Archive for September, 2012

1979 BBC P&P, scripted Fay Weldon: Elizabeth Garvie, an idealizing contemplative shot, this important mini-series first attempt at a faithful depiction of P&P and its characters

Dear Friend and readers,

This week’s two letters leap out at us differently from all those which have been allowed to descend to us thus far: the majority of letter 79 is about two of Austen’s novels (P&P and MP); more than half of Letter 80 is about P&P. We’ve seen nothing like this before. For Letter 79, using the line lengths of LeFaye’s edition, we’ve got 63 lines. Of these, all but the first 5 and the last 21 are about her novels – and I’m going to suggest the first two of those first 5 are about P&P too. So, she’s got another novel just published and one she’s working on. For Letter 80, half of what we have left (a ending or perhaps more has been chopped off), P&P.

It should be noticed that in the parts of both letters not about her novels, the two people who emerge most sharply (as on Austen’s mind) are Martha and Frank. She is bothered lest he not get a first copy; she remembers when she walked with Martha one February day.

Letter 79 first: Austen is intensely excited — for her. So excited is she that she has lost the strong inhibitions we assume we have been seeing; or, we have for the first one of some of the types of letters Austen has written and Cassandra destroyed: about the novel writing.

So, what is she saying? She’s had the arrival of the printed book. “My own darling Child” from London (Letter 71). As with her calling the proof of S&S “her suckling child,” we see that she has not been able to rid herself of the idea she’s supposed to have children, and in her mind has made these substitute. And indeed had she married and gotten endlessly pregnant, we would have none of them.

I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child’ from London;

Then she speaks fretting about how her plan for the distribution of copies has been thwarted. She wanted a copy each to go to Steventon and Portsmouth first. Cassandra at Steventon was to have the first copy and maybe James too to read some — after all the literary person of the family once upon a time, and still writing poetry. Frank is to have his at the same time. (“Portsmouth”). The last two places or groups she wanted to read were Charles’s group (so she doesn’t believe he is all that enamured, and reading it repeatedly — he did produce that common cliche of the era) and those at Godmersham (this surprises me as though I’m aware Edward is no big reader or terribly acute to say the least, I have accustomed myself to believing in Jane’s closeness to Fanny).

The advertisement excites her, the price. She reconciles herself to the copies not getting to Steventon first as “the first burst of the business” would upset Cassandra (the publicity she assumes). Lurking here is the admission they did assume most people would know and in that way of some people got a kick from the idea they kept everything secret and yet everyone knows. (Reminds me of the people of Highbury and I’m with Mr Knightley’s wry remark about that). Then her mind (note it) reverts to Frank: It’s the delay that worries her. She determines to write “that he may not think himself neglected.”

On Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles & sent a 3d by the Coach to Godmersham; just the two Sets which I was least eager for the disposal of. I wrote to him immediately to beg for my two other Sets, unless he would take the trouble of forwarding them at once to Steventon & Portsmouth-not having an idea of his leaving Town before to day; — by your account however he was gone before my Letter was written. The only evil is the delay, nothing more can be done till his return. Tell James & Mary so, with my Love. — For your sake I am as well pleased that it sh[ould] be so, as it might be unpleasant to you to be in the Neighbourhood at the first burst of the business.- The Advertisement is in our paper to day’ for the first time; — 18′ — He shall ask £1- 1- for my two next, & £1- 8- for my stupidest of all — I shall write to Frank, that he may not think himself neglected.

As to price, she revels in the idea of charging more than the market usually was willing to pay. I’ve no idea really what she means by the stupidest of all but perhaps here we see a sudden spark of her multifold mind – which comes out in the novels through the rewriting. Has anyone when they finally got a prize for something they have worked so long and hard on, realized that after all the reasons the people are doing this do not show its value. In fact it’s more than a little stupid after all. She is half-mocking herself for producing these sorts of books. This helps temper her over-investment which when disillusion comes (as it surely will) would not then be such a blow. She was unsure of Emma and we have seen “twigs” of Emma here and there as parallels to the book floating through these last letters. So maybe she does mean Emma where to the average person it lacked events and nothing was doing (to echo Swift’s criticism of Thomson’s poetry).

Tamsin Greig as an enigmatic Miss Bates: she sees what’s happening in front of her, avoids eye-contact (2009 BBC Emma, scripted Sandy Welch)

Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the evens we set fairly at it & read half the 1 st vol. to her — prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work w[ould] soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out — & I beleive it passed with her unsuspected — She was amused, poor soul! that she c[oul]d not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.

As delightful a creature as ever appeared in print (this is my favorite of all stills of Elizabeth — also contemplative in the landscape, 1995 BBC P&P, scripted Andrew Davies)

Miss Benn (good old soul, never misses a meal) found herself sat down with nearly half of volume read to her toute de suite. They could hardly wait – Jane could hardly wait and her mother indulged her. Mrs Austen read it quickly and gave it her all. Was Miss Benn so stupid? Austen thinks so: “I beleive it passed with her unsuspected.” But she forgives Miss Benn because she liked the heroine and then indulges herself in saying finally that she has a high opinion of herself as a reader — and her mother too.

We do get some insight into how Austen saw her novels. Add to the literal verisimilitude, insistence on probability, desire to be utterly contemporary (partly to hide how long it took to write them and how many long years she waited) in order to please and sell to the kind of people she was surrounded by (her criteria for mass audience), each book is its heroine. She calls them by the heroine’s name. In her mind they are filled with the heroine’s presence with whom she has really identified and loved (even if she tries to hide it)

She has rapidly perused the text and seen some “typical” errors and she notes that it’s not always clear who is speaking. In cutting down, paring she left the dramatic scenes as in a play. But a play has little abbreviations next to each speaker. Never mind. she does not write for dull elves who need continual direction. They should be able to tell from the utterance who has spoken (ah a sense that she creates a character listening to how they speak and sound and what fits and what doesn’t — as n he would not say that or he would say this):

There are a few Typical errors — & a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear-but ‘I do not write for such dull Elves’

It’s more than he and she saids she’s speaking of. She alludes to Scott whose lines talk about the reader imagining his writing’s scenes before the eyes. She makes a new paragraph but she’s still on about the subtlety of her book. She expects her reader to read actively, not be a passive reader. The line seems to be quoted from somewhere but LeFaye does not recognize the allusion. Alas.

Then tellingly — I was interested in this when I was reviewing the Cambridge Volume of the Later Ms’s: the printers took over. She did not have the disposition of volume divisions.Remember she sold the ms outright. So maybe volume 3 was not intended to open on the day they came to Pemberley. OTOH, she might be referring to her own lopping and chopping. To her the 2nd volume has a lot of story because she eliminated the sort of repetition and sentimental discourse (psychological mimesis) that epistolary narrative often calls for and uses. And the last line hints that P&P was actually once much longer than S&S but she has cut so much and so successfully (she asserts — she needs to, she needs badly to love this book and triumph) that it’s shorter than S&S now (and maybe she is thinking no one will be able to tell)

As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.” –The 2d vol. is shorter than I Cd wish — but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S.&S. altogether. —

1983 BBC MP, scripted Ken Taylor: another 1st, the 1st faithful MP, perhaps the best thus far

Now turning to MP, The question of its correctness which seems so to obsess her:

— Now I will try to write of something else; — it shall be a complete change of subject– Ordination.” I am glad to find your enquiries have ended so well. — If you Cd discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of Hedgerows,” I sh[ould] be glad again. —

Are there hedgerows in Northampton shire or not. She doesn’t know. She never went. So she does write of what she’s never seen — like she’s never seen Gibraltor. As for the last single word; “Ordination.” I agree with LeFaye that this word does not suggest Austen first started MP and began with a book on religion as a career say; clearly from my calender, and others delving and the previous letter we see she’s been engaged on the book a very long time and this last revision has been itself going on for some time.

To my speculation; maybe the opening lines are about P&P arriving at Steventon to Cassandra. The little parcel. Maybe it’s a stretch because the very last five of the letter are about parcels too and they may be presents of another sort (cloth like Edward’s money pays for). It may be that the last line is meant ironically: Martha will know that Mrs Digweed is not full of wonder and gratitude and only hypocritically asserting this.

After all this who could write of anything like dinner parties no matter how sweet the food. Jane “could not get herself to eat a Mincepie at Mr Papillons.” Too taken out of herself for once.

