Two post-chaises under the escort of George conveyed eight more across the Country; the Chair brought two, two others came on horseback & the rest by the Coach — & so by one means or another we all are removed. — It puts me in mind of the account of St Paul’s Shipwreck’ where all are said by different means to reach the Shore in safety — [How they got to Godmersham]
Dear friends and readers,
Again I make a single blog for a single letter as again the letter is long with some revealing material. It’s the second letter to Francis Austen (for the first see letter 86, 3-6 July 1813) by Jane that we have (the fourth written communication, as the collection includes her two loving poems to Francis too (48, 24 July 1806; 69, 26 July 1809). Jane also wrote Francis shortly before Eliza Austen’s death but the letter has been destroyed (83, 17 Feb 1813, left blank in LeFaye’s edition).
For this letter I’m going to return to bringing out the themes of a letter rather than paraphrasing it section by section, as that will bring out its content concisely and more clearly — though as it happens to do this I do begin with its long opening. We see in it both her depictions of her brothers and some values she hold dear. We have the probable resumption of a half-romance she had refused some years before with Edward Bridges. Austen attempts a more generous assessment of Anna’s coming marriage. Fanny (by contrast to her serious cousin) is eager for a fair (and cutting gold paper) while Jane thrills to praise and money for her novels.
First Jane and her brothers:
My dearest Frank
The 11th of this month brought me your letter & I assure you I thought it very well worth its 2′/3d. — I am very much obliged to you for filling me so long a sheet a [sic] paper, you are a good one to traffic with in that way; You pay most liberally;-my Letter was a scratch of a note compared with yours — & then you write so even, so clear both in style & Penmanship, so much to the point & give so much real intelligence that it is enough to kill one …
With yet another lavish over-praise, we can say Jane Austen made a habit of over-praising her relatives’ writing and, when she could, whatever she could think of about themselves. She does it repeatedly to Cassandra, and now out of four communications to Frank we’ve had, three have been filled with over-praise. This time it’s his handwriting too — as it has also so many times been with Cassandra. I had put her comments down to Cassandra to a way to try to keep Cassandra writing to her and frequently; early on when Cassandra would withdraw from Jane (after some tension) or write to someone else and not Jane, Austen did complain and bitterly. Now she does not have that problem but still keeps it up. Later she will overpraise her young nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh’s writing ludicrously in the one letter to him that we have: his strong manly sketches, her things are nothing to his, little twigs in baskets (146, 16-17 Dec 1816); she treats his first efforts as if they were an equivalent to Emma.
Exceptions include Anna Austen Lefroy about Anna’s one effort at a novel. Jane paid Anna the compliment of paying attention to her novel, rationally reacting (see last of series of 6, 113, Wed, 30 Nov 1814). Also Fanny Austen Knight who didn’t write novels who presumably wouldn’t have appreciated. Jane does gurgle with glee over Fanny’s absurd divagations over her suitors (making Fanny uncomfortable): the spectacle of Fanny is fodder for her novels (151, Thurs-Fri, 20-21 Feb 1817: “You are inimitable, irresistible … Such a lovely display … “).
Why? Is she placating them? sometimes to Cassandra it does seem so. Or is she trying to make her talent seem negligible so not noticed. I suggest she’s eager not to be seem different. I find a real pathos in this. One of her mother’s letters shows us she didn’t fool Mrs Austen (in the Austen papers where Mrs Austen says she lord knows where Jane will be a few years from now; her other children she can predict). I doubt Jane fooled the others (James’s poem on S&S suggests he saw into the autobiographical roots of her first heroine), but she persists (James in another poem also register how some in the family were jealous, showed real resentment a poem quoted by Claire Harman [Jane's Fame] — here the family can mean those outside the nuclear group).
In our talk on Austen-l, Diana B still voiced scepticism that William Price, Wentworth are surrogates for Frank — though she used as context quotations from MP. The Hubbard’s (JA’s Sailor Bros) don’t doubt it for a moment. They print a version of this letter by Jane (as doctored by Bradbourne by combining it with others) in the context of much commentary from MP: they make a different choice than Diana, but it’s the same contextualizing. Southam (JA and the Navy) does the same — only he has accurate texts. All three offer logs from Frank to show where he was just then. Southam’s chapter on Persuasion returns to these letters, and his remarks on Wentworth early in his book are about this strong idealization and friendship between them. Park Honan too (he has a chapter called Martha and Frank). Frank himself wrote the portrait of Harville at home is exquisitely him.
