Will you? said he, offering his hand.
‘Indeed I will. You have shown that you can dance, and you know that we are not really so much brother and sister as to make it at all improper.’
‘Brother and sister! no, indeed! (Emma, Vol 2, Ch 2)
I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other. They are but one remove from Brother and Sister — Jane to Anna, Tues, 29 Nov ’14
Dear friends and readers,
Anna now married as of Nov 8th (see Letter 110, 22 Nov), has been writing her aunt Jane, and asked for a visit, and one of the ways this sequence of remnants of letters has been dated by LeFaye is to connect passages left in some of the letters where Austen has been excusing herself for not coming. At least two letters were cut up and rearranged; a number have parts torn off. We’ve no idea when Letter 111 was written, but it contains an excuse for not coming to see the young bride as does Letter 112 (literally dated Tues 29 Nov 1814, but one of those cut up; see Lefaye’s appendix, pp 443-44). Letter 118 (no date, ?late Feb – early March 1815 suggested), was once cut up into pieces, see Lefaye’s appendix pp 446-47). And the series ends with letter 120 (29 Nov 1814).
The value of this blog may lie in linking these two scraps to what went on before between Jane and niece Anna, what now, and what is to come: the tale of their shared lives. The importance of these letters resides not in the minutiae of detail they present (though it does matter), but in their cut-up fragmentary state: we have to conjecture why Anna did this all the while saving them and presenting them to her brother: a reasonable conjecture is the content contained painful matter, either in the tone of the aunt’s letter, what she said, or what she wrote down about Anna’s life or circumstances. Anna is clearly writing her novel still (as we shall see in Letter 113, next week) but made increasingly uncomfortable, possibly discouraged from novel-writing as now inappropriate for a married woman (she was living with Ben’s relatives) in the implicit way Claire Harman has found evidence for discouragement in family rhymes in the 1790s and her first years in Bath.
There is an echo of the famous “not so much brother and sister” in Emma in Austen’s second letter which tellingly links the paradigm to cousins in Austen .
Letter 111. ?Thurs, 24 Nov 1814, to Hendon, from 23, Hans Place (Henry’s house): what’s left:
Tuesday 29 November 1814
111. To Anna Lefroy
?Thursday 24 November 18141 [take note, the date is a guess]
[recto] …. Mrs Creed’s opinion is gone down on my list; but fortunately I may excuse myself from entering Mr [cut out] as my paper only relates to Mansfield Park. I will redeem my credit with him, by writing a close Imitation of [Brunton's] Self-control (?) as soon as I can; — I will improve upon it; — my Heroine shall not merely be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself, she shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, & never stop till she reaches Gravesent. –
[versJ ... that depends on us to secure it, but you mu[st be] aware that in another person’s house one cannot command one’s own time or activities, & though your Uncle Henry is so kind as to give us the use of a Carriage while we are with him, it may not be possible for us to turn that Carriage towards Hendon without actually mounting the Box ourselves;-Your Uncle arrived yesterday by the Gosport — (and only think of the Gosport not being here till half past 4! — [most of next line missing] … ) and takes …
Here is Diana’s take:
Another very short letter, this one merely a fragment. LeFaye mentions that letter #111 might really belong together with #118, written in spring 1815, in which case this would have been written then too; but she places it here. Jane Austen mentions that she is entering Mrs. Creed’s opinion in her collected list of opinions of her works. Anna must have sent this to her, for Mrs. Creed is living in Hendon, as is Anna. Formerly one of the Herries family, Mrs. Creed seems to be a young woman who married in 1813. She preferred S&S and P&P to MP. Here is the list of opinions: and you can see that Mrs. Creed says no more than that.
The name of a man who gave another opinion is cut out, but JA jokes that she will redeem her credit with him by writing an imitation of the popular novel Self-Control by Mary Brunton. She thought it an improbable work, and jokes, “I will improve upon it; — my Heroine shall not merely be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself, she shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, &
never stop till she reaches Gravesent.” She earlier expressed her unease about Self-Control, writing in Letter #72 (1811) before reading it, “I am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever – & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled.” Later, in Letter #91, 1813, she has read it, and writes, “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. — “
So she shows some competitive awareness that the sensational sells (then as now); but we know she will stick to her own bit of incomparable ivory. Probability was always very important to Jane Austen (as can be seen in her critical comments to Anna), and in planning what would happen next to her characters, she was always careful to cleave to the probable, and plausible. No American rivers for her!
On the verso, the subject is something different: a visit to Hendon is under discussion. Anna must have asked her to come, but JA reminds her that when she stays in London, “though your Uncle Henry is so kind as to give us the use of a Carriage while we are with him, it may not be possible for us to turn that Carriage towards Hendon without actually mounting the Box ourselves.” (I.e., driving.) The limitations of her life … but then, it is also possible that this is an excuse, and she does not really feel enthusiastic at visiting Hendon to inspect the happiness of the young couple. That was
a thing she was always rather squeamish about, preferring that people kept their new-married raptures to themselves rather than trumpeting where she would have to hear it.
