Archive for 2011

Olivia Williams as Jane Austen comforting Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra late in life: just after Cassandra has given Jane a sensual rub down (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

Dear friends and readers,

This blog derives its suggestion that Jane Austen was possibly a lesbian spinster from a section on spinsterhood in Emma Donoghue’s book on lesbianism in women, Passions Between Women and my reading of Jane Austen’s letters up to Letter 39 — when there occurs the 4 year hiatus and probably a cache of missing letters. I know Terry Castle’s theory that Jane and Cassandra might have been incestuous lovers was stamped out with intense fury, ooking at Austen’s life from Donoghue’s perspective, from 1801 Jane fits into a discernible pattern outlines as typically and recognizably (at the time) a lesbian spinster life and attitudes of mind.

I must first give a larger outline of Donoghue’s book into which her section on spinsterhood in the 18th century fits. Donoghue proposes to write a book about lesbian women and women who chose not to marry as well as bisexual women. She says the criteria uses for homosexual men is different that what one must use for women and her first chapter is a superb outline of why. Basically what emerges is even if lesbianism has not been a savagely punished crime, it has been erased; when it is brought up it’s treated with intense hostility, scorn, not believed in. It’s very hard to find evidence, and the first clear stories emerge in the 18th century. She wants to go beyond all the stories where doubt can be injected and the moralists and normalizers and just men do this repeatedly wherever possible.

What Donoghue shows is that the earliest records of lesbianism are intertwined with myths about women’s sexual organs where the persistent idea is the lesbian woman has a distorted one such that hers are a form of phallus. I can see how the threat of “adult” as a label is making it hard for me even to discuss this. Well it’s all so sordid. The stories reek with animosity and lurid glee. Otherwise you have to go to these enormous collections of tales and stories and ferret out sly details. Read against the grain.

And until the 18th century and beyond this idea that the woman lesbian is someone with equipment in her like that of a man (a smaller phallus) re-erupts. Men cannot believe that one can have sex or want it without a phallus. What these are are stories of female hermaphrodites.

The 18th century brings us the first relatively open frank depictions of sex. Clarissa is a landmark in this, and so too we have the first depictions of lesbianism. These are most often stories of cross-dressing women and begin in chapbooks and plays of the later 17th century. What permits this is really the rise of secularism The influence of religion on all this is usually omitted lest someone get offended, but it is central. No surprise that most of these are now larded with moral warning lessons and scorn and dislike, but nonetheless for the first time telling of female desires for other women and women finding sexual pleasure with other women. Two early texts Donoghue discusses are: by Henry Fielding, who as magistrate came across much transgression. A long (in effect) novella on Mary Hamilton called The Female Husband and a novella by John Cleland on another women who passed as a man and married other women, The True History of Catherine Vizzani.

When Donoghue moves to a long section on breeches’ parts in plays, she reveals telling patterns which make it hard for the reader to see what women are enjoying: what is written down repeatedly in response to breeches’ parts are how men enjoy them, men are titillated, without any reference to what women may have felt while they watched. Cross-dressing roles are described as tantalizing men, as men being roused by lesbianism. Again no reference to women. When masquerades are described, we learn of the dangers of heterosexual abduction they pose to women, not about how women characteristically went in male outfits.

The military biographies (of women soldiers) are hampered by this male outlook: the woman is usually married, and the challenge is for her to pass as a male, imitate male heterosexual behavior, and satires on duels ensue. This usually omits the obvious sexuality of the role – usually only treated in pornographic or erotic books. She’s assertive but we miss what went on sexually.

Romantic friendships among women necessarily take us to the woman’s point of view at long last, but here one is confronted by a demand that we have diary entries explicitly saying the women had sex or the equivalent of DNA evidence. I like how she begins with Katherine Philips — I wrote my first published paper on the “matchless Orinda” and makes an important distinction that for women sexual experience does not have to include penetration genital sex. That’s crucial in discussing how women’s books are permeated with sex say in the 18th century too.

Class gets in the way. Upper and middle class women handle themselves far more discreetly and performatively but if sincerity, tenderness, depth of feeling, generosity, commitment are what’s emphasized, that does not mean the physical self is forgotten.

Sally Hawkins as Zena and Rachel Stirling as Nan in rare love-making scene (2004 ITV Tipping the Velvet)

But Donoghue moves beyond these and she demonstrates that poetry and prose by women usually seen simply as writings of sentimental/sympathetic female friendship as instead rooted in a physical relationship, is that the writing suddenly comes alive in ways not seen before If we do not demand sex be “penetrative intercourse” only with nothing approaching that counting, but look at so to speak all the gestures of foreplay, physical playfulness and whimsy, the signs of caresses, the poetry becomes not (as it usually seems) somehow coy, embarrassing, but rather simply openly playful.

She goes over poems by Anne Killigrew, Elizabeth Singer Rowe (who she reminds us was very popular with women readers) and (I admit to my surprise) Anne Kingsmill Finch. I’ve read Finch’s “the white mouses petition to Lamira the Right Honble the Lady Ann Tufton now Countess of Salisbury (to whom the deeply felt often reprinted “A Noctural Reverie” is dedicated) and never considered it as a lesbian poem. But yes it’s about a mouse that has the run of her beloved’s body.

I sue to war Lamira’s fetters
And live the envy of my betters
When I receive her soft caresse
And creeping near her lovely tresses
Their glossy brown from my reflection
Shall gain more lustre and prefection
And to her bosom if admitted
My color there will be so fitted
That no distinction cou’d discover
My Station to a jealous Lover.

The poem when visualized could be matter for one of the French erotic encounters between women and little animals, except then the mouse scampers merrily about, and watches out for male suitors. And it is at this point the book veers towards describing a pattern of behavior and outlook like that I have found in Austen’s letters — and life: 18th century spinsterhood, a way of life for which no recognition as a valid choice was given and hence no name.


Samantha Harker as Jane and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, living together (1995 BBC P&P)

Donoghue takes us through a group of treatises published in the later 17th and early 18th century and typical women’s poems to show sharp critiques — “blistering attacks” Donoghue calls them — of marriage: Mary Astell to Mary Chudleigh. The women dramatists of the 1690s with their fierce tragedies have heroines who marry but keep another women with them – rather like Holtby and Britain had one husband between them (belong to one of them, but also a front).

These sorts of poems gradually died out; it became unacceptable to write this way. At the same time the relentless interpretation of women who didn’t marry as not having done so
because no one asked them was stepped up. Any women saying she didn’t marry because she didn’t want to was scoffed at. Critiques were sour grapes.

But private letters continue and there we find the world and attitudes of an Austen. A woman who lives among women, who has special tight relationships with them (beyond Cassandra, especially Martha Lloyd). These sorts of letters arise in great numbers as works of art in the later 17th century when it seems (as George Eliot suggested) the first modern feminists are to be found. And they are saved, printed, and now exist in modern editions. Among these, we find Catherine Trotter’s letters which show intense physical and emotional passion for her friend such that it feels uncomfortable because she is not allowed to be franker about what she’s after or wants. Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill come to mind too. A little later it’s really striking the parallels between attitudes professed by Elizabeth Carter and Catherine Talbot and Jane Austen. Epistolary novels mirroring such relationships appear (Lennox’s Euphemia is a 1790s example). Novels also now have ladies who run do-good institutions where they find husbands for other women, not themselves (Millenium Hall). The Bath group of women emerges — and that dread word, bluestocking begins to spread for the first time.

And what do we find in Austen: not just the same mockery of marriage and married people, but a rather daring send-up and compassion for continually pregnant women combined with intense affection for a specific woman, Martha Lloyd, and those times she spends with her and a narrow circle of women friends happiness. I take it the immense we see her experience over leaving her home and moving to Bath comes from leaving the privacy of her home, of her space, where unobserved and unpressured she could write on (what she wanted to do most) and remain among these women friends. Forced out, she would be driven, pressured to be constructed as someone looking for a man, which we see she does not do from around the later 1790s to the first arrival in Bath (when the letters cease for 4 years). It is striking how when she goes to dances starting in the later 1790s, she does not go performatively. She is not on the hunt; she is there looking askance at those who are. We hear nothing in the letters of this or that eligible male seriously; instead we hear parodic accounts applied to herself. I see this as a sort of instinctive cover-up and mockery.

I take the silent four years to include some kind of emotional crack-up, which like other families in this era I’ve come across (e.g., earlier, Anne Finch’s) was hidden. When she emerges from silence, it’s not a coincidence that her father has died. A new pattern of life must be found, one far away from Bath eventually, where she can return to living not so much in a fishbowl and by the time of Chawton spend all her hours writing. Not that she did not write in the interim: this is the time of The Watsons, Lady Susan, the attempt to publish Northanger Abbey as Susan, and revisions of the three novels from Steventon years, and new brief drafts and fragments towards Mansfield Park (begun I think in the later 1790s after Jane witnessed the painful flirtation of Eliza with Henry and James) and Emma (begun I agree with others in 1801-2).

Women openly not wanting to marry were attacked with fierce enmity; indeed we don’t hear of it except in fiction and then they are stigmatized (see above). A odd brilliant version of the type is Charlotte Lucas — married because she had to not at all because she wanted to. What did it matter who was in her bed or her partner as she wanted none of them anyway. And I think about D. W. Harding’s theory that Austen’s fiction arose out of her need to find some place desperately to express herself however muted and framed through ironies and conventional plot-designs.

Donoghue’s book would regard Castle’s later “clarification” as a retreat — Castle has retreated to say she was misunderstood, never meant that Jane and Cassandra had an overt sexual relationship or Austen with anyone else. But she did, that’s why she made a big deal about them sharing a bed, and that’s where she came to grief. She had not read the letters carefully enough. In them is evidence Jane and Cassandra had separate beds.. The point is they were experiencing lesbian spinsterhood (let’s call it): throughout her book Donoghue’s very purpose is to put the sex back. To day that the denial of sexual experience is to deny the woman their full reality.

She writes it’s “crucial” to “distinguish between the dominant ideology’s explanation of romantic friendship that it was sexless, morally elevating and no threat to male power” and “the reality of such bonds between women.” The better poems Donoghue quotes (by Behn, by Finch) do show strong sexual experience; the plays do, and (I’ve read these) letters of Catherine Trotter. Donoghue says the definition of sexual experience which demands genital penetration is a narrow male one, and once we allow for a full range of sexual fulfillments, we have entered the realm of women’s sexuality (which for heterosexuals includes pregnancy, breast-feeding.

I grant that in Austen’s case the one place I find intense passion is for Martha Lloyd and further grant there seems nothing sexual there, but remember that Cassandra destroyed the majority of the letters. I’d say her motives are both: she does not like the men on offer and did not want to marry, preferred not to, especially wanted no burdens of large numbers of children. Given the small number of people as intelligent as herself that she could meet, she met few people she could be attracted to. When young it was Tom Lefroy; later she bonded closely with Martha Lloyd who came to live with Jane, Cassandra and their mother (see her letter to Martha Lloyd).

Donoghue goes further: she suggests that the pattern was recognized and either deliberately ignored, or overtly denied (she’s a sour old maid, she didn’t marry because she couldn’t “catch” a husband, had no dowry, is a “bluestocking” — soon to be treated with harsh derision). The word “lesbian” was not used until much later — 1890s — as homosexual did not emerge until then. You find the word “tribade” in the later 17th century; sapphist was sort of understood. The slang of the day was “tom” – can you imagine Elizabeth Carter called a “tom”? the sexual terms were demeaning, undermining — like “Molly for men.

Keeley Hawes as Kitty and Rachel Stirling as Nan: 19th century “Toms” (2004 ITV Tipping the Velvet)

For the record, I’m not sure what was her relationship with Cassandra. That Cassandra was inferior to Austen intellectually (hers was an ordinary kind of mind, a more than a little rigid and obtuse) does not matter so much when it comes to a sexual physical relationship. Miss Austen Regrets is daring at the close of the movie when it suggests that Cassandra has not wanted Jane to marry at all, and kept her to herself, and we see Imogen Poots as Fanny watch Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra give Olivia Wiliams as Jane a very sensual rub-down (through a door). The film-makers are hinting there was physical release between the two. In 1801 we see in the letters a drawing together, with some of the old strains conflicts beginning to fade as Cassandra begins to see how much they will be fringe people and realizes to rigidly uphold the establishment gives her no advantage, works in fact to marginalize her. The scolding has ceased.

Consider how important are the sisters-in law in P&P, S&S (blood sisters), Mrs Weston and Emma, Persuasion and even NA (Eleanor Tilney a central relationship).

What we lack is what happened between them and to Austen, what her perception of experience and actual experiences were for four years. I now think perhaps there was a crack up for a while.

Hattie Morahan as Elinor hugging Charity Wakefield as Marianne (2008 S&S)

It’s hard to get a book or essay published about this — nowadays the attack (fierce) on Castle is remembered. But more: the general run of books now makes Austen into someone who loved and never married (boo hoo – that’s Spence’s concoction which is pro-family view at the same time) or makes her into a pollyanna (biographies of her for young people that win awards stress how she loved children — it’s ludicrous, she didn’t hate them, but she didn’t want any of her own). So the views I’m suggesting either do not appear or are expressed discreetly or really not at all. What happened to my book contract for JA and Bath is the publisher did not like the direction I was going in even then – and it was much milder than what I’d say today.


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Lyncombe Vale, Bath (today)

Dear friends and readers,

What we find in Letter 38 is a mood shift, Jane’s mood is more equable, calmer and more accepting than in the last couple of letters (e.g., Letter 37). While Austen is far from satisfied with her situation (they are still house-hunting), in this letter she records enjoying herself — albeit grudgingly (reminding me of Mrs Dashwood saying how Elinor really dreaded what other people looked forward to, just did not want to enjoy herself). This time she says that Mrs C did not keep up such a frantic pace, and “The Walk was very beautiful.” A Visit is “by no means disagreeable”. She rather likes Mrs Lillington and there is a kind of gradual acceptance of Mr Evelyn. At first she says that she has seen “very little of him” really, implying that rumors of some romance between them had started up, but moves on to admit she’d like to take a ride in a Phaeton with him, and then going on to ride: “a very pleasant Drive.” Then “one pleasure succeeds another,” a letter from Charles, and whatever she may say she likes that he bought her and Cassandra jewelry (“We shall be unbearably fine”). She has made an “engagement” for Cassandra to go to the fireworks with her and Mr Evelyn and Miss Wood “if my Mother & Aunt should not go to the fireworks, which I dare say they will not …” The good news from Frank is simply told (no mockery.

If it were not that after this one we face the silence of four years (with a brief break for a letter from Lyme, which we know Austen liked very much, and the father’s death), I’d predict she is getting used to town life more and when they did find a place as long as she was given decent space and time for privacy would make do. I maintain (as many others have before me) that the silence is meaningful — that something beyond say the proposal of Bigg-Wither, and romance at the seaside (if there was one) Cassandra told of many years later. A cache of letters were destroyed. I see it as probable that Cassandra would continue to help Elizabeth as Elizabeth continued to have children, and this pattern of their separating for visits to other people continued so there would have been letters between them — to say nothing of letters from Jane to other people. When the letters start up again, we see the pattern has carried on for Cassandra is away on a usual visit.

The first next letter is not from Bath but Lyme (14 September 1804), then we have three recording the father’s death (January 1805). The letters such as we have them resume first in April 1805.


Widcome, Bath today (along the canal)

Jane Austen again making attempts at adjustment, which are actually not all that successful until she goes out in the phaeton and seems genuinely to enjoy herself without straining to do what’s expected and fit in.

Cassandra has apparently softened her by sending compliments on her last letter. The two women performed for one another, they performed in front of one another: Jane opens by thanking Cassandra for “compliments on her writing” with “my best thanks.”

As I recall Mrs Craven was a harsh person, tyrannical. She was grandmother to Martha Lloyd and is said to have behaved with “unfeeling selfishness” (Nokes quoting Caroline Austen) and been a source for Lady Susan. Why Martha should go to Chilton even temporarily to be “comfort” to this woman does not appear. Mrs Craven is mentioned later on (1806) exulting in the rises Mary Lloyd Austen (James’s wife) had in the world; and by virtue of her marriage to him, Mrs FA (Mary Gibson)’s coming up in the world. LeFaye says she does not understand th obscure allusion to a “Young man” on whose behalf Jane hopes either Martha or Mrs Craven will do kind offices that Cassandra was prevented from doing on behalf the Harrison family. (What these were we have no idea.)

Charles has come back and this does seem to have cheered Austen: she sent him a short letter by “this day’s post.” He didn’t save it.

In the past three days her time has been taken up with the same group of people we find in the previous letter. This is the level (it’s how it would be seen) the Austens have settled at, only this time Mrs Chamberlayne did not walk quite so rapidly (maybe she had gotten used to Austen). Fringe people, maiden ladies, basically dowryless. It was still something of a contest (at least as Austen sees it) between Mrs C and Jane: “for many many Yards on a raised narrow footpath I led the way ‘–“

But Austen is not sentimental and won’t allow us to feel a friendship is forming:

“The Walk was very beautiful as my companion agreed, whenever I made the observation — and so ends our friendship for the Chamberlaynes leave Bath in a day or two.”

No sign of regret, nor for Lady Fust who “you will lose before you find her.” A joke of sorts: even before Cassandra can become this woman’s “friend” Cassandra will have lost her.

Is Austen making fun of these relationships, probably so. The dysfunctionality I’ll call it, sheer tenuousness of what we call relationships.

Then an evening which was “by no means disagreeable.” And now it seems she didn’t mind the conversation, but she is still intensely alert to any hypocrisy: Austen found Miss Holder’s sentimental talk about a dead brother and sister “a little affected” but “not unpleasing” (Austen is a severe one), but then goes on in language which suggests she felt Miss Holder was somewhat hypocritical and Austen’s hard line indicates Cassandra must act equally in determined fashion to be Miss Holder’s companion:

“she has an idea of your being remarkably lively” [and is flattering Jane and Cassandra by such remarks]; “therefore get ready the proper selection of adverbs & due scraps of Italian & French”

I’m struck by the desperation of this. The people are thrown together, not choosing, no one else around who is of their level and so determined to use up their time finding something to make some conversation or so with.

Austen stops in her usual wry manner over “Mrs Heathcote’s having hot a little Boy”. It’s expected she make some remark or other so she produces one and the moves resolutely on; “I wish her well to wear it out”. Quite what this means I don’t know; my guess is she will recover during the coming period, and hopes this child will do to fill her time without exhausting her.

Frank is coming to town but not as soon as the father since he has money negotiations. I notice repeatedly that in these parallel descriptions of Charles and Frank, it’s ever Frank who is getting the better promotion, Frank who is involving himself to his better advantage this or that way. (Charles seems to me the pleasanter more spontaneous characters – I add to this the passage Aneilka sent us about his behavior aboard a slave ship).

Then the death and burial of Marianne Mapleton. She called without expecting to be shown in (marvelous these snob customs — we repeat them in our uses of answering machines; nowadays someone coming to your door and being refused would be insulted). But the sisters came to Jane immediately; were pale and dejected. Austen is surprised at how composed they are. Again Cassandra mentioned; there seems to have been a special friendship or relationship (how far or deep hard to tell) between Cassandra and Marianne. Maybe they really liked one another (!).

Alas a very dull tea drinking with Mr Lyons. Mrs Piozzi does refer to her first husband as “my Master.” This is her second reference to Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi and her travel book.


