Thomas Jefferson’s Influence on “Mr. Darcy and the Designing Woman”

Thomas Jefferson is best known for writing the Declaration of Independence, but what other “credits” might we attribute to him? He was also a scientist, an inventor, an architect, and even a philosopher. “The papers of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), diplomat, architect, scientist, and third president of the United States, held in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, consist of approximately 25,000 items, making it the largest collection of original Jefferson documents in the world. Dating from the early 1760s through his death in 1826, the Thomas Jefferson Papers consist mainly of his correspondence, but they also include his drafts of the Declaration of Independence, drafts of Virginia laws; his fragmentary autobiography; the small memorandum books he used to record his spending; the pages on which for many years he daily recorded the weather; many charts, lists, tables, and drawings recording his scientific and other observations; notes; maps; recipes; ciphers; locks of hair; wool samples; and more.” (Library of Congress)

If you have ever used a pedometer to count your steps (I do so daily.), you can thank Jefferson for improving the pedometer function.

We all likely know Leonardo di Vinci created a device that periodically dropped stones into a bucket to count distance. His “design was a device worn at the waist with a long lever affixed to the thigh with a ratchet-and-gear mechanism that recorded the number of steps taken during walking.” (Science Direct) Then, In 1525, a French engineer/artisan and physician to Catherine de Medici, used the oldest known pedometer to compute the size of the earth. According to Interesting Engineering, “Jefferson’s contribution to the history of the pedometer may have involved improving on then-current designs and taking learnings from existing devices. He probably introduced a mechanical pedometer obtained from France and may have modified the design. Evidence for his work on the pedometer is difficult to come by, as he did not apply for patents on any of his inventions.”

If you have ever set down to a bowl of macaroni, you can acknowledge Jefferson for the noodles. But what else might be accredited to the man? Specifically, what Jefferson did was create a machine that could make pasta. It was a board with different holes spread about it that would produce small curved, hollow macaroni noodles as a crank was turned. This speed up the pasta-making process, helping turn it from a largely hand-worked endeavor into a far more automated one. (Interesting Engineering) “The best pasta in Italy,” Thomas Jefferson opined around 1787, “is made with a particular sort of flour, called Semola, in Naples.”

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Jefferson also had a device he called a “polygraph,” not a lie detector (as we think of the word now), but, rather, a device that took its function from the meaning of the word: “poly” means “many” and “graph” has something to do with “writing.” Jefferson’s polygraph created “many writings.” Interesting Engineering tells us, “Jefferson first acquired a polygraph in 1804 and called it ‘the finest invention of the present age’. It used the principles of the pantograph, a draftsman’s tool for reducing and enlarging drawings. The writer’s hand moves one pen, whose action is duplicated by a second pen, producing an almost exact copy. Its inventor, an Englishman named John Hawkins, assigned his American patent rights to Charles Willson Peale, and Jefferson was one of Peale’s most eager clients. Jefferson made many suggestions for how Peale could improve the design, which Peale took up.”

Library of Congress, Wikipedia ~

The Monticello Organization speaks to us of the Great Clock. It is a seven-day clock and can be found in two places at Monticello: the main entrance hall and on the east front of the house. Two cannonball-like weights keep the clock working. The gong to strike the hour is on the roof. The ropes carrying the weights descend on either side of the clock through holes in the floor to the cellar. Designed by Jefferson and built by Peter Spruck in 1792, the clock is still fully functional, even today. “The clock, with both an interior and exterior face, dictated the schedule of the entire plantation, inside the building and out. On the outside wall, the clock has only an hour hand, which Jefferson believed was accurate enough for outdoor laborers.  The inside face of the clock reveals much greater precision by offering not only hour and minute hands, but also a smaller dial for a second hand.”

007 might have admired this next invention. “The wheel cipher was a helpful tool devised by Jefferson for encoding messages with ease. It was a small circular device with 36 wooden disks on a spindle. Each disk had letters of the alphabet in different orders. When arranged in different patterns, you could create a ‘key’ and inscribe messages under a set cipher.” Jefferson basically abandoned the idea sometime around 1802, but it was revived around 1922 and used by the U.S. military to the beginning of WWII.

NSA/Wikipedia ~

And most importantly for the purpose of this post, was the dumbwaiter, or more appropriately, the dumbwaiters found in Thomas Jefferson’s house.

