Sackree does not at all approve of Mary Doe and her nuts — on the score of propriety rather than health — She saw some signs of going after her [Mary, a servant] in George & Henry, & thinks if you could give the girl a check, by rather reproving her for taking anything seriously about nuts which they said to her, it might be of use. — This of course between our three discreet selves … Mon, the 11th
Edward Bridges’s friend is a Mr Hawker I find, not Harpur. I would not have you sleep in such an Error for the World … Everything of Love & Kindness — proper & improper must now suffice … Tues, the 12th
Stephen Rumboldt-Lushington, who appears in Austen’s letters during this visit to Godmersham
Dear friends and readers,
Two long letters, a journal really sent Cassandra, just stuffed with diurnal detail and (today) obscure people from the Austen milieu, about whom Austen seems to say the least “alienated” (on Austen-l, the words were “sour,” “sniping, “resentful” that they were there) caused a large number of postings, debate over whether Austen had Aspergers traits, and much half-puzzled deciphering. We spent three weeks (four if you include the week break for New Year’s). She had been at Godmersham since September 24th (see letter 90) and would stay at least until November 3rd, after which he returned to Henry’s home in Henrietta Street, for another stay.
As they are very long and so replete I will treat them in two blogs as one long journal piece. The next 4 differ in tone as half of 93 is a letter by Lizzy, or Elizabeth, one of Edward’s daughters, the niece who writes the PS to letter 91 because she wanted to write a letter of her own inside Aunt Jane’s letter and is finally permitted to. All three (93, 94 and 95) are addressed to Cassandra at Henrietta Street, not Chawton and there is a corresponding change of subject matter and tone.
As in the case of Letters 87, 88, and 89, Gwyneth Hughes dramatized scenes from the two letters, especially the Edward Bridges’ thwarted romance, and Jane’s enjoyment and irritation at the county house socializing expected (demanded) of her. I surmise that beyond being kept from her writing and expected to pretend to enjoy wasting time with the dull and petty, something is grating on Austen’s nerves, but what it is we cannot know. Many of the sharper detached comments are well-known, minus their context:
Only think of Mrs Holder’s being dead! — Poor woman, she has done the only thing in the World she could possibly do, to make one cease to abuse her. — Now if you please, Hooper must have it in his power to do more by his Uncle. — Lucky for the little girl! — An Anne Elkins can hardly be so unfit for the care of a Child as Mrs Holder
The context is Phillipa Holder (the dead woman) had been the widow of William-Thorpe Holder. Anne Elkins had just married Philippa’s oldest son so she would take over the care of Philippa’s grand-daughter. A hard comment to say the little girl was lucky, but Austen did not flinch from truths. The heir to the property, James Thorpe Holder (brother to William-Thorpe) could now help these people (with Philippa out of the way?)
But the revelations about treatment of servants are not well known — such as Edward’s sacking a long-term servant and Jane saying “good riddance” (in effect) or that when two of Edward’s sons had been harassing (testing they might call it) a young maid with salacious double entendres (nuts = testicles), Austen’s agrees that the way to deal with it is to scold the already anxious vulnerable frightened maid that she is not to take such joking seriously.
Nor Austen’s apparent attraction to yet another young man: Stephen-Rumboldt Lushington:
Mr Lushington goes tomorrow. — Now I must speak of him — & I like him very much. I am sure he is clever & a Man of Taste. He got a vol. of Milton last night & spoke of it with Warmth. — He is quite an M.P. — very smiling, with an exceeding good address, & readiness of Language. — I am rather in love with him. –I dare say he is ambitious & Insincere.– He puts me in mind of Mr Dundas. He has a wide smiling mouth & very good teeth, & something the same complexion & nose. — He is a much shorter Man, with Martha’s Leave.
The running joke of this letter is that Austen is looking forward to, enduring Mr Lushington because he can frank this letter, but it’s clear a flirtation between this literary man and woman has been going on once again (see letter 90): the letter’s first sentence says this and the last two words declare it has gone for free, signed by Lushington. She’s still taken by George Hatton and insists “there is no truth in the report of G. Hatton being to marry Miss Wemyss. He desires it may be contradicted.” The only male who she is flirting with and does not look over her shoulder is Edward Bridges, perhaps because he is busy with his friend, Robert Wigram, about which Jane is continually complaining, viz.,
I wish there were no Wigrams & Lushingtons in the way to fill up the Table & make us such a motley set. — I cannot spare Mr Lushington either because of his frank, but Mr Wigram does no good to anybody. — I cannot imagine how a Man can have the impudence to come into a Family party for three days, where he is quite a stranger, unless he knows himself to be agreable on undoubted authority. — He & Edward Brydges are going to ride to Eastwell
Edward only brought this son of
a great rich mercantile Sir Robert Wigram with him so he could ride free in Wigram’s gig and not be alone and Godmersham would be the cheapest and pleasantest way of entertaining himself and his friend … Mr W is about 5 or 6 & 20, not ill-looking, & not agreable. — He is certainly no addition. — A sort of cool, gentleman-like manner, but very silent.