Sydney Gardens, Contemporary photograph

On Friday she meets a set of “new People” and as these include Mr Evelyn who asked her “whether I were to be at Sydney Gardens in the evening or not.”

Mr Evelyn in the latter part of the letter is of interest. In Tomalin’s account he is listed and described as one of Austen’s acquaintances in Bath and comes inside a long description of Austen’s bitterness over the move. She does not say much else, but moves on to say that Austen was “disabled” from writing during these years so strong was the depression within her. Nokes sees Mr Evelyn differently. He sees Austen as buoyed up in Bath (how he sticks to this idea I don’t know), and has discovered that there is a connection between Edward and Mr Evelyn. Mr Evelyn did have a wife and was old so Nokes sees Austen as inventing a fiction about a romance and enjoying it

I’d add to possible love/romance interests that the family or others would and/or have encouraged, even if slightly (I’m thinking of Edward Brydges and Mrs Lefroy’s thwarted unhappy attempt at the Rev Blackall) and comically — as he’s married already.

It does seem that the Evelyns and she had a mild friendship. Mrs Evelyn calls to say that Mr Evelyn had seen a landlord on behalf of the Austens, the Green Park Buildings, and he was willing to raise the floor (to escape floods and damp). Austen is grateful (the tone is gratitude) but say “all this I fear is fruitless – tho’ the water may be kept out of sight, it cannot be sent away, nor the ill effects of its’ nearness excluded.”

You get typhus and/or typhoid from being in a damp situation; you dont’ have to sit in the water.

Jane then says (the way people do) she has nothing more to say about houses and proceeds to say more: the aspects of Seymour Street (under consideration) is Northwest not west. (They don’t want a western perspective — why not beats me).

Then the two long paragraphs about Mr Evelyn. She assures Cassandra she has seen little of him, this morning only the 4th time (that seems to me a lot but these renters seems to be living in one’s another’s space). She told the anecdote as “it came in to advantage” — there Nokes’s idea that she had enjoyed telling a funny romantic story about herself and Mr Evelyn. She is nearly engaged to go with him in the ride and he is harmless, no one is afraid of him. Her aunt wants scrounge on him (his groundsel for birds). Now Austen says “she ought to be scrupulous” (And not borrow after her trial) and the aunt agrees, but … (the implication to Cassandra is the aunt can’t resist).

Jane Freilicher (1924-), yellow flowers

The lovely ride in the Phaeton is in interrupted for yellow: a yellow passage, she dressed in yellow to go to Mrs Lyons; she loves her yellow grown twice as much as Cassandra hers.

Mr Rice and Lucy are to be married, and when.


Kingsdowne, the top (contemporary photo)

Then upside down for the rest. How she is just returned, had a note first (that’s a kind man, I know how hard it is to make contact, see that Austen felt this), went after breakfast, up to the top of Kingsdown with Mr Evelyn in his phaeton, and had pleasant drive back, with “one pleasure succeeding another rapidly” for a letter from Charles.

Charles remembered the uncle’s address, and Austen gives him great credit for this. Then the money Charles earned and his spending it on his sisters. That topaz cross turns up in Mansfield Park so William is a kind of Charles with Fanny a kind of Jane/Cassandra. Austen worries her brother will have to go to Egypt (the Endimion has received orders to take troops), Charles says he knows nothing of his own destination. Austen speaks of three letters to him from her: yesterday’s, and today again to reproach him (backwards thanking for the presents. They will be unbearably fine.

And the plan for the fireworks for herself and Cassandra, and she is half-hoping her mother and aunt do not come to the fireworks for then she can join the Evelyns and a young woman living with them, Miss Wood — who has lived with them “since my son died.” MIss Wood would not have a son so this reference is obscure to me.

Mrs Mussell is the dressmaker and Austen will engage her for a gown; she made Austen’s dark one. She does not always succeed with light colors, Austen has to alter a “white one” “a good deal.

And then as it turns out the prophetic: “Unless anything particular occurs, I shall not write again …”

And so silence falls for four years.


The door frame to 4, Sydney Gardens

We do now that the Austens leased between 1801 and 1805 4, Sydney Place and 3 or 27, Green Park Buildings, flats in large residential blocks. Sydney Place still stands within walking distance of Sydney Gardens, and gives off an air of bourgeois comfort. It is one of the hundreds of buildings which have been cleaned since World War Two so that it is no longer black and dusty from time and pollution: the oolitic limestone of which its surface is made once again absorbs the sunlight so that it looks pale gold or honey-coloured during the day. However, you arrive by walking up Great Pulteney Street (where the Catherine Morland stayed with the Allens in Northanger), much of which has undergone renovation into retirement apartments for older people; some of these houses are still black, and they average about ten to fourteen apartments to every three houses. The labyrinth in the Gardens which was one of the reasons Austen liked the spot (because she could walk there) has disappeared.

Green Park Buildings: the end of the row (contemporary photo)

27, Green Park Buildings, faces the river and Beechen Cliff and has a pretty green common in front of it, but the upper two floors are painted white (!). The block itself has also become awkwardly isolated: it was meant stand parallel to another block of closely similar houses. These the bombs of World War Two destroyed. Warehouses and a small highway stand where the second set of buildings once were.

Trim Street, mid-20th centry photo

In 1806 Austen’s mother headed one of her letters ‘Trim Street Still’ and wrote she and her daughters had been ‘disappointed of the Lodgings in St James’s Square'; the individual ‘in treaty’ for it was willing to rent ‘the whole House, so of course he will be prefer’d to us who want only a part’ (Austen Papers, p. 238). Trim Street is small block within an enclosed area, no sun gets there. But this is after Mr Austen died.

On Austen-l, someone asked if a clergyman got a pension after leaving his office and I wondered if his widow would get anything. In Irene Collins’s JA and the Clergy there is no mention of anything like this. She says to the living and house the clergyman was expected to add what tithes he could get and what he could make from his glebe (like a farmer). Beyond that most vicars (according to Collins) had some kind of inherited income. In Austen’s letters we have seen her record her father making intense efforts to get more out of his farm and no sign of inherited income. His wife did have a small inherited income (perhaps from investments in the form of rents or money in the “funds”) but upon her husband’s death, she needed her sons to give her money or she and her daughters would not have been able to make ends meet for food and lodging.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 , 26 , 27, 28 29, 3031, 3233 and 34, 35, 36, 37

Nell Blaine (1922-96), November 5th, 1990 (much yellow)


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Mrs Jones (Ruth Sheen) to Fanny Hill (Rebecca Knight): If she does not take Mr H as a keeper, and ends up on the streets, “It doesn’t bear thinking about” (2007 Sally Head Fanny Hill)

Dear friends and readers,

Last night I finished reading John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748/49), which has come to be commonly know as Fanny Hill; I read partly to understand the 2007 mini-series scripted by Andrew Davies, directed by James Hawes (credits as respectable as Davies), produced by Nigel Marchant. I was also curious to see what the text really is like and how it fits into the “heroine’s text” type of novel prevalent in the 18th century from novels of males in drag (La Vie de Marianne, Clarissa, La Nouvelle Heloise) to women-centered texts by women (from La Princess de Cleves to Austen’s famous six).

I find it a book which starts off very lively and meaningful in the heroine’s text pattern (as outlined by Nancy Miller), even highly original in what it dared to present to a middle class reader, and meaning to be humane, enlightened (anti- religious repressions and lies), but marred badly by a its cliched language, thought (sentimental and genteel) and finally in the second half losing all sense of plot-design and deliquescing from a delicate form of erotica into clinically detached pornography.

Its importance though is not derived simply from its content or aesthetic value: since it was prosecuted early on, and had a lingering reputation ever after (was kept in print) and was in the 20th century linked with Lady Chatterley’s Lover as unacceptable porn, it has a sociological importance other books of this type (erotic, porn) do not have (see Hal Gladfelder, “Obscenity, censorship, and the eighteenth-century novel: the case of John Cleland,” Wordsworth Circle, 35.3 (Summer 2004):134ff.)

By contrast, Davies’s rendition is a strongly plotted throughout, ironic fairy tale which concentrates on the importance of female relationships, how they are ambivalent (as two women teaming up together despite any dislike), necessary and what rare true empathies (Mrs Cole with Fanny — in Ruby in Paradise a similar pair) can do. The importance of Davies’s film is that of costume drama: that this kind of material should be included (however restrained) and that the actors who appear here can also appear in Austen films and the plot- and character parallels between an Austen film and this semi-pornographic one (we see women performing fellatio on men in positions that show they have no agency whatsoever).

What follows is a journal report of my reading experience, section by section where I compare book to recent movie as I go along.


Esther Davies (Emily Stanfield) telling the orphan Fanny that she can survive by supporting herself in London; she need only travel there (Esther is a minor character, mentioned once or twice in Cleland’s novels; Davies turns her into a major character across the mini-series)

I began this novel this morning and it reads like a parody of novels in the mode of Richardson’s Pamela; perhaps it’s more like Marivaux’s Marianne with a specific allusion to Pamela (the use of the spelling “vartue” and a comic retelling of Pamela’s story as if it really happened). I find it more persuasive than Marianne who is immediately picked up by a protector. Fanny comes to London because after the death of her parents from small pox she receives only cold and minimal charity and a friend, Esther Davis, offers to take her to London — all the while using Fanny’s money (but minimally Esther’s vice is not expensiveness). Esther tells her where an “intelligence” office (=employment bureau is) and after crying a while, but putting her act together (as she had still several guineas and 17 shillings from the sale of all her parents’ things), she does take a lodging for the night and shows up at this haughty place.

Mrs Brown (Alison Steadman) choosing Fanny at the unemployment office — Steadman’s archeype includes Mrs Bennet)

I thoroughly believe it and am “into the book.” If I had time, I’d return to Therese Philosophe (some say by Diderot) for the flaw in FH is the narrator buys into the false values of her society and reiterates them. Not Therese, she is wittily subversive, more fun. The obviously French context of Cleland’s work reminds me of how much I like French materials in this era.

I’m having an experience similar to that I had last summer reading Sade’s novels — what is said about FH utterly distorts the reality of this novel — or overplays it. The next phase of the book is found precisely in the film adaption: Mrs Brown turns out to be a brothel keeper, Phoebe her chief aid, initiates FH into sexual experience and the two conspire to sell her to the aging brutal Mr Crofts. I’m just not finding anything shocking. I’ve read online — would anyone like to see this — the contemporary bookseller, Griffith’s defense of this book as hardly different from dozens others — and he’s right.

Phoebe (Carli Norris) selling the innocent Fanny: Davies’s movie emphasizes the sexual initiation of Fanny by a bisexual woman, Phoebe (a proto-typical shepherdess name)

Why did the authorities get so excited? Yes there have been a couple of passages more explicit than most things I’ve read but done in language that eschews all verboten words. I cannot believe they couldn’t stand the proto-feminist point of view — for that’s there too, played up to be sure by Davies:

In the film early after arriving at the brothel Fanny is sexually attacked by Mr Croft (Philip Jackson) with the collusion of Mrs Brown and Phoebe and remains a virgin

As with Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Prevost’s Manon Lescaut (and quite a number of works of the earlier 18th century), there are no chapter divisions in this book. It is set up as two letters, one ending p 126 of my Penguin edition by Wagner, and the other ending p 224. Each was printed as a volume.

As I read on, Fanny moved on to fall in love with the beautiful good young man, Charles (as in Davies’s film) and they flee the brothel together. At this point love-making does start and I have to say that it is arousing. The style is part of the success because it’s not crude. Now I see why it must’ve shocked for it’s on the face of it marketed for a middle class reader; it’s literate and implicitly a critique of the ancien regime’s customs, laws. The book supports Darnton’s thesis as do Sade’s and Diderot’s.


Fanny and Charles initiating one another

An autobiographical verisimilar component

I continue to read this novel with real interest in it. I’m surprised at myself for this; that is, that it continues to hold me. Now that Fanny is in love genuinely and with a kind decent man — Charles (played in the film by the handsome sweet looking Alex Robertson, a kind of Tom Jones) whose last name we have not yet been told (again very like Moll Flanders and the fictions from the early part of the century) has a real history of his own which rings true. We are told that he was an only son whose father refused to spend any money on him beyond necessities in the house; paid for hardly any education and planned to purchase him an ensign’s commission (provided he could procure it with interest and not too much money). This is the only plan the man had; he kept a mistress. He did reprimand the boy when he got in his way. Luckily there was a grandmother who took a fancy to the boy and provided him with money. It’s money from her he uses to keep his and Fanny’s lifestyle up in Mrs Jones’s house.

It strikes me this is a real story, and if not Cleland’s one he saw or one he could identify his own rejected life with. This is not the only story of this type that suddenly emerges. The depiction of Mrs Jones, the quiet landlady cum-procuress is just such another as Anthony Trollope is more discreet language describes running a “boarding house” in a less salubrious part of London in Miss Mackenzie in the second half of the 19th century. Women have ever been desperate to stay solvent, in houses, with food and clothes and in days before jobs, what could they sell if the found themselves (as they probably did with frequency) outside some family system or could not endure what punishment was wreaked on them in return for being kept.

Mr H is a glamorous idealization of himself in conventional heterosexual terms — well, every author but has his weaknesses. Hugo Speer plays the part with real panache (he was super as Sergeant George in Davies’s rendition of Bleak House and I’ve loved him ever since he was so fiercely loyal to Phil, his homeless friend).

Mr H (Hugo Speer) enjoying Fanny’s candid company, proposes to teach her from books he knows, to make a lady of her

This part of the novel has veins of reality as striking as any in an 18th century novel, memoir, or tale. And in effect Davies picks up in this when he has his Charles’s father be a miser and tyrant and bigot, thought kidnapping and pressing might be too strong for most people (who knows, in French fictions families are ever throwing disobedient adult children into the Bastille or other prisons by lettres de cachet). He also depicts Mrs Jones more in the way of a Fielding caricature but this rock-bottom solid motivation (not in Fielding) is there in the film: Davies’s Mrs Jones tells Fanny what might happen to her (in the streets) if she refuses to accept Mr H as her keeper “doeesn’t bear thinking about.”

No it doesn’t.

The one strong contrivance and intertwining together that does not occur in the book that Davies uses is Davies he has Mr Croft who Mrs Brown (played by Alison Steadman, Mrs Bennet is here revealed in her archetype as desperate procuress) would have sold Fanny to (see above) no matter how old and vicious he is, turn out to be Charles’s father. That coincidence is too pat, but then less actors needed to be paid and the recognition scene is striking. Also the hypocrisy of the old man who would rape Fanny now utterly rejects her with vile words as appropriate for her!

Fanny miscarries the pregnancy by Charles, and accepts Mr H as her lover. Although she does not love him, he is capable of awakening her sexually even more than Charles. These passages in the book are strongly arousing and at the heart of what made this book prosecuted. Here we have a heroine who while depicted a literally unchaste (from her living with Charles) is nonetheless presented as a middle class avatar, reasonable, reasoning, acting in her own best interests. To show her as experiencing sexual pleasure without love (the demand for which is still used to bind women by women themselves) was as subversive of the social order as Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover’s depiction of sexuality itself (as in its buggery). Probably too I’ve been underestimating how original this text is — it is not a mad rant like Sade’s, not hectically lurid like so many of the English tansgressive fictions (say by Haywood or Behn or Manly Delaviere or The Nun on her Smock) I’ve read.


The movie sweetens the mixture by keeping the sex tasteful and emphasizing how Mr H is teaching Fanny important text: here they are doing Shakespeare’s great sonnet 94 (“They that have power to hurt and will do none”)

The long descriptions of Mr H making love to Fanny, arousing her against her conscious will are remarkable. They are (as far as I can tell) just about wholly original in the manner of Richardson’s Pamela. There were novels before Richardson’s of types like Pamela, there were epistolary novels, but no one put these two together for quite this story at this length with a persuasive presence. So there may have been erotica (a good term for this part book) before FH, but nothing as plain yet elegantly styled, thorough, frank, emotional in this direct way with just such a persuasive presence as this narrator. (Aretino is cold muscular stuff; Crebillon fils is indirect and prurient, much of the English stuff I’ve glanced at crude, silly, hectic).

The fiction is also again fuelled by autobiography. When to take a (foolish as she says) revenge on Mr H for his casual infidelity with her maid, she seduces a young man from the country, the long sequence is obviously a male in drag (Cleland) seducing a male. Fanny’s descriptions of the handsome body and beauty of Mr H is clearly the same sort of release for the author.

I wish I had time to read Therese Philosophe to see if it is done there or Diderot’s Bijoux Indiscrets. It cannot be a matter of influence since both were published in the same year: 1748. Therese Philosophe is (as I’ve said) superior in outlook in the sense that the discourse of Fanny contradictory will be ever so pious and moral now and again and she is quite a snob. She scorns her maid as hypocritical and coarse when Mr H goes after her. Fanny’s strictures against Mrs Jones, presented as corrupt and awful (beneath her) are absurd in this context. Davies (needless to say?) drops all this and picks up only on the more intelligent stream of comment where Fanny argues that her behavior is what she had to do under the circumstances: indeed this line from this section of the book is moved by Davies to the end of his film adaptation to be its moral lesson: “our virtues and our vices depend too much on our circumstances … (p. 98)


In the film Mr H discovers Fanny and her country bumpkin lover: it’s not really a comic scene as Mr H becomes passionately upset, jealous, out of male pride ejects Fanny (though it’s quite all right for him to be unfaithful is the point of the movie)

I said that in Cleland’s book Fanny’s affair with the young country servant, an act of revenge on Mr H for his infidelity to her is a different kind of release for the author than his descriptions of Fanny’s physical encounters with Mr H. It is clearly a long homosexual series of passages. The alert button here is that Cleland knows it is unrealistic for Fanny to take such chances — that is, to have more than one encounter with the young man. Also Fanny is presented as not particularly promiscuous and even moralistic. Now Cleland must change her character to reckless and not so much promiscuous as self-indulgent, sybaritic. But it’s clear that Cleland wants to write these passages. Now they are as innovative (so to speak) as the heterosexual encounters, probably as erotic (though not to me). He breaks with verisimilitude and what’s more makes his book tedious (at least to me).

I mentioned that there is a certain interest and humor in reading all the different euphemisms Cleland comes up with to describe people’s body parts and what is happening. IN this section what is striking is the cool objectivity with which he’s determined to describe these body parts, really exactly. This too is new to the novel and I suggest this too led to the book being prosecuted.

It is prison literature too. It was first written as a draft a number of years (Cleland claimed) before he was put in prison, but it was while he was in prison, he perfected and extended his draft and made this publishable (well at least it adheres to aesthetic criteria of coherence and the conventions of these young-girl-from-county-enters-the-world transgressive fictions.

By contrast, in the film Davies allows only one encounter between Fanny and the servant, and that one Mr H interrupts — probably not probable but then there is not the problem of the improbability of Fanny taking so many chances and he does not have to present Fanny as promiscuous except when driven by a need to survive).

Book 1 of the novel ends not (as I thought it would) on the downfall of Fanny when Mr H catches her and her lover-country male servant in the act, but after she has secured a place at Mrs Coles’s millinery shop.

