I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter (Letter 29 dated January 3-5, 1801):
Dr Johnson: ‘Ay, never mind what she says. don’t you know she is a writer of romances? Sir Joshua Reynolds: ‘She may write romances and speak truth,’ quoted from Claire Harman, Fanny Burney: A Biography, p xvii
Dear friends and readers,
Austen continued to write in journalizing fashion to Cassandra for the whole of her 2 month stay at Godmersham (see letters 91 and 92). Jane is in much less irritated spirits; she remains as alertly critical and alive to mocking as the previous week, but she has more to enjoy (she likes Harriot Moore and enjoys walking in the park and at Canterbury one morning with her). There do seem to be less people at Godmersham, and we may surmize Austen was less interrupted and got on with Mansfield Park more.
The real interest of these two packets sent to Cassandra is half the first is a letter written by Elizabeth or Lizzy Austen (who had asked for permission to write in her aunt’s letter last time) who produces a surprisingly humane letter which unlike her aunt’s contains a depiction of servants and desperate agricultural workers on the Godmersham grounds at once unsentimental and good-natured. Lizzy was born in 1800, 7 years after Edward’s oldest daughter, Fanny; she married for love (though Margaret Wilson describes the courtship as “uneasy”) at the relatively young age of 17, the entirely suitable Edward Lloyd Rice, then age 27; they had 15 children and a happy life together. She seems to have been cleverer than her older sister, Fanny and despite the age disparity kept up with her sister and they were close.
This pair of letter-journals (with Lizzie’s overt perceptive kindliness as an instructive contrast in temperament) do seem the equivalent of phone conversations and bring home to us the life of the gentility of this era. Here and there (like Anna’s problems) Austen touches on serious matters. Austen’s purpose is to tell her sister what was happening (and Lizzy follows suit) and keep herself company with an imagined presence.
Letter 93, Mon 18 October 1813, Eliza to her aunt Cassandra
The letter shows how confined and close to the family a thirteen year old gentleman’s daughter was kept. Lizzy’s incessant interest in small animals would be more appropriate for 8 say; she has not been permitted any associations outside the family except the servants and poor people no one could avoid. If she has an average child’s mind, the learning she’s given (kings and queens) will not give her much adult insight into her world’s order. And yet if we look we find she’s alive to money, bullying, class and things she will have experienced. Eliza married at a young age, a long successful one with many children. In Margaret Wilson’s book on Fanny, she emerges as no fool.
I am very much obliged to you for your long letter and for the nice account of Chawton. We are all very glad to hear that the Adams are gone, and hope Dame Libscombe will be more happy now with her deaffy child, as she calls it, but I am afraid there is not much chance of her remaining long sole mistress of her house. I am sorryyou had not any better news to send us of our hare, poor little thing! I thought it would not live long in that Pondy House; I don’t wonder that Mary Doe is very sorry it is dead, because we promised her that if it was alive when we came back to Chawton, we would reward her for her trouble. Papa is much obliged to you for ordering the scrubby firs to be cut down; I think he was rather frightened at first about the great oak. “Fanny quite believed it, for she exclaimed ‘Dear me, what a pity, how could they be so stupid!’ I hope by this time they have put up some hurdles for the sheep, or turned out the cart-horses from the lawn. Pray tell grandmamma that we have begun getting seeds for her; I hope we shall be able to get her a nice collection, but I am afraid this wet weather is ‘very much against them. How glad I am to hear she has had such good success with her chickens, but I wish there had been more bantams amongst them. I am very sorry to hear of poor Lizzie’s fate
On being happy the Adamses are gone she’s repeating Aunt Jane without realizing quite what this means: Jane Austen then did not keep silent on how she wished the guests out of the house, and the child just take the same attitude as the one to have.
So I find her no more unfeeling than the world whose values she is reflecting (which includes Deirdre LeFaye), when for example she talks of a “deaffy” child. Indeed the child seems alive to poverty and lack of power of those around her immediately. The note by LeFaye almost sniffs: Dame Libscomb’s baby is illegitimate, and the mother marrying just now another man. While the Lizzy (she is not adolescent despite her age) is not alive to what partial deafness means, the child says the old woman will be “happy” to have the deaf child with her only that she will soon have a boss– “not be sole mistress” The child is aware the woman’s daughter will boss her. The woman might have conveyed this or the child seen it.