There was a dumbwaiter in the cellar upon which a wine bottle could be placed to be drawn upwards into the dining room. Guests could serve themselves in what, at that time, was known as the “French” style. Food was prepared in the kitchen, located under the south terrace and connected to the house by the all-weather passageway. The meal was then carried up a narrow and steep staircase, and stacked on rounded shelves attached to one side of the Dining Room door. The door rotates from the center instead of hinging on one edge. Once the shelves were loaded, [servants] would turn the door so that the food would be inside the Dining Room. From there, dishes would be placed on small tables with shelves called dumbwaiters. The dumbwaiters — some of which were built at Monticello — were on casters so that they could be wheeled to the table. A guest who dined at the President’s House during Jefferson’s tenure recalled: ‘by each individual was placed a dumbwaiter, containing everything necessary for the progress of dinner from beginning to end.’” [The Jefferson Monticello] You can see a video of the contraption HERE.


Book Blurb:

Mr. Darcy and the Designing Woman: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

“You do not know your place!” Elizabeth Bennet had heard those words time and time again from every man she encountered, with the exception of Mr. Thomas Bennet. Her dear father encouraged her unusual education, especially her love of architecture. 

Fitzwilliam Darcy finally could name the day his beloved Pemberley would know its renewal. For five years, he had denied himself the pleasures afforded the landed gentry in order to view Pemberley House rebuilt after a questionable fire had left it in ashes. He would now choose a wife as the next mistress of Pemberley and raise a family. 

When Darcy hires Elizabeth’s relation as his architect, they are thrown together in unexpected ways. He requires a proper Georgian manor to win the hand of an equally proper wife, but Elizabeth is determined only the house she has designed will do. The house of her heart for the man of her heart, even though she will never spend a day within. 

Excerpt from Chapter 9 (where Jefferson is mentioned for the first time):

It was nearly eleven of the clock when the carriage bringing Ericks, Luepke, and the two other men who would oversee the work on the house arrived. Though Mr. Nathan offered to greet the men, Darcy chose to do so himself. The surveyor, Mr. Bertram, and the builder, Mr. Campbell, accepted Darcy’s greeting, but quickly excused themselves to be about their own examinations of the site. Misters Ericks and Luepke asked Darcy to join them. 

As they walked about the perimeter of the present house, Ericks asked, “We are still in agreement for three storeys?”

“Yes, three,” Darcy responded. He noted how Mr. Luepke made notations of their conversation. 

Ericks pointed to a stand of burned-out timbers marking several rooms. “Some of the rooms must be razed, which will mean some of the walls still standing must also be brought down and rebuilt in order to have the proper load-bearing walls. As we are changing the size and shape of many of the rooms formerly in this part of the house, much removal and new construction will occur here.” 

“Understandable,” Darcy repeated, as he saw his former house with new eyes. 

Ericks smiled, “It is a bit daunting to think of how much has changed since your house was built in the late sixteen hundreds. If nothing less, think upon how much taller both men and people of the eighteen hundreds are in comparison to our ancestors. My brother Samuel jokingly says it is because the air is more filled with smoke and construction, and we must rise above it, but I believe it was God’s plan, which is ironic as I am the builder and he is the man of God. Nevertheless, I imagine a man of your height might, upon occasion, enter some rooms and be required to duck your head so as not to bang it on the door frame. Door frames, ceilings, and the like are higher than they once were, just as our beds are longer and sturdier, for they contain multiple mattresses. All these changes in the way people live change what we do as architects. While we are rebuilding your house, we should think a bit of the future. Sizes of the rooms should be a foot or two longer and the ceilings higher. Your three storeys will stand higher than your father’s did.” 

“Will that not look odd,” Darcy asked, “if this wing is taller than the other?”

“Perhaps, a bit,” Ericks stated, “but do you wish to give up modern conveniences to keep everything equal? Such can be done, but I would not suggest it. Obviously, eventually, you will be required to remodel the other wing. Buildings cannot stand forever against the elements, and the weather in Derbyshire can be quite harsh at times. Would you not agree?”

Darcy looked at the man suspiciously. “You are thinking I will hire you again sometime in the near future.” 

