Dear friends and readers,
Heads of topics: She wishes she could help Cassandra with the 11 children; a free thimble. They are waiting on Chawton; mother putting together some “useless silver” (ware). Austen identifies with Miss Murden (single, broke, has to take a job as a chemist’s wife’s companion; this where she talks in sign language to an impoverished deaf man in a boarding house and recommends Stael’s Corinna; she eats black butter with Eliza (rejoicing in “unpretending privacy”); Henry still distressed, James has been and gone to the theater. There are still many destroyed letters. Writing novels never mentioned, yet we have evidence she writes all morning regularly . . .
One feels endlessly compelled to qualify. On Austen-l we had a thread on whether the letters are superficial (I really meant to counter the typical dismissal of them as joking, not meaning it, meant for family eyes &c&c) or unsatisfying, as I started this week’s letters I looked at the dates. By LeFaye’s own computation in her introduction to this edition, that means probably 6 missing letters. 2-4 a week, or 3 a week is what LeFaye figures.
If we start to count on average often 6 missing, for the break here of 3 weeks is typical, we can really make no generalization of what the whole was. We can say this remnant is meager in numbers.
What can be destroyed at this point? One kind of detail that has struck me which I had not noticed before in simply reading through are the few references to Henry Austen and those here surprising – if you were to believe how optimistic he is said to have been and liking to present himself shallowly. Since Elizabeth’s death he is presented as grief-stricken, really upset when he comes to Godmersham, and in this letter the tiny detail, doubtless overlooked by Cassandra’s vigilance:
I hope he comes to you in good health & in spirits as good as a first return to Godmersham can allow. With his nephews, he will force himself to be chearful, til he really is so.
Myself I see no reason to think he was boulverse by Elizabeth’s death; we are not near Eliza’s fatal illness, though her disabled son was a burden and died. We do know he overextended himself, that his business was very stressful one (considering the wars, over-building) and in the end he opted for retirement to a small income as a curate and nobody wife, living near his sister.
I’m also struck by how in the last part of the letter the irritatingly sullen Miss Murden– sitting there ungracious and very silent, Jane suddenly shows she identifies. Miss Murden was understandably distressed I’d call it; like many of these single women the Austens surround themselves with, she has no money, and Martha has found for her a way of surviving by being companion to, Mrs Hookey, the Chemist. Not exactly going up in life. Jane writes then
I cannot say that I am in any hurry for the conclusion of her present visit, but I was truly glad to see her comfortable in Mind & spirits. — at her age perhaps one may be as friendless oneself, & in similar circumstances quite as captious.
Given the mortality rate, Austen could find herself w/o a brother willing to put up with her, Cassandra dead, mother dead and she’d be as badly off. She is “one” in the second phrase.
I had not noticed before the “I recommended him to read Corinna” is said to an impoverished deaf man, Mr Fitzhugh. His family is willing barely to support him — as little real concern for disabled people then as now. Jane’s using sign language shows it has spread — it was invented mid-18th century by three philosophes altogether and simply transformed the existence of deaf people. No longer left to be idiots. That she knows it is startling. But it’s telling him to read it. I had once read she preferred it to Milton but know that reading is wrong since she never mentions Milton in this sentence. I’ve read Corinne and can see how it would be a comfort to an intelligent person. A deeply philosophical travel book about non-conformity. I wonder how he would have learned to read, where? would someone read it to him through sign language? I know it existed in English by 1808 – and probably this was the copy Austen was thinking of.
I see no real buoyancy in this letter on the whole. It is the same mixture as the previous. In fact Chawton is not primarily what’s on her mind. Here we see other people are; what she is doing when she writes is kept from us. The 6 missing letters could have been about that or contained something we’ll now never know.
Now I go through consecutively. Irresistible not to say
first of course yes she is looking forward to Chawton too: the
humiliating, desolating loss of her pianoforte for a small sum is to be made up for at least:
Yes, yes, we will (underlined by Austen) have a Pianoforte, as good a one as can be got for 30 Guineas.
But the generally usually rebarbative tone of the whole letter
throughout does not suggest any continual rejoicing at the coming move. This is a less pleasant letter than the last. The abrupt irritated tone especially strong on Tuesday. Austen moderates somewhat on Wednesday, but not a lot.
