If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it, with Henry, Mon, 24 May ’13
There is another female sufferer on the occasion to be pitied … I hope you continue beautiful & brush your hair, but not all off, to Frank, Tues 6 July ’13
Dear friends and readers,
Two weeks have passed since I last wrote about Austen’s letters (see letters 81-84). Jane is still in London with Henry, both looking forward to going back to Chawton; once at Chawton, she writes at length to Frank in the Baltic, a rare letter to him to have survived.
The first, to Cassandra and mostly about Jane’s continuing distraction of and her relationship with Henry in London as he prepares to move and adjusts himself to Eliza’s death and his widower’s life, has been quoted repeated and made the centerpiece of interpretations of Austen or her characters because of two visits to two exhibitions, where Austen looks for and says she finds one image of one of her heroines from P&P; Austen’s reluctance to go to a party and socialize with people aware she has written S&S and P&P; and Austen’s self-conscious “parading about London in [Henry's, more probably Eliza's] Barouche.”
The second, to Frank, our first to him to have survived for a while (all we have left thus far are her two to him upon their father’s death, and her two poems celebrating a new marriage and new home. He is captaining a ship in the Baltic sea and she writes as companionable, reassuring, and locally descriptive letter as she can. Here attention has been paid to Jane Austen’s gathering precisely the right information for her MP, a paragraph asserting Henry seems no longer grieving at all, and a PS paragraph of her avidly keeping track of what money she has made thus far.
Taken together, the two have much to show about three of Jane Austen’s brothers: Henry, Edward (who figures in letter 86), and Frank. Austen’s life at Chawton is emerging. Yet again she identifies with a marginalized nearly homeless woman, Elizabeth Leigh-Thomas.
No 85, to Cassandra, Mon 24 May ’13, From Sloane Street to Chawton.
Four days ago Jane had taken her several trips with Henry around the near-by countryside. Jane continues this mostly cheerful upbeat manner, all activity she (“I then walked into No 10 [Henrietta St], which is all dirt and confusions”) She has Cassandra in mind and her content says she is “very much obliged” to Cassandra for wrting to her because Cassandra must have “hated” this sitting down and writing. She had had a worrying morning. What this is we are never told but it’s in Jane’s mind:
I am very much obliged to you for writing to me. You must have hated it after a worrying morning.-Your Letter came just in time to save my going to Remnants, & fit me for Christian’s, where I bought Fanny’s dimity. I went the day before (Friday) to Laytons’ as I proposed, & got my Mother’s gown, 7 at 6/6. I then walked into No. 10,’ which is all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way, & after being present at the opening of a new account to my great amusement
Cassandra’s letter did spare her some shopping. She is glad to have shopped less, not more. Now she didn’t have to go to Remnants. The day before Cassandra’s letter arrived she had gone already, to Layton’s as she had proposed. As in the last letter it is a question of buying mourning, this time for the mother.
I take her amusement at the opening paragraph to be her sense that this is absurd because she has herself so little money, has spent a life of tight budgets (for her to be opening a new account!). This connect forward to the close of the letter where in a much quoted phrase she feel a curious triumph (somehow inculcated by the very physical experience of high up in an open carriage (Fanny Dashwood and Mrs Elton understandable in their exultations)– only Jane is actually saying that this is not her, this temporary elevation is not something she “has a right” to. A curious phrase. Most people in rich cars go about in them because they have money, money they often did not make. The idea here is her lack of self-importance and this does connect back to her unwilling to be made a possible show of.
I had great amusement among the Pictures; & the Driving about, the Carriage been open, [sic] was very pleasant. — I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my being where I was. — I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche. –
Then the famous passage: Jane picked Henry up from his office, and they went to an Exhibition of apparently 3rd rate pictures. The weather was bad. The collection not thought by others to be good and Austen says simply it was poor. For most people today Huet-Villier’s portrait is not exactly attractive (it was first identified by Martha Rainbolt, English Language Notes, Dec 1988, 35-42). A complacent heavy face, surprisingly not blonde, but big. Big women, large, fecund, obviously eating were admired; it was a class inflection but the type is still seen and admired (Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Patricia Dodge, Samantha Harker)
Henry & I went to the Exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased-particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of M” Bingley;” excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no M” Darcy; — perhaps however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition’ which we shall go to, if we have time; — I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall, & which we are also to visit. — Mrs Bingley’s is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say M” D. will be in Yellow. — Friday was our worst day as to weather, we were out in a very long & very heavy storm of hail, & there had been others before, but I heard no Thunder.
