A male peacock — alluding to Dorset’s Peacock[s] at Home
W. Turner (1816-18), Junction of Greta and Rokeby — a landscape envisaged as Austen might have (from exhibit at Bowes Museum. Barnard Castle, on the intersections of Scott and Turner)
Dear friends and readers,
It’s been 3 weeks since our last letter (98, 5-8 March, also from Henrietta St, Henry’s place of business and home), the second of two long journalizing epistles (97, 2-3 March, Henrietta St), both snowy. Edward and Fanny are with Jane for all three: two are from Henry’s place (99, 100), where theater-going, courtshipsfor Fanny (especially by Mr Plumptre), and Henry finishing Mansfield Park, just before publication (May 1814) are still central. The second is a remnant, fragment, we don’t know to whom, but I suggest probably not to Francis, but one of Jane’s women friends; the third is written from Chawton, to which Fanny and Edward have accompanied Jane while Cassandra has switched places and is now with Henry.
There is much theater-going, socializing. Jane is preparing the proofs for Mansfield Park which is published during this time. She is also writing Emma. We looked at the satire on social life implied by Jane’s allusion to Catherine-Ann Dorset’s comic Aesopic poem, The Peacock at Home, and discussed whether Jane and Cassandra were joking in their insistence that the child-niece, Cassy (Charles and Fanny Palmer’s daughter left behind with her aunts), had fleas, and the cool unkindness of this teasing.
As I’ve been doing, I reprint the text in the comments so that the reader can if he or she wants to, read them first or refer to them while going through the commentary.
Again, close reading or paraphrasing along with Diana Birchall.
Imogen Poots as Fanny and Tom Hiddleston Mr Plumptre falling in love (Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)
99, Wed 9 March 1814, Henrietta St, to Cassandra at Chawton
First, Cassandra with the apparently flea-ridden niece, Cassy in tow were expected daily, almost momentarily, which would account for Austen not writing, but then how or why in June is Jane later at Chawton and Cassandra in Henrietta Street we do not know. The two exchange places by June 14th — my guess is they (the family) felt and Henry agreed, that he needed female companionship, company, someone beyond Madame Bigeon to care for his house and him.
On Tuesday again they went to the play; Mr Plumptre had come directly after breakfast, again having secured a box. A ceaseless day — out in the morning, then shopping, then Indian jugglers. So 4 in the afternoon she, Edward, Plumptre and Fanny are off to this entertainment while Henry was readying himself to go elsewhere. In the event Edward could only stand Farmer’s Wife once more and then insisted on going home. Austen now doesn’t seem at all keen on Catherine Stephen this time or her singing. Of course there were the stage comediens whom she names. Jane does now crave some quiet time: it’s Wednesday and Edward and Fanny gone off; next up she and Henry dine at the Tilsons and the next the Spencers.
Fanny and Edward “both liked their visit very much … I am sure Fanny did.” Henry sees the attachment of Plumptre and Fanny growing stronger and becoming real. Austen has a cold and can vie with her mother’s hypochondria. The cold brings on association of fashions and how she is making long sleeves (remember the fashion Mrs Bennet has heard of when Mrs Gardener comes in P&P). The ornate and somewhat sexy outfit she is making casts light ironic askance on by the poem, “The Peacocke at home.”
Diana concedes here that Jane not keen on the rituals of social life in the period:
A short letter, with no great gap; only five days after the previous one. She is still at Henrietta St., and she has rather a bad cold, bad enough to mention several times, yet it does not prevent her from the business of going about and gleaning what she can of the cultural and theatrical advantages of London. They went to the Play the night before, and this morning were shopping and seeing “the Indian Jugglers.” Everyone can imagine how tiring that is in any big city, and why she should say, “I am very glad to be quiet now till dressing time.” Though don’t you wish she’d given her opinion of the Indian Jugglers, as she touches on the exotic so little.
