Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2012


Amy Lowell (1874-1925)


Ada Dwyer Russell (1863-1952)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been sitting here trying to decide which of the many women poets I’ve written postings on to listservs and decided I should go with Amy Lowell for the power of her arresting opening and whirlingly plangent, knife edge closing lines and because I find she describes intense moods that keep coming back to me:

Madonna of the Evening Flowers

All day long I have been working,
Now I am tired.
I call: “Where are you?”
But there is only the oak-tree rustling in the wind.
The house is very quiet,
The sun shines in on your books,
On your scissors and thimble just put down,
But you are not there.
Suddenly I am lonely:
Where are you?
I go about searching.

Then I see you,
Standing under a spire of pale blue larkspur,
With a basket of roses on your arm.
You are cool, like silver,
And you smile.
I think the Canterbury bells are playing little tunes.

You tell me that the peonies need spraying,
That the columbines have overrun all bounds,
That the pyrus japonica should be cut back and
     rounded.
You tell me these things.
But I look at you, heart of silver,
White heart-flame of polished silver,
Burning beneath the blue steeples of the larkspur,
And I long to kneel instantly at your feet,
While all about us peal the loud, sweet Te Deums of the
nbsp;    Canterbury bells.

[I do work all day and late at night I do feel so desperately tired and look about me for someone, something, a book, feel the silence, long for music — and then I don’t manage to put on my itunes]

The Taxi

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
One after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

[And why should I ever go away from him, ravage myself on those knives however hidden]

I also like her for the large image she conjures up into which she pours just the right detail:

The Broken Fountain

Oblong, its jutted ends rounding into circles,
The old sunken basin lies with its flat, marble lip
An inch below the terrace tiles.
Over the stagnant water
Slide reflections:
Th blue-green of coned yews;
The purple and red of trailing fuchsias
Dripping out of marble urns;
Bright squares of sky
Ribbed by the wake of a swimming beetle.
Through the blue-bronze water
Wavers the pale uncertainty of a shadow.
An arm flashes through the reflections,
A breast is outlined with leaves.
Outstretched in the quiet water
The statue of a Goddess slumbers.
But when Autumn comes
The beech leaves cover her with a golden counter-pane.

[This is like some film adaptation where dreams of what never was are conjured up in these stone places]


L. Luisa Vidal (1876-1918), Untitled (1890)

I like her use of color, stark, simple, and light, flashing, in phases, against water:

Afternoon Rain in State Street

Cross-hatchings of rain against grey walls,
Slant lines of black rain
In front of the up and down, wet stone sides of buildings.
Below,
Greasy, shiny, black, horizontal,
The street.
And over it, umbrellas,
Black polished dots
Struck to white
An instant,
Stream in two flat lines
Slipping past each other with the smoothness of oil.
Like a four-sided wedge
The Custom House Tower
Pokes at the low, flat sky,
Pushing it farther and farther up,
Lifting it away from the house-tops,
Lifting it in one piece as though it were a sheet of tin,
With the lever of its apex.
The cross-hatchings of rain cut the Tower obliquely,
Scratching lines of black wire across it,
Mutilating its perpendicular grey surface
With the sharp precision of tools.
The city is rigid with straight lines and angles,
A chequered table of blacks and greys.
Oblong blocks of flatness
Crawl by with low-geared engines,
And pass to short upright squares
Shrinking with distance.
A steamer in the basin blows its whistle,
And the sound shoots across the rain hatchings,
A narrow, level bar of steel.
Hard cubes of lemon
Superimpose themselves upon the fronts of buildings
As the windows light up.
But the lemon cubes are edged with angles
Upon which they cannot impinge.
Up, straight, down, straight — square.
Crumpled grey-white papers
Blow along the side-walks,
Contorted, horrible,
Without curves.
A horse steps in a puddle,
And white, glaring water spurts up
In stiff, outflaring lines,
Like the rattling stems of reeds.
The city is heraldic with angles,
A sombre escutcheon of argent and sable
And counter-coloured bends of rain
Hung over a four-square civilization.
When a street lamp comes out,
I gaze at it for fully thirty seconds
To rest my brain with the suffusing, round brilliance of its globe.

[Does it make you remember a city scene?]


H. Turner (1858-1958), Morning News (1915)

**************************

Sevenels and surrounding garden

A brief life and work, and bibliography. All the above poems come from an uncorrected proof (people should get into this kind of book, it comes dirt cheap and is often just missing pictures or has xeroxed hand-corrections which add to its value, not detract): Amy Lowell: selected poems, ed. Honor Moore. American Poets Project. The Library of America. 2004 reprint of an 1984 collection.

As many will know (her poems are reprinted), Amy Lowell belonged to the prestigious New England Lowells. While she was when living a major figure of the early 20th century and imagist movement, she has been swept aside because of the ridicule of
Pound and his male cohort, harassed, accused, even hounded (for “hijacking” his movement). Perhaps he did not like that she was a lesbian. She wrote in free verse but was an adept at sonnets, and her free verse feels like it rhymes, so perfectly musical are its sounds, assonance, half-rhymes. Her poetry is said to be “in the American grain.” Why I can’t say? Perhaps the appearance of optimism in the sheer love of being alive, despite life’s electrifying despair; perhaps this turning to European imagistic aristocratic pasts. She traveled with her beloved friend and companion, once an actress, Ada Dwyer Russell (she admired Eleanor Duse), was a socialite, in her mid-twenties purchased a family home, Sevenels, from which she was an active volunteer type. Having not been allowed to attend college, she collected books (I know the feeling of feeling oneself cut off), and wrote essays, edited anthologies, wrote defenses of friends like D. H. Lawrence, delivered lectured to the Poetry Society of America, and collaborated on translations from the Chinese.

This from Pictures of a Floating World:

Vernal Equinox

The scene of hyacinths, like a pale mist, lies between me
   &nbspand my book;
And the South Win, washing through the room,
makes the candles quiver.
My nerves sting at a spatter of rain on the shutter,
And I am uneasy with the thrusting of green shoots
Outside, in the night.

Why are you not here to overpower me with your tense
   &nbspand urgent love?

The Letter

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly’s legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncurtained window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of lovelim
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

Mise en Scene

When I think of you, Beloved,
I see a smooth and stately garden
With parterres of gold and crimson tulips
And bursting lilac leaves.
There is a low-lipped basin in the midst,
Where a statue of veined cream marble
Perpetually pours water over her shoulder
  From a rounded urn.
When the wind blows,
The water-stream blows before it
And spatters into the basin with a light tinkling,
And your shawl—the colour of red violets—
out behind you in great curves
Like the swirling draperies of a painted Madonna.

Bright Sunlight

The wind has blown a corner of your shawl
Into the fountain,
Where it floats and drifts
Among the lily-pads
Like a tissue of sapphires.
But you do not heed it,
Your fingers pick at the lichens
On the stone edge of the basin,
And your eyes follow the tall clouds
As they sail over the ilex-trees.

[Women’s erotic poetry to other women that’s what those are]


Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes (1859-1912), Medieval Woodland Scene (1895)

She found she could not write the biography of Keats she wanted to: she could not obtain copies of his letters to Fanny Brawne. She seems to have offended men because she was very heavy. How dare she? I see Shelley in her imagery, and if she was not a feminist, where is feminism to be found? Perhaps she was put off by the types of women who were first phase feminists (suffragettes, women working for leftist causes, prohibition). She had a mind and style of her own. One of her most reprinted poems is said to be anti-war: Patterns, only it takes such a long time before war is even brought up. This poems is so curious with its artifice. Patterns. It does seem appropriate that art deco was the way people with money furnished their houses.

She died at 51. Eight years before she had been in a painful accident (in a wagon) and seriously injured her umbilical muscles, and surgeries did not mend the damage.

This poem is to Ada imagining herself dead:

The old house will guard you
As I have done.
Its walls and rooms will hold you
And I shall whisper my thoughts and fancies
As always
From the pages of my books.


Eva Bonnier (1855-1909), At Studio Door

See: S. Foster Damon, Amy Lowell: A Chronicle (Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1935); Jean Gould, Amy: The World of Amy Lowell and The Imagist Movement (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1975); Claire Healey, “Amy Lowell Visits London,” New England Quarterly, 46 (September 1973): 439-453. Siane Ellen Hamer, “Amy wasn’t writing about flowers,” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 11.4 (July-August 2004). Amy wrote on Remy de Gourmont, Émile Verhaeren,

Ellen

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


Antonio Canaletto, a rare full-size sketch of a gentleman and lady (usually these are tiny figures inside a large varied landscape)

Dear friends and readers,

Has anyone else read the latest issue of PMLA where Joan DeJean said she went looking for an explanation for the success of the new “long 18th century” in various colleges and found that in fact the era has been eliminated altogether, erased, abolished in many non-English language departments around the US: Joan DeJean, “A Long Eighteenth Century: What Eighteenth Century?” PMLA 127:2 (2012):317-20.

It may be that this abolition is not true of English departments, but there I’ve seen the department itself begin to be abolished. Where I teach nowadays there is only 1 course of general education literature required across the college (when there was once 2-3) and that can be fulfilled by courses from other departments (where that could only be fulfilled by genuine period and serious theme courses given by the English department.

Her article confirms what I’ve seen in general: the abolition of humanities courses of all sorts. It also coheres with what I’ve seen others teach in the general education introductory literature courses. I used to teach one — I did it for about 10 years on and off. It’s now abolished: I did the two parter I’ll call the first half of British literature and the second half. There was also a one term version; I did notice other colleagues who did the one term version especially would do a couple of famous medieval, and Renaissance works and then basically leap to the 19th century. One reason towards the end I did separate books (I did not order the Norton) was it enabled me to chose what I thought would be more popular (Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Gay’s Beggar’s Opera), work I simply liked better (I’d use Cruttwell’s Penguin of Johnson), ” to go outside English (I’d assign Lafayette’s La Princesse de Cleves in English) …

A great loss.

Another favorite picture:


Ducrois and Valpato, View of Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli

I have it as the wallpaper on my laptop

The picture combines elements of the drawing and watercolor art of
Piranesi (dream fantasias) and Wilson (idealized but apparently real)
with a real penchant for unidealized figures and places:

Just this sort of vision lies behind the novels of Radcliffe (and her gothic school) as well as Goethe (who didn’t have a school of followers, but can be likened to the Johnson of Rasselas here). It was disseminated through prints.