Three packets of letters destroyed by Frank’s youngest daughter. Why did this survive her and Cassandra’s depredations? because Frank did not leave it in three packets in his drawer but gave it to his grandson (in the navy) who before he died put it in the British Museum. So here’s a relative with respect for the grandfather and great-aunt.
What’s of interest throughout the letter is an intense respect for the man. To call it (as Diana does) awe and says it’s a mystery gets us nowhere. What awe? The letter is filled with straightforward information directly given and rapidly, an attempt at a larger picture of the family, their places, their doings. I suggest Jane respects him for running this ship, for the powerful people he sees and escorts.
– I am sorry Sweden is so poor & my riddle so bad. — The idea of a fashionable Bathing place in Mecklenburg! — How can people pretend to be fashionable or to bathe out of England! — Rostock Market makes one’s mouth water, our cheapest Butcher’s meat is double the price of theirs; — nothing under 9d all this Summer, & I beleive upon recollection nothing under 10d. — Bread has sunk & is likely to sink more, which we hope may make Meat sink too. But I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now; — let me shake off vulgar cares & conform to the happy Indifference of East Kent wealth.-I wonder whether You & the King of Sweden know that I was to come to Godmersham with my Brother. Yes, I suppose you have received due notice of it by some means or other. I have not been here these 4 years, so I am sure the event deserves to be talked of before & behind as well as in the middle. –
The modesty topos is more than half-sincerely meant and yet the ironies are sharp. She wonders the King of Sweden has not been informed of her trip to Godmersham — she remembers and reminds Frank she has not been invited for 4 years. Frank will have received due notice of it somewhere. Such an earth-shaking event. Frank had mentioned that Sweden was nothing for scenery (he would not see it anyway) so she jokes that one cannot have a fashionable bathing place at Mecklenburg. How can anyone pretend to be fashionable outside England. So Frank is not to worry. As to the price of meat, it’s gone way up she knows — more than 10P. But bread is cheap and just now “I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now — let me shake off Vulgar Cares and conform to the happy indifference of East Kent Wealth.”
Jane knows she couldn’t, few could do what Frank was doing as a captain in the Baltic. I contextualize this with Persuasion and where Anne Elliot feel that in marrying her Wentworth has the superiority of her (!). What does she bring to the marriage but a worthless father, cold vain sister, indebted property. She discounts her rank, connections, her jointure — this is startling. Lady Russell thought they mattered.
Jane Austen has Anne Elliot use the word “real respectability” which Lady Elliot when she was alive promoted for Sir Walter and is now gone. I don’t think this shows Austen to be utterly radical as obviously her books show characters caring intently about hierarchy and their place: in P&P Elizabeth does not do away with hierarchy, only says I am a gentleman’s daughter, Darcy is a gentleman so far are we equal, to which the vicious tongued Lady Catherine replies, but who were your mother’s connections, who are your uncles. No reply from Miss Bennet.
Jane Austen respected hard-earned efforts, work, honorable paying of debts, decent behavior, loyal friendship which is not networking or keeping up your contacts, but from the heart. All this she gets with Wentworth. All much better than rank and property which come from chance (as do the genes that enable Mary Crawford to ride better than Fanny). Jane seems to feel her brother Frank did this more than any other brother. Maybe there’s some of her in Mary Crawford when she sees her clergyman brother, James’s good fortune. What did he do for it? Southam says (from the letters) she just doesn’t show much of this to Charles. This is so. In the letters we have we see a brief affectionate reference or references to his coming and going with his wife. Cassandra’s letters (such as we have them) show far more interest.
She admires Frank’s profession: Jane was deeply conservative politically by this time (as we’ve seen from her avid reading of Pasley’s Essay on the Military Power and Institutions of the British Empire) she admires imperial militarism. In Persuasion we are asked to admire Wentworth for making money. His work is his way of making money. Some intuitive tact makes her not admire him for what he actually does to make that money (flog, kill, destroy). With Fanny who is presented as naive William’s behavior can be presented as tremendous bravery, and Henry Crawford as envied respect. But Anne Elliot is 27 and not an idle half-rake. Wentworth-Frank the Corsair, only Austen’s Byronic figure is in it for the money. In this opening section we see again how she kept up with the politics and events of what was happening. In the letter she had written the day before (89, 23-24 Sept 1813) she records she and Fanny were reading Bigland’s Modern History, which has long sections on politics in Europe — and she could learn recent doings there as she and Fanny read aloud in the library. Perhaps she was reading thinking of Frank — she wrote him as regularly as she did Cassandra.
