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Archive for October 9th, 2011


Jane Austen (Olivia Williams) and Brook [Edward] Brydges (Hugh Bonneville) imagined walking together, 1814, Godmersham (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

Dear friends and readers,

Another week, another letter (see letter 46), again to Cassandra at Godmersham. She is wistful for the seaside. She seems to lack self-advocacy.

Three days later and Jane not yet gone. Let us recall Harriot Brydges’s behavior over her invitations from a grand lady (Lady Forbes) and a Hatton (Lady Elizabeth) was such as to make Jane Austen long to escape on Thursday, but it seems that now Harriot has pressed her to stay. She still hopes to leave soon because she’s not got the right or enough clothes and is anxiously awaiting Edward’s decision: he either to come or fetch her. The same situation we saw her in nine years ago (see letter 7)

The central passage: the long description of Austen’s long walk, happy time with Edward Brydges. She is not the excitable very young woman she was 9 years ago when she was so taken with Tom Lefroy but I can see in this passage real feeling for for her good time with this congenial man. I’d say this is the second possible heterosexual romance of these letters.So the movie, Miss Austen Regrets and Nokes’s biographical sketch has vindication. I was not surprised to find in LeFaye’s Family Record her sniffing at him (“a proposal she had no difficulty in rejecting”), but wondered what was LeFaye’s prejudice here?

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Elizabeth Brydges Austen (1771-1808), died after her 11th childbirth

To start with, Austen says she has determined to stay until Monday. The next sentences show that she has determined this not because anyone needs her or she wants to stay but that she has to deal with the embarrassment of having to wait on the pleasure and convenience of a man who is none too eager to be inconvenienced nor put himself out. We also see how she allows herself to be persuaded by others; she is not aggressive or a big self-advocate at all. We saw this early on with the matter of Lefroy and how she did not stand up to Cassandra’s scolding in the early letters at all. I’ll add anyone with strong self-advocacy might have held onto some of her treasured possessions when the family was leaving Steventon. Jane Austen did not.

Marianne does not need Austen for she is “almost as well as usual” — as I suggested the lines on Marianne thought suggest a permanent ill state which the medicine of the time could not adequately deal with. It is Friday and Austen says that Harriot has become so kind and insistent on asking for Jane’s company (after all) that Jane gave in for she had not a sufficient excuse to want to leave — it’s only that she’s like to.

Marianne Byrdges is some sort of invalid (“now almost as well as usual’); I remember a later letter speaks of her sufferings. I tried to find out if anyone knows what was wrong, but none of the biographers seem to.

Then the sentences worrying over her lack of adequate clothes and her half-praying sentence “I trust” that Edward will come. Then Harriot’s reiterating or reinforcing this: “Harriot has this morning desired me to propose his coming hithert0 on Monday or Tuesday if Monday should be wet.” She is getting up Austen’s courage, pushing her. We see later in this letter that she wrote Edward herself.

As I’ve suggested, John Dashwood, the self-involved cold selfish man has much admixture from brother Edward. (His becoming the rich adopted heir probably did not help any larger perspective for him. He also never went to university and never was trained for a profession. Ironically he was much less educated than his brothers except in the notion of what he deserved — and that’s what the powerful in the social order wanted of their rich gentlemen.


Edward Austen, Austen’s brother as the gentleman on his grand tour

We are not told what the purport of Elizabeth’s letter was. Note that Austen says it’s makes her “anxious” to hear more of what we are to do and not to do.” Really I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a woman deprived of real liberty, of her will, of choice in action. Austen is now relying on Cassandra who seems to have more self-advocacy here: “I hope you will be able to write me your own plans and opinions tomorrow.” But note she knows Cassandra cannot guarantee it. At Godmersham Cassandra’s time is not her own; she is at the beck and call of Elizabeth.

The fated life of the spinster.

Harriot plays a decent role here. She sends herself to know — to try to bring some pressure on him, but I note another aspect of this is Jane is also anxious about what Elizabeth wrote as her plans for her small boy will get in the way of Cassandra and Jane’s “scheme”. Note the use of the word, it implies conspiracy, an attempt of weak subterfuge, and we may doubt (from previous experience) it’ll come off. This is the first mention.

I am glad it is resolved on, though it seems likely to injure our Worthing scheme

Like Anne Elliot, she is relieved when whatever is to be decided, is decided. Being in suspense is worse. Hope thwarted again. She says it’s not evil because instead Mrs Austen and Martha will be happy together. She does like Martha.