I do not know why there the “no chance” of seeing Mrs Bingley in Joshua Reynolds studio: he painted many an upper class flattered icon of luxury and wealth and fecund femininity Looking at Jane’s words they are very general, no specific trait, only that the painting shows a woman in white (upper class women liked to wear white it showed their wealth and servants — Mrs Norris is resents that Fanny is in white) with green ornaments. Green a pastoral color? spring like. Perhaps that prompts yellow? I don’t know. Were brunettes through to look good in yellow — Elizabeth is said to be much smaller and traditionally taken to be darker (not dark, just darker more brown in her hair).
Note that the tone of the section make the next day just as important as well as a locket where four important words are Snipped away!
Saturday was a good deal better, dry & cold. — I gave 2/6 for the Dimity; I do not boast of any Bargains, but think both the Sarsenet & Dimity good of their sort. — I have bought your Locket, but was obliged to give 18 for it — which must be rather more than you intended; it is neat & plain, set in gold. [Four or five words cut outJ; -- We were to have gone to the Somerset house Exhibition on Saturday, but when I reached Henrietta Street Mr Hampson was wanted there, & Mrs Tilson & I were obliged to drive about Town after him, & by the time we had done, it was too late for anything but Home. -- We never found him after all.
Hampson is this tiresome Walker connection. Eliza may appreciate her Walker connections but in Jane's previous letter, no sense of this. Only that Hampson is wanted for some business reasons - a relative, and in this period bankers went where they could. She drove about with Mr Tilson seeking this guy for business reasons.
And they never found him after all.
Note Henry didn't go. He's being spared. He's enough to do, moving.
And now Jane is interrupted because Mrs Tilson comes over all excited about this party she and Mr Tilson have got up. Jane Auasten is ironic here: Jane is laughing at the Mrs Tilson's disappointment and shows us just what she thinks of this kind of ambtious social life. Just think of it, Jane's cousin Carole is now Mrs Tilson's sole dependence to go to Lady Drummonds. How low can Mrs Tilson go? So everyone should read the whole thing:
-- I have been interrupted by Mrs Tilson. -- Poor Woman! She is in danger of not being able to attend Lady Drummond Smith's Party tonight. Miss Burdett was to have taken her, & now Miss Burdett has a cough & will not go. -- My cousin Caroline is her sole dependance. -- The events of Yesterday were, our going to Belgrave Chapel in the morns, our being prevented by me rain from going to evens Service at S' James, Mr Hampson's calling, Mr Barlow & Phillips dining here; & Mt & Mrs Tilson's coming in the evenimg a l'ordinaire. -- She drank tea with us both Thursday & Saturday, he dined out each day, & on friday we were with them; & they wishus to go to them tomorrow evens to meet Miss Burdett; but I do not mow how it will end. Henry talks of a drive to Hampstead," which may :aterfere with it.-I should like to see Miss Burdett very well, but that I am rather frightened by hearing that she wishes to be introduced to me. -- I am a wild Beast/ I cannot help it. It is not my own fault. -- There is ao change in our plan of leaving London, but we shall not be with you before Tuesday. Henry thinks Monday would appear too early a day. There is no danger of our being induced to stay longer.
The big event is in a list of diary like (minutiae) events. What did they do on Sunday? well they went to Belgave Chapel, but it rains so no evens service. Finally Henry and Mr Tilson got to see Mr Hampson Whew. Now Mrs T came to tea on Thurs & Sat while Mr T dined out each day and then on Friday Jane and Henry were with them both.
They are enacting duties, business duties and it's wearing. It's expected they go with the Tilsons and she does not know how the latest suggestion will end. I note the meeting which is usually presented as set up by Henry is not set up by the Tilsons and he is clearly as reluctant to go as his sister. In the previous letter of their trip Henry says only that he "found it too warm and talked of its' being clsoe sometimes," it is Jane who enjoyed herself very much. It was his plan to go to the Exhibition the next day; he is setting up activities. Also leaving the home he and Eliza had set up as soon as possible. Without Eliza he sees no need to keep up a social residence on its own so will live above the quarters of his store (so to speak). Or maybe he wants to get away.
This social event was not set up by Henry but the Tilsons: "they wish us to go tomorrow evening to meet Miss Burdett. " Tilson was a business partner of Henry; perhaps he's networking; the Tilsons are also said to have been evangelical (but that has no play here). The person that the Tilsons suggest that one person longs to meet Jane: Miss Burdett. Not a literary lady. LeFaye tells us the woman was a member of a rich and radical family and later did not like MP as much as P&P. Does anyone at all know why Jane should find her formidable? In the letter she is characterized as someone who was to have taken Mrs Tilson to Lady Drummonds but now she is coughing and will not go. Alas, Mrs Tilson will now not be able to go. Oh dear oh dear. It's clearly insinuated that Miss Burdett she knows that Austen is an author, the novelist, and is intensely curious about this "lion" (from P&P) of the season? There is nothing in the letter to say that Henry told. Further henry's plan to drive to Hampstead would interfere with this social setting. He'd prefer Hampstead and perhaps Eliza's grave or simply another pretty trip together -- if it doesn't rain so hard and is not so warm.