Of this lovely scene Kathleen Stuart (Tales and Travels, the book of prints of watercolors from the recent exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan I’ve been drawing on for a number of weeks now) writes:

“The work seen here depicts a view of the ancient city of Tivoli, on the Aniene River about twenty miles east of Rome. Famed for its picturesque terrain and dramatic waterfall, Tivoli was one of the most popular destinations for travelers on the Grand Tour. It was also the site of the first-century B.C. Temple of the Sybil, seen here in the center of the composition. The temple was a frequent subject for artists of the day, who commonly focused on it as an architectural ruin: for example, the engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) in which the temple is isolated and seen in foreshortened view from below –or as an emblem of classical
antiquity set in an ideal landscape; as in Richatd Wilson’s painting of about 1754, Landscape Capriccio on the Via Aemilia, with the Temple of the Sybil at Tivoli and the Broken Bridge at Narni

By contrast, Ducros represented the temple as unidealized, viewed from the side instead of head-on, and blending into the neighboring buildings and verrdant surroundings, with a group of figures in the foreground engaged in the activities of daily life. Ducros depicted the temple in at least two other finished watercolors, both viewed from the river upstream from the falls (Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne; Kenwood and elsewhere

Of the artists she tells us:

“Born in Switzerland, Ducros trained in Geneva before traveling to Rome in 1776. There he quickly established himself as a specialist in large, highly finished topographical landscapes in watercolor, which were prized for their realism by visitors on the Grand Tour. In 1779 Ducros entered into a partnership with the printmaker Giovanni Volpato to produce engraved souvenir views of Rome. Volpato, who had settled in Rome in 1771, was famous for his engravings after Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican logge. The partnership of Ducros and Volparo flourished, and in 1780 they issued their first series of prints, Vues de Rome et des ses environs, which was published in Rome to great commercial success.”

For that matter what humanities? In the latest move to destroy libraries, the NYPL is dismantling its serious research capacities which have served the ordinary person (with no connections, who merely needed to reside in the city): See reproduced letter in comments.

A tragic loss.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


1971 BBC S&S: our first shot of Elinor (Joanna David) confronted with John and Fanny Dashwood (Milton Johns and Kay Gallie) at Norland

Dear friends and readers,

She’s in London attending to her “suckling child” (the proofs of S&S): a party upon which much effort was expended,a museum trip, theater, visits with worldly political and cultured French friends of Eliza. An overturned carriage. The hard burlesque poem to Anna reflected in this letter. Austen has not changed much; by the end she seems eager to return to the country.

This is the third letter by Austen from the last phase of her life at Chawton (see Letter 69 and letter 70). It’s the second from London during the trip she took during the printing of Sense and Sensibility. In the previous she did not mention the book or anything about it; here for the first time since her two allusions to First Impressions (Letters 17 and 21), she names one of her books and talks about it in strikingly intimate bodily terms (“her suckling child”).

We again have a much more upbeat relatively cheerful text than we had in the early parts of the correspondence or those at Bath and Southampton, with the writer’s sense of herself now showing confidence and more openness to experience. This letter projects buoyant rhythms and outlook, but it also has a continual undercurrent of the prickly (rebarbative is now too strong a term) and muted sarcasms. Jane Austen may now be more openly be living a different kind of life apart at Chawton: her novel writing is acknowledged and understood; but she is still thwarted in fundamentals (e..g, her desire for a female community of friends at Chawton) and she still dislikes intensely all dishonesty of emotion, even when unconscious.

As in letter 70 I use stills from Sense and Sensibility to remind us this is the book she has been pouring herself into, saved enough money to publish on her own, is the reason why she is in London. There I used opening scenes of the novel in all but the Indian film; here I feature the famous second chapter in all the films, with a few of the heroines in the films.

********************

1981 BBC S&S: in this second version Elinor does not interrupt John and Fanny (Peter Gale and Amanda Boxer) in their famous duo on how little they can get away with giving his sisters in fulfillment of his promise to his father to help them

The first line of the letter shows Austen’s ideas about pleasure were in line with Samuel Johnson and George Sand: the best pleasures are the unexpected unplanned ones; Johnson and Sand go so far as to say that such are the only really felt pleasures:

I can return the compliment by thanking you for the unexpected pleasure of your Letter yesterday, & as I like unexpected pleasure, it made· me very happy; And indeed, You need not apologise for your Letter in any respect, for it is all very fine, but not too fine I hope to be written again, or something like it.

Cassandra had complimented Jane upon her letter and the unexpected pleasure it gave Cassandra. Now this refers to Letter 70 (for there are no missing letters here): this implies Cassandra did not expect pleasure necessarily from Jane’s letters. I take it Cassandra likes cheerful letters and many of Jane’s were not. Now she Jane likes unexpected pleasure as such (a different turn of meaning given this phrase here), so therefore Cassandra’s letter made her happy. Cassandra had apologized but Jane says don’t, but the “it is all very fine” then registers a note of doubt about its sincerity, a sense it’s a performance. It was not that fine though so perhaps Cassandra or she Jane may write another just like it.

Edward again complaining about bodily stuff. We remember that occasioned the trip to Bath:

I think Edward will not suffer much longer from heat; by the look of Things this morning I suspect the weather is rising into the balsamic Northeast. It has been hot here, as you may suppose, since it was so hot with you, but I have not suffered from it at all, nor felt it in such a degree as to make me imagine it would be anything in the Country. Everybody has talked of the heat, but I set it all down to London

Our sceptical Jane; everyone here talks of heat but it’s all exaggeration. The word “balsamic” signals something restorative, curative, also a lovely odor, “a balsamic fragrance.” Far from uncomfortable, it’s ripe with lovely smell and warmth. I don’t understand the connection to the northeast. Was it somewhere northeast in the UK that the herbs for balsamic vinegar came?

The boy baby that Austen celebrated in her verse letter to Frank in 1809 has been mentioned by Cassandra; either he or the new baby boy is said to be a child who will be hanged. This is meant as a joke on the Eric or little by Little) syndrome — or perhaps Jane is serious and it’s a wry comment and in full context (which we cannot know) suggested misbehavior.

I give you joy of our new nephew, & hope if he ever comes to be hanged, it will not be till we are too old to care about it. — It is a great comfort to have it so safely & speedily over. The Miss Curlings must be hard-worked in writing so many Letters, but the novelty of it may recommend it to them; —

It seems that Cassandra has had a letter. Mary has had a third child by this time: yet another little boy. Remember Jane’s poem — that was Francis William born 1809, Mary’s second baby. Two years later it’s Henry Edgar born 1811, a third. Jane says let us not fret if Francis William is hanged (or Henry Edgar), she and Cass will be long dead. This is her vein of humor and reminds me of the dead plants and laughing Mrs Palmer in S&S and in Southampton how Austen wrote Cassandra she hoped Cassandra realized all the plants were dead — as a joke and it did make me laugh. I like morbid humor. But the great comfort is not this coming hanging, but Mary’s childbirth which has happened safely and is over. Another one much easier than that hard hard first with Mary Jane.

But the great comfort is not this coming hanging, but Mary’s childbirth which has happened safely and is over. Another one much easier than that hard hard first with Mary Jane. This dialogue shows Austen and Cassandra were aware of the hideous warning lesson school of children’s literature (Eric or Little by Little was a favorite text of Orwell’s to parody aloud in dramatic way; he’d send people off in stitches of hilarity at this poor little boy who one error led to hanging):

Now we get a preening triumphant over the Miss Curlings. They are writing letters as kin of Henry Edgar. Now I see another reason for this sneer. They are related to Mary Gibson and giving themselves airs. Austen was ever ambivalent about real children, and she’s right about the absurdity of this. They have not gone through the hardship and danger of childbirth. So Jane tosses her head and preens: the novelty of writing so many letters is nothing to her now. Now she is a novelist with her own suckling child. She could not know most of her letters would be destroyed.

Jane has had a letter too:

Mine was from Miss Eliza, & she says that my Brother may arrive today.

The brother in question is Frank. Since Austen is living with Eliza Austen, this Eliza cannot be her, but here LeFaye does not tell us which Eliza wrote.

And then the reference to which we have all be thirsting, the first open mention of her writing and it’s startlingly fleshly, even unexpected — given that for half the letters just about every reference to childbirth is half- mocking and askance, and who would go on to breast-feed if the body has been wracked with pain or dead to start with. One buried metaphor here is of a text living off her, her drained by what feeds off her yet is so precious

.– No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby’s first appearance.

That would be chapter 9 when Willoughby first appears.

Then the first literary criticism of her books we have. First she deprecates the flattery of Mrs Knight. The implication of the line is it’s kindness in Mrs Knight to express her eagerness. Austen thinks it will be another 2 months (it’s now April so not until June). Henry has been at it — and Austen we will later learn felt guilty for taking up his time over this. So we see her real modesty here. And after all why would she be otherwise — after 25 years of rejection (1796, 1803, 1809 are the attempts we know about). She underlines “has.” This implies that Cassandra has been doubting that Henry has been working at it. What is to be sent to Eliza in Henry’s absence? a contract? This brings up the tricky reality that women could not sign contracts; Radcliffe’s husband signed hers. What did a maiden lady do? turn to father or brother so the printer will send the contract to Henry’s wife?

I have read about this comment over incomes. Clearly Austen has been told by her family members something is wrong with the incomes. What could it be? As of what we have everything adds up correctly so perhaps it was the extravagance of 50,000 for Miss Grey. Or could it be Brandon’s income might make someone think Austen had someone they knew in mind. Austen’s family might have worried about that (and publishers do today with the disclaimers they have at the opening of fictions). I have read various speculations about what this correction would have been.

And what is Austen’s critical comment? the usual fondness for the heroine. This is just what we will see beyond her literalism over verisimilitude and probability. “my Elinor.” It is sweet.

Mrs K. regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till. May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June.­ — Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the Printer, & says he will see him again today. — It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. — The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. — I am very much gratified by Mtr K.s interest in it; & whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on any thing else.


For many Emma Thompson embodied Elinor Dashwood perfectly

Let us give thanks to Cassandra here for becoming restless under her sister’s silence and demanding to know what’s happening with that book production, or nothing would be in this letter about this book.

***********************

1995 Miramax S&S: John and Fanny Dashwood (James Fleet, Harriet Walter) discuss the inheritance promise well before coming to Norland.

She moves quickly on to another topic. And we get a long vignette for Austen, not jumping off associatively in the way she usually has.

Our party went off extremely well. There were many solicitudes, alarms & vexations beforehand of course, but at last everything was quite right. The rooms were dressed up with flowers &c, & looked very pretty. — A glass for the Mantlepeice was lent, by the Man who is making their own.-M’ Egerton & M’ Walter came at l/2 past 5, & the festivities began with a pof very fine Soals. Yes, Mr Walter – -for he postponed his leaving London on purpose — which did not give much pleasure at the time, any more than the circumstance from which it rose, his calling on Sunday & being asked by Henry to take the family dinner on that day, which he did, ­but it is all smooth’d over now;-& she likes him very well.-‘

To me it’s telling how even the man doing well at this point (Henry) with his wife with her inherited monies, is still lending a glass mirror for over the mantelpiece. What they ate. Who came. I’m interested here to see also how even these networking gentry types or maybe I should say especially are solicitous of the least relative’s feelings. Mr Walter is related to Henry through Henry’s father’s mother and her first husband. Not that they were eager to have him for real (by which I mean any genuine feeling or friendship) for Mr Walter’s postponing his leaving gave no pleasure at the time nor why (alas we are not told about this). It seems this man’s vanity was ruffled, his amour-propre at a lack of invitation until that Sunday. Was Eliza as the known daughter (on the other side of the blanket) the cause? or the fashionable Hans Place? or just this feeling some people have of tenacious rights & a place to whatever is going however little in reality they might enjoy themselves there? Eliza now says she likes him very well. (What else could she say?) They ate fancy fish.