Just like Charles Musgrove in Persuasion, Mr. J. Plumptre “appeared to say that he had secured a Box,” about which he was perhaps more delighted than she was. Probably because of the cold, her reaction to the evening is a bit listless. “The Farmer’s Wife is a Musical thing in 3 acts,” is a lukewarm description, and Edward may have felt the same, as he was “steady” in not staying for anything more, so they were at home before 10. Fanny and Plumptre were delighted with the singing of Miss S, but not Jane: “that she gave me no pleasure is no reflection upon her, nor I hope upon myself, being what Nature made me on that article. All that I am sensible of in Miss S[tephens]. is, a pleasing person & no skill in acting.”
Also performing were three comedians, Mathews, Liston and Emery, and Jane concedes, “of course some amusement.” Fanny and Edward left early next morning, undoubtedly his reason for wanting an early night, and there’s a bit of gossip between Jane and Henry: “Henry sees decided attachment between her & his new acquaintance.” (We remember that Fanny nearly married Plumptre.)
More about her cold, and then some description of her tinkering with her finery, long sleeves being allowable, lowering the bosom. “Such will be my Costume of Vine leaves & paste,” she says rather mysteriously. What can she mean by this? Deirdre tells us that Dr. Vivian Jones identifies this as a slight misquotation from the comic poem, “The Peacock ‘At Home’” by Catherine-Anne Dorset, 1807. We are very fortunate in that this poem is available on Gutenberg
Wonderful notes by the author, too. It’s all about a sort of pre-Alice in Wonderland-esque birds’ ball. A Peacock decides to give a party:
The Peacock display’d his bright plumes to the Sun,
And, addressing his Mates, thus indignant begun:
“Shall we, like domestic, inelegant Fowls,
As unpolished as Geese, and as stupid as Owls,
Sit tamely at home, hum drum with our Spouses,
While Crickets and Butterflies open their houses?
Carrier-pigeons send out invitations, and the acceptances and refusals come in:
The nest-loving Turtle-dove sent an excuse;
Dame Partlet lay in, as did good Mrs. Goose.
That must have happened all the time in real life, as women were so often lying-in. Now, here is the bit referred to by Jane Austen:
The Partridge was ask’d; but a Neighbour hard by
Had engag’d a snug party to meet in a Pye;
And the Wheat-ear declin’d recollecting her Cousins,
Last year, to a feast were invited by dozens,
But, alas! they return’d not; and she had no taste
To appear in a costume of vine-leaves or paste.
Which explains the meaning of her joke! The “costume of vine-leaves and paste” is what you wear if you go to a party and end up being eaten! I have to admit to Ellen that this does not bespeak very much enthusiasm for social gayeties, but then again, perhaps it was the cold!
This delightfully mad next section I seem to remember reading before…I think Lord Peter Wimsey quotes it:
But the rest all accepted the kind invitation,
And much bustle it caused in the plumed creation:
Such ruffling of feathers, such pruning of coats;
Such chirping, such whistling, such clearing of throats;
Such polishing bills and such oiling of pinions
Had never been known in the biped dominions.
Then she looks forward to Cassandra coming. They are going to take her to the play to see Young in Richard. Covent Garden. Something Cassandra will enjoy.
Cassandra should expect to go to a Play when she arrives, on the first evening of her visit; likely to see Charles Mayne Young in Richard III. Young was the leading English tragedian following Kemble, before Kean and Macready were in full career. Interestingly, his first important part was as Young Norval in Home’s blank verse tragedy Douglas, which I presume is what Tom and Edmund Bertram recited as boys.
Not to worry about little Cassy, Jane has fixed things by swift going to Keppel Street. Does this have something to do with Charles or Fanny Palmer’s family I wonder? no use seeking this in LeFaye — there is no Keppel Street in her Family Record index. I looked at the indexes of four Companion/Handbooks. Since it’s a matter of the unfortunate child’s being swept off to Keppel Street immediately, I assume this is to de-flea her — some expert?
