Dear friends and readers,
The sixth and last remnant of a letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy that Todd and Bree reprint in their Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen (Cambridge edition). This is perhaps one of the most poignant gaps in the letters in LeFaye’s collection: most of time what is cut away cannot be guessed it or even if something is cut away. Here we see it and we can contextualize it:
Letter 113. To Anna Lefroy. Wed, 30 November 1814, Hans Place, London, to Hendon
My dear Anna
I have been very far from finding your Book an Evil I assure you; I read it immediately — & with great pleasure. I think you are going on very well. The description of Dr. Griffin & Lady Helena’s unhappiness is very good, just what was likely to be. — I am curious to know what the end of them will be: The name of Newton-Priors is really invaluable! — I never met with anything superior to it. — It is delightful. — One could live upon the name of Newton-Priors for a twelvemonth. — Indeed, I do think you get on very fast. I wish other people of my acquaintance could compose as rapidly. — I am pleased with the Dog scene, & with the whole of George & Susan’s Love; but am more particularly struck with your serious conversations &c. — They are very good throughout. — St Julian’s History was quite a surprise to me; You had not very long known it yourself I suspect – -but I have no objection to make to the circumstance — it is very well told — & his having been in love with the Aunt, gives Cecilia an additional Interest with him. I like the Idea: — a very proper compliment to an Aunt! — I rather imagine indeed that Neices are seldom chosen but in compliment to some Aunt or other. I dare say Ben was in love with me once, & would never have thought of you if he had not supposed me dead of a Scarlet fever. — Yes, I was in a mistake as to the number
of Books. I thought I had read 3 before the 3 at Chawton; but fewer than 6 will not do. I want to see dear Bell Griffin again. – -Had not you better give some hint of St. Julian’s early [history in the beginning of your story?]
Todd and Bree’s note says the letter now ends in mid-sentence, and the completion is due to Anna Lefroy’s daughter’s reconstruction; Fanny Caroline then writes: “The rest of the letter is destroyed.”
The paragraph itself shows Jane Austen straining to be pleased. Anna has apparently begun to suspect that her aunt is not as sympathetic to her needs and book as she had supposed, and Austen rushes to say not quite that she finds this novel writing a good thing; the more backhand “I have been very far from finding your Book an Evil I assure you.” She asserts that she read it immediately, with great pleasure. She then goes about to prove this.
One problem is she has already complimented Anna on “Newton-Priors” as a name. But she goes through the book approving what has been newly added. Dr Griffth is the country surgeon, Lady Helena, the lady St Julian jilted (or broke his engagement with). Anna gets on so rapidly (writes so much!). There is a touching Dog scene in Burney’s Cecilia (Austen may not have remembered this); now Anna has another young man for Susan, the heroine her aunt liked so much: George. Austen approved of St Julian: now he is given a back story. That Austen was an immanent writer and didn’t know what would come out until she sat down and evolved her characters is testified to here when Austen says she suspects that Anna had not known herself for long St Julian’s previous history, but really it may have been written just to place.
Anna is now also flattering her aunt with her inventions — the fiction may have become transparently an attempt to engage Austen and Austen recognize this. Anna makes in her fiction an older woman, aunt someone St Julian was in love with. That the parallel between characters and family members is understood is seen in the above: “very proper compliment … I dare say Ben was in love with me once.” Probably Austen is half-teasing, remembering romantic pale sickness — she never tires of mocking romances (that Ben was attracted to her during her near death from Scarlett fever). We do learn that Austen had been sick we see since Anna met Ben and they fell in love.
Mr Griffin that country surgeon now has a wife, a Bell. Was she created to please the aunt’s taste too?
What Austen recognizes is Anna’s gifts are for gravity, “serious conversation,” probably moralizing. The melancholy gravity of Mary Hamilton may have been anticipated in Which is the Heroine?. I suggest if Anna and Ben were congenial at all (which they were in later life), he would prefer Cecilia (a grave heroine) to Susan (the witty, gay, fanciful &c&c).
Anna has been reading her aunt’s replies carefully. She noticed that Austen was not paying close attention to what she sent her (rather like people who send you their writing and then ask you questions about it later). I feel for Anna, her need for her aunt .. .