She’s aware of what money and salary mean. “Mary Doe” is “very sorry” the animal entrusted to her is dead. Why: “because we promised her that if it was alive when we came back to Chawton we would reward her for it.” Not a sentimental view, is it? when Fanny says “how could they be so stupid,” of the workman who mistook and cut down a tree, we are getting a sense of someone getting in trouble though Fanny doesn’t care so much as just complain condescendingly.
She does know the sheep are in danger without hurdles and the grass from the horses. She seems a sweet child. She is trying to please the grandmother: it’s so wet Mrs Austen’s Seeds will go to waste, and she has been told the number of bantams so despite the upbeat information that “grandmamma” has so many chickens, again Eliza has noticed many died.
Then the abysmal world of the poor:
I must now tell you something about our poor people. I believe you know old Mary Croucher, she gets maderer and maderer every day. Aunt Jane has been to see her, but it was on one of her rational days. Poor Will Amos hopes your skewers are doing well; he has left his house in the poor Row, and lives in a barn at Builting. We asked him why he went away, and he said the fleas were so starved when he came back from Chawton that they all flew upon him and eenermost [sic] eat him up. How unlucky it is that the weather is so wet! Poor uncle Charles has come home half drowned every day. I don’t think little Fanny is quite so pretty as she was; one reason is because she wears short petticoats, I believe. I hope Cook is better; she was very unwell the day we went away. Papa has given me half-a-dozen new pencils, which are very good ones indeed; I draw every other day. I hope you go and whip Lucy Chalcraft every night.
(By the way for semi-haters of Downton Abbey, of which I am one, this is the world of Downton Abbey we are not permitted to see). An old woman madder and madder: Austen goes to see her. Score one for Aunt Jane. A homeless man lives in a flooded barn with fleas. That Uncle Charles comes home soaked every day means that man is wet too. Lizzie seems aware that the old man is very wet as her sentence about Charles follows one right after the old man, what a shame it is such wet world. I believe the bit about whipping. The upper class did whip servants, older people children. We may assume Cassandra didn’t do it every night, but maybe did it one night.
I agree with Diana Birchall that there is much noticing of how pretty a girl is. Charles’s daughters are judged this way. Little Fanny is one and is up to muster with her petticoats. Cassy, who is only 5 and would be a worry to me if she was looking as thin and bad as Jane Austen said in the last letter is not mentioned.
Then the polite close:
Miss Clewes begs me to give her very best respects to you; she is very much obliged to you for your kind enquiries after her. Pray give my duty to grandmamma and love to Miss Floyd.’ I remain, my dear Aunt Cassandra, your very affectionate niece.
Miss Clewes keeping in good with Jane Austen. Remember a couple of letters ago Jane Austen said it was Miss Clewes she was placed with.
What’s the difference between duty to the grandmother and love to Martha? Probably that Martha is not a relative; Eliza knows she actually owes her nothing as the norms go, but Martha is one of the family group and “love” is probably a cliched word there. She may be trying to please Aunt Jane with that one but I doubt she would recognize anything untoward in the relationship.
The letter tells how women were kept in, and down, how wretched the poor’s lives and how a child with brains sees more than we realize. If we get no talk about gender, it’s that she never heard that category. She’s heard a lot about money and knows all about class by this time.
And now for Austen’s match:
Letter 93, Thurs 21 October 1813, Jane to Cassandra
She thought Eliza’s letter of interest but does not say why:
Thursday. I think Lizzy’s letter will entertain you. Thank you for
yours just received. To-morrow shall be fine if possible. You will be at Cuildford before our party set off. They only go to Key Street,’ as Mr Street the Purser lives there, and they have promised to dine and sleep with him. Cassy’s looks are much mended. She agrees pretty well with her cousins, but is not quite happy among them; they are too many and too boisterous for her. I have given her your message, but she said nothing, and did not look as if the idea of going to Chawton again was a pleasant one. They have Edward’s carriage to Ospringe. I think I have just done a good deed-extracted Charles from his wife and children upstairs, and made him get ready to go out shooting, and not keep Mr Moore waiting any longer. M’ and M” Sherer and Joseph dined here yesterday very prettily. Edward and George. were absent-gone for a night to Eastling
Charles Austen and his wife making up to the purser, socializing to keep things fine. A purser counted on board.