Then the paid entertainment and deliberately late coming upper class ones — rather like Darcy and his party who appear late in P&P and Lord and Lady Osborne who appear late in The Watsons. Austen notes these musisians come in a hackney coach so she’s bought into these values herself as she described:

At 11 past 7 arrived the Musicians in two Hackney coaches, & by 8 the lordly Company began to appear.

Then Austen’s happy time or what she enjoyed of this party: Mary Cooke was someone she wanted to be friends with we know, to bring back to Chawton. They sit in the connecting passage — reminding me of Emma (LeFaye quotes a book by Winifred Watson, JA in London which describes this Sloane Street apartment). Here she admits to the heat. The place the party was in was a small close area for 66 people.

Among the earliest were George & Mary Cooke, & I spent the greatest part of the evening very pleasantly with them. — The Drawg room being soon hotter than we liked, we placed ourselves in the connecting Passage,’ which was comparatively cool, & gave us all the advantage of the Music at a pleasant distance, as well as that of the first veiw of every new comer. — I was quite surrounded by acquaintance, especially Gentlemen; & what with Mr Hampson, M’ Seymour, M’ W. Knatchbull, M’ Guillemarde, M’ Cure, a Cap’ Simpson, brother to the Capt Simpson, besides M’ Walter & M’ Egerton, in addition to the Cookes & Miss Beckford & Miss Middleton, I had quite as much upon my hands as I could do. —

Quite the belle of the ball, no? Her description of herself surrounded by gentleman puts me in mind of Scarlett O’Hara surrounded by her beaux at the opening of GWTW.The list of men around her and her evident delight suggests I was not wrong about how she disliked assembly balls early on when she was snubbed. No snubbing now. She is the sister of the man running the party, Henry the banker, ex-military man with all his wife’s French friends: Note they are all either family, or business connections, or relatives and or maiden ladies

Not so keen on this maiden ladies though. Of Miss Beckford we are told

Poor Miss B. has been suffering again from her old complaint, & looks thinner than ever. She certainly goes to Cheltenham the beginning of June. We were all delight & cordiality of course.

Her tone acknowledges the phoniness of the moment:

Then Miss Middleton comes in for her share of the barbs:

Miss M. seems very happy, but has not beauty enough to figure in London.

No indeed.

Including everybody we were 66 — which was considerably more than Eliza had expected, & quite enough to fill the Back Drawg room, & leave a few to be scattered about in the other, & in the passage. —

Two drawing rooms full and one passage. I think Austen mentioned a figure in the 80s so that was really on the outside. Eliza had not expected about a quarter of the people she invited to come. (Interesting to me who has never given such a party and hardly ever gone to any such if at all that I can remember.)

And instead of saying how she fled the music, and was not such a hypocrite to pretend, she enters into it through her play-games with Fanny. If you think I am hard and misrepresenting the tone and undercurrents of this pay attention to those last lines: all the Performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid to do.”

The Music was extremely good. It opened (tell Fanny) with “Prike pe Parp pin praise pof Prapela” -& of the other Glees I remember, “In peace Love tunes,” “Rosabelle,” ‘”The red cross Knight,” & “Poor Insect.” Between the Songs were =-.essons on the Harp, or Harp & Piano Forte together-& the Harp Player was Wiepart, whose name seems famous, tho’ new to me.­- There was one female singer, a short Miss Davis all in blue, bringing up for the Public Line, whose voice was said to be very fine indeed; & all the Performers gave great satisfaction by doing what they were paid for, & giving themselves no airs.-No Amateur could be persuaded to do anything. —

Those who suggest Austen was unqualifiedly after money should read these lines; as in other instances, what was good for the gander is not good for her goose — she can sneer at others working for money but when she works for it it’s just fine. And she does not like airs. I would agree that she would not have in public nor in these letters does she. She was very proud in the way of Elizabeth Bennet. That no one unpaid would sing is brought in. I cannot tell if this is a barb at those who do what they are paid to do with the idea they wouldn’t were they not paid or about the fear people have of performing lest others in their minds think less of them.

She concludes her description of the party which she now accounts for by implying that Cassandra wanted this — because she couldn’t be there:

he House was not clear till after 12. — If you wish to hear are of it, you must put your questions, but I seem rather to have exhausted than spared the subject.

The couple of moments of exhilaration were more than made up for by the weariness she experienced and her intensity of experiencing everything alertly through a disillusioned point of view by its end.

**********************

I Have Found It: our first view of Tabu as Sowmya (Elinor): two sisters have been bathing in their mansion-house: she does not know why her body’s obligation as a woman is any less than her intellect’s.

After accounting for the party, Austen turns to naval or political news. What was told her at the party about this is separated off:

This said Capt. Simpson told us, the authority of some other Captn just arrived from Halifax, that Charles was bringing the Cleopatra home, & that she was probably by this time in the Channel — but as Capt. S. was certainly in liquor, we must not quite depend on it. — It must give one a sort of expectation however, & will prevent my writing to him any more.-I would rather he should not reach England till I am at home, & the Steventon party gone.

This has several layers. Jane would rather greet her brother from the security and framework of the Chawton home — the family stronghold, the family grounds and privacy as it were – than outside it. She says she need not write to him anymore. She is not eager to, and it may be noted that whatever she wrote this younger brother has not survived. At this point Charles had been married to Fanny for about 4 years: they were married in 1807. By 1810 they have two children and (possibly) she is pregnant with the third She is at sea with him — it should be noted. (The article to read is by Kaplan, Persuasions 14 (1992):113-21) so it’s a case of her coming back with him. She is not mentioned by Austen at all and Kaplan says everyone understood he did not have the income to pay for living quarters (Later in life Francis lived at Chawton itself — on Edward’s inheritance as did his sisters and mother).

And now for the painful part of this letter.

My Mother & Martha both write with great satisfaction of Anna’s behaviour. She is quite an Anna with variations — but she cannot have reached her last, for that is always the most flourishing & shewey — she is at about her 3d or 4th which are generally simple & pretty. —

The flourishing and shewy Anna. Austen forgets her childhood, her cutting off of her hair in 1808 (age 15, a very hard year) and how the assembly balls Anna went to were nothing to hers. The language here echoes the language of the 2nd poem to Anna. The condescension is strong. Anna of course does not get to go to London (as she did not to Godmersham in 1808) For the poem see Letter 113; for more on the relationship of Anna and Jane, letters 104, 107, 108, and the collaboration of Sir Charles Grandison.

It seems just now Anna is obeying: “great satisfaction. So the couple of sentences are softened by the last two adjectives: Anna’s third and fourth variation are “generally simple and pretty.” Martha appeared as a rigid disciplinarian and older women to Catherine Anne Hubback when Frank married her (see Zoe Klippert’s An Englishwoman in Canada: Letters of Catherine Hubback, 1871-76); neither she or Anna could have any inkling of Martha as the lovely spirited young women whom her aunt’s spirits leapt out to; Martha by then had become older and behaved as a disciplinarian and probably she seemed something of this by 1811.

Your Lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. — The Horse chesnuts are quite out, & the Elms almost. –I had a pleasant walk in Kensington G’ on Sunday with Henry, M’ Smith & M’Tilson — everythingwas fresh & beautiful.­

These are Henry’s friends. Austen is beating her sister out — it seems London is in bloom first. Part Three of Sense and Sensibility has Elinor walking in Kensington Gardens.

Then the lines about the plays and then the museum. The play is Isaac Bickerstaffe adapted from Cibber. Pretty bad. The distance from Moliere by this time huge — Shadwell comes close. These later adaptations were shortened and emasculated. I note that Austen goes to plays with a popular point of view. She does not pay attention to the play but the player. She does admire Siddons who was known for her projection of intensity of emotion (thats the point of the role of Constance in King John).

We did go to the play after all on Saturday, we went to the Lyceum, & saw the Hypocrite, an old play taken from Moliere’s Tartuffe, & were well entertained. Dowton & Mathews were the good actors. Mrs Edwin was the Heroine-& her performance is just what it used to be.-I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons. — She did act on Monday, but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would, the places, & all thought of it, were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance, & could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.

Lefaye notes there were two watercolor societies; the one started in 1808-9 had an exhibition for “the associated artists.” Austen did like landscapes, and among the materials on Sanditon is a comment by her about the man who might have been the source of Mr Parker, Ogle: she says he has no need of panoramas, meaning he need not go look at paintings since he owns so much shipping and spends so much time at seascapes for real – including Worthing. Miss Beaty is the sister or daughter of one of Henry’s friends, a Captain (so known from militia days); Henry’s bank also made a payment of 50 pounds to this captain in 1804.

— Henry has been to the Watercolour Exhibition, which open’d on Monday, & is to meet us there again some morn — If Eliza cannot go –( & she has a cold at present) Miss Beaty will be invited to be my companion. —

Cassandra has been asking what are Henry’s plans, but Austen puts her off. She will not herself be expansive and is aware that she might say offend were she to tell Henry’s plan. The awareness of her place as a guest comes next. She cannot send the muslim unless Cassandra really wants it because she’d have to send it by coach and that would give trouble (cost money)

Henry leaves Town on Sunday afternoon­ but he means to write soon himself to Edward – -& will tell his own plans. — The Tea is this moment setting out.-Do not have your cold muslin unless you really want it, because I am afraid I Could not send it to the Coach without giving trouble here. —

There follows the account of why Eliza is under the weather and the near accident. That she is so reactive reminds us that she did not have long to live. By this time her little son is dead 10 years. He died around the time the Austens left Steventon for Bath. A hard year for all, that.

*****************************

In I have Found It: Srinivasan and Nalli (the equivalent of John and Fanny Dashwood) discussing how little they can give their mother-in-law and her daughters

The letter ends on two vignettes and enigmatic references to family politics combined with dropped comments on Austen’s plans to leave Sloan Street for Catherine Bigg and then home to Chawton. Muted sarcasm and coolness throughout comes out again and again. A quietly apart, estranged presence. This is what this woman has grown into in maturity — guarded.

Eliza caught her cold on Sunday in our way to the D’Entraigues; — the Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate — a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable Hill to them, & they refused the collar; — I beleive there was a sore shoulder to irritate. — Eliza was frightened, & we got out-& were detained in the Eveng air several minutes.- The cold is in her chest ­but she takes care of herself, & I hope it may not last long.- This engagement prevented M’ Walter’s staying late-he had his coffee & went away. —

Gibbing is pulling back. The details intuitively picked out make us feel the misery of these horses, though Austen’s words about this are not at all necessarily sympathetic. Southey in his Letters from England talks of our horses are made to work on with their skin in terrible state. Austen saw that sore shoulder being whipped or pushed and prodded on. It seems cousin Eliza (now aged what — 50?) was made nervous by this and is said to have caught cold. The relative who had forced himself on them anyway didn’t stay. Had his coffee and went away.

They did get to the D’Entraignes (see LeFaye p 514, the biographical index).

