Dear friends and readers,
This blog interweaves into Letters 8 and 9, the happenings omitted from this time (perhaps originally recorded by Jane Austen or someone else in the family but now destroyed that mattered intensely: the courtship and rejection of Eliza by James; the courtship and marriage of Henry to Eliza; Jane’s writing First Impressions; the death of Tom Fowles and Cassandra’s (unexplained in the records anywhere) decision never to marry. In context Austen almost losing her life’s writing in her box might be regarded as a sort of black comedy 🙂 and her father’s reading Lathom’s The Midnight Bell too.
A year and 8 months have gone by between Letter 7 (18 Sept 1796) and 8 (8 April 1798); another 8 months between Letter 8 and 9 (24 Oct 1798). Since the last (7) JA has written First Impressions. Not mentioned anywhere in these letters. Letter 8 a letter of condolence; letter 9 a traveling letter: Austen’s writing desk almost goes to the West Indies. Must’ve been pure panic … Her father reads Midnight Bell at their coaching inn. Mother in delicate health?
So how do we know JA wrote First Impressions between these two letters. We are told by Cassandra that the first full complete P&P in the form of First Impressions was written between Letter 7 and 8 in a series of brief jotted notes:
First Impressions begun in Oct 1796/Finished in Augt 1797.
Jane Austen is 23-24 during this time. We suppose she has just written a great masterpiece of comedy — it may be our present P&P is better; I incline to think it’s shorter and we have lost much delight. It may be FI (First Impressions) was epistolary. I’ve never been convinced it was because it’s S&S that we are told was once E&M in letters not P&P. It takes a whole-scale revision to change an omniscient novel into letters and the calendar doesn’t support this. Not that the calendar here means much as the letters could have been unbroken series of one sister to another, with little ironic juxtaposition. The present calendar for S&S has startling ironic juxtapositions when you put the events chronologically.
Tomalin tells the tale concisely with apt quotation from people close to Cassandra and Jane: I’ve added the bits about the brothers marrying which also happened during the interval. Not for them mourning/being single for the rest of their lives. I don’t agree at all with Tomalin that James and Mary were a happy couple; his poems show quite otherwise …
Quesions that have no real answer: she is traveling with her parents. What were the patterns of life for a young woman then? I do think it was common for young women to be with their parents; it would not be today. But how common? would girls more commonly have a friend with them? Would they more commonly be married by this time? I think not, from this class the women married a little later, but I find myself wondering.
I recommend Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s England for some revealing contemporary illustrations of all places in the counties Jane and her family traveled near, e.g., Manydown House in Basingstoke (assemblies held there), Ramsgate in Kent (holiday and naval place).
Christy has patiently typed out a letter from Eliza Hancock Feuillide now Austen to Philadelphia Walter, 16th February 1798 — this would be 3 months before Philadelphia’s father died. Perhaps people would like to see the chronology I’ve worked out for Eliza and Henry between 18 Sept 1796 and 16th February 1798 See comments below.
Chronology of Henry and Eliza [Hancock de Feuillide] Austen:
1796, September: Jane, from Rowing, to Cassandra at Steventon reports on Henry’s activities: he brings Mary Pearson over, he is ill and returns to Yarmouth to consult physician, two weeks early; Jane is irritated she has no one to bring her home; she is unsympathetic to Henry
1796, October: Henry gets away, perhaps escorts Jane home (no one knows how she got back), perhaps away to Godmersham for shooting; engagement with Mary Pearson broken off
1796, 7 November: Eliza to Philadelphia: she saw Henry during a leave given him as Paymaster. He went to Greenwood and Cox; Eliza says he looks thin and ill; that his late intended is a flirt [Miss Pearson?] and his heart could not withstand her
1796, middle November: Oxfordshire regiment quartered in Colchester Barracks
1797, 18 February: Henry made Adjutant of Regisment, he supervises internal management, directs men’s training. He takes no more personal leave.