It seems that Cassy is looking better from her rest at sea. Alas, the lines could be as much about whether the girls looks “good (pretty, socially acceptable) or less ill. I see Cassandra has offered to take her. The rooms below the deck even for an officer were smelly, low ceilinged, and there was much disease aboard ships. But the child is not keen. Aunt Cassandra did perhaps seems stern. If she didn’t whip Lucy Chalcraft she had made a joke of it, which to a child shy could be just as bad. I had thought a description of Caroline vis-a-vis these Godmersham children suggested Caroline as a child an original for Fanny Price, but now Cassy has the same response. I imagine they were rich children let have their way. The boys seem to be that. I note the governesses come and go.
Jane’s good deed in giving Charles a day off from this family. Vacations are often just work in another place if you have to take all your troubles and cares with you. Better to shoot birds it seems.
We next see Jane Austen indulging in favorite activity of hers. Not socializing but going for long walks with someone willing, this one with Harriot Moore while her husband goes shooting with Charles. Then family news (Henry) and worries (Edward):
The two Fannies went to Canterbury, in the morning, and took Louisa [Edward’s youngest) and Cassy to try on new stays. Harriot and I had a comfortable walk together. She desires her best love to you and kind remembrance to Henry. Fanny’s best love also. I fancy there is to be another party to Canterbury, to-morrow and Mr and Mrs Moore and me. Edward thanks Henry for his letter. We are most happy to hear he is so much better. I depend upon you for letting me know what he wishes as to my staying with him or not; you will be able to find out, I dare say. I had intended to beg you would bring one of my nightcaps with you, in case of my staying, but forgot it when I wrote on Tuesday. Edward is much concerned about his pond; he cannot now doubt the fact of its running out, which he was resolved to do as long as possible. I suppose my mother will like to have me write to her. I shall try at least
I note again that Henry is again saying he is so much better. He too taught to put the best face on it. and that Jane cannot depend on him as close confident. She will have to depend on Cassandra discovering whether Henry wants Jane to visit or not. Edward still worried about his property, now the pond.
You can indeed see Austen’s pursed lips when she concedes she will knuckle to her mother’s pressure and write some woman, but who it is I cannot figure out. Mrs Moore comes too early in the paragraph. Or is it Mrs Moore.
And then the casual supercilious comment about Mrs Crabbe: a rightly notorious comment by Jane Austen on the death of Crabbe’s wife:
No; I have never seen the death of Mrs Crabbe. I have only just been making out from one of his prefaces that he probably was married. It is almost ridiculous. Poor woman! I will comfort him as well as I can, but I do not undertake to be good to her children. She had better not leave any.
Now I understand why the family was embarrassed by this. Before reading the letters I had countered their embarrassment with another of their favorite excuses: she was laughing, and here indirectly I thought she was signaling her affinity with Crabbe. She may be, but she knows the woman died, and probably knows she died in a depression, breakdown, and poverty. Yes there were children. We again see how disconnected she can be to reality, how people become counters to her. And LeFaye’s notes (which seek to distract us) point us to where Crabbe says his poems are like children to him. If this were the Burney editor, we’d be told straight how Mrs Crabbe died and given the lines from the preface by Crabbe on his wife’s death if they were germane.
Edward and George set off this day week for Oxford. Our party will then be very small, as the Moores will be going about the same time. To enliven us, Fanny proposes spending a few days soon afterwards at Fredville. It will really be a good opportunity; as her father will have a companion. We shall all three go to Wrotham, but Edward and I stay only a night perhaps. Love to Mr Tilson.
The Moores live at Wrotham and after they leave it seems Fanny, Jane and Edward mean to visit. The love to Mr Tilson is for Henry’s sake as a business man.
The niece, Lizzie’s letter seems to me kind, alive to what matters beyond self, the aunt’s distanced.