Then on Letter 80 and P&P, the famous passages, but note she is not quite as excited and now disposed to be critical, of her readers and a bit of her book:

Your letter was truely welcome & I am much obliged to you all for your praise; it came at a right time, for I had had some fits of disgust; our 2nd evening’s reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I beleive something must be attributed to my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on — & tho’ she perfectly understands the Characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought. — Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough. — The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling;-it wants shade; — it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter — of sense if it could be had, if nor of solemn specious nonsense — about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte — or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile. — I doubt your quite agreeing with me here — I know your starched Notions. — The caution observed at Steventon with regard to the possession of the Book is an agreable surprise to me, & I heartily wish it may be the means of saving you from everything unpleasant; — but you must be prepared for the Neighbourhood being
perhaps already informed of there being such a Work in the World, & in the Chawton World! Dummer will do that you know. — It was spoken of here one morn when M” D. called with Miss Benn.-The greatest blunder in the Printing that I have met with is in Page 220- Vol. 3. where two speeches are made into one. — There might as well have been no suppers at Longbourn, but I suppose it was the remains of Mr Bennet’s old Meryton habits. —

Benjamin Whitlow as Mr Bennet: he played the character comparatively lightly; bills harass him but he has much to compensate (1995 BBC P&P)

Why Miss Benn again? perhaps because she was a simpleton or she’s just there and they don’t want her to starve and freeze alone. She is probably one basis for Miss Bates so maybe we over-read Miss Bates? I don’t think so, I think we are meant to see she does see what’s in front of her as did Mrs Weston before she was explicitly told by Frank of the engagement.

Austen is serious about the book being “too light, bright, and sparkling” now that it’s been lopped and chopped but the stuff she proposes is her way of mocking other people’s texts who do include such subjects. Here is a sign she is well aware she omits all reference to politics.

Her style is epigrammatic — it harks back to Pope and heroic couplets. What can “starched notions” mean in context? Cassandra would prefer less wit and satire, more gravity; playing with words is word playing and Cassandra wants substance?

Dummer is a reference to Michael Terry, the suitor Anna is now involved with and it’s a mildish sneer. Not to be trusted that man. The intention of keeping the thing a secret is asserted again. But Cassandra must be prepared — and underneath I feel her delight.

I’ve not seen a first edition so cannot recognize the great blunder nor does LeFaye give us any help on that. Has anyone found that Sutherland indicates in her book Textual Lives?

Turning in both letters, to everything else: again Letter 79 first:

2011 had a creditable imitation of charades (Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary)

I’ve covered Jane’s relief that Cassandra has the parcel she, Jane, has sent “by J. Bond on Wednesday Evening. She will be ready therefore for Jane’s letter on Sunday. (This is unexplained). But in the meantime she cannot wait, she must write “today”.

Cassandra’s parcel has arrived, it was very good of her to write at the same time “but I shall not be so much your debtor soon.”
And then we’re off and running on P&P and MP.

And at its close: she thanks Cassandra for her and the family’s charades, “admired … excessively” (perhaps she’s ironic here):

The others seem very difficult. There is so much beauty in the Versification however, that the finding them out is but a secondary pleasure. —

The others nowhere as good of course. Too hard. It must be admitted Jane lays it on rather thick. They are printed in The Poetry of JA and Family as well as the Cambridge edition of the later Manuscripts. Some examples:


Should you chance to suffer thirst
Turn my second to my first
My whole is in the garden dug
And may be fairly called a drug

My 1st is a hindrance, my 2d a snare
With nothing between them I boldly declare;
My whole is a title, sometimes the reward
Of Value, or Science, but it is not a Lord.

Francis’s seems kinder, less self- and male-oriented than his brothers’:

By my 1st you may travel with safety & speed
Though many dislike the conveyance indeed.
My 2d no woman can well be
My whole takes a change several times in each year
Hot, & cold, wet & dry, benignant severe
What am I, fair Lady, pray tell me

Charade (Charles John Austen)

Without me divided, fair ladies I ween
At a ball or a concert you’ll never be seen
You must do me together or safely I’d swear
Whatever your carriage you’d never get there

Charade (Henry Thomas Austen)

I with a Housemaid once was curst
Whose name when shortened makes my first;
She an ill natured Jade was reckoned
And in the house oft raised my second
My whole stands high in lists of fame
Exalting e’en great Chatham’s name.

Henry’s is downright misogynistic. I’m bad at riddles; anyone want to try.

Jane utters a wonderfully felt line about Cassandra’s “feeling feet:”

–I grant you that this is a cold day, & am sorry to think how cold you will be through the process of your visit at Manydown. I hope you will wear your China Crape. Poor wretch! I can see you shivering away, with your miserable feeling feet. —

She is sorry for Cassandra’s disappointment: freezing cold feet, wet, even the china crape won’t help and now Mr Digwood instead of coming to Steventon is having a dinner party over at Manydown on Tuesday (no feel about this Tuesday that’s particular)

What a vile Character M’ Digweed turns out, quite beyond anything & every thing; — instead of going to Steventon they are to have a Dinnerparty next tuesday

She moves by association and this change of venue reminds her of a dinner she could not eat a thing at. As i said, I suggest she was too excited.

I am sorry to say that I could not eat a Mincepie at M’ Papillon’s; I was rather head-achey that day, & Cd not venture on anything sweet except Jelly; but that was excellent. — There were no stewed pears, but Miss Benn had some almonds & raisins.-By the bye, she desired to be kindly remembered to you when I wrote last, & I forgot it. —

I’m glad to see Jane again remembering to send the maid’s good wishes, but Cassandra not willing to let us iknow what else Jane said about this maid. Too frank?

Betsy sends her Duty to you & hopes you are well, & her Love to Miss Caroline & hopes she has got rid of her Cough. It was such a pleasure to her to think her Oranges were so well timed, that I dare say she was rather glad to hear of the Cough … [end of p. 2; second leaf of letter missing; postscript upside down at top of p. 1]

And then a return to parcels. Mrs Digweed, her sister, Miss Benn: Mrs D pleased thanks everyone and “Miss Lloyd” (Martha), but (to coin a phrase from another letter, Martha knows a thing or two about that (its sincerity, its worth).

Success does not make Austen any less caustic when it comes to hypocritical effusions.


Olivia Williams as Jane Austen later in life re-enacting memories in a landscape (2009 Miss Austen Regrets, scipted Gwyneth Hughes)

And Letter 80’s 2nd half is as much in Jane’s tune: four full lines on Martha, the opening section is, but then there are two sections as long and there is an indication that a great lop was cut away. She is calmer, not as triumphant and the tone is nicer.

So after P&P the sorrow for Cassandra’s disappointment (not getting to Manydown), followed by Austen is asserting (contrary to Cassandra?) that she “must miss Martha.” And then a line which could be ironic (she “must have been growing anxious [to be] in scenes of agitation and exertion” except that the following lines are redolent of some nostalgic memories of walking with her again:

As far as one may venture to judge at a distance of 20 miles you must miss Martha. For her sake I was glad to hear of her going, as I suppose she must have been growing anxious, & wanting to be again in scenes of agitation & exertion. — She had a lovely day for her journey. I walked to Alton, & dirt excepted, found it delightful, — it seemed like an old Feb come back again.

A happy time with Martha walking now gone forever, is recreated for her for a moment..

The nostalgic piece over, Jane says by walking to Alton (where Henry had a business and had thought himself to set his mother and sisters up), Jane avoids a bunch of people her “was glad to see & I very glad to escape.”

Jane’s tune. Back in form.

Miss Benn has hopes of avoiding Southampton even if John M’s father settles there. (Remember those stinking fish … ) The Miss Williams need not worry: Miss Beckford has no thought of inviting them to Chawton.

“Well done you.” Diana says that is Austen congratulating herself. What on, Diana?

When the letter opened, Austen commiserated with Cassandra for not going on to Manydowne, now the thought comes of her there in her China Crape (mourning?): I really don’t get this wry satire: Cassandra is either imagined in a kitchen at Steventon or Manydown in brown bombasine. The sense is either Cassandra is well rid of going there? or pictured as happy bustling about.

Behind the next phrase perhaps memories of the shocking news the usual that S&S opens up with (see my comment comparing how little we have of Austen’s reaction to the publication of S&S and how much to the publication of P&P): a family member expected to leave money betrayed his son and now the guy can never marry; nothing left for widow, sisters. So (at any rate) “no danger of poor Mrs H being persuaded to come to Chawton at present.”

This may not be ironic; perhaps Austen really is thinking another single impoverished woman would be no trouble. I doubt it.

MT is again Anna’s suitor, Michael Terry, and Austen is glad he will dine as this will enable Cassandra “to be more decided with Fanny & help to settle her faith.” LeFaye thinks this is about religion, but the role of Terry here was not religious advisor but rather unwanted suitor. I think Jane is saying that if Fanny is wavering and liking him (that’s what Margaret Wilson says in her Another Sister on Fanny Austen Knight) when she sees him, she will take Cassandra and Jane’s view (look askance, and believe them this is an unacceptable match).

I wonder why these people never think for a moment that Anna broke off with Terry not because she was fickle, unstable and the rest of it, but because she saw how opposed they were and tired of bucking them. She saw they could and were well ruining the relationship at the outset.