Henry's next sentiment is that he feels "Monday would appear too early a day" for them to leave London. Not that he thinks it is. Says Jane of this: "there is no danger of our being induced to stay longer."
Why does Austen liken herself to a wild beast and say she can't help being one. All sorts of suggestions to have been made. Diana: "she feels she is being exhibited like an animal in a menagerie, and "it is not my own fault" means that Henry has spread the secret so that she is becoming a celebrity rather against her will."
Only there is nothing here about Henry doing this. It's the Tilsons. For my part I also feel she felt she didn't have the performance manners; she wouldn't have hacked the kinds of behaviors demanded in such a show-offy "ton-ish" setting. She is not of the ton. Fanny Burney didn't like the "ton" either. She's not polished is Jane's meaning and she's glad she's not polished. What Jane does not want is a loss of face in the immediate sense. She does not want to go down in prestige by having been treated without the usual respect accorded a gentlewoman. Someone ogling her would take away what is a class respect. It's a loss of deference to her she is intent on preventing.
Then how Henry would like to go back on Monday but it would appear to early so they must wait for the next day, but not to worry Cassandra: "there is no danger of our being induced to stay longer." Henry wants to return to Hampshire with Jane as soon as possible.
Austen turns to their travel arrangements, and Henry's moving. It's just a thicket of social nuances which are being assumed and she's trying to manipulate to her and Cassandra's credit. This intense consideration for each move in life is something I am glad I do not live by. These nuances are interspersed with again this attention to saving the smallest expense. This is what I take the references to Mrs Hill (a tradeswoman?), and the Hoblyns to party be about. Money and games of social prestige. (I'm glad I don't live this way, to avoid it you must avoid social life).
-- I have taken your gentle hint & written to Mrs Hill.- The Hoblyns want us to dine with them, but we have refused. When Henry returns he will be dining out a great deal I dare say; as he will then be alone, it will be more desirable; -- he will be more welcome at every Table, & every Invitation more welcome to him. He will not want either of us again till he is settled in Henrietta St. This is my present persuasion. -- And he will not be settled there, really settled, till late in the Autumn-"he will not be come to bide", till after September. -- There is a Gentleman in treaty for this house. Gentleman himself is in the Country, but Gentleman's friend came to see it the other day & seemed pleased on the whole. -- Gentleman would rather prefer an increased rent to parting with five hundred G at once; & if that is the only difficulty, it will not be minded: Henry is indifferent as to the which.
Perhaps Henry would prefer not to have his sisters there (as a drag? these two old maids dressed much older than they are? and his sisters): he will be more welcome without them and he will welcome the invitations more. He will not want them any more until he's settled in Henrietta Street. In part she's being realistic. My sense of the passage is that Jane also assumes that once she is gone Henry will dine out and then it's time enough for him to accept an invitation from the Hoblyns. Right now he does want to dine in and with Jane. So it's quite not that self-mortifying or saying she's nothing.
The use of Frank's phrase as a child is telling. Jane extends its original meaning now to mean the person is comfortable. This shows how she can read a subtext from a child - and Frank's again, in a loving poem to and about him. Actually the words as given us are hers, not his. The implication in the poem might be something she attributes to the child Frank. I suspect that's so. Henry will not be comfortable until autumn. Only then will he want his sisters back. He wants Jane there now as a distraction and company.
So he is in an emotional state, one which reaches down to his depths. And yet the one thing averred of him by Jane in this section is "he's indifferent"which money arrangement the new tenant goes for. It's a matter for the tenant of paying the money all at once upfront or bit by bit as increased rent. Either way says Henry. It seems to me he just wants to get out -- away from memories. But that's not what Jane says. I feel she is deliberately turning away from the man and not entering into his case -- instinctively, intuitively at a distance from what is happening in front of her.
Why should Henry move to Henrietta Street? because he too wants to save every expense and after all he is not into making a show that much. I do take it he and Eliza lived the way they did -- in upscale apartments -- because it was necessary to her self-image and to the kind of entertaining she wanted to do. She had the money from Hastings, her father now. We do see all the Austen children do not care that much about show when it comes down to it, which is at odds with this intense consideration for jockeying for position in social life.