Anyone would think Jane was jealous or spent the time having semi-antagonistic lover’s quarrels with Bridges, though she may be acting this out for Martha and Cassandra’s benefit at whom some of these remarks are aimed. Throughout the letter there is flirting,
gibes, a kind of antagonistic coquetry at Lushington and Bridges (with a moment taken out for George Hatton too).
The thorny Austen of these letters is not unknown, but not the coquet. In recent years John Halperin’s biography and some scenes in Gwyneth Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets feature Austen mocking and needling others (e.g., Rev Mr Papillon) and terribly earnest with Bridges. No one captures this vividly acidular improper woman, the one who wrote the Juvenilia, Lady Susan and Sanditon.
91, Mon-Tues, 11-12 Oct 1813
You will have Edward’s Letter tomorrow. He tells me that he did not send you any news to interfere with mine, but I do not think there is much for anybody to send at present. We had our dinner party on Wednesday with the addition of Mrs & Miss Milles who were under a promise of dining here in their return from Eastwell whenever they paid their visit of duty there, & it happened to be paid on that day. – -Both Mother & Daughter are much as I have always found them. — I like the Mother, 1st because she reminds me of Mrs Birch & 2dly because she is chearful & grateful for what she is at the age of 90 & upwards. — The day was pleasant enough. I sat by Mr Chisholme & we talked away at a great rate about nothing worth hearing. — It was a mistake as to the day of the Sherers going being fixed; they are ready but are waiting for Mr Paget’s answer. — I enquired of Mrs Milles after Jemima Brydges & was quite greived to hear that she was obliged to leave Cantr some months ago on account of her debts & is nobody knows where.-What an unprosperous Family! – -
She opens with Edward; they read one another’s letters, and Austen has become closer to Edward and likes him better since Elizabeth’s death — remember the comments (more than one) how a spouse affects another spouse adversely or favorably. The details are all about single women one of whose company reminded Jane of a woman she liked: Mrs Birch because she is chearful though old and not rich (anticipating the fictional Mrs Smith). Austen is on the side of self-control and acceptance as wisdom.
Jemima Brydges. We don’t know why she went broke and disappeared, but a good guess is that she was unmarried; one sentence gives enough to see the personal catastrophe of yet another single woman. Perhaps Edward Bridges is on Austen’s mind. Diana Birchall commented:
The Jemima Brydges of LeFaye’s notes, this girl’s mother, died 1809 … the Jemima Austen refers to, died unmarried in 1818. Deirdre does not give her birth date, but as her brothers and sisters were born in the 1840s she must have been in her late 60s when she died … it is four years after her mother’s death … Jemima’s older sister was Anne Lefroy, Jane’s friend who died in a horseback accident in 1804, so perhaps the “unprosperous” comment relates to Anne.
On Saturday soon after breakfast Mr John Plumptree left us for Norton Court. — I like him very much.– He gives me the idea of a very amiable young Man, only too diffident to be so agreable as he might be. — He was out the cheif of each morning with the other two-shooting & getting wet through. — Tomorrow we are to know whether he & a hundred young Ladies will come here for the Ball. — I do not much expect any. — The Deedes cannot meet us, they have Engagements at home. I will finish the Deedes by saying that they are not likely to come here till quite late in my stay — the very last week perhaps — & I do not expect to see the Moores at all. — They are not solicited till after Edward’s return from Hampshire. Monday, Nov: 15th is the day now fixed for our setting out. — Poor Basingstoke Races! — there seem to have been two particularly wretched days on purpose for them; — Weyhill week does not begin much happier. —
Plumptre: Jane really likes him and it’s clear Fanny really doesn’t. He’s a kind of Edward Ferrars, Edmund Bertram, Colonel Brandon: Austen likes his seriousness, his intelligence, his sensitivity his high ethics. In the later letters we will see these characteristics bored Fanny and she was willing to countenance him because he was a good match and as religious her relatives approved of him. A ball at Godmersham (so in Miss Austen Regrets showing everyone dancing upon first night’s meeting is accurate as far as it goes)
Who came and who went and we see that the Basingstoke races bore Jane. Two days before she died she wrote a poem mocking people who go to such things. She knew she’d be bored at that fair in a previous letter and got out of it. IN the poem she wishes bad weather on them and here she is ;half-glad they had bad weather: “Poor Basingstoke races! — there seem to have been two particularly wretched days on purpose for them … ” Nature on purpose thwarting them.
