Dear friends and readers,
She’s in London attending to her “suckling child” (the proofs of S&S): a party upon which much effort was expended,a museum trip, theater, visits with worldly political and cultured French friends of Eliza. An overturned carriage. The hard burlesque poem to Anna reflected in this letter. Austen has not changed much; by the end she seems eager to return to the country.
This is the third letter by Austen from the last phase of her life at Chawton (see Letter 69 and letter 70). It’s the second from London during the trip she took during the printing of Sense and Sensibility. In the previous she did not mention the book or anything about it; here for the first time since her two allusions to First Impressions (Letters 17 and 21), she names one of her books and talks about it in strikingly intimate bodily terms (“her suckling child”).
We again have a much more upbeat relatively cheerful text than we had in the early parts of the correspondence or those at Bath and Southampton, with the writer’s sense of herself now showing confidence and more openness to experience. This letter projects buoyant rhythms and outlook, but it also has a continual undercurrent of the prickly (rebarbative is now too strong a term) and muted sarcasms. Jane Austen may now be more openly be living a different kind of life apart at Chawton: her novel writing is acknowledged and understood; but she is still thwarted in fundamentals (e..g, her desire for a female community of friends at Chawton) and she still dislikes intensely all dishonesty of emotion, even when unconscious.
As in letter 70 I use stills from Sense and Sensibility to remind us this is the book she has been pouring herself into, saved enough money to publish on her own, is the reason why she is in London. There I used opening scenes of the novel in all but the Indian film; here I feature the famous second chapter in all the films, with a few of the heroines in the films.
1981 BBC S&S: in this second version Elinor does not interrupt John and Fanny (Peter Gale and Amanda Boxer) in their famous duo on how little they can get away with giving his sisters in fulfillment of his promise to his father to help them
The first line of the letter shows Austen’s ideas about pleasure were in line with Samuel Johnson and George Sand: the best pleasures are the unexpected unplanned ones; Johnson and Sand go so far as to say that such are the only really felt pleasures:
I can return the compliment by thanking you for the unexpected pleasure of your Letter yesterday, & as I like unexpected pleasure, it made· me very happy; And indeed, You need not apologise for your Letter in any respect, for it is all very fine, but not too fine I hope to be written again, or something like it.
Cassandra had complimented Jane upon her letter and the unexpected pleasure it gave Cassandra. Now this refers to Letter 70 (for there are no missing letters here): this implies Cassandra did not expect pleasure necessarily from Jane’s letters. I take it Cassandra likes cheerful letters and many of Jane’s were not. Now she Jane likes unexpected pleasure as such (a different turn of meaning given this phrase here), so therefore Cassandra’s letter made her happy. Cassandra had apologized but Jane says don’t, but the “it is all very fine” then registers a note of doubt about its sincerity, a sense it’s a performance. It was not that fine though so perhaps Cassandra or she Jane may write another just like it.
Edward again complaining about bodily stuff. We remember that occasioned the trip to Bath:
I think Edward will not suffer much longer from heat; by the look of Things this morning I suspect the weather is rising into the balsamic Northeast. It has been hot here, as you may suppose, since it was so hot with you, but I have not suffered from it at all, nor felt it in such a degree as to make me imagine it would be anything in the Country. Everybody has talked of the heat, but I set it all down to London
Our sceptical Jane; everyone here talks of heat but it’s all exaggeration. The word “balsamic” signals something restorative, curative, also a lovely odor, “a balsamic fragrance.” Far from uncomfortable, it’s ripe with lovely smell and warmth. I don’t understand the connection to the northeast. Was it somewhere northeast in the UK that the herbs for balsamic vinegar came?
The boy baby that Austen celebrated in her verse letter to Frank in 1809 has been mentioned by Cassandra; either he or the new baby boy is said to be a child who will be hanged. This is meant as a joke on the Eric or little by Little) syndrome — or perhaps Jane is serious and it’s a wry comment and in full context (which we cannot know) suggested misbehavior.