Fleas are found embedded in cat hair: did the Austens have a cat? was it a ship cat that gave Cassy her fleas?
Something of a digression: it was suggested by a couple of people that the whole idea of fleas, with Cassy getting Jane’s bed filled with fleas was an unreal joke.
Diane has found some evidence to suggest that fleas do not embed themselves in human being’s skin, but prefer much fur. Of course hair will do, but I’ll leave that.
If the child didn’t have some bug (like fleas), it’s not a funny joke. We were told when the proposal for her to stay at Chawton to regain her health that she was very scared of her Aunt Cassandra, and did not want to stay with her in a letter which indicates Cassandra had hit one of the peasant girls (perhaps working as a maid). (It was fine in this period to beat your servants. Let’s hope Cassandra was no Emily Bronte.) The child did not want to stay away from her parents, and we may guess nervous.
So Cassandra and Jane invent this little joke of theirs about her fear. Har har. They give her something to be afraid of, just think Aunt Cassandra getting rid of fleas. Ho ho ho. It’s not exactly kind.
When I was a girl growing up in the Bronx, a real fear among mothers and children was “nits.” If you got “nits” in your hair, you would be subjected to hard hurtful combing until you got rid of them and it was not easy. I know how it felt since at one point I had “nits.” I am wondering if “fleas” is an easy non-scientific way to refer to some bug that Cassy had naturally picked up aboard ship and Cassandra took it upon herself to get rid of it in the child.
Thinking a bit more and reading over the pieces, hair will do in place of fur. The child could easily have had some infestation from living aboard a ship with unwashed men in close proximity. If she didn’t quite, I can see how Cassandra might suspect she was — a class feeling.
Lord Brabourne removed all the references to fleas in his edition. How like Cassandra not to censor out that which makes Jane look bad — we saw this earlier in the laughing reference to the maid who was fired when the two nephews harassed her. At the same time we saw some indication of another letter where Jane did lambast the nephews; that was cut. Can’t have the nephews exposed, can we? Cassandra has no sense of what is humanely tactful or decent to people as people only what is conventionally allowed. JEAL did have a heart — very sensitive type — and Brabourne some literary tact and brains.
No one is selling Cassy into slavery, no one beating her; the aunt with her takes her to Canterbury (as I recall); I’m sure she’s fed and taken good physical care of. Treated overtly with affection too. But children feel things, they know. Charles and Fanny did not want to leave Cassy with the aunts, even though it was apparent to everyone the ship life was making her physically ill. And so that trumped, the fear the ship life would kill her.
But physical life is not all that matters to children. It’s just for a time and did her no harm, but I can understand why the child was so reluctant to stay with these aunts when I read Austen’s letters 91 & 92, Mon-Ties, 11-12, 14-15 Oct 1813
Here’s what she has to say specifically about Cassy:
I talk to Cassy about Chawton; she remembers much but does not volunteer on the subject. — Poor little Love — I wish she were not so very Palmery — but it seems stronger than ever. –I never knew a Wife’s family-features have such undue influence. –
A strong sense of distaste here. Like some kind of animal. Bad as colored skin? something racist here — though it’s origin is class. We know from various sources the family thought Charles married down — though Fanny was related to high officials, maybe they were not pseudo-gentry in the manner of the Austens. Had no aristocrats three times removed or whatever.
When Jane Austen looks at this child physically she feels distaste. It’s not just that she looks like Fanny but that Fanny is inferior and the child stigmatized by the outward clarity of the biology.
A little later:
Papa & Mama have not yet made up their mind as to parting with her or not-the cheif, indeed the only difficulty with Mama is a very reasonable one, the Child’s being very unwilling to leave them. When it was mentioned to her, she did not like the idea of it at all. —
Anyone who says this is just fine and she would feel the same would not be someone I would like to be my child’s teacher in school much less have the care of her 24/7.
