“Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp, and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley's.”
Caroline Bingley asks Darcy to include her comments in his letter to his sister Georgiana in Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen
What exactly does Caroline Bingley mean by her comment about Georgiana’s “beautiful little design for a table”? Though furniture could be purchased ready made at a furniture warehouse, many wealthy people of Jane Austen’s time had furniture custom made to fit a particular space or to a design they created or asked a furniture maker to create for them. Apparently Georgiana has created a design for a table and Darcy may well have a furniture maker create the custom piece of furniture. That Miss Bingley has seen the design implies that the drawing was sent to Darcy either for his approval or for him to have it made up or both.
We have evidence of other young ladies designing and ordering custom furniture. Princess Charlotte of Wales passed the time during her stay at Cranbourne Lodge between July 1814 and January 1816 by creating some designs. Furniture in the Gothic Style was executed according to the wishes of Princess Charlotte by the firm of France and Banting, which had also produced furnishings for the Prince Regent’s residences Carlton House and The Pavilion at Brighton.
There are records of many custom furniture orders. None tops Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the fabulously wealthy scion of the Hoare banking family, who had Thomas Chippendale the younger set up his workshop in the stable block of his house at Stourhead in Wiltshire. Chippendale and his workers created whole rooms full of made to order furniture. Each piece was custom designed for Hoare’s house Stourhead.
To generate ideas Georgiana may have looked through one of the many design books published at the time such as Thomas Sheraton's 1791, Cabinet Maker's and Upholsterer's Drawing Book
or Thomas Hope's 1807, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration
and adapted designs she found printed in the books.
We can speculate a little about what Georgiana’s design might have looked like. Tables popular at the time were often gate leg tables whose tops folded in half so that they could be kept out of the way against the wall taking up only half the space they filled when unfolded. Another popular style were demi-lunette tables which were a pair of half round tables that could be placed with the flat side set against the wall or united with its other half to form a tea or card table. Georgiana’s table was most likely either in the Neoclassical or Gothic style which were both popular at the time. Neoclassical furniture took its forms from Roman pieces being excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum which had been covered by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Horace Walpole's villa Strawberry Hill at Twickenham popularized the Gothic Revival style. Walpole leased the property in 1747 then bought it in 1749. Following his purchase, Strawberry Hill was remodeled in Gothic style which drew its inspiration from medieval churches and banqueting halls.
Georgiana eagerly sent her design to Darcy to hear his comments. Even Wickham called Darcy a good brother. We in fact hear of the design Georgiana drew while Darcy is writing to his sister. I rather think that he may have been telling her that he was having her design constructed by a London furniture maker.
Written Exclusively for the Jane Austen Online Magazine Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!