Browning is quite a new Broom & at present has no fault. He had lost some of his knowledge of waiting, & is I think rather slow; but he is not noisy & not at all above being taught.- The Back gate is regularly locked. — I did not forget Henry’s fee to Thomas.–

Then about the servants: a rehired servant: lost some of the repression and is slow but then not noisy and submissive. Back door locked. She gave the money Henry left for Thomas to Thomas for some specific extra task Thomas did — good they didn’t get him to do it for nothing.

Finally, Henry has her letter and she has his, Edward was right about that Copies of something (I suppose)P&P were went to Steventon and Porrsmouth at the same time. So not to worry that Frank will be hurt. Edward thinking of going to Adlestrop — where the Leighs (remember them, those who got a big sum) live — and Cassandra chops away just as something interesting (about money, relatives fierce of over this) about to be said. After all Austen had not see a dime from P&P as yet.

Olivia Williams as Austen returning home to Chawton in 1813 (2009 Miss Austen Regrets)


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A poor reproduction of a young Eliza, but the only one extant: in one letter she says she has had the small pox and thus the pock mock on her forehead from chicken pox will not matter so this was drawn at least before that

By contrast, an effective likeness of an aging worn Henry Austen — when he had become a grave clergyman — but there is a family likeness between them

Dear friends and reader,

Now that I’ve retired from teaching I have time to read the background documents to Jane Austen’s letters that I had not yet read and reread those I have read but either forgotten or not taken sufficient notes on. I decided to begin with Henry, Jane’s fourth brother (1771-1850), and her and his cousin and then wife and sister-in-law, Eliza Austen (1760-1813). It’s not clear to me that Henry was Jane’s “favorite brother:” Jane uses the word “favorite” of Charles as a younger brother, and no letters to Henry have survived, while a few to Frank have and we know of three packets destroyed. Henry is partly glimpsed (aspects of him) in the less than ideal Henry Crawford and teacher-ly Henry Tilney. But it was Henry who was responsible for the publication of her books; he and Eliza together provided the enabling — encouragement, place, contacts. And he wrote the first life. I also had read enough to know that despite the large distance in age, Eliza and Jane became close, liked one another: Jane was there with Eliza when Eliza died.

I’d recently reread one of the best biographies of Jane; by Claire Tomalin, it contains a candid insightful sketch of Eliza; today’s blog is an account of Deirdre LeFaye’s slender book on Eliza, composed largely of letters by Eliza, interpersed with LeFaye’s minimal commentary; Michel Devert’s article in French on the land, houses, and life of Jean-Francois de Capot de Feuillide, Eliza’s first husband; 5 articles on the three phases of Henry’s life; and Winifred Watson’s monograph, Jane Austen in London. For a list of the sources of this blog see comments.

This is the first of a two part biographical sketch: Part 2 will include a portrait of Henry and his oldest brother, James.

Born 1760 — Eliza Austen (her mother’s name eventually became hers legally).

Eliza’s mother, Philadelphia Austen Hancock (1730-92), and Philadelphia’s brother, her uncle, George Austen (1731-1805, who functioned as a father surrogate she respected and could depend upon)

LeFaye’s JA’s Outlandish Cousin is (as I expected) insistently shaped from the viewpoint of a “advocate of the [Austen] family,” especially their respectability (see Donald Reiman on editors). So of course against all the documents she herself presents she insists Warren Hastings was not Eliza’s biological father. This stubborn obtuseness skews much of her early commentary and dictates her choice to include every note Hancock wrote to Philadelphia Austen — when she could have chosen other letters by other people connected to Eliza later in life and does not. She omits Henry Austen’s embarrassingly sycophantic letter to Hastings shortly after marrying Eliza. What she does with the letters is make a book which exemplifies the Austen family view of Eliza as not quite acceptable because something was askew in her character, when the real obstacle was their discomfort with her birth and mother’s behavior.

So as you read you must continually correct for this advocacy and point of view, for example, notice all the times that Eliza visits or stays with a friend Hastings in the UK or say a crossing out or missing phrase in a letter by Philadelphia Walter next to a mention of Hastings or visit. See how the titles of LeFaye’s chapters skew what’s there and how her divisions obscure or re-direct realities.

In short, a biography is still needed. There is a core of documents which could be used and I base my sketch on. Eliza left 46 letters, 36 to her cousin, Philadelphia Walter, a strict censorious presence combined with a refusal to act in plays at Steventon may have provided part of the character of Fanny Price; 6 to her trustee, Mr Woodman, Hastings’s brother-in-law and and the man who controlled Eliza’s money (and successfully kept the 10,000£ dowry from Feuillide), and 4 to Warren Hastings, in the last of which (1809, a sort of “valedictory” letter) Eliza sends him a home-made loving cup to remember her by (pp. 164-65, 175)

Warren Hastings (1732-181), as younger man in India

The portrait of Eliza that emerges is of someone not outlandish or rackety (LeFaye’s terms, taken from the family’s discomfort with any hint of demi-monde status). Eliza livds a very conventional life for an Anglo-Indian, and then Frenchified daughter, clinging to her (basically single) mother, pathetic in this since the mother was a bad advisor, poor arranger, incompetent — ever losing things, choosing to stay in places which even she doesn’t like; but Philadelphia never deserted, was never parted from this child who she meant intensely well by her. When young and in Paris, Eliza is naive and all ga-ga bout glamor, aristocracy, and Antoinette (these letters have been much quoted), but she changes into a considerably sobered woman who tries to hold firm to her independence after she returns from a stay in her first husband’s ancient home (in a lonely bleak marsh). She has learnt what she does not prefer for a life, and she remains devoted to her severely disabled son until his death after which she does not move about, is content to live with and visit her Austen relatives, and keep in contact with her Hastings connections, Hastings himself, and her French emigre friends.


Wm Hodges, A View of Calcutta from Fort William (1781)

The first phase of Eliza’s existence is of course her birth, the first years living in India, and journey back to the UK with Hastings, Hancock and Philadelphia for which they had hoped they had made enough to stay or could turn into enough to stay. They had not and could not so the men returned. What documentation there is consists of letters and documents about Calcutta at the time, documents and records of business dealings of the men, of George and Cassandra’s life at Steventon as it intersects slightly: Hastings’s young son by his first wife, left with them while Hastings was still in the UK, died of dyptheria; LeFaye omits this while Tomalin makes good use of Eliza’s comment to Philly Walter: “mental & bodily suffering are ever closely connected”. The Austens would never have neglected this important charge, but this is a child w/o a mother, sent away by a father across the world to live in a packed busy household (Tomalin, p 22).

There is Jane Austen’s early frank sketch in her Catherine, or the Bower, which all who have studied the papers and events acnknowledge to be about Eliza’s mother’s marrriage:

The eldest daughter of one had been obliged to accept the offer of one of her cousins to equip her for the East Indies, and tho’ infinitely against her inclinations had been necessitated to embrace the only possibility that was offered to her, of a Maintenance; Yet it was one, so opposite to all her ideas of Propriety, so contrary to her Wishes, repugnant to her feelings, that she would almost have preferred Servitude to it, had Choice been allowed he. Her personal Attractions had gained her a husband as soon as she had arrived at Bengal, and she had now been married nearly a twelve month. Splendidly, yet unhappily married. United to a Man of double her own age, whose disposition was not amiable, and whose Manners were unpleasing, though his Character was respectable.

And there is the Anglo-Indian gossip (disdained by LeFaye as it acknowledges Hastings and Philadelphia’s affair) which is frank about Philadelphia having become Hastings’s mistress, and Hancock’s letters to his wife once he returns, leaving her (with considerable relief) behind in Europe for good.

It’s the surface content of Hancock’s irascible, irritated letters from India to Philadelphia that LeFaye relies on (pp. 23-39) to tell of us Eliza when young. LeFaye fills her the first part of her book with Hancock’s attempts to control the behavior of Philadelphia, his wife who once she rid herself of him physically seems to have ignored him as much as she dared. He therefore talks obsessively of the daughter, Betsy and the education which was the ostensible reason for the separation: it was to lead to high marriage which becomes in his mind the thing he is enduring his misery for. He does not trust his wife to do what she has promised and each of her letters seems to dissatisfy him yet more: he nags her to bring the girl up to be a lady (what will he leave behind but what status this girl can garner if she can catch the right husband?); Betsy shall not “interrupt her studies” in a way Philadelphia was apparently condoning (p. 24). He explains that Philadelphia’s presents to him are absurdly inappropriate. She overspends; but when will Betsy have a horse? (!) Once when Hastings was returning to India and Philadelphia then wanted to return too (a juxtaposition LeFaye misses), Hancock bursts into wrath and forbids her to bring Betsy back: “such a Step would be highly improper,” and no “Argument” she can produce “will induce me to give my consent to the Introduction of my Daughter to so lewd a place” (p. 32). Repeatedly he says of Betsy to Hastings and his wife “I cannot say all I will upon this Subject,” his wife is to keep silent about the enormous dowry from Hastings, and he tells Hastings that he knows he can depend on Hastings to “provide” for her. His distrustful non-gratified bitterness was ceaseless.