The letter also includes a section on Henry; the contrast in her more distant attitude to Henry is worth underlining. I bring together the passages in the letter on Henry:
We were accomodated [sic] in Henrietta St — Henry was so good as to find room for his 3 neices & myself in his House. Edward slept at an Hotel in the next Street. — No 10 is made very comfortable with Cleaning, & Painting & the Sloane St furniture. The front room upstairs is an excellent Dining & common sitting parlour — & the smaller one behind will sufficiently answer his purpose as a Draws room. — He has no intention of giving large parties of any kind. — His plans are all for the comfort of his Friends & himself — Mmd Bigeon & her Daughter have a Lodging in his neighbourhood & come to him as often as he likes or as they like. Mde Bigeon. always markets for him as she used to do; & upon our being in the House, was constantly there to do the work. — She is wonderfully recovered from the severity of her Asthmatic complaint. — Of our three evenings in Town one was spent at the Lyceum & another at Covent Garden; — the Clandestine Marriage was the most respectable of the performances, the rest were Sing-song & trumpery, but did very well for Lizzy & Marianne, who were indeed delighted; — but I wanted better acting. — There was no Actor worthy naming. — I believe the Theatres are thought at a low ebb at present.-Henry has probably sent you his own account of his visit in Scotland. I wish he had had more time & could have gone farther north, & deviated to the Lakes in his way back, but what he was able to do seems to have afforded him great Enjoyment & he met with Scenes of higher Beauty in Roxburghshire than I had supposed the South of Scotland possessed. — Our nephew’s gratification was less keen than our brother’s. — Edward is no Enthusiast in the beauties of Nature. His Enthusiasm is for the Sports of the field only. — He is a very promising and pleasing young Man however upon the whole, behaves with great propriety to his Father & great kindness to his Brothers & Sisters — & we must forgive his thinking more of Grouse & Partridges than Lakes & Mountains. He & George are out every morns either shooting or with the Harriers. They are both good Shots. … [from the close of the letter] I hope Edward’s family-visit to Chawton will be yearly, he certainly means it now, but we must not expect it to exceed two months in future. — I do not think however, that he found five too long this Summer.-He was very happy there. — The Poor Mr Trimmer is lately dead, a sad loss to his Family, & occasioning some anxiety to our Brother; — for the present he continues his Affairs in the Son’s hands, a matter of great consequence to them — I hope he will have no reason to remove his Business. —
She just does not pay the same kind of attention or respect to Henry as a banker, nor show quite the kindness or warmth we find at this stage for Edward Austen (earlier she did not show this). It seems hard for Jane Austen to see the kind of effort Henry was straining to make money, from her words in the last letter it’s not quite clear she takes in the death of Henry’s partner is bad news for him: he needed that partner as he brought money to the firm which Henry had none of himself. Now he’s dead his relatives will take it away. But she does see how Edward losing business from Trimmer will hurt the both of them (Edward and Henry by extension)
She does give Henry this: in his new apartment he won’t be giving those big parties. I detect a note of scepticism there though: she dissed Henry on the basis of his enjoyment of shallow social intermingling with rich people, not quite forgetting he needed to do this as part of business contacts (the way he keeps up with the Tilsons). She can sympathize with his finding comfort, pleasure distraction in lakes and mountains as she did too. The nephew, Edward apparently didn’t — but then neither did Frank). She registers that Henry’s apartment is not big enough for his housekeeper and her daughter to live in or to accommodate Edward. Mme Bigeon and her daughter must come there when he wants them; then she does all and shops for him too. He does not shop for himself it seems.
It is very curious how Henry is kept at a distance. (So too is James by this time and she started out so filled with enthusiasm for their literary gifts as she saw them in the Loiterer). He began as near broke as Frank, is as hard-working as she or Frank, on the make just as hard as Frank. Maybe his relationship with Eliza stood in her way. Mary (Mrs FA) as we have saw is dull, flees the household in Southampton with its books, so no rival? Also maybe she did hear of that letter by Henry where he said of her mother and sisters just after they lost the father, we need not give them more, just think how comfortable they’ll be … &c&c)
Austen had known what it was to have nothing and she knows that Frank knows. Henry tried to hide it. She observes that Henry sent wine to Godmersham, tried to keep up with Edward (she saw through that and tells Cassandra so). She does not have parties and neither does Frank.