Eliza enjoyed her evening very much & means to cultivate the acquaintance — & I see nothing to dislike in them, but their taking quantities of snuff. — Monsieur the old Count, is a very fine looking man, with quiet manners, good enough for an Englishman — & I beleive is a Man of great Information & Taste. He has some fine Paintings, which delighted Henry as much as the Son’s music gratified Eliza-& among them, a Miniature of Philip 5. of Spain, Louis 14.s Grandson, which exactly suited my capacity. — Count Julien’s performance is very wonderful. We met only Mrs Latouche & Miss East — & we are just now engaged to spend next Sunday Eveng at M” L.s-& to meet the D’Entraigues; — but M. Ie Comte must do without Henry. If he would but speak English, I would take to him.-

When they got there, Eliza enjoyed it very much. She will “cultivate” this acquaintance. Austen not so enthusiastic. (She reminds me of Elinor Dashwood here). She sees nothing to dislike but their taking quantities of snuff. Which makes us aware of how physically smelly they were. Austen disgusted by this. Apparently Henry was with them (yet he’s not mentioned in the vignette of the accident). Austen shows only grudging appreciation of a highly educated man of fine taste with real art and knowledge of the world. This man or his type does not appear in any of her novels. Maybe she didn’t go to that gathering with highly intelligent well-educated people where Henry wanted to take her to meet De Stael for more reasons than she thought she would not fit in (not used to it — “wild beast” that she is). Perhaps intimidated? perhaps she does not see what the man is. What we take to be modesty and self-deprecation (as when she says she is not well read meaning the reality that she has no latin and none of the academic type learning so respected then) here emerges as an instinctive suspicio or the result of years of exclusion.

Only miniatures for her. This though could be is also the result of many years hidden injuries and exclusions. She would never have a miniature. Only Cassandra sketched her.

[Joke digression: Bryne has not picked this passage up! (She has not read the letters with alert attentiveness to what does not flatter her.) Here is Austen looking at a miniature and saying this is just my capacity! (ironic joke alert). Now naive people that we are we think she is simply looking half-resentful; no it was here she hatched that plan to have a miniature made of her in secret.]

She keeps herself apart: it was Henry who delighted in the pictures, Eliza who was gratified with the music. Perhaps Austen saw them as posturing, as not emotionally completely honest here. LeFaye in her notes does not tell us who Count Julien was. She does not single him out (LeFaye seems to think society is families period.) Perhaps one of the performers? perhaps one of the family. They did not get to meet Count Julien it seems but only another relative, Mrs Latouche and her daughter called Miss East (p 543). Why? on account of her marrying a baronet (reminds me of Bleak House and Sir Leicester Dedlock baronet), but then she’d be an honorary Lady or at least Mrs.

Now next Sunday they all will go to the lodgings of the LaTouches, but they will have to do without Henry. (Business).

And then the concession:

If he would but speak English I would take to him.

We see early on in the paragraph that there is xenophobia or anti-French feeling here. The man’s manners were “good enough for an Englishman”! what more can she say? In other passages she describes typical English men as rowdy, aggressive, domineering … I wonder what M. L’Entraignes and his wife thought of Miss Austen. Certainly they did their best to entertain her.

***********************


2008 BBC S&S: does anyone surmise this Fanny (Claire Skinner) partakes of something of Austen?

The tone is muted sarcasm. Two sentences later she recurs to the evening and says:

Eliza has just spoken of it again. — The Benefit she has found from it in sleeping, has been very great. (Italics Austen’s)

Underlining she leaves a distance from Austen. “It” presumably refers to not drinking tea, but I’m not sure that “Eliza has spoken of it again” refers to Mrs K’s tea-drinking but rather the whole evening which benefitted Eliza so.

The whole of this last occasionally somewhat puzzling paragraph runs:

Have you ever mentioned the leaving off Tea to M” K.? — Eliza has just spoken of it again. — The Benefit she has found from it in sleeping, has been very great. I shall write soon to Catherine to fix my day, which will be Thursday.-We have no engagements but for Sunday. Eliza’s cold makes quiet adviseable. — Her party is mentioned in this morning’s paper. — I am sorry to hear of poor Fanny’s state. – -From that quarter I suppose is to be the alloy of her happiness. — I will have no more to say. —

The beloved (by both sisters, and for her generosity) Mrs Knight is an elderly elderly lady by this time. She had been so ill in a previous letter as they feared she’d die. Austen now writes in response to something Cassandra wrote (we should recall Cassandra destroyed all her own letters but two — the others that survived were out of her control). Then Austen reports she will write to Catherine Bigg to fix her day of arrival. No more engagements but that following Sunday as Eliza has a cold. We may wonder if there was some underlying condition She died two years later (aged 52). She is part of “le monde” — “her party mentioned in the paper.”

And then turning at last to Godmersham news. Fanny not in a good state? Well there must be some alloy in some lives. Austen has a hard comment to make here but refrains: “I _will_ have no more to say …” Perhaps about young men? perhaps about her position in the household — discipline pressed on her?

Austen closes with a pointed conveyance of love to her god-daughter, Louisa Austen Knight, one of Edward’s brood whom Cassandra is now caring for.

The letter is directed to Edward Austen at Godmersham.

****************************

Irene Richards as Elinor (1981 BBC S&S): I like her in the role

This letter is another which divides into sections with vignettes that may be excerpted — this is not that common for Austen the way it is for more performative letter-writers. She still does not take the time to make a fully realized dramatic scene the way Burney does and does not work out her thoughts the way say Anne Grant or many another letter-writer does on issues I’ll call them which come up (there are opportunities here to talk of paintings, or acting, or songs). But there is more willingness to expatiate in these vignette sectioned letters. She’s an impatient letter writer as she’s an immanent novel writer.

We see the same continually sceptical frame of mind we’ve seen throughout, with the same reluctance to be pleased, as when she now has met a genuinely interesting informed perceptive man with real taste, a decent collection of paintings, a relative who actually can play, it takes several clauses before she breaks down to say to say “If he would but speak English, I would take to him …” There is also real hardness towards Anna, Eliza, the Miss Curlings. The joke about the baby boy is not pleasant. Austen (as we have before) is her taking a mean family view towards an individual’s hurt and bewilderment (Anna) and reaching out for love relationships; when Austen did this (Tom Lefroy) she would have liked sympathy but in her guarded way pretended to dismiss her emotion. Anna does not. And there’s something pettily triumphant we’ve seen before (with respect to Anna) over the Miss Curlings. She tosses her head and preens: the novelty of writing so many letters is nothing to her.

We do see some real pleasure in the party, in London environs (Kensington “everything fresh and beautiful”), a lively interest in actors, a sense of the reality of the horse, near turn over of her and Eliza’s carriage, Eliza’s anxiety
and fright (you could have a very bad accident even die from an overturn) standing on the pavement. Still in this great moment of her “suckling child” come home to her with her scarce ability to still her intense excitement as the book is in printing I did expect the more or less unqualified cheer of the previous letter to continue.

She is in herself secretive, hidden and does not want (trust) anyone to know for sure where her real allegiances lie.

So, to try a little to get beyond or beneath this: Jane Austen took on board her family’s values of conventionality; she had no other. She never went to a school where she could reach another point of view, was literally not allowed associates who had them. It was from her nature as well as circumstances unthinkable for her to break away — some women did, but often we find their family life was hard, deprived. In her (later) letters to Fanny Austen Knight there is this chilling idea that Anna Austen Lefroy must now spend hours of her existence disciplining one of her children (Jemima) to make her into what the family wants her to be. (There is a similar observation found now and again in Trollope about mothers really punishing girls until these girls are what they want, censoring all that comes near them to
do it.) So I take this presentation of social life as her conventionality (and also how she treated Anna in her poem about her) and find in Letter 71 many barbs at it too, instinctive, irresistible.

A telling aspect of Hubback’s Younger Sister (revealing sequel to The Watsons) is how Hubback combines Austen’s Emma Watson with Anne Elliot to show someone not just tortured by those around her emotionally, absolutely turning from what is in front of her with boredom, but disliking intensely their values in the spirit of Elinor Dashwood. (My next blog will be on two Austen sequels.)

A picture is worth a thousand words. There’s that portrait of Austen by Cassandra – an honest one. A worn-woman, having a bad day, but one which shows she had many bad days and bad nights (there are three poems on headaches, one on her own migraine to be specific just before the publication of Sense and Sensibility” “When stretch’d on one’s bed,” Later Manuscripts, Cambridge ed, 253-54). Tight, arms crossed, grated by the demand she sit there. The other is better because she did not have to show her face she didn’t want to.

Yes in general she is so much more fulfilled in this second half of her letters — partly because she is feeling some respect and a modicum of power at last. Not much, she’s still utterly dependent (has to smooth her way to leaving) and she is still very jealous of those whose work is valued more than her or as much when she feels so strongly her genius. She’s not a very nice person by the way (in the general way we use that word nice), not herself empathizing with others in her predicament, instead she is one of those who inflicts on others what was inflicted on her, partly softened. Maybe she did try to save Anna from the marriage to Ben (in the later comments I quoted in the commentary on the 6 letters) but not on the grounds she could have and then when the girl still sought the only escape route offered (not an escape), Austen did not help her.

The archive for Jane Austen’s letters

Ellen

Read Full Post »


First modern edition of Sir Charles Grandison, a five act play (ed. B. Southam, 1980)

Dear friends and readers,

Still on the trail of Jane Austen and her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy I read that strange oddity, Jane Austen’s Sir Charles Grandison, and decided it’s not so odd after all. It’s a collaboration between niece and aunt; the ms resembles what we find in the other extant worked-over ms’s; it’s a sort of unfinished, first version play adaptation or sequel. As a ms this text tells the same tale of development from caricature as the other ms’s.

*******************

This afternoon I reread the short play (playlet really) called Sir Charles Grandison, which has become a site of mild controversy. A diplomatic transcript of the ms has been published by Southam in a now famous edition (it gave rise to a Merchant/Irovy/Jhabvala movie, Jane Austen in Manhattan) and in an Italian edition by Beatrice Battaglia.


The nightmare of abduction, done comically (Jane Austen in Manhattan)

Who wrote it is the question? It exists in a ms with corrections in Jane Austen’s handwriting, so it’s very like the ms of The Watsons, Sanditon, and the two concluding chapters of Persuasion, the penultimate of which did not make it into the novel. Only there are fewer of these nuanced revisions and crossings out; it’s not as hard worked over. Perhaps whether you opt for 1) it was written by Anna Austen Lefroy dictating to her aunt Jane; or 2) written by the aunt giving the 8-10 year old credit, or 3) a collaboration — does not matter as much as the reasoning behind what what you opt for.

Here again I find myself agreeing with Deirdre LeFaye: it’s a collaboration (see her Family Record). The text is just too sharp (adult) and adept in its pulling out of precisely the most memorable scenes of Pollexfen’s abduction of Harriet Bryon (Vol 1, letter 29); astute observations about human nature from Grandison on a few occasions (and scattered in the original text); strong lines (“I will not be bribed into liking your wit”); and funny ones of the type we find in her Juvenilia: to me who have read Grandison and written a chapter of my dissertation on this book, the best of these is his sister, Charlotte, Lady G, explaining why Sir Charles has hitherto not fallen in love or courted anyone: he hasn’t the time, “for he is constantly going from one place to another. But what for, we cannot tell”. There are lines from from Vol 4, Letters 14 & 15, Vol 6, Letter 43 — could a child get that far?

