Dear Friend and readers,
This week’s two letters leap out at us differently from all those which have been allowed to descend to us thus far: the majority of letter 79 is about two of Austen’s novels (P&P and MP); more than half of Letter 80 is about P&P. We’ve seen nothing like this before. For Letter 79, using the line lengths of LeFaye’s edition, we’ve got 63 lines. Of these, all but the first 5 and the last 21 are about her novels – and I’m going to suggest the first two of those first 5 are about P&P too. So, she’s got another novel just published and one she’s working on. For Letter 80, half of what we have left (a ending or perhaps more has been chopped off), P&P.
It should be noticed that in the parts of both letters not about her novels, the two people who emerge most sharply (as on Austen’s mind) are Martha and Frank. She is bothered lest he not get a first copy; she remembers when she walked with Martha one February day.
Letter 79 first: Austen is intensely excited — for her. So excited is she that she has lost the strong inhibitions we assume we have been seeing; or, we have for the first one of some of the types of letters Austen has written and Cassandra destroyed: about the novel writing.
So, what is she saying? She’s had the arrival of the printed book. “My own darling Child” from London (Letter 71). As with her calling the proof of S&S “her suckling child,” we see that she has not been able to rid herself of the idea she’s supposed to have children, and in her mind has made these substitute. And indeed had she married and gotten endlessly pregnant, we would have none of them.
I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child’ from London;
Then she speaks fretting about how her plan for the distribution of copies has been thwarted. She wanted a copy each to go to Steventon and Portsmouth first. Cassandra at Steventon was to have the first copy and maybe James too to read some — after all the literary person of the family once upon a time, and still writing poetry. Frank is to have his at the same time. (“Portsmouth”). The last two places or groups she wanted to read were Charles’s group (so she doesn’t believe he is all that enamured, and reading it repeatedly — he did produce that common cliche of the era) and those at Godmersham (this surprises me as though I’m aware Edward is no big reader or terribly acute to say the least, I have accustomed myself to believing in Jane’s closeness to Fanny).
The advertisement excites her, the price. She reconciles herself to the copies not getting to Steventon first as “the first burst of the business” would upset Cassandra (the publicity she assumes). Lurking here is the admission they did assume most people would know and in that way of some people got a kick from the idea they kept everything secret and yet everyone knows. (Reminds me of the people of Highbury and I’m with Mr Knightley’s wry remark about that). Then her mind (note it) reverts to Frank: It’s the delay that worries her. She determines to write “that he may not think himself neglected.”
On Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles & sent a 3d by the Coach to Godmersham; just the two Sets which I was least eager for the disposal of. I wrote to him immediately to beg for my two other Sets, unless he would take the trouble of forwarding them at once to Steventon & Portsmouth-not having an idea of his leaving Town before to day; — by your account however he was gone before my Letter was written. The only evil is the delay, nothing more can be done till his return. Tell James & Mary so, with my Love. — For your sake I am as well pleased that it sh[ould] be so, as it might be unpleasant to you to be in the Neighbourhood at the first burst of the business.- The Advertisement is in our paper to day’ for the first time; — 18′ — He shall ask £1- 1- for my two next, & £1- 8- for my stupidest of all — I shall write to Frank, that he may not think himself neglected.
As to price, she revels in the idea of charging more than the market usually was willing to pay. I’ve no idea really what she means by the stupidest of all but perhaps here we see a sudden spark of her multifold mind – which comes out in the novels through the rewriting. Has anyone when they finally got a prize for something they have worked so long and hard on, realized that after all the reasons the people are doing this do not show its value. In fact it’s more than a little stupid after all. She is half-mocking herself for producing these sorts of books. This helps temper her over-investment which when disillusion comes (as it surely will) would not then be such a blow. She was unsure of Emma and we have seen “twigs” of Emma here and there as parallels to the book floating through these last letters. So maybe she does mean Emma where to the average person it lacked events and nothing was doing (to echo Swift’s criticism of Thomson’s poetry).
Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the evens we set fairly at it & read half the 1 st vol. to her — prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work w[ould] soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out — & I beleive it passed with her unsuspected — She was amused, poor soul! that she c[oul]d not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.
Miss Benn (good old soul, never misses a meal) found herself sat down with nearly half of volume read to her toute de suite. They could hardly wait – Jane could hardly wait and her mother indulged her. Mrs Austen read it quickly and gave it her all. Was Miss Benn so stupid? Austen thinks so: “I beleive it passed with her unsuspected.” But she forgives Miss Benn because she liked the heroine and then indulges herself in saying finally that she has a high opinion of herself as a reader — and her mother too.