-- Get us the best weather you can for Wednesday, Thursday & Friday We are to go to Windsor in our way to Henley, which will be a great delight. We shall be leaving Sloane St about 12 --, two or three hours after Charles's party have begun their Journey. -- You will miss them, but the comfort of getting back into your own room will be great!-& then, the Tea & Sugar!-
She begins with a yet renewed-again longing for great weather to enjoy another journey. Austen loves to wander about in landscape -- it's something you find marginalized women who are given no direct daily responsibility can feel. It's natural. She satisfies a certain safe lust for seeing new things and people and in the passage her love for landscapes. She gets what she can out of life.
It seems that Charles is with Cassandra. Note Jane's attention to time: she and Henry will leave 2 or 3 hours after Charles and his family leaves, Cassandra will miss them but she's given up her own room for them and now she will have privacy. There's a suggestion here too that while Charles and his family were there Cassandra controlled the amount of tea and sugar meted out. This is another instance where Charles and his family hover just out of sight but Jane does not pay much attention to them in the letters we have. (My gut feeling is she was not keen on her sisters-in-law except for Eliza and now she's replaced her -- I'm being a bit brutal here but then so is Jane Austen.)
Back to Godmersham and Chawton:
I fear Miss Clewes is not better, or you vt1 have mentioned it. -- I shall not write again unless I have any unexpected communication or opportunity to tempt me. -- I enclose Mr Heringtons Bill & receipt.
Miss Clewes is another of these unfortunate governesses: "I fear Miss Clewes is not better, or you would have mentioned it." Notice how Austen repeatedly enters into the cases of other single women, especially marginalized ones and especially more governesses at Godmersham. What a misery life must have been for a such a woman there is what comes out to me. Low in status, so many children, expected to keep them in order and yet not given real authority, they disliking her for it instead of the parent who decrees it. As Jane says in The Watsons better anything than this except marrying without love -- which is the other alternative.
The second paragraph is again intensity over bits of money. Mr Herington was the man she talked to about the currants in their garden. She does like to write but will not have another opportunity
I am very much obliged to Fanny for her Letter; -- it made me laugh heartily; but I cannot pretend to answer it. Even had I more time, I should not feel at all sure" of the sort of Letter that Miss D. would write.
The letter to her from Fanny which is destroyed. We cannot know what was in it -- it may have been an awful wooden thing. Austen herself does not write letters for her characters in the present texts most of the time except to comically expose them. It shows when Austen has not personated a character that way she is not brought them alive as yet in the way of others. That's interesting because the story told of Georgiana is the lurid elopement plot. People filming the book have trouble with the character of Georgiana and make her over-sweet because she is not fully realized in the book. Austen knows this. She's not bothered. She has these caricatures and less than 3 dimensional presences. Writers of novels often do.
Miss Benn -- I had almost said Miss Bates -- not forgotten:
I hope Miss Benn is got quite well again & will have a comfortable Dinner with you today --
And finally back to these London pleasures which Austen does triumph in, carriage, pictures. His sending 3 dozen of claret and wanting Edward to know is showing off to the rich adopted brother. Austen though undermines that. It's cheap stuff. Maybe he's showing off that he does not care as much as Edward too.
We pay attention to the wisps on Elizabeth and Darcy but notice now that there is a word omitted. Some word that Cassandra felt she just has to censor. Was it a reference to sexuality? Austen seems to be complicit with male possessiveness and jealousy here and even exult in it for her heroine. I'm interested though in Austen saying apart from that she enjoyed looking at the pictures. In the previous passage she recognized the poorness of what she was seeing; here she recognizes there is really something worth seeing. Her jokes about her heroines being there or not are jokes. She intersperses herself into these prestigious shows this way but does not forget reality. I like that she has a taste that's alive to silly drek (upper class overweight women flattered by these portraits) and to something better.
We have been both to the Exhibition & Sir J. Reynolds, -- and I am disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs D. at either. -- I can only imagine that Mr D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye. -- I can imagine he have that sort [of omitted] feeling — that mixture of Love, Pride & Delicacy — Setting aside this disappointment I had great amusement among the Pictures; & the Driving about: the Carriage been open, [sic] was very pleasant. — I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my bewhere I was. — I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche. — Henry desires Edward may know that he has just bought 3 dozen of Claret for him (Cheap) ordered it to be sent down to Chawton. — I should not wonder if we got no farther than Reading on Thursday even — & so, reach Steventon only to a reasonable Dinner hour the next day;-but whatever I may write or you may imagine, we [continued below address panel] know it will be something different. — I shall be quiet tomorrow morns; all my business is done, & I shall only call again upon Mrs Hoblyn &c.-Love to your much [redu]ced] Party.-Yrs affectinately,
Then her half-uncomfortable triumph in a carriage which she feels she has no right to. Reading was a central stop (a good book on The road to Reading by Diane Philips — quick recommendation here).