A striking moment is provided Hancock’s (disingenuous?) explanation for why he did not send Betsy a presumably expensive fancy-bred cat which perhaps the little girl wanted (a love of cats?) and Warren Hastings (with his wealth) had bought for her: “The Governor, your Godfather, desired me to send a very fine white Persian Cat of mine to you as a present from him, which I would have done with pleasure,” but the unlucky animal had been shot dead, Hancock suggests by someone who hated the agent (a man named Stanhope, Philadelphia’s cousin, described by Hancock in other letters to his wife, and mentioned in Eliza’s later letters). While Stanhope appears to have been a quarrelsome fool, it’s as probable the person’s preventing the cat from reaching the child got back at Hastings (for some neglect?) or Hancock (p. 37).


The next phase of Eliza’s life really begins before Hancock’s death (1776), though it is a year after this (1777) when Hastings’s trust fund for her of 600£ begins steadily; it’s this that provides their sole income. LeFaye chooses Hancock’s death as a terminus, and it is true that the nagging letters and whatever income Hancock could send ceased, and Philadelphia and Eliza seeing that the interest from Hastings’ gift would not allow them to live an upper class life in London moved to Europe (Germany, Belgium, Brussels), ending up in Paris.

But I suggest the second phase of Eliza’s life begins with the long period of basically unsettled life where her mother was in charge. The years with her mother. Their movements back and forth, life together with their maid (Clarinda) from England to France between 1769 and 1792 is of a piece and it ends with her mother’s agonizing death. From 1792 the mother is not in charge and Eliza behaves differently. Eliza is alone and looks for stability to her father through his agents Woodman and her uncle, George (administering the trust fund), through his friends, the Burrells (whom she moves near as well as near Woodman) and finally to her uncle George Austen’s family: “Often do I sit and trace her Features in his, till my Heart overflows at my Eyes. I always tenderly loved my Uncle, but I think he is now dearer to me than ever” (p. 116).

For the very earliest phase, from 1769 we are seeing these women move around southern England where the mother’s relatives live, and can glimpse a pretty and bright child who will write down the dutiful words she is bidden. Then in March 1780 there is a long abject letter from Philadephia to Hastings (“to whom can I apply but you?”) asking for needed information about money: she is nagged by someone whose money Hancock has lost; is there anything secured for her faithful servant Clarinda (who has had a series of operations, she cannot resist of course telling him of Eliza at its close (pp. 42-44). Mr Woodman then acted, found out where the women were, and after this becomes the responsible agent. They arrive in Paris and as of May 1780 Eliza’s letters to her cousin, Philadelphia begin (p. 45).

This phase includes the next year and one half of hobnobbing in “le monde,” sight-seeing, balls. This ends before 1781 with Eliza’s marriage to Feuillide, first announced in the extant documents by Woodman to Hastings: Philadelphia wanted Woodman to give up her income to Feuillide (p. 51), “Mr Austen was much concerned,” & doesn’t approve. They (? Feuillide and perhaps Lambert) seem “already desirous of draining the Mother of every Shilling she has.” Devert’s article quotes local French gossip that Feuillide married Eliza to get his hands on Hastings’s money: “Il epousa une Anglaise, Miss Hancock, qui … appartenait a la famille du fameux lord Hastings, ancien governour de l’Inde. Elle etait, disait-il toujours, immensement riche (p. 336).

Lefaye does not notice the importance of another man in Philadelphia’s life, “le chevalier de Lambert,” who probably introduced Feuillide (as a count?), and whose father was a French citizen. Tomalin thinks that Lambert was the other “advisor” who pushed Eliza into the marriage. He was related to the Feuillides, and his heirs were still trying to do business with (get money out of) Henry long after Eliza’s death. Like Hastings, Lambert dropped Philadelphia after a brief time (Tomalin, pp 51-53)

Eliza’s one reference to the wedding occurs in a 1792 letter: “I never was but at one Wedding in my Life and that appeared a very stupid Business to me” (p. 117)

A house in Le Marais, owned Feuillide’s family; see also a glamorized photo of the chateau)

Eliza & Philadelphia did endure life at Marais and with a mother-in-law from May 1784 to May 1786; Eliza mentions her mother-in-law. Devert shows it to be have a bleak swampy place. This period included at least one miscarriage (p. 67). Then Eliza and her mother leave for England (later Feuillide joins them): the aim was to try to have the son born on English soil. In the event Hastings (named after his grandfather), was premature. Then we watch Feuillide’s movements back to France, a last return to England, with a final departure in 1792. And after this Eliza has another miscarriage. This “accident” (referred to by Eliza in 1792) was brought on or accompanied with high fever, violent headache, thought to be chicken pox. It’s here she assures Philly she is none the worse for the wear, “not much more frightful than I was before” because she has marks of small pox. Two years after this (1794) Feuillide ended up beheaded (he had enraged the peasantry around his land by his attempts to deprive them of long-standing common rights on the land, p 121).

With his departure Eliza did not settle down to Steventon permanently despite her praising it (p. 116-17), for by 1794 we find her with friends, the Egertons who live not far from Warren Hastings, to whom she writes in a letter, as it were, to let him know she’s there (pp. 122-23).


Manchester Square, London, 1790s (the Wallace Collection is now there)

LeFaye wants us to see Eliza as an independent widow as a cheerful flirt, so Lefaye sums up this time by a sentence in one of her letters where she says of a place there are “a reasonable quantity of beaux” here. This is more than subtly wrong. It does an injustice to Eliza as a person & writer. Her letters show her to have become a very kindly, strong, deep feeling and thoughtful woman.

Eliza’s letters suggest an 18 month collapse (p. 122) after her mother’s death, and when she begins to write to Philly again, she is again an anxious woman in need of Philly’s companionship: she turns to Philly as someone she has known and trusts. She goes about intensely seriously to get Philly to come and stay with her (making elaborate travel arrangements of the sort anyone who has read Austen’s letters will find familiar). She then moves to Manchester Square where French emigres had set up a small colony, courageously aware she is showing symptoms of the same disease (cancer) her mother died of (pp. 127-29), and making a jest of it.

Most of all she is ever caring for her son, the center of her existence, continually by her side. She will leave him only with Mme Bigeon whom “I consider as more than myself in everything that relates to him” (p. 147) Not for Eliza the cruelty of Philly’s “I’m afraid he is already quite an idiot” (p. 125). She does not give up and we see him respond:

He is putting the Map of England together and sticks Kent close to Durham, because he says his two best friends live in those counties [Hastings family was there] — Have I told you that I have begun teaching him to write and that he regularly comes to school to me every day, for that & French & English reading, you would laugh to see how grave we both are on these occasions (pp. 135-36)

She is lively and likes to enjoy herself and tease. We see her affection for her latest pug dog (she consults a doctor and administers the prescription, p 133); she visits Tunbridge Wells, in London goes to the theater and brings up gossip about plays and player. Her letters worry over Philly’s relationships, a reluctant suitor (DBB), Philly’s narrow life, some of this supplies occasions for her to talk of her own predilection for a single independent life:

I now that your happy Temper together with the consciousness of fulfilling the the most sacred of all Duties [care for a parent] support You under every sacrifice and enable you to submit to Confinement & Seclusion with a degree of Philosophy which few at your Age (I won’t say Sex for I think we beat the other at Self Denial) could arrive at (p. 141)

And there are passages which may be interpreted as about her relationship with James and/or Henry Austen:

I am glad to find you have made up your mind to visiting the Rectory, but at the same time, and in spite of all your conjectures and belief, I do assert that the Preliminaries are so far from settled that I do not believe the parties will ever come together, not that they have quarrelled, but one of them cannot make up her mind to give up liberty, and yet dearer Flirtation (p. 132; see also p. 134 and where “Captain Austen “is right for he certainly is not so fit for a parson as a Soldier, p 139)

Matrimony is little to her taste (p. 132)

It is her words about Jane Austen’s letter to her about the death of Cassandra’s suitor that are usually quoted: “Jane says her Sister behaves with a degree of resolution & Propriety which no common mind could evince in such a trying situation” (p. 138). Her talk about flirting is form of playacting: her “one conquest” is someone who has 30 and 40,000 a year but also a wife (p 146)

The letters also show her working towards getting the trust funds to be turned over to herself to care for. Her problem is she must approach Hastings indirectly, through intermediaries. So she receives poems from Lady Burrell (his friend) showing she kept up that confidential relationship (p. 130), visits Cheltenham “on business” (pp. 146, 147). A series of letters to Mr Woodman and his notes in reply are quoted (pp. 140-41, 143-44), and then she goes to an inland spa (instead of Brighton), to be “in the neighborhood of my old Friends the Hastings (p. 146). She does eventually win control (p. 144)

This five year phase of her life ends with the marriage to Henry announced in a letter to Hastings — a liking had grown up between them from their first acquaintance.