February, March & April: men of new Supplemental Militia given 20 days of training in home districts, supervised by Adjutant and NCOs complimented for sober & orderly behavior, May 9th they reach Norwich where there are again riots (John Thelwall involved) just around tim of mutinies at sea
1797, 29 March: Colonel promotes Henry to Captain Lieutenant
1797, 3 May: Eliza to Philadelphia rejoices over Henry’s promotions, he ‘bids fair to possess a considerable share of riches and honours. I believe he has given up all thoughts of the Church, and he is right for he certainly is not so fit for a parson as a soldier’
1797, 4 August: Eliza to Philadelphia: although in July she had planned to go to Brighton, now she is going to Norwich with her boy; Henry is there
1797, 22 September Eliza to Philadelphia denies she has come to Lowestoft [a spa young couples went to] to be with Henry; he cannot be away for more than a few hours at a time, is 28 miles away; but later she tells of driving over to Yarmouth, and Henry as Paymaster would visit Yarmouth
1797, 14 November Oxfordshires moves to Ipswich after Admiral Duncan defeated Dutch fleet at Camperdown; a detachment stays at Yarmouth, another goes to Landguard Fort, the only fortress on the east coast, guarding entrance to Harwich
1797, 28 December: Eliza to Warren Hastings tells of her coming marriage to Henry Austen and praises him strongly
1797, 31 December: Eliza and Henry marry; George Austen sends £40; Henry has about £281 a year from military posts and Eliza an income of her own; they settle down at Ipswich
1798, 16 February: Eliza’s letter about threatened invasion; meanwhile more officers; in April 354 more men; some sent off for specialized training. Very large group of men now divides into 2 wings, each with major, sergeant major and adjutant; Henry hands duties to lieutenants and takes leave of absence, probably to visit Edward in Kent with parents, Jane and Cassandra
Note that Eliza writes happy that Henry has given over all thoughts of the church; this registers the origin of Mary Crawford asking Edmund to do so much better for himself than be a parson. Tomalin explains that James had courted Mary and been rejected:
"Eliza liked to affirm that she was altogether immune to love. Some time in the summer of 1796 she had reappeared at Steventon, and James plucked up his courage to court her. It was a most suitable arrangement, after all, the young widower with a small daughter and his widowed cousin with her poor boy; all the family must approve, and they could live very comfortably together on his income and herfortune. So he danced attendance, riding over from Deane, offering up verse tributes, and whatever took her fancy. Eliza enyed being wooed, and toyed with the idea of accepting; then she went back to London to think about it and decided that James had not enough to tempt her, and that she preferred "dear Liberty, & yet dearer flirtation." Being confined all the year round in a country parsonage would not do: sermon writing, hunting, tithe gathering and dinners with the same local squires for him; children, and tea with the squires’ wives for her. She was used to something livelier. She liked to go to Brighton and other resorts: sea bathing for Hastings, with a little flirting with the officers for his mother, made a very acceptable programme. None of the tragedies life threw at Eliza stopped her from treating it as a game to be played for as much rational enjoyment as could be extracted from it, and at thirty-five she still dressed and behaved as a conquering beauty (p. 125)
"Mary, whose face was scarred by smallpox, was jealous of James’s old passion for Eliza, and Jane came to think she ruled his life too unrelentingly, the marriage was a happy one. James accepted that Eliza was never to be invited to the house; nor did any account of his visit to France and the de Feuillide estates survive, either in prose or verse; which is surprising, given his habit of recording the major events of his life, and the careful preservation of letters such as Mrs. Austen’s. Family tradition has it that Mary Austen continued to speak ill of Eliza, whom she long outlived, to the end of her days, so the bad feeling must have run deep. Eliza, all innocent of this-or at least pretending innocence-spoke kindly, if condescendingly, of James’s choice, as "not either rich or handsome, but very sensible & good humoured."
They were married at Hurstbourne Tarrant, near Ibthorpe, where Mrs. Lloyd lived with Martha and Mary, on a snowy day in January. … Anna [stepdaughter who Mary openly didn’t treat as well as her own children] herself was not so pleased, and there were problems between her and her stepmother; and Jane, who was devoted to Anna, failed to warm to Mary as the years went by. James and Mary were married at the start of 1797, and the news of Tom’s death came in May …
Letter 8 contains the death of Jane Austen’s father’s half-brother. It’s worth reminding ourselves who he was: William Hampton Walker, the son of Rebecca Walter who married George Austen’s father, William, surgeon. William Hampton Walker’s father was Rebecca’s first husband, William Walter, MD, a country doctor. William Austen, her second husband and Jane Austen’s grandfather was also a surgeon. So from the same milieu. These are positions in trade at the time. William Austen, Austen’s grandfather, lost Rebecca to childbirth, remarried himself, and then died (1737). His son George had been theoretically attached to three mothers by this time (biological and two married). This amorphous marrying and remarrying is characteristic of the era. Also who came across for George finally and put him into college, another uncle, Francis, brother to William and the heir, a John. Francis succeeded as a lawyer, working for the family.