What is the context for the destruction? I suggest that Anna came back to the letter at a later time and what was written there became too painful for her to keep. We know that Anna had been married earlier that month; we have a full description by Caroline of that cool affair where there was no note of celebration. We can read just before it a letter (111) by Austen apparently answering a strong reiterated desire from Anna that her aunt visit her (so marriage was a shock too, not uncommon), another (113) where Austen asserts she has gone and “assures” Anna that in fact they had all enjoyed their time at Hendon; she assures Anne everyone talked of Anna and her home and husband for an hour and a half with “full satisfaction,” but alas right after Letter 113, we have Austen’s letter to Anna’s cousin, Fanny Austen Knight (114) where Austen refrains from writing down what was the real reaction of the family to Anna’s house and housekeeping (your father can tell you) but is “sorry that Anna is to have an instrument.” This is mean towards a young girl’s dream: What a waste of money she will see this years from now as she has no talent. Resentment of a purple pelisse Anna had now gotten, and harsh “I dare say she wanted it.” After all the worst thing was that Anna had bought it in secret: “She is capable of that you know …”
We can see the coldness of Austen towards her niece by lookig at all the 16 letters left and one of Austen’s poems to Anna in the context of Anna’s life story.
What is most striking about reading all 16 letters in a row is that when the matter is not a novel (Anna’s), the letters are short. Austen shows interest only when Anna appears to be like her, and imitates her aunt.
First, a brief retelling of Anna’s life and Mary Hamilton: Letter 104. (scroll down)
The precises of the letters: Letter 110 conveys brief congratulations over Anna’s wedding; Letter 111 gives excuses why she can’t come to visit Anna from Henry’s place; Letter 112, repeats the same excuses, apparently in response to explicit exigent comments (“I would see you if I could”), that all were so pleased with their visit, the cousins “excessively” interested in the wedding, uncle not there to send his best love so “I will not impose any base, fictitious remembrance on you.” There are scraps where the rest was destroyed rather ruthlessly (113, 116), are badly cut away (117). One (118) mentions a novel both Anna and Austen had read, which Anna has sent some thoughts to her aunt upon, and we get the same literalist point of view and demand for entertainment:
“We have got ‘Rosanne’ in our Society, and find it much as you describe it; very good and clever, but tedious. Mrs Hawkins’ great excellence is on serious subjects. There are some very delightful conversations and reflections on religion: but on lighter topics I think she falls into many absurdities; and, as to love, her heroine has very comical feelings. There are a thousand improbabilities in the story. Do you remember the two Miss Ormesdens, introduced just at the last? Very flat and unnatural — Mlle Cossart is rather my passion”
LeFaye’s note makes this novel out to be the didactic type meant to teach Christianity (much like Anna wrote in later life for children, The Winter’s Tale).
Austen ends letter 118 with a recitation of events happening to single women (one had the measles) and then we see Anna cut away lines, and we are bad with the usual dry commentary on childbirths and a wedding which did not appear in the papers: “one may as well be single if the Wedding is not to be in print.”
Tood and Bree have read Hunter’s novel and says Austen is unfair — well ever diplomatic it’s “little unfair.” The novel seems to swirl around tragedy like the romantic and gothic novels of the era, going as far as bigamy beyond suicide. Still they do not find it melodramatic or unrealistic. People assault one another, relative cheat one another; the repeat of the same story is done from different points of view — in her conscious mind Austen does not acknowledge subjectivity as part of what she creates. The containing of a narrative with in a narrator in a letter written by one person is done Clarissa and many powerful epistolary narratives. But they can see (and so can I) how Austen would have found the failures more amusing than the successes — jealousy is not a motive they admit, but it’s part of it, and also her inability to approve in print or by voice what differs from her own techniques (p. c-ci)
If we were to take all Austen’s criticisms seriously (from the parody of Mrs Hunter’s novel, to the commentary on Anna’s, to this on Hawkins, in the contexts we have them, we would see that Austen meant to create “fun” for us, consciously preferred light gay heroines.
In Letter 120 Austen tells Anna that Cassy (Edward’s daughter) really preferred to go to a fair rather than your house. Sorry. Then she, Austen, promises (once again) to come, this time, Wednesday. Mrs Austen happy to hear of Anna’s packing case. Letter 135 presents us with Austen sending Emma as an equivalent for Anna’s child, Jemima. Now I begin to wonder what Anna really thought of that. 141 again Anna has sent a book, again thanked Cassy quite delighted at least; Anna’s gloves found. Then Letter 147 the grandmother thanks Anna for the turkey, “such high mindedness is more than she can bear” – and perhaps Austen too.
A meager lot if you are seeing it from Anna’s angle. In the letters up to 76 and the two inbetween Fanny’s we’ve seen Austen half-hostile, ungracious comments and direct hypocrisy and “she is capable of that”; the best Aunt Jane musters is worry lest Ben not support Anna adequately. Anna was a moving force in that memoir which really gave the framework for the Austen cult. My reading is Anna could not let herself see her aunt’s attitude towards her, she needed her too much (consider the stepmother she had had) and paradoxically this fueled the over-the-top nostalgia in her case. I’ve read that Mary Augusta Austen (JEAL’s daughter, who wrote the biography of him) claimed that Constance Hill’s drenched in worship tone and the ambiance she created in Jane Austen and Her Homes is partly a product of what Anna told Constance Hill in old age.
