would help fight chills and, of course, the wealthier people might use heated rocks to help keep their feet warm while riding in the carriages.
I guess the bottom line is that I have great respect for people who managed to survive winters in the Regency era!
While I love most everything about that time period—the clothing, the mannerisms, the social structure–I confess that I much prefer rolling out of bed and hurrying to the thermostat. With a quick push of a button, the heat rumbles on and I only have to wait a short while for the entire house to feel comfortable. And when I have to leave the house, within minutes, my car seat warms up and I barely realize that it’s 32 degrees outside!
In our world of development and advancement, we sometimes take a lot of things for granted. For me, the simple comfort of a heated house and comfortable travel are greatly appreciated