Tues, 26 October 1813, Jane to Cassandra
As this letter is too long to scan in, this time I’ll take the liberty (with permission) to print Diana Birchall’s paraphase with quotations and then add my comments on hers and further quotations as an efficient way of discussing it.
A Canterbury Morning. Jane is still at Godmersham, a week after her last letter, and Cassandra is still staying at Henrietta Street with Henry. She worries that she has not the “wherewithal to fabricate” a letter today. Then, interestingly, “I amnot at all in a humour for writing; I must write on till I am.” Perhaps she used that technique of pressing on, with her novels too, at times. Thatspeaks of a long-practiced discipline.
Then bits of news – Mrs. Tilson has had a daughter, and Mr. Deedes and Sir Brook Bridges have arrived (in that order as she likes Deedes better). Sir Brook, baronet of Goodnestone Park, was related to Deedes, who had married his daughter Sophia, and was a brother-in-law of Edward Knight. It was their “fair and accomplished” daughter, Sophia, who intriguingly served coffee to the Tsar of Russia when he passed through Hythe the following year(1814) when in England for the peace celebrations.
Jane’s brother Charles and his family have returned to their ship the
Namur, and she hopes the best for little Cassy aboard ship. A Canterbury scheme takes place, named by Jane as pleasant, with the Moores. Rev. George Moore, son of a late Archbishop of Canterbury, was a local vicar, and if we liked, we could look him up in the Reports, where there is an article. Deirdre quotes a Kentish historian as saying that Moore was so universally hated,when he took Harriot-Mary Bridges as his second wife in 1806, a funeral hymn
was sung instead of the nuptial psalm. Be that as it may, on this visitMoore is taking his little boy George to “Taylors & Haircutters.” Jane writes that “Our chief Business was to call on Mrs. Milles, and we had indeed so little else to do that we were obliged to saunter about anywhere & go backwards & forwards as much as possible to make out the Time & keep ourselves from having two hours to sit with the good Lady. A most extraordinary circumstance in a Canterbury morning!” Mrs. Milles was a very elderly widow, then ninety years old, and lives in rented houses with her daughter, who is quite the garrulous one, a regular “Jane Austen character”:
“Miss Milles was queer as usual & provided us with plenty to laugh at. She undertook in three words to give us the history of Mrs. Scudamore’s reconciliation, & then talked on about it for half an hour, using such odd expressions & so foolishly minute that I could hardly keep my countenance.” No, Jane’s kind side isn’t showing, but her observant and amused one is, and perhaps here we are seeing her at the work of coolly examining her neighbors, which helps her to obtain “two strong twigs and a half” toward a work of her own.
Now a mystifying phrase, “Old Toke came in while we were paying our visit. I thought of Louisa.” Sounds like a servant, but no, according to Deirdre, “old Toke” was a former High Sheriff of Kent, about 75 years old, whose son the Rev. John had a daughter, Mary, who had just married Edward Scudamore MD. So that is who Miss Milles was gossipping about (though I don’t know who Louisa is).
Jane notes that “the death of Wyndham Knatchbull’s son will rather
supersede the Scudamores.” Wyndham was a London merchant, and his son Wyndham, Ensign in the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, had just died, age 18. Jane says she told Miss Milles that the young man was to buried at Meersham Le Hatch, the Adam-designed home of the Knatchbull family, but Miss Milles “had heard, with military honours, at Portsmouth.” Amusingly and with a touch of exasperation Austen comments, “We may guess how that point will be discussed,
evening after evening.” We may hear an echo of Mrs. Elton’s decided statement of (wrong) fact: “‘No, I fancy not,’ replied Mrs. Elton, with a most satisfied smile. ‘I never heard any county but Surrey called so.’” Or perhaps the interminable argument in S&S between the two mothers about the respective heights of their children!
“Oweing to a difference of Clocks,” the carriage is late, and Jane Austen watches the anger of Mr. Moore with great interest. “I wanted to see him angry – & though he spoke to his Servant in a very loud voice & with a good deal of heat I was happy to see that he did not scold Harriot at all.” So perhaps the rumors about Moore’s being universally hated, are known to her by his ill nature. In any case she is observing him as an author. She concludes about the marriage that “he makes her – or she makes herself – very happy,” which sounds rather like Mr. Collins and Charlotte. We have no difficulty in believing, “They do not spoil their Boy.” Yet Jane likes Mr. Moore rather better than she expected, or at least sees “less in him to dislike.” She will not be sorry to visit Wrotham with them; Moore was former rector of the place.