To return to the opening of the letter and Frank without the other brothers:
I left my Mother, Cassandra & Martha well, & have had good accounts of them since. At present they are quite alone, but they are going to be visited by Mrs Heathcote & Miss [Althea] Bigg — & to have a few days of Henry’s company likewise. — I expect to be here about two months. Edward is to be in Hampshire again in November & will take me back. — I shall be sorry to be in Kent so long without seeing Mary; but am afraid it must be so. She has very kindly invited me to Deal, but is aware of the great improbability of my being able to get there. –It would be a great pleasure to me to see Mary Jane again too, as well as her Brothers, new & old — Charles and his family I do hope to see; they are coming here for a week in October. –
The brief vignette of Martha, Cassandra and her mother “well” at Chawton; that she has had “a good account of them” is without irony. That another women friend is to visit: Alethea Bigg (not married). They are “quite alone” otherwise. Henry is expected in a few days, and she will be back with them two months from now. Not a shred of irony here. The little women’s circle, Martha, not forgotten. It’s easy to overlook for by association she jumps to explain how it can be she should be in Kent for 2 months and never see Mrs F. A. …. Paying attention we see that once Mrs F.A. escape Southampton she never visits if she can help it. We saw that she was intimidated by their reading, perhaps alienated by Martha’s ex-relationship to Frank (Martha did eventually marry him); something repelled her utterly and she de-camped. We also saw that this hurt Frank; he had wanted to be the provider of his sisters and mother, and that when the plan to live in Chawton became serious he rushed to Cassandra to try to stop it, to no avail.
Now Jane says there is no way for her to get to Mary and tactfully does not bring up how Mary does not try to get to her — never does try. Mary now has the excuse of children. Austen says in her novels that for a women children can be a help in conversation; they can be an excuse not to see people, to stay put. Too much to bring them.
To conclude, we have another instance of Jane’s devotion to Frank (we must not forget the two poems and her PS line about his rich hair) and her respect, something explicitly made in Persuasion not to rank or money inherited or genealogy or luxurious things or prestigious places. Austen identifies with Frank: as honorable (within the terms of his profession) and doing what’s asked in daily life, no complaints, decent to others. Not using your rank to corrode the respect of others as many of her upper class ugly types do. No pretense about the man either.
Which leads to the second topic of the letter I’d like to cover: Jane and Edward Bridges. Jane did not chose to marry Bridges though with him she could have had the rank of a married woman, his income, respect, safety from poverty.
– Just at present I am Mistress & Miss & altogether here, Fanny being gone to Goodnestone for a day or two, to attend the famous Fair which makes its yearly distribution of gold paper & coloured persian through all the Family connections. — In this House there is a constant succession of small events, somebody is always going or coming; this morns we had Edward Bridges unexpectedly to breakfast with us, in his way from Ramsgate where is his wife, to Lenham where is his Church — & tomorrow he dines & sleeps here on his return. — They have been all the summer at Ramsgate, for her health, she is a poor Honey — the sort of woman who gives me the idea of being determined never to be well-& who likes her spasms & nervousness & the consequence they give her, better than anything else. — This is an illnatured sentiment to send all over the Baltic! —
This letter is central to Miss Austen Regrets (which is why it’s so easy to draw upon the film for actors playing the roles of the people in this letter and those from London). Using Nokes’s perceptive take on the letters; we’ve noticed in one the early flirting of Bridges with Jane; in another his partnering her as the first couple and her real pleasure at this; a third, his real kindness to her when she was at first impoverished and left Steventon and was snubbed by others; and finally indirectly stated that she had a proposal of marriage from him and rejected it. So this visit is of interest.
We heard about this fair in the last letter, and Austen’s ennui and desire to escape. The love of gold paper is child-like — Austen has the Musrgrove children cutting gold paper at Christmas. Colored persian I’m at a loss to explain except that it might be delicate material used with the paper.
In the film, Edward comes upon her alone. Hughes dramatizes and provides insight into this incident: she presents Edward Bridges as deliberately coming to Godmersham when his wife goes off to her holiday (“enjoying her illness”). We’ve seen Austen’s disdain over other women’s illness before: a “poor honey.” Like her mother? Austen was probably scolded (as we can see in her mother’s poem on her boy pupils’ complaints) when younger not to inflict this kind of thing on other people.