In this context Austen’s two poems to Anna are worth perusing. The first was found in the margins of a book owned by Anna, Ann Murry’s Mentoria (1801). I compared Austen’s elegy on Mrs Lefroy’s death to “Sigh no more Ladies” I find the rhyme scheme, and stanzaic form the same; the prosody or rhythmic lines are the same; the poem to Mrs Lefroy is more distanced until near the end and has original unexpected thought: she wishes to see Mrs Lefroy, the vision comes and then it’s dissolved and Austen implies such visions of afterlife are illusions; but the plangency of the two are the same, and the one to Anna (if “Sigh no more’ is to her is an inscription in a moral-didactic work by Ann Murray that Austen gave Anna too.
Anna was a young girl when Austen gave her Mentoria, 8-9. The tone of the poem is consonant with the moral-didactic outlook of the book. The poem acknowledges Anna’s loneliness that “presses” on her “soul” and fits Anna’s life (her stepmother and father distant). Jane is telling her niece that her life is not desolate as it seems; there are people all around her, the seasons, cease crying out in pain and God really cares for all people among which she is.
Sigh Lady sigh, hide not the tear thats stealing
Down thy young face now so pale & cheerless
[now is underlined in ms]
Let not thy heart be blighted by the feeling
That presses on thy soul, of utter loneliness.
In sighs supprest & grief that’s [ever?] weeping
Beats slow & mournfully [a mourning?] heart
A heart oer which decay & death are creeping
In which no sunshine can a gleam impart.
Thou art not desolate, tho’ left forsaken
[not is underlined in ms]
By one in whom thy very soul was bound
Let Natures voice thy dreary heart awaken
Oh listen to the melodies around.
For Summer her pure golden tress is flinging
On woods & glades & silent gliding streams
With joy the very air around is ringing
Oh rouse thee from those mournful mournful dreams.
Go forth let not that voice in vain be calling
Join thy hearts voice to that which fills the air
For he who een a sparrow saves from falling
Makes thee an object of peculiar care.
[thee is underlined in ms]
Anna and her aunt had had a special relationship writing together by 1801. The family said the abridged playful, Sir Charles Grandison was Anna’s; as it’s in Austen’s hand, Southam has suggested it’s Austen’s. I would agree that even if it is dull and flat (as Doody says); nonetheless the choice of incident (abduction and forced marriage), the imitation of language, “I will not be bribed into liking your wit” seems beyond a 8 to 10 year old. I suggest they wrote it together.
Ten years later (1811) Austen writes this poem whose language echoes language in a letter (71) describing Anna in the same terms:
In measured verse I’ll now rehearse
The charms of lovely Anna:
And, first, her mind is unconfined
Like any vast savannah.
Ontario’s lake may fitly speak
Her fancy’s ample bound:
Its circuit may, on strict survey
Five hundred miles be found.
Her wit descends on foes and friends
Like famed Niagara’s Fall;
And travellers gaze in wild amaze,
And listen, one and all.
Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,.
Like transatlantic groves,
Dispenses aid, and friendly shade
To all that in it roves.
If thus her mind to be defined
And all that’s grand in that great land
In similes it costs –
Oh how can I her person try
To image and portray?
How paint the face, the form how trace
In which those virtues lay?
Another world must be unfurled,
Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round
Her charms of flesh and bone
Jane Austen was at first sympathetic to her niece; she may recall the years the niece had no one but her, Cassandra, and the grandmother really to care for her daily. But the intervening years of hardship in Bath (perhaps a breakdown of her own) and then Southampton’s disappointments had hardened her, and as she shows about others, she had no patience with someone still so openly emotional, grave. Anna’s vacillating between young two young men, her seizing on Ben, woke no chords in Austen any more (with her yearnings for women). Or Austen did not dare let herself stay close to Anna and see any parallels as that would endanger her. And she writes hostile burlesque, using the strange imagery to suggest alienation. It’s from Anna’s body (as we see in the last line) as well.
in letter 113 Anna was struggling in Hendon alone, adjusting to marriage, and later when she came back to see the letters that were left in the light of later in time too, she just cut it to shreds, saving only what had given her joy, the comments on her novel.
As to the literary criticism contained in these six letters, they suggest that the depths in Austen which we turn to her for were out of reach of her conscious mind. She begins with caricature (“fun”) and in her revisions, she makes leaps that take her far. An example would be the distance from the manuscript second to last chapter in Persuasion (a kind of comedy of misunderstandings and secrets — the Crofts know Anne and Wentworth had known one another and Wentworth loves Anne) to the extraordinary complications of emotions, thoughts, skeins of action and references to questions of literature, gender, the past, time that are to be found in the chapter that took its place.