The first sentence does seem to suggest sometimes Austen wrote only once a week:
I can now write at leisure & make the most of my subjects, which is lucky, as they are not numerous this week.
The second about the “party” just arrived home in safety:
Our house was cleared by half-past Eleven on saturday, & we had the satisfaction of hearing yesterday, that the party reached home in safety, soon after 5.
LeFaye suggests James and his wife, Mary, but two letters ago (Letter 61) only James is there, and that allows him to go to the theater (Mary did not like books & poetry & we’ve no reason to believe plays found any more favor with her) Austen says her brother, James is there alone and this will give her a chance to see that Martha goes to the theater in Southampton at least once. Rereading that passage, maybe after all Jane did go to the theater more often that we suppose. Her remarks would be destroyed by Cassandra: theater going not acceptable? salacious innuendos? hard to say.
Then the usual acknowledgement of Cassandra’s letter:
I was very glad of your letter this morning, for my Mother taking medicine, Eliza keeping her bed with a cold, & Choles not coming, made us rather dull & dependent on the post. You tell me much that gives me pleasure, but I think not much to answer.-I wish I could help you in your Needlework, I have two hands & a new Thimble that lead a very easy life.
Eliza and Choles are both servants. Jane suggests they or he provides amusement and interest. Again she’s not above noticing servants. Needlework: I can imagine Cassandra has a lot: 11 children! At least one still in diapers. And maybe more than one not yet in trousers.
Then Jane’s not-so-kind gossip to Cassandra:
Lady Sondes’ match surprises, but does not offend me; — had her first marriage been of affection, or had there been a grown-up single daughter, I should not have forgiven her — but I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their Lives for Love, if they can — & provided she will now leave off having bad head-aches & being pathetic, I can allow her, I can wish her to be happy.
I like to think Jane’s tone comes from considering her correspondent; also this value or norm of widows not acceptable when they remarry, but have to admit this fits in with other snatches. It does have this: we learn that Lady Sondes’s first marriage was not for love; it was an arrangement. Why had there been a grown-up single daughter this would reconcile Austen? someone for her to talk to? What stands out really is Austen has no tolerance for other people’s emotional pains coming out in physical ailments. I get the feeling this was not tolerated much in the Austen household, except of course for Mrs Austen (who herself when younger makes a play to the boys in her poem
of ignoring their miseries as nothing. It was in her monetary interest to.
LeFaye tells us Lady Sondes married as her second husband Genl Sir Henry Tucker Montresor. Lefaye’s citation of an article on the JA Collected Reports is useless to me as she doesn’t tell the year; Ron’s website at least conveys information the husband was a respected general in the Napoleonic wars
I’ll jump ahead to later in the letter where Austen mentions this match and man again. It was on her mind:
I have laid Lady Sondes’ case before Martha — who does not make the least objection to it, & is particularly pleased with the name of Montresor, I do not agree with her there, but I like his rank very much-& always affix the ideas of strong sense, & highly elegant Manners, to a General
I hope Jane’s dislike of the name of Montresor is not a dislike of a French name but fear this is so.
Do not imagine that your picture of your Tete a tete with Sir B3 makes any change in our expectations here; he could not be really reading, tho’ he held the newspaper in his hand; he was making up his mind to the deed, & the manner of it-I think you will have a letter from him soon.-
Brook Bridges. No reader — perhaps like Elizabeth (now dead). She, Jane, cannot believe he is really reading. In a way it’s amusing. I’m glad she’s no hypocrite.
Cassandra has probably asked about Mary and Frank Austen, and I get the feeling has tried to present them as pleasantly wanting to return to jane and her mother at Southampton — though I’ve surmised she must know better from Frank’s frank visit to her. Jane squashes that one:
-I heard from Portsmouth yesterday, & as I am to send them more cloathes, they cannot be expecting a very early return to us. Mary’s face is pretty well, but she must have suffered a great deal with it-an abscess was formed & open’d.
I imagine a bad tooth. The Austens did have access to what was known of tooth care and we see Jane going to the dentist in London; in her later letters she is aware of how little they can do.
