Let me know when you begin the new tea — & the new White Wine. My present state of Elegancies have not yet made me indifferent to such matters. I am still a Cat if I see a Mouse …
We live in the Library except at Meals & have a fire every evening — Thursday
… the weather has got worse since the early morning; — & whether Miss Clewes [the governess] & I are to be Tete a Tete [again], or to have 4 gentlemen to admire us is uncertain — Friday
Poor Dr Isham is obliged to admire P&P — & send me word that he is sure he shall not like Mde Darlay’s new Novel [The Wanderer] half so well — Mrs C[ooke] invented it all of course … Had my consent been necessary [now the Adlestrop-Living], beleive me I should have withheld it, for I do think it on the part of the Patron a very shabby peice [sic] of business … Friday
Dear friends and readers,
I know I said I would not dedicate a whole blog to a single letter but this one is so long, filled with oddly telling but hard to decipher minutiae (if only we had the code for all the references), that on Austen-l, we have taken two weeks over it. Courage, we will surely be through the lot of them by sometime in 2014
The one is newsy-chatty. Although there are no explicit references to MP (only to P&P), some of the allusions and language redolent of Mansfield Park, Austen just then working on; false compliments on P&P, which however show her regarded as rival to Burney (handy dates). Much of it registers Austen’s response to family life lived at close quarters, and visiting congenial and uncongenial, some stressed people. Her place with Miss Clewes, the governess. She is again writing to the moment, the present moment. Life at Godmersham, vignettes of people (Henry again under pressure); Eastwell, George Hatton a right denizen of “The Hermit” unexplained, Chawton where Austen is “like a Cat if I see a mouse”.
From Mary Lloyd making Anna’s life a misery to Jane reading Modern Europe aloud with Fanny:
It’s six days after her last letter of (15-16 Sept 1813). Jane Austen has left Henrietta Street with Edward and his family and come to stay at Godmersham.
My dearest Cassandra
Thank you five hundred & forty times for the exquisite peice of Workmanship which was brought into the room this morning. while we were at breakfast — with some very inferior works of art in the same way, & which I read with high glee-much delighted with everything it told whether good or bad. — It is so rich in striking intelligence that I hardly know what to reply to first. — I beleive Finery must have it. I am extremely glad that you like the Poplin, I thought it would have my Mother’s approbation, but was not so confident of yours. Remember that it is a present. Do not refuse me. I am very rich
Jane opens with the kind of over-the-top flattery we have seen throughout the collection. Perhaps Jane was apprehensive that Cassandra would make some sort of disheartening corrosive remark. The tone is that of her scrap draft from Persuasion where she says she thought she would have appeased her mother’s criticism of her treatment of older female authority. She now feels sure of her mother’s approbation but must appease Cassandra. “Remember that it is a present …” we are not to critique presents. Perhaps Cassandra would scold over the price. But Jane has made the money she is spending.
Mrs Clement is very welcome to her little Boy & to my Congratulations into the bargain, if ever you think of giving them. I hope she will do well. — Her sister in Lucina, Mrs H. Gipps does too well we think; — Mary wrote on Sunday that she had been three days on the Sofa. Sackree does not approve it. — How can Mrs James [Mary Lloyd]. Austen be so provokingly ill-judging? — I should have expected better from her professed if not her real regard for my Mother. Now my Mother will be unwell again Every fault in Ben’s blood does harm to hers, & every dinner – -invitation he refuses will give her an Indigestion. — Well, there is some comfort in the Mrs Hulberts not coming to you — & I am happy to hear of the Honey …
Back to these endlessly pregnant women. Mrs Clement is very welcome to her boy. In a later letter she will again be pregnant. Lucinda was the goddess of childbirth. It’s a coy way to say the women are gravid and near or in the childbed trauma. Mary, James’s wife, as “ill-judging as ever.” Jane is ironic over Sackree’s disapproval. Sackree complains when the women she serves go on about their exhaustion.
In this vignette we recognize the opening scene of Mary Musgrove (oh I am so very ill) comes from Jame’s wife. But James’s wife gets to influence Mrs Austen and the last thing Jane needs is her mother being encouraged to believe in her hypochrondia. We recall how long-lived Mrs Austen was all the while complaining. Mary will not permit her step-daugher any happiness. The bringing Anna a present (forbidden London as well as Godmersham shows memories of this went into the way Elizabeth Elliot brought (or did not) bring Anne Elliot a present each year. No, Ben makes Mary literally sick. And of course she can take it out on Anna or whoever is there. But there is this consolation: Mrs Hulbert did not inflict herself on Cassandra. The honey is presumably association by contrast. They have been making or preserving honey at Chawton.