Jane will send her letter by a visitor, though she thinks that is “throwing it away,” as the Visitor can tell the news, but then there is a saving of postage. “But Money is Dirt,” she says insouciantly. About these arrangements she concludes, “Whatever is, is best,” and seems to find this philosophy agreeable, for she adds, “There has been one infallible Pope in the World” (and she is quoting him). Then a George Hatton called, and talked, and Bowed, but she was “not in raptures.”
An interlude of talking about finery, flounces and bombasin and morning gowns – they are so very sweet by Candle light,” she says in a mocking tone, and quickly adds more truthfully, “in short, I do not know, & I do not care.”
Some of Fanny’s arrangements have changed – she is not to visit Mary
Plumptre, as an uncle by marriage, Mr. Ripley, has died, and Jane Austen writes with some sympathy, “Poor Blind Mrs. Ripley must be felt for, if there is any feeling to be had for Love or Money.” Edward Bridges has just paid a Sunday visit, and she sarcastically notes, “I think the pleasantest part of his married Life, must be the Dinners & Breakfasts & Luncheons & Billiards that he gets in this way at Godmersham. Poor Wretch! He is quite the Dregs of the Family, as to Luck.” Not sure what his ill luck consisted of, but he was the “dregs” in birth order, being tenth of thirteen children.
Jane sends remembrances to Madame Bidgeon and Mrs. Perigord – she did seem to have a special regard for them – and then she wittily instructs Cassandra to “be sure to have something odd happen to you, see somebody that you do not expect, meet with some surprise or other, find some old friend sitting with Henry when you come into the room. – Do something clever in that way.”
A final bit of news concerns Ben Lefroy, and it is “baddish,” for he has declined an eligible curacy on the grounds that he does not want to take orders so early, and if James makes a point of it, he “must give Anna up rather than do what he does not approve.” Austen’s comment is, “He must be maddish.” She concludes, after an apology for the letter, “I find time in the midst of Port & Madeira to think of the 14 Bottles of Mead very often.” Mead, made at Chawton, was more homely than the elegant wines of Godmersham, but she obviously liked it and probably helped make it.
I can’t disagree with anything Diana said, and am puzzled in a couple of the same places (e.g., Who is Louisa?)
So, Austen is not at all in the mood for writing a letter is what she said. I take her writing of novels to be different. She need not “fabricate” new matter as she goes along the way she does for a letter. Cassandra has gone to Henrietta Street, and I take the line to indicate that Henry is not in good health – as I’ve been suggesting. I put it down again to the loss of Eliza, and strain at his occupation as banker: “I trust you are seeing improvements in him every day.” Cassandra’s presence should buck him up and provide a helpmeet (which he seems to need.)
The business about the squires from East and West Kent going in “one barouche” together “to their Sittingborne Meeting, East & West … ” In those few local political issues I’ve read about occurring in Kent there seems to be a faultline between East and West Kent. The men on the different sides felt they had different interests.
On the Charles Austens: Austen does write that “Cassy had recovered her Looks almost entirely” and she cites the parents’ taking this to justify taking the girl aboard again: “They do not consider the Namur as disagreeing with her in general — only when the Weather is so rough as to make her sick …”
This reminds me of Mrs Allen saying how nice it would be if only it were not raining. Austen is pointing out by this language that the Charles Austens want to take Cassy on board with them, period. We saw that Cassy did not want to stay with Aunt Cassandra. Apparently Edward and Fanny Knight were not willing to take Cassy on, but also in an earlier letter Austen reports that Charles wanted the girl with him. To me this is strange, but I take it to be part of the male desire to own all the women and all of his family members. We saw much earlier how when Edward came home one night he demanded his daughter get out of bed so he could have his (exhausted) wife immediately available. This is the same mind set — to give him his due once the parents founds the girl would not stay at Chawton. Austen allows herself the wry parodic sentence over it.