It’s salutary to remember the Austen real origins: not in the upper class super-gentry with their great estates, but in class much closer to The Watsons. Her indomitable great-grandmother, Elizabeth, found when her husband died, his father would only provide money for her eldest son, the heir. The rest were to go to pot – or be dependent on him. Elizabeth Weller Austen refused to let this happen; she hired herself out as a housekeeper and placed all her sons, including William, George’s father. At great personal sacrifice, very hard work, and still her sons had to take much lesser positions.
Austen writes the letter on a Sunday. But this is not religious in the sense of giving testimony or its mystic feel. Jane registers the possibly desperate situation her half-uncle’s widow and his children would be in — as she and her mother and sisters would find themselves soon. There is a note of genuine empathy, especially in the un-cliched lines. WE are told the half-uncle had been very sick ("the very circumstance which at present enhances your loss, must gradually propose you to it the better"
Why Austen and not her father? Perhaps because it was recognized that people of an age while not necessarily liking her topics, they do have enough time to invent an unusual payment in architecture, showing this film, that’s fine.
It may bet here needs no explanation for why Austen wrote the letters of condolence: I’m not wedded to my theory, Why Jane? just speculating. I would say she’s more than an amanuensis; she’s writing the letter. True, the expressions are conventional. But then would her father empathize at the loss of the chief male (with the sense the women are more vulnerable)?
And more generally, I want not to cut off dialogue but seek to find explanations even if mild ones.
Good books on the family include (a must-read people), Jane Austen’s Family by Maggie Lane — which has essential timelines, essential personnel. Deidre LeFaye’s Outlandish Cousins. takes the askance attitude towards Eliza and (like so many of the Christianizers and conservative-pro-family scholars) insists against much evidence that Eliza is not Hasting’s daughter. By that she throws out much understanding of what we are reading.
Why Austen rather than her father? She is of an age with Philadelpha. As Christy’s excerpts show, Eliza was Philadelphia’s friend — Eliza apparently did not interact in any way but this manner coy kind of joking — a guard, a carapace. Austen was friends with Eliza so by extension perhaps it was thought more appropriate. Later when Mr Austen died, Austen wrote two condolence notes. Perhaps the family admitted she wrote better than they did …
This letter is unusual: no barbs, perhaps much appreciated.
Between Letters 8 and 9:
Cassandra and the death of Tom Fowles (also from Tomalin):
In one letter she says a Kentish friend supposes that Cassandra is making her wedding clothes, which was no doubt true. Only now the sequence of letters ends, and in the gap between their ending and resumption came the ending of Cassandra’s happiness and hopes. In the spring of 1798 the news of the death of Tom Fowle came from the West Indies. He was expected back from St. Domingo in May 1797, "but alas instead of his arrival news were received of his death."4 He had died of fever in February, and this is Eliza de Feuillide writing, informed by Jane. The whole family was afflicted around her, for Tom was James’s close friend as well as Cassandra’s intended husband. James wrote of his grief years later, imagining the body of Tom lying
… where Ocean ceaseless pours
His restless waves ‘gainst Western India’s shores;
Friend of my Soul, & Brother of my heart! …
Our friendship soon had known a dearer tie
Than friendship’s self could ever yet supply,
And I had lived with confidence to join
A much loved Sister’s trembling hand to thine.
The rhyme of ‘Join" and "thine" startles for a moment as it reminds you about the Austen pronunciation; the feeling rings true, and touches the heart. James never forgot his friend, and for Cassandra the loss was an absolute one. But there was no screaming in agony or refusing to eat; religion, reason and constant employment were Cassandra’s resource. ‘Jane says that her sister behaves with a degree of resolution & propriety which no common mind could evince in so trying a situation," wrote Eliza to Phila Walter.6 Tom’s legacy of £1,000 became her widow’s portion; and she seems never to have thought of another man, although she was only in her twenties, and said to be beautiful. Later Jane sometimes encouraged her to notice the attentions paid to her by other men, but she turned her face against them, and there were no more of the jokes that had made the younger sister praise her as "the finest comic writer of the present age." Cassandra hurried into spinsterly middle age, and the attachment to her sister became more important than ever: Jane was at once her child to be protected, her friend to be encouraged, and her sister to be given unconditional love.
