Archive for April 8th, 2012

Miss Austen Regrets: Anna Lefroy has given birth to a daughter, Jemima, and Jane attempts to give Anna a copy of her novel, Emma (in the fiction of the film it’s 1815)

Dear friends and readers,

In two months Anna will be married; in the meantime she is writing a novel, Which is the Heroine?, using the same kinds of writing materials and methods as her aunt: she makes booklets, she cuts out separate squares of paper, pins them and so can pull and/or replace sheets. In Todd and Bree’s Later Manuscripts of Jane Austen (Cambridge edition), this is the 4th letter Jane Austen sent her niece, Anna, about fiction (though parody, directions, corrections); it is the third on Which is the Heroine?. I contextualized the previous letters (103 (mid-July 1814), 104 (10-18 Aug 1814), with Anna’s life, Austen’s ambivalent attitude towards Anna, and what is left of Anne’s writing (e.g, her continuation of Sanditon, her Mary Hamilton), now I’ll turn to try to work out what exactly can be surmised of the character types and situations in Anna’s fiction and the values at stake in Austen’s mind when she considers these.

Austen deep into Anna’s fiction now. Reading it intently over and over, with mother, with sister, aloud and silently.

The text:

Friday 9 – Sunday 18 September 1814 Chawton (to Steventon?)

My dear Anna

We have been very much amused by your 3 books, but I have a good many criticisms to make — more than you will like. — We are not satisfied with Mr F.’s settling herself as Tenant & near Neighbour to such a Man as Sir T. H. without having some other inducement to go there; she ought to have some friend living thereabouts to tempt her. A woman, going with two girls just growing up, into a Neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one Man, of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs F would not be likely to fall into. Remember, she is very prudent; — you must not let her act inconsistently. — Give her a friend, & let that friend be invited to meet her at the Priory, & we shall have no objection to her dining there as she does; but otherwise, a woman in her situation would hardly go there, before she had been visited by other Families. — I like the scene itself, the Miss Lesleys, Lady Anne, & the Music, very much. — Lesley is a noble name. — Sir T. H. you always do very well; I have only taken the liberty of expunging one phrase of his, which would not be allowable. “Bless my Heart.” — It is too familiar & inelegant. Your G.M. is more disturbed at Mr F.’s not returning the Egertons visit sooner, than anything else. They ought to have called at the Parsonage before Sunday. —

You describe a sweet place, but your descriptions are often more minute than will be liked. You give too many particulars of right hand &left — Mrs F. is not careful enough of Susan’s health; — Susan ought not to be walking out so soon after Heavy rains, taking long walks in the dirt. An anxious Mother would not suffer it. — I like your Susan very much indeed, she is a sweet crea­ture, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seemed all over attach­ment & feeling, & afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely composed at the Ball, &so well satisfied apparently with Mr Morgan. She seems to have changed her Charac­ter. —

You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; — 3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on­& I hope you will write a great deal more, & make full use of them while they are so very favourably arranged. You are but now coming to the heart & beauty of your book; till the heroine grows up, the fun must be imperfect — but I expect a great deal of entertainment from the next 3 or 4 books, & I hope you will not resent these remarks by sending me no more. —

We like the Egertons very well, we see no Blue Pan­taloons, or Cocks & Hens; –there is nothing to enchant one certainly in Mr L. L. — but we make no objection to him, & his inclination to like Susan is pleasing. — The Sis­ter is a good contrast –but the name of Rachael is as much as I can bear. — They are not so much like the Papillons as I expected.

Your last chapter is very entertaining –the conversation on Genius & C. Mr S J. — & Susan both talk in character & very well. — In some former parts, Cecilia is per­haps a little too solemn & good, but upon the whole, her dis­position is very well opposed to Susan’s — her want of Imag­ination is very natural — I wish you could make Mrs F. talk more, but she must be difficult to manage & make entertain­ing, because there is so much good common sense & propriety about her that nothing can be very broad. Her Economy & her Ambition must not be staring. —

The Papers left by Mr Fisher is very good — Of course, one guesses something. — I hope when you have written a great deal more you will be equal to scratching out some of the past. — The scene with Mrs Mellish, I should condemn; it is prosy & nothing to the purpose — & indeed, the more you can find in your heart to curtail between Dawlish & Newton Priors, the better I think it will be. — One does not care for girls till they are grown up. — Your Aunt C. quite
enters into the exquisiteness of that name. Newton Priors is really a Nonpareil.– Milton would have given his eyes to have thought of it. Is not the Cottage taken from Tollard Royal? —

Sunday 18.th — I am very glad dear Anna, that I wrote as I did before this sad Event occurred. I have now only to add that your G. Mama does not seem the worse now for the Shock. — I shall be very happy to receive more of your work, if more is ready; & you write so fast, that I have great hopes Mr D. will come freighted back with such a Cargo as not all his Hops or his Sheep could equal the value of. Your Grandmama desires me to say that she will have finished your Shoes tomorrow & thinks they will look very well;-and that she depends upon seeing you, as you promise, before you quit the Country, & hopes you will give her more than a day.– Yours affectionately
J. Austen


Miss Austen Regrets: Fanny Austen Knight (Imogen Poots) and Jane Austen (Olivia Williams) closely confide in one another (it’s 1812 in the fiction of the film)

In this letter Austen has grown very very pleased with Anna’s fiction. In letter 103 we learned Anna’s novel was a spirited one. Central characters included Lady Helena and St Julian; Cecilia is a too “amiable” heroine (memories of Burney in more than the character’s name) but still inspires anxiety in her behalf. Cecilia at first had been too young; D. Forester begins well because he not just “very Good or very Bad.” Lady H is well above Cecilia, Cecelia must be introduced to the lady, and having the loves speak in the third person is too stilted.

In Letter 104, Anna’s heroine, “Cecilia” was too good, too solemn. Austen very much likes Anna’s “Lady Anne” — “your great dread, you have succeeded particularly well at.” She is embarrassed when the imitation of her work becomes transparent “I do think you had better omit Lady Helena’s postscript; — to those who are acquainted with P&P it will seem an Imitation”. Two women chasing down a man press him too much (“Lady Clanmurray and her daughter”). It’s more than decorum here, Jane Austen identifies with what is the woman’s interest.

We have to remember she and Anna and the Austen family in general use the word ‘delight” for Austen’s novels in a euphemistic way. Characters who are excruciating bullies, mean, are called “delightful” so “St Julian’s is the delight of one’s Life. He is quite interesting” especially when he breaks off with “Lady H” (“very well done”) can mean a real horror of a man intended — egregiously humiliating for example.

Austen’s uncomfortable with Ireland as a setting, but I can see the names Anna has chosen show Anna wants Ireland as a setting — perhaps as romantic landscape.

This was satire in Anna’s novel: “I like your sketch of Lord Clanmurry, and your picture of the two poor young girls enjoyments is very good.” I wonder if these are women in genteel poverty mocked. Austen likes this kind of self berating. I understand it very well (but also know it’s perverse). I note again that Austen likes the serious (grave) discourses in Anna’s text; this makes me think she could possibly have felt the depth of Mary Hamilton and forgiven its blindnesses and needs.

1979 BBC P&P (Fay Weldon: Mrs Gardener (Barbara Shelley) advises Elizabeth (Elizabeth Garvey)

So onto Letter 107:

Now the woman coming into a neighborhood is a Bronte motif. Anna is 18 years younger than Jane. Mrs F should not settle herself there without conventional relatives asserted.

Again in Austen’s text incessant attention to slightest nuance of rank, and fear of loss of reputation. Elegance a real value which goes along with these (and in a novel keeping up decorum). All this connects Austen to French fiction, but not the attention paid to the slightest gaudy new fashion (blue pantaloons could also be something they saw on a stage) is English.

There is this idea of fiction as fun (frivolous) and a too good character cannot be presented “broad” (broadly) so will not be entertaining (she’d put her Mr Collins under this rubric and if we look at him this way he becomes a humors character and too mechanical and repetitive in a way, except as she revised she deepened him and gave the text depths of bitterness)

Rachel she cannot bear as a name. I suggest she did not like any Biblical reference. She was not rewriting the Hebrew Bible. (she is now thinking of Anna’s fiction as hers as she goes — rather like Emma does not like those low lawyers for Harriet, no no they won’t do).

She likes family scenes, music scenes. No vulgarity allowed. Anna is very minute — a form of realism under her aunt’s tutelage.

Susan the second heroine. Weak health yet playfulness of fantasy. Her hypocritical mother. Susan too composed at the ball.

How she loves 2 to 3 families in a small village interacting. What one works to set up and then wring out every iota of movement, hesitation, the habit of luxury.

We can note some truth-telling about real people as originals for characters. Austen expected more satire on the Papillons, more imitations of them. Tollard Royal where Anna visited the Lefroys Her easy despising of the Digweeds – she has such great hopes he will come back freighted with such a Cargo as not all his Hops or his Sheep could be the value of . It’s not clear that she is not talking about him as a character in Anna’s novel.

This cool carelessness of her heart: she is laughing at Milton’s blindness.

It seems to me that with all these criteria one could write very poor novels. The criteria are so general. Austen was writing powerfully. When I look at the difference between the first and manuscript chapters of Persuasion, and the one that were printed what I see as difference is 1) slowing down; 2) endless complication of nuance within sentences so a phrase has it front and back meaning and resonances with turns and twists; and a use of the norms of propriety and “nature” to control the surface so that silly tricks are not what the narrative relies upon. But it is not that Austen provides a reading of these terms that leads to these fictions of hers.

She’s not exactly broken up by the death of Fanny Palmer. The complete lack of comment on Charles’s marrying and his wife coheres with what Deborah Kaplan in her articles on Charles and Fanny Palmer Austen’s wedded life aboard ship wrote of the attitude of the Austens towards Charles marriage to this colonialist daughter and reminds me of the dismissive coldness of Trollope’s wife towards his second son when the son married an Australian; the mother simply did not go to the wedding, and very ostentatious she was about it (shades of Burney’s father). A sentence about how she hopes her mother is not the worse for the shock and back to more important matters — getting more of Anna’s work.

Not that I don’t understand Austen’s priorities here but note that Edward’s wife’s death mattered (a chatelaine) and so did Eliza’s (we have not covered that in the letters) because Austen grew up with her, Henry liked her, and she was Hastings’s daughter with a strong whiff of French alluring connections (glamor) even if Austen when in her middling years (for her the later 20s early 30s) imitates the family’s askance attitude. She was not there to see Frank’s Mary die – not much love lost there nor for James’s wife.

Homemade shoes by Mrs Austen. Anna has won them over. Not only are they back to making her clothes they would like her to come keep them company again. She is again valued. That is partly why she’s writing this novel.

See archive for Jane Austen’s Letters


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