Jane Austen (1775-1817)…
Is one of the most famous authors in the western cannon. She published four novels during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). In these and in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (published together posthumously, 1817), she vividly depicted English middle-class life during the early 19th century. Her novels became timeless classics that remained critical and popular successes two centuries after her death. But our fascination isn’t just with her works: it’s with the woman herself, and that woman loved tea! This late Georgian and Regency period writer often used tea as a literary tool to bring the sexes together, and the term “tea things” was sometimes used to set the stage for conversation.
Jane & Tea…
She mentions tea so often in her novels and in her letters to family members, we can only deduce that Jane was a true tea enthusiast. At the center of almost every social situation in her novels one finds tea. In every one of her six published books we can find references to tea in some manner or another. You won’t believe the number of references!
15 references to tea in Pride and Prejudice
16 references to tea in Sense and Sensibility
31 references to tea in Mansfield Park
27 references to tea in Emma
12 references to tea in Northanger Abbey
2 references to tea in Persuasion
Can you believe it?
Just for fun, some examples from her novels and letters…
Jane, a tea lover, often used the tea ritual to bring characters together. She was also fond of using the term “tea things” when establishing scenes in her books.
“I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day when we may order a fresh supply.”
Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra, March 6, 1814 (Cassandra was Jane’s sister)
The next opening of the door brought something more welcome; it was tea-things which she had begun almost to despair of seeing that evening.
“We drank tea again yesterday with the Tilson & met the Smiths. I find all these little parties very pleasant.
Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra, April 18, 1811
Tea was a comforting, refreshing, recuperative beverage.
In Mansfield Park (1814), Mrs. Price welcomes Fanny and William: “Poor dears! How tired you must both be! And now what will you have? … I could not tell whether you would be for some meat, or only a dish of tea after your journey.”
Tea meant rest and pleasure, and its absence would be a severe disappointment.
In Sense and Sensibility (1811)
“Sir John never came to the Dashwoods without either inviting them to dine at the Park the next day, or to drink tea with them that evening.” On one particular occasion, “he wishes to engage them for both. ‘You must drink tea with us to-night,’ he said, ‘for we shall be quite alone – and So tomorrow you must absolutely dine with us, for we shall be a large party.’”
In Emma, does Miss Bates drink coffee? Of course not:
“No coffee, I thank you, for me – never take coffee. A little tea if you please.”
On the next rainy day, sit down with a pot of your favorite tea and a copy of Mansfield Park and while reading see if you can find the 31 references to tea in the book!