And we are told Charles and Fanny hesitated and hesitated …
What cruel weather. We may assume it’s cold as well as snowy.
Then the sordid story of Lord Portsmouth, disabled as a child, mistreated probably he grew up reacting meanly to punitive or counterproductive treatment and became an object of unscrupulous fleecing and bullying by his lawyer and trustee who encouraged a daughter to continue this preying. Austen’s single exclamation conveys nothing of any adequate attitude. We can see in LeFaye’s words strong alienation from the disabled man, no empathy, no attempt to see him as human being, complete dismissal (see my blog on attitudes towards disabilities).
Diana quoting and takig her material from LeFaye:
Then she mentions the Lord Portsmouth scandal. “What cruel weather this is! And here is Lord Portsmouth married too to Miss Hanson!” We remember that Lord Portsmouth had been George Austen’s pupil in 1773, and was said to have stammered and been “backward.” He was born in 1767, but would have been gone from the Austen household before Jane could remember. As he could not lead a normal life, trustees and marriage to an older woman were arranged for him. When she died, however, Portsmouth’s trustee and lawyer John Hanson “cynically married off his daughter Mary-Anne to his ward, who by now was obviously a sadistic and necrophiliac lunatic,” in Deirdre’s words. Lord Byron, we remember, was persuaded, or bribed, to give away the bride. No wonder Jane Austen exclaimed at the event!
A close relationship between Henry (Adrian Edmondson) and Jane (Olivia Williams) suggested in Miss Austen Regrets (here they are discussing the price they should like for Emma)
Again Jane takes comfort and reassurance to see that Henry likes this later part of MP “extremely interesting.” (contentless word there.) Her mother had not given her enough money to pay small bills even.
Then she reverts to her state and the weather: she has a bad cold, very heavy, she’d like to lie in bed longer. We can see here her avoiding some social commitment: Hertford Street. She’s not “well enough to go on any account.” And again she trots out the by now tired joke of Henry’s friend’s, Chowne’s likeness to Frederick in Inchbald’s play. This is the third time she’s milked that one.
Amid all this, she mentions that Henry has finished MP, and his approbation is not lessened; he found the last half of the last volume extremely interesting (underlined for emphasis). In the next sentence she writes of her mother not giving her money to pay a bill, and her funds will not supply enough – so perhaps she has in her mind that she may make some money from MP
Back to long sleeves by association. Chowne is friends with the Tilsons, Mrs Tilson is wearing long sleeves too and assures jane they are in. Dining her next Tuesday … (maybe an association with “bad” Tuesdays meant here.)
Photo of modern glass of homemade mead
Friday all this socializing will be over. How she dislikes this. Then they will be snug with only the man servant, Barlowe. She prefers quiet with the servant. Being alone brings on thoughts of the mead at Chawton. How glad she is it’s brewed. Even if she’s not there to drink it it.
They got home so early that she could finish her letter, and for perhaps the only time in her letters (for she was an early riser) she writes, “I rather think of lying in bed later than usual.” She wants to be well enough to go to Hertford Street, though who lives there and why her eagerness, I don’t know. They met only Gen. Chowne today – Tilson’s brother – and JA makes another reference to him playing Frederick: “I was ready to laugh at the remembrance of Frederick, & such a different Frederick as we chose to fancy him to the real Christopher!” (Chowne’s name was Christopher.) Then she hears from Mrs. Tilson about long sleeves, and is reassured to hear that “they are worn in the evening by many,” since she is going to wear some gauze ones.
On Friday they will be snug, with only the firm’s chief clerk there for an evening of business. She finishes with another disgusted reference to little Cassandra filling her bed with fleas, and then insouciantly, “I have written to Mrs. Hill & care for nobody.”
Jane got up early not only to play her pianoforte at Chawton, but to write. The long mornings were her writing time. Back to Cassy and her fleas. I assume it’s the older Cassandra who keeps harping on this and Jane is responding.