Finally the last line or so. I like the tone her. I don’t often really like the tone of these letters – the tone of mind is shaped by Cassandra’s presence. But here we have: ‘”I shall be quiet tomorrow morning; all my business done, & I shall only call again upon Mrs Hoblyns &c
That last phrase does detract. After all not such a quiet morning. She has to do this socializing, but she will have a little time to herself. She wrote her novels in the long mornings when she had them.
No. 86, to Frank, Sat-Tues 3-6 July 1813, Chawton to HMS Elephant, Baltic
What a change from the letters to Cassandra — anyway for the most part. The basso continuo of this letter is an open and (as Diana Birchall says whose words are in quotation marks) “most heartfelt way that displays strong feeling” throughout. It’s been 4 months now since Eliza’s death, a full summer, and the immediate sense of continuing vital loss of the first weeks has diminished considerably.
It is indeed “a handsome letter” and shows that Austen did indeed follow politics, could effortlessly recite off names and events. Were we to have the 3 packets, it might well be that the letters to Cassandra would seem the strained, strange ones. Jane talks of what’s happening in the world today, shows real knowledge of it. Why should she not? The way she brings together three different people and then moves on to Elizabeth shows her to have been read in history and travel books. She never speaks of this to Cassandra for it’s of no interest to her and Cassandra early on let Jane know Jane should write to Cassandra what Cassandra wanted to hear — and didn’t mind making these ultra feminine letters of shopping, catty gossip, but also these indirect vibes, guarded barbed statements, and sudden (frank enough — something she does not write to Frank) of her shared outlook with Cassandra on endlessly pregnant women.
Indeed there is no need for close reading in this letter — at least most of it — except in the sense of information so that we may understand it. You need to know all the details of the Austen-Leigh inheritance and know the reality of what Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot was like to realize “vile compromise” is our Jane mimicking, repeating the typical words of her aunt, resentful that she didn’t get that property but had to be content with a mere 24,000£ and annuity of 2000£ She wanted that property too.
You have to know from elsewhere (letters are life-writing not self-contained novels) about this time Edward took his family to from Godmersham and lived near the Austen sisters for 5-6 months. This you get if you read Margaret Wilson’s book on Fanny Austen for there are annotations in Fanny’s diary of this time living near her Aunt Jane.
It’s a loving letter, and yet she is slightly afraid to offend him. Frank was literal — as we have seen not one for landscape, at the same time sensitive, and while she used his ships allusively (Wm is partly Frank, Edmund Bertam partly Frank, but also James Austen) is willing to erase immediately upon being told it displeases him. It’s hard to say I admit if she is not this way with other relatives, as a rare early draft of Persuasion tells us how upset she was when her mother disapproved of the ending of Persuasion as somehow reflecting adversely on older women, mothers — it might be an earlier version did not have Anne so strongly justifying Lady Russell.
There is no exertion here as it’s all so direct. It makes me remember how she has her Emma (at the close of the book where she most identifies with her heroine) say how she loves openness. Even the rhythm is different, no all thing jumbled together as swift as she can do, but sitting there taking her time, luxuriating as one does when one writes a letter to a friend and pretends one has him or her right there. Bachelard talks of this in his book on reveries (the section on epistolary writing). The parallel is Austen’s Fanny Price sitting down to write to William.
Behold me going to write you as handsome a Letter as I can. Wish me good luck. — We have had the pleasure of hearing of you lately through Mary; who sent us some of the particulars of Yours of June 18th (I think) written off Rugen, & we enter into the delight of your having so good a Pilot. –
I often find the Hubbacks’ JA’s Sailor Brothers more useful for situating Frank vis-a-vis Jane than Brian Southam’s JA and the Navy because Southam organizes by theme while the Hubbacks’ do by year and by the end resort to using and then printing Jane’s letters as the core of what they seek to elucidate. So in the Hubbacks’ book (pp 229-31) we learn the details of Rugen while in Southam’s (p 116) we are taught about Sweden’s importance: Copenhagen was a place people sailed in and made money (whence Mary Wollstonecraft went to Sweden to do some business for Gilbert Imlay). I won’t copy out Frank’s entries here, as the Hubbacks do in their book and I leave it to those interested to read just a piece from them just below. The Hubbacks say Jane’s letter was spot on refreshing for Frank both because of its appropriate details of history and turn to the English countryside.
For the rest of the letter, see comments.