We do get some insight into how Austen saw her novels. Add to the literal verisimilitude, insistence on probability, desire to be utterly contemporary (partly to hide how long it took to write them and how many long years she waited) in order to please and sell to the kind of people she was surrounded by (her criteria for mass audience), each book is its heroine. She calls them by the heroine’s name. In her mind they are filled with the heroine’s presence with whom she has really identified and loved (even if she tries to hide it)
She has rapidly perused the text and seen some “typical” errors and she notes that it’s not always clear who is speaking. In cutting down, paring she left the dramatic scenes as in a play. But a play has little abbreviations next to each speaker. Never mind. she does not write for dull elves who need continual direction. They should be able to tell from the utterance who has spoken (ah a sense that she creates a character listening to how they speak and sound and what fits and what doesn’t — as n he would not say that or he would say this):
There are a few Typical errors — & a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear-but ‘I do not write for such dull Elves’
It’s more than he and she saids she’s speaking of. She alludes to Scott whose lines talk about the reader imagining his writing’s scenes before the eyes. She makes a new paragraph but she’s still on about the subtlety of her book. She expects her reader to read actively, not be a passive reader. The line seems to be quoted from somewhere but LeFaye does not recognize the allusion. Alas.
Then tellingly — I was interested in this when I was reviewing the Cambridge Volume of the Later Ms’s: the printers took over. She did not have the disposition of volume divisions.Remember she sold the ms outright. So maybe volume 3 was not intended to open on the day they came to Pemberley. OTOH, she might be referring to her own lopping and chopping. To her the 2nd volume has a lot of story because she eliminated the sort of repetition and sentimental discourse (psychological mimesis) that epistolary narrative often calls for and uses. And the last line hints that P&P was actually once much longer than S&S but she has cut so much and so successfully (she asserts — she needs to, she needs badly to love this book and triumph) that it’s shorter than S&S now (and maybe she is thinking no one will be able to tell)
As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.” –The 2d vol. is shorter than I Cd wish — but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S.&S. altogether. –
Now turning to MP, The question of its correctness which seems so to obsess her:
– Now I will try to write of something else; — it shall be a complete change of subject– Ordination.” I am glad to find your enquiries have ended so well. — If you Cd discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of Hedgerows,” I sh[ould] be glad again. —
Are there hedgerows in Northampton shire or not. She doesn’t know. She never went. So she does write of what she’s never seen — like she’s never seen Gibraltor. As for the last single word; “Ordination.” I agree with LeFaye that this word does not suggest Austen first started MP and began with a book on religion as a career say; clearly from my calender, and others delving and the previous letter we see she’s been engaged on the book a very long time and this last revision has been itself going on for some time.
To my speculation; maybe the opening lines are about P&P arriving at Steventon to Cassandra. The little parcel. Maybe it’s a stretch because the very last five of the letter are about parcels too and they may be presents of another sort (cloth like Edward’s money pays for). It may be that the last line is meant ironically: Martha will know that Mrs Digweed is not full of wonder and gratitude and only hypocritically asserting this.
After all this who could write of anything like dinner parties no matter how sweet the food. Jane “could not get herself to eat a Mincepie at Mr Papillons.” Too taken out of herself for once.
Then on Letter 80 and P&P, the famous passages, but note she is not quite as excited and now disposed to be critical, of her readers and a bit of her book:
Your letter was truely welcome & I am much obliged to you all for your praise; it came at a right time, for I had had some fits of disgust; our 2nd evening’s reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I beleive something must be attributed to my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on — & tho’ she perfectly understands the Characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought. — Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough. — The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling;-it wants shade; — it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter — of sense if it could be had, if nor of solemn specious nonsense — about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte — or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile. — I doubt your quite agreeing with me here — I know your starched Notions. — The caution observed at Steventon with regard to the possession of the Book is an agreable surprise to me, & I heartily wish it may be the means of saving you from everything unpleasant; — but you must be prepared for the Neighbourhood being
perhaps already informed of there being such a Work in the World, & in the Chawton World! Dummer will do that you know. — It was spoken of here one morn when M” D. called with Miss Benn.-The greatest blunder in the Printing that I have met with is in Page 220- Vol. 3. where two speeches are made into one. — There might as well have been no suppers at Longbourn, but I suppose it was the remains of Mr Bennet’s old Meryton habits. –
Why Miss Benn again? perhaps because she was a simpleton or she’s just there and they don’t want her to starve and freeze alone. She is probably one basis for Miss Bates so maybe we over-read Miss Bates? I don’t think so, I think we are meant to see she does see what’s in front of her as did Mrs Weston before she was explicitly told by Frank of the engagement.