Mrs Hill is Jane’s good friend, Catherine, married off to that much older man and having children year after year who she visited back in November 1813.
See also Diana Reynold’s reading from Austen-l archives.
Mansfield Park, 1st edition, title page
100, Mon 21, March, Henrietta Street, to ?
Here Diana and I had a direct disagreement. I don’t think the letter is to Frank. It’s a tiny dated scrap, March 9 and June 14, with no addressee. It’s LeFaye who says it’s to Francis, with Charles, the other brother, as an alternative. If it is that Jane had kept Francis apprised of the publication of MP because he was so sensitive as to the ship’s names, he would not need to know the novel is about to come out. It’s said she wrote him regularly. The warmth of “God bless you,” and sense of not only intimacy, but as sort of utter equality of status (“Keep the name to yourself”) between writer and correspondent, does not suggest Frank at all. As far as we can tell, Jane hardly wrote Charles.
I suggest this may be a scrap to one of Jane’s women friends: Martha Lloyd or even Anne Sharpe (there was a correspondence, all but one destroyed or lost) who she might not have told the novel was about to come out.
The paragraph suggests someone who has no idea Mansfield Park is about to be published, and from what we know of hearsay the family knew about this one stage by stage. Jane carried her writing desk about. So that rules out Martha who appears to be at Chawton with the mother. So by elimination perhaps it’s more likely Miss Sharpe who lived at a further distance — (or some other woman friend entirely — one of the Biggs, Constance Hill) who however is also close to Cassandra: Classandra’s best love is sent to her.
Diana, accepting LeFaye’s conjecture:
We may as well look at the next letter too, #100, Monday, 21 March 1814, as the letters are so close together and this is only a few lines. It’s thought to be to Francis. She revealingly notes, in a cut-off line, “…and only just time enough for what is to be done. And all this, with very few
acquaintance in Town & going to no Parties & living very quietly! – What do people do that…” which, though brief, sheds some light on her feelings about living in the city.
In a postscript she adds, “Perhaps before the end of April, Mansfield Park by the author of S&S – P&P may be in the World.” This bespeaks her sense of the momentousness of the occasion, though she asks her correspondent, “Keep the name to yourself. I shd not like to have it known beforehand. God bless you.”
As Diana says, we have a different tone towards social life. Gone the patient enjoyment or ironies (using Dorset’s poem is just the latest), flat out she has “only just time enough for what is to be done.” (Perhaps referring to getting her proofs finished and to the publisher or helping Henry out in some serious way). Then “And all this, with very few acquaintance in Town & going to no Parties & living very quietly!” — This is not that much at variance with what she’s been telling Cassandra. Rather it shows what was the preferred life Jane and Henry too returned to once Edward and his much-courted daughter, returned to Godmersham. They left on the 9th and maybe since then, even if with Cassandra there (no social butterfly herself — remember Jane’s do know somebody, how tiresome it is that you know no one) and poor niece, they have lived quietly. What Henry has is business acquaintance, and that only a few are consistently renamed.
Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra preferring country life alone (Miss Austen Regrets)
Again see Diane R.
Olivia Williams as Jane Austen back in Chawton, writing again (Miss Austen Regrets)
101, Tues, 14 June, 1814, from Chawton, to Cassandra at Henrietta Street
Three months have passed since Jane wrote a letter to a friend (I suggest), and Cassandra has just arrived (by JA’s calculations) in London, so the correspondence between them resumes. We don’t know exactly when Jane returned home so can’t tell how many letters are missing.
We can say the announcement she may have made say to a friend of the publication of Mansfield Park is not here. (In the Fanny Burney D’Arblay Journals & Letters there would be a note to tell us of this publication, and probably some brief citation of a newspaper.) Fanny Austen Knight has accompanied Austen to Chawton; I assume Fanny and Edward are living in the big house and there is a lot of going back and forth.