There is a real drive to keep this novel euphoric, upbeat. In the feature to the DVD of the film adaptation, the director, screenplay writer, some of the actors and production designer were all asked what they thought was the moral lesson of the novel. Did it have one? Only Samantha Morton who played Mrs Cole denied any. Most emphasized (especially Davies and the actress Rebecca Knight) that it was you, women too, do what they have to do to survive and (Davies) much moralizing is unreal. But the production designer was given the last word; he said it’s a fairy tale because it ends so happily and is continually moving into gaiety. I think that’s so. By contrast, Davies made part 1 end on Fanny losing her beloved Charles and being threatened with destitution with Mrs Jones telling her she must do something or will be ejected from her lodging place.


Mrs Cole (Samantha Bond), a cool businesswoman in the film (her archetype, which is also the warm compromiser, includes Mrs Weston)

In Cleland’s Book 2 we have Fanny developing a real relationship with Mrs Coles. This is what Wagner in his introduction and Nancy Miller in her essay on the novel stress; the womens’ relationship. Mrs Coles is a kindly mother figure cum businesswoman. Fanny our narrator is sceptical of Mrs C’s professed motives (which Davies cuts from the film), that Mrs Cole lost a daughter and Fanny is a substitute, but it’s their talk, a genuine self-conscious novitiate (so to speak), with the nunnery analogy being meant (remember Diderot’s La Religieuse‘s more sexualized sections) that brings the text alive again.

The millinery shop is a front for a brothel, and again we have the obvious vulnerability of women before men, their need to serve men sexually, and the presentation of Mrs Cole is relevant to this: when unlike the landlady (Mrs Jones) Mrs Coles identifies with Fanny, the story becomes a sort of parable of the necessity of female friendship in this 18th century world.

This relationship does remind one of Moll Flanders where Moll has a governess-brothel keeper and chief theft who helps her (rather like Dickens imagines a Fagin does, minus the anti-semitism). Defoe’s character is vaguer and does not present these amoral arguments at all, but the implicit realities are the same. Davies did both films and has Rebecca Knight as Fanny interrogate the audience the way Alex Kingston as Moll did. The contrast is Moll is direct, angry at us, accusing with her hard life; Fanny writes from her standpoint at the end of the book as mistress of a lovely house, and rich and married to Charles so she is looking back and happy.

Nonetheless, like many critics say, Fanny Hill, the book, falls off sharply in Part 2. Fanny is now with Mrs Cole and the narrative stops for the different prostitutes to tell their stories. Things get still and if the separate stories were well-written or original or vivid, it’d be like say Millenium Hall or a number of popular novels from the era which I recall: Fielding’s The Governess is filled with story telling of this type; one about I recall: “The Histories of the Penitents in the Magdalen-House (1760) (anonymous).

But it’s not so. It’s the same story repeatedly: girl seduced, abandoned, probably a common story doubtless but this is art not life. Johnson’s two famous Ramblers about Misella are unforgettable. The point of several stories is to display and enact sex. In this second part the rationale of showing women’s lives (each one is taken advantage of in a different way, or ejected from poverty of parents) is a transparent excuse for long erotic descriptions, each of which presents different facets of sex (one centers on masturbation for example). It is here that Cleland’s book begins to become pornographic. If not openly violent, not openly rendering the women powerless (as in Reage’s Story of O), they are that because this is how they must make a living.

The real flaw in the book is an undistinguished style. Finally good books come alive because the language is not a string of cliched phrases, flung together and that’s what’s happening here. I began to doze

Davies cuts all this, and he inserts a new character: Esther is dragged forward from Volume 1 (she was the one who Fanny came to London with) and has incurred Davies’s Fanny’s suspicion and dislike as the woman who misled when she introduced her to Mrs Brown and then deserted her. Davies’s Esther is the person who hates someone precisely because she wronged her. So they are emotional enemies and the narrative line has antagonism as part of the suspense. Later Esther will bring back Mr H to the brothel … All this is Davies’s addition.


Mrs Cole and Esther greeting Fanny

In this section I can see why I’ve reading postings by women on listservs and blogs where they described having to read this book in a classroom and discuss it as shaming and humiliating, one of the unpleasantness and most unfair experiences they can remember in a classroom. Three girls emerge (Harriet, Emily, and Louise) as the storytellers and then in accordance with their original stories they participate in an orgy — described by Fanny which she then participates in. The rationale is they must get rid of their modesty but to a female reader this is also an ordeal in humiliation which is presented as enjoyable to the woman. There is no sense of the physical reality in Cleland: he really does write like a distanced cold clinically detached male here enjoying power over a woman who gives up all her agency.

So the text does devolute, deliquesce (though that’s not the right word for it either) into long vignettes of sexual encounters of porn. Each is justified by some slender story line, which Andrew Davies has picked up. At first Mrs Cole sells Fanny as a virgin and we see Fanny’s efforts in the hypocrisy line — this may be meant as an exposure of false manners and manipulation. Mr Norbert, in the film a sweet young man, dying, impotent, has a version in the book, not so sweet, not impotent, but someone who submits, is not dominated, and as in the film, in the book Fanny first meets him in the marketplace and brings him home and they develop a genuine relationship.

One story is so precisely like that which caused such a sexual tremor (or was supposed to have) among women viewers of the 1995 P&P that it was imitated by several more Austen films (Lost in Austen, I have found it) and is referred to still: when Colin Firth stripped to his underclothes and dived in a lake to swim. The second story told by Harriet is strikingly like this story — the great lord of the mansion returns unexpectedly on a hot day, strips nearly all his clothes off and dives in a lake while Harriet (the narrator) is in a summer house. The pavillion or summer house is an important motif in women’s erotic literature — it’s a place apart where a girl escapes surveillance. what happens is she is drawn to watch him — but then he sees her and he rushes out and rapes her. Twice. We are asked to believe that after the first onslaught she likes it.

I find it telling that a rape is in this original scene (if it is the text that gave Davies the idea) and has been erased. The original Sleeping Beauty tales are rape stories, telling that it’s been inserted into a woman’s film and then asserted to be just what women want. A joke is now mercifully made of it. Origins tell us something surely?

Colin Firth as Mr Darcy about to plunge in

Cleland’s tone is as happy and cheerful and playful as it is during long sequences in Volume I (Fanny’s falling in love with Charles, the time with Mr H) so this is indeed very ambiguous stuff and anyone who does not admit this upfront so to speak is misrepresenting what’s here. Who is Cleland in this text? who does he stand for? well the powerful male who insists on this as okay and his right and refuses to see or imagine the complicated real life response of people paid to do this sort of thing. It’s an attitude of mind that would not see rape as rape.

Not that it’s moral or judgmental — as in the early parts of volume I. Cleland has forgotten all the moral lessons he wove in early on. Just shed them. No religion in sight either.


Mr Norbert among the women

In the middle section of Volume II (and the first one two) Cleland is really inventing stories that enable him to write long sexually graphic scenes. Mr Norbert is introduced as feeble and seducible so we can get this long presentation of Fanny as utterly hypocritical in how she fools him into thinking she’s a virgin. Step-by step. By contrast Davies divides the “types” so in the film Fanny and Mrs Cole first fool the father of a young virginal man and the emphasis is not on the sexual scene but the delusions of these males and their false pride. Fanny remains Mr Norbert’s mistress for quite a time (we are told) so gets her reward in money and support. Alas, he dies without leaving her anything (just her ill-gotten gains so to speak) and she has to lend herself out again.

In the book she takes on a Mr Balville and we get two long scenes of fetishistic sex where the idea is she is to whip him and whip her. I wondered if this was the first time in a middle class novel (prose style) this kind of scene was ever written, especially the details of the pain. We are to admire Fanny for standing to her bargain and are invited to enjoy these scenes. I didn’t; I had to skim. These are pure porn, but I suppose they have the merit of perhaps being first in the middle class novel? if we think originality a virtue, and I presume we do.

We are now going to get scenes of further permutations of sexual experience. It seems that is Cleland’s aim in Volume II: from the opening swimming rape and other scenes to these.

Davies didn’t quite skip these; he has no Mr Balville but he does has a montage of sexual orgies going on, but he presents it as distasteful after a while — the girls have to keep at it, rather like someone in a factory, and after you’ve stamped one object you really don’t want to stamp another, much less keep going for hours on end — in other words it’s brought home all this is for money. There is enjoyment when there is dancing, exhilaration: there the director of the film brought out how the well-bred dancing is a kind of simulacrum, a controlled version of these more drunken rollicking scenes. There are no such dancing scenes in Cleland’s book. But the overall feel veers between the sordid and girls’ serving men and luxurious salacious moments.

This is a more tasteful shot for the blog (everyone is near naked in many of the scenes of Davies’s movie at this point)

In the film Davies then provides a strong plot-device by bringing back Mr H, involving him with Fanny’s arch-rival, Esther Davies (who is built up as a character across the films). Mr H cannot stand to watch Fanny with other men and there is an explosion of jealousy; he tells the magistrates on Mrs Cole and the house is broke up.

Hugo Speer as the angry hurt Mr H — I find him an attractive man in this film (his role as Sergeant George in Davies’s Bleak House aligns him with other characters who protect and in their perspective help the vulnerable — he teaches Fanny in the film)

In the film we see how helpless the 18th century women are against the men. Mr H is a magistrate himself; he need only complain and the house is destroyed. The women can do nothing. (This is not what happen in Cleland’s book, mind.)

Fanny is left to the streets, and very like Waters’s & Davies’s Tipping the Velvet (book and movie) soon falls to street prostitution and being raped and even beaten.

For the conclusion and some final remarks, see the comment.


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Joanna Baillie

Dear friends and readers,

Another (much delayed) foremother poet blog. Baillie does not need me to remember her as there are numerous sites on line telling of her life and writing. I celebrate her tonight simply because she deserves her fame: her poetry is good. And I place her under Austen Reveries because she’s a contemporary of Austen (and especially Scott).

Once very well-known and highly-respected, Scotswoman and English writer, poet, playwright (of powerful gothic and romantic plays, called “Plays on the Passions,” one of which was the Byronic De Monford: A Tragedy), as powerful in the literary world as Walter Scott himself, Joanna Baillie is now represented in anthologies by long excerpts from poems on the seasons ( “A Summer’s Day” really captures a sense of intense heat), moralizing poems (“A Mother to Her Waking Infant”), high-minded addresses on poetry in contemporary poetic diction (“A Reverie,” “An Address to the Muses”). It’s hard to present her in a nutshell as she did tend to write in longer forms.

I’ve chosen the whole of one medium-length poem, not much reprinted; “Address to a Steam Vessel”; the opening of another, “Lines to a Teapot” (who gradually falls on hard times, more and more unappreciated as it ages), and a sad brief song — and a poem on a kitten. I chose the first because I used to live to ride on ferry boat that went round Manhattan and up to West Point, New York, from mid-town; also I once traveled to England by boat and it took 12 days (1967 that was). The second is quietly poignant, but alas too long for us to see the slow deterioration and dismissal of the lovely object, a teapot, to ratty shelf in a downscale auction. The third is short and somewhat unusual for Baillie. “The Kitten” is too long, too much poetic diction, but it some of the lines resonate, especially the mystery of why these small predatory animals can entrance human beings and I post it because I am grown so fond of my two cats, Clary (a tortoise) and Ian (a ginger tabby). Cat poetry is characteristic of the 18th century (as in Grey’s, Cowper’s, Seward’s), and all four seem to me very much ‘ecriture-femme‘ implicitly.

She does have a real lack it seems to me: like Anna Barbauld she avoids presenting her sexuality overtly and exploring female sexuality from a woman’s point of view frankly. She also does not think politically and thus her poetry seems unmoored from larger social and economic issues. If you delve her dramas, you can find her critiquing human nature opaquely and an enactment of a victim is not the same thing as showing how the victimizing was done through larger enabling and excluding structures. Perhaps I should have included some of her passionate poetry from her closet dramas, but I have been emphasizing non-dramatic poetry here and these passages, like those below, are similarly airbrushed from contemporary politics. Or so they have seemed to me — unlike Byron’s (compare the Two Foscari) which directly challenge religious and political beliefs and expose the underlying cruelties of their enactment.

Address to a Steam Vessel

Freighted with passengers of every sort,
A motley throng, thou leav’st the busy port.
Thy long and ample deck, where scatter’d lie,
Baskets, and cloaks, and shawls of scarlet dye;
Where dogs and children through the crowd are straying,
And, on his bench apart, the fiddler playing,
While matron dames to tressel’d seats repair, –
Seems, on the gleamy waves, a floating fair.

Its dark form on the sky’s pale azure cast,
Towers from this clust’ring group thy pillar’d mast.
The dense smoke issuing from its narrow vent
Is to the air in curly volumes sent,
Which, coiling and uncoiling on the wind,
Trails like a writhing serpent far behind.
Beneath, as each merg’d wheel its motion plies,
On either side the white-churn’d waters rise,
And, newly parted from the noisy fray,
Track with light ridgy foam thy recent way,
Then far diverged, in many a welted line
Of lustre, on the distant surface shine.

Thou hold’st thy course in independent pride;
No leave ask’st thou of either wind or tide.
To whate’er point the breeze, inconstant, veer,
Still doth thy careless helmsman onward steer;
As if the stroke of some magician’s wand
Had lent thee power the ocean to command.
What is this power which thus within thee lurks,
And, all unseen, like a mask’d giant works?
Ev’n that which gentle dames, at morning’s tea,
From silver urn ascending, daily see
With tressy wreathings playing in the air,
Like the loos’d ringlets of a lady’s hair;
Or rising from the enamell’d cup beneath,
With the soft fragrance of an infant’s breath:
That which within the peasant’s humble cot
Comes from th’ uncover’d mouth of sav’ry pot,
As his kind mate prepares his noonday fare,
Which cur, and cat, and rosy urchins share:
That which, all silver’d with the moon’s pale beam,
Precedes the mighty Geyser’s up-cast stream,
What time, with bellowing din exploded forth,
It decks the midnight of the frozen north,
Whilst travellers from their skin-spread couches rise
To gaze upon the sight with wond’ring eyes.

Thou hast to those “in populous city pent”
Glimpses of wild and beauteous nature lent;
A bright remembrance ne’er to be destroyed,
Which proves to them a treasure, long enjoyed,
And for this scope to beings erst confin’d,
I fain would hail thee with a grateful mind.
They who had nought of verdant freshness seen
But suburb orchards choked with colworts green,
Now, seated at their ease may glide along,
Lochlomond’s fair and fairy isles among;
Where bushy promontories fondly peep,
At their own beauty in the nether deep,
O’er drooping birch and berried row’n that lave
Their vagrant branches in the glassy wave:
They, who, on higher objects scarce have counted
Than church’s spire with gilded vane surmounted,
May view, within their near, distinctive ken,
The rocky summits of the lofty Ben;
Or see his purpled shoulders darkly lower
Through the dim drapery of a summer shower.
Where, spread in broad and fair expanse, the Clyde
Mingles his waters with the briny tide,
Along the lesser Cumra’s rocky shore,
With moss and crusted lichens flecker’d o’er,
Ev’n he, who hath but warr’d with thieving cat,
Or from his cupboard chaced a hungry rat,
The city cobbler, — scares the wild sea-mew
In its mid-flight with loud and shrill halloo;
Or valiantly with fearful threat’ning shakes
His lank and greasy head at Kittywakes.
The eyes that have no fairer outline seen
Than chimney’d walls with slated roofs between,
Which hard and harshly edge the smokey sky,
May Aron’s softly-vision’d peaks descry,
Coping with graceful state her steepy sides,
O’er which the cloud’s broad shadow swiftly glides,
And interlacing slopes that gently merge
Into the pearly mist of ocean’s verge.
Eyes which admir’d that work of sordid skill,
The storied structure of a cotton-mill,
May, wond’ring, now behold the unnumber’d host
Of marshall’d pillars on fair Ireland’s coast,
Phalanx on phalanx rang’d with sidelong bend,
Or broken ranks that to the main descend,
Like Pharaoh’s army, on the Red-sea shore,
Which deep and deeper went to rise no more.

Yet ne’ertheless, whate’er we owe to thee,
Rover at will on river, lake, and sea,
As profit’s bait or pleasure’s lure engage,
Thou offspring of that philosophic sage,
Watt, who in heraldry of science ranks
With those to whom men owe high meed of thanks,
And shall not be forgotten, ev’n when Fame
Graves on her annals Davy’s splendid name! –
Dearer to fancy, to the eye more fair
Are the light skiffs, that to the breezy air,
Unfurl their swelling sails of snowy hue
Upon the moving lap of ocean blue:
As the proud swan on summer lake displays,
With plumage bright’ning in the morning rays,
Her fair pavilion of erected wings, –
They change, and veer, and turn like living things.

So fairly rigg’d, with shrouding, sails, and mast,
To brave with manly skill the winter blast
Of every clime, — in vessels rigg’d like these
Did great Columbus cross the western seas,
And to the stinted thoughts of man reveal’d
What yet the course of ages had conceal’d.
In such as these, on high adventure bent,
Round the vast world Magellan’s comrades went.
To such as these are hardy seamen found
As with the ties of kindred feeling bound,
Boasting, as cans of cheering grog they sip,
The varied fortunes of “our gallant ship.”
The offspring these of bold sagacious man
Ere yet the reign of letter’d lore began.

In very truth, compar’d to these thou art
A daily lab’rer, a mechanic swart,
In working weeds array’d of homely grey,
Opposed to gentle nymph or lady gay,
To whose free robes the graceful right is given
To play and dally with the winds of heaven.
Beholding thee, the great of other days
And modern men with all their alter’d ways,
Across my mind with hasty transit gleam,
Like fleeting shadows of a fev’rish dream:
Fretful I gaze with adverse humours teased,
Half sad, half proud, half angry, and half pleased. (1823)

Lines to a Teapot

On thy carved sides, where many a vivid dye
In easy progress leads the wandering eye,
A distant nation’s manners we behold,
To the quick fancy whimsically told.

The small-eyed beauty with her
Mandarin, who o’er the rail of garden arbour lean,
In listless ease; and rocks of arid brown.
On whose sharp crags, in gay profusion blown,
The ample loose-leaved rose appears to grace
The skilful culture of the wondrous place;
The little verdant plat, where with his mate
The golden pheasant holds his gorgeous state,
With gaily crested pate and twisted neck,
Turned jantily his glossy wings to peck;
The smooth-streaked water of a paly gray,
O’er which the checkered bridge lends ready way,
While, by its margin moored, the little boat
Doth with its oars and netted awning float:
A scene in short all soft delights to take in,
A paradise for grave Grandee of Pekin.
With straight small spout, that from thy body fair,
Diverges with a smart vivacious air,
And round, arched handle with gold tracery bound,
And dome-shaped lid with bud or button crowned,
Thou standest complete, fair subject of my rhymes,
A goodly vessel of the olden times ….


What voice is this, thou evening gale!
That mingles with thy rising wail;
And, as it passes, sadly seems
The faint return of youthful dreams?

Though now its strain is wild and drear,
Blithe was it once as sky-lark’s cheer
Sweet as the night-bird’s sweetest song,
Dear as the lisp of infant’s tongue.

It was the voice, at whose sweet flow
The heart did beat, and cheek did glow,
And lip did smile, and eye did weep,
And motioned love the measure keep.

Oft be thy sound, soft gale of even,
Thus to my wistful fancy given;
And, as I list the swelling strain,
The dead shall seem to live again!

Composed earlier; pub. 1840

Clary, looking up, so alert

The Kitten

Wanton droll, whose harmless play
Beguiles the rustic’s closing day,
When, drawn the evening fire about,
Sit aged crone and thoughtless lout,
And child upon his three-foot stool,
Waiting until his supper cool,
And maid, whose cheek outblooms the rose,
As bright the blazing fagot glows,
Who, bending to the friendly light,
Plies her task with busy sleight;
Come, show thy tricks and sportive graces,
Thus circled round with merry faces!