A very pleasant time at Canterbury. This is where Austen and the Moores visit Miss Milles and I concur with Diana that Austen is anything but decently human here. The sentence or so vignette of her and Harriot and little George and her brother coming on the carriage is pleasant, but she laughs at the old woman meanly. Yes maybe it was from such people Austen got some of her details for her satire; if so, her satire seems softer where the character is fictional. So, she laughs at how many details the woman included. She could hardly keep her countenance. I hope the old woman didn’t notice. Perhaps Austen was remembering herself when she has Emma treat Mrs Bates similarly.
I am interested in Austen’s relief that Mr Moore is not raging at Harriot. The first letter where she mentioned them and we had a note then about how Mr Moore was hated had a sense that she was afriaid for Harriot. I see this as a covert statement that the man is not physically or emotionally abusive of his wife which he could be. It’s a rare reference on Austen’s part to men’s violence inflicted directly on women. So I don’t see him as a Mr Collins but a type of male we don’t find in the fiction unless we feel that there’s enough in NA to say General Tilney was indeed abusive
She feels silly writing a letter which will be delivered by someone whose news will make it obsolete, but she knows Cassandra does want the letter (as she did Cassandra’s) and gets a kick out of saying she couldn’t care a less about the price of postage: “but Money is Dirt.” (She doesn’t think so.)
Another mention of George Hatton again deprecating him. “There is no one brilliant today.” LeFaye thinks her “I discerned nothing extraordinary in him” comes from Fanny Austen being attracted; I think rather she is denying that he is attractive in general which is what she did before despite admitting he’s intelligent, likes to read, is fine to have in the library with them when it turns out he does not want to go to an inane fair either.
Flounces. Remember how Austen begged Cassandra to have some since all the guests at Godmersham did three weeks before. Does Cassandra like hers? In fact “I do not know” (much about flounces) and “do not care.” Fanny cannot visit a friend because a relative died.
And then another of these extravagantly antagonistic remarks aimed at Edward Bridges. He’s paid “another of his Sunday visits — I think the pleasantest part of his married Life must be the Dinners & Breakfasts & Luncheons & Billiards that he gets in this way at Godmersham. ” I take this like “a poor honey” to be a stab at Bridges’s wife. Only when he’s away from home and at Godmersham is life pleasant. That he’s the “Dregs” of the family when it comes to luck” is undermined by her “Poor Wretch!” I don’t feel much sympathy there.
Jane says she wants to know what purchases Cassandra is making in London, to have her regards sent to Mme Bigeon and her daughter, Mme Perigord (yes she does not forget them), then a man who talks about books and is Austen’s friend whom Cassandra will meet and an order to Cassandra to be sure to do something “odd” or meet someone new or unexpected or some surprise so something will have happened to her! This is polite but there is the warmth towards the French servants.
The note about Anna’s fiance by her granddaughter justifies Ben’s reluctance as an act of integrity. I remember Austen’s oldest brother, James did not want to take up a sinecure but was bullied into it by his wife, LeFaye says Anna does not want to return to Chawton lest she be harshly censured too. Not a kind family and shameless about imposing their ideas on someone vulnerable.
Apparently the Scudamores prescribed for Miss Clewes (the governess Austen was lumped with) some medicine. This by association calls to mind how Austen loves Port and Madeira (so do I) but while in their midst can remember the Mead they brew at home in Chawton.
This time she finds the Finch women pleasant. And ends on Harriot and Fanny’s best love; they are just now Jane Austen’s female support group
I have been asked to review the fifth volume of Fanny Burney’s Early Journals and Letters (1782-1743) (ed Troide and Cooke) and these make a striking contrast to Austen’s. Both journalized, both wrote confidingly to sisters and friends and relatives. But Fanny’s are self-concious acts of art; if written quickly carefully crafted, even (as Claire Harman puts it) “attention-grabbing.” They are heightened, and it seems to me a good deal of what she writes if based on truth, or approximately to something that happened that day, they contain a large amount of imaginative heightening. Austen’s letter journals are attempts to get down what happened, to capture actuality — as she felt and saw it of course.