Jane Loudon

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by Koren Whipp

Jane C. Loudon 1807-58 was a British writer best known for creating the first popular gardening manuals, providing an alternative to the specialist horticultural books of the day.

Loudon was born into a wealthy family.  Following her mother’s death in 1819, she and her father, Thomas Webb, a Birmingham manufacturer, traveled the continent where she learned several languages.[1]  Soon after arriving home to England, her father’s business suffered heavy losses and his fortune evaporated.  He died penniless in 1824.  At the death of her father, when she was only seventeen, Loudon began writing as a career to support herself.[2]  She had been writing poems since aged twelve, and in 1826 published her first book, Prose and Verse.

Her first major work, The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century which was published anonymously in 1827 when she was twenty years old.  It is a pioneering work of science fiction and the first identifiable ancestor of the mummy genre.[3] Loudon’s twenty-second century world is a happy, egalitarian society filled with advances in technology, society and fashion: a peaceful world ruled by a female sovereign, court ladies in trousers, automatonic surgeons and lawyers, and the rebirth of the mummy induced by scientific galvanic shock rather than ancient incantation. She even predicts a type of internet.

Loudon may have been inspired by the general fashion for anything Pharaonic inspired by the acquisition of Egyptian mummies during the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt.  It is also likely she was inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818.  But whereas Shelley’s monster deals in horror and death, Loudon’s mummy is clearly affectionately satirical and does not reach the emotional depth of FrankensteinThe Mummy! more closely resembles Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World of 1666, another satirical utopian world of scientific advances.

Loudon’s fictitious imagining of a steam plough attracted the attention of John Loudon who asked to meet the author of The Mummy!. She later wrote, “It may easily be supposed that he was surprised to find the author of the book a woman; but I believe that from that evening he formed an attachment to me, and, in fact, we were married on the 14th of the following September.”

She saw the need for these manuals while assisting her husband, John Claudius Loudon, a botanist, garden designer, and author in his work.   She planted and tended their gardens in the meticulous manner her husband needed for his research and assisted in editing his books.  There were no popular manuals of the day; those written were for people already deeply immersed in the field.  Among her eight botany and gardening books, her best-selling science book was The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower Garden (1841) which reached five editions in a decade, and a ninth edition by 1879, with over 20,000 copies sold.[4] Loudon, a self-taught artist, illustrated her books using the new technique of chromolithography which enabled rapid print production. Plates were drawn on zinc from nature, and then colored by hand with watercolor.

Jane Loudon began her series of popular botanical works in the 1840’s when the cost of the illustrations in her husband’s work saddled them with a crippling debt.[5]  John Loudon died in 1843 leaving Loudon and her ten-year-old daughter nearly penniless. She again turned to her pen to support them as an author and journalist, covering the first horticultural shows in England and publishing new editions of her husband’s books. Then late in 1849 she was asked to edit a new journal for women, The Ladies’ Companion at Home and Abroad. The magazine was highly successful at first, but after a decline in her book sales, she was asked to resign as editor and died impoverished in 1858 at aged fifty-one.

Jane C. Loudon’s influence to gardening was enormous.  Through her books, she made gardening accessible and it came to be regarded as a recreational activity for all.  But her fictional depiction of a utopian society with pre-feminist ideas of equality and scientific advances, written at aged twenty-one to earn a living, illustrates a unique young woman’s mind unafraid to tackle the unknown.

 

[1] Birmingham City Council.  “Jane Loudon,”  Archives and Heritage.  Accessed Aug 8 2010: http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=Lib-Central-Archives-and-Heritage%2FPageLayout&cid=1223260500534&pagename=BCC%2FCommon%2FWrapper%2FWrapper.

[2] Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science, 110.

[3] Hopkins, Lisa. “Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy!: Mary Shelley Meets George Orwell, and They Go in a Balloon to Egypt,” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 10 (June 2003).  Accessed Aug 9 2010:  http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/encap/journals/romtext/articles/cc10_n01.html

[4] Bervard V.  Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, ©2007), 111.

[5] Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science, 111.

 

Bibliography

Birmingham City Council.  “Jane Loudon.”  Archives and Heritage.  Accessed Aug 8 2010:

http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=Lib-Central-Archives-and-Heritage%2FPageLayout&cid=1223260500534&pagename=BCC%2FCommon%2FWrapper%2FWrapper

Conan, Michel.  Bourgeois and aristocratic cultural encounters in garden art, 1550-1850.  Washington, DC:  Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2002.

Hopkins, Lisa. “Jane C. Loudon’s The Mummy!: Mary Shelley Meets George Orwell, and They Go in a Balloon to Egypt.” Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic Text 10 (June 2003).  Accessed Aug 9 2010:  http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/encap/journals/romtext/articles/cc10_n01.html.

Howe, Bea.  Lady with Green Fingers; the Life of Jane Loudon.  London:  Country Life, 1961.

Lightman, Bervard V.  Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, ©2007.

Loudon, Jane.  Botany for Ladies: or, A Popular Introduction to the Natural System of Plants…  London:  J. Murray, 1842.

British Wild Flowers.  London:  William Smith, 1846.

Gardening for Ladies:  and Companion to the Flower-garden.  New York:  Wiley and Putnam, 1843.

Glimpses of Nature and Objects of Interest Described, during a visit to the Isle of Wight.  London:  Grant and Griffith, 1848.

Instructions in Gardening for Ladies.  London:  John Murray, 1840.

My Own Garden, or, The Young Gardener’s Year Book.  London:  Kerby, 1855.

Philanthropic economy; or, The philosophy of happiness, practically applied to the social, political, and commercial relations of Great Britain… London:  E. Churton, 1835.

Stories of a Bride.  London:  H. Colburn, 1829.

The Amateur Gardener; Being a guide as to what should by done in a garden in each month of the year.  London: Frederick Warne and Co. 18-?.

The entertaining naturalist: being popular descriptions, tales, and anecdotes of more than five hundred animals, comprehending all the quadrupeds, birds, fishes, reptiles, insects, etc …  London:  H.G. Bohn, 1850.

The Ladies’ Companion to the Flower-garden:  Being an Alphabetical Arrangement of all the Ornamental Plants usually grown… London:  W. Smith, 1846.

The Ladies’ Flower-garden of ornamental greenhouse plants.  London:  William S. Orr & Co., 1849.

The Lady’s Country Companion: or, How to enjoy a country life rationally.  London:  Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1845.

The Mummy!:  A Tale of the Twenty-second Century.  London:  Henry Colburn, New Burlington Street, 1828.

The Young Naturalist, or, The Travels of Agnes Merton and her Mamma.  New York:  Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1863.

Loudon, J.C. and Priscilla Boniface.  In Search of English Gardens:  The Travels of John Claudius Loudon and his wife Jane.  Wheathampstead:  Lennard Pub., 1987.

Rauch, Alan.  Useful Knowledge:  the Victorians, Morality, and the March of Intellect.  Durham:  Duke University Press, 2001.

 

 

Page Citation:

Koren Whipp. “Jane Loudon.” Project Continua (June 17, 2013): Ver. 1, [date accessed], http://www.projectcontinua.org/jane-loudon/

 

 

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