Backward coil’d and crouching low,
With glaring eyeballs watch thy foe,
The housewife’s spindle whirling round,
Or thread or straw that on the ground
Its shadow throws, by urchin sly
Held out to lure thy roving eye;
Then stealing onward, fiercely spring
Upon the tempting faithless thing.
Now, wheeling round with bootless skill,
Thy bo-peep tail provokes thee still,
As still beyond thy curving side
Its jetty tip is seen to glide;
Till from thy centre starting far,
Thou sidelong veerst with rump in air
Erected stiff, and gait awry,
Like madam in her tantrums high;
Though ne’er a madam of them all,
Whose silken kirtle sweeps the hall,
More varied trick and whim displays
To catch the admiring stranger’s gaze.

Doth power in measured verses dwell,
All thy vagaries wild to tell?
Ah no! the start, the jet, the bound,
The giddy scamper round and round,
With leap and toss and high curvet,
And many a whirling somerset,
(Permitted by the modern muse
Expression technical to use)
These mock the deftest rhymester’s skill,
But poor in art, though rich in will.

The featest tumbler, stage bedight,
To thee is but a clumsy wight,
Who every limb and sinew strains
To do what costs thee little pains;
For which, I trow, the gaping crowd
Requite him oft with plaudits loud.

But, stopp’d the while thy wanton play,
Applauses too thy pains repay:
For then, beneath some urchin’s hand
With modest pride thou tak’st thy stand,
While many a stroke of kindness glides
Along thy back and tabby sides.
Dilated swells thy glossy fur,
And loudly croons thy busy purr,
As, timing well the equal sound,
Thy clutching feet bepat the ground,
And all their harmless claws disclose
Like prickles of an early rose,
While softly from thy whisker’d cheek
Thy half-closed eyes peer, mild and meek.

But not alone by cottage fire
Do rustics rude thy feats admire.
The learned sage, whose thoughts explore
The widest range of human lore,
Or with unfetter’d fancy fly
Through airy heights of poesy,
Pausing smiles with alter’d air
To see thee climb his elbow-chair,
Or, struggling on the mat below,
Hold warfare with his slipper’d toe.
The widow’d dame or lonely maid,
Who, in the still but cheerless shade
Of home unsocial, spends her age,
And rarely turns a letter’d page,
Upon her hearth for thee lets fall
The rounded cork or paper ball,
Nor childes thee on thy wicked watch,
The ends of ravell’d skein to catch,
But lets thee have thy wayward will,
Perplexing oft her better skill.

E’en he, whose mind of gloomy bent,
In lonely tower or prison pent,
Reviews the coil of former days,
And loathes the world and all its ways,

What time the lamp’s unsteady gleam
Hath roused him from his moody dream,
Feels, as thou gambol’st round his seat,
His heart of pride less fiercely beat,
And smiles, a link in thee to find,
That joins it still to living kind.

Whence hast thou then, thou witless puss!
The magic power to charm us thus?
Is it that in thy glaring eye
And rapid movements, we descry—
Whilst we at ease, secure from ill,
The chimney corner snugly fill—
A lion darting on his prey,
A tiger at his ruthless play?
Or is it that in thee we trace,
With all thy varied wanton grace,
An emblem, view’d with kindred eye,
Of tricky, restless infancy?
Ah! many a lightly sportive child,
Who hath like thee our wits beguiled,
To dull and sober manhood grown,
With strange recoil our hearts disown.

And so, poor kit! must thou endure,
When thou becom’st a cat demure,
Full many a cuff and angry word,
Chased roughly from the tempting board.
But yet, for that thou hast, I ween,
So oft our favour’d play-mate been,
Soft be the change which thou shalt prove!
When time hath spoil’d thee of our love,
Still be thou deem’d by housewife fat
A comely, careful, mousing cat,
Whose dish is, for the public good,
Replenish’d oft with savoury food,
Nor, when thy span of life is past,
Be thou to pond or dung-hill cast,
But, gently borne on goodman’s spade,
Beneath the decent sod be laid;
And children show with glistening eyes
The place where poor old pussy lies.

Ian in snowlight

Her poems are available in anthologies of 18th century, Scotswoman, and romantic women poets. You do usually have to go to an anthology of women’s poetry (but not always, as in Jerome McCann’s Oxford Book of Romantic Poetry). I recommend Paula R Feldman’s British Women Poets of the Romantic Era both for its sympathetic and perceptive retelling of Baillie’s life and choice of poems. Her plays also appear in anthologies of Romantic plays, but the best is an edition, Plays on the Passions by Joanna Baillie ed. Peter Duthie. To see her treated in her Scottish context, A History of Scottish Women’s Writing, edd. Douglas Gifford and Dorothy McMillan (a wonderful compendium: it includes Scottish women who emigrated as in Scots-Canadians like Alice Munroe). Many links on wikipedia.


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Amanda Root as Anne Elliot, climbing the stairs to the flat in Bath (1995 BBC Persuasion)

Dear friends and readers,

In this group of letters taken as a whole (from the time the Austen’s move to Bath was announced, Letter 29), Jane Austen has been under an immense strain. Like Anne Elliot, Jane’s wishes are consulted last or not at all. Right now (the letter we’re in) I think she is near cracking, on the edge. I’ve never considered before that part of the four years’ lack of of letters includes a period of serious withdrawal/distress/intense upset, but I am doing so now. She came back from it, yes, but that she experienced this for me is an explanation for the deepening of her work between say the juvenilia and the later books.

The mood is not the tremor of intense distress and desperation; there’s now an energy leading to a hilarity at the madness of it all (her wild walks with Mrs Chamberlayne as a way of spending life), a panache fueled by anger. Quite a number of key words here in this letter

Unpleasant, odious, very detestable. Detestable twice — Mr Bramston just bent on being “very detestable” as he needled her by declaring the value of her books at 70 pounds. Hate — she has now come to “I hate tiny parties”. Sometimes the family of meanings is used in reverse: she cannot “utterly abhor” the two female Holders whom it’s the fashionable to find “detestable” because they are “so civil” and dress in “such white”, which the aunt finds an “absurd pretension’ in this “place” (Austen said when in Steventon that laundry would be a big problem without Nanny). Best of all they “have no taste for Music.” Austen was being forced to sit in crowds and listen to the stuff and to people enunciating hypocrisies of all sorts. And then Miss Marianne — remember her from last letter, in just topping health, getting better all the time only Austen couldn’t see her — well now’s she’s dead. “So affectionate a family …” has become “an Angel” in the family false talk — “many a girl on an early death has been praised … on slighter pretensions.”

She does run out on Friday as the “party” supplied her with nothing more in the vein. I wish Austen had written (or Cassandra not erased ) what she said which ‘scandalized” Mrs Busby’s nephew ‘cruelly.” Why 3 children in lieu of 10 comes in here (On the other hand, years later perhaps her invention of Mrs Elton who preens herself on how nasty she can be to “puppies” is her memory of herself — it’s the brilliant deeply empathetic mind which can see it self also from this angle of utter ridicule, and very painful it is too to see oneself thus.)

A woman who is given only one possibility: marriage, and no money to attract anyone with. Besides which she does not want it — we’ve seen that with every recording of endless pregnancies. No job for her — and no independence of any kind. No education for her. This family of hers doesn’t go into sycophantic ditherings of desperation to place her. Her books and piano sold. And now no space — or time.

How long would she endure this? We don’t know, for whatever was her solution — the modus vivendi she finally worked out for the few years she was there and how she came to insist on it and get it — is erased from the record. I suppose the obvious probable: that finally when they did move or within the space of the paragon apartment itself, she did manage to be left sufficiently alone to write (Susan, The Watsons. Lady Susan, manuscripts we no longer have, scraps towards the later books we do) and from a circulating library (a la Fanny Price) read in peace. The first title for _The Watsons_ was the Younger Sister, the person who counted least. And I speculate that a breakdown of some sort occurred. This intense knife-edge she writes out of and its steely control is too strong for a nature to keep up, there comes a crack, and then one comes apart. Don’t misunderstand me, when she came back together — which she did — she had learned something worth knowing as an undercurrent in mature novels.


Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot, climbing the stairs in her father’s apartment in Bath (2007 ITV Persuasion).

And so, to details:

They are at the Paragon still, and likely to stay there for some time to come. The places they can afford are either way too small or seriously damp (and that means unhealthy — we are talking typhoid when Austen uses words like “putrid fever” and “putrifying” for the diseases risked by people who live in such holes). Says our letter-writer: “We have now nothing in view.”

It’s important probably to quote the lines themselves this time, not just paraphrase. So the letter opens:

“To make long sentences upon unpleasant subjects is very odious, & I shall therefore get rid of the one now uppermost in my thoughts as soon as possible.”

But she can’t get rid of it too quickly (or for that matter at all), for what this is about is the central issue of where they shall live? and so what space and privacy she shall have. In her recent book Vickery’s Behind Closed Doors repeatedly makes the point about how ummarried women, especially those with no money (most of them) had terrible troubles securing any private space for themselves they could control.

So their views on Green Park buildings are at an end. (In fact they did move there, but right now I’m not sure when.) The marks from the damp are visible; “reports of discontented families & putrid fevers, has given the coup de grace.” Then the flat: “we now have nothing in view.” Well not quite, when Cassandra comes “we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these putrifying houses again.” Then a many-pathed irony: “they are so very desirable in size & situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.”

The real pain of moving is ever that most people don’t have the money to afford what is really desirable or comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, as well as fitting their ideas of symbols of status and identity. The next time I watch a film adaptation of Austen and am shown these super-luxurious homes whose real subtext is the authoress lived like this I’ll remember this sentence.

So now she turns to answer Cassandra’s enquiries.

They have to endure the quarrels of those they are living with. So Cassandra wants to know why Aunt Jane is angry (or cool) towards Miss Bond. Apparently neither will tell Jane Austen. All that she can garner is Miss Bond felt slighted when the Aunt went on her summer travels last season.

That’s not enough to account for this Austen knows, so she can say only it seems “the oddest kind of quarrel,” and is characterized by the usual hypocrisies of overt social life: “they never visit, but I beleive [sic] they speak very civilly if they meet.” The uncle and Miss Bond do. It’s clear to me the uncle was a reasonable man (last letter trying to help his niece adjust by walking with her).

Then the bits of money and tiny things these people pay such attention to. 4 boxes of lozenges at 1 shilling 1 pence half-penny per box; the whole 4 shilling sixpence. Jane really does think this sum at least “trifling” so she paid the whole.

But note Cassandra wanted an account of it, so Cassandra did not think it trifling.

Mr Austen does not seem eager to come to Bath, no? (As I keep saying, there is something rotten in all this — the evidence to me is clear Mr Austen was as reluctant to leave Steventon and come to Bath as his youngest daughter. So if he can’t get himself to visit the distant uncle, he’ll come to Mrs Lloyd — “unless inconvenient” to Cassandra and Mrs Lloyd. I should say we’ve seen nothing thus far to suggest that Mrs Lloyd’s portrait as a kindly woman strongly discreet (Austen referred to her strong silences in an early letter) is distorted, so Mr Austen is preferring Mrs Lloyd to his wife’s difficult sister and uxorious husband. Then both Mr Austen and Cassandra will come to Bath together, Monday June 1.

Frank too not eager to come to Bath or the Paragon. These are displaced people. He’ll visit friends at Millgate (the Cages).


Ann Firbank as Anne Elliot enduring the constraint, boredom (71 BBC Persuasion)

Then she moves onto the party of people and here’s where her irritation at the absurdities she has now to endure soars into hilarity, a mad walking scene. If you consider how Austen is feeling inside a room, it makes sense this is a release; and pehaps Mrs Chamberlayne felt the same way.

Cassandra had been saying how she was so sure Mrs C and Jane would be great friends. Jane concedes this ironically: oh yes they shake hands whenever they met. Real intimate, aren’t they?
Then their race. I note in Brabourne’s how he changes syntax and makes subtle little changes throughout so the whole tone is lost and dull.

“Our grand walk to Weston was again fixed for Yesterday, & was accomplished in a very striking manner; Every one of the party declined it under some pretence or other except our two selves, & we had therefore a tête-à-tête, but _that_ we should equally have had after the first two yards had half the Inhabitants of Bath set off with us.– It would have amused you to see our progress; — we went up by Sion Hill, & returned across the fields. In climbing a hill Mrs. Chamberlayne is very capital; I could with difficulty keep pace with her — yet would not flinch for the World.– on plain ground I was quite her equal. And so we posted away under a fine hot sun, _She_ without any parasol or any shade to her hat, stopping for nothing, & crossing the Church Yard at Weston with as much expedition as if we were afraid of being buried alive. — After seeing what she is equal to, I cannot help feeling a regard for her. — As to agreeableness, she is much like other people.–

Not very, or anything but. Flat.

The paragraph is as good as anything in the novels. Partly she is perhaps not getting a chance to exercise this power on her manuscripts just now. Note all declined but them

Then in the evening not alone for two Miss Arnolds came, very genteel, very civil (these are word which echo in these letters at the outset of the years in Bath), from Chippenham (a suburb) on business. The lack of a house was immediately brought up – odious or not. Of cousre they recommended one where they live.

Then two more unmarried women. Note how many unmarried women about. They were visited by the two female holders and we get the business of how it’s the fashion to think them “very detestable” but Austen cannot “utterly abhor” them (it’s ironic again) as their gowns are so white and so “nice” (the Aunt was jealous of that and made noises against such a pretension in a place without adequate laundry or servants to do it), but Austen really went for them because they dislike music.

They are not hypocritical is the idea. I note a parallel with S&S: when the Middletons keep coming over and demanding company Marianne and Elinor cannot escape, but we do see Mrs Dashwood occasionally manage with a headache. So Mrs Austen’s “cold” allowed her to decline, but as soon as the Holders decamped, she came forward to look at more houses.

Not that bad a cold. Take a time to consider the female Holders: despised by all and condescended to, a parallel to the Miss Austens in circumstances that’s why they visit. The female Arnolds too.


Anna Hathaway as Jane Austen climbing the stairs on an imagined visit to Anne Radcliffe (2008 Becoming Jane)

And so to the houses in King Street, “smaller” than expected (and size was not expected), one was ‘quite monstrously little” (I wonder if anything like I’ve seen in Manhattan nowadays), the best sitting room not as large as the “little parlour at Steventon, and as for “capacious” ness – -the room were big enough upstairs for “a very small single bed.”

No wonder she then explodes at how she “hates tiny parties.’ How she hates a tiny party — “they force one into constant exertion.” and a list of the people, one of whom she cannot set her “black cap” at as he has a wife and ten children. This nephew is mentioned three times in this letter. Twice here and again at the end, the target of her “scandalous” joke. I wonder if she felt for his wife or him. The ten children floored her — perhaps the expense was on her mind now too.

It’s left-over emotion from that house hunt releasing itself.

As to family life: Jane warns Cassandra the aunt has a “bad cough” and Cassandra must be sure and remember that when Cassandra arrives. Let her not forget to say that Jane had told her too. (What corrosive language, what discomfort wreaked could the aunt have done?)

Then the mother. It seems that Mrs Austen is after all weakening under the misery. Her “resolution of remaining here” (I assume the Paragon, but who knows maybe Bath itself — or is Jane wishing this?) “begins to give way a little; she will not like being left behind & will be glad to compound matters with her enraged family.”

Here we may just have an enigmatic reference to whatever it was that drove the Austens out of Steventon. Mrs Austen’s family (the nuclear one – husband, sons? daughters-in-alw) are described as enraged. Over what? Mrs Austen will not like being left behind? This may be a reference to a coming summer jaunt. Perhaps Mrs Perrot had nagged Mrs Austen into agreeing to keep her company at the Paragon while the family toured. Now she dreads this (as Austen dreaded being left behind in Steventon when the aunt was balking at taking them all). Her “cold disordered her for some days,” but now very well, well enough to have the spirit not to be cowed.

Then the dead Marianne Mapleton. The full sense of these lines suggest that Cassandra had once been a little friendly with the girl, that’s why she cared how she was, and perhaps knew how ill she was. I wrote in the beginning of this week: — remember her from last letter, in just topping health, getting better all the time only Austen couldn’t see her — well now’s she’s dead. “So affectionate a family …” has become “an Angel” in the family false talk — “many a girl on an early death has been praised … on slighter pretensions.” But now looking more carefully there does seem to be an undertow of concern with respect to telling Cassandra about it: “You will be sorry to hear that Marianne Mapleton’s disorder had ended fatally; she was believed out of danger on Sunday, but a sudden relapse carried her off the next day.”

Cassandra has a different nature from Jane’s to some extent and her instinct to a friend pulls her towards a different than Jane’s nature does.

Then the mean teasing of Mrs Bent: Mr Bent seems bent [a pen] upon being very detestable, for he values the books at only 70 pounds, and then the well-known sentence:

“The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expense of another.”


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in London looking up the stairs to Henry’s room where he is ill, Sylvie Herbert as Mme Bigeon behind her (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

It’s worth it to look at the table of contents of Dodsley’s Poems to see what she read. A cross section genuinely reflective of many currents in the era. Apparently the Bramstons bought the volumes. Austen says she would love to resell and resell them.

Now what Cassandra cares about was her “magnesia”: this would be a chemical used medicinally? (maybe a dye?)

At this very end I detect a slightly happier note. Cassandra and the father are on their way and Austen hopes some relief from that


Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra keeping Imogen Poots who as Fanny Austen Knight has climbed the stairs out of Jane’s room (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

The last part of letter 37 has Austen looking forward to Cassandra’s arrival in Bath. The first sentence reminds us it’s not that far — any one place in the UK is not huge distances from another. As is so common, LeFaye does not make a note where she should. Debary’s Coach is dealt with in Daphne Philips’s The Story of Reading (2 chapters on carriages, coaches, the companies running them). Cassandra is making Martha a bonnet and Austen says when she has done that she must use the same materials for a cloak. Very much worn here. Trimming around armholes. Catherine Bigg’s sleeves are long all round (sort of sweeping I guess). I note that they are in black in this letter (Jane sets a black cap at the nephew). Doubtless some relative however far they want visibly to be connected to by wearing mourning.

The Pickfords please Austen a bit more than anyone in this letter. She’s the most “elegant looking” woman Jane has seen since she left Martha. (She does like Martha.) The dullness of this passage Jane excuses by saying she got no new ideas from the (yet another) party they went to last night.

Then a dig or slur at Godwin — Mr Pickford is as “raffish” as Jane wishes any disciple of Godwin to be. It means vulgar and crude. (I’ve been reading Southey’s Letters from England and it’s excellent a moderate liberal enlightened book; these kinds of slurs suggest those who persist in seeing Austen as politically of the left are wrong. Of course LeFaye’s note on this couple just is a tautology. Austen likes them because they seem to her of higher status. It must be admitted that part of her despair is that of her mother who was determined to keep a status up as they came to Bath. They are finding themselves with the fringe semi-impoverished genteel types.

And then her joke, though why it’s a scandal to pretend a man with ten children has only three is beyond me.


Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet coming down stairs at Netherfield, Jane upstairs ill (1995 BBC P&P)

On Jane Austen’s childhood (which came under discussion on Austen-l), I’m taken neither by an idyllic outlook nor one of wretched misery. Both are unreal in this case (I don’t rule out terrible misery for many people on this earth during childhood, and perhaps there are a tiny lucky few who have idyls.)