We were quite surprised by a Letter from Anna [Austen soon to be Lefroy] at Tollard Royal last Saturday — but perfectly approve her going & only regret they should all go so far, to stay so few days. We had Thunder & Lightens here on Thursday morns between 5 & 7 — no very bad Thunder, but a great deal of Lightning –It has given the commencement of a Season of wind & rain; & perhaps for the next 6 weeks we shall not have two dry days together. — Lizzy is very much obliged to you for your Letter & will answer it soon, but has so many things to do that it may be four or five days before she can. This is quite her own message, spoken in rather a desponding tone. –
Then Anna — now visiting in-laws and of course the relatives approve. They only regret she and Ben have to go so far and plan only to stay briefly. Jane so obtuse sometimes when she is not sympathetic. I see a girl glad to get away from home and glad for a longer trip with her boyfriend. An effective bit of description, showing how alive Austen was to natural world and appreciated hard winter too. Diana “And for a moment Lizzy, overwhelmed and guilty at not being better organized, rises before us, so very human.”
The next section of Monday’s journal I’ve gone over. The story of the maid servant harassed by Edward’s sons. George, born 1795, and Henry, born 1797, just the right age to go over a maid born in 1796 (LeFaye’s note). Austen’s rush ahead then divides into topics: First Austen as a snobbish Emma enduring a Mrs Elton:
Mrs Britton called here on Saturday. I never saw her before. She is a large, ungenteel Woman, with self-satisfied & would-be elegant manners.
Then more passages about Edward Bridges, this time reported coming with a Mr Harpur a neighboring clergyman, and Mr R. Marshall to go shooting, Mr Lushington too and another ball, the Ashford to come, the ball makes her think of the nephews, George and Edward again:
As I wrote of my nephews with a little bitterness in my last, I think it particularly incumbent on me to do them justice now, & I have great pleasure in saying that they were both at the Sacrament yesterday. After having much praised or much blamed anybody, one is generally sensible of something just the reverse soon afterwards. Now, these two Boys who are out with the Foxhounds will come home & disgust me again’ by some habit of Luxury or some proof of sporting Mania — unless I keep it off by this prediction. — They amuse themselves very comfortably in the Evens=-by netting; they are each about a rabbit net, & sit as deedily to it, side by side, as any two Uncle Franks could do …
IN the notes LeFaye seems to miss that two of Edward’s sons have been harassing the maids: The equivalent in US life in the 20th century is boys in high school handing girls photos of girls naked with the absurd egoistic expectation the girl will be aroused; at any rate signalling to her somehow and watching to see “how far she’ll go.” Yuk. But Cassandra did not and has destroyed a letter inbetween 90 and 91 where Austen blamed these young men sharply. This is a good example of where Cassandra saves what makes Jane dislikable and destroys what might have mitigated this letter or made her decent to the maid. The letter where Jane let her nephews have it (apparently) for their reprehensible behavior can be atoned for only by saying they went to church to the sacrament. To Cassandra all that counts are these selfish, lazy stupid young men. The maid doesn’t matter. The result: the only passage that has survived clearly is where Austen looks like she’s condoning exploitation and has no feeling for the maid.
Austen’s note on Brunton’s Self-Control I covered in an earlier letter when Austen showed that she saw she had a rival in Brunton who as aiming at some of the same kinds of writing and audience that Austen had in mind. Here we can remember she is just now also writing Mansfield Park (not mentioned at all) and may have begun Emma and may have been comparing her own art with Brunton’s and seen that Brunton does not have this original grasp of realism she is working so hard to get. She finds it nowhere in the novel and maybe it’s not..
I am looking over Self Control again, & my opinion is confirmed of its being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible,every-day thing she ever does.