Henry and Eliza on their wedding day as represented in Becoming Jane (2009): the actors look far too young

To emphasize Philly’s half-jealous assessment that Eliza lives “in quite a style” (what LeFaye does in her title) as what we should remember about these years mis-frames them.

Among what is missed by LeFaye, not emphasized, is Eliza proceeds to leads a life somewhat apart from Henry and yet sticks close by him, watches anxiously what he is doing (worried about him) and repeats his views. This even though in her first letter after her marriage to Philly she says (what she did after marrying Feuillide), that she will remain her own mistress and is not passionately involved, yet there follows the same apologized-for silence. Army life is the excuse for the first separation (7 months with 2 more to go, p 157), and once again once they get to London, they are apart. He goes to his banking businesses located in places outside London; he frequently travels to Godmersham, all the while knowing (what is obvious to a reader) that his wife is not liked there. He goes anyway. After one of Eliza’s rare visits Fanny Knight is glad she is gone: perhaps Fanny resented Eliza as Fanny’s mother had Jane — too clever? too full of herself (they would assume?). Anna’s daughter mentions how Mary Lloyd kept up her intense resentment over James’s once liking Eliza so it was Eliza whose “amiableness” was responsible for the Anna Austen (later Lefroy) coming to London to stay with Henry and Eliza and whatever pleasure she got out of it (p. 169).

At one point Eliza insists she prefers her books and pianoforte to society (p. 157). It seems to me no coincidence that after three weeks after death of her boy (autumn 1801), she writes her last letter to Philly (pp. 157-61); at its close we learn Henry is not at home and she will not stay at Godmersham more than a fortnight. For the rest from what we can see from Jane’s letters she turns to her French emigre friends and stays within the Austen family for summer trips. Her life in this last 15 years seen through her letters also shows her deepening relationship with her young sister-in-law Jane: over the previous series (1792-97) I counted two letters from Jane, now more are mentioned casually, there’s Jane’s coming to London to publish her books, and Eliza helping with proofs, and then Jane there to be with her while she lies dying.

An itinerary of yet more residence and transience: in July/August 1802 Henry and Eliza with a friend, Mrs Marriot go to France to see if they can wrest some property at La Marais; they fail; Henry had left earlier so Eliza and Mrs Marriot were part of those who had literally to escape exile after the sudden cessation of the Peace of Amiens (pp. 162-63). Spring 1804 they leave Upper Berkeley Street to live at 16, St Michael’s Place, Brompton (where Hastings calls on them in March & May 1806); a summer holiday with the 4 Austens (George, the two Cassandras, Jane) along the coast of Devon/Dorset. Summer 1809 Henry & Eliza move to larger house in Sloane Street (Chelsea), & both visit Godmersham during process; Fanny Knight finds it boring, but Jane Austen there to correct proofs, attends a party where she is clearly much entertained and provides a rare pen-portrait of the place and life (pp. 167-9).

Eliza’s fatal illness emerges between autumn 1811 & spring 1812. Letters by Fanny Knight register Eliza’s worsening (Henry keeps up his visits to Godmersham), and in April 1813 one of the Knight sons (Fanny’s brother) escorted Jane Austen to Sloane Street; on April 13th Fanny recorded Eliza’s hard death (“a very bad account”) “on Saturday night” (p. 171). When Henry visited Hastings that autumn, Hastings pretended not to remember Eliza; LeFaye says Jane sounds shocked in her letter about this: “Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree” (p. 173). Doubtless Hastings feared his second de facto son-in-law was in want of funds too.

Let Henry’s epitaph be the last words here: “a woman of brilliant generous and cultivated mind just disinterested and charitable.”


P.S. As this blog is long enough I’ll write of Henry in a Part Two.

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We have drank tea & I have torn through the 3rd vol of the Heroine, & do not think it falls off. — It is a delightful burlesque on the Radcliffe style — Austen, Wed-Thurs, 2-3 March 1814

Emma’s first sight of Harriet (Samantha Morton), innocent country girl (1995 BBC/WBGH Emma)

Emma’s first dream: Harriet, erotically enthralled with Mr Elton (Dominic Rowan) above her in status (due to Emma’s encouragement)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just finished reading a burlesque of romance by Eaton Stannard Barrett, The Heroine, published in 1813. While I’ve seen it identified as a central source for Emma (in Margaret Kirkham’s Jane Austen: Feminism and Fiction), I’ve also noticed that it is not always mentioned in editions of Emma and when it is, kept brief. Since it’s a deeply conservative, nay reactionary text in the tradition of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (as pointed out by Gary Kelly among others), its importance in understanding how Austen meant her text to be read (against what context) needs to reiterated.

Most immediately striking is an incident early in the book which is only resolved at its end when Cherry Wilkinson (our heroine) recognizes how wrong, deluded, and harmful has been her behavior: the story anticipates that of Harriet Smith, down to the use of a letter written by Cherry/Emma in an attempt permanently to part an innocent and poor country girl, Mary, from William, a suitable male in love with her and eager to marry her.

When Cherry encounters the happy a village girl, Mary, anticipating her marriage to a young kind farmer, William, in order to inject the necessary misery & melancholy into Mary’s life — so essential for the lives of heroines and women with any self-respect — Cherry pretends she has a suitor she wants to get rid of, concocts a letter to him, and then with the most transparent of excuses (that her relationship with this man is not approved of), she has Mary copy it out and sign it. The story makes no sense — why would this William accept a letter from Mary dismissing him. Mary would have to be an idiot — and in fact long ago Elizabeth Jenkins recognized that were we to take Harriet really seriously she’d be an imbecile. Mary then sends this to William, devastating William, and leading him (out of jealousy) to break off the match. She teaches Mary to think herself well rid of him, but we know that Mary has lost her best chance at happiness. (pp. 157ff)

Cherry’s behavior is not just malicious, snobbish, callous, it’s a means by which Barrett is enabled to present the miseries of romances as something concocted by silly women or unscrupulous men for silly women. Consistently Barrett reveals he has no understanding of the serious function of such books in the psychological life of women as lived in western patriarchal society.

At the book’s Cherry is awakened to her gross errors, her pride, her wrong idea she can run her life and her desires to be this active heroine doing daring deeds; in moments that are very like (though more crudely written) Emma’s, Elizabeth’s, Marianne’s, she is inwardly harrowed, humiliated, her pride mortified and admits to herself what damage she’s done and was doing — and hands herself over to a worthy heroine who has rescued and protected her, Edward Stuart (very much a Mr Knightley figure). We have a scene like Lennox’s The Female Quixote where a clergyman is dragged in to have her talk like Marianne religiously. Cherry must go back and rejoin Mary and William whose lives she came near ruining. She must admit where is the aslyum where she cruelly deposited her aging father as a manma is and release him from months of suffering. Since this all is done partly parodically it releases us from really blaming Cheery as we only partly believe it. And she did not mean any harm …

As will be seen, the parallels do not stop there. I mentioned Cherry’s aging father, Mr Wilkinson, stashed away with an obtuse jailer whom Cherry tricks into taking in, tying down and (whether mistakenly or not) mistreating him in the way mad people could be in the era. Cherry is now free from whatever control the old man exerted. Gradually her good suitor, Edward Stuart (intended by her father for a wise stable husband) begins to be aware of how Cherry has been perverted by her books, and he spends much of the book turning up in the nick of time rescue her from the results of others preying on her again and again.

Stuart is a version of Mr Knightley. He is sensible and what’s more what happens is we begin to see Cherry likes and respects him. They share the same sense of humor, at times they seem to be on the same wave length. In a rare moment of common sense and prophetic dream Cherry wishes she could marry Stuart and dreams of how pleasant life would be with him (pp. 118, 125). She also sees an old man with another child and half-admits her father is her father (a rare moment) worries over Mr Wilkinson.

Opening of 2009 Emma: Emma (Romola Garai) absorbed with Mr Knightley (Jonny Lee Miller) watching over her

A childlike explanation and his male patience

Here we have Mr Knightley, Emma and Mr Woodhouse. Movies can give us insight into books – -they are forms of reading the books. I can see Johnny Lee Miller in the role of Edward Stuart in just the way he plays Mr Knightley (in the 2009 Emma) and where we are told he can make Cherry laugh and laugh brings to mind how in 1972 Emma that happens (John Carson and Doran Goodwin) — the others don’t show how M K and Emma share a sense of humor: Davies gives his Emma too much intelligence, gravity, and the movie with Gweneth Paltrow turns Emma into a romance heroine. The actress where the conception is closest to Cherry is the way Romola Garai is directed to act as really innocent, sweet, even loving (not the way Emma is presented in 1972 where she’s neurotic or 1995 where she’s arrogant)

His plot-design imitates Cervantes’s Don Quixote from beginning to end. Again and again Cherry meets bad or dire situations and misunderstands them completely in terms of her idealistic romance reading; hence she is often in danger — Like Quixote she tilts at versions of windmills. He shows the real world of London now and again, and has believable enough characters.
Predatory males are after Cherry: continually deluding and trying abduct, rape, marry Cherry to get her inheritance, until she is saved by Stuart.