It seems to me Austen did experience a fundamental cognitive alienation early on — she saw the world from highly individual eyes and did not take the views of those around her. It took her a time for her to discover and validate this. Now this comes partly from being hurt, from not fitting in, from the way she was treated — which we have seen in spades in these letters and are now confronted with whole hog. She is “the youngest sister,” her wishes come last or not at all. Right now (the letter we’re in) I think she is near cracking, on the edge, under immense strain I’d put it. It’s not an abysm of loss or punishment or abuse either: she had had much to enjoy and was given much by her family as a child, partly because of the rank they were in and their access to comforts, books, education, a lovely landscape. But all were taken from her — and it must’ve seemed for a long time to come.

Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot cracking under strain of many years (2007 ITV Persuasion)

The point of my reading the letters is not only to see through the biographies and where they got their stuff but to get around and beyond them to some new view — or at least a qualified one from that I’ve had before. And I’ve changed my mind on a number of things now and been newly strongly alerted to others. One change: yes the love for Lefroy mattered and it mattered a lot. Newly alerted: her identification or strong bonding with her father and Francis and her alienation from, irritation by the mother. Reinforced: what a harridan was the aunt. The relationship with Henry as amicable, congenial. Still puzzled: how she felt about James and think it will be hard for when he went against his best and deepest impulses (poet, his love of books) to please the strong resentful, jealous wife, Mary, Austen was herself at a loss in front of him. She registers much less anger at him over his taking over Steventon than his wife, much less than the real irritation and jealousy, distaste at aspects of Edward and Elizabeth’s treatment of others.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 , 26 , 27, 28 29, 3031, 3233 and 34, 35, 36


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Private party card-playing in Bath (1995 BBC Persuasion), with Anne Elliot sitting not far off & telling Mr Elliot what good company really is

Dear friends and readers.

And so now it’s here — living in Bath — and in Austen’s letter there is an underlying tremor of disquiet or distress (see letter 35). She cannot keep her spirits artificially up, cannot pretend to herself to like this continual performative social life with its continual coping with impersonal yet known people (and people who know who she is, what status). She has been forced to sell her most precious things — aspects of her identity – her pianoforte (fetched much less than their cows), her books whose price-tag no one will tell her ” “I am more anxious to know the amount of my books, especially as they are said to have sold well.”

Her books, those understood to be hers, that perhaps she purchased, it’s a help in her pride and self-esteem to think they were valued by someone else. She is living with how little the beloved pianoforte fetched. She cannot herself get reliable numbers and says James, her brother, hurried to Mrs Lloyd to “forestall” what information (perspective, interpretation) = “intelligence of the Sale” she Austen would have given. She can’t get or give information, cut off.

I suddenly wondered if the “disappearance” of Austen for 4 years — the destruction of the probable letters she would have written to Cassandra going and coming as usual – might be the result of a breakdown. It’s not in character as we know her from the letters, but one can quietly break down partially. Emily Dickinson probably did; Ann Radcliffe did. This would not fit with my idea of her keeping writing (the rewrite of NA — then probably untitled as Susan, the Watsons ms) but is possible if the breakdown only partial. She doesn’t want to do X or Y but can do Z. But Tomalin and others have maintained that she did stop writing altogether, at least for a time.

Let us not avert our eyes from this desperate letter.


Kippington, Kent

Austen opens by saying her mother has had a letter from Mary Austen, she from Frank and she assumes (hopes) her grey interlocutor is “by some means or other . . . equally instructed,” “for I do not feel inclined to transcribe the letter” (s).

Mary Gibson married Frank Austen on July 24, 1806 at Ramsgate; that was 5 years in the future. By the first sentence it seems they are now a couple, but one not ready to marry. The various (very general and vaguish) comments about Mary Gibson suggest she was enormously obliging; when her and Frank’s love is mentioned with any detail, the stress falls on how she will do anything to oblige him (“her unwearned endeavours to promote his comfort and happiness”, Lane, JA’sFamily, p 142). She either did enjoy satiric books or she was willing to pretend to: in a later letter Jane Austen is glad to report that Mrs FA “enjoys [Female Quixote] as one could wish, [in comparison to] Mary Austen (Mrs James) who made it plain (obnoxious of her) that she “has little pleasure from that or any other book” (JA’s Family 149). In another later letter Jane Austen thanks Frank for his and Mary’s “superior kindness” during the time P&P was first selling and seemed a big hit. I suppose they made an effort to show how much they appreciated the book. “Superior kindness” suggests that other relatives did quite the opposite (shoring up Harman’s sense that the intimate truth was like many people then and since when little money is involved, there was no appreciation, and for women at the time writing was disdained). Against this is the reality that when Frank was away in Southampton, Mary Gibson continually went off on her own to her relatives, or is described as elsewhere. She was discreet and kept well away from anything that would involve her in this group of women living with (and off) her husband.

So Jane declines either to paraphrase or say what’s in the letter. She hopes that Cassandra is ‘by some means or other equally instructed” — but how could she? So there was something in the letter Austen found inimical to her to the point she couldn’t retell or quote it.

Perhaps Austen insinuates that someone else will tell Cassandra (as James “forestalled” her); Cassandra does know this that Mr Austen and Frank have put off their visit to Kippington. Kippington was the house owned by another member of the more extended family of Austens: Francis Motley-Austen. As Mr Austen loses his base (his home) and much of his regular income, he thought to shore up his connections with further off relatives, perhaps thinking of the future and hoping he could rely on (ask them for) things. But on second thought he may have realized it’s probably useless — one can never tell if such “investments” in time will pay off. Often they don’t, and since there has been no mention of this person until now and the early history of George Austen’s extended family shows the children (him too) broken up and parceled out. On the other hand, he was one of the uncles who helped George when young.

There is an idealized picture of the man (Maggie Lane, JA’s Family, pp 35-38); he was intelligent recognized intelligence in the boy and helped towards his living expenses. He himself though was not exactly a spontaneous type; he married late and for money a woman 20 years older than himself P.. 38). The relationship was not that close: Francis-Motley was the son of one of Elizabeth’s (that older woman cheated out of so much money by the father-in-law who worked so hard to provide for her many children rather than give all to one son), while George (much younger) was the son of another. Uncle and nephew in a huge clan. But there had been a visit paid in 1788 (JA’s Family, 87-88) and Maggie Lane again tells us about the rich woman this man had married (her legacy). Henry Austen was ironic when referring to this as “a small legacy of 100.000 pounds” — my sense here is the man talked as if it was small lest he be asked to contribute to anyone else. Continually Lane talks about how kind the man was and how we must imagine how kind and happy the visit; if so they did not pay another. When he had purchases Kippington, he did give George 500 pounds (a helluva lot).

Still Mr Austen didn’t visit, put it off, not sure of welcome or what he can do there for himself or his naval son. Jane says Mr Austen was absent from home then but they could have simply rearranged.

Throughout we have seen Mr Austen struggling to meet his moral obligations (where no one else does) with nothing to make others agree; as early on in Jane’s letters she is herself mortified by planning and anxiety over sycophantic letters for the naval sons’ places, so now he is doing the same.

It’s this context that Austen’s comment about how James hurried off to forestall the story that George Austen’s family will tell — to whom? why Mrs Lloyd, a rich lady the two sisters like but whom also it behoves everyone to curry favor with. There is something that happened that reflects badly on James or could and he is determined to get there first to tell his side of things.

And then the story comes out. 61 guineas and a half for cows — what people in the farmlands values and only 11 for the tables. People may remember that an earlier letter (in better times) had Jane very happy, delighted over these tables.

So this is what it came to then, what the world thought of them.

The world as seen in the buyers didn’t think much of Jane’s piano either — 8 — and she registers intense anxiety to know how much her books fetched.

All she valued sold at cheap prices. And she’s no power to stop it.

[A modern example; given how small society security now is as over the decades Congress has declined to make it keep up for real with the cost of living, even though it helps enormously keep millions of aged people off the streets, or dependent on younger relatives, I doubt we’d find Mr Austen’s conduct much different, He would still be at this loss, and his female relatives looking forward to a highly uncertain future — really unless someone intervenes, destitution. Luckily for them Elizabeth died in time and Edward held onto his inheritance as an adopted son.

No it doesn’t bear thinking about if he hadn’t.

It’s telling to me it’s Francis who was going to go to the uncle with his father — Francis helped provide the Southampton house. In the novels “F” is a special letter, Elinor’s beloved has a name with an F, so does Jane Fairfax, and then Anne Elliot. Fanny is in love intensely with William as much as Edmund, more fervent openly. They would go to live together says William — naively of course. My guess is Jane did not retell Mary’s letter because it hurt her to see this tie replace her. She wrote (as we know though we have none of these letters, immediately destroyed upon Francis’s death) continually to her brother.

So much distress, a real tremor. Like an earth quake underneath emotionally.


The assembly rooms, upper Bath

So now we get Jane’s “adventures” thus far in Bath. Not very numerous — Diane gives us am accurate description when she says these not congenial and people she’s forced to keep company with as they are there. Basically she’s bored and restless, not allowed to live the life that is within her as she was at Steventon. She casts about actually to say the best she can of this, what Cassandra will endure or tolerate or approve of.

Of Mrs Lillington all LeFaye will tell us is she was someone who lived in Rivers Street and died 1806. Hardly anyone there (why should there be? what would they get out of this) but were not as “stupid” (mindless talk, wholly unimaginative) as she had expected. Perhaps it was that she was well-dressed and so brightened the company a bit?

Sunday church twice, and a walk “in the Crescent fields.” Austen does like landscape. But it was “too cold to stay long.”

Then this house they are considering: not “inviting.” She does not want to live there. Damp. People keep telling them (the landlord, others who live there and keep a firm front to the world) that “no inconvenience form the river is felt”. They are liberty to take these. But I note they don’t. Why a “western aspect” is no good I am not sure. We see Lady Catherine de Bourgh sneer at rooms with a western aspect. For my part I like an afternoon sun streaming in; the morning sun is cheerful but both aspects seem to me equivalent (some time during the day the room will be dull)

Then it’s evening and of course they must go to the assembly rooms. They are living with the uncle and aunt and have no private space of their own as yet. (In our own times, again, for contrast, Austen would have TV, internet, central heat, perhaps some books of her own, who knows perhaps a small income from a job; but nothing of that here). Miss Winston latched onto them. This is analogous to the way the Miss Steeles latched onto Mrs Jennings and by virtue of a very far relationship maneuvred an invitation. Miss Winstone nowhere as tenacious (not a cousin either). Austen says she dressed as well as she could and hopes Cassandra does likewise.

Dull. Only four couple. In this description of Bath’s assembly rooms we have diurnal reality — it’s like the difference between vacation in a brochure about a hotel and the real experience of the hotel. Movies may show gaiety and crowds but on a daily basis people will not put themselves out or spend beyond what they need.

Thus the context for “After tea we cheered up. Efforts were made once some drink was had. Austen attributes the paucity of people to the growth of private parties and what that does to public life. She registers this in Persuasion. How humanity loves to exclude but it’s not much fun for those excluded (not those doing the exclusion as it’s based on class, rank, money and I suppose for those who enjoy looking down at others and feeling special that’s the pleasure — we have that nowadays when one goes out to many places, a room set apart for patrons who paid more with guards or someine in front to make sure only those who paid more can get in — or have an invitation).

It’s here she brings in her narrow way of talking about Ms Twisleton: “an adulteress” (who LeFaye determinedly does not explain). What a way to refer to someone. (Diane trying to find something here of consolation says Austen went to church twice and infers maybe she wanted to and thus found some peace there. On the other hand, such words come out of narrow evangelical thought , rigid, ignoring realities of life then (and now). ). I looked up Ms Twisleton: she was mistress to Charles Taylor, the MP for Bath. She was the daughter of Lord Saye and Sele who twice tried to kill himself — the Austens visited this woman at Stonelight — a detail not much mentioned today either as people marvel over this rich house. Mrs Austen omits this human reality in her letter chortling with joy over the number of windows. I think that Mr Collins’ ecstacy over numbers of windows at Rosings shows Austen’s response to such ga-ga talk. In the novels we get something truer; we have to remember this letter is to go to Cassandra (Nokes alone brings in this central realty of the woman at Stoneleigh — daughter fled, husband depressed, 238 p 308).

I’d say that the woman was defying social norms by coming out: George Eliot did not go out in public unless she was with congenial people once she and Lewes went to live openly together. So the woman was brave and maybe her silliness (gaiety) was a hard-worked front. and the woman running round the room after her drunken husband. These details and similiar kinds of others have been quoted by those writing about the letters. But I feel they are but one passage, a few sentences of the whole and should be seen as part of this let-down (very “silly” Miss Twisledon looked Nasty crask about Mrs Leigh — not so pretty, a hairless face (does she lack eyebrows or eyelashes – well then she didn’t wear make-up), highly rouged, looked contented. Ms Twisledon was living a life as pleasant to herself and with more personal liberty than Austen.

Then the poor woman running after a mortifyingly drunk husband — Mrs Badcock. Again Jane finds this amusing in her letter but when it comes to describing mortification at embarrassing behavior in the novels (say Netherfield assembly in P&P) the case is altered. Elizabeth feels harrowed within.

Then the return visit of the Evelyns to the Perrots and Jane and Mrs Austen and how glad they were to meet again. Right. Austen catches this up in “all that.” Off to Goucestershire (where Catherine Morland went) and the Dolphins tomorrow. Glad to get out.

A Mr Woodward married a Miss Rowe rich in money and music (unlike Miss Jane Austen).

Cassandra’s letter now has arrived with many particulars of the sales Jane brought up in her first paragraph. Of course Mary (MRs J) is minute to think about her gains. Austen holds onto these things this way: they know nothing of what was goten for Cows, Bacon, Hopes, Tables, her father’s Chest of Drawers and Study Table.

Now she answers Cassandra’s behests. Yes she will attend to Mrs Lloyd’s chores. Will remember how Mrs Lloyd abhors Musk the next time she writes. Did Austen perfume her previous letter?. She’s gone three times to the Mapletons, a physician in Bath one of whose daughters was named Marianne.

She is always told Marianne is better: “I am always told she is better.” Of course she is. Endless ceaseless hypocrisy, nothing to be learned about anyone that matters. The complaint is called “bilious fever” This is when someone is nauseous, vomits, suffers high fever and often cited as cause of death on certificates. Mrs Lloyd or Cassandra wanted to know if this woman was dead yet. Jane says she did not see her.

Imagine this visit.

Then that yes she likes her dark gown, everything about it, will have her white one made up for the one last visit to the rooms, this coming Monday. Last time with respect to what? This year? or that she has asserted her right not to go to where she doesn’t have a good time

I’ll stop here as this is too long already and Austen stopped until the next day. How much longer she endured this with equanimity we cannot know as Cassandra destroyed the letters starring the end of May this year and until 1804.

I would not want to be her, oh no, nor does she want to be her as she is constructed and forced to be in this letter. She says in a much later letter to the librarian (everyone nowadays like to laugh at) she would loathe the life of a courtier. As Fanny Burney apparently did. We may assume when she got back she had her room to be in and was at nobody’s beck and call once the night came.


Canal in Sydney Gardens, Bath

She records another “intolerable” evening. Her use of the word “stupid” means dull, with implications that it exasperated and vexed her (the stupid card table), totally lacking anything mental. Since one gets no feeling that in Hampshire in general or visiting and being visited she was surrounded by really clever or well-read educated people, I assume that the contrast here is she was free in her evenings at Steventon to read and to write or be silent and did not have to attend to irritating socializing. She says if only the crowd were larger. She can’t escape listening t the stupidity.

Just enough for one card table (4) plus 6 to look over. Another table was formed around her uncle but it was just as mindless and the people inescapable.

I can’t resist remembering Saki’s famous (irreverent comment) about what WW1 in the trenches had been like: Oh, my dear, the noise, and the people (!)

When she says she cannot continue to find people agreeable, she means she can’t keep up the pretense. I surmise that means not only in letters but face-to-face. It’s getting too much.

She can respect Mrs Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but that’s not enough. Then we get a series of insults — because she’s being asked to endure these people close up. I suppose it’s a kind of life in a coffin — the glass bowl being one where what matters to here is cut off, without air to breathe to survive.

So Miss Langley is short, broad nose, wide mouth, fashionable dress, big breasts.

The joke about Admiral Stanhope may have something salacious — I wonder why all those who quote vices and rears didn’t catch this: short legs and a long tail. I hesitate to guess.

The one person she could have endured was Mrs Stanhope and she didn’t come. Maybe Jane thinks she could have endured her because she wasn’t there.

Again I see the uncle (like Austen’s father) trying for her. He says he has got over his lameness but I note he needs that stick to walk. He is walking out with his niece. Maybe she needed someone to be with her when they went far. They have a long planned walk to “the Cassoon.” It was one of the locks so they would have something to watch. (I’ve seen a miniature working lock here in Alexandria — it’s now shut down but it was still in partial operation as a curiosity in a museum when I first came here).

And on Friday a trip is planned for a small group to Weston — a suburb or one the northwest outskirts of the central city. It does seem as if the Perrots and her mother realize she needs some outlet.

More news at the end of the Kippington attempt. Mr Austen has given it up — Kippington is in West Kent. So Mr Austen has given up all hope of any help from his older uncle. Mr Austen will visit with Edward and then join them in Bath.

A PS reassures Cassandra the mother is NOT ill. The word “bilious” does suggest something serious, but it may have been psychosomatic too. We’ve seen a little bit in these letters to suggest Mrs Austen found the move considerably stressful too. She was eager during the trip to Bath to make sure everyone around them did not think they were of low status.

Weston Church, Bath

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 , 26 , 27, 28 29, 3031, 3233 and 34, 35.


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Olivia Williams as Jane Austen (Miss Austen Regrets) at Godersham

Dear friends and readers,

I’m opening a sequel to my Reveries under the Sign of Austen at livejournal (now retitled Under the Sign of Sylvia).  LiveJournal has been under attack for some weeks now and I find I can’t cope with the many outages and freakish working of their software. So this will be a continuation. I begin with the icon I used at the old Reveries under the Sign of Austen. My older blog will now be autobiographical, seasonal, personal, a story of my inward life.

Basically this blog is for all things about and related to Jane Austen. I take a generous view of all things Jane Austen all the time: under her sign I include women writers whose work connects to hers either through era (long 18th century), type (subjective novelistic), gender (so women’s historical romance or novels belongs), what she was influenced by and read and those influenced by her art (from Burney and Smith and Genlis and Radcliffe to Gaskell and Eliot and Oliphant to E. M. Forster and Drabble and Chantal Thomas).  I include film adaptations beyond those directly of her novels – costume drama specifically targeted to include women’s point of view as well as modern films made by and for women (so Saul Dibbs’s The Duchess comes in here).

My blog header for now comes from one of my favorite nineteenth-century painters, John Atkinson Grimshaw, Golden Light (1836-93); it is an idyllic view of the suburbs of Leeds in 1883. I lived in Leeds between 1968 and 1970. My icon is Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood standing on the cobb looking out at the sea, enduring what’s to come.

I will be working on categorizing all 207 blogs (which came over with 1198 comments) and putting in appropriate links where I can — probably for some time to come.