People may not know that Grandison was published in two omniscient abridgements of the modern type (rewrites which simplify) before the end of the 18th century. This was done once to Clary. Readers Digest anticipated? It is possible Anna was given one of these to read first, thought I doubt it. In this reading and writing family, it’d be a come-down. There’s a good later abridgement of Grandison in its epistolary form by none other than George Saintsbury who apparently wanted to get more people reading it – it’s a fat 2 volumes. (See Leah Price’s The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel).


The illustrations suggest this was a favorite scene

Yet the text of this playlet is often flat and doing tiresome things: who comes in? signals to get on and off the stage. Yes, it’s about getting married and brings up no new objections to the sort of bullying Grandison is famous for (though the word is not used), no matter how well meant. There’s inanity in what is kept. There’s a happy ending of marriage. Miss J[ervois] has nothing to do.

One thing that can help is the diplomatic transcript and this shows Grandison to look like the ms’s of Watsons, Sanditon and Persuasion. The same kind of nuanced crossings out, second thoughts – fewer but of the same type. One crossed out scene (and thus relegated to notes in Todd and Bree) is a really deft sketch of a series of actions of violent pulling and pushing and forcing clothes on that we rarely see in an Austen novel (Italian edition, p 65). Unfortunately, this diplomatic ms is not included in the online editions nor the Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen in the Cambridge Edition.

The “fun” (as Jane Austen might say) of the Italian edition is it has both sides of the quarrel in direct opposition. Battaglia opens the book by arguing this text is Jane Austen’s; she agrees with Southam, Halperin and those who say this is clearly a Jane Austen project and even brilliant text (there’s over-speak here). It’s a sort of Juvenilia ironed out, a much longer developed playlet for family performance. Then Colasini (the post-script) closes the book by asserting this is the detritus of the family; it’s brief sketches contained within the acts shows what happens when you have a family getting together. Colasini finds traces of Austen’s spirit; yes it’s a collaboration but nothing something we should study. It’s a left-over remnant of the family life, rather like the family “bout rimes” and poems ending in “rose.”

I also reread the letters in Grandison by Richardson that Southam claims lies behind the play. What bothers me about this text as a reader of Richardson’s Grandison is Austen has omitted the intensities of Richardson’s depth. Even in comedy Richardson cannot be light. But then that fits too as I am coming to see her when she starts out, before she begins rewriting.

That is to say, we see in the playlet ms Sir Charles Grandison, the same start in caricature we have seen in Juvenilia, in Sanditon, in Plan of a Novel. The difference is there are no leaps here such as we see in the others ms’s. This is not an oddity. Simply this time Austen did not go further than that as she was working with and amusing a lonely young niece, a reading girl like herself. She did not go much beyond her niece, did not return again and again to this ms. Southam suggests that some of Austen’s changes (minor) to Richardson’s story show an attempt at improvement. So it might be considered a weak adaptation, a kind of sequel.

Remember Miss Andrews? she could not get through the first volume (Northanger Abbey, I:6), so wholly unlike was it to Udolpho. Isabella Thorpe herself “thought it had not been readable” (I:6), though we must not forget Mrs Morland year in and year out reading and re-reading but then new books do not often fall in her way. Nevertheless, I don’t dismiss it: I believe Henry was telling the truth when he said Grandison was one of Jane’s favorite books and her niece might have idolized her when she was 8-10.


In 1986 BBC Northanger Abbey: Isabella and Catherine shut themselves up (or in) to read novels together

Margaret Anne Doody is the English influential voice who vigorously claimed Jane Austen could not be the author (Nineteenth Century Fiction 38:2 (Sept 1983):220-04. Perhaps because it irritates her. Like other more radical readers (those who want to find the transgressive & romantic Jane), Doody prefers the Italian plot (Clementina della Poretta, her brother Jeronimo) and this Italian matter is omitted altogether. This is a paradox as Doody just loves Austen’s Juvenilia.

From my reading of the letters and now these m’s, I’d argue that much of what is found in the Juvenilia is read into them; I’m not saying the diabolic and anger is not there, but that it was not consciously intended or admitted to. Like her family, Jane Austen deflected the satire, anger, resentment of her texts; the family called such passages “nonsense” or neutrally “vigorous;” Austen described it as “fun,” delightful, and laughed.

So, given Austen’s preference for the “gay” consciously (as seen in her letters to Anna), Austen would go for Harriet Byron primarily to start with. Then maybe she’d swing round for another correction, and then another.

What is missing here that makes Doody feel it’s not by Austen: on the one hand, in the early writing the irritation, the breaking of taboos by abrupt violences within and without the characters; and in the later the slowing down, the avoidance of these sorts of tricks, the use of propriety and naturalness to control the surface.

My argument is this is an early first draft for a full length play that like many another author’s first work, the author writes in imitation or or inhabiting what she loves. She just never went back to it because it was only partly hers and the motive for writing therefore too much a social occasion, not an inner need.

There was a time Anna and Jane were very close.

Ellen

Read Full Post »


Houses in Hans Place, London (1st decade 19th century)

Dear friends and readers,

The sixth and last remnant of a letter from Jane Austen to her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy that Todd and Bree reprint in their Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen (Cambridge edition). This is perhaps one of the most poignant gaps in the letters in LeFaye’s collection: most of time what is cut away cannot be guessed it or even if something is cut away. Here we see it and we can contextualize it:

Letter 113. To Anna Lefroy. Wed, 30 November 1814, Hans Place, London, to Hendon

My dear Anna

I have been very far from finding your Book an Evil I assure you; I read it immediately — & with great pleasure. I think you are going on very well. The description of Dr. Griffin & Lady Helena’s unhappiness is very good, just what was likely to be. — I am curious to know what the end of them will be: The name of Newton-Priors is really invaluable! — I never met with anything superior to it. — It is delightful. — One could live upon the name of Newton-Priors for a twelvemonth.­ — Indeed, I do think you get on very fast. I wish other people of my acquaintance could compose as rapidly. — I am pleased with the Dog scene, & with the whole of George & Susan’s Love; but am more particularly struck with your serious con­versations &c. — They are very good throughout. — St Julian’s History was quite a surprise to me; You had not very long known it yourself I suspect – -but I have no objection to make to the circumstance — it is very well told — & his having been in love with the Aunt, gives Cecilia an additional Interest with him. I like the Idea: — a very proper compliment to an Aunt! — I rather imagine indeed that Neices are seldom cho­sen but in compliment to some Aunt or other. I dare say Ben was in love with me once, & would never have thought of you if he had not supposed me dead of a Scarlet fever. — Yes, I was in a mistake as to the number
of Books. I thought I had read 3 before the 3 at Chawton; but fewer than 6 will not do.­ I want to see dear Bell Griffin again. – -Had not you better give some hint of St. Julian’s early [history in the beginning of your story?]

Todd and Bree’s note says the letter now ends in mid-sentence, and the completion is due to Anna Lefroy’s daughter’s reconstruction; Fanny Caroline then writes: “The rest of the letter is destroyed.”

**********************

Houses in Hendon, 1878

The paragraph itself shows Jane Austen straining to be pleased. Anna has apparently begun to suspect that her aunt is not as sympathetic to her needs and book as she had supposed, and Austen rushes to say not quite that she finds this novel writing a good thing; the more backhand “I have been very far from finding your Book an Evil I assure you.” She asserts that she read it immediately, with great pleasure. She then goes about to prove this.

One problem is she has already complimented Anna on “Newton-Priors” as a name. But she goes through the book approving what has been newly added. Dr Griffth is the country surgeon, Lady Helena, the lady St Julian jilted (or broke his engagement with). Anna gets on so rapidly (writes so much!). There is a touching Dog scene in Burney’s Cecilia (Austen may not have remembered this); now Anna has another young man for Susan, the heroine her aunt liked so much: George. Austen approved of St Julian: now he is given a back story. That Austen was an immanent writer and didn’t know what would come out until she sat down and evolved her characters is testified to here when Austen says she suspects that Anna had not known herself for long St Julian’s previous history, but really it may have been written just to place.

Anna is now also flattering her aunt with her inventions — the fiction may have become transparently an attempt to engage Austen and Austen recognize this. Anna makes in her fiction an older woman, aunt someone St Julian was in love with. That the parallel between characters and family members is understood is seen in the above: “very proper compliment … I dare say Ben was in love with me once.” Probably Austen is half-teasing, remembering romantic pale sickness — she never tires of mocking romances (that Ben was attracted to her during her near death from Scarlett fever). We do learn that Austen had been sick we see since Anna met Ben and they fell in love.

Mr Griffin that country surgeon now has a wife, a Bell. Was she created to please the aunt’s taste too?

What Austen recognizes is Anna’s gifts are for gravity, “serious conversation,” probably moralizing. The melancholy gravity of Mary Hamilton may have been anticipated in Which is the Heroine?. I suggest if Anna and Ben were congenial at all (which they were in later life), he would prefer Cecilia (a grave heroine) to Susan (the witty, gay, fanciful &c&c).

Anna has been reading her aunt’s replies carefully. She noticed that Austen was not paying close attention to what she sent her (rather like people who send you their writing and then ask you questions about it later). I feel for Anna, her need for her aunt .. .

What is the context for the destruction? I suggest that Anna came back to the letter at a later time and what was written there became too painful for her to keep. We know that Anna had been married earlier that month; we have a full description by Caroline of that cool affair where there was no note of celebration. We can read just before it a letter (111) by Austen apparently answering a strong reiterated desire from Anna that her aunt visit her (so marriage was a shock too, not uncommon), another (113) where Austen asserts she has gone and “assures” Anna that in fact they had all enjoyed their time at Hendon; she assures Anne everyone talked of Anna and her home and husband for an hour and a half with “full satisfaction,” but alas right after Letter 113, we have Austen’s letter to Anna’s cousin, Fanny Austen Knight (114) where Austen tells what what was the real reaction of the family to Anna’s house and housekeeping (your father can tell you) but is “sorry that Anna is to have an instrument.” This is mean towards a young girl’s dream: What a waste of money she will see this years from now as she has no talent. Resentment of a purple pelisse Anna had now gotten, and harsh “I dare say she wanted it.” After all the worst thing was that Anna had bought it in secret: “She is capable of that you know …”

We can see the fraught ambivalence of Austen’s feelings towards this niece by looking at all the 16 letters left and one of Austen’s poems to Anna in the context of Anna’s life story.

***********************

Jane Austen to Anna, September 1815

What is most striking about reading all 16 letters in a row is that when the matter is not a novel (Anna’s), the letters are short. Austen shows interest only when Anna appears to be like her, and imitates her aunt.