I am happy to hear of the Honey. — I was thinking of it the other day. — Let me know when you begin the new Tea — & the new White Wine. – -My present Elegancies have not yet made me indifferent to such Matters. I am still a Cat if I see a Mouse
We know Jane loved to eat and to drink (and that’s inebriating liquors too) and was healthily unashamed of her body or appetites, but the metaphor has a biting preying aggressiveness. Jane is avid to snatch what she can, and the tone is harder than Shakespeare’s Autolycus. Startling: she is the preying cat ready to spring: at Chawton they do not have the luxuries of Godmersham and she is not gay or light there at all, but oddly desperate.
I am glad you like our caps — but Fanny is out of conceit with hers already; she finds that she has been buying a new cap without having a new pattern, which is true enough. — She is rather out of luck, to like neither her gown nor her Cap-but I do not much mind it, because besides that I like them both myself, I consider it as a thing of course at her time of Life — one of the sweet taxes of Youth to chuse in a hurry & make bad bargains.
Austen identifying with a young girl again, in competition until the last phrase. The tone and rhythm of the voice is Lydia Bennet. The price of youth, its costs (which then is very costly as we grow older as some of these decisions in the early 19th century were irretrievable: “I consider it a thing of course at her time of Life — one of the sweet taxes of Youth to chuse in a hurry & make bad bargains.” I would not have called it sweet, nor would she have in 1796 when our collection of her letters begins. The remark is as much about love & marriage as caps.
I wrote to Charles yesterday, & Fanny has had a letter from him to day, principally to make enquiries about the time of their visit here, to which mine was an answer beforehand; so he will probably write again soon to fix his week.-I am best pleased that Cassy does not go to you. –
Again relief on Jane’s part for Cassandra. Charles and Fanny’s children were (according to Jane in a previous letter) in need of discipline (see Deborah Kaplan’s article and the chronology of Charles’s life I put into the Austen-l archives). There are more references to Charles since he has married and usually about when they are going to come and where stay.
They visit Eastwell:
I have not stayed at Eastwell (today an exclusive and expensive hotel) physically but I have seen it from a distance (stood in a field nearby) and know it well from Anne Finch’s poetry & life and and Heneage, her husband’s, the visits in the 1690s, their life then once they moved in (1704) and then inherited, and the Hattons and Finches and Tyldens (a closely friendly family). It was a beautiful place, with a fine library, the Hattons and Finches had some people in their family who were gifted
The Finch-Hattons are not easy to find out about. They have the same kind of doctored family histories as the Austens. Now and again someone emerges with real gifts — in the 20th century Isak Dinesen’s lover, Denys, played so alluring in the film by Robert Redford — but the reality of holding onto wealth and state power and all it can offer to those who fall in, keeps them in place. I was able to discover some interesting things about the women of Anne Finch’s generation (another Ann Finch was a scientist and left letters) because Anne Finch the poet’s husband, Heneage was unusually open, an antiquarian and patron of early archeaologists and musicians. He built the library up; he had unexpectedly inherited but he & Anne left no heirs and the property went to another branch where Daniel was the common name. George as a name took over.
Now what have we been doing since I wrote The Mr Knight’s came a little before dinner on Monday, & Edward went to the Church with the two Seniors but there is no Inscription yet drawn up. They are very good-natured you know & civil & all that — but are not particularly superfine; however, they ate their dinner & drank their Tea & went away, leaving their lovely Wadham in our arms — & I wish you had seen Fanny & me running backwards & forwards with his Breeches from the little chintz to the White room before we went to bed, in the greatest of frights least he should come upon us before we had done it all. — There had been a mistake in the Housemaids Preparations & they were gone to bed. — He seems a very harmless sort of young Man. Nothing to like or dislike in him; — goes out shooting or hunting with the two others all the morning. –& plays at whist & makes queer faces in the evening. — On Tuesday the Carriage was taken to the Painters; — at one time Fanny & I were to have gone in it, cheifly to call on Mrs C. Milles & Moy — but we found that they were going for a few days to Sandling & were not be at home; — therefore my Brother Fanny went to Eastwell in the chair instead. While they were gone the Nackington Milles’ called & left their cards. — Nobody at home at Eastwell. — We hear a great deal of George Hatton’s wretchedness. I suppose he has quick feelings — but I dare say they will not kill him. — He is so much out of spirits however that his friend John Plumptre is gone over to comfort him, at Mr Hatton’s desire; he called here this morning in his way. A handsome young Man certainly, with quiet, gentlemanlike manners. — I set him down as sensible rather than Brilliant. — There is nobody Brilliant nowadays. — He talks of staying a week at Eastwell & then comes to Chilham Cas: for a day or two, & my Brother invited him to come here afterwards, which he seemed very agreable to. — “Tis Night & the Landscape is lovely no more, to make amends for that, our visit to the Tyldens is over. My Brother, Fanny, Edward & I went; George staid at home with WK. — There was nothing entertaining, or out of the common way. We met only Tyldens & double Tyldens. A whist Table for the Gentlemen, a grown-up musical young Lady to play backgammon with Fanny, & engravings of the Colleges at Cambridge for me. In the morning we returned Mrs Sherer’s visit. — I like Mrs Sherer very much.