“Perhaps,” Ericks said with a laugh, “but I am attempting to be honest with you in all my estimations. Some you will enjoy hearing, others, not so much.” 

“So noted,” Darcy remarked. 

“Are you still satisfied with the number of pillars in the front? Not only do they mark the house’s greatness, but they serve as supports for different parts of the house. If you wish less, another means to support roofs, overhangs, and the like must be created,” Ericks explained. 

“I am satisfied.” 

“On another matter, all the surfaces must be covered in brick, meaning not only the new wing and the entrance, but also the older wing. There is no means of duplicating the color of the brick on the old wing of the house,” Ericks shared. 

“You are telling me, if I wish to remodel the wing I currently live in and have the house match in brick color, I should consider doing so sooner, rather than later,” Darcy said with a lift of his brows. “Could I not simply purchase more of the same brick and use them when I rework the other wing?”

“You could,” Ericks said with a grin. “The grey brick is currently readily available. It is generally easier to find if you are considering additional wings in the future. The yellow sandstone cannot be restored. It is too old and too worn. Again, we must consider the materials which will withstand both nature and time.”

“I assume you have brought samples,” Darcy said.

“Naturally,” Ericks said with a point of his finger to his drawing. “And a half storey on the top to be used as a drying room, extra quarters for servants, the movable table’s pulley, and storage. I provided you a view with and without the mechanism.” 

As Darcy studied the images before him, Ericks continued, “Do you know that fellow, Thomas Jefferson, the one who wrote the American independence document, has a number of such revolving shelves in his home. When he lived in France, Jefferson used portable serving stands when he hosted suppers at his home there. He put all the courses on the stands, which one actual servant could move about, even for a party of twenty or more people. 

“They say this Jefferson fellow has five such devices in his dining area at his home. He even has a spring-loaded turning shelf between the kitchen and dining room, which likely means it is all on the same floor, but the kitchen puts the plates on the shelf and then turns it so it appears in the dining room. After the meal, the empty plates are placed on the device to be returned to the kitchen. People say he had one just like it installed in the American president’s residence when he was there. When he wanted to discuss matters of national importance with those he dined, there were no servants about to overhear those secrets. I would have loved to have viewed it in person to see how it worked. 

“He also had some sort of lift mechanism to bring bottles of wine from the cellar to the floor above. Such is what I am thinking here.” Ericks pointed to the place on his drawing. “A system of weights and pulleys to move a variety of items through the house. Wine, as I have mentioned previously, food, smaller items, and even the laundry when it is to be dried on the lines in the garret. Naturally, nothing extremely heavy, for the lines would break, but strong enough for several pounds. As an added bonus, the shaft can assist with air flow throughout the house.”  

“Ingenious,” Darcy mumbled as he studied the diagrams from several angles and on several floors to have a better understanding of what Ericks spoke. 

“We will use a combination of dovetail joints, mortises and tenons and a post-and-beam construction.” 

“No wall studs from the sill of one storey to the second storey?” Darcy asked. 

“We will use whichever technique is most appropriate for the land upon which the house stands. Some parts are on solid rock and others on shifting earth. They cannot all be executed in a like manner, but the end result will be the same in the look of the rooms,” Ericks explained. 

“Let us revisit the garret when you come closer to that objective,” Darcy said. “I was looking at the dormers on Miss Elizabeth’s drawing, and I found them a very satisfying look.” 

“I will explore some other possibilities,” Ericks said with a slight frown, “but those decisions must be made quickly, as they will change other features of the house.” 

“Nevertheless, I would like the opportunity to make minor changes in your design if I see fit,” Darcy insisted. He could not quite let the house be built without a bit of Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s vision in it. Those changes would be his silent salute to the woman who had become quite essential to his view of the world. In years to come, he would look upon them and remember a remarkable woman. “I assume you either have such drawings available or can create them. I tend to be very ‘visual’ in such matters. I wish to know the end effect rather than to guess at the look of it.” 

“I understand perfectly, sir. I take the planning and construction of a man’s house as a sacred duty.” 

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2 responses to “Thomas Jefferson’s Influence on “Mr. Darcy and the Designing Woman””

  1. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Great post! Who knew so much about Thomas Jefferson!

    1. Regina Jeffers Avatar

      He is in my family tree so I am a bit obsessed with learning these things.

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