Mrs Hurst Dancing

Publisher / date: Victor Gollancz / 1981
Pages: foreword; introduction; 70 full-color plates; postscript {about 160 pgs}
genre: Art

After introducing Sophie du Pont, how can I not introduce readers to the delightful Mrs Hurst Dancing & Other Scenes from Regency Life, 1812-1823; watercolors by Diana Sperling; text by Gordon Mingay.

Reading about Diana Sperling’s family and life will leave you wanting to know more; her works of art will leave you wanting to fetch your pencils and watercolors. The text covers enough to explain and expand on the drawings. You learn about Diana’s family, her life at Dynes Hall (Essex), the trouble with donkeys, horses, and spiders!

I first learned of this book on a trip to Riversdale. The period of Rosalie Calvert’s letters overlap with these drawings.

Diana’s watercolors were one set among three discussed in my talk entitled “Georgiana Darcy and the ‘Naive Art’ of Young Ladies”. As one Amazon reviewer of this book mentions, “contemporary artists are a remarkable source of … information.”

Diana’s circle of family and friends led lives similar to the Smiths&Goslings, Dynes Hall being a neighboring estate to Suttons (though I’ve yet to find the families visited each other); lovers of Jane Austen’s novels will adore this visual glimpse of  day-to-day life in a period covered by her novels.

My “Leap Day” 2012 Present. Enjoy!


12 comments on “Mrs Hurst Dancing

  1. This is fascinating! I hope to get some more good ideas of good books to read from scrolling through your blog.

    I have recently read Jane Austen’s Letters, and they were great. I have just finished Sarah Hurst’s diaries too. Somehow diaries and letters really let you “feel” the person through time.

    • Hi! I’m curious to know if you read the “new” 4th edition of Austen’s letters. I’m dying to hear more about whether a purchase is advisable (I bought not super long ago the 3rd edition).

      Sarah’s diaries are really special!

      You have definitely hit the nail on the head, when discussing how you “‘feel’ the person through time” by reading letters and diaries. That’s why I love these books.

      I may put up a list of books – it’s not the titles that are hard, it’s writing about them (some I’ve not read for a number of years). So do stay tuned! I hope to put some work into this blog shortly. And thanks for visiting, and giving feedback on your reading! Would love to hear more.


  2. I have the Brabourne edition of “Letters of Jane Austen” (first written and published in 1884; my copy is a Digireads 2010 version), and it was not until after I bought it that I realised that it was not complete with ALL of Jane Austen’s letters. Her nephew had also published some previously that he had in his possession (called “Memoirs” in 1869).

    I presume you are talking of a more recent edition which may have brought the entire collection of letters together?

    After having read this Brabourne edition, I would love to get the letters that were published in Memoirs.

    Looking forward to seeing your list of books! Somehow the primary sources are so much more “fun” than reading a biography. I have been pleased to discover a whole lot of old books scanned and available online that I have been able to read, including Fordyce’s Sermons. It’s great!

    • Ah, yes! I didn’t think of Brabourne (I have taken it out of the library; great index makes it worth downloading too). I asked about the Le Faye because it would be the most “up-to-date” — and yes, include all letters and fragments (written by JA).

      The Memoirs was written by my Emma’s husband! James Edward Austen Leigh. (see There is a fascinating history behind these two books. Edward wasn’t exactly obtaining his cousin’s cooperation (Fanny, the eldest daughter of Edward (Austen) Knight; and Lord Brabourne’s mother). But Fanny had a LOT of the letters, given her by Cassandra Austen. You should be able to find Memoir online. I typically go to the copy I find on – different countries, though, have different access to different books. When Edward was working, he tried to collect items from not only his own collection, but also that of various relatives. Most of the pieces came from his sisters – Anna Lefroy and Caroline Austen. There is a newer book that collected (and re-edited) his Memoir, as well as the writings of his sisters. Was it Sutherland who edited it? I’ll have to look.

      I agree wholeheartedly about finding books ONLINE. Some titles are SOOOO hard to find in book form. At least you can read the online copy, have it, while still searching for a book copy to have and hold!

      • Yes, I have seen the Le Faye edition online. The problem with shopping online is that you are never QUITE sure what the book will have inside it (especially when the listing-person has not given a very good description), so I didn’t really know what the difference between all the editions was!

        If the Le Faye edition is a complete edition of her letters, I think I might try and buy it.