1972 Emma scripted Denis Constanduros): Emma (Doran Goodwin) tells her father (Donald Eccles) she is going to marry Mr Knightley

The book is not the only source for Emma: Kirkham makes the argument that Charles Dibdin’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Reconciliation as The Birth-day is another direct sources for Austen’s Emma and if so, there were possibly early drafts of Emma in the early days of Austen coming to live in Bath or perhaps still at Steventon. The letter all such argument hinge on (Gay seems to accede in her book on JA and Drama as does Paula Byrne) is a letter by Austen written from Bath in 1799, the visit taken because Edward was feeling (psychologically probably) ill; a single line where Austen does not even mention the name of the play, Wed 19 June 1799: “The play on Saturday is I hope to conclude our Gaieties here.” That’s it; if scholars hadn’t studied assiduously what plays were played in the Bath theater that day we’d never have made the connection. Byrne produces a playbill from 1803 and of course the Austens were in Bath then, so (for Byrne) that clinches the connection again.

I’ve read the play and have to admit there are parallels, especially in language — about how the Mr Knightley character (Harry) is prepared to live with the sweet heroine, Emma Bertram (her name is striking) so as to allow her to marry and not desert her weak aging father, one of two elderly brothers who have long feuded over a piece of land. Harry’s benevolence of character is important, one servant’s name is William. I did ask myself though was I looking for parallels because they had been put before me.
It does have the housekeeper who is one of the two brother’s mistress — this seems to have been almost usual, so common as to be assumed. And she has a lover in the live-in-lawyer that advises this other elderly brother.

What’s really of interest is Austen’s attitude towards Kotzebue because if there is an allusion or use (and it’s nowhere as central as Lovers’ Vows to Mansfield Park), what did she think of him. Modern critics are divided, except to say most of his plays are utterly unplayable, filled with sentimental absurdities. Yet in his time he was seen as radical, immoral, a Jacobin. How can this be? Well the plays do expose the miseries and treacheries of family life, and especially in the one that held the English stage for much of the 19th century, The Stranger how blood is not thicker than water, shame and money are. There a woman and man are turned off, turned out for life because they sexually transgressed, the man turning into a misanthrope.

Perhaps it was thought immoral to really reveal how family members treated one anther in intimate life and yet people in Europe went in droves. It was one place where whatever happened to them could be seen, validated, and cured — with the sentimental endings.

Kirkham insists that Austen despised Kotzebue — through Lovers Vows. I disagree; I think the scene in the novel between Edmund and Mary that is played and is about marrying for love is seen by Austen as serious and beautiful. It’s hard to know how she felt about the incestuous love of Frederick and his mother, but presumably like the audience at the time she was prepared to pretend it was not there and instead see the scene as transgressive sex.

Emma reassuring her father, Mr Woodhouse (Michael Gambon) — they are a particularly touching pair in this film

I tried to imagine Austen reading or watching The Reconciliation in 1803 and there I did see something neither Kirkham or Byrne, or Gay brings up: that in that year Mr Austen was probably failing. He was a weak aging man. It seems to me a fantasy element of wish fulfillment in Austen could be to imagine herself as Emma taking care of Mr Austen. Many details about this aging man’s dependence on his family are found in Dibdin and I suspect are presented more movingly in the original German.

Miss Taylor and Mr Weston turned into high school teachers in 1996 Clueless: a permutation which does not lose the paradigm of reconcilation, resignation

On Dibdin and his play itself: it’s a thin piece where the exposure of the wicked cunning housekeeper is so swift and easy, one wonders why it was not done before. It might be the adaptation has eliminated all depth from the original. The change of title signals how transformed the text is. Dibdin’s play emphasizes how the birthday of Emma’s father and his brother leads to their reconciliation. Inchbald coarsened Lovers Vows considerably; I’ve read Benjamin Thompson’s translation and it actually makes of Kotzebue an intelligent play in some ways — with intricate thought and tensions and moving depths at moments. There’s more than one long scholarly analysis of Sheridan’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Pizarro — a play about post-colonialism I suppose — which finds in that matter of interest, these family colonalizers (the Austens were that) who felt forced to be coopted by their needs to aggrandize themselves or just live by working for these powerful in gov’ts taking over other people’s lands and wealth. Smith deals with this in Ethelinde and her hero, like Austens’ Edmund, does not want to serve immorally and himself become degraded that way.


Barrett’s text is of much more interest for itself. At times, especially in the prologue and earlier parts of the book, it’s genuinely funny, at moments post-modern.

We begin with an anonymous writer is a character now living on the moon where all characters in books go from the moment the manuscript is finished until such time as the book is no longer read. Real living people have ghostly representatives there too as long as they are writers and thus appear in books.

So, authors, you need not get your book into print. Austen’s Darcy and Elizabeth were on the moon from at least November 1796 on and are still there. Anonymous people (like Junius) are invisible.

Amanda Price finds Darcy in Austenland (Pemberley) (Lost in Austen, a post-modern adaptation, scripted by Guy Andrews, 2009)

The text is presented as a series of letters from Cherry to an unnamed correspondent and begins as a transparent parody of Pamela. The style is nothing like Radcliffe; the prose is simple and direct. These really could be renamed Chapters as there is little use of epistolarity, but the mode combined with the obvious caricatured presences does has the effect of ironic distance.

Cherry meets two male characters who tell their histories and these are told with feeling: the stories of the poet Higginson and the player Montmorenci are autobiographical depictions of Barrett reading. Barrett includes his own highly romantic verse, and he imitates Milton. We get Miltonic parodies 50 years late. No one was doing this by 1813. He is not just caricaturing women (Horner and Zlosnick in their article want to absolve Barrett from anti-feminism but the book is reactionary in more ways than this), he was repudiating his own love of Georgics, Virgil. He is making fun of what once allured him.

Barrett is enormously well-read in romance; my edition by Sadleir includes pages and pages of allusions from major (Goethe’s Werther) to minor and popular books (Children of the Abbey). If anything Radcliffe is a minor presence in his book; he may be thinking of her when he writes against “impassioned sensibility … exquisite art … depicting the delicate and affecting relations between the beauties of nature and the deep emotions of the soul” that seduce female readers sexually (“voluptuous languor”), but his text is far more like Walpole’s Otranto. Famous characters are brought on stage, from Grandison to Cecilia and no type of romance is exempt, including the more realistic like Austen’s. There’s a torn manuscript, but also battles of villagers very like those in Tom Jones. An exchange of brief billets imitates the opening of Rousseau’s Julie and again lest we miss it the author alludes to Eloise. Marmontel. Douglas’s Norval (the very passage Austen alludes to which was reprinted as bleeding hunks in anthologies), comes in for a mention.

As he proceeds more deeply he hits some central paradigms squarely: deep into the novel we meet the mother figure, of course tied down in a dungeon, but unlike the usual starvation, she has grown fat. The novel hits a surreal level with the grotesque portrait of this woman as a statue and seems to me like other gay-art I’ve seen in the Zombie Austen books (and at times Sondheim’s lyrics). The paradigm of the girl rescued by the young man is so endemic (p. 222 here, and in S&S, Romance of Forest, Ethelinde, Caroline de Lichtfield for starters) and is found in a hilarious central novel whose wackiness is spot on. “It was on a nocturnal night in autumnal October; the wet rain feel in liquid quantities, and the thunder rolled in an awful and Ossianly manner … ” “Wet!” exclaimed the fair unknown, wringing a rivulet of rain from the corner of her robe, “O ye gods, wet!”

It’s all held together by the conceit of Cherry as a Don Quixote half-mad person humored by all around her, partly protected because some believe her an heiress, partly protected by Stuart who (for example) tells the woman at whose house Cherry is staying that she is not well. She reads this inset novel in the room she is put into (rather like Catherine Morland is).

Austen’s books are as much sent up. The central heroine’s young man is Theodore de Willoughby. Theodore from Romance of the Forest or any number of novels, and Willoughby from S&S or Celestina or any number of novels. We have the classic scene of the girl enticed into the shrubbery and then run away with, pp 223- 224. I thought the moral of Clarissa might be: girls do not go into shrubberies, particularly at midnight She is here rescued by Stuart.

