Thursday, 16 July 2015

Jane Austen on drunkenness and adultery at the rooms

Jane Austen's letter to her sister Cassandra 12th - 13th May 1801. Jane was staying with her Aunt and Uncle in their home in the Paragon.

"In the evening I hope you honoured my Toilette & Ball with a thought; I dressed myself as well as I could, & my finery was much admired at home."

On Mondays, the ball at the Upper Rooms was a formal dress ball. This was the last but one ball of this season.

"By nine o'clock my Uncle, Aunt and I entered the rooms & linked Miss Winstone on to us."

The ball started at 7 o'clock so the Austen's were probably timing their arrival to avoid the demanding and increasingly unpopular minuets.

"Before tea, it was a rather dull affair; but then the before tea did not last that long, for there was only one dance, dance by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath! After tea we cheered up; the breaking up of private parties sent some scores more to the Ball, & tho' it was shockingly & inhumanly thin for this place, there were people enough I suppose to have made five or six very pretty Basingstoke assemblies."

Since the early 1790s, there had been an increasing fashion for attending private parties before considering moving on to the assemblies. This was one of the factors which had led to the introduction of the much more informal fancy balls. The Austen party may have been particularly sensitive to numbers attending the Upper Rooms as her uncle had a financial interest in the rooms having subscribed funds to their construction.

"I then got Mr Evelyn to talk to & Miss Twisleton to look at; and I am proud to say that I have a very good eye at an Adulteress, for tho' repeatedly assured that another in the party was the She, I fixed upon the right one from the first. A resemblance to Mrs Leigh was my guide."

The Twisleton family were related to the Austen family via the Leighs. Miss Twisleton was Miss Mary Cassandra Twislton, whose older sister Julie Judith Twislton, has married Jane’s cousin, James Henry Leigh of Adlestrop, in 1786. Mary Cassandra had moved to Bath with her mother Lady Saye and Sele in 1800 following the end of a legal action which and made her notorious and allowed her cousin to brand her as an “adulteress”.

At the age of 16 Mary Cassandra had married Edward Ricketts. The marriage collapsed 7 years later when her husband discovered incriminating letters between his wife and a Charles Taylor. The following year the Bishop of London granted Ricketts an Episcopal divorce. Not content with this Ricketts applied to the House of Lords for a civil divorce. At the hearing, several witnesses swore that they had seen Mary Cassandra visit her lover’s house and some commented on her dishevelled appearance on leaving. The most damaging evidence was provided by a maid who testified that Mary had boasted in graphic detail of Taylor’s prowess as a lover compared to her husband’s performance. Ricketts was granted his divorce in 1799.

Prior to this the Twisletons name had already featured in sexual scandal through Mary Cassandra’s older brother Thomas’s marriage to Charlotte Anne Frances Wattell, who was the daughter of John Wattell Esq and niece to Sir John Stonehouse.  At about the age of eighteen, she had met, through a mutual love of performing in amateur theatricals, Mary’s brotherThomas James Twisleton, the youngest son of Lord Saye and Sele, Twisleton was 18 and still at school but within four months had eloped with her to Gretna Green. According to her husband Mrs. Twislton had very expensive tastes and had "reduced him almost to poverty" and that when he had attempted to remonstrate with her she had "declared to go on the [professional] stage, where, she knew she possessed the talent to support herself in affluence". He strongly opposed her plans and when she went behind his back to meet Harris the proprietor of the Covent Garden Theatre he sought and obtained a deed of separation in 1794. At this time the couple had five children, of whom only one daughter survived to maturity, however, before Twisleton got a bill of divorce passed in 1798 Charlotte had given birth to a son as the result of an affair with a merchant named Stein. Stein acknowledged paternity and helped with his education.


Charlotte Twisleton around 1796


"She is not so pretty as I expected ; her face has the same defect of baldness as her sister's, & her features not so handsome; she was highly rouged & looked quietly & contentedly silly than anything else. Mrs Badcock & two young women were of the same party except when Mrs Badcock thought herself obliged to leave them, to run round the room after her drunken husband. His avoidance, & her pursuit, with the probable intoxication of both was an amusing scene."

This Mr. Badcock may well be the young man mentioned in a letter preserved in the Bath library describing a ball in the Upper Rooms nine years earlier in 1792:

“It was amazingly crowded, although the minuets had not begun, so much so that we found some difficulty to get seats. I was very much entertained with the bad minuet dancers especially with a Mr. Badcock who was obliged to stand up with seven or eight Ladies successively, to the great diversion of the spectators. I believe there were twenty minuets which was rather tiresome, but at last the Country Dances began”






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