First, one understands why Jane and Cassandra thought they have to put up some sort of front still after Henry’s wife dead so many months. Elizabeth had left 9 hostages with her husband. They have to spend time with plain old relatives of Mrs Knight and very snobbish Austen seems here. But why should she and Fanny do anything to the young man’s breeches? did he piss in them? The sense of hurry and here giddiness reminds me of the atmosphere captured in Miss Austen Regrets on Jane’s first visit. It’s inane, catty, aimless, useless all at once. I give Austen the credit to know this as she has created the tone – however unconsciously. Again we see her alienation from people, how they are objects to her. The young man made queer faces. Of course he irritated her with the unexamined mindless rituals of his life. shoots, hunts, plays whist. What an ass of a life.
Diana B explicates the facts of the visit to Sandling: The Carriage goes to the Painters; and then Jane and Fanny were to visit.
Mrs. Milles is an elderly widow, born 1723, to die 1817, so gosh, she would have been already 90 years old in 1813. The oldest person Jane Austen knew? Very possibly. She and her daughter Molly (Moy) rented houses in the Canterbury cathedral precincts, as Mrs. Milles’ father had been Prebendary. But after all that, the Milleses were not home, having gone to Sandling Park in Hythe, home of the Deedes family. This was an enormous family, known to JA; William Deedes married the daughter of Sir Brooke Bridges and became Edward’s brother-in-law. (I’m exhausted.)
I suggest the Austens were snubbed. That’s why later the Deedes come over to invite them back and Edward refuses but Austen says she thinks he will be persuaded. They go to beautiful Eastwell. George Hatton ill and wretched. I know many of the Hattons were intelligent, and it seems George is invited to Godmersham — possibly as a possible suitor for Fanny, but Fanny’s son said that Hatton’s depression had “nothing to do with love.” Austen sees his intelligence and uses him for quip I’ve heard out of context (and is used in Miss Austen Regrets) “There is nobody brilliant nowadays.” She had almost said “but me”.
Hatten brings to mind a line from Beattie’s The Hermit:
At the close of the day, when the hamlet is still,
And mortals the sweets of forgetfulness prove,
When nought but the torrent is heard on the hill,
And nought but the nightingale’s song in the grove:
’Twas then, by the cave of the mountain afar,
A Hermit his song of the night thus began;
No more with himself, or with nature, at war,
He thought as a sage, while he felt as a man …
Tis night, and the landscape is lovely no more:
“I mourn, but, ye woodlands, I mourn not for you;
“For morn is approaching, your charms to restore,
“Perfumed with fresh fragrance, and glittering with dew.
“Nor yet for the ravage of winter I mourn;
“Kind Nature the embryo blossom will save. -—
“But when shall Spring visit the mouldering urn?
“O, when shall it dawn on the night of the grave?
– Beattie’s The Hermit
Diana B: “the melancholy romantic poem The Hermit certainly does chime in with certain of Fanny’s strains of feeling in Mansfield Park, such as her musings upon the shrubberies, and memory.” Diana connects this to Fanny and Edmund’s dialogue on the cutting down of trees at Sotherton and allusion to Cowper’s poem. It seems more in the vein of Thomas Grey or Charlotte Smith: all nature renews, but not man. Man’s awareness, his consciousness is his tragedy. A bit strong for merely an allusion to George Hatton. He has become the occasion for Austen to meditate on sadness and despair in the midst of what gifts nature and his place in society have already given him.