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Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just watched for what feels like an umpteenth time (though I am not at all as yet tired of it) the 2007 Granada Northanger Abbey, screenplay Andrew Davies, directed by Jon Jones, produced by Keith Thompson. I’m seeking to understand how pairs of women are used in the film. Is there a contrapuntal story here?

Happy eager faces of Mrs Allen (Sylvestre Le Tousel) and Catherine (Felicity Jones) upon arrival

Well, I’ve been taught once again that you don’t begin to know a film unless you go super-slowly through it, shot by shot, and line by line.  What I discovered is first that this film has a larger proportion of scenes of paired women in any of Davies’s Austen movies — I admit I’ve not yet finished Davies 1999 Wives and Daughters out of Gaskell or properly studied his 2007 Fanny Hill out of Cleland. Perhaps these have as many or more, especially if we include the in W&D step-mother and mother-daughter scenes and those of Mrs Hamley with Molly, Lady Harriet with Molly and in Fanny Hill madame-and-sex worker scenes.  At any rate the NA 94 minute movie has at least 22 scenes of female friendship! at least among the explicitly Austen films he made it’s the most dominated by the theme of female friendship.  If one adds Catherine and Mrs Allen (at least 4) and Catherine and her mother (one alone), there are 27.

Second it is the only of Davies’s films where he sets up two competing pairs of friends, so that we have two contrapuntal stories beyond the five main heterosexual romance stories (Henry and Catherine; John Thorpe and Catherine; James Morland and Isabella; Frederick Tilney and Isabella; Eleanor and Edward [the unnamed suitor from Austen’s last page is given a name and even a presence). At the same time Isabella and Catherine’s friendship is gradually replaced by Catherine’s friendship with Eleanor Tilney; and there are scenes where the three presences are aware of one another and felt interacting. Davies also replaces Henry with Eleanor in key scenes from Austen and Part 7 (at Northanger Abbey while Henry is gone to Woodston) they are almost continuously the central plot-design.

By contrast, in the 6 hour P&P I counted some 17 scenes between Jane and Elizabeth; Elizabeth and Charlotte have six all alone scenes, which for meaning and emotional temperature are perhaps more interesting and at least as important as those between Jane and Elizabeth, but still just six. In the 3 hour S&S I counted 23 scenes between Elinor and Marianne; there are four full scenes of Elinor and her mother, one of Marianne and the mother; one each of Elinor, Marianne and the mother with Margaret.  In the 94 minute Emma, 13 scenes between Emma and Harriet, 3 or 4 between Mrs Weston and Emma (depending if you insist the women be alone) and two between Jane Fairfax and Emma. (Do not laugh at my attempts to count; it is so easy to mis-see a film, to remember it awry, that one can only begin to grasp them if you literally count shots and sequences of shots, and take careful notes on their arrangement.) And in none of these are the friendships interrelated — though they could have been in an Emma.  For example, in the McGrath 1996 Emma, Mrs Weston remains Emma’s closest friends, with scenes of friendship between them added, and scenes of advice replacing some between Emma and Mr Knightley. In the 2009 Emma Sandy Welch does make moves to try to form an implicit friendship through silent scenes and gestures between Emma and Jane; this needs more study before I can say more. In the more literally faithful the 1972 and Davies’s 1996 Emma Jane Fairfax does not replace Harriet and Mrs Weston separates herself from Emma as Mr Weston’s wife.

That the theme of female friendship is important in Austen’s book is picked up in Victor Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise. Ruby has to integrate herself into the community by getting a job; she is hired by Mildred Chambers (Dorothy Lyman) who eventually tells Ruby she hired her because saw herself in Ruby: The older woman becomes the younger one’s mentor and friend, eventually herself partly dependent on Ruby. Mrs Chambers runs a tourist souvenir and clothing store whose downscale nature does not deter people from buying sprees.

Ruby is also befriended by an African-American teenage girl who works in the store, Rochelle Bridges (Allison Dean): Rochelle is also taking a business course in a local college and looks forward to marriage. They eat together, go dancing, walk on the beach, share past memories, dreams and hopes. Rochelle functions like Eleanor Tilney in a number of the conversations, including one where she gives Ruby money when Ruby desperately needs it. A memorable moment occurs when they speak of “how to survive with your soul intact.” We get a continuum of young women who make different choices in life. Ruby helps and is helped by Debrah Ann (Betsy Douds), a high-school drop-out dependent on the two young men she lives with. They occasionally beat her, and when Ruby lets Betsy stay the night in her apartment, Betsy sees Ruby’s picture of Ruby’s grandmother and says one of her problems is as a child she had no mother or grandmother to be with her. Ruby is physically helped by the stronger older women who work at the laundromat, and cheered by a Southern Asian young woman who lives near Ruby and is presented as proud and contented to be doing menial housework as a member of a tightly-knit family of immigrants.


So in the 2007 NA by Davies:  what themes emerge from this thicket of female friendship; how do they comment on or affect the main heterosexual romance stories? and how do they shape or reflect upon the gothic as reveled in and critiqued in the film? I noticed another repeating pattern:  Davies adds nightmare-reverie dream sequences, bookish scenes (where a voice-over indicates a character reading), and waking scenes in the morning to contrast with, and occasionally undermine his nightmare reveries

Group friend scenes (two Thorpes, and James) remind me of group scenes in Bridget: they lead Bridget astray.

One theme is that in real life many men abrasive, rude, coarse, lying; Henry is the ideal between this ugly reality and what Davies presents as innocent girls’ misguided fancies about sex. Theme of kindness and courtesy and simple truth matter (the Thorpes and the bad gothic characters are rude coercive say anything). Probably consonant with Austen

By bringing Edward on stage in country walk scene changes whole shape of scene; a second walk by Northanger (Pt 5, Scene 11) with Eleanor holding back makes a parallel. Makes it much tighter; shows Henry and Eleanor’s mutual support. Again consonant but also making Henry much less awkward figure than in the book, prepares for his virtuous rebellion (Ch 30, last 3 paragraphs).

Where it’s not consonant is paradoxically a dismissal of the gothic, the trivializing of it at the same time as there’s no deflation. A motif is General at top of stairs like some ominous all powerful Dracula. The sexy quotations from the Monk combined with Henry — we may be expected to intuit that Catherine has some less than virtuous impulses when it comes to sex; this is confirmed by Eleanor smiling over Catherine’s ashamed avowals of her dreams. This one using the Monk is the most daring sex scene in all the Austen movies and gotten away with under cover of Monk.  This is unlike Austen who is on the side of repression in this novel. The sympathy for Isabella who went to straight sex is Davies’s extrapolation and not consonant if understandable.

I have listed of the gothic scenes in the comments to the blog. I have limited the list of women’s friendship scenes to Catherine and Isabella and Catherine and Eleanor Tilney. I don’t include Catherine and Mrs Allen or Catherine and her mother at the close because while these are changed from Austen (Mrs Allen is made into an affectionate well-meaning if occasionally mindless woman rather than a dull-nit who is there to provide suggestive jokes) they do not seem to me to have an original meaning beyond boistering the idealism and good feeling of Catherine’s home life.

An interesting motif is Isabella and Catherine scenes are shot in parallel with girls seen as standing close, walking close, intertwined arms, and from the waist up, while Eleanor and Catherine are seen in their full bodies and again and again walking in wood and forest and by stream.

I love casual glimpses of worlds beyond, often suggestive of sex life of adults carried on through privacy one can get in the streets and no where else

Catherine looking out window, wants to know what are their stories but Mr Allen remains stoutly uninterested in anyone not eager or content to sit by a fire.  A different time of life is what Catherine and the people outside have. (Pt 1, Scene 7) Throughout Mr Allen kind, patient, sensible, looking out for Catherine as best he can, no need for too much given milieu


The grid:

Part 1; Northanger Abbey,
Scene 6:  first happy encounter of Isabella with her fiance’s sister.  Isabella comes on strong and Catherine presents fresh happy innocent face
Scene 7:  Two girls talking gothics. Curiously vacuous talk from Isabella; insinuating about sex as if it’s all fun and games; seen through books. Again insinuating talk without actual content.

Scene 8:  tracking shots combine of them in pump room, Isabella bad-mouthing Tilneys (Catherine asserts against this what she intuitively knows to be so: "surely you are mistaken Mr Tilney could not have been kinder or more gentleman like"), quoting her brother, chasing after young men. Include gnomic presentation of theme from hypocrite Isabella: "appearances deceive …"
Scene 11: first encounter with Eleanor, and (as opposed to book) Catherine assumes it’s a girlfriend, relieved to find a sister; "Catherine: I"m very happy to meet you Miss Tilney. Eleanor: And I you . Henry has told me so much about you/ this melts into the two in a tete-a-tete. As with Isabella meeting through brothers.

Scene 12: Catherine and Eleanor becoming acquainted, feels like there was a cut of another scene Strong contrast in amount of simple emotional truth and facts gotten in.  "Our mother is dead." "More than anything" Catherine "likes long walks" but cannot persuade Isabella who finds long walks boring. "Yes I can see that she might."

Part 3: Deceived

Scene 4:  Catherine and Isabella in bed over Udolpho; false, flattery used to substitute for confidence; to Catherine’s real discomfort and vexation over her failure to meet the Tilneys, Isabella offers lies about John finding her prettiest, liking her best; switches to have far have you gotten ..; titillating reference to black veil says what Davies thinks of it and then she can read The Monk; repetition of cant: John "spoke of it as really horrid". Horrid shocking thing in the world; lines from Udolpho suggest Davies never read it. Carey Mulligan’s posture is continually hovering over Catherine and insinuating whispers and it seems to work; seducing scenes quite different from any in P&P, S&S, Emma. Does not like traditional female or male Gothic, but does not see as much harm as what it’s used for

Part 4: The Next Dance
Scene 4: Kneeling scene of Isabella confessing her love — curiously vacuous. Her conversation lacks content, is filled with cant assertions or specific kinds of lies intended to be manipulative
Scene 6: Isabella and Catherine bid adieu to young men, brothers and Isabella voices what is probably a genuine worry if tone and ecstatic euphoric adoring specifics of words are insincere: she has no fortune and were the position reversed her mother would not permit it..Catherine listens intently throughout and reacts as if the words have meaning, thus taken aback at Isabella’s assertions if she had millions she would choose only James

Scene 7: Isabella and Catherine entering assembly, very short, how she is not going to dance and seeking out Charles Hodge. Catherine listening as if Isabella is truthful and for real; at end Catherine smiling happily at Isabella’s loyalty

Scene 9: Carriage ride back, Isabella is transparent ("He is the eldest son you know … the heir … not that that weighs anything with me …") and probably thinks Catherine a hypocrite and pretending not to understand her When Isabella says "John will say anything that comes into his head .. I hardly ever take any notice of him," Catherine: "how does one know what to believe .."

Part 5: The Invitation
Scene 1: Catherine (sour expression left over from what she saw in Isabella) with Eleanor walking in same wood supposed in Bath.

Generous assessment of Eleanor, identifying with Isabella, assuming sincerity. Beautiful moment with Henry just ahead. Eleanor lives with her loss, Henry depressed to the side.

Eleanor. I can well understand how she feels … but at least she can marry the man she loves not everyone is so fortunate.
Catherine: I suppose not. How sad that is,
Eleanor is remembering herself. Yes. It is. But how many couples marry without love?
Catherine: I believed my mother and father love each other even more than they love us. And they love us very much. When I was a little girl I used to think it was like that for everyone, but it was only when I started to read novels that I realized it was not.
Eleanor: I shouldn’t have thought one would have to read novels to find that out. I think you had quite a dangerous upbringing.
Catherine: Dangerous how?
Eleanor: Well it is as Henry says you’ve been brought up to believe [we see Henry ahead now] that everyone is as pure in heart as you are.
Catherine: I … I do not think I’m very pure in heart.
Eleanor: Really, why?
Catherine (whispering): I have the most terrible dreams sometimes [we are to recall previous one of Isabella in power of Captain Tilney] — Eleanor smiles. She does not ratchet up the experience and oh and ah, her face turns slightly away to hide. They laugh
Henry: What is the joke?
Eleanor: Nothing that concerns you …"

This is a good dialogue with a content suggestive of rich debates like in Emma, also P&P and S&S. Dialogues of Isabella and Catherine have this strangeness. Generous assessment of Eleanor, identifying with Isabella, assuming sincerity

Scene 3: Isabella and Catherine hard upon General’s invitation Isabella utters "Northanger Abbey." (Threading Isabella and Catherine scenes into Eleanor and Catherine ones now.) Very disturbing behavior in several ways: — trying to pressure Catherine over John, pretending not to understand her and then drops it because Frederick comes and who cares? she is as dismissive of Catherine as General Tilney was of John Thorpe and Frederick of Isabella: a characteristic of badness is dismissing people without compunction. This is scene where they part in film. In book we get Catherine’s protest to Henry and his reassurance and a final cosy apparently happy scene in Pulteney Street where the two friends bid warm adieu.

Scene 10: Eleanor and Catherine now in Catherine’s room at Northanger. Eleanor under great strain. Candle. Make as little alteration to your dress as possible.

Part 6: The Race
Scene 2: Catherine and Eleanor in the favorite walk; loves it now; how Eleanor misses her mother, how she was not there when mother died, the determination to show her picture..

Eleanor: This was my mother’s favorite lace. I used to walk so often here with her though I never loved it then as I have loved it since.
Catherine: Her death must have been a great affliction.
Eleanor: A great and increasing one.
Catherine: What was she like? Did she look like you?
Eleanor: I wish I could show you her portrait. It hangs in her private chamber.
Catherine; I suppose you were with her to the last?
Eleanor: No. I was from home when she died. Her illness was sudden and short and before I arrived it was all over.
Catherine: So you didn’t see her body.
Eleanor: No. I wish I could have done. Perhaps it would help me to think of her at peace.
Catherie: Yes. I should like to see her room if you are willing to show me.
Eleanor: We never go there. Tis my father’s wish.
Catherine: But to see her picture.
Eleanor. Yes. Why should not not see it?

Scene 3: later that night they climb the stairs. Scary music, hollow sounds of feet as they go up, high pitched music, faces meeting. Suddenly the general right there: why is he there in that part of the house. General: there is nothing to interest Miss Morland in this apart of the house.I am surprised at you, Eleanor. Here the same scene is gothic and women’s friendship. (this and above combine two different passages, one from NA, 2:7 or Ch 22, pp 156-57 and also p. 162; it must be admitted that throughout this sequence Austen is undercutting and making fun of Catherine at the same time as she leaves us to see Miss Tilney’s unhappiness and the general’s peremptoriness. Davies omits these kinds of frequent debunking interjections (combined with comments like Mr Allen said such characters were overdrawn).

Scene 4: Catherine writing Isabella is communing with her so another scene which the above “bled into”. Wholly invented letter so Catherine can express terrible suspicions she has as a result of previous two scenes. We are told that Isabella has written which implies Catherine has but we are shown no letter until James’s announces end of engagement. Several motifs brought together: letter writing, reverie, window, landscape, voice over. … “Oh, Isabella I fear that this house holds a terrible secret relating to the death of Mrs Tilney. (Now it’s Eleanor’s voice in lieu of Mrs Allen’s from down below): Catherine! … voice over resumes; … I cannot write more … send me your news …

Part 7: The letter(s)

Eleanor’s consternation

Scene 2: Eleanor walks up with brother James’s letter: In book Henry has not left and they visit Woodston (note without Eleanor) and this occurs afterward; the talk is between Henry and Catherine over her brother and Isabella; while in Davies’s movie Henry leaves and Catherine’s talk is with Eleanor from woman-centered point of view with no chance to talk to Henry again until after ejection.

While specific bits of language are taken over, the feel of this is quite different. The changes are interesting and perhaps that too will help me with my chapter: to compare subtle changes to see how he has altered these relationships too. I did not do that enough in the S&S. Here the emotional temperature is quite different.

Now to compare changes between Davies and Austen texts and then between S&S and other S&S bringing in Pivcevic and Alexander will do for the two chapters.

Eleanor. “Look Catherine” (coming over, we watch her walk, she is happy with news but then she catches sight of her friend’s face and becomes upset herself (are we supposed to feel that Catherine is overdoing the upset and has reacted too strongly — it’s an index of her fine nature that she’s done so but is self-flagellation). Catherine turns away. In this way Davies critiques Austen. Several shots of Walker as Eleanor coming over.

It is a long sequence of the two girls, Catherine’s walk, then Eleanor, then the talk, then the letter, overvoice with flashbacks, and then more talk. Eleanor’s smile goes utterly. “Oh whatever is the matter?
Cath: I cannot tell you. Please don’t make me. I’ve been so wickedly foolish and your brother knows of it and now he will hate me and so will you when he tells you.”
Elean: “Oh my dear Catherine, I am quite sure that nothing you could do could make me hate you or Henry either.”
Cath: I saw his face. I know he will never ever respect me again.
Elean. Oh! come come perhaps it’s not as bad as you think (rubs her) look here, is a a letter for you.
Cath: It could be from Isabella. Oh no it is my brother’s handwriting. (They are looking down at letter as Catherine unfolds it.)

Overvoice with flashbacks running: James and Isabella at the dance, Tilney stalking and she pretending not to be alluring him with all her might which she is. “Dear Catherine, I think it my duty to tell you that everything sis over is at an end between Miss thorpe and me. I shall not enter into particulars. I am ashamed to think for how long I bore it. Dear Catherine, I hope your visit to Northanger may be over before Captain Tilney makes his engagement known.

Elean (puzzled): Captain Tilney .. Frederick …
Cath: Yes it’s just what I feared. Oh poor poor James he loved her so much.
Elean: But Frederick … and they are engaged?
Cath: Yes
Elean. No I cannot believe that.
Cath: Look here (reads aloud) Dearest Catherine beware how you give your heart.
Elean: My dear Catherine I am sorry for your brother sorry that anyone you love should be unhappy, but my surprise would be greater at Frederick’s marrying her than at any other part of the story
Cath: why do you say that?
Elean. “What are Miss Thorpe’s connections? What is her fortune? Are they a wealthy family” (it is we are told by narrator Eleanor who does ask these questions, even if only Henry’s words are dramatized)
Cath: “No not very. I don’t believe Isabella has any fortune at all. YOu think your father will forbid the match.
Elean. “I doubt if the matter will reach his ear at all. (mouth stretches)
Cath: “Why? whatever do you mean?”
Elean. “Catherine your friend has dealt badly with your brother but I fear she is far too out of her depths with mine”

So we get important flashbacks of Tilney leading Isabella through brothel, going in, she waks and loud laughter in next room, and he stands by fireplace, she rouses herself, on her elbow: “And are we engaged?” He hears, walks over, “Make yourself decent Miss Thorpe. I must return you to your friends before you are missed.”

Flash within flash, and now it’s Isabella to Catherine, and a voice over of Isabella

“My dearest Catherine thank God we leave this vile place tomorrow since you went away I have no pleasure in it and everybody one cares for is gone (now we see her writing the letter on her bed). I am quite uneasy about your dear brother and am fearful of some misunderstanding. You will write to him and set everything right. He is the only man I ever did or could love (mother taking something, and Isabella snatches it back) and I know you will convince him of it …

Scene 6: a new day, new outfits and Catherine answers letter: “I most certainly shan’t.” Catherine now holding this letter.

