Tea with Jane Austen
by Kim Wilson (Jones Books, 2004)
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a good read must be in want of a hot cuppa—or so Kim Wilson would have us believe.
The Wisconsin author’s recently penned Tea with Jane Austen is not only a good read, but a broad exploration of Austen’s era and inner life, the details of which no doubt colored her famous Victorian-style prose. Austen’s work, which focused most frequently on tales of the aristocracy, sang with a sure voice and sugared wit and has spawned fan clubs too numerous to mention, societies in her name, and so on. In her own book, Wilson examines the surprisingly rich role tea and its consumption played in Austen’s life and work as she sifts through the minutia of Austen’s daily routines, carrying readers along for the ride.
“Jane Austen loved tea. She mentions tea so often in her novels and in her letters that I began to suspect she was a true tea enthusiast,” Wilson writes in the introduction to her book. “In Sense and Sensibility, what is everyone drinking when Elinor notices Edward’s mysterious ring set with a lock of hair? Tea, of course. And in Pride and Prejudice, what is one of the supreme honors Mr. Collins can envision Lady Catherine bestowing on Elizabeth Bennet and her friends? Why, drinking tea with her, naturally.”
Unlike the heroines of her novels, Austen never married, instead living with family members all of her 41 years. One of her primary responsibilities was the preparation each day of the family’s breakfast and tea—a valuable commodity kept under lock and key along with the sugar. Wilson’s book begins there, “Breakfast With the Austens” and ends, appropriately enough, with “Tea in the Evening.”
As is so often illustrated in Austen’s romantic tales of the landed gentry, the taking of tea lay at the center of social life in Austen’s era, an intrinsic part of the culture that performed many functions at once, from serving as the setting for any number of amusing (or more dramatic) scenarios to denoting one’s social station. In Tea with Jane Austen, Wilson flawlessly weaves such factual information with excerpts from her subject’s novels, historical lore on the culture of tea, and for fun, plenty of recipes and even how-tos on entertaining, Jane Austen style.
With her eye for accuracy and the odd interesting tidbit, Wilson presents each recipe as it appears in books from Austen’s day and separately, adapted for today’s modern kitchens and cooks.