Austen is serious about the book being “too light, bright, and sparkling” now that it’s been lopped and chopped but the stuff she proposes is her way of mocking other people’s texts who do include such subjects. Here is a sign she is well aware she omits all reference to politics.
Her style is epigrammatic — it harks back to Pope and heroic couplets. What can “starched notions” mean in context? Cassandra would prefer less wit and satire, more gravity; playing with words is word playing and Cassandra wants substance?
Dummer is a reference to Michael Terry, the suitor Anna is now involved with and it’s a mildish sneer. Not to be trusted that man. The intention of keeping the thing a secret is asserted again. But Cassandra must be prepared — and underneath I feel her delight.
I’ve not seen a first edition so cannot recognize the great blunder nor does LeFaye give us any help on that. Has anyone found that Sutherland indicates in her book Textual Lives?
Turning in both letters, to everything else: again Letter 79 first:
I’ve covered Jane’s relief that Cassandra has the parcel she, Jane, has sent “by J. Bond on Wednesday Evening. She will be ready therefore for Jane’s letter on Sunday. (This is unexplained). But in the meantime she cannot wait, she must write “today”.
Cassandra’s parcel has arrived, it was very good of her to write at the same time “but I shall not be so much your debtor soon.”
And then we’re off and running on P&P and MP.
And at its close: she thanks Cassandra for her and the family’s charades, “admired … excessively” (perhaps she’s ironic here):
The others seem very difficult. There is so much beauty in the Versification however, that the finding them out is but a secondary pleasure. –
The others nowhere as good of course. Too hard. It must be admitted Jane lays it on rather thick. They are printed in The Poetry of JA and Family as well as the Cambridge edition of the later Manuscripts. Some examples:
Should you chance to suffer thirst
Turn my second to my first
My whole is in the garden dug
And may be fairly called a drug
My 1st is a hindrance, my 2d a snare
With nothing between them I boldly declare;
My whole is a title, sometimes the reward
Of Value, or Science, but it is not a Lord.
Francis’s seems kinder, less self- and male-oriented than his brothers’:
By my 1st you may travel with safety & speed
Though many dislike the conveyance indeed.
My 2d no woman can well be
My whole takes a change several times in each year
Hot, & cold, wet & dry, benignant severe
What am I, fair Lady, pray tell me
Charade (Charles John Austen)
Without me divided, fair ladies I ween
At a ball or a concert you’ll never be seen
You must do me together or safely I’d swear
Whatever your carriage you’d never get there
Charade (Henry Thomas Austen)
I with a Housemaid once was curst
Whose name when shortened makes my first;
She an ill natured Jade was reckoned
And in the house oft raised my second
My whole stands high in lists of fame
Exalting e’en great Chatham’s name.
Henry’s is downright misogynistic. I’m bad at riddles; anyone want to try.
Jane utters a wonderfully felt line about Cassandra’s “feeling feet:”
–I grant you that this is a cold day, & am sorry to think how cold you will be through the process of your visit at Manydown. I hope you will wear your China Crape. Poor wretch! I can see you shivering away, with your miserable feeling feet. –
She is sorry for Cassandra’s disappointment: freezing cold feet, wet, even the china crape won’t help and now Mr Digwood instead of coming to Steventon is having a dinner party over at Manydown on Tuesday (no feel about this Tuesday that’s particular)
What a vile Character M’ Digweed turns out, quite beyond anything & every thing; — instead of going to Steventon they are to have a Dinnerparty next tuesday
She moves by association and this change of venue reminds her of a dinner she could not eat a thing at. As i said, I suggest she was too excited.
I am sorry to say that I could not eat a Mincepie at M’ Papillon’s; I was rather head-achey that day, & Cd not venture on anything sweet except Jelly; but that was excellent. — There were no stewed pears, but Miss Benn had some almonds & raisins.-By the bye, she desired to be kindly remembered to you when I wrote last, & I forgot it. –
I’m glad to see Jane again remembering to send the maid’s good wishes, but Cassandra not willing to let us iknow what else Jane said about this maid. Too frank?