First, a brief retelling of Anna’s life and Mary Hamilton: Letter 104. (scroll down)

The precises of the letters: Letter 110 conveys brief congratulations over Anna’s wedding; Letter 111 gives excuses why she can’t come to visit Anna from Henry’s place; Letter 112, repeats the same excuses, apparently in response to explicit exigent comments (“I would see you if I could”), that all were so pleased with their visit, the cousins “excessively” interested in the wedding, uncle not there to send his best love so “I will not impose any base, fictitious remembrance on you.” There are scraps where the rest was destroyed rather ruthlessly (113, 116), are badly cut away (117). One (118) mentions a novel both Anna and Austen had read, which Anna has sent some thoughts to her aunt upon, and we get the same literalist point of view and demand for entertainment:

“We have got ‘Rosanne’ in our Society, and find it much as you describe it; very good and clever, but tedious. Mrs Hawkins’ great excellence is on serious subjects. There are some very delightful conversations and reflections on religion: but on lighter topics I think she falls into many absurdities; and, as to love, her heroine has very comical feelings. There are a thousand improbabilities in the story. Do you remember the two Miss Ormesdens, introduced just at the last? Very flat and unnatural — Mlle Cossart is rather my passion”

LeFaye’s note makes this novel out to be the didactic type meant to teach Christianity (much like Anna wrote in later life for children, The Winter’s Tale).

Austen ends letter 118 with a recitation of events happening to single women (one had the measles) and then we see Anna cut away lines, and we are bad with the usual dry commentary on childbirths and a wedding which did not appear in the papers: “one may as well be single if the Wedding is not to be in print.”

Tood and Bree have read Hunter’s novel and says Austen is unfair — well ever diplomatic it’s “little unfair.” The novel seems to swirl around tragedy like the romantic and gothic novels of the era, going as far as bigamy beyond suicide. Still they do not find it melodramatic or unrealistic. People assault one another, relative cheat one another; the repeat of the same story is done from different points of view — in her conscious mind Austen does not acknowledge subjectivity as part of what she creates. The containing of a narrative with in a narrator in a letter written by one person is done Clarissa and many powerful epistolary narratives. But they can see (and so can I) how Austen would have found the failures more amusing than the successes — jealousy is not a motive they admit, but it’s part of it, and also her inability to approve in print or by voice what differs from her own techniques (p. c-ci)

If we were to take all Austen’s criticisms seriously (from the parody of Mrs Hunter’s novel, to the commentary on Anna’s, to this on Hawkins, in the contexts we have them, we would see that Austen meant to create “fun” for us, consciously preferred light gay heroines.

In Letter 120 Austen tells Anna that Cassy (Edward’s daughter) really preferred to go to a fair rather than your house. Sorry. Then she, Austen, promises (once again) to come, this time, Wednesday. Mrs Austen happy to hear of Anna’s packing case. Letter 135 presents us with Austen sending Emma as an equivalent for Anna’s child, Jemima. Now I begin to wonder what Anna really thought of that. 141 again Anna has sent a book, again thanked Cassy quite delighted at least; Anna’s gloves found. Then Letter 147 the grandmother thanks Anna for the turkey, “such high mindedness is more than she can bear” – and perhaps Austen too.

A meager lot if you are seeing it from Anna’s angle. In the letters up to 76 and the two inbetween Fanny’s we’ve seen Austen half-hostile, ungracious comments and direct hypocrisy and “she is capable of that”; the best Aunt Jane musters is worry lest Ben not support Anna adequately. Anna was a moving force in that memoir which really gave the framework for the Austen cult. My reading is Anna could not let herself see her aunt’s attitude towards her, she needed her too much (consider the stepmother she had had) and paradoxically this fueled the over-the-top nostalgia in her case. I’ve read that Mary Augusta Austen (JEAL’s daughter, who wrote the biography of him) claimed that Constance Hill’s drenched in worship tone and the ambiance she created in Jane Austen and Her Homes is partly a product of what Anna told Constance Hill in old age.

*************************

A much idealized, picturesque description of the Pavilion in Hans Place (1800)

In this context Austen’s two poems to Anna are worth perusing. The first was found in the margins of a book owned by Anna, Ann Murry’s Mentoria (1801). I compared Austen’s elegy on Mrs Lefroy’s death to “Sigh no more Ladies” I find the rhyme scheme, and stanzaic form the same; the prosody or rhythmic lines are the same; the poem to Mrs Lefroy is more distanced until near the end and has original unexpected thought: she wishes to see Mrs Lefroy, the vision comes and then it’s dissolved and Austen implies such visions of afterlife are illusions; but the plangency of the two are the same, and the one to Anna (if “Sigh no more’ is to her is an inscription in a moral-didactic work by Ann Murray that Austen gave Anna too.

Anna was a young girl when Austen gave her Mentoria, 8-9. The tone of the poem is consonant with the moral-didactic outlook of the book. The poem acknowledges Anna’s loneliness that “presses” on her “soul” and fits Anna’s life (her stepmother and father distant). Jane is telling her niece that her life is not desolate as it seems; there are people all around her, the seasons, cease crying out in pain and God really cares for all people among which she is.

Sigh Lady sigh, hide not the tear thats stealing
Down thy young face now so pale & cheerless
[now is underlined in ms]
Let not thy heart be blighted by the feeling
That presses on thy soul, of utter loneliness.

In sighs supprest & grief that’s [ever?] weeping
Beats slow & mournfully [a mourning?] heart
A heart oer which decay & death are creeping
In which no sunshine can a gleam impart.

Thou art not desolate, tho’ left forsaken
[not is underlined in ms]
By one in whom thy very soul was bound
Let Natures voice thy dreary heart awaken
Oh listen to the melodies around.

For Summer her pure golden tress is flinging
On woods & glades & silent gliding streams
With joy the very air around is ringing
Oh rouse thee from those mournful mournful dreams.

Go forth let not that voice in vain be calling
Join thy hearts voice to that which fills the air
For he who een a sparrow saves from falling
Makes thee an object of peculiar care.
[thee is underlined in ms]

Anna and her aunt had had a special relationship writing together by 1801. The family said the abridged playful, Sir Charles Grandison was Anna’s; as it’s in Austen’s hand, Southam has suggested it’s Austen’s. I would agree that even if it is dull and flat (as Doody says); nonetheless the choice of incident (abduction and forced marriage), the imitation of language, “I will not be bribed into liking your wit” seems beyond a 8 to 10 year old. I suggest they wrote it together.

Ten years later (1811) Austen writes this poem whose language echoes language in a letter (71) describing Anna in the same terms:

In measured verse I’ll now rehearse
The charms of lovely Anna:
And, first, her mind is unconfined
Like any vast savannah.

Ontario’s lake may fitly speak
Her fancy’s ample bound:
Its circuit may, on strict survey
Five hundred miles be found.

Her wit descends on foes and friends
Like famed Niagara’s Fall;
And travellers gaze in wild amaze,
And listen, one and all.

Her judgment sound, thick, black, profound,.
Like transatlantic groves,
Dispenses aid, and friendly shade
To all that in it roves.

If thus her mind to be defined
America exhausts,
And all that’s grand in that great land
In similes it costs –

Oh how can I her person try
To image and portray?
How paint the face, the form how trace
In which those virtues lay?

Another world must be unfurled,
Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round
Her charms of flesh and bone

Jane Austen was at first sympathetic to her niece; she may recall the years the niece had no one but her, Cassandra, and the grandmother really to care for her daily. But the intervening years of hardship in Bath (perhaps a breakdown of her own) and then Southampton’s disappointments had hardened her, and as she shows about others, she had no patience with someone still so openly emotional, grave. Anna’s vacillating between young two young men, her seizing on Ben, woke no chords in Austen any more (with her yearnings for women). Or Austen did not dare let herself stay close to Anna and see any parallels as that would endanger her. And she writes hostile burlesque, using the strange imagery to suggest alienation. It’s from Anna’s body (as we see in the last line) as well.

in letter 113 Anna was struggling in Hendon alone, adjusting to marriage, and later when she came back to see the letters that were left in the light of later in time too, she just cut it to shreds, saving only what had given her joy, the comments on her novel.

As to the literary criticism contained in these six letters, they suggest that the depths in Austen which we turn to her for were out of reach of her conscious mind. She begins with caricature (“fun”) and in her revisions, she makes leaps that take her far. An example would be the distance from the manuscript second to last chapter in Persuasion (a kind of comedy of misunderstandings and secrets — the Crofts know Anne and Wentworth had known one another and Wentworth loves Anne) to the extraordinary complications of emotions, thoughts, skeins of action and references to questions of literature, gender, the past, time that are to be found in the chapter that took its place.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

How good Mrs West could have written such books and collected such hard words, with all her family cares, is a matter of astonishment (Jane Austen, Letter 145, 8-9 Sept 1816)


John Glover (1767-1849), country landscape (typical illustration in books of this era)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a continuation of my blog on Austen’s letter 108, 28 September 1814, where Austen wrote:

-– Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair — He has Fame & Profit enough as Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but I fear I must. — I am quite determined however not to be pleased with Ms West’s Alicia de Lacy, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not. — I think I can be stout against any thing written by Mrs West. – I have made up my mind to like novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, Yours & my own. –

To which I add:

Uncle Henry writes very superior Sermons. — You & I must try to get hold of one or two, & put them in our Novels: — it would be a fine help to a volume; & we could make our Heroine read it aloud of a Sunday Evening, just as well as Isabella Wardour in the [Scott’s] Antiquary, is made to read the History of the Hartz Demon in the ruins of St Ruth — Jane Austen, to James-Edward Austen-Leigh, Mon-Tues, 16-17 Dec 1816, Chawton


19th century Spanish illustration of just this scene in Scott’s Antiquary

*********************
Austen’s determination not to be pleased with West’s novel in the same paragraph as her mention of reading Scott’s Waverley suggests she is referring to Jane West as imitating Scott. If she must like Scott, or he must write these kinds of best-sellers, she can still be stout against Mrs West. It’s a self-reflexive joke. But how like Scott did West become. Were they feeble imitations. I had read some of A Gossip’s Story and knew it was domestic romance, didactic, obvious (see J. M. S. Tompkins, “Elinor and Marianne: A note on Jane Austen,” Review of English Studies, 16 (1940):33-343).

I searched in my own scholar’s library of handbooks and companions and books on Scott and/or 18th century women writers, and failed to find a plot-summary of West’s Alicia de Lacy, a historical romance. It was published too late to be in ECCO and I’ve no time just now to go over to the Library of Congress to see if they have it. They might not. (Memo to self & reader I’ll go this summer.)

So (the meantime) I read some brief biographies of West (in the ODNB too), summaries in literary histories of other of her novels and (to my surprise) discovered her poetry is reprinted in Lonsdale’s 18th Century Women Poets with a longish potted biography, and in Backscheider and Ingrassia’s enormously fat book of British women poets of the long 18th century. While I was not surprised at the latter (Backscheider & Ingrassia omit satire [!], ironic poems, burlesques, where the most radical voices can be found, prefer the conservative), I was surprised to discover a couple by West were not only readable but somewhat moving and read autobiographically could provide some explanation for this woman’s obsessive once popular texts.