        Brabourne (Fanny’s son) writes in his introduction that, at the time of the “Memoir” being published, his mother “was at that time unable to attend to business… and my mother was not in a fit state to allow of any search [for letters and papers] being made.” It was not until after his mother’s death that he, having inherited all of her papers, found the documents (including some of her unpublished works), and published them. Though, judging by how “secretive” or “private” the family was, it would not surprise me that Jane Austen’s relations would be a bit reluctant to publish her letters/works/etc…

        It is a commonly held idea that Cassandra must have destroyed some (or a lot) of Jane’s letters after her death, maybe due to their private nature, and I often think about what they would have said…. What is “private” in one family is not in another!

        I am collecting up quite a few e-book resources from Google books! It is annoying to read them on the computer (and not be able to underline or * different parts!) but it is better than nothing! It also enables me to decide which ones I really would like to try and find!

      • If you’re buying used, be advised that the newest Le Faye edition of Jane Austen’s Letters is the 4th edition. There’s not much done to the letters themselves (at least I’ve not heard of “finds” or redating), but an expanded index — and I’m sure the annotations have been brought up to date, where necessary.

        I have the 3rd edition (in paperback), and it’s only a couple of years old… Which is why I’m curious about the 4th ed. Is it really new and improved?

        There are lots of books out there – Chapman’s original edition; some other – shorter – books, illustrated &c; plus the older editions, like Brabourne’s.

        I have been known to ask a seller for more information (lots of time I look for multi-volume series – and people can be SO non-informative about which volume they’re selling!).

        Le Faye’s is the “standard” edition of the letters used in all academic writing, like those published by JASA or JASNA or JAS.

        I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with your ending comment; I, too, get tired of sitting under a computer, reading a PDF – but it gives the opportunity to say “I really want this book” – and then the search begins!

        BTW, there is a journal article (through JASNA?) in which is discussed the “removal” of comments about ‘Bad Breath and Fleas’ when the Victorian editions were published! Le Faye, needless to say, reinstated all such removed passages!


  3. The deleted passages were re-introduced in my Brabourne edition (in square brackets!) and it made me wonder about Victorians!!

    I have put the Le Faye edition on my wish-list! If I get the 4th edition, I will have to enlighten you about its contents. (Not that I will have much to compare it to.) 🙂

    • Certainly the substance of the book (ie, the letters themselves) should not have changed. I do wish they’d get rid of the “guess” at how many letters lie between each published letter with any sort of a time gap — but I doubt that has been done.

      I haven’t looked for a while, but Amazon’s peek-at feature is sometimes useful.

      Interesting that your edition of Brabourne includes the excisions Brabourne introduced!?!


      • I know! I found it very strange that Brabourne chose to delete any phrases at all, as there were some others that he left that seemed just as controversial (or as damning to Jane Austen’s personality). He actually felt like he had to explain his great-aunt’s personality in the introduction, as her vivacity and liveliness in her letters to her sister must not have suited what Victorians felt were “proper” feelings.

        It is a bit disconcerting to read an “edited” letter/diary. It feels a bit like you are not getting the real deal! (even if it is only a few lines!)

      • In the case of Brabourne, I’m sure it was with the idea of shielding some family members – who wants to be the butt of a joke?!

        Emily Auerbach has written a Persuasion article entitle “Searching for Jane Austen: Restoring the ‘Fleas’ and ‘Bad Breath'” — gotta love the title; it can be found online at

        Many reasons must exist for excisions (and I’m sure also additions); I certainly transcribe VERY faithfully – but that is something not always considered in centuries past. A fascinating write-up of just such “editing” can be found in Timm Gates’ introduction to the reprint edition of The Journal of Emily Shore (who, by the way, is related to Emma Smith’s great aunt, Mrs Thomas Smith! small world). When actual diary books surfaced, a comparision could be made between original entries and edited (by her sister) versions.

        Likewise, we have Sir William Knighton’s letters, published by his wife in the mid-19th century; but if a comparison could be made – her edited letters versus his originals, what would we find? If you’re at all interested in Knighton, there is a new biography – by Charlotte Frost.

  4. It is interesting isn’t it!

    And I can understand the “protecting family members” thing. Even my own journal should probably be edited until at least my children have died! 🙂 Maybe even my grandchildren, when I have some!

    Thanks for the links. They should be interesting!

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