Then the long passage on Miss Murden. Again I surmise a Cassandra having written that she longs to hear about this party and can hardly wait to know about the treats they ate. Austen again is not having this. What I like about this letter is Austen is not writing to please Cassandra but countering her step-by-step (or should I say line-by-line — as she seems to have Cassandra’s letter in front of her as she writes?
Miss Murden was related to the Fowles; Eliza Fowles’s gain was a sister-in-law; Miss Murden’s was that she didn’t attract a man or had a relative-possible suitor sluiced off (by marriage) — could she have wanted Cassandra’s Tom? Well, irritatingly sullen Miss Murden — sitting there ungracious, very silent, Jane suddenly shows she identifies with in the second passage. Miss Murden was understandably distressed I’d call it; like many of these single women the Austens surround themselves with, she has no money, and Martha has found for her a way of surviving by being companion to, Mrs Hookey, the Chemist. Not exactly going up in life.
By looking at the whole passage we see how Austen equally emphasizes the black butter, how it did not come out right but they ate it up the more happily not having anyone around they had to impress: “unpretending privacy” is the kindness remark we’ve had in the letter thus far — she softens considerably the next day when she has Martha next to her. Note too that Eliza the servant is sitting and eating with them on the first day. Unpretending privacy. (In Downton Abbey the servants do not sit and eat the black butter with the family. and I’ll lay a bet in Mrs James Austen’s house and Godmersham they didn’t either:
Our Eveng party on Thursday, produced nothing more remarkable than Miss Murden’s coming too, tho’ she had declined it bsolutely in the morng, & sitting very ungracious & very silent with us from 7 o’clock, till half after ll-for so late was it, oweing to the Chairmen, before we got rid of them.
The last hour, spent in yawning & shivering in a wide circle round the fire, was dull enough-but the Tray had admirable success. The Widgeon, & the preserved Ginger were as delicious, as one could wish. But as to our Black Butter do not decoy anybody to Southampton by such a lure, for it is all gone. The first pot was opened when Frank & Mary were here, & proved not at all what it ought to be;-it was neither solid, nor entirely sweet — & on seeing it, Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. — It was made you know when we were absent. — Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, & we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; & tho’ not what it ought to be, part of it was very good. —
Miss Murden was quite a different creature this last Eveng from what she had been before, oweing to her having with Martha’s help found a situation in the morng which bids very fair for comfort: when she leaves Steventon, she comes to board & lodge with Mrs Hookey, the Chemist — for there is no Mr Hookey –. I cannot say that I am in any hurry for the conclusion of her present visit, but I was truely glad ” to see her comfortable in Mind & spirits;-at her age perhaps one may, be as friendless oneself, & in similar circumstances quite as captious.-
Some of Austen’s irritation comes from the money she has not got and others still have plenty of. Remember the aunt has granted an annuity to him of 100 pounds (and that means Mary too). She did not do similarly to the Austen mother and sisters, did she? James however does not have the money to get one for a boy, so Edward will be compelled to actually make good on his promise.
The “which makes us very happy” is sheer acid.
Mary does not like gardens any more than books. I imagine she didn’t like the degrading work? because of the reference to trenching to be done by his own servants. So John Bond is still there to be used. Mr Austen talked of him with some feeling of his equality as a human being.
]ames means to keep three Horses on this increase of income, at present he has but one; Mary wishes the other two to be fit to carry Women-& in the purchase of one, Edward will probably be called upon to fulfil his promise to his Godson.5 We have now pretty well ascertained]ames’s Income to be Eleven Hundred Pounds, curate paid, which makes us very happy-the ascertainment as well as the Income.-Mary does not talk of the Garden, it may well be a disagreable subject to her-but her Husband is persuaded that nothing is wanting to make the first new one Good, but trenching, which is to be done by his own servants &]ohn Bond by degrees-not at the expense which trenching the other, amounted to.
And two more sections, one on a ball Austen is glad for Anna she will have. Anna has much to endure with that stepmother (left out of Godmersham). No shoes from mother Mary, but mrs Hulbert will bring a pair.