There’s also a mention that Anna’s uncle (but which one?) arrived “by the Gosport (and only think of the Gosport not being here till 1/2 past 4!)” Gosport is where Earl Harwood was taken to hospital when he shot himself in the thigh in 1800. I looked up Gosport and found that it is on the opposite side of the harbour from Portsmouth. One website says:
“In the 18th century Gosport only had 3 main streets, Middle Street (now the High Street), North Street and South Street, with minor streets across them. The Market House stood in Middle Street on stilts. The council met in that building and the market met underneath. Georgian Gosport was a busy little town. From 1717 it had 3 markets each week. It also had 2 annual fairs, which were held in May and October. (Both were closed in 1900). Forton Hospital (originally Fortune Hospital) opened in 1713 but it was later used to house prisoners of war. In 1735 a workhouse was built in South Street to house the very poor. A new workhouse was built in Alverstoke in 1801. (It gave Workhouse Lane its name). In 1746 Haslar Hospital opened for sick or injured sailors. The first theater opened in Gosport in 1796. In the 1770s Gosport was a town of 5,000 people. However in 1777 a writer was not impressed. He said that ‘Gosport can claim little that is attractive. He said ‘the town is not pleasant’. He went on to say it ‘has the narrowness and slander of a small country town without its rural simplicity and
with a full share of the vice of Portsmouth’ … 18th century Gosport also suffered from press gangs … In 1801 Gosport was a bustling little town with a population of over 7,000.” (End Gosport quote.)
We may infer that Jane Austen meant the coach from Gosport, but it would take too much work to try to figure out which brother would have gone there! Perhaps Charles, who was then staying at Chawton, might have had business at Portsmouth/Gosport.
There, my commentary on that scrap of a letter is double the size of the letter itself! I must have, like Lady Bertram, “a very creditable, common-place, amplifying style.”
My response to Diana and the letter:it’s not necessarily a mark of over-editing (as can be implied) to provide more in the notes than the document in question’s length. especially when it is a remnant, partly censored, it demands context. Life-writing is not like novels: in a novel you have everything inside the novel you need to know (or ought to have). In life-writing there is perpetually a reference outward to all the life-writing refers to, and that includes the massive ambiguities of life. There is a problem yes in making sure you keep narrowly to explicating the text and (equally) that your note actually explicates the text but the size of a note is not to be measured necessarily by the size of the document.
The complaints come from explications which don’t help, which are beside the point — or from people who are not seriously reading the document or who have to pay costs. Now in our case on the Internet the cost is the cost of an email address, and in mine the cost of my website.
It seems to me of interest as a letter in an edition by LeFaye is why she chose to leave this fragment where it is when she herself suggests it’s part of another letter.
The second paragraph is probably the motive for the dating. As Diana says, this paragraph seems a form of excuse making. While it’s true that when we live with others, we cannot be fully free with our time, that Austen cannot find any time at all to come not that far is refuted by the next letter 112 (full text below): it opens with transparent excuses. Austen “should be very happy to come & see you again if I could but I have not a day disengaged.” We’ve all heard this sort of thing: here I am coming to a trip near to where you live and I just don’t have the necessary two hours to spare. So LeFaye placed 111 a few days or just before 112. Austen could at another time been making excuses but would she have been with Henry in London? We do know from the letters of at least stretches of time she was in London where she doesn’t write. Still one can see the probability
But if not this date, one which places the letter with Letter 118? Letter 118 shows the same common ground for Anna and her aunt: their reading of novels, commentary on them (they shared conscious attitudes here) and so as the first of the two fragmentary paragraphs in 111 is about novels in the no-content way of not only Mrs Creed’s pronouncement (she writes she liked P&P and S&S better than MP; well I like cheese cake better than ice cream sundays; does that tell us anything even about the nouns in question?) but also Austen herself.
I’d call Austen’s reaction to Self-control exaggerated and hostile, applying to it strict criteria Brunton may not have held to; early on she admitted to feeling jealous of and worried about Brunton as a rival to herself. And in letter 118 again we have this literalism: Hawkins (daughter of Johnson’s other biographer) has “a thousand improbabilities.” Here she does remind me of LeFaye who likes to say of books she doesn’t like they have at least hundreds of “errors”. We are as blank on the actual content, story matter and nature of the characters in any concrete sense for Hawkins’s Roseanne as we are for Which is the Heroine. To be fair there is some genuine accounting for Hawkins’s novel (it has religious matter, excellence there, but elsewhere “tedious”).