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Worthing, a spa and recreation town in the 18th century

Now we hear of Elizabeth and Edward’s coming journey to London. As LeFaye says (p. 134 referenced in the notes) Elizabeth and Edward went to sightsee, go to plays, shop “for Fanny’s benefit.”? For their own too, surely. And then dine with Henry and Eliza. Jane and Cassandra were shunted off to Mrs Deedes at Sandling, near Folkestone a country house. Maybe they might not want to go to London, but I see no reason to believe that. Every time Jane goes she likes it, and the time Cassandra went previously she was eager. And note this dry sentence underlining:

I expect we are to be a Sandling while they are in town.

Here we have a place where Nokes’s idea Jane wanted to go and be in the world is shown — but he ignores this sentence in his book.

It costs to take two sisters too — more rooms, more food to buy, more cost for transport. And it was likely to injure Jane and Cassandra’s desire to go to Worthing.

And here the wistful tone comes in again. Never to get their desires in anything it seems. Last to be considered. Of course there’s no note on Worthing by LeFaye. ON the west Sussex coast, it’s on the sea, and a place Jane, Cassandra — and I daresay Martha would enjoy. I remember Mr Knightley talking of how Frank never has time or opportunity to come to Highbury to see his father but plenty of time to go to such places:

Still Jane moves on and uses the “we” — probably including Harriot now: how glad they are little Edward is doing better and “from some of his mama’s expressions” will now be well enough to return with his brothers to school.

A certain quiet irony towards Elizabeth there.

Back to present people: Marianne was well enough to see Jane two days in a row; on each day for 2 hours. Jane presents her as kindly, courteous, saying she regretted not to see Cassandra (this is another time we hear this — people seem by this point to assume they are pleasing Jane by telling her they regret not seeing Cassandra too). In a polite way Jane indicates Marianne looking bad: “She is, of course, altered …” Eleven years even in health and Marianne has not been in health. She says ‘”it is wonderful that the change should be so little.” This is one case where Austen comes off well for tact: for she puts it that she has not seen Marianne “to advantage” — putting her words in reverse, she did not see Marianne with a nice color, her complexion shows the effects of the illness (then probably something organic), a long thin face, very like Catherine Bigg (whom Jane seems to like from this and other mentions in letters). Jane finds strong resemble between Alethea Bigg and Harriot. I assume this means they are related. Jane likes Marianne because she has qualities Jane appreciates:

“very pleasant, cheerful, and interested in everything about her, and at the same time shows a thoughtful considerate and decided turn of mind.” The last means having considered opinions of her own she reached by thought and not likely to be vacuous.

The description of o the Bigg sisters gives me the feel of longtime friendship too.

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Jane and Brydges talking and laughing comfortably (Miss Austen Regrets)

In the context of her discomfort at the way Edward is treating her and Elizabeth’s indifference to her and Cassandra, the long paragraph of real enjoyment with Edward Brydges stands out. It’s this context that made me say how LeFay is a puzzle here and wonder what she’s got against Brydges for had she paid attention to this letter she could not have sneered that Austen had no trouble refusing his proposal later on. (I think she does pooh-pooh the Lefroy affair too so maybe it’s that she likes “her” Jane to be fairly sexless, JEAL redux in 20th century terms.

Here’s the passage:

“Edward Bridges dined at home yesterday; the day before he was at St Albans; to-day he goes to Broome, and to¬≠morrow to Mr Hallett’s, which latter engagement has had some weight in my resolution of not leaving Harriot till Monday. We have walked to Rowling on each of the two last days after dinner, and very great was my pleasure in going over the house and grounds. We have also found time to visit all the principal walks of this place, except the- walk round the top of the park, which we shall accomplish probably to-day. Next week seems likely to be an unpleasant one to to his family on the matter of game.

For two days after dinner she has immensely enjoyed walking with Brydges in the house and grounds. They also visited all the principle walks in the area and today she looks forward to walking with him round the top of the park. In the previous letter he had made efforts to make her genuinely comfortable (the toasted cheese); in an early one he led her out dancing: “I opened the ball with Edwrd Bridges” (5 Sept 1796, Rowling)

This one speaks for itself of course.