I was happy to hear, cheifly for Anna’s sake, that a Ball at Manydown was once more in agitation; it is called a Child’s Ball, & given by Mrs Heathcote to wm — such was its’ beginning at least-but it will probably swell into something more. Edward was invited, during his stay at Manydown, & it is to take place between this & twelfth-day. — Mrs Hulbert has taken Anna a pair of white shoes on the occasion
And at last Charles and his wife, which in Austen’s spirit I’ll remark she is already impregnated, waiting to drop one; they are not long married and her health does matter. We’ve had no notice in any letter of their marriage or beginnings; I cannot believe Austen did not write of this before. These letter destroyed — I remember reading Deborah Kaplan that the family was not entirely happy over this match and shall refind the material tomorrow:
I forgot in my last to tell you, that we hear by way of Kintbury & the Palmers, that they were all well at Bermuda? in the beginning of Nov’.-
So much for Jane on Tuesday, 27 Dec at Castle Square
The tone here is much much pleasanter; there is kindness and Austen is looks forward to Chawton in a longish passage, but I’d like to suggest there is just as much dwelling on the here and now and what seems to make soften her is her real engagement with a poor, deaf man who might just be interested in a serious book; a poor single woman captious but who now has a place somewhere and whom she sees what she could be in the future — that she does this suggests she by no means had faith the Chawton scheme would a permanent secure home for her. After al she had been thrown out of Steventon. As a woman she owns nothing; single, she is not directly linked to a man who might protect her interests as the equivalent of his. She is however probably ironic when she says she looks forward equally to her coming association with the Digweed’s bailiff and bailiff’s wife (they are going to live in a bailiff’s cottage) as with Digweed himself. This shows again why she identifies with Miss Murden and after the sudden decisive yes we will have a pianoforte, it’s all money, Henry’s grief, snow and how speculation passes the time.
So here are the passages to exemplilfy what I’ve suggested above.
The day of Edward and Elizabeth’s anniversary; marriage may be said to have killed her:
Yesterday must have been a day of sad remembrances at Gm. I am glad it is over.-
I’ve talked of Mr Fitzhugh and now I’ve looked up the women. Mrs Drew a resident in the boarding house (so no status), Miss Hook, daughter of a brigadier general, but she died in 1816 so perhaps aging single (sloughed off old maid), Mr Wynne, another resident. Why do the film-makers not make a truthful film about Austen’s life. I can see Bergmann doing it or Bresson.
We spent friday Eveng with our friends at the Boarding House, & our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs Drew & Miss Hook, Mr Wynne & M’ Fitzhugh, the latter is brother to Mrs Lance, & very much the Gentleman. He has lived in that House more than twenty years, & poor Man, is so totally deaf, that they say he Cd not hear a Cannon, were it fired dose to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, & talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough.-I recommended .him to read .Corinna.9-Miss Hook is a wellbehaved, genteelish Woman; Mrs Drew wellbehaved without being at all genteel. Mr Wynne seems a chatty, & rather familiar young Man.
Then comes the poignant passage about Miss Murden which I quoted yesterday. I can’t resist quoting the last line at least again to show that Austen is not depending on Chawton as permanent – it did begin to become that, but she did not foresee it:
I was truely glad to see her comfortable in Mind & spirits; — at her age perhaps one may be as friendless oneself, & in similar circumstances quite as captious.–
If we look at the above one and then this we see Austen surrounded by people glad, grateful, condescending, not above her, that she’s comfortable with them (not threatened). Like Eliza, they would have been glad to eat black butter with her in front of a fire.
Now the mother’s pathetic (but in a subsidence economy a widow on a small pension) attempt to get some respectable silverware together for Chawton. Remember how nasty Fanny Dashwood was about how the Dashwoods got to leave with their china:. Austen is quietly ironic here surely. It was originally more emphatic according to LeFaye: by “useless silver” is a crossed out “by her.” Now why would this serve the purpose of making them think of John Warren. Though at the time (1808) he is a barrister (high lawyer), charity commissioner (show this) and married, as a boy he was under the thumb of the parsimonious (necessarily I know people will say): perhaps he was one of the complaining boys to whom Mrs A directed her poem or maybe he made fun of any pretensions over silver in Steventon cottage:
My Mother has been lately adding to her possessions in plate-a whole Tablespoon & a whole dessert-spoon, & six whole Teaspoons, which , makes our sideboard border on the Magnificent. They were mostly the produce of old, or useless silver, –I have turned the l1s in the List into ” 12s, & the Card looks all the better; — A silver Tea-Ladle is also added, which will at least answer the purpose of making us sometimes think of John Warren.
Then the passage on Lady Sondes whose case Austen means to put in front of Martha and Austen’s (I think unironic) praise of her second husband (whom we recall Austen said she was marrying for love as opposed to her first marriage): “strong sense, highly elegant manners …” Austen values these
She must write to Charles next week. She’s in no hurry. She is not eager for this correspondence the way she was for Frank’s. Harville is said to have been based on Charles; if so, while he’s very handy and good natured, he’s not much on talk. She is making fun of the neighborhood’s pompous crying up of Charles and the insincerity of Harwood (who we’ve heard of before, himself a victim of prejudice), pretending over praise of a “local hero.” Jane knows what’s that’s worth:
I must write to Charles next week. You may guess in what extravagant terms of praise Earle Harwood speaks of him. He is looked up to by everybody in all America.-
And then the longish passage of looking forward to Chawton: There is much wry saturnine here. She is comically irritated by Cassandra’s discretion (it is only comically). The reality is they will not have much satisfaction in neighbors for real, and the irony of who they run with now. Not that she doesn’t like “remarkably good sort of people.” So did Emma the Coles (and found she had to bow to the neighborhood who persisted in treating them as equals so she had to pretend). The country dances anticipates Anne Elliot at the piano, minus the grief of a Captain Wentworth’s mortifying presence nearby. What picture emerges from the life of Chawton: surrounded by non-genteel, looking to new family generation for social amusement. No sense that this is the place she will dig in and write those novels. No elation felt but for the piano.
I shall not tell you anything more of Wm Digweed’s China, as your Silence on the subject makes you unworthy of it. Mrs H. Digweed looks forward with great satisfaction to our being her neighbours — I would have her enjoy the idea to the utmost, as I suspect there will not much in the reality.-With equal pleasure we anticipate an intimacy with her Husband’s Bailiff & his wife, who live close by us, & are said to be remarkably good sort of people. — Yes, yes, we will have a Pianoforte, ( as good a one as can be got for 30 Guineas — & I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews & neices, & when we have the pleasure of their company.
Martha tells Henry he will soon have a bill from Miss Chaplin (a shopkeeper) but not to worry the bill will probably not be redeemed at the bank right away. Henry’s money is not in the good shape some believe, and then how children act as an enforced inhibitor and good thing too. Human beings pavlovian.
Martha sends her Love to Henry & tells him that he will soon have a Bill of Miss Chaplin’s, about £14 — to pay on her account; but the Bill shall not be sent in, till his return to Town. — I hope he comes to you in good health, & in spirits as good as a first return to Godmersham can allow. With his nephews, — he will force himself to be chearful, till he really is so
Eliza is Henry’s wife and has not written in a while. She has sombered up over the years — dead son, melancholy husband running about to try to make a middle class household and living.
The snow is something Jane likes casually — she often does landscapes:
We have had Snow on the Ground here almost a week, it is now going, but Southampton must boast no longer.
Remembering again Edward, his sons and them passing the time playing speculation — as they did in Mansfield Park. Do we have to make explicit that Godmersham is Mansfield Park and vice versa?
A PS on the mother growing older: not gone out of doors this week (real life here) but “keeps pretty well.” So less hypochondria, less indulged probably.
Bookham is Mrs Elizabeth Leigh of Adlestrop. She is Cassandra’s godmother — part of the general relatives group of Cookes, Leighs, Austens. She too never married, lived with her brother, Thomas, in the rectory at Adlestrop, was much older — so we understand the association with Austen’s mother.
It’s an in the midst of life letter. Jane Austen has been reading Stael’s Corinna. As the letter opens she feels for Cassandra stuck at Godmersham, sewing, taking care of 11 children. She, Jane, would do some of the sewing for her if she could. She has a thimble. She has enjoyed a party despite the boredom of the people and later in the letter she becomes more eager.
The missing element is the lack of talk about writing, about her novels. It’s so empty of this I feel she’s deliberately keeping this part of her life out of sight. Only the reference to Corinna and her use of sign language brings in her life of the mind. I can see why she is not depending on Chawton for a new way of life as yet. She had to turn herself around too — to become more publicly pro-active to make her books and publish them.