A short letter. Three months since the last, and March is now June. I’m reminded of this passage in Mansfield Park:
“It was sad to Fanny to lose all the pleasures of spring. She had not known before what pleasures she had to lose in passing March and April in a town. She had not known before how much the beginnings and progress of vegetation had delighted her. What animation, both of body and mind, she had derived from watching the advance of that season which cannot, in spite of its capriciousness, be unlovely, and seeing its increasing beauties from the earliest flowers in the warmest divisions of her aunt’s garden, to the opening of leaves of her uncle’s plantations, and the glory of his woods.”
Not that Jane Austen is in town any more, and in any case Henry’s digs at Henrietta Street couldn’t be compared with Fanny’s noisome abode in Portsmouth! Jane is at home, at Chawton, and has changed places with Cassandra, who is now in London. “This is a delightful day in the Country, & I hope not much too hot for Town,” she writes, which would seem to show that she participates at least to some extent in Fanny’s rhapsodies about spring in the country. Though there has been a little rain, and Edward has been not quite “brisk.” She went up to the Great House and “dawdled” away an hour. Not sure who “we all five” were who walked together into the Kitchen Garden
(Jane, Edward, Fanny, Marianne, the governess, perhaps?) or if someone lived along the Gosport Road about whom she said “& they drank tea with us.” Domestic matters about the cow man and the nursery man.
Miss Austen Regrets attempts a family scene at Chawton in the country: this includes Mrs Austen, Anna Austen, Edward Bridges (as played by the actors)
Still there is but one sentence on this, and the paragraph in which it appears gives a wider perspective of a picture of country life which includes servants and a long walk and evening tea. My predilection is to dwell on that walk even if it’s given a few less words.
Looking at the text as a whole it gives us a snap shot of country life from the point of view of a genteel subaltern woman inside a family; she gets to speak her voice a little by finding time to write this letter. We have to assume she’s also finding time for Emma but this kind of talk she will not allow herself or is not allowed. Hence my term “subaltern.”
To the letter: we are in present time: Fanny is taking Mrs Austen to Alton, giving Jane some free time. I am struck more by how meditative, yearning, deep feeling is the passage from MP and how matter-of-fact and brief in this letter: “This is a delightful day i the Country, & I hope not much too hot for the Town …” Then how the day Cassandra left which was rainy, how she went up to “the great house” between 3 and 4, dawdled an hour. Edward not well but better in the evening. Then one of these walks she loves to do — into “the kitchen Garden & along Gosport Road.” Then the two came back to the cottage and drank tea with Mrs Austen — we should imagine the soft wet evening in June.
Jane notices servants in these letters. It was something of a code, to erase servants in novels, not to mention them as unimportant. This does not control Jane Austen in her letters. ( Frances Burney D’Arblay rarely if at all mentions servants in the way Austen does, but then FBA has so many more people to discuss and describe.) We are not told why Cassandra will be glad that G Turner has a new situation — I hope it was not that they wanted to get rid of him: “something in the Cow Line near Rumsey” is an odd way to put cowherding, semi-comic is the intention. His wish to go immediately is said not to inconvenience anyone. This letter mentions a number of lower order people. I’ll bring together them all. There is a new Nursery man from Alton to value the crops in the garden.
Then a medium sized paragraph on the topic of the Cookes, which occasions a mention of MP. And still Austen hasn’t gone, she has literally been putting off going for months and months, and they are still (in effect) pressuring her to come. As of this letter (as she has before), she says she will, if a bit reluctantly: “after considering everything, I have resolved on going. My companions promote it.” Meaning Fanny and Edward — the way people do urge others to visit yet other people.
But she can’t just go.