Elean. “So Frederick is safe from her. I cannot say I am surprised.
Cath: Can’t you? I am very. I wish I’d never known her.
Elean. “It will soon be as if you never had.
Cath: “There is one thing I can’t understand. What is Captain Tilney been about all this time. Why should he pay her such attentions and then fly off himself?”
Elean: “He has his vanity as well as Miss Thorpe and he is accustomed to having his way [this accustomed to having his way is added and it is specifically sexual in connotation) though I am surprised he should have stooped to such an easy conquest.”
Cath: “Really. hen I am sorry for Isabella”

Elean. “I am sure she will be over it soon enough.
Cathering looks perturbed and sorry for Isabella.
Elean. “I hope I do not need to tell yu that his brother is a very different character. Henry has the best and truest heart in the world.
They smile together.

Then crashing dark carriage.

Scene 9: It is a shortened version of the scene in the book (2:13, or Ch 28). Differences are that Catherine attributes the General’s crazed animosity (unlike Austen where Catherine must leave before the General gets up; he demands she be ejected that night) to Henry telling about what suspected, Eleanor then tells a little truth: “You are wrong. I know my father’s reasons. They do him no credit.” Eleanor in extreme distress throughout, harrowed. Fear for journey, provides money. Catherine insists “journey’s nothing,” disgrace all, she deserves this going home in disgrace. Ratcheting it up to make it occur at night and makes the next scene of Eleanor climbing the stairwell (in white) classic gothic one) dissolves into

Scene 10: two girls at bottom of stairwell, Eleanor heard: “Catherine I implore you … please … Eleanor’s climb up to terrifying man – real implication of sex. Catherine’s eyes look up, she is a bit relieved it’s not her and walks out

the denouement centers on the heterosexual romances.

Looking over the gothic scenes in the comments I am most impressed that if I had not defined the gothic so literally, by the end of the film, the girls’ scenes could be defined as gothic (the flashback of Isabella’s memory of being taken through the brothel and the aftermath; Eleanor and Catherine’s conversation in Catherine’s bedroom, later that next at the foot of the stairs).

I’m also impressed that the tendency of all the add-on scenes is to validate male sexuality when it is controlled by humane moral values. If I were to bring this together with the women’s friendship scenes in P&P and S&S and Emma, it would in some sense become an ideal that we find in Mark Darcy in both Bridget Jones Diary films.


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Dear friends and readers,

Jane and her mother are now in Bath (see letter 34) and living with Mr and Mrs Perrot at the Paragon.

Paragon, the view towards Walcot (1940s photo)

We see Jane accepting the situation, even at moments enthusiastic.  She has been allotted her own room, up two flights of stairs, so private — so this is helping. She does go out and about which is another sign of entering into the life.  There are jokes about food, and some aesthetic irony: "The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see moe distinctly thro’ the Rain …" Her uncle mentioned twice and a kindly presence felt, but nothing of the aunt.   We must remember the strains between Mrs Austen and Aunt Jane Perrot had not been resolved. Cassandra at the kindly Mrs Lloyd’s in Hampshire.

Three and one half months are missing. We are giving nothing about Mr, Mrs and Jane’s last months or weeks at Steventon, nothing about the exact leave-taking. The clear bitterness Jane felt towards Mary and James suggests a hard scene; Mrs Austen had not forgiven the aunt in the last letter we had for the aunt’s attempt to leave Jane behind and inflict austerity measures (so to speak) on her and her family; and of course we have no idea how Mr Austen felt only that he had had a very hard time getting those he left in his place to treat decently the people who had served him. When they come they still have not taken a place but are contemplating Green Park buildings.

Green Park Bulldings, the surviving block, 1940s

They did move there: these are south of the main center and low — so at the time damp — but they were near a park and the river (so perhaps prettily situated). They are staying with the aunt and uncle. Mr Austen though is not with them, it’s just Jane and Mrs Austen — maybe he couldn’t face the aunt and uncle quite yet. He and Cassandra are apparently delaying coming. Who wouldn’t — the aunt was not reassuring, only yielded when the Austens would not give in.


The London Road, from London to Bath, 1823 print — this is not the road the Austens took but it gives an idea of what was experienced, at least a quarter century later (before the railways)

The letter begins cheerfully as she is in a room of her own, with "own" italicized. She is glad to control her own space (at last?). She seems not to mind the two pairs of stairs 4 flights) Everything is comfortable about her in the room.

Then a paragraph about the trip. Free from accident or event (untoward is what she means), horses changed at every stage. They went in style. She uses the word "magnificent" for this support.  As usual she is glad of her meal: "we made our Grand Meal."

But despite this posing or presentation of themselves, the atmosphere between them left a great deal to be desired:  they "were exceedingly agreeable, as we did not speak above once in three miles." Had they spoken more than they would not have kept up this "exceeding agreeableness." They didn’t talk; perhaps that leave-taking scene had turned ugly and they were doing their best to forget and/or pretend in front of one another it didn’t happen.  I must have happened between Letters 33 and 34.

The next line reminds me of Charlotte Luttrell (Lesley Castle): told that her sister’s coming marriage “is broke off” because the groom “had fractured his Scull, and was pronounced by his Surgeon to be” near death, “’Good God! . . . you don’t say so?  Why what in the name of Heaven will become of all the Victuals?” Charlotte is in a fever of anxiety and works very hard and plans for each to eat this or that lest anything be not eaten (spoilt), and it’s partly money. So we have the two Austens trying to consume their food, working at it. "We could not with the utmost exertion consume above the twentieth part of the beef." In this context, it may be the meaning is also that the Austens bought such a big amount. This is a form of showing off. See what big portions they gave us.

That money is on her mind comes out in the next sentence where she worries the price of a cucumber. The uncle had been told the price of one (you’d think they were talking of valuables) and it was shilling. Thus Cassandra’s plan to bring or send a cucumber as a present will be very acceptable.

I’ve come to think the economizing we see in the 1995 and 2008 S&S’s is not exaggerated.

1995 S&S: economizing, Emma Thompson as Elinor goes over food budget with Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood

Meanwhile she and Mrs Austen do all they can to appear richer than they are, of a high class:  So they hire a "very neat Chaise" from Devizes (a place) and "it looked almost as well as a Gentleman’s" (that means not quite) and then she drops down to a lesser criteria: "at least a very shabby Gentleman’s.

Now she is sarcastic: "in spite of this advantage however We were above three hours coming from thence to Paragon." And it was "half after seven by Your [italicized] hours before we entered the house.

So the traffic was heavy or there was some kind of rigmarole of social life between arriving in Bath and reaching and entering and taking their stuff into the Paragon.

Thus did they enter Bath.


From Amazing Grace, (Youssou N’Dour as Olaudah Equiano)

But then a note of cheer, and I’m really glad to see again that Austen has feelings for the servants.  This is an aspect of her in these letters I had not expected. I wonder if Frank is a dark man or was African, an ex-slave (I assume ex). LeFaye only offers the obvious non-information Frank was the uncle’s manservant. Well, duh. He received them kindly.

So someone was glad to see Mrs Austen and Jane. I like this.  What a human reality. I’m reading a book called The Servants Hand: English fiction from Below and Robbins opens with a scene described by a Victorian diarist where the diarist gives us a rare sense of the servant’s presence near the carriage such that the servant seems the more deep presence than the mistress described in the usual fatuous cliches. Well here is Austen doing the same thing. Franks’ subjectivity is registered.

And Mr and Mrs Perrot were not less cordial. So there we are.

She goes on to say they look well, all drank tea immediately (refreshment) and "so ends the account of our Journey."   A reference to Mrs Austen’s belief she is fragile (maybe she was not in great health); to Jane’s eyes she bore the trip "without any fatigue". Since it was long and arduous we see that Jane does not think her mother at all really ill.

(Remember her sitting on 3 chairs when she in her decline and in pain and leaving the sofa to Mrs Austen. Maybe by that time Jane had given up, learnt it was better to pretend to believe and acquiesce in whatever her mother wanted — to have a quiet life.

The dash has the effect of time passing.  My sense is Austen does not go to sleep at this point and then upon getting up write "How do you do today?"  It could be that. But it seems more likely from the next sentence it’s rather that she rose very early that first day in Bath. Under considerable strain and over-excited: "I have been awake ever since 5."

She couldn’t sleep is the idea for in the next sentence she hopes "you improve in sleeping." The utterance comes out of Jane not improving in sleeping at all. Indeed she’s dog tired – the trip and the struggling to get into the Paragon. She hopes that Cassandra "must" be a good sleeper "because I fall off."  I in italics. Cassandra must sleep for them both. As she writes, Austen feels herself nodding off.

Then a couple of lines which suggest that again 1995 and 2008 S&S films do not exaggerate so much when they show the Dashwood girls cold in bed and trying to cope.

Here Emma Thompson as Elinor gets out some socks for her feet before retiring with Marianne for warmth (1995 S&S)

It seems that Austen went to bed with "too much cloathes on my stomach".  She thought she had too much is the meaning of the next line, but she had not the courage to take the stuff off. She thought she’d need it in the night. So she sweated? anyway she was uncomfortable and maybe that got her up. The sentence next testifies to Bath being warmer than Steventon — than Hampshire where they lived, or at least this area of the paragon. "I am warmer here without any fire than I have been lately with an excellent one."

Then a mysterious line.  LeFaye guesses a legal fight for Martha which she won. "Good news is confirmed & Martha triumphs."  I incline to think it’s something to do with money at any rate.

Now the line how the uncle and aunt appeared quite surprised Cassandra and Mr Austen have further delayed coming. Mrs Austen and Jane gave them a soap and a basket, and "each have been kindly received."

Subsidence people.  I can imagine they’d have a yard sale and not miss selling a towel.

I do not exaggerate for the next line Austen records as a serious think ("I beg pardon" is not ironic) that Cassandra’s "drawing ruler" "was broke in two."  It’s spoken of as of moment, a loss, "just at the Top where the crosspeice is fastened on."

I’d like to believe this is an incidence of over-concern for small items one ought to be able to cope and values (something to sew with) with when one is upset about the larger ones that one can’t do much about. I do this, get all excited or upset about some smaller item because I’m really upset by something larger I can’t do  anything about. But I fear it more coming from their really limited funds.


The upper Assembly Room today: it’s a costume museum

And since now she turns from the trip and their installing themselves however temporarily to Bath news, what’s to come, Bath people, Bath weather, and again where to live in Bath.

 I agree with Diane that this is a letter which feels cheerful or at least equable. Austen is lending herself to life in Bath, getting into it. She has no power to stop this and now she’s there she’s making the best of it. If she has no power to decide which building or where they’ll live, perhaps that on this first week or so she finds she has been given her own room, quiet, apart, she takes as a sign that her comfort and needs will be addressed too — if if she’s the youngest sister — so the lowest on the totem pole, girls’ needs coming after boy, and the eldest coming first.

When Nokes argued that perhaps Jane was delighted to go to Bath, he used parts of this letter.

The Chamberlaynes. Although the biographers don’t say much about this family and Lefaye very very little, I’ve noticed Jane Austen has brought them up twice since the Bath move was contemplated (as offering their experiences in an effort to reassure was one) and remember late in the letters Austen walked a marathon walk with Mrs C. I get the feeling they were friends, Jane and Mrs C.  Goucestershire was where Thomas Leigh lived in Adlestrop and Jane and Cassandra seem to have visited in 1794 (LeFaye FR, 81), Mrs C was a neighbor then.

Adlestrop Park where Thomas Leigh lived before he tried to take over Stoneleigh Abbey

So if Austen is being catty about Mrs C’s "long chin" and doesn’t like to be reminded of having been "very charming young Women,’ they were perhaps congenial. Austen writes: "I begin to think better of. …" Her dislike of the phrase "very charming young women" may also again be her disliking cant hypocrisies.  We see this in Emma where such language grates on Emma and the narrator.

I too took the line about Bath seen through the rain as aesthetic and lightly ironic: "The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion"– Compare it to Anne Elliot’s tone upon coming into or remembering Bath and in the character you see writhing dislike and depression. Not here in this letter.  So Anne’s tone comes from later experience and memories (recorded in the missing 5 years of letters).

Where are they to live? Seymour? King? You can look up these places in various older guidebooks.None is as nice as Sydney which they eventually took nor as bad as Trim where (after Mr Austen’s death) they eventally were reduced to. Jane doesn’t want a King — she is relieved they take the same view as her.

Still it’s a measure of her powerlessness that an aunt and uncle who are not going to live there can choose what house or their opinions count, when Austen who is, is not going to be listened to.

I didn’t feel that Austen was reacting to the Uncle’s eagerness for news about the brothers with a sense of showing no interest in her and do agree that there is an implication he wants to know something about money.  The uncle questions to know "their views and intentions."  This language is that of a parent asking a young man what he intends to do for a daughter. I suggest the uncle is asking what Frank and Charles intend to do for Mrs and Mrs Austen and their sisters. Do they have any "intentions" to help them, do they have any views on what they or others should do. In this remark Austen should have heard a warning bell that the uncle had no intention himself of leaving his fortune to these relatives – he left it all to his wife  and it was bitterly disappointing the Austens at the time. They should not have been surprised.

Mrs Lloyd was much liked by Cassandra and Jane and I take the next paragraph to be jokes about food, also registering intense awareness of their price (as fringe people) at the same time teasing that they can get Mrs Lloyd to come if they hide the prices.  Cassandra must have said how she wishes they could have this congenial soul with them (instead say of Mrs Perrot).  The Duchess of York was part of the "ton" and such people drove prices up:

Meat is only 8d per pound, butter 2d & cheese 9 1/2.”  But Cassandra must “carefully conceal” from Mrs Lloyd “the exhorbitant price of Fish; – a salmon has just been sold at 2s 9d pr pound the whole fish” lest it scare Mrs Lloyd away from Bath

As Austen put down her pen here until Tuesday night.


From 2007 Northanger Abbey: they filmed someone getting himself a glass of water at the Pump Room
Tuesday: when Uncle Perrot took his ‘second glass of water" — this refers to the pump room. People walked over and drank glasses of this stuff. (Personal note: I did it the week i was in Bath and thought the stuff dreadful. I didn’t finish my glass. I was told it would — excuse the expression — my bowels."  Then they walked down from the pump room (under the arcade that would be) to green Park buildings.  She is pleased; it is low — down further than the parades, and near the river. That’s probably why it’s damp – the offices would be a basement or first floor.

two houses in Green Park Buildings, one of which pleased me very well. –. We walked all over it except into the Garrets; — the dining-room is of a comfortable size, just as large as you like to fancy it; the 2nd room about 14 ft. square; — The apartment over the Drawing-room pleased me particularly, because it is divided into two, the smaller one a very nice-sized Dressing-room, which upon occasion might admit a bed. The aspect is south-east. The only doubt is about the Dampness of the Offices, of which there were symptoms …

If she thought of having the room above the drawing-room for her bedroom with Cassandra, the second room could provide a space where one could read or write while the other slept. The extra bed would admit a friend visiting (say Martha Lloyd).

Wednesday: a new gown. They do dress up for Bath — as they did on their previous visit. Mrs Mussell is a milliner and dressmaker. I’ve just been watching the 2007 Northanger Abbey and a number of Felicity Jones as Catherie Morland’s outfits correspond to this: the jacket efect is found in the 2007 Persuasion on Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot.  The 1996 Amanda Root had such an outfit only in Bath, towards the end of the movie. When you took the jacket piece off, it would be low in the back, with a belt. Apparently Martha favored this fashion — it’s sort of mannish and goes along with the empire line dresses whch are not filled with furbelows but plainer and simpler (Revolutionary tastes from Paris in middle 1790s).

It’s obvious that flounces, furbelows have been dropped and Catherine through lies and pressure is constrained to go riding with the Thorpes and her obtuse brother, James. I am calling attention to the two girls’ outfits.

              "Mrs. Mussell has got my gown, and I will endeavour to explain what her intentions are. It is to be a round gown, with a jacket and a frock front, like Cath. Bigg’s, to open at the side. The jacket is all in one with the body, and comes as far as the pocket-holes — about half a quarter of a yard deep, I suppose, all the way round, cut off straight at the corners with a broad hem. No fulness appears either in the body or the flap; the back is quite plain in this form [hourglass shape], and the sides equally so. The front is sloped round to the bosom and drawn in, and there is to be a frill of the same to put on occasionally when all one’s handkerchiefs are dirty — which frill must fall back. She is to put two breadths and a-half in the tail, and no gores — gores not being so much worn as they were. There is nothing new in the sleeves: they are to be plain, with a fulness of the same falling down and gathered up underneath, just like some of Martha’s, or perhaps a little longer. Low in the back behind, and a belt of the same. I can think of nothing more, though I am afraid of not being particular enough."

(The punctuation is Brabournes and also the normalization of the sentences.  Some thing is lost; the original argument of Sutherland”s book was that Chapman over did this sort of thing.  She was I think wrong; he was very careful, but the idea you should leave Austen’s punctuation the way she did it (the semi-colon and dash where we put a period, the Caps) is right.

New bonnets for Jane and Mrs Austen.

Kate Winslett in a straw version of the chip bonnet (1995 S&S)

A chip bonnet used willow and again we see them (Catherine wears one at Northanger while walkig with Eleanor; Kate Winslet has one late in the 1995 S&S (when she sits out in the garden and Alan Rickman as Brandon reads to her. There are reproductions of images on line in google reprints of Godey’s fashion book but I’ve not got the patience to try to catch the image. When I put all this on my blog I’ll illustrate some of it through the costumes from the film adaptations.

They’ll buy white ribbon too, but note that Austen is not extravagant. She says that Bath is getting so empty it won’t matter. "I am not afraid of doing too little" to hold up her head (pun intended) with self-respect. Her old straw one will pass muster and chip bonnets do look like straw ones only they’re tighter.  (I presume Ly Bridges is someone in the fashion world.)  It’s May and prices go up and many of the renters go to the shore and sublet their flats.

Black gauze cloaks are seen in 18th century film adaptation costumes. They are economic and light.

Then below a PS: Chamberlaynes again to visit them and a Mrs Lillingstone. What is odd is not said. But if it’s that they are not conventional or conformist in dress that might be a detail that added to Austen’s attachment. She and Cassandra early on started to dress older and didn’t care. Freed from the need  A Mrs Sarah Busby will be their visitor to tea and cribbage,Friday the Chamberlaynes (despite their "odd" looks).

The canal as seen in Sydney Gardens, modern illustration re-imagining the experience

That night a walk by the canal. Who with she doesn’t say.  Maggie Lane has a description of this — long and intended to be utilitarian (for pragmatic economic reasons) it was also pretty, a nice long walk.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 , 26 , 27, 28 29, 3031, 3233 and 34.


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Dear friends and readers,

Another in my ongoing series of foremother poet blogs here and at Ellen and Jim have a blog, two: my choice for tonight is a woman poet whose voice in prose I am strongly drawn to. Mary Hays, appealing 18th century journalist, novelist, biographer, poet. I retell her life and summarize and comment on her writing. Her eloquent voice on behalf of social justice, her exposure of the culture of rape, her life-writing all very moving and relevant today.

I like her.  Her poetry may feel outdated because she uses poetic diction of her day, however, by calling attention to two of her poems which appeal strongly to me (for tone and attitude) and quoting from a third, I make an occasion to retell her life and summarize and comments on her  journalism, philosophy, strong feminist treatises, novels and life writing. Hays’s importance lies in her prose.

No likeness of her has survived.

Her poetry is written in the vein of sensibility.

  Invocation to the Nightingale

Wand’ring o’er the dewy meadow,
Oft at ev’ning hour I go;
Fondly courting Philomela’s
Sympathetick plaints of woe.