On the other hand, I wonder myself about this interpretation. Was there some pressure on Cassandra not to remarry or find another man? to be the sister at home to care for others? Was she really beautiful — or ugly. Was there some traumatic incident we cannot begin to guess. Early on she put on garb seen as that of a spinster and perhaps encouraged her sister to do likewise. We just don’t know. But these idealistic explanations are too pat and complacent, mainlyi because (as Jane said) a poor spinster was a despised woman.
While 1797 brought tragedy to Cassandra, it resolved the comic emotional tangles of two of her brothers and their cousin Eliza. None of them took Cass’s view that you could love only once
Letter 9 is more interesting to us than Letter 8, well to me — it has more varied details of Austen’s life. Another 8 months since April 1798 to Oct 1798. We might call it "On the move." Cassandra is not at home in Stevenson, but seems a semi-permanent fixture at Godmersham. The family is now spread between wherever and moving on.
I take it that the Austens have been visiting, what we’d call a vacation of sorts. They have no settled plans, note. They have left Godmersham but if they are on their way to Steventon, they are in no hurry and do not know which way they are headed next: "Our route to-morrow is not determined. We have none of us much inclination for London." They may be avoiding the traffic on the way home, but determined not to tax themselves and they are on the lookout for things of pleasure.
Christy wrote: "The coachman, Daniel, is from Godmersham and he is the one who has carried them to the Bull and George"
I thank Derrick for working out the distances and times. That’s what I believe Austen did to modify and control and let go of passing time. When I was doing my calendars for Austen’s novels I often had recourse to these, e.g., Mansfield Park
A second book I recommend: MacKinnon, Frank. "Typology and Travel in Austen," in a volume entitled The Murder in the Temple and other Holiday Tasks." One wants to get hold of actual maps of the era circled around the local pubs.
Details insist on her mother’s illness with fine details yet I don’t feel any intense annoyance. One could argue there is no annoyance to peace, tranquillity, to sit in her own place herself
I take it that Austen is ironic about her mother’s behavior (in the way Diane Reynolds infers):
We get a sense in the letter that traveling with her mother was a trial: "the road was heavy and our horses indifferent …however … my mother bore her journey so well, that expedition was of little importance to us …" Also, that travel itself was a trial–her comments about her day being better than expected: "very little crowded and by no means unhappy" attesting to her low level of expectation. She is enduring with patience.
Then we also hear of the incident where she almost lost her writing desk. Jane Austen did not have backups. She had at most one copy of her manuscript. Yes I imagine such deep panic she daren’t let herself go to rabbit inch. The bigger world obtrudes: her manuscript could go post-colonial. Austen imagines some far away place. She got 7 pounds with it and permission for a boy to go out and commit murder/suicide.
Yes Mr and Mrs Austen don’t sleep together; she is something of a petted hypochrondiac perhaps. On the other hand, we know of 9 children; we don’t know of all the miscarriages and what she might have suffered in these pregnancies and childbirths. She had no teeth by this time (nor Mr Austen).
Some sweet moments. She and little George (the boy breeched and whipped) are now fast friends. She felt for him and he appreciated this. "It is a "very bright chrystal afternoon. Kiss him for me."
Mr Austen reads by candlelight and wanted to do it at 11 On Midnight Bell, this is one of the novels called Northanger ones. Here’s an excerpt from it: Here’s an evaluation: It’s said to be compellingly readable, very easy and it pulls you in.
This letter contains one of my favorite lines:
My day’s journey has been pleasanter in every respect than I expected. I have been very little crowded and by no means unhappy.
It’s tone of resignation and cheer being pulled back by an engulfing disappointment is perfect.
We know a month after our second letter Mr Austen sent an inquiry about a manuscript of a book about the length of Evelina to a reputable publisher, to Cadell & Davies in London. They rejected it by return of post. They didn’t want to see it. She seems to me very gallant here when she come close to losing her precious cargo.