This first section of letter (and the first in 118) could occur anywhere in Austen’s letters, belong anywhere applied to just about any novel. Nothing particular to make for a date or an attitude of mind at a given time. And in LeFaye’s notes (here she does do the right thing) on Letter 112, she shows that Anna cut up the letter into bits and redistributed it (see p 443 the fourth edition). This is what Brabourne does too (and Anna Barbauld did it to Richardson’s letters): they actually not just re-arranged letters but attached bits where they did not originally belong. However, they did it to large chunks; Anna is brooding over tiny slivers of her aunt’s prose.
Perhaps here would be a good moment to remember this difference from most of the letters we’ve been reading, these are supplied by Anna. It’s Anna who has cut and ravaged them into bits, not Cassandra. That’s important — for while not this but other both earlier (the letter just before Anna married) later later contain needling digs even in the saved parts. Anna has held hold onto these things that both excoriate her and she cannot let go of. She does not want us to know and yet she does not want to destroy this aunt’s remains; she wants to enable the aunt to live on, be remembered. She and Caroline helped JEAL against the wishes of other parts of the family who wanted to destroy much more and never tell anything for real.
I probably lack some of Lady Bertram’s facility for amplifying at length on a very little bit — and can comment on Diana’s witticism by saying Austen’s remark in MP could be taken for Austen’s self-reflexive satire now that we’ve read so many of Austen’s letters where she ironically congratulates herself for being able to produce a lot on a very little. Her famous comment about her little piece of ivory can then be taken another way.
Hans Place, London Squares (older map, enlarged)
112. Tuesday, 29 November 1814, to Anna at Hendon, from Austen, now with Henry, 23 Hans Place
I am very much obliged to you, my dear Anna, & should be very happy to come & see you again if I could, but I have not a day disengaged. We are expecting your Uncle Charles tomorrow; and I am to go the next day to Hanwell to fetch some Miss Moores who are to stay here till Saturday; then comes Sunday & Elizabeth Gibson, and on Monday Your Uncle Henry takes us both to Chawton. It is therefore really impossible, but I am very much obliged to You & to Mr B. Lefroy for wishing it. We should find plenty to say, no doubt, & I should like to hear Charlotte Dewar’s Letter; however, though I do not hear it, I am glad she has written to you. I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other. They are but one remove from Brother and Sister –
[p 2] We all came away very much pleased with our visit I assure You. We talked of you for about a mile & a half with great satisfaction. I have been just sending a very good account of you to Miss Beckford, with a description of your Dress for Susan & Maria. Your Uncle & Edward left us this morning. The hopes of the Former in his Cause, do not lessen. — We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss O’Neal in Isabella.’ I do not think she was quite equal to my expectation. I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkerchiefs, but had very
little occasion for either. She is an elegant creature however & hugs Mr Younge delightfully. –
[po 3] I am going this morning to see the little girls in Keppel Street. Cassy was excessively interested about your marrying, when she heard of it, which was not till she was to drink your health on the wedding day. She asked a thousand questions, in her usual way — What he said to you? & what you said to him?-And we were very much amused one day by Mary Jane’s asking “what Month her Cousin Benjamin was born?” –
If your Uncle” were at home he would send his best Love, but I will not impose any base, fictitious remembrance on You.-Mine I can honestly give, & remain your affectionate Aunt
23, Hans Place
Tuesday Nov: 29.
Mrs B. Lefroy
Since the last letter, five days ago, Jane Austen has gone to London with Henry and is staying at 23, Hans Place. This is another letter to newly-married Anna at Hendon, and a short one. Jane would like to come see the newlyweds at Hendon, only eight miles from London, “but I have not a day disengaged,” she writes. Her London stay is short; on Monday Henry takes her back to Chawton, and in the meantime he is keeping her occupied. Brother Charles (just widowed in September, and making changes in his life) comes tomorrow, and then “I am to go the next day to Hanwell to fetch some Miss Moores who are to stay here till Saturday.” Henry has a penchant for wanting Jane to see the young women he may be interested in marrying, and the Hanwell one is Miss Harriet Moore.
On Sunday Elizabeth Gibson arrives, and Monday Henry takes both Jane and Miss Gibson to Chawton. Who she is, Lefaye doesn’t say, but she seems to be of a Kentish family and born 1790. In addition to all these engagements, of course, there was business at hand: Jane is in town to “settle about a 2nd edition” (of Mansfield Park), with Henry’s help. She kindly thanks Anna, saying she is obliged to her and Ben for wishing her to come, and that she would like to “hear Charlotte Dewar’s letter.” The biographical notes say this Charlotte, born 1791, is the daughter of Penelope-Susan Mathew who married her first cousin David Dewar of the West Indies and Hampshire About this Charlotte Dewar, Jane writes, “though I do not hear it, I am glad she has written to you. I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other. They are but one remove from Brother and Sister
Now, what does she mean? Can Charlotte Dewar be Anna’s first cousin? Well, yes she is. It’s hard (again) to wade through the interrelations, but you may have picked up on Penelope-Susan Matthew. She is daughter (Jane-Charlotte, born 1791) to the sister, Penelope-Susanna Mathew (Mrs Dewar) of the late Anne Mathew (died 1795) who married James Austen and was Anna’s mother. So it is natural Jane Austen would be glad Anna is keeping in touch with her mother’s family.