Betsy sends her Duty to you & hopes you are well, & her Love to Miss Caroline & hopes she has got rid of her Cough. It was such a pleasure to her to think her Oranges were so well timed, that I dare say she was rather glad to hear of the Cough … [end of p. 2; second leaf of letter missing; postscript upside down at top of p. 1]
And then a return to parcels. Mrs Digweed, her sister, Miss Benn: Mrs D pleased thanks everyone and “Miss Lloyd” (Martha), but (to coin a phrase from another letter, Martha knows a thing or two about that (its sincerity, its worth).
Success does not make Austen any less caustic when it comes to hypocritical effusions.
And Letter 80′s 2nd half is as much in Jane’s tune: four full lines on Martha, the opening section is, but then there are two sections as long and there is an indication that a great lop was cut away. She is calmer, not as triumphant and the tone is nicer.
So after P&P the sorrow for Cassandra’s disappointment (not getting to Manydown), followed by Austen is asserting (contrary to Cassandra?) that she “must miss Martha.” And then a line which could be ironic (she “must have been growing anxious [to be] in scenes of agitation and exertion” except that the following lines are redolent of some nostalgic memories of walking with her again:
As far as one may venture to judge at a distance of 20 miles you must miss Martha. For her sake I was glad to hear of her going, as I suppose she must have been growing anxious, & wanting to be again in scenes of agitation & exertion. — She had a lovely day for her journey. I walked to Alton, & dirt excepted, found it delightful, — it seemed like an old Feb come back again.
A happy time with Martha walking now gone forever, is recreated for her for a moment..
The nostalgic piece over, Jane says by walking to Alton (where Henry had a business and had thought himself to set his mother and sisters up), Jane avoids a bunch of people her “was glad to see & I very glad to escape.”
Jane’s tune. Back in form.
Miss Benn has hopes of avoiding Southampton even if John M’s father settles there. (Remember those stinking fish … ) The Miss Williams need not worry: Miss Beckford has no thought of inviting them to Chawton.
“Well done you.” Diana says that is Austen congratulating herself. What on, Diana?
When the letter opened, Austen commiserated with Cassandra for not going on to Manydowne, now the thought comes of her there in her China Crape (mourning?): I really don’t get this wry satire: Cassandra is either imagined in a kitchen at Steventon or Manydown in brown bombasine. The sense is either Cassandra is well rid of going there? or pictured as happy bustling about.
Behind the next phrase perhaps memories of the shocking news the usual that S&S opens up with (see my comment comparing how little we have of Austen’s reaction to the publication of S&S and how much to the publication of P&P): a family member expected to leave money betrayed his son and now the guy can never marry; nothing left for widow, sisters. So (at any rate) “no danger of poor Mrs H being persuaded to come to Chawton at present.”
This may not be ironic; perhaps Austen really is thinking another single impoverished woman would be no trouble. I doubt it.
MT is again Anna’s suitor, Michael Terry, and Austen is glad he will dine as this will enable Cassandra “to be more decided with Fanny & help to settle her faith.” LeFaye thinks this is about religion, but the role of Terry here was not religious advisor but rather unwanted suitor. I think Jane is saying that if Fanny is wavering and liking him (that’s what Margaret Wilson says in her Another Sister on Fanny Austen Knight) when she sees him, she will take Cassandra and Jane’s view (look askance, and believe them this is an unacceptable match).
I wonder why these people never think for a moment that Anna broke off with Terry not because she was fickle, unstable and the rest of it, but because she saw how opposed they were and tired of bucking them. She saw they could and were well ruining the relationship at the outset.
Browning is quite a new Broom & at present has no fault. He had lost some of his knowledge of waiting, & is I think rather slow; but he is not noisy & not at all above being taught.- The Back gate is regularly locked. — I did not forget Henry’s fee to Thomas.–
Then about the servants: a rehired servant: lost some of the repression and is slow but then not noisy and submissive. Back door locked. She gave the money Henry left for Thomas to Thomas for some specific extra task Thomas did — good they didn’t get him to do it for nothing.
Finally, Henry has her letter and she has his, Edward was right about that Copies of something (I suppose)P&P were went to Steventon and Porrsmouth at the same time. So not to worry that Frank will be hurt. Edward thinking of going to Adlestrop — where the Leighs (remember them, those who got a big sum) live — and Cassandra chops away just as something interesting (about money, relatives fierce of over this) about to be said. After all Austen had not see a dime from P&P as yet.