She has received a letter from Mrs. Cooke, which pleases her. This lady, born Cassandra Leigh, Mrs. Austen’s first cousin and contemporary, was now 70 years old; her husband Samuel was Jane’s godfather. They want her to visit, “and after considering everything, I have resolved on going,” she writes. Her companions promote it, but, she adds, “I will not go however till after Edward is gone, that he may feel he has a somebody to give Memorandums to.” Though joking, she does show what her position is with him – something on the level of a secretary or a governess. “I must give up all help from his Carriage of course,” she writes, the “of course” sounding a bit bitter. But she basically says, hang the expense. She’s going. She had thought of Trigg (the gamekeeper) and a Chair, “but I know it will end in Posting.” Will she post alone? We will see. The Cookes will meet her at Guildford, and what delights her so much is that “they admire Mansfield Park exceedingly. Mr. Cook says ‘it is the most sensible Novel he ever read’ – and
the manner in which I treat the Clergy delights them very much.” Therefore, “Altogether I must go”! She also puts it in Cassandra’s “capacious head” that she should join her.
Edward (Pip Torrens) pictured discussing papers with Jane (Miss Austen Regrets)
As Diana suggests, Jane seems to be functioning as a sort of amanuensis for Edward, following him about taking down “memorandums to the last.” (I am reminded of something 50 years ago when I was a stenographer in the gov’t I’d follow a Contracting Officer about taking down all that was said with sten, memoranda they were called too.) But forget the carriage. She must give that up. If she is to go to the Cookes, she’ll have to get there by borrowing a chair from Triggs (a gamekeeper)
She is willing to go suddenly and to this trouble because the Cookes like MP: “in addition to their standing” (half-relatives, long time friends) “they admire Mansfield Park exceedingly.” (The reviews of MP are non-existent, it just was not like the way the first two novels were at all and it shows in the silence.) They liked the way she “treats the clergy:” since they are clericals that means they see it as positive: it is a novel about taking religion and one’s appointment (Edmund’s) seriously. So altogether she must go. But she wants Cassandra to join her there when her visit to Henry is over. She’s not keen to be with these people in the first place and now, even with their liking for MP, without a buffer.
A joke: Cassandra must watch out lest she be trampled by the Emperor. The joke is about their insignificance — she is pretending as she has done before how much they count, and how their activities are central to the World. I imagine Austen would know about the naval review from either Frank or Charles or as a naval sister: so this line also tells us how she watches out for the navy and hints at ongoing other correspondences. The Important People were certainly passing by Alton on the main road or from Portsmouth. The reference to the “bow of the prince” mocks the importance given these people and their slightest activities — reported in the papers as if it mattered intensely.
A reference to Tsar Alexander, who was traveling from London to Portsmouth for a review; she jokes that she hopes Cassandra will “not be trampled to death in running after the Emperor.” She longs to know “what this Bow of the Prince will produce” – but I don’t know what she means, historically.
Then some people whose lives are talked of with less irony — as are the servants in the earlier paragraph and throughout the letters. The Mrs Andrews and Mrs Browning mentioned in the letter’s close are farming people and “Elizabeth is Mrs Browning’s young daughter, aged 6. Austen says this mother “is very glad to send an Elizabeth:” a girl this age perhaps sent to London? to care for some other even younger child? or work in what’s called “service.” “Glad” is a kind of euphemism here: the reality is the woman would have to look upon this as an opportunity for money and to get the feeding of this child off her hands.
Miss (Tamsin Greig) and Mrs Bates’s (Valerie Lilley) hovel (2009 Sandy Welch’s Emma)
Perhaps by association the last paragraph moves on to Miss Benn (one source for Miss Bates) — in a new hovel undoubtedly, her “hand is going on as well as possible.” Again the wording puts a positive slant on something bad. The unfortunate woman has something bad wrong with her hand.
She has Fanny (again Imogen Poots) with her at Chawton
She closes with a word which suggests an awareness of Fanny’s presence: “Accept our best love.” Fanny back so time to end her private time with her pen and paper and sister …
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