Jane speaks of being very pleased with her visit, which we have no reason to doubt, except that we don’t know who it is she’s been visiting with today. Charles isn’t there yet nor the Miss Moores; but she has been talking of Anna for “a mile and a half,” and been sending a good report of her to Miss Beckford “with a description of your Dress for Susan & Maria.” (Middleton is their name, Deirdre tells us; and these were apparently sometime tenants of Chawton Great House.)
Jane mentions “Your Uncle & Edward left us this morning,” so that is who she went visiting with, and Deirdre says that she means her brother Edward Knight and his eldest son, who had brought JA up from Chawton. What she means by “The hopes of the Former in his Cause, do not lessen,” we do not know, but it may perhaps be a reference to the Hinton lawsuit, which was going on at this time.
A brief mention of going to “the Play last night, to see Miss O’Neal in Isabella.” This is a tragedy apparently adapted by David Garrick from Southerne’s Fatal Marriage, but Jane Austen did not much care for it, saying pungently: “I do not think she was quite equal to my expectation. I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me.” Don’t we know the feeling! And she “took two Pocket handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either.” She adds, rather charmingly, “She is an elegant creature however & hugs Mr. Younge delightfully.”
This is a rare admission Jane Austen personally, & very humanly, enjoyed watching a man-woman moment that has to be called a bit sexy! And we are reminded that she has written about similar scenes in Mansfield Park. See Mary Crawford’s speech: “…the theater is engaged of course by those indefatigable rehearsers, Agatha and Frederick. If they are not perfect, I shall be surprised. By the bye, I looked in upon them five minutes ago, and it happened to be exactly at one of those times when they were trying not to embrace…”
She has already listed enough engagements to make her visit a very busy one indeed, but now she adds, “I am going this morning to see the little girls in Keppel Street.” These are Charles’s newly motherless daughters, of course, staying with their Palmer grandparents. Jane tells how little Cassy, nearly six, “was excessively interested about your marrying,” and asked “a thousand questions, in her usual way.” “And we were very much amused one day by Mary Jane’s asking ‘what Month her Cousin Benjamin was born in?’” Mary-Jane is actually Frank’s oldest daughter, now age seven and staying at
Chawton Great House.
She makes a nice closing, saying that Henry would send love if he were at home, “but I will not impose any base, fictitious remembrance on You.”
My goodness! Quite a lot of minutiae to delve out of one really very short little letter!
I have not much to add to Diana’s delvings, and must say she ferreted out a lot of the detail from morass of LeFaye’s appendices to elucidate scant phrases (e.g., “The hope of the former in his Cause do not lessen”). If you look at LeFaye’s redaction from her article (appendix, p 443, note to letter 112), you see that this is a left-over pair of scraps put together as best as could be done after other letters had been subdivided and rearranged too.
Charles now a widow has left his daughters with the Palmers who lived on Keppel street. We have Henry again involving his sister in his prospective love affairs – that he seems to have been not exactly a Don Juan is to his credit: Henry a sensitive man like James his elder brother, and like Eliza now dead.
Then a break where there is no intervening sentence to explain the gap. I suggest then we have two pieces of a letter, perhaps or probably the same or around the same time, from Jane at 23 Hans Place, London. Aunt Jane succumbed after all and visited Anna. She seems to have showered praise on everyone. Then the lines about Edward his son and the lawsuit. The paragraph closes on Austen’s attendance at the playhouse to see the powerful pathetic (poignant) tragedy with a victim heroine by Southerne (one part of the plot comes ultimately from Aphra Behn’s sojourn and Oroonoko.)
I understand the vignette slightly differently than Diana: I don’t see it as an endorsement of heterosexual romance but rather an insistence of Austen’s strong scepticism (like Johnson in a theatre) and they didn’t bother to “see through” the play to the actors. The emphasis is the actors remained themselves, did not through the powers of imaginative acting perceived the previous image. Austen trills away at the very end about the granddaughter: So “she is a delightful creature however & hugs Mrs Younge delightfully … “
Her visit to Charles’s children; I can imagine they were upset: “She asked a thousand questions, in her usual way?” I assume the child Mary Jane is referring to the grown up “Ben” with her “cousin Benjamin”
I enjoyed her flourish that she “will not impose any base, fictitious remembrance on you.” Very much in-character.