As I sent variants on the following posting to 5 different lists (Women Writers through the Ages, Women’s Poetry List, Eighteenth Century Worlds, and Austen-l, and C18-l, how can I neglect what readers and friends I have here in a blog written under the sign (aegis, protection, imagined beloved presence of) Jane Austen:
Austen was born on a snowy day, December 16, 1775.
Nell Blaine (1922-96), November snow, 1987
I began with a poem to her by one of my favorite modern poets, Anne Stevenson:
a poem by one of my favorite contemporary poets (Anne Stevenson) plus three by Austen herself:
To women in contemporary voice and dislocation
she is closely invisible, almost an annoyance.
Why do we turn to her sampler squares for solace?
Nothing she saw was free of snobbery or class.
Yet the needlework of those needle eyes . . .
We are pricked to tears by the justice of her violence:
Emma on Box Hill, rude to poor Miss Bates,
by Mr Knightley’s _were she your equal in situation –
but consider how far this is from being the case_
shamed into compassion, and in shame, a grace.
Or wicked Wickham and selfish pretty Willoughby,
their vice, pure avarice which, displacing love,
defiled the honour marriages should be made of.
She punished them with very silly wives.
Novels of manners! Hymeneal theology!
Six little circles of hell, with attendant humours.
_For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours
And laugh at them in our turn?_ The philosophy
paused at the door of Mr Bennet’s century;
The Garden of Eden’s still there in the grounds of Pemberley.
The amazing epitaph’s ‘benevolence of heart’
precedes ‘the extraordinary endowments of her mind’
and would have pleased her, who was not unkind.
Dear votary of order, sense, clear art
and irresistible fun, please pitch our lives
outside self-pity we have wrapped them in,
and show us how absurd we’d look to you.
You knew the mischief poetry could do.
Yet when Anne Elliot spoke of _its misfortune
to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who
enjoyed it completely_, she spoke for you.
—– Anne Stevenson
In the book that started her wider popularity, James-Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir of my Aunt (1870, reprinted 1871 with some as yet unpublished fiction) included Austen’s poem upon the anniversary of beloved older friend’s death, Mrs Lefroy. Mrs Lefroy was an ambiguous friend (like Anne Elliot’s Lady Russell): she had participated in making sure Ausetn’s early flirtation with Tom Lefroy came to nothing. Austen did not wholly forget it. Nonetheless, her friend was all she had for conversation. Mrs Lefroy did on Austen’s own birthday:
To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 — my Birthday.
The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix’d emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass’d away
Since thou wert snatch’d forever from our eyes.–
The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!–
Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!–
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!–
At Johnson’s death by Hamilton t’was said,
‘Seek we a substitute–Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead–
None can remind us even of the Man.’
So we of thee–unequall’d in thy race
Unequall’d thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we wearch around the vacant place,
We ne’er may look upon thy like again.
Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgant Power,–
–Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!–
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.
I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!–
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.–
I listen–’tis not sound alone–’tis sense,
‘Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
‘Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.
She speaks; ’tis Eloquence–that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!–Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue’s side.
Her’s is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.–
Can ought enhance such Goodness?–Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.–Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.–the Vision disappears.
‘Tis past and gone–We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o’er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!–
Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness–Reason, spare.–
This one is said to have been written three days before the publication of her first published novel, _Sense and Sensibility_ (for which publication she paid herself):
When Stretch’d on One’s Bed
When stretch’d on one’s bed
With a fierce-throbbing head,
Which preculdes alike thought or repose,
How little one cares
For the grandest affairs
That may busy the world as it goes!
How little one feels
For the waltzes and reels
Of our Dance-loving friends at a Ball!
How slight one’s concern
To conjecture or learn
What their flounces or hearts may befall.
How little one minds
If a company dines
On the best that the Season affords!
How short is one’s muse
O’er the Sauces and Stews,
Or the Guests, be they Beggars or Lords.
How little the Bells,
Ring they Peels, toll they Knells,
Can attract our attention or Ears!
The Bride may be married,
The Corse may be carried
And touch nor our hopes nor our fears.
Our own bodily pains
Ev’ry faculty chains;
We can feel on no subject besides.
Tis in health and in ease
We the power must seize
For our friends and our souls to provide.
—– Jane Austen
And this was written the day before she died (while in great pain she laughs satirically to the last):
"Written at Winchester on Tuesday the 15th July 1817
When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin
And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.
The races however were fixed and determined
The company came and the Weather was charming
The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined
And nobody saw any future alarming.–
But when the old Saint was informed of these doings
He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And then he addressed them all standing aloof.
‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said
These races and revels and dissolute measures
With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain
Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.
Ye cannot but know my command o’er July
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers–’.
—– Jane Austen
"Behold me immortal … " She did not go gently into that good night.
Jane Freilicher (b. 1924, pupil of Nell), Study for Winter
When I first sent some of the above in the form of a foremother poet posting to Wom-po, in lieu of a potted life I wrote as follows: There are altogether too many biographies of Jane Austen. There is a New Yorker cartoon where a man on the stand accused of murder argues he couldn’t have done it for that night he was engaged in writing his biography of Jane Austen. So instead if anyone is interested, here is the second chapter from a book I was contracted to write, but never finished because the publisher did not care my candid history of the biography where I argue it is at the present time impossible to write an unbiased persuasive account of the woman’s life:
"Riddled with Untruths"
To conclude I note Garrison Keillor decided to go with just two lines by Austen " A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." And, "Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."
Nell Blaine, Cookie Shop