In the next sentence she is identifying with Brydges’s family: going to be unpleasant, yet she is playful: when she says the guards have “evil intentions” the word is over-the-top. Jane Austen did not then regard poaching as this terrible crime. That speaks well for her, for the enforcement of this law was a species of reactionary behavior, an impulse which is angry at a symbolic rebellion at the same time as a refusal to recognize those poaching were often desperate, living below subsidence. And no one in the neighborhood cares or wants to buck other gentlemen in this case. The guards doing this would be gentlemen. Then a neutral statement that Brydges has been trying to get the neighborhood to act against these guards. Mr Hammond in the neighborhood also will do nothing.

I wonder if he was somewhat jealous of them in their regimentals and “manliness” as guards.

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John (Peter Gale) and Fanny Dashwood (Amanda Boxer) discussing how much Edward can afford to give his sisters

We return to where we see Harriot trying to shame Edward into coming to get Jane, and also is thanking Elizabeth and urging her to go to town. It does seem as if Harriot has entered into her visitor’s troubles and is trying to aid her against this brother and sister-in-law.

Harriot hopes my brother will not mortify her by resisting all her plans and refusing all her invitations . . . she trusts he will now make her all the amends in his power by coming on Monday. She thanks Elizabeth for her letter, and you may be sure is not the less solicitous than myself for her going to town.

Then the good feeling towards Miss Sharpe (who was, as we know, governess at Godmersham):

Pray say everything kind for us to Miss Sharp, who could not regret the shortness of our meeting at Canterbury more than we did. I hope she returned to Godmersham as much pleased …

Miss Sharpe makes Jane remember Mrs Knight whom Jane likes, Miss Milles’s judicious remarks (Miss Milles was mentioned in a previous letter as walking with Miss Sharp), so other women friendsl finall, one from Bath, Miss Irvine.

Jane Austen is essentially a partisan in her judgements of people’s qualities. If she likes you, she praises your qualities (Mrs Knights “beauty” here) and if she doesn’t she will trash them in letters to Cassandra.

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Worthing looking east, recent photo

She now thanks Cassandra for her letter and by way of pleasing her (a gift) says she really likes Gisborne — recommended by Cassandra. I wonder how much she did for it’s another of these didactic books by men for women. Note that Austen “had quite determined not to read it.” The same sentiment she displayed towards Hannah More’s novel.

Then we remembers how their family will wear something black for death of Duke of Gloucester. No assertion of connection no matter how tenuous does the Austen family overlook. To Jane this is a cost: “Must we buy lace, or will ribbon do?” She hopes the latter as cheaper.

She cannot forget the disappointment over Worthing: very wistful this:

We shall not be at Worthing so soon as we have been used to talk of, shall we?

When she says it’s not such an evil and this way they will be with Mrs Austen and Martha earlier and make them happy she’s whistling.

A reminder to Cassandra to write to Charles. That she will be with Cassandra soon (she hopes that is) and so shall not send the pincushions apparently asked for.

Finally a return hint about Cassandra’s weak health: Jane hopes Cassandra continues with the hartshorn and it does her good. Wikipedia says it was used for diarrhea.

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Francis Austen later in life (daguerreoptype): closest to Austen in age, featuers like Jane’s

Looking ahead:

I noticed that Letter 48 is very short: a poem celebrating Francis’s marriage to Mary Gibson. It’s also the first to Fanny Austen, and it’s almost a full year after Letter 47. No surprise there. Jane thwarted in every desirable plan and having to allow Harriot Brydges to help her prod Edward, shunted off by Elizabeth as too expensive to take to London? I remarked on her lack of self-advocacy: as many novelists, she is in all her characters and this trait we see in many, from Jane Bennet to Fanny Price to Anne Elliot. And then another 6 months before Letter 49 when we see that Francis has rescued his sisters, and provided a place for them to have control of their space, time, and thus some modicum of self-respect and control over their lives. Irony here is obvious: he was one of the two with the least money according to the brothers. Jane saw this I’m sure. Letter 49 is very long and no surprise there too. Cassandra saved the most socially acceptable of the letters recording this important move.

Francis gets such poems because Jane was grateful. She recognized he was the only one genuinely to act with decency and generosity on their behalf at this point. After Elizabeth’s death, Edward moved himself — henpecked in part? And then when Jane had begun to produce real manuscripts and did self-advocate, saved the money, was doing the publication herself Henry finally stepped in.

James had long ago failed her, and the excuse of Mary won’t do (as the excuse of Elizabeth does not).


Ciarhan Hinds as Frederick Wentworth: no coincidence his name begins with “F” as does Frank Churchill’s; Edward Ferrars another surrogate

See Letters 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 and 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40-42, 43, 44; 45, 46.

Ellen

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