The second part of the letter was written Tuesday, and perhaps in response to a long letter from Cassandra (42 lines in one page though LeFaye has it as 36), Jane’s is thick with references to people and events, reading, all crowded together. Here is the whole text and I will summarize only a few, the most salient elements:
Dear me! What is to become of me! Such a long Letter — Two & forty Lines in the 2n Page. — Like Harriot Byron I ask, what am I to do with my Gratitude? — I can do nothing but thank you & go on. — A few of your enquiries I think, are replied to en avance. The name of F. Cage’s Draws Master is O’Neil. — We are exceedingly amused with your Shalden news — & your self reproach on the subject of Mrs Stockwell, made me laugh heartily. I rather wondered that Johncock [the butler] the only person in the room, could help laughing too. — I had not heard before of her having the Measles. Nrs Heathcote & Alethea’s [sisters] staying till Friday was quite new to me; a good plan however — I oould not have settled it better myself, & am glad they found so much in the house to approve — and I hope they will ask Martha to visit them. — I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well. — I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her. — Edward has had all the particulars of the Building & can read to him twice over & seems very well satisfied; — a narrow door to the Pantry is the only subject of solicitude — it is certainly just the door which should not be narrow, on account of the Trays — but if a case of necessity, it must be borne. –I knew there was Sugar in the Tin, but had no idea of there being enough to last through your Company. All the better. — You ought not to think. This new Loaf better than the other, because that was the first of 5 which all came together. Something of fancy perhaps, & something of Imagination. – Dear Mrs Digweed! — I cannot bear that she should not be foolishly happy after a Ball. — I hope Miss Yates & her companions were all well the day after their arrival. — I am thoroughly rejoiced that Miss Benn has placed herself in Lodgings — tho’ I hope they may not be long necessary. — No Letter from Charles yet. — Southey’s Life of Nelson. — I am tired of Lives of Nelson, being that I never read any. I will read this however, if Frank is mentioned in it. – -Here am I in Kent, with one Brother in the same County & another Brother’s Wife, & see nothing of them — which seems unnatural — It will not last so for ever I trust. — I should like to have Mrs F.A. & her Children here for a week — but not a syllable of at nature is ever breathed. — I wish her last visit had not been so long one. — I wonder whether Mrs Tilson has ever lain-in. Mention it, if ever comes to your Knowledge, & we shall hear of it by the same post from Henry. Mr Rob. Mascall breakfasted here; he eats a great deal of Butter. — I dined upon Goose yesterday — which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2d Edition [of S&S]. — Have you any Tomatas? — Fanny & I regale on them every day. — Disastrous Letters from the Plumptres & Oxendens. — Refusals everywhere — a Blank partout — & it is not quite certain whether we go or not; — something may depend upon the disposition of Uncle Edward when he comes — & upon what we hear at Chilham Castle this morning — for we are going to pay a visit
Much that is here is a continuation of what we’ve seen elsewhere of
1) the very down-to-earth indeed hard scrabble existence in some ways of the Austen’s;
2) the in-jokes: isn’t it amusing the butler laughed too. Normally invisible you see. And Austen’s unusual detachment: she mentions measles after a joke when it was a a virulent killer disease in this era
3) the marginalized women alone: Miss Benn is not after all be to be homeless; Austen hopes her friends, the Biggs will remember Martha (this is a hint to Cassandra to remind them if they do
4) her reading and interest in literature kept to the margins. She makes a joke of her narrow partisanship: she will read Southey’s life of Nelson only if her brother is mentioned in it. He’s not. Nelson himself (of course Deirdre would tell us this) praised FWA. Everyone was reading Southey and the life is very readable. Frank of course all to her.
She mentions the then growing common opposition of fancy and imagination. Until later in the century people, writers, philosophers opposed reason and judgement to fancy and the imagination and on either side of the equation the terms were interchangeable. Among those who began to distinguish these faculties of the mind: Reid, Kames, Hartley. Johnson is among those who still see in imagination much danger: delusion, that way madness, egoism, and Austen reflects this in her portrait of Marianne Dashwood. The phrase suggests she has been reading about poetry but who is not clear.
5) The jokes about lying in: Mrs Tilson is Henry’s business partner and as Henry goes to their parties even when he doesn’t want to (as we saw in one letter), he makes it his business to be seen to know when new babies arrive.
6) family troubles: that after the Southampton debacle and Mary Gibson Austen decamped, she kept away from Austen and her husband’s female relatives
7) Austen’s unwillingness to waste time in dull social life so that when she’s forced she mocks it.
It is probably unfair that those who do remember Mascall, remember him as a man who ate “a great deal of butter.” There are again more sharp mentions of Bridges (I don’t quote them all), and then this passage where we see Edward working away at maintaining his properties:
My Brother desires his best Love & Thanks for all your Information. He hopes the roots of the Beach [sic] have been dug away enough to allow a proper covering of Mould & Turf. — He is sorry for the necessity of building the new Coin [corner] — but hopes they will contrive that the Doorway should be of usual width; — if it must be contracted on one side, by widening the other.- The appearance need not signify. — And he desires me to say that your being at Chawton when he is, will be quite necessary. You cannot think. it more indispensable than he does. He is very obliged to you for your attention to everything.-Have You any idea of returning with him to Henrietta Street & finishing your visit then? —
This close and Edward’s attention to the particulars of the building, doors, and places for sugar and bread at Chawton can allow me to refer the reader to an excavation going on at Steventon as a way of learning about the Austen family. Continued in the comments.