Beattie’s The Hermit is a lovely melancholy poem about someone wanting to escape not just the boredom and triteness of social life, but the hypocrisies of wealth, status and losing himself in the natural world. I can see Fanny Price reading it — and it resonates very much with MP (which Austen was just then writing) and probably something about George Hatton’s situation too (see comments).
To make amends for this disappointment in people not being there or pretending not to be — why do people visit one another is often beyond me — Edward, Fanny and Jane go to the Tildens (and some of them had double names; they were long intermarried). What’s good about that is it’s over. The intelligent depressed George didn’t go. The others played games: “Nothing entertaining, nothing out of the common way” (yet that is what she wrote her novels out of, what else did she have?).
She is describing what a stifling life she endured. What is interesting her is she was given a book of engravings to look at while everyone else played backgammon. I wonder often how well the people who did the costume adaptations know the letters. Emma Thompson knows them well. I ask here because in the 2009 Emma Mr Woodhouse is given a book of engravings to look at at Donwell Abbe and Romola Garai as Emma sits and looks at them with him.
Well, I have not half done yet; I am not come up with myself. — My brother drove Fanny to Nackington & Canterbury yesterday, & while they were gone the Faggs paid their duty. – -Mary Oxenden is staying at Canterbury with lairs, & Fanny’s object was to see her.-The Deedes’ want us to come to Sandling for a few days, or at least a day & night; — at present Edward does not seem well affected — he would rather not be asked to go anywhere – but I rather expect he will be persuaded to go for the one day & night.
The Deeds, a middle-aged couple, hurry over and try to make up for the snubbing and lack of welcome by saying come for a real visit, stay and eat with us, Edward’s having none of it right now but Austen thinks he will.
I read him the cheif of your Letter, he was interested & pleased as he ought, & will be happy to hear from you himself. — Your finding so much comfort from his Cows gave him evident pleasure.
She has the barest tolerance for these hypocrisies both by Cassandra on the cows and Edward’s professions too. She knows though that Cassandra likes this so puts that straight.
I wonder Henry did not go down on Saturday; — he does not in general fall within a doubtful Intention. — My face is very much as it was before I came away — for the first two or three days it was rather worse — I caught a small cold in my way down & had some pain every evens not to last long, but rather severer than it had been lately. This has worn off however & I have scarcely felt any thing for the last two days. –
She has been very irritated by all these visits and for the first time since Eliza’s death there’s an unkind tone towards Henry too: he is not one to worry himself what to do. Reminds me of Bingley who straight decides goes ahead and does it. We know what Darcy thought of that. Henry’s state (not well as we saw) makes her think of her own pains (headaches, stress in the face) She has been better the last couple of days. Maybe from writing less.
Sackree is pretty well again, only weak; — much obliged to you for your message &c;-it was very true that she bless’d herself the whole time that the pain was not in her Stomach. — I read all the scraps I could of your Letter to her. She seemed to like it — & says she shall always like to hear anything of Chawton now-& I am to make you Miss Clewes’s assurance to the same effect, with Thanks & best respects &c. — The girls are much disturbed at Mary Stacey’s not admitting Dame L, Miss C. & I are sorry but not angry; — we acknowledge Mary Stacey’s right & can suppose her to have reason.
This shows once again Austen’s decent behavior towards servants. Miss Clewes we recall is the unfortunate governess (that’s Austen’s attitude towards her employment and LeFaye thinks she’s a sycophant. To Godmersham Miss Clewes belongs with Miss Austen. Austen is perfunctory with Sacktree the naive eager one. She relays how villagers felt about one another and the family’s involvement. Dame L had perhaps demanded Mary Stacy let her visit her but Mary Stacy within her right not not to be visited and she supposes Mary has good reason. Dame L not exactly congenial companionship for the younger woman?
Thursday brought to a close:
– Oh! — the Church must have looked very forlorn. We all thought of the empty Pew. — How Bentigh is grown! — & the Canterbury Hills Plantation! — And the Improvements within are very great. — I admire the Chintz room very much. — We live in the Library except at Meals & have a fire every Evening- The weather is set about changing — we shall have a settled season soon. I must go to bed.
At the close of day: Austen’s sisters-in-law just drop away. To get to the church the Edward Austens went through the beautiful grounds of Godmersham. She likes the chintz room too. She notes they are in the transition of the seasons. The cozy happy comment about their evenings precedes this seasonal sense of nature. She must to bed.