Jane West was a better poet than she was a novel writer because in her poetry she managed to present more of her authentic story. I share two poems here:

Poems to women friends are a sub-genre of women’s poems. They often pour themselves into these, create an alternate world for the two friends This holds true for contemporary poets (like Elizabeth Bishop or Adrienne Rich); some of the most famous of 17th and 18th century poems by women (and occasionally by men) are friendship poems. The “matchless” Orinda (Katherine Philips) wrote matchless ones. “To Laura” is not a masterpiece but it is sincere and filled with loss and regret (which is not the common way, the common way is to celebrate, to pretend the two are together); she turns to death, a Christian death, but still a form of oblivion

Elegy III. To Laura

How long, how well, we’ve lov’d; Oh Laura, say!
          Bid recollection trace the distant hour
When first we met in life’s delightful May,
          And our warm hearts confess’d fair Friendship’s power.

Recall the portrait of the ingenuous mind,
          Which from experience no stern precepts drew:
When gay, impetuous, innocent, and kind,
          From taste congenial love spontaneous grew.

Deep had we quaff’d the cup of childish joy;
          The simple sweet our nicer taste disdain’d.
We thought youth’s promis’d feast would never cloy,
          And of the future fairy prospects feign’d.

Time lifts the curtain of expected years;
          Eager we rush the imagin’d good to find.
Say, if the blessing, when possess’d, appears
          Fair, as the phantom that allur’d thy mind.

Doth the stern world those faultless friends disclose,
          Thy guileless candour imag’d to thy soul?
Doth virtue guard thee from insidious blows,
          Or sense the shafts of calumny controul?

For me! I thought the golden wreath of fame
          Still in my reach, and like a trifler play’d:
But when I turn’d the glorious prize to claim,
          My hopes had faded in oblivion’s shade.

The dear associates, we in youth rever’d,
          The world’s rude changes from our arms have drove:
Some in the grave’s dark cells, have disappear’d;
          Some lost by distance; some estrang’d in love.

Yet there are views, which never will deceive,
          In one sure prospect no false colours blend:
Death on our brows will press his cypress wreath,
          And all our wishes in the dust will end.

Perchance, ere yet, yon zenith’d sun shall lave
          In the salt deep, my conflict will be o’er.
Then, Laura, bending o’er my turf-clad grave,
          Shall shed the tear, which I shall feel no more.

Or, if allotted many lengthened years,
          We walk consociate through the tedious gloom,
‘Till each lov’d object gradual disappears,
          And our dim vision but discerns the tomb:

Still our try’d faith shall shame the fickle herd,
          Whose civil forms are cold and unendear’d:
Nor shall a casual flight, or dubious word,
          Efface the kindness we have long rever’d.

Friendship’s sweet pleasures bless’d our early hours
          With tender fellowship of hopes and fears:
Our ripen’d age shall feel its nobler powers;
          Its calm endearments sooth our drooping years.

Then, when the levities of mirth offend,
          When passion ceases its tormenting strife;
How sweet in converse with an aged friend,
          To trace th’ eventful history of life.

From present sorrow, lassitude, and pains,
          To lift the soul to glory’s promis’d sphere:
There may we meet, and where love ever reigns,
          Perfect the union which we cherished here.

********************
The second is franker. It’s about some really painful sexual experience she had as a girl. The poetic diction gets in the way as do the disguises, but the core matter can be discerned. He (the young man) behaved very badly to her it seems. In Rochester’s language it seems they had sex and then he had his joke and walked away, and then married someone much richer than she.

Pastoral 1. Celadon.

Oh! Celadon, did not the hours
Appear to glide rapid away,
When with me ‘mid fresh blossoming flowers
You carold the beauties of May.
When spring, with its infantine green,
Lightly ting’d the tall elms of the grove;
Ah! Celadon, sweet was the scene,
Its beauty was heighten’d by love.

Of all you then sang, not a strain
But I still can distinctly repeat;
Ah! youth, but reproaches are vain,
Can you say your behaviour is meet?
Is it just to abandon with scorn
The heart you so hardly subdu’d,
And to leave the poor virgin forlorn,
Whom late you so fervently woo’d?

When you gave me the eglantine wreath,
You embellished the gift with your praise;
You only design’d to deceive,
Yet you spake to the heart in your lays.
My beauty was then all your theme,
In beauty I never took pride;
I thought it procur’d your esteem,
I knew not its value beside.

You promis’d your passion should last
Till by death’s icy rigour represt,
Yet now all your ardour is past,
And you live at that passion to jest.
Was the fetter that bound you too weak;
Oh! why is my Celadon strange?
‘Till sorrow had faded my cheek,
I saw in the fountain no change.

Can you say my behaviour was light,
Was it easy my favour to gain,
When I promis’d your love to requite,
Could others attention obtain?
To a test all my words may be brought,
Let my life by suspicion be try’d;
You, Celadon, knew every thought,
I had none that I studied to hide.

You sure must remember the day
You wounded your hand with the hook;
Again how I fainted away
When you rescu’d my lamb from the brook.
Oh! how my heart flutters; e’en yet
I think of your danger with tears,
Yet Celadon strives to forget,
At once, both my love and my fears.

Fond fool! do I utter my grief
To the man from whose falsehood it sprung;
Shall the nest plunder’d dove seek relief
From the stripling that ravished her young?
Yet shepherds are free from deceit,
Their manners are simple and plain;
From all kind compassion I meet,
And all thy injustice disdain.

My mother has often times read,
While I reel’d off my spindle at night,
That lions and tygers have bled;
All vanquish’d by shepherds in fight.
‘Tis right for such deeds to exult,
For virtue and courage they prove;
But,oh! it is base to insult
The girl you have injur’d in love.

Your bride she is lovely, I fear,
I’ve heard she is richer than me;
The lot of the poor is severe,
Ev’n lovers from poverty flee.
Yet my father, I’ve often been told,
Had once a large portion of sheep,
But the winter flood broke down his fold,
And buried them all in the deep.

My mother, alas! she is dead; .
My sorrow she now cannot feel;
To earn her a morsel of bread
I work’d very hard at my wheel.
She said, for my duty and love,
A blessing I surely should know;
I trust I shall find it above,
For grief is my portion below.

I have heard our good curate oft tell
Many things about Angels of light,
That in virtue and truth they excel;
Such Celadon seem’d in my sight.
Oh! break thou too credulous heart,
I am sick of thy passionate strife;
The victim of Celadon’s art
I s weary of him and of life.

Yet the curses of vengeance to frame
Is a sin that I dare not commit;
This heart, which still throbs at his name,
Will never the outrage permit.
My wrongs, oh! they all are forgiven,
And my last dying wish it shall be;
May he never be question’d by heaven,
For vows he has broken to me.

Go fetch home thy new wedded fair,
Thy joys I will never molest;
I have found out a cure for despair;
My heart shall be quickly at rest.
No more shall the night’s peaceful air
Be vex’d by my clamorous breath
I have found out a cure for despair,
‘Tis silence-the silence of death.


George Lambert, A Pastoral Landscape with Shepherds and Their Flocks (1744): Mrs West would have seen this picture as appropriate to her poem

*****************************

A third very long poem done in the Miltonic-Thompson style fashionable then, but few will like now — so I won’t bother reprint it (as I doubt anyone at all who comes even to read one of my blogs will even try it), — is a rich seasonal Spring: An Ode, but it shows an intense originality of imagery, rich and wildly strange in particulars. Another pindaric poem, Independence, shows how much she yearned for liberty despite herself.

These are not Scott-like at all, but neither are they feeble or strident didacticism. They represent phases of a young woman growing up.

*******************

I invite my reader to piece together a biography by reading Lonsdale’s life (or quickly here the wikipedia article which is accurate enough), the briefer life in Backscheider, Jane Spencer’s (alas too) few valuable words in The Rise of the Woman Novelist (pp. 145-6). West’s Advantages of Education is re-told to bring out the mentor (say Mr Knightley) and faulty heroine (say Emma) with the girl’s teacher (say Mrs Weston) taking a more central dominant role to enable the heroine to reject an attractive but unworthy and cruel rake.

These come down to (what we remember)

Self-educated, as the persona Prudentia Homespun she wrote when she was early left a farmer’s widow with 3 sons. She did support herself by networking from there her overt Tory and anti-romanticism agenda; naturally her books found distributors. So here we have a professional woman of letters (which say Anne Finch was not). What some today are calling career risks (her children) became the cause of her career. Her works did speak to women’s experiences, and she found out what was fashionable or this year’s agenda now and again and imitated it. What I would call an enemy of promise (an experience that shatters us, dulls us, turns us into another issuing a warning lesson) turned out to provide the bread for the table, the pewter to eat off of. That’s what I suspect Alicia de Lacy represents. I too could be stout against it.

We make a mistake to pay attention to outward outlines: underneath lie individual stories and Jane West’s was different from Austen’s who seems to have rather had yearnings for the women rather than the men. Marilyn Butler, JA and War of Ideas gives several plot-summaries (but not Alicia) but her analysis is rigidly contained in her political polemics and goes not near the living core of the conservative books — as she does for some of the radical ones (not her relative, Maria Edgeworth’s whose ripe lesbianism she deliberately ignores).

For references and plainness the best is the biography in British Women Writers: A critical reference guide, ed Todd, but the writer of that two-page life (Nicola Watson) has not realized the poetry tells the tale we need to hear …


Mid-18th century sack dress, back and side view


A straw hat (slightly later, not to be worn with sack)

Ellen

Read Full Post »


The feel of Barton Cottage as filmed in the 1995 Miramax S&S is redolent of Steventon and Chawton as represented in Austen’s letters & novels (Elinor looks up to see Edward approaching as her mother, Mrs Dashwood, sews on)

Dear friends and readers,

A fifth letter by Austen to her niece, Anna, on Anna’s Which is the Heroine, completed and sent 10 days after the previous (Letter 107). Placed against Letters 103 and 104 as well, a picture of Anna’s book emerges, which, at least as processed by Austen’s perception, appears to be a close imitation of the style, attitudes and situations of Austen and Burney.

Together with the other letters, this one enables us to piece together some sense of what Anna’s novel was like; we see how Austen consciously reacted to her fiction in more particularity than she gives for her own fiction; and the whole letter includes comments on Scott, Jane West & sets Austen’s fiction against an immediate context of her life.

Thus, Todd and Bree’s decision to pluck out just these few letters and parts of letters by Austen to Anna on this novel is vindicated for the reader seeking an understanding of Austen’s conscious intent and understanding of her books if we imagine her lifting her pen from paper and answering questions about her art and texts. On the other hand, their notes while better than LeFaye’s (who is wholly inadequate on the literary texts and comments referred to or contained in Austen’s letters), are still not adequate whether one thinks they are aimed at the general reader and student or the scholar of Austen. They also misrepresent what the letter has to tell us by omitting two paragraphs, an antepenultimate on Walter Scott and Jane West and a last one showing Austen’s attitude towards servants problems and a group of neighbors who moved away.

**********************

While the sense of poverty is overdone in the 2008 S&S, the sense of companionship the women have together is suggestive of life at Steventon and Chawton as seen in Austen’s later letters (1809 on) (Elinor seen from the back, telling Marianne and her mother of Brandon’s arrival)

My dear Anna

I hope you do not depend on having your book back again immediately. I keep it that your G: Mama may hear it — for it has not been possible yet to have, any public reading. I have read it to your Aunt Cassandra, however — in our own room at night, while we undressed — and with a great deal of pleasure.