He keeps up a remarkable cleverness. It’s very hard to think up incidents in such a burlesque mode. Lennox has to turn Female Quixote into a courtship novel. The device is the Don Quixote one again and again: many of the people around Cherry are playing along, and she herself is half aware she is play-acting. When she tries to take over Lady Gwyn’s castle (as a comfortable one) and gets Jerry to round up local peasants and dresses them in absurd outfits with sticks and charges at Lady Gwyn, Lady Gwyn calls the local militia (what they were good for) and Cherry immediately decamps. Found back in the ruin with no food, no ceilings, no windows, she falls back on real money Jerry lends her; similarly the two predators, Betterton (rake) and Montmorenci (who turns out to be someone named Abraham Grundy) come to abduct her to somehow wrest the fortune they think she has and Barrett has them fall in and out of the unreal chivalric talk and their own sordid language and motives

There’s an interesting argument about how difficult it is to tell a historical figure from an imaginary one or history itself from romance, again showing a real interest in the topic. He’s at his best when he sees his book and characters as books, “how will it read?” is the important question to authors we are told.

Tory anti-Jacobin politics, a repressive stance on all issues is woven in too. The book is dedicated to Canning, an intelligent pro-war Tory, and Barrett’s other texts probably were also meant to help him find a place. At court Betterton who is the man seeking Cherry for her money and would rape her if he could rages at the judge as someone who “does dark deeds for an usurping oligarchy,” who “minister our vague and sanguinary laws … determines points of law without appeal, imprisons our persons without trial … breaks open our houses with a standing army.”

This is in fact precisely what the establishment was doing in the 1790s and when they had to in the first part of the 19th century and continues to do. Again if Austen did like this book she was liking conservative reactionary Toryism (p. 165) He connects novels of sentiment to then modern politics, to sentiment, to France and “its vicious refinement” Julie is a “criminal book” (p 350) — by speaking sentimentally and acting virtuously in the romance way you end up a victim or corrupt yourself. The tired arguments are trotted forth too: reading romance makes you unfit for real life (the way men want to live it), the woman is fed false ideal notions and needs antidotes like Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife, sermons (p 351) and most of all to follow the wisdom of her elders, fathers, in this book husband.

Again Lost in Austen, Darcy growing indignant at this public exposure of his family and himself: he does not much favor novels

For some complete citations, see comments.


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Sir Charles Pasley (1780-1861)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a high-spirited letter. S&S has been published, a success d’estime; in three days P&P will be announced and on sale; she is working on her final published version to come of MP. What more could she want? a dream come true.

Diana Birchall uses the word “jubilant” for one set of phrases and I agree she feeling strong; alas, though her big wins are not doing her generosity of spirit much good. This is a demented sort of jubilation: Austen triumphs in her books, but she has little to show for it: no companionship with the women she wanted, no money, no open reputation. In fact she has not gained anything tangible or in status. She’s still like a porcupine within, still sore. She is not living the life she wants but what that is she can’t say, thwarted at every turn as she’s been — except for these books for which she sacrificed time, energy, spent all within her that she had as she successively corrected and revived.

She is just determinedly cheerful in the opening paragraph. She slides over a lack of reciprocating letters from Cassandra or others. Usually the lack of a letter is rationale enough to justify a sense of hurt, loss, emptiness. On top of that it’s cold. And as if this weren’t enough, Cassandra is at the ambiguous Steventon. Yet “this is exactly the weather we should wish for …” If they have had no letter, they have an “excellent Stilton cheese and after Mr Digwood’s base usage (he didn’t come? didn’t write?) they have had Miss Benn (a source for Miss Bates).

She has been reading. She assumes we (like Cassandra) understand the political content of the books, and when we do know, her strongly stated preference is significant. Southam (see my blog on his JA and the Navy and her brother Frances) however made clear and it’s significant. Pasley was a deeply reactionary conservative politician whose book defended imperialism to where and to do what few were willing to go or do. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperialist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. the book ws a Society-Octavo (Alton book club had its own binding). Southey reviewed it and said it was the most important political document of the era.

Jane approves — because her brothers stand to make money? (Remember her flipancy about Sir John Moore’s defeat: how many dead, but how nice we know none of them.) Pasley kept at “expansionist politics” supported by “a certain easy ruthlessness,:” the English should enact “the ambition of
conquerors,” those who loved Burke loved this. Let us attack and destroy all our enemies” by force, take Buenos Aires as an operation.

Jane returns to this book repeatedly in this letter. She says she loves it as much as she ever did Clarkson (the abolitionist). Buchanan’s Christian Researches in Asia is also preferred. A proselytizing Evangelical Christianizer. The two Mr Smiths are parodists of contemporary (often romantic) poetry, the Rejected Addresses. From the aside to Mrs Digwood and their placement next to the flirting couple the content is about courtship: in each someone’s address is rejected.

She also sidelines Anne Grant’s Letters from the Mountains; she slyly insinuates she’d like to get rid of the book. I’m not a one woman fan club but I like Grant and find her criticism head and shoulders above Austen’s, she is romantic, but a thinking feeling tolerant one. Her poetry and stance of moderate conservatism fits Austen’s notions of reasonableness and tender feeling. Had Austen written but one passage of critical assessment like Grant’s we’d never hear the end of it. We can’t know what displeased Jane exactly and she knows she can’t attack frontally. Perhaps again she wants no peer.

LeFaye gives us no help on Mr White. Her mother is reading John Carr’s Travels in Spain from Miss B (he was a diplomat) to make sure she is literally accurate in MP. Tellingly for those who want the book to have general application outside the UK (outside what we’d call the Eurocentric), she does worry about a reference to the Government house at Gibraltar. Maybe we should pay attention to this detail as much as Fanny’s not getting any information about slavery in Antigua.

Austen does love to debunk so we get a lot about the parody of contemporary poets called Rejected Addresses by the Smiths. I wish I knew which poets were parodied and on what grounds. Not a peep on this from LeFaye. But the book and its courtship thme does serve to enable Jane to sneer at the Papillon’s niece Eleanor. Why does she come in for a shot? Austen often mocks the Papillon; one of them was suggested for a husband for her. Perhaps they were dim. At the opening of Miss Austen Regrets Gwyneth Hughes has Olivia Williams as Austen sending him up, quizzing him meanly.

I suggest the line “What she meant, poor Woman who shall say?” is a reference to a certain imbecility in understanding and that’s what leads her to talk of the Papillons. Austen doesn’t like Whist but certainly decamps hastily from playing rounds with this set. She did read Anne Grant for she remembers detail from a card party in Grant’s letters and says there were just as many for their round table as there were at some similar party in Grant’s letters.


Tax or spring cart (1903)

On Wednesday she went to a party with the Clements in their tax (or spring cart — you paid little taxes). A party on previous Wednesday to which she went with the Clements in a tax cart. It’s small and no doubt a declasse way to travel. She let them know it. “I would rather have walked, & no doubt they must have wished I had.”

So she didn’t bother to hide her disdain or make herself pleasant. and much preferred to ‘run home with my own dear Thomas” — luxury in comparison to the cart. No doubt the cart was lousy, bumpy and uncomfortable. but I find nothing to admire in her making the others know it. If she couldn’t really be polite, then walk there.

But of course that would have been even more socially low.

There were 11 there and one man who would have pleased her father. Whenever her father is brought up in these letters, Jane Austen’s morality improves. Mr T is nothing but dark-complexioned, but Mr W, a “very young man, hardly 20 perhaps … of St Johns, Cambridge & spoke very highly of H. Walter as a Schollar.” Walter was a family member too. Austen is never not partisan. Then the sort of vignette Henry James puts down in his notebooks for later
use to write up for his novels:

I could see nothing very promising between Mr P & Miss Pt — She placed herself on one side of him at first, but Miss Benn obliged her to move up higher; –& she had an empty plate, & even asked him to give her some Mutton without being attended to for some time. — There might be Design in this, to be sure, on his side; — he might think an empty Stomach the most favourable for Love. —

So Mr P and Miss Patience Terry are flirting. Jane then turns to Mrs Digweed, and becomes polite; she hopes the Rejected Addresses amused Mrs Digweed but Mrs Digweed’s silly mind flies off to some detail that is unimportant. Then that Eleanor looks like someone rejected.

She decamped at 10 and “not ashamed of my dutiful Delicacy” — she made her mother at home an excuse, but still she goes on to include more of this barbed gossip about the people there. I agree with Diana that Austen is just loving to disparage and be superior here:

WWhat can be a stronger proof of that superiority of ours over the Steventon & Manydown Society, which I have always foreseen & felt?”

But it’s not on grounds of the Rejected Addresses that the Miss Sibleys are sitting around not-reading (for they are reading the book, but rather that the Miss Sibleys openly want to
imitate Austen’s group. Austen’s group has never been caught wanting to emulate some other book society. No. And then we get a series of references to which books the Miss Sibleys prefer. Biglands, and Barrows, and Macartney’s and Mackenzies. Since in another place (MP) Fanny Price likes MacCartney perhaps this is just high spirits catching on to anything to laugh at and the alliteration is part of what the writer is enjoying.