The film-makers suggest Bridges encouraged Austen to see his wife from this angle. They though have him scolding her for drinking too much and being jealous of her dancing with others. There’s nothing in the letters to suggest any of this. Maybe they sat together in the library and read and talked, or walked and talked. Ate together of course. I will be on the lookout in the later letters to see if he visits again when she is very ill.
It does seem to me there is evidence then the Edward did love her and wanted to marry her, that he still was interested, was drawn I assume to her conversation and company (as opposed to his wife’s). Jane knows repeating part of what she and Edward discussed is to end “ill-natured” commentary across the world — to the Baltic. But she cannot help it. She is here glad to have talked with this man and been made to feel the partner he chose was inferior to her. She could, any would have been a better wife. And she can have such feelings without the pregnancies and taking time from her work (except such talk).
I look forward to the letters she writes just as she realizes she is ill to see if there any notice or memories of Edward Brides — as is presented in the film.
The letter includes Fanny right there and Anna off at Chawton.
There is a slight change in the emphasis of Austen remarks on Anna, or to put it another way, Austen adds a thought about Anna’s coming marriage that she has not written down before.
I take it for granted that Mary has told you of Anna’s engagement to Ben Lefroy. It came upon us without much preparation; — at the same time, there was that about her which kept us in a constant preparation for something.-We are anxious to have it go on well, there being quite as much in his favour as the Chances are likely to give her in any Matrimonial connection. I beleive he is sensible, certainly very religious, well connected & with some Independance. — There is an unfortunate dissimularity of Taste between them in one respect which gives us some apprehensions, he hates company & she is very fond of it; — This, with some queerness of Temper on his side & much unsteadiness on hers, is untoward.
We’ve said that by this time Austen has taken on the family’s view of Anna’s engagement and her personality. This is painful when we consider Mary Lloyd’s treatment of Anna — Ben was an escape. Not that Jane pretends to be physically sick as Mary is recorded doing (in the previous letter) when Jane thinks of this engagement. Austen says here (as she did not before) that Anna can’t do much better. Remember from Shakespeare’s AYLI: sell when you can you are not for all markets. If Austen in her novels as Anne Elliot ignores rank, she knows in the world others do not. She writes: “We are anxious to have it go on well, there being quite as much in his favour as the Chances are likely to give her any matrimonial connection.”
Later in life when Ben died, Anna had no money, no place either. So her father gave her nothing or a tiny stipend. Mr Collins would know what to think of such a bride. Austen can play endless games with Fanny over her prospects because Fanny is a catch in the sense of money and rank; Anna is the opposite. The real worry comes out too and it is a decent one: like must marry like. She fears Anna will not be happy since Ben is reclusive and Anna (she thinks) gregarious — remember the continent poem. In fact Anna was not gregarious;she longed for company and to go to Godmersham or London. Who wouldn’t? But like Emma it was that she had so little chance. Once married we see she turned inward and lived upon herself, wrote fiction, bought herself what pretty things she could. So the match was more of likes than Austen gave her credit for.
P&P and MP and S&S (!):
– I thank you very warmly for your kind consent to my application & the kind hint which followed it. — I was previously aware of what I should be laying myself open to — but the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now-& that I beleive whenever the 3d appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. — I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it — People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them. — Henry heard P&P warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robert Kerr & another Lady; & what does he do in the warmth of his Brotherly vanity & Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it! — A Thing once set going in that way — one knows how it spreads!-and he, dear Creature, has set it going so much more than once. I know it is all done from affection & partiality — but at the same time, let me here again express to you & Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shewn on the occasion, in doing what I wished.-I am trying to harden myself. — After all, what a trifle it is in all its Bearings, to the really important points of one’s existence even in this World! — [and in a PS] There is to be a 2d Edition of S.&S. Egerton advises it.
It seems to me this passage shows her wanting to keep her status as a respected novelist a secret has become a pose. She’s glad “not to tell Lies” about P&P. It’s a relief and she’s all in a flutter with the glory of it. As she says she is very glad to make money and not worred about making mysteries. She has been deeply gratified and buoyed by the praise. She is still using Henry to blame, and by contrast thanks Frank for allowing her to use the name of his ship and says yes she knows that (nasty people) may use this bit of autobiography so to let it out might result in pain, but apparently she’s willing to take the risk. (She knew much of her novels were autobiographical in origin. How could they not be? or she not know? All novels are however indirectly and formulaic, and many novelists cover up — understandably.)
For more minor moments in the letter, see comments.