Archive for May 30th, 2012

One of several scenes from the Austen movies where her letters or a favorite book of a heroine (Radcliffe’s Udolpho) is burned (from Miss Austen Regrets, 2009)

Dear friends and readers,

Reading Catherine Hubback’s letters (An Englishwoman in California, ed., introd. Zoe Klippert) has given me some sense of the personality and motives for the destruction of Jane’s 3 packets to Frank (as it’s said it was) and letters (not specified further except that it was a full correspondence) to Martha Lloyd. The letters of Hubback are accompanied by a short biography and character sketches of some of Hubback’s siblings. An important one is for Frances Sophia Austen called Fanny (1821-1904). She destroyed both sets of letters without consulting anyone else. She never married; she was the youngest of Frank’s children, and, as presented, she ended up the daughter under pressure to take care of her father after Martha Lloyd died (Martha predeceased Frank as she was at least 11 years younger than him, the same distance Eliza de Feuillide was from Henry Austen).

Upon the father dying, she apparently rushed to destroy his and Jane’s letters. She really left not a moment and consulted no one. Frank had kept these letters near him all his life (Southam, JA and the Navy).

Upon being told that James Edward austen-Leigh was writing a biography of the aunt and looking for letters to Martha, she destroyed those (this is from Villasenor, Women Readers and the Victorian Jane Austen) too and Catherine Hubback comments on her youngest sister). They therefore had lasted years longer.

There is something peculiar here, not necessarily that the woman saw clearly any incestuous or lesbian feelings but that she was in her fathe’s case jealous and suspicious. It reminds me of when people die where I’ve seen some close relative or friend destroy something very quickly that they have resented for years. Edward Austen (not given to writing about texts) said of Jane’s letters to Frank (in Southam, p 66) that they were “such thinking, clear, considerate Letters as Frank might have written”. The two were congenial — remember Frank’s letters on the horribleness of dropping bombs on others (like Popham tried to).

With Martha there does seem in this woman’s mind to have been something to hide.

My regret on the letters to Frank is I assume she discussed naval realities and politics; to Martha I assume discussion of her novels. Remember how Martha was said to have First Impressions nearly by heart. (Catherine Hubback working from memory of The Watsons certainly had some of it by heart and some nearly.) In those few letters before the blow about leaving Steventon fell, Austen talks of how she loves to talk with Martha; she does not come to read but talk and walk with her. She is ecstatic with her (letter 28, Sun, 30 Nov, Mon 1 Dec, 1800, from Ibthorpe, and letter 26, 12-23, Wed-Thurs, Nov 180).

Fanny Austen. She got back? Catherine Hubback suggests to Frank’s children Martha LLoyd appeared a rigid disciplinarian, and an old and ugly woman; they resented her taking their mother’s place. As children they could not see he was marrying his beloved sister’s best friend too. Later one they probably did see it (Catherine Hubback certainly did) and this new insight may not have helped matters.


A kind friend of mine has written to me about her work on a love relationship forbidden by social conventions of an era (this one homosexual) and I use some of her word. Since the letters of Jane Austen’s visit to Martha addressed to Cassandra, just before Jane came home to be told Steventon was to be turned over to her oldest brother, James, and I saw the ecstasy of the woman with her friend, “the vital question there too, I would think, is not a vacuous id they sleep together? but how did Martha sustain and nurture and inspire Austen’s work.”

We can never know this, never know for example, the relationship of Martha Lloyd to Charlotte Lucas (see “Some Thoughts on Charlotte Lucas …”), and never see the wider genuinely political Jane Austen, perhaps reactionary in comparison to her brother, but we would at least know it.


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