We like the first chapter extremely — with only a little doubt whether Ly Helena is not almost too foolish. The matrimonial Dialogue is very good certainly. – I like Susan as well as ever — and begin now not to care at all about Cecilia­ — she may stay at Easton Court as long as she likes. — Henry Mellish I am afraid will be too much in the common Novel style — a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable Young Man (such as do not much abound in real Life) desperately in Love, & all in vain. But I have no business to judge him so early. — Jane Egerton is a very natural, comprehendable Girl — & the whole of her acquaintance with Susan, & Susan’s Letter to Cecilia, very pleasing & quite in character. — But Miss Egerton does not entirely satisfy us. She is too formal & solemn, we think, in her advice to her Brother not to fall in love; & it is hardly like a sensible Woman; it is putting it into his head. — We should like a few hints from her better.­

We feel really obliged to you for introducing a Lady Kenrick, it will remove the greatest fault in the work, & I give you credit for considerable forbearance as an Author in adopting so much of our opinion. — I expect high fun about Mrs Fisher & Sir Thomas. —

You have been perfectly right in telling Ben of your work, & I am very glad to hear how much he likes it. His encouragement & approbation must be quite “beyond everything”. — I do not at all wonder at his not expecting to like anybody so well as Cecilia at first, but shall be surprised if he does not become a Susan-ite in time. — Devereux Forester’s being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a “vortex of Dissipation”. I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression it is such thorough novel slang — and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened. — Indeed I did very much like to know Ben’s opinion. — I hope he will continue to be pleased with it, I think he must — but I cannot flatter him with there being much Incident. We have no great right to wonder at his not valueing the name of Progillian. That is a source of delight which he hardly ever can be quite competent to.

— Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair -.- He has Fame & Profit enough as Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it-but I fear I must. — I am quite determined however not to be pleased with Ms West’s Alicia de Lacy, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not. — I think I can be stout against any thing written by Mrs West.– I have made up my mind to like novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, Yours & my own. —

What can you do with Egerton to increase the interest for him? — I wish you could contrive something, some fam­ily occurrence to draw out his good qualities more — some distress among Brothers or Sisters to releive by the sale of his Curacy — something to [take] him mysteriously away, & then heard of at York or Edinburgh — in an old great Coat. ­I would not seriously recommend any thing Improbable, but if you could invent something spirited for him, it would have a good effect. — He might lend all his Money to Captain Morris — but then he would be a great fool if he did. Cannot the Morrises quarrel, & he reconcile them? — Excuse the liberty I take in these suggestions. —

Your Aunt Frank’s Housemaid has just given her warning, but whether she is worth your having, or would take your place I know not.­ She was Mrs Webb’s maid before she went to the Great House. She leaves your Aunt, because she cannot agree with her fellow servants. She is in love with the Man — & her head seems rather turned; he returns her affection, but she fancies every body else is wanting to get him too, & envying her. Her previous service must have fitted her for such a place as yours, & she is very active & cleanly. — She is own Sister to the favourite Beatrice. The Webbs are really gone. When I saw the Waggons at the door, & thought of all the trouble they must have in moving, I began to reproach myself for not having liked them better­ but since the Waggons have disappeared, my Conscience has been closed again — & I am excessively glad they are gone. —

I am very fond of Sherlock’s Sermons, prefer them to almost any.

Your affectionate Aunt
J. Austen

If you wish me to speak to the Maid, let me know —

I have printed the whole letter as found in LeFaye’s 4th edition, not just the pieces about this novel. The third from the last and last paragraph are integrally part of Austen’s reaction to her niece’s imitation of her. She moves without hesitation between the novel and real worlds. I have separated out paragraphs (provided spaces between sections) where Austen did not for ease of comprehension.

*********************

Although placed in too opulent a setting, the way the characters stay together in groups, interacting in the scenes of the 1995 Miramax S&S has the feel of the archetypcal novel both Austen and her niece had in mind (most of the characters bowl as Elinor and Mrs Jennings sit apart talking)

Anna’s “Which is the heroine?” It’s now obvious that the novel focused on two heroines, a grave and virtuous type, Cecilia (perhaps like Fanny Price, Anna Elliot, Charlotte Heywood, Emma Watson, the French equivalent in Cottin’s Amelie Mansfield would be Amelie herself except that Amelie loses her virginity) and a witty, fanciful “animated creature” Susan (this gives us insight into the way Austen may have seen her Mary Crawford, the type includes Elizabeth Bennet the teasing element is liked by Austen; the French equivalent is close in Amelie in the character of the “gay” Blanche).

It’s good that Anna told her future husband of her novel writing. Austen thinks it nature for him to read and like central heroine, Cecilia. But she, Austen, bets he’ll become a Susan-ite. We can see her that Austen did not take the Mary Crawfords seriously and that she actually liked them as “amusing” for their “animation” (vivacity we might say). Susan is not a amoral character, but rather a mischievous one, a play of fancy characterizing her. It’s this kind of talk that makes me see that the French archetypes lie behind Austen’s reaction to these pairings, and see how far from Austen are many of the modern Janeite and scholarly discussions, and also that Austen did approach her fiction superficially in her conscious mind.

Henry Mellish a character in the common Novel style: handsome, amiable, unexceptional young man. Not much met in life says Austen (but then neither are the Cecilias and Susans either). He seems to be the male paired with Susan. Devereux ruined by his vanity (Austen’s reading and she likes this character and point of view) seems to be another suitor, probably of Susan (perhaps he is a Frank Churchill type).

Other Characters: Sir Thomas (who broke his arm), Lady Helena (her postscript resembled P&P), St Julian (who has a instructive or sentimental speech to Lady Helena and who he was engaged to and breaks with);
There is a Portman family group: Lord Portman (good-natured and therefore will be too easily liked or approvde of according to Austen) and his brother; Lady Anne (whom Anna dreaded “doing,” is particularly well done). Mr Griffin (county surgeon who would not be introduced to Lord P and his brother)

An Irish group who come to London: Lady Clanmurry and her daughter pressured too much for money and think of themselves as ordinarily moral people.

There is now a clergyman too, Egerton, and Austen thinks he must be given more to do. Austen proposes, half-humorously, some gothicism (the “great coat”) connected to poverty: he could sell his curacy because his relatives need the money; he could lend all his money to a friend, another character Captain Morris. He seems then to be conceived as a fool. Anna is perhaps introducing too many characters as she feels her aunt’s approbation and strong enthusiasm. For example, Lady Kenrich. Austen does not say this explicitly, but she feels the characters are mulitplying. She shows how she can regard characters as paper puppets and how she is aware of “pathetic” novel conventions and while writing not much moved for real about these conventions as conventions until she gets much deeper (that third or fourth revision when the deeper feeling Austen emerges as we’ve seen).

When Austen talks suddenly of high fun with Sir Thomas and Mrs Fisher, this may be a way of talking about the enjoyment the Austens felt when high and mighty people are brought down. (A secret pleasure of Austen’s — not so secret in her letters — which we can see in Elizabeth’s rejection of Darcy’s proposal).

Neither she nor Cassandra liked the play within the novel much but Austen says that may be because the motif is too much used (she is thinking of her own Mansfield Park, Edgeworth’s Patronage, but there were many such novels in the era) and many other novels of the period have characters going to plays.

****************************

Arthur’s Seat by J.M. W. Turner, a typical illustration for a Walter Scott poem or novel

The references to West and Scott in the antepenultimate paragraph (omitted by Todd and Bree) are of great interest in showing how Austen reacted to other novelists continually as rivals. Scott has no business writing novels to make money; he’s making enough on his poems and by doing this he threatens the territory (reading time from an imagined audience and its cash back) of other novelists. She thinks she is “stout” against anything written by Mrs [Jane ] West. The novel in question was probably an imitation of Waverley needs to be said, as well as who Jane West was to Austen and what her talents. LeFaye’s notes consist of citing the the title of Scott’s novels and recently published poems; Todd and Bree’s notes on Scott are not much better (or perhaps worse); they consist of quotations of banal contentless praise from Mrs Austen: Scott’s “afforded her the most entertainment.” Today’s student needs to be told what Waverley is; then Austen’s citation of Alicia de Lacey, a historical romance makes sense, for Alicia de Lacey is close in spirit and type (if not genius) to Waverley, both in 1814. (Todd and Bree are as half-hearted and non-thinking in the notes as they are in the choices of what to print as later manuscripts in this book and under what rubric within the book.)

As to Jane West, it is clear that her A Gossip’s Story connects to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (see J. M. S. Tompkins, “Elinor and Marianne: A note on Jane Ausetn,” Review of English Studies, 16 (1940):33-343), whether it be the two women were dramatizing the same kind of sub-genre material or Austen was influenced by West. West’s The Advantages of Education; or, The History of Maria Williams is another novel of sexual awakening and warning in the same tradition.

Other women who wrote in West’s vein or from her reactionary vantage point include 1) Elizabeth Hamilton whom Austen was told was given a copy of P&P and said she was glad to hear so respectable a woman had or might read her book; and 2) Hannah More whom Austen seems not to have liked as a writer and whose book, Coelebs in Search of a Wife she resisted reading and thought absurdly pretentious; she also said she did not like the evangelicals (letter 66). That Austen felt affection for West and knew something of her life is shown in a remark in a later letter: “How good Mrs West could have written such books and collected such hard words, with all her family cares, is a matter of astonishment (Letter 145, 8-9 Sept 1816). Two moving poems by West (printed by Paula Backscheider and Catherine Ingrassia) suggest that a personal experience of intense distress lies behind West’s books which (despite a stridency similar to Hamilton’s) have a mild power when considered autobiographically.

The last paragraph (also omitted by Todd and Bree) brings us back to matter we have had before: Jane Austen’s interest in her servants. The house-maid is no moral paragon, but Austen is willing to recommend her. In the paragraph she quickly sketches a personality type, a girl in love who feels threatened by all around. Austen recommends her to Anna as needing somewhere to live and an income no matter how small. She cannot get along with the other servants that’s how jealous she is of her one suitor, but she is active and busy and “cleanly.” Austen is recommending this servant as a maid of “all work” for Anna herself. Anna is shy Austen knows so offers to help her speak to her.

The Webbs we are told little of by LeFaye (the paragraphs are omitted by Todd and Bree!). They were people living in Chawton, a mother and two unwed daughters, whom the Austens felt they could visit (same milieu). We are in the familiar territory of Austen: genteel and marginalized unmarried young women and can see how far from this real world the novels Austen published and Anna really are spiritually, emotionally, financially — except perhaps The Watsons — how glamorized, made far more cheerful and kindly. We also see how instinctively she preferred seclusion; she admits to feeling something for the Webbs (as she remembers what she experienced when ejected from Steventon), but is glad they are gone, as out of sight, out of mind, no (pretenses at?) deeper (active) compassion needed.


All the S&S films have more than one sequence of the Dashwood family packing up & driving off: here is the first from the 1971 film, Mrs Dashwood (Isabel Dean) looking back at her lost home

Does anyone who has read this blog or the letter text at its center, have any clue as to why Progillian? What are its resonances? Is it some version of the name Gillian (Jill)?

See archive for Jane Austen’s Letters

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »