Paul Savidge is a life member of JASNA and the Regional Coordinator of the Eastern Pennsylvania Region. He’s passionate about “Jane Austen, modern architecture and baseball (in that order).” Two years ago on the JASNA tour, he travelled to London, but, he tells me, he didn’t get a haircut. I forgot to ask if he bought a piano while he was there.
When he’s not thinking of Jane Austen, Paul works as a lawyer for a gene therapy company in Philadelphia. He’d like to invite everyone to Jane Austen Day in Philadelphia on April 16th to celebrate “Emma: 200 Years of Perfection” with guest speakers Claudia Johnson, John Mullan, Michael Gamer, and William Galperin. Registration information and more details about the event are available on the JASNA Eastern Pennsylvania website.
On the last day of Emma in the Snow, it’s my pleasure to introduce Paul’s guest post on Frank Churchill’s haircut. The photos of Paul and of the Esherick House in the snow were both taken by Dan Macey (who, many of you will remember, wrote a guest post on mutton earlier in this series).
The great irony of Emma is that its heroine who “had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her” is repeatedly vexed by her misunderstanding of situations she not only believes she comprehends, but believes are under her control (Volume 1, Chapter 1). It is Mr. Elton who perhaps first seriously vexes Emma Woodhouse when he suddenly makes “violent love to her” in the carriage on the way home from dinner at the Westons’ (Volume 1, Chapter 15). The scene is hard to read without feeling some embarrassment for Emma, who may be the only person on earth to suppose that Elton would prefer Harriet Smith, “the natural daughter of nobody knows whom” (Volume 1, Chapter 8) to herself, “handsome, clever, and rich” (Volume 1, Chapter 1). But this confusion is just a warm-up for the real vexation that awaits Emma at the hands of Frank Churchill, who finally arrives in Highbury in Volume Two after a big build up in the first volume.
Things between Emma and Frank get off to a good start and Emma “felt immediately that she would like him” (Volume 2, Chapter 5). Almost as quickly, Emma’s very good opinion of Frank is “a little shaken” when he announces that he will travel sixteen miles (and back) to London on a very personal errand. “A sudden freak seemed to have seized him at breakfast, and he had sent for a chaise and set off, intending to return to dinner, but with no more important view that appeared than having his hair cut” (Volume 2, Chapter 7). There has been ongoing speculation on what really motivated Frank’s sudden trip to London with the consensus being that he went primarily to purchase the pianoforte for Jane Fairfax that shows up mysteriously later in the novel (and causes more vexation for Emma). Other theories for the trip focus on hidden meanings in the words “hair cut,” as Regency era slang for an illicit assignation or, more imaginatively, as a play on the word “hair” and its near homophone “heir,” thereby suggesting that Frank may have been in London to plan the demise of Mrs. Churchill who stood in way of his happiness and his “heir cut.” Whatever actually drives Frank’s quick departure for London, he in fact comes back that evening with a trim. “He came back, had had his hair cut, and laughed at himself with a very good grace, but without seeming really at all ashamed of what he had done” (Volume 2, Chapter 8).
Emma is very disconcerted by Frank’s trip. Although she finds no particular harm in such an errand, Emma feels that “there was an air of foppery and nonsense in it which she could not approve.” To Emma, Frank’s haircut is an unbecoming and vain extravagance: “it did not accord with the rationality of plan, the moderation in expense, or even the unselfish warmth of heart which she believed herself to discern in him yesterday.” While Mr. and Mrs. Weston each excuse Frank’s trip to London as “a very good story” or as evidence that “all young people would have their little whims,” Mr. Knightley is not as forgiving and says under his breath (but loud enough for Emma to hear) that Frank is “just the trifling, silly fellow I took him for” (Volume 2, Chapter 7). Mr. Knightley’s unwitting support of Emma’s growing suspicion of the impropriety of the matter troubles her further. The scene is important to the maturation of the heroine as she begins to see that people are more complicated than she had presumed. Could Frank be both selfless and vain, both rational and trivial? And why wasn’t the Highbury barber good enough for him anyway?
Frank’s trip to London for a haircut undoubtedly resonated with many Regency era readers of Emma. During Austen’s lifetime, men’s fashions and grooming habits underwent a dramatic change and gentlemen became more interested in their appearances. When Knightley calls Frank a “silly fellow” for spending the time and money to get a haircut in London, he may be implying that Frank is a dandy or, worse, a fop (and this is precisely what Emma fears.) The dandy first appeared in London in the 1790s and is distinguishable from a fop in that a dandy’s clothes were considered more refined and sober.
The revolution in men’s hairstyles was also seismic. According to an excellent article on men’s hairstyles of the 19th century on the Jane Austen’s World blog, by the end of the 18th century, fashionable gentleman no longer wore the wigs that had been popularized by the balding Louis XIII. (The blog post includes images of several different hairstyles.) Wigs faded from fashion as men of fashion “began to wear short and more natural hair … sporting cropped curls and long sideburns in a classical manner much like Grecian warriors and Roman senators.” The death knell of the wig was the one guinea tax on hair powder instituted by William Pitt in 1795, which gave men who were perhaps more fiscally conservative than fashion-conscious a reason to abandon wigs. In Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (2014), Roy and Lesley Adkins recount that instead of paying the tax, “the Whigs cut their hair short, in a style called a la guillotine, after those forced to have their hair cropped before being executed during the French Revolution. Those Tories who paid the tax were called guinea pigs.” When the tax was finally abandoned in 1869, reportedly less than a thousand people in England were still wearing wigs. In 1816, the young Frank Churchill certainly did not wear a wig, although Mr. Weston and Mr. Woodhouse might have been holdovers.
The leading dandy of the day, George Bryan “Beau” Brummel (1778 – 1840) was highly influential in all matters of grooming and men’s fashion. Brummel meticulously kept his hair shorter and his face clean-shaven. “Every morning [Brummel] examined his face in a dentist mirror and plucked any remaining stray hairs with tweezers.” By the time Emma was published, almost all gentlemen sported sideburns of various lengths, but other types of facial hair such as mustaches or beards were decidedly unfashionable. Brummel sported the so-called Brutus hair cut, which had a disheveled look that ironically took a great deal of effort to achieve and maintain. “Men used an oil or pomade made of bear fat to achieve a natural tamed wildness. Since hair was rarely washed, night caps were worn to prevent soiling pillows and doilies protected the backs of chairs.” Another popular hairstyle of the day was the Titus, which was cropped short all around with curls combed forward to resemble the hairstyle of Roman Emperor Titus.
As wigs gave way to natural hairstyles, the role of barbers also changed. In his seminal work Georgian England (1931; reprinted 2008), Albert Edward Richardson notes that in the beginning of the Georgian period, “we find the hairdressers combing, shaving and blood-letting, together with hair-cutting, and the making of wigs [for men] and braids [for women].” Later, during the Regency period, a gentleman would go to a men’s barber for a shave and to have his hair washed and cut and perhaps dyed. With the rise of a generation of young men who paid more attention to their hair came luxury barbers such as William Truefitt, who opened his barbershop in the Mayfair section of London in 1805. Truefitt styled himself the barber to the English court and his shop became extremely popular among fashionable men. At barbershops, the Regency gentleman also could purchase cologne, which, as Roy and Lesley Adkins note, was “probably used more for hiding smells than creating a pleasing impression.”
When Frank returns with his hair freshly cut, he laughs at himself but he does not show any shame. Emma finds Frank’s attitude agreeable and her faith in him is restored: “I do not know whether it ought to be so, but certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in impudent ways. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly in not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it. Mr. Knightley, he is not a trifling, silly young man. If he were, he would have done this differently. He would either have gloried in the achievement, or been ashamed of it. There would have been either the ostentation of a coxcomb, or the evasions of a mind too weak to defend its own vanities.—No, I am perfectly sure that he is not trifling or silly” (Volume 2, Chapter 8). Of course, for those of us who know that Frank is being somewhat deceitful, Emma’s certainty about his good character is amusingly vexing. Yes, Frank did get a haircut on his trip to London, but he also purchased a pianoforte for his secret fiancée.
Quotations are from the Everyman’s edition of Emma, edited by Marilyn Butler (1991).
Twenty-sixth in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Emma. To read more about all the posts in this series, visit Emma in the Snow. I’m so sad that we’re at the very end of the series! But I’m tremendously grateful to all of you for celebrating Emma with me, by reading along with us, writing guest posts and comments, contributing photos, and sharing links to the series with other readers.
I had thought we might have a “flurry” of posts this week, but illness or other commitments prevented a few people from writing for the series, and as it turns out, we’ve ended up with exactly two posts every week, from the launch on December 23rd with Nora’s contribution to Paul’s guest post today. (I did see a few snow flurries here in Halifax yesterday morning, and then we got quite a bit more snow before it was washed away by rain last night.)
The last post for my Mansfield Park series in December 2014 coincided with the end of the novel’s anniversary year; in this case, however, the celebrations for Emma’s 200th anniversary will continue long after the end of “Emma in the Snow.” I’m excited to read more about the “Emma at 200” exhibition at Chawton House Library, for example, and I wish I could make the trip to England this year to see it, and I also wish I could go to Philadelphia for the Jane Austen Day that Paul is coordinating. I’m really looking forward to attending (and speaking at) this year’s JASNA AGM in Washington, D.C., Emma at 200: “No One But Herself.”
Since “Emma in the Snow” is an on-line party, I won’t have to take down any decorations or wash any dishes afterwards, so I’m thinking that the first thing I’ll do after the party is reread Emma all over again. “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her….”
Thanks again to all of you for coming to the party, and for participating through reading and rereading and writing and talking about Jane Austen and her Emma.