I give you joy of our new nephew, & hope if he ever comes to be hanged, it will not be till we are too old to care about it. — It is a great comfort to have it so safely & speedily over. The Miss Curlings must be hard-worked in writing so many Letters, but the novelty of it may recommend it to them; –
It seems that Cassandra has had a letter. Mary has had a third child by this time: yet another little boy. Remember Jane’s poem — that was Francis William born 1809, Mary’s second baby. Two years later it’s Henry Edgar born 1811, a third. Jane says let us not fret if Francis William is hanged (or Henry Edgar), she and Cass will be long dead. This is her vein of humor and reminds me of the dead plants and laughing Mrs Palmer in S&S and in Southampton how Austen wrote Cassandra she hoped Cassandra realized all the plants were dead — as a joke and it did make me laugh. I like morbid humor. But the great comfort is not this coming hanging, but Mary’s childbirth which has happened safely and is over. Another one much easier than that hard hard first with Mary Jane.
But the great comfort is not this coming hanging, but Mary’s childbirth which has happened safely and is over. Another one much easier than that hard hard first with Mary Jane. This dialogue shows Austen and Cassandra were aware of the hideous warning lesson school of children’s literature (Eric or Little by Little was a favorite text of Orwell’s to parody aloud in dramatic way; he’d send people off in stitches of hilarity at this poor little boy who one error led to hanging):
Now we get a preening triumphant over the Miss Curlings. They are writing letters as kin of Henry Edgar. Now I see another reason for this sneer. They are related to Mary Gibson and giving themselves airs. Austen was ever ambivalent about real children, and she’s right about the absurdity of this. They have not gone through the hardship and danger of childbirth. So Jane tosses her head and preens: the novelty of writing so many letters is nothing to her now. Now she is a novelist with her own suckling child. She could not know most of her letters would be destroyed.
Jane has had a letter too:
Mine was from Miss Eliza, & she says that my Brother may arrive today.
The brother in question is Frank. Since Austen is living with Eliza Austen, this Eliza cannot be her, but here LeFaye does not tell us which Eliza wrote.
And then the reference to which we have all be thirsting, the first open mention of her writing and it’s startlingly fleshly, even unexpected — given that for half the letters just about every reference to childbirth is half- mocking and askance, and who would go on to breast-feed if the body has been wracked with pain or dead to start with. One buried metaphor here is of a text living off her, her drained by what feeds off her yet is so precious
.– No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby’s first appearance.
That would be chapter 9 when Willoughby first appears.
Then the first literary criticism of her books we have. First she deprecates the flattery of Mrs Knight. The implication of the line is it’s kindness in Mrs Knight to express her eagerness. Austen thinks it will be another 2 months (it’s now April so not until June). Henry has been at it — and Austen we will later learn felt guilty for taking up his time over this. So we see her real modesty here. And after all why would she be otherwise — after 25 years of rejection (1796, 1803, 1809 are the attempts we know about). She underlines “has.” This implies that Cassandra has been doubting that Henry has been working at it. What is to be sent to Eliza in Henry’s absence? a contract? This brings up the tricky reality that women could not sign contracts; Radcliffe’s husband signed hers. What did a maiden lady do? turn to father or brother so the printer will send the contract to Henry’s wife?
I have read about this comment over incomes. Clearly Austen has been told by her family members something is wrong with the incomes. What could it be? As of what we have everything adds up correctly so perhaps it was the extravagance of 50,000 for Miss Grey. Or could it be Brandon’s income might make someone think Austen had someone they knew in mind. Austen’s family might have worried about that (and publishers do today with the disclaimers they have at the opening of fictions). I have read various speculations about what this correction would have been.
And what is Austen’s critical comment? the usual fondness for the heroine. This is just what we will see beyond her literalism over verisimilitude and probability. “my Elinor.” It is sweet.
Mrs K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till. May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. — Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the Printer, & says he will see him again today. — It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. — The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. — I am very much gratified by Mtr K.s interest in it; & whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on any thing else.
Let us give thanks to Cassandra here for becoming restless under her sister’s silence and demanding to know what’s happening with that book production, or nothing would be in this letter about this book.
She moves quickly on to another topic. And we get a long vignette for Austen, not jumping off associatively in the way she usually has.
Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms & vexations beforehand of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers &c, & looked very pretty. — A glass for the Mantlepeice was lent, by the Man who is making their own.-M’ Egerton & M’ Walter came at l/2 past 5, & the festivities began with a pof very fine Soals. Yes, Mr Walter – -for he postponed his leaving London on purpose — which did not give much pleasure at the time, any more than the circumstance from which it rose, his calling on Sunday & being asked by Henry to take the family dinner on that day, which he did, but it is all smooth’d over now;-& she likes him very well.-’
To me it’s telling how even the man doing well at this point (Henry) with his wife with her inherited monies, is still lending a glass mirror for over the mantelpiece. What they ate. Who came. I’m interested here to see also how even these networking gentry types or maybe I should say especially are solicitous of the least relative’s feelings. Mr Walter is related to Henry through Henry’s father’s mother and her first husband. Not that they were eager to have him for real (by which I mean any genuine feeling or friendship) for Mr Walter’s postponing his leaving gave no pleasure at the time nor why (alas we are not told about this). It seems this man’s vanity was ruffled, his amour-propre at a lack of invitation until that Sunday. Was Eliza as the known daughter (on the other side of the blanket) the cause? or the fashionable Hans Place? or just this feeling some people have of tenacious rights & a place to whatever is going however little in reality they might enjoy themselves there? Eliza now says she likes him very well. (What else could she say?) They ate fancy fish.
Then the paid entertainment and deliberately late coming upper class ones — rather like Darcy and his party who appear late in P&P and Lord and Lady Osborne who appear late in The Watsons. Austen notes these musisians come in a hackney coach so she’s bought into these values herself as she described:
At 11 past 7 arrived the Musicians in two Hackney coaches, & by 8 the lordly Company began to appear.
Then Austen’s happy time or what she enjoyed of this party: Mary Cooke was someone she wanted to be friends with we know, to bring back to Chawton. They sit in the connecting passage — reminding me of Emma (LeFaye quotes a book by Winifred Watson, JA in London which describes this Sloane Street apartment). Here she admits to the heat. The place the party was in was a small close area for 66 people.
Among the earliest were George & Mary Cooke, & I spent the greatest part of the evening very pleasantly with them. — The Drawg room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting Passage,’ which was comparatively cool, & gave us all the advantage of the Music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first veiw of every new comer. — I was quite surrounded by acquaintance, especially Gentlemen; & what with Mr Hampson, M’ Seymour, M’ W. Knatchbull, M’ Guillemarde, M’ Cure, a Cap’ Simpson, brother to the Capt Simpson, besides M’ Walter & M’ Egerton, in addition to the Cookes & Miss Beckford & Miss Middleton, I had quite as much upon my hands as I could do. –
Quite the belle of the ball, no? Her description of herself surrounded by gentleman puts me in mind of Scarlett O’Hara surrounded by her beaux at the opening of GWTW.The list of men around her and her evident delight suggests I was not wrong about how she disliked assembly balls early on when she was snubbed. No snubbing now. She is the sister of the man running the party, Henry the banker, ex-military man with all his wife’s French friends: Note they are all either family, or business connections, or relatives and or maiden ladies
Not so keen on this maiden ladies though. Of Miss Beckford we are told
Poor Miss B. has been suffering again from her old complaint, & looks thinner than ever. She certainly goes to Cheltenham the beginning of June. We were all delight & cordiality of course.
Her tone acknowledges the phoniness of the moment:
Then Miss Middleton comes in for her share of the barbs:
Miss M. seems very happy, but has not beauty enough to figure in London.
Including everybody we were 66 — which was considerably more than Eliza had expected, & quite enough to fill the Back Drawg room, & leave a few to be scattered about in the other, & in the passage. –
Two drawing rooms full and one passage. I think Austen mentioned a figure in the 80s so that was really on the outside. Eliza had not expected about a quarter of the people she invited to come. (Interesting to me who has never given such a party and hardly ever gone to any such if at all that I can remember.)
And instead of saying how she fled the music, and was not such a hypocrite to pretend, she enters into it through her play-games with Fanny. If you think I am hard and misrepresenting the tone and undercurrents of this pay attention to those last lines: all the Performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid to do.”
The Music was extremely good. It opened (tell Fanny) with “Prike pe Parp pin praise pof Prapela” -& of the other Glees I remember, “In peace Love tunes,” “Rosabelle,” ‘”The red cross Knight,” & “Poor Insect.” Between the Songs were =-.essons on the Harp, or Harp & Piano Forte together-& the Harp Player was Wiepart, whose name seems famous, tho’ new to me.- There was one female singer, a short Miss Davis all in blue, bringing up for the Public Line, whose voice was said to be very fine indeed; & all the Performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid for, & giving themselves no airs.-No Amateur could be persuaded to do anything. —
Those who suggest Austen was unqualifiedly after money should read these lines; as in other instances, what was good for the gander is not good for her goose — she can sneer at others working for money but when she works for it it’s just fine. And she does not like airs. I would agree that she would not have in public nor in these letters does she. She was very proud in the way of Elizabeth Bennet. That no one unpaid would sing is brought in. I cannot tell if this is a barb at those who do what they are paid to do with the idea they wouldn’t were they not paid or about the fear people have of performing lest others in their minds think less of them.
She concludes her description of the party which she now accounts for by implying that Cassandra wanted this — because she couldn’t be there:
he House was not clear till after 12. — If you wish to hear are of it, you must put your questions, but I seem rather to have exhausted than spared the subject.
The couple of moments of exhilaration were more than made up for by the weariness she experienced and her intensity of experiencing everything alertly through a disillusioned point of view by its end.
I Have Found It: our first view of Tabu as Sowmya (Elinor): two sisters have been bathing in their mansion-house: she does not know why her body’s obligation as a woman is any less than her intellect’s.
After accounting for the party, Austen turns to naval or political news. What was told her at the party about this is separated off:
This said Capt. Simpson told us, the authority of some other Captn just arrived from Halifax, that Charles was bringing the Cleopatra home, & that she was probably by this time in the Channel — but as Capt. S. was certainly in liquor, we must not quite depend on it. — It must give one a sort of expectation however, & will prevent my writing to him any more.-I would rather he should not reach England till I am at home, & the Steventon party gone.
This has several layers. Jane would rather greet her brother from the security and framework of the Chawton home — the family stronghold, the family grounds and privacy as it were – than outside it. She says she need not write to him anymore. She is not eager to, and it may be noted that whatever she wrote this younger brother has not survived. At this point Charles had been married to Fanny for about 4 years: they were married in 1807. By 1810 they have two children and (possibly) she is pregnant with the third She is at sea with him — it should be noted. (The article to read is by Kaplan, Persuasions 14 (1992):113-21) so it’s a case of her coming back with him. She is not mentioned by Austen at all and Kaplan says everyone understood he did not have the income to pay for living quarters (Later in life Francis lived at Chawton itself — on Edward’s inheritance as did his sisters and mother).
And now for the painful part of this letter.
My Mother & Martha both write with great satisfaction of Anna’s behaviour. She is quite an Anna with variations — but she cannot have reached her last, for that is always the most flourishing & shewey — she is at about her 3d or 4th which are generally simple & pretty. —
The flourishing and shewy Anna. Austen forgets her childhood, her cutting off of her hair in 1808 (age 15, a very hard year) and how the assembly balls Anna went to were nothing to hers. The language here echoes the language of the 2nd poem to Anna. The condescension is strong. Anna of course does not get to go to London (as she did not to Godmersham in 1808) For the poem see Letter 113; for more on the relationship of Anna and Jane, letters 104, 107, 108, and the collaboration of Sir Charles Grandison.
It seems just now Anna is obeying: “great satisfaction. So the couple of sentences are softened by the last two adjectives: Anna’s third and fourth variation are “generally simple and pretty.” Martha appeared as a rigid disciplinarian and older women to Catherine Anne Hubback when Frank married her (see Zoe Klippert’s An Englishwoman in Canada: Letters of Catherine Hubback, 1871-76); neither she or Anna could have any inkling of Martha as the lovely spirited young women whom her aunt’s spirits leapt out to; Martha by then had become older and behaved as a disciplinarian and probably she seemed something of this by 1811.
Your Lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. — The Horse chesnuts are quite out, & the Elms almost. –I had a pleasant walk in Kensington G’ on Sunday with Henry, M’ Smith & M’Tilson — everythingwas fresh & beautiful.
These are Henry’s friends. Austen is beating her sister out — it seems London is in bloom first. Part Three of Sense and Sensibility has Elinor walking in Kensington Gardens.
Then the lines about the plays and then the museum. The play is Isaac Bickerstaffe adapted from Cibber. Pretty bad. The distance from Moliere by this time huge — Shadwell comes close. These later adaptations were shortened and emasculated. I note that Austen goes to plays with a popular point of view. She does not pay attention to the play but the player. She does admire Siddons who was known for her projection of intensity of emotion (thats the point of the role of Constance in King John).
We did go to the play after all on Saturday, we went to the Lyceum, & saw the Hypocrite, an old play taken from Moliere’s Tartuffe, & were well entertained. Dowton & Mathews were the good actors. Mrs Edwin was the Heroine-& her performance is just what it used to be.-I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons. — She did act on Monday, but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would, the places, & all thought of it, were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance, & could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.
Lefaye notes there were two watercolor societies; the one started in 1808-9 had an exhibition for “the associated artists.” Austen did like landscapes, and among the materials on Sanditon is a comment by her about the man who might have been the source of Mr Parker, Ogle: she says he has no need of panoramas, meaning he need not go look at paintings since he owns so much shipping and spends so much time at seascapes for real – including Worthing. Miss Beaty is the sister or daughter of one of Henry’s friends, a Captain (so known from militia days); Henry’s bank also made a payment of 50 pounds to this captain in 1804.
– Henry has been to the Watercolour Exhibition, which open’d on Monday, & is to meet us there again some morn — If Eliza cannot go –( & she has a cold at present) Miss Beaty will be invited to be my companion. –
Cassandra has been asking what are Henry’s plans, but Austen puts her off. She will not herself be expansive and is aware that she might say offend were she to tell Henry’s plan. The awareness of her place as a guest comes next. She cannot send the muslim unless Cassandra really wants it because she’d have to send it by coach and that would give trouble (cost money)
Henry leaves Town on Sunday afternoon but he means to write soon himself to Edward – -& will tell his own plans. — The Tea is this moment setting out.-Do not have your cold muslin unless you really want it, because I am afraid I Could not send it to the Coach without giving trouble here. –
There follows the account of why Eliza is under the weather and the near accident. That she is so reactive reminds us that she did not have long to live. By this time her little son is dead 10 years. He died around the time the Austens left Steventon for Bath. A hard year for all, that.
The letter ends on two vignettes and enigmatic references to family politics combined with dropped comments on Austen’s plans to leave Sloan Street for Catherine Bigg and then home to Chawton. Muted sarcasm and coolness throughout comes out again and again. A quietly apart, estranged presence. This is what this woman has grown into in maturity — guarded.
Eliza caught her cold on Sunday in our way to the D’Entraigues; — the Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate — a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable Hill to them, & they refused the collar; — I beleive there was a sore shoulder to irritate. — Eliza was frightened, & we got out-& were detained in the Eveng air several minutes.- The cold is in her chest but she takes care of herself, & I hope it may not last long.- This engagement prevented M’ Walter’s staying late-he had his coffee & went away. –
Gibbing is pulling back. The details intuitively picked out make us feel the misery of these horses, though Austen’s words about this are not at all necessarily sympathetic. Southey in his Letters from England talks of our horses are made to work on with their skin in terrible state. Austen saw that sore shoulder being whipped or pushed and prodded on. It seems cousin Eliza (now aged what — 50?) was made nervous by this and is said to have caught cold. The relative who had forced himself on them anyway didn’t stay. Had his coffee and went away.
They did get to the D’Entraignes (see LeFaye p 514, the biographical index).
Eliza enjoyed her evening very much & means to cultivate the acquaintance — & I see nothing to dislike in them, but their taking quantities of snuff. — Monsieur the old Count, is a very fine looking man, with quiet manners, good enough for an Englishman — & I beleive is a Man of great Information & Taste. He has some fine Paintings, which delighted Henry as much as the Son’s music gratified Eliza-& among them, a Miniature of Philip 5. of Spain, Louis 14.s Grandson, which exactly suited my capacity. — Count Julien’s performance is very wonderful. We met only Mrs Latouche & Miss East — & we are just now engaged to spend next Sunday Eveng at M” L.s-& to meet the D’Entraigues; — but M. Ie Comte must do without Henry. If he would but speak English, I would take to him.-
When they got there, Eliza enjoyed it very much. She will “cultivate” this acquaintance. Austen not so enthusiastic. (She reminds me of Elinor Dashwood here). She sees nothing to dislike but their taking quantities of snuff. Which makes us aware of how physically smelly they were. Austen disgusted by this. Apparently Henry was with them (yet he’s not mentioned in the vignette of the accident). Austen shows only grudging appreciation of a highly educated man of fine taste with real art and knowledge of the world. This man or his type does not appear in any of her novels. Maybe she didn’t go to that gathering with highly intelligent well-educated people where Henry wanted to take her to meet De Stael for more reasons than she thought she would not fit in (not used to it — “wild beast” that she is). Perhaps intimidated? perhaps she does not see what the man is. What we take to be modesty and self-deprecation (as when she says she is not well read meaning the reality that she has no latin and none of the academic type learning so respected then) here emerges as an instinctive suspicio or the result of years of exclusion.
Only miniatures for her. This though could be is also the result of many years hidden injuries and exclusions. She would never have a miniature. Only Cassandra sketched her.
[Joke digression: Bryne has not picked this passage up! (She has not read the letters with alert attentiveness to what does not flatter her.) Here is Austen looking at a miniature and saying this is just my capacity! (ironic joke alert). Now naive people that we are we think she is simply looking half-resentful; no it was here she hatched that plan to have a miniature made of her in secret.]
She keeps herself apart: it was Henry who delighted in the pictures, Eliza who was gratified with the music. Perhaps Austen saw them as posturing, as not emotionally completely honest here. LeFaye in her notes does not tell us who Count Julien was. She does not single him out (LeFaye seems to think society is families period.) Perhaps one of the performers? perhaps one of the family. They did not get to meet Count Julien it seems but only another relative, Mrs Latouche and her daughter called Miss East (p 543). Why? on account of her marrying a baronet (reminds me of Bleak House and Sir Leicester Dedlock baronet), but then she’d be an honorary Lady or at least Mrs.
Now next Sunday they all will go to the lodgings of the LaTouches, but they will have to do without Henry. (Business).
And then the concession:
If he would but speak English I would take to him.
We see early on in the paragraph that there is xenophobia or anti-French feeling here. The man’s manners were “good enough for an Englishman”! what more can she say? In other passages she describes typical English men as rowdy, aggressive, domineering … I wonder what M. L’Entraignes and his wife thought of Miss Austen. Certainly they did their best to entertain her.
The tone is muted sarcasm. Two sentences later she recurs to the evening and says:
Eliza has just spoken of it again. — The Benefit she has found from it in sleeping, has been very great. (Italics Austen’s)
Underlining she leaves a distance from Austen. “It” presumably refers to not drinking tea, but I’m not sure that “Eliza has spoken of it again” refers to Mrs K’s tea-drinking but rather the whole evening which benefitted Eliza so.
The whole of this last occasionally somewhat puzzling paragraph runs:
Have you ever mentioned the leaving off Tea to M” K.? — Eliza has just spoken of it again. — The Benefit she has found from it in sleeping, has been very great. I shall write soon to Catherine to fix my day, which will be Thursday.-We have no engagements but for Sunday. Eliza’s cold makes quiet adviseable. — Her party is mentioned in this morning’s paper. — I am sorry to hear of poor Fanny’s state. – -From that quarter I suppose is to be the alloy of her happiness. — I will have no more to say. —
The beloved (by both sisters, and for her generosity) Mrs Knight is an elderly elderly lady by this time. She had been so ill in a previous letter as they feared she’d die. Austen now writes in response to something Cassandra wrote (we should recall Cassandra destroyed all her own letters but two — the others that survived were out of her control). Then Austen reports she will write to Catherine Bigg to fix her day of arrival. No more engagements but that following Sunday as Eliza has a cold. We may wonder if there was some underlying condition She died two years later (aged 52). She is part of “le monde” — “her party mentioned in the paper.”
And then turning at last to Godmersham news. Fanny not in a good state? Well there must be some alloy in some lives. Austen has a hard comment to make here but refrains: “I _will_ have no more to say …” Perhaps about young men? perhaps about her position in the household — discipline pressed on her?
Austen closes with a pointed conveyance of love to her god-daughter, Louisa Austen Knight, one of Edward’s brood whom Cassandra is now caring for.
The letter is directed to Edward Austen at Godmersham.
This letter is another which divides into sections with vignettes that may be excerpted — this is not that common for Austen the way it is for more performative letter-writers. She still does not take the time to make a fully realized dramatic scene the way Burney does and does not work out her thoughts the way say Anne Grant or many another letter-writer does on issues I’ll call them which come up (there are opportunities here to talk of paintings, or acting, or songs). But there is more willingness to expatiate in these vignette sectioned letters. She’s an impatient letter writer as she’s an immanent novel writer.
We see the same continually sceptical frame of mind we’ve seen throughout, with the same reluctance to be pleased, as when she now has met a genuinely interesting informed perceptive man with real taste, a decent collection of paintings, a relative who actually can play, it takes several clauses before she breaks down to say to say “If he would but speak English, I would take to him …” There is also real hardness towards Anna, Eliza, the Miss Curlings. The joke about the baby boy is not pleasant. Austen (as we have before) is her taking a mean family view towards an individual’s hurt and bewilderment (Anna) and reaching out for love relationships; when Austen did this (Tom Lefroy) she would have liked sympathy but in her guarded way pretended to dismiss her emotion. Anna does not. And there’s something pettily triumphant we’ve seen before (with respect to Anna) over the Miss Curlings. She tosses her head and preens: the novelty of writing so many letters is nothing to her.
We do see some real pleasure in the party, in London environs (Kensington “everything fresh and beautiful”), a lively interest in actors, a sense of the reality of the horse, near turn over of her and Eliza’s carriage, Eliza’s anxiety
and fright (you could have a very bad accident even die from an overturn) standing on the pavement. Still in this great moment of her “suckling child” come home to her with her scarce ability to still her intense excitement as the book is in printing I did expect the more or less unqualified cheer of the previous letter to continue.
She is in herself secretive, hidden and does not want (trust) anyone to know for sure where her real allegiances lie.
So, to try a little to get beyond or beneath this: Jane Austen took on board her family’s values of conventionality; she had no other. She never went to a school where she could reach another point of view, was literally not allowed associates who had them. It was from her nature as well as circumstances unthinkable for her to break away — some women did, but often we find their family life was hard, deprived. In her (later) letters to Fanny Austen Knight there is this chilling idea that Anna Austen Lefroy must now spend hours of her existence disciplining one of her children (Jemima) to make her into what the family wants her to be. (There is a similar observation found now and again in Trollope about mothers really punishing girls until these girls are what they want, censoring all that comes near them to
do it.) So I take this presentation of social life as her conventionality (and also how she treated Anna in her poem about her) and find in Letter 71 many barbs at it too, instinctive, irresistible.
A telling aspect of Hubback’s Younger Sister (revealing sequel to The Watsons) is how Hubback combines Austen’s Emma Watson with Anne Elliot to show someone not just tortured by those around her emotionally, absolutely turning from what is in front of her with boredom, but disliking intensely their values in the spirit of Elinor Dashwood. (My next blog will be on two Austen sequels.)
A picture is worth a thousand words. There’s that portrait of Austen by Cassandra – an honest one. A worn-woman, having a bad day, but one which shows she had many bad days and bad nights (there are three poems on headaches, one on her own migraine to be specific just before the publication of Sense and Sensibility” “When stretch’d on one’s bed,” Later Manuscripts, Cambridge ed, 253-54). Tight, arms crossed, grated by the demand she sit there. The other is better because she did not have to show her face she didn’t want to.
Yes in general she is so much more fulfilled in this second half of her letters — partly because she is feeling some respect and a modicum of power at last. Not much, she’s still utterly dependent (has to smooth her way to leaving) and she is still very jealous of those whose work is valued more than her or as much when she feels so strongly her genius. She’s not a very nice person by the way (in the general way we use that word nice), not herself empathizing with others in her predicament, instead she is one of those who inflicts on others what was inflicted on her, partly softened. Maybe she did try to save Anna from the marriage to Ben (in the later comments I quoted in the commentary on the 6 letters) but not on the grounds she could have and then when the girl still sought the only escape route offered (not an escape), Austen did not help her.
The archive for Jane Austen’s letters