Sometimes, hush’d in still attention,
Leaning pensive o’er a stile,
Fancy bids her sound delusive
Lull the yielding sense awhile.

Soft the visionary musick,
Rising floats upon the gale:   
Now it sinks in strains more languid,
Dying o’er the distant vale.

Starting from the dream of fancy,
Nought my list’ning ear invades,
Save the hum of falling waters,
Save the rustling aspin-shade.

"Little songstress, soothe my sorrows,
‘Wrap my soul in softest airs;
"Such as erst, in Lydian measures,
"Charm’d the Grecian hero’s cares.   

"But, if forg’d by cruel rusticks
To lament thy ruin’d care;
"Breathe thy saddest strains of anguish,
"Strains that melodize despair.

"Deeply vers’d in Sorrow’s lessons,
"Best my heart thy griefs can know;
"Pity dwells within the bosom
"Soften’d by an equal woe.

"While thy melancholy plainings
"All my hapless fate renew,
"Heart-felt sighs shall load the zephyrs,
"Tears increase the falling dew.

"Cease to shun me, lovely mourner;
"Sweetly breathe the melting strain:
"Oft thou deign’st to charm the rustick,
"Roving thoughtless o’er the plain.

‘Yet, to him, thy softest trillings
"Can no sympathy impart;
”Wouldst thou seek for kindred feelings,
"See them trembling in my heart!"

Vain, alas! my Invocation,
Vain the pleadings of the muse!
Wrapp’d in silent shades, the charmer
Doth her tuneful lay refuse.

Homeward as I hopeless wander,
Faintly sighs the evening breeze;
Shadowy beams the pale moon’s lustre,
Glittering through the waving trees.


(There is an alternative much less plangent ending:
"Clouds obscure deform the aether,
Rising damps involve the plain;
Pensively I hasten homeward,
To avoid the coming rain.")
    Ode to Her Bullfinch

Little wanton flutt’rer, say
Whither wou’dst thou wing thy way?
Why those airy circles make,
All untry’d the thorny brake?
Various dangers lurking lie
In the guise of liberty;
See the wily fowler laid
Close beneath the hawthorn shade;
Mark his tyrannous intent,
Full on schemes of murder bent;   
For within that rugged breast
Meek-ey’d Pity ne’er wou’d rest,
Nor the softer powers of Love
E’er that stoick heart could move,
Little trembler, hither fly,
In my bosom safely lie;
Sympathy and tenderness
Doth that bosom still possess;
There thy glossy plumes unfold
Plumes of azure and of gold;   
While secure from every harm,
Pining want and rude alarm,
A willing captive still remain,
Nor with thy liberty to gain.

Whisp’ring Nature prompts to fly,
Seeking sweet society;
Or the gentler voice of Love
Bids thee range the mazy grove;
Ah! thy fond intent forbear,
Transient joys which end in care;   
All a parent’s anxious woe
Soon thy downy breast would know,
Lest the school-boy’s truant eye
Shou’d thy tender young descry;
Lest the ruder vernal storm
Shou’d thy little nest deform,
Hither then, thou wanton, fly,
Bless thy soft captivity;
And lull with notes of soothing sound
The pangs which do my bosom wound.

John Constable (1776-1837), Hampstead Heath looking towards Harrow at Sunset (1823)


From "The Consolation:"

Oh let me then with trembling footsteps haste
To where Fair Science gilds the dreary waste.
And seek from philosophic lore to find
A lenient balm to heal my wounded mind …

Survey the boundless prospect of mankind,
And mark the lot by heaven to each assigned,
Fleeting their joys, but real in their pain;
The various ills — a complicated train,
Disease, Intemperance, Want, and fell Despair,
The thrill of anguish and corroding care …

The"Invocation to the Nightingale" is in Ann Radcliffe and Helen Maria Williams’s vein:  about loss and disappointment and losing yourself in an illusion  The "Ode to her Bullfinch" is in the vein of Robert Burns to a mouse; Anna Barbauld, the mouse’s petition; Helen Maria Williams to  a lovely flying bird.  These are familiar from early fables; the poems are most often by women and in them small animals are caged, tortured, killed and or just fail to survive in a harsh natural world.  The harder version is the supposed laughing neo-classic type about preying cats drowning in their efforts to murder a yet smaller animal.  I’m thinking of Thomas Gray’s rather cruel Ode to his cat trying to kill a fish.  The excerpt from The Consolation, a long poem,, shows Hays’s strong affinities with  Samuel Johnson — with the important difference that she shows is aware of the generality of people and connects their destinies to how they were treated by others ("society").


Mary Hays’s signficance lies in her journalism, lives of other contemporary women, a treatise that matches Wollstonecraft’s, An Appeal to the Men of Great Britain on Behalf of Women, a book of letters she left (between herself and a lover who died), and a short epistolary novel, The Memoirs of Emma Courtney.  In all these she powerfully presents the inner life of a intensely passionate and radical spirit, a woman, caught up in the real circumstances and injustices of the era.  Her writing like Helen Maria Williams is often ignored because some of her best pieces are not in fiction but in the jouralism of the day (like Johnson), the forms it took, the specifics of issues.  The fate of Hays’s reputation makes me think of Molly Ivan’s reputation eventually , journalism is not really paid enough respect as a whole and journalists often have to go to other forms, and yet what they write in journalism is probably much more important and as influential as anyone ever is.

Hays lived well into the Victorian age (1785-1843).  She was the child of middle class radical dissenters; early in her life she fell in love with a neighbor, John Eccles, whose parents had even less money than hers, and they were pressured to give one another up, held out, but after overcoming (ignoring) continued objections, they got engaged.  Alas, he became very ill, and died.  To assuage her grief, she turned to books, poetry, reading, philosophy and through this plus her knowledge of how dissenters were treated in England, became a strong Jacobin (as the English radicals were called).

In Paula Feldman’s retelling of Hays’s life (from her British Women Poets of the Romantic Era) I took the first two poems), Hays was often isolated after the death of Eccles; she was slowly brought into a circle of non-conformist and radical friends by a rational dissenter (an early religious radical much attacked by Burke), Robert Robinson. She met and much admired Mary Wollstonecraft, and they became fast friends; so she entered the circles of Wollstonecraft’s associates William Godwin, Blake, Paine, Holcroft, Helen Maria Williams.  She wrote her Appeal to the Men of Great Britain on Behalf of Women in 1792.

Encouraged by Wollstonecraft, she finally left her mother and went to live alone independently at 30 Kirby Street, Hatton Garden.  This freed her to write herself publicly and she began with the Critical Review, studied mathematics, penned sermons, fell in love again, with William Frend who did not return the feeling.

An important aspect of her life was that she was perceived as ugly.  She later wrote a powerful novel inditing the way women were treated sexually, The Memoirs of Emma Courtney.  The basis of this are the  letters she and Frend wrote. The novel makes painful and yet exhilarating reading.  It’s not often mentoined that it also includes a story of adultery and a woman accused of murdering her newborn infant (she didn’t) so the issues swirling around this not-common happening and accusation are equally part of the novel.  It was at first praised and then ferociously attacked and explicitly for its political stances and description of women’s lives.  Really women’s memoirs of the period were often much franker, told much more. There’s a masterly one at the Folger, An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy, an important actress of the period who ended indigent and ill and had the guts to tell about it (not an uncommon ending), but since often (as Bellamy still is) such women were dissed as not respectable and their books described as "scandalous" and treated scabrously, stigmatized; some are until today, e.g., Frances Vane’s Memoirs of a Lady of Quality.

Godwin became Hays’s mentor by the mid-1790s and he encouraged her to write novels. It was his encouragement which led to Emma Courtney where she placed much autobiographical material.  People will remember his candid biography of Mary Wollstonecraft (written just after she died in great grief). When Wollstonecraft returned from the continent, and the terror was on, she and Hays found themselves increasingly isolated and attacked.

Hays in particular was mocked and ridiculed for her open vulnerabiilty, her refusal to play parts, to be guarded, to hang out performative signs (to use Janet Todd’s metaphor).  Elizabeth Hamilton was one of those who couldn’t leave her alone, but also Coleridge was really crude and in the Anti-Jacobin others.  Wollstonecraft had married Godwin and died in childbirth.  Hays was with her in these last days and announced Wollstonecraft’s death in letters and wrote a short biography of her which went into her Female Biography, which begins with Anne Askew and has the merit of being among the first to drop all goddesses and mythic figures, and include many women who the world would call failures, many persecuted women.  These are exemplary portraits in a new style.

By 1799 Hays’s feminist stance had become intensely unpopular in the media.  Her Victim of Prejudice written "to delineate the mischiefs that have ensued from the too great a stress placed on the reputation for chastity in woman" was castigated and ridiculed mercilessly.  it is a daring bold tale of aggravated rape (the only one beyond Richardson’s Clarissa from the 18th century): of Mary Raymond in Mary Hays’s startling The Victim of Prejudice: “Deaf to my remonstrances, my supplications [to] his callous heart, his furious and uncontrollable vehemence [was unstoppable] I suffered a brutal violation” (117).  She defies the virginity taboo (as it’s called), and Hays argues that given what society is, the demand that a woman maintain a reputation for absolute chastity as a condition of respectability to find employment robs them of any opportunity for independence and/or a moral life.

Southey comes out well here.  He did remain friends with Hays and she was invited to live with  his family in Keswick in1814. Her friendship with Godwin cooled, probably because of the dense conservative woman he had married.  Charles Lloyd then published a rumor she had offered herself to him. Hays had not at all (nonsense), but Lloyd could get attention and make a little money that way, and she became the subject of ridicule again. What was supposedly ugly about her I don’t know. So since Emma Courtney where she gave away her vulnerability, the place to hit her was obvious.  Elizabeth Hamiton kept up riculing her biographies of women whom (according to Hamilton) no one admired.

So Hays retreated from public life in 1814 and went to live in Hotwells Clifton, Bristol.  She was writing evangelical tracts for the poor at the end of her life and 83 at death. Feldman’s life of her is shorter and tells what counts in an intelligent (humane) and candid way.  I also recommend Gina Luria Walker’s The Idea of Being Free:  A Mary Hays Reader, a Broadview Press book where Luria reprints Hays’s journalism, letters, and a mass of writing by others which makes it into a sort of autobiography intermingled with contemporary voices by others on Hays and her writing and with writing by a very few critics and scholars today on Hays.

There is an excellent Mary Hays site by Eleanor Ty one chapter of whose book, Unsex’d Revolutionaries is devoted to Hays. See Walker’s biography.  Ty includes a superb bibliography


Further commentary:

Two essays by Mary Hays:  reprinted in The First Feminists: British Women Writers 1578-1799 are 1) an essay for the Monthly Magazine where she argues women are as intellectually capable and emotionally competent as men, but miseducated and given no opportunity to develop their talents or strength of character.  Indeed discouraged strongly from this. In the literature of the 17th and 18th century and especially in the 17th century one can see how women were really treated in effect as secondary animals (for breeding, for family aggrandizement).  The second 2) is an essay in the Monthly Magazine where she daringly argued that the system of demanding a reputation for absolute chastity for women is pernicious in the extreme:  unreal, unfair (she shows that when they fail this test they are outcast and turned into a hollow destructive world), blinding. 

I was interested to find in the essay she says this sexual faultline and injustice supports the "system of property" and goes on to expose that.  Like Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, and numbers of other radicals, men and women both, she did not give up on the principles or ideals of the revolution even if the results became themselves horrific, retrograde, or useless in many areas. Not all, for the documents signed and the new codes put in place in some realms remained.


Dual edition with Amelia Opie: see my foremother poet blog.

The Memoirs of Emma Courtney: In these letters Emma is neither a Marianne or Jane Eyre, but a woman  who doesn’t fit in: ostracized on grounds of poverty, lack of status, not being married (and she’s what’s called ugly apparently), and yet so gifted, capable of such intense enjoyment of experience were she only to meet a cordial mind.  This portrait is a mirror of Hays herself.

I can see that these may have been originally letters she wrote to Frend who intellectually was so much her confidant, but who was not attracted to her sexually. She can’t understand why he can’t love her for herself, her mind, and through that grow to love her character and thus want to spend his life by her side, as she’d love to spend her life by his.

It’ s a novel where the heroine bares her souls to men, pursue them, and in the face of rejection, humiliates herself,  by pleading and reasoning with the man about all she has to offer.  Three like this in real life memoirs, both books of letters, and Mary Hays’s own letters to William Frend:

1) Julie de Lespinasse’s Letters to M.Gilbert (available in an older English translation), she is abject, passionate, and ceaseless in her attempts to appeal to him.  The first time I read the book in English I was overpowered with the intelligence of the woman and couldn’t quite understand why he couldn’t like her the way she liked him.  Now it seems to me he was afraid of this intensity and didn’t want such a relationship with anyone. 

2) Madame du Deffand’s letters to Horace Walpole:  she is humble, pathetic, eager and anxious to show how much she loves him, all the while knowing he finds her attitude painfully embarrassing. She was much older than he and blind.  Her letters are to many other people, including a small volume to Voltaire (as witty and clever as he, which he knows), but those to Walpole are the ones most famous in English. 

3) In The Idea of Being Free:  A Mary Hays Reader edited by Gina Luria  The opening section is made up of her letters to Eccles; her love is reciprocated but the same passionate woman speaks out.  The problem is they are being forbidden to marry, and it seems that her mother is one of the big obstacles, all the more so because her mother will not acknowledge her true opposition and maneuvrings to stop the marriage from going forward. . This is a Broadview Press book where Luria reprints Hays’s journalism, letters, and a mass of writing by others which makes it into a sort of autobiography intermingled with contemporary voices on and to Hays and with writing by a very few critics and scholars today on Hays.

for a modern version:  Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment.

Back to Emma Courtney:   I found particularly striking the content of the arguments Emma produced.  Emma says that Augustus admits fully she is his intellectual and emotional companion; she and Augustus are deeply congenial; what’s more the woman Augustus prefers to her is superficial, petty, and not someone he would want to talk to at all. Nonetheless, it seems he would prefer to spend his life with this woman. What she is making visible is the animal basis for marriage for this man (and perhaps all men).  Does not he wants an equal to talk to?  What is it he wants out of marriage to a woman? 

What we see here is what some say is a perhaps continuing difference between men and women or so some say. The woman looks for companionate love and support above all; this man for sexual gratification and someone to be his housekeeper, bear children.   He looks for friendship among men or elsewhere. I don’t say this is a general truth at all, but I’ve heard it asserted to explain why men frequent prostitutes and women don’t:  men are more aggressively sexual.

At any rate, this presentation of herself continually as his soul-mate which he nonetheless reject is terribly painful especially when you know that in real life Mary Hays was ridiculed as ugly.  Rather like George Eliot (and Lewes too) come to that.  We might ask how our reading of this novel knowing it’s based on real letters should proceed. Is not this one at least deepened by regarding it as a partially real document, one rooted in realities not mentioned but assumed on the part of Mary Hays and her contemporary readership.  I find Elizabeth Hamilton’s ridiculing of Mary Hays particularly ugly because she does refer to Hays’s appearance. Again, In the middle 1790s when it was known that Frend had rejected Hays and that she had written these abject letters to him, an unscrupulous journalist Charles Lloyd then published a rumor she had offered herself to him (she didn’t but he could get attention and make a little money that way), and she became the subject of ridicule again. What was supposedly ugly about her I don’t know.

I can see that these may have been originally letters she wrote to  Frend who intellectually was so much her confidant, but who was not attracted to her sexually. She can’t understand why he can’t love her for herself, her mind, and through that grow to love her character and thus want to spend his life by her side, as she’d love to spend her life by his

Part of novel usually not discussed:  What happens is Emma is fallen in love with by a Mr Montague and although she doesn’t love him, she decides to marry him.  It’s the wisest and most prudent thing to do:  it will help her get over Harley and provide for her.  It seems Montague is this gentleman who does appreciate her mind and soul.  What happens is Montague becomes intensely jealous when Augustus returns sick and dying, and Emma nurses him and takes over Augustus’s child.  He also begins to commit adultery with a maid, Miss Morton.  It is when Emma catches them nearly in the act, that Hays’s famous peroration against the double standard, her argument that women are driven to allow men sexual freedom because they are desperate for a partner, a support, a protector, and then are despised for what they are driven to obtain occurs.  This peroration appears on blurbs about the book. 

To make a long story, short, at first Emma fires Rachel or Miss Morton, but then she relents when she discovers Miss Morton has given birth to a baby and Montague has killed it.  Miss Morton is in danger of being blamed.  So we have in the last part of the novel  a woman accused of murdering her newborn infant (she didn’t) so the issues swirling around this not-common happening and accusation are equally part of the novel and made visible.  Then Montague shoots himself through the head. 16,000 men each year in the US shoot themselves through the head. 

The point of this is I think not to present Emma as ever so alluring and the creme de la creme all men want (as I’m afraid Burney could be accused) but again to make visible what drives people to deep depression, counterproductive anger, suicide, murder, rage.  It’s not a story of jealousy in the way of Othello (and Mackenzie’s Julia de Roubigne and Brooke’s Julia Mandeville rehearse the archetypal jealousy plot Shakespeare used) but to show values people pretend to have, illegitimate and oppressive norms, what really motivates them.  To bring all this out in the light of day.

Not argued. But felt.  The last letter is deeply pessimistic, dark, despairing; Emma can look forward only to death for a release.  I found the last chapter and closing passages very moving,

    The dawn of my life glowed with the promise of a fair and bright day, before its noon, thick clouds gathered; its midday was gloomy and tempestuous. — It remains with thee, my friend, to gild with a mild radicance the closing evening; before the scene shuts,and veils the prospect in impenetrable darkness."

She is compensating, trying to justify her existence just now by writing her life to Augustus who she adopted and brought up as her own.  Her own daughter Emma by Montague is not Augustus’s sister so perhaps they can marry. But her concerns in this last letter is to tell him the study of many of the lucrative profession is a study of chicanery, lying, cheating (that’s law), violence (that’s the the navy). The church is a school of hypocrisy.  Augustus has shown interest in an art, architecture and she hopes that he will be able to make an honest living giving people decent good places to live in.

She also reiterates a single value in italics:  the child Augustus will have (by Emma) should be taught "the true dignity and virtue consist in being free." Much of Emma Courtney can be seen as variants on others manipulating and using one another for their possessive ownership ends. The source:  fear, anxiety, and behind that lies resentment (and hatred too) of those better off in whatever way.  This may cause revolution but not lead to progress at all.  So this would be Hays’s take on what happened to the French revolution. 

This theme as I’ve just described it is endemic in much of the work reprinted by Gina Luria in her Broadview edition which I cannot recommend too highly.  In this Broadview press edition, you find Hays’s her journalism, some of female biographies, excepts from her Appeal to men on Behalf of Women, and much contextualizing material from other writers at the time, including the important Robert Robinson, the single most important influence on Hays’s thought:  he was a dissenter with radical Enlightenment philosophy and psychology (Burke chose him as a special bete noir in his Reflections on the French revolution). Anna Barbauld is typical of the kind of woman who accepted Hays. excepts from those who castigated and ridiculed her. 

As you read along you really get to picture of this woman which is (I think) deeply sympathetic.  Since she was like Johnson, Helen Maria Williams and others — not living in an era where the novel was all important because it could make such money, you really can’t rely on reading her novels to begin to get a sense of how she functioned in her era and could be read today for most profit.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), The Revenue Cutter (1779)


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