But again there is a political meaning here. Austen prefers that ruthless imperialist. The other books are travels, about the peninsular war (perhaps critical of war policy) and the places include Iceland. Who would want to read of Iceland, pray? maybe that’s part of this not so funny joke.

The Coulthards were talked of you may be sure; no end of them; Miss Terry had heard they were going to rent Mr Bramston’s house at Oakley, & Mrs Clement that they were going to live at Streethams Mr Digweed 8{ I agreed that the House at Oakley could not possibly be large enough for them, 8{ now we find they have really taken it. — Mr Gauntlett is thought very agreable, & there are no Children at all. —

Streatham was a beautiful place, but how many children can any place stand? Austen is with Mr Gauntlett. People who go on rejoicing at Jane Austen’s warm love of children prompt me to echo her: “What [they] mean … who shall say?”

Then we turn to activities after Wednesday. Jane went for a walk. Happily (she says) it provided her with someone to unload Anne Grant’s Letters to the Mountains onto. Jane said she found the walk agreeable and if the others didn’t, the fault was theirs, for “I was quite as entertaining as she was.”

Dame G. is pretty well, & we found her surrounded by her well-behaved, healthy, large-eyed Children. — I took her an old Shift & promised her a set of our Linen; & my Companion left some of her Bank Stock’? with her

We might stop here and consider the typical character or core of a satirist. It often does come from alienation of some sort. Then a sudden drop down to calm decency. Austen was not irritated by the poor villagers they visited. They aroused no antagonisms.

And then we get a reference to a Tuesday which is I think a quiet reference to the game of Tuesdays in the novels:: “Tuesday has done its duty & I have had the pleasure of reading a very comfortable Letter.” It had a lot in it, the cover written on, and Austen’s mood improves after she reads it.


1983 BBC MP: Nicholas Farrell as Edmund listening with distaste and discomfort to

Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary talking of how admired are men in the professions (unlike clergymen)

The last part of the letter is not as barbed nor does Austen get a kick out of mocking other people or showing herself to have been disdainful of things she for the moment deems beneath her (like the cart). She really does not like these social occasions with people whose minds she finds imbecilic, and with no reference to arouse her competitiveness, her shots after Tuesday are limited to those who’ve genuinely taken potshots at her or have hurt her for real in some way.

Potshots include Mrs Bramston:

LeFaye shows herself a pro-family editor. Austen says Mrs Bramston is the sort of woman she detests. Why? LeFaye without admitting she is justifying Austen offers the “information” in her appendix that John Byng said she was “an artful worldly woman, of a notable self-sufficient capacity, … not selon mon gout; and her son is letter better than a blockhead,” to which LeFaye adds one of the two Mrs Bramstons thought “the first three of JA’s publishd novels boring and nonsensical.” A stupid woman: the boring gives it away. She probably let it be known she despised _S&S; this tells us the people in the neighborhood all around knew the authoress was none other than Miss Austen.

People who have hurt her (or other members of the family) include the people who took Steventon: so Austen says she does not recognize Steventon from Cassandra’s description of if justifying why probably Mary and James too behave the way they do, not omitting Anna’s responses to them:

I cannot imagine what sort of place Steventon can be.

Cassandra has been saying see how Mary is not so bad, and Austen acknowledges “kind intentions”). But Mrs Austen not keen on sharing the cooked pork; better to offer a share in the pigs. (Well yuk, maybe it is not so nice to have someone send cooked stuff that are left-overs. The parallel is in Emma where the rich Woodhouses and Emma remember to send pork to Miss Bates and Jane. Here Mary is in the position of the grand lady Emma and Austen’s mother and herself Miss Bates and Jane.

But in turn Mrs Austen is just filled with “great pleasure” to send a pair of garters and “is very glad she had them ready knit.” Enigmatic in tone because probably the mother did not feel about all this the way Austen patently does — she thinks the whole thing absurd – as we can see from how this “twig” entered _Emma_.

I thank Christy for identifying the specific Papillon Jane found herself having nearly to sit down to whist with. There Austen after all found the suggestion she marry him grating enough to hold the grudge in her letters.

I read Diana on the reference to Gibraltar in MP. But Diana ignores the meaning of the passage she quotes, its political content which fits into this letter.

It’s interesting because it shows one of the characters intuitively uncomfortable with what the author Austen is so keen in this letter would think would exult him. Pasley’s imperialism (and those who want to see MP as about colonialism do not usually remember she said she likes Pasley as much as Clarkson) would suggest people dressing up in uniform because they’ve been promoted should exult. Not Edmund. Only Fanny reconciles him to anything. Edmund is a portrait of someone not for sale, someone who does not want a position or place that does not involve him in duties his conscience makes palatable to him.

Here we can compare bring Austen’s MP in comparison with Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde: Montgomery a lord who has no money must force himself to take a job with the East India company (just the sort of thing Mary Crawford would respect) and knows it will be distasteful and require him to exploit the natives; Edmund does not make such a distaste explicit but it’s behind his enigmatic comment to Mary that he would have to do things for the kinds of positions she wants to take he would not be able to endure.

This is a good place to see how Austen’s fiction slips away from her conscious meaning — probably upon a revision. She is “in character,” Edmund a hero in her mind and we have an anti-imperialistic stance towards uniforms. By contrast, William is continually apparently naive and will take promotion and riches at any price; Austen says at one point he was not too kind to another man aboard his ship as he wished he could supersede him when the guy died. This is precisely Tom’s attitude towards Dr Grant. Very human.

So after the important event of the Tuesday (some Tuesdays are not bad, they are rather important), the comfortable letter from Cassandra, what do we have? mostly a thicket of gossip and doings.

She’s glad to go for walks. As she knows “Mary is interested” to know that Miss Benn is not neglected, Mary is to be told that Miss B dined last Wednesday at Mr Papillons.”

Another hit. It’s sarcastic. How lucky is Miss Benn. (Of course like Marianne Jane is forgetting perhaps Miss Benn might have enjoyed it? Maybe Miss Benn was no fool. And we get a list of people she dined with in a row. She had little money for food let us recall. Once she even wore her new shawl! Remember how they had to be sure not to buy her a too nice one for then she’d never wear it.

Jane is glad to hear that Martha is not at Barton. No wonder she hardly mentioned the employer. There is no barb here, only (perhaps) a reference to something under the bed. It could be dogs, but LeFaye reminds us that the single ladies at Cranford had myths about spirits beneath the beds both mischievous and protecting.

I had fancied that Martha would be at Barton from last Saturday, but am best pleased to be mistaken. I hope she is now quite well. — Tell her that I hunt away the rogues” every night from under her bed; they feel the difference of her being gone. —

Not far from it is this delight in walking and in winter no matter how filthy, greasy, cold, and ugly the roads: It’s here the slightly demented gaiety comes out.

A very sloppy lane” last Friday! — What an odd sort of country you must be in! I cannot at all understand it! It was just greasy here on Friday, in consequence of the little snow that had fallen in the night. — Perhaps it was cold on Wednesday, yes, I beleive it certainly was — but nothing terrible.-Upon the whole, the Weather for Winter-weather is delightful, the walking excellent.

It seems that Anna is going to come to Chawton for a visit. Mrs Austen’s letter will be forwarded by someone else (saving postage) but if they do not manage it, Anna will have it to read when she comes.

Scarlets is the country estate where the harridan Aunt, Jane-Austen Leigh resides. Austen is glad to hear anything “so tolerable” of them from Mr Leigh’s letter,. (He will double-cross them; he leads them to think he will share his wealth with Mrs Austen and hers when he dies but leaves it all to his wife who then holds it of over JEAL’s head for years to come).

“Poor Charles and his frigate. But there could be no chance of his having one, while it was thought such a certainty.” Charles not given a frigate. She’s ironic. Because they want something, things are against us.

The letter ends with a hit at Anna’s suitor’s news — she can scarcely believe him) and her dismissal/irritation at Mrs Bramston. She says she had rather been called liar by Mr Cotterell than to excite no interest in Mrs Bramston who (see above) insulted her book perhaps knowing it would get round to her.

Jane in form,

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I remember this one as a cartoon; I wish it were one; it’s Jane because of the cap & square cut bodice as visibilia

Dear friends and readers,

Women’s graphic novels (comic books, anyone?) have arrived. They’ve a homepage all their own. There are women’s graphic novels festivals. In Leeds a bunch of fairly well-known artists got together and held contests. I’ve written twice before about two of my favorite artists: Posy Simmonds and Audrey Niffenegger, but I’ve not yet written about the species in general or the Jane Austen types. Women favor the gothic. I include a book of poetry by Margaret Atwood.

On Sharp-l (an academic list-serv devoted to book history), there was a long thread on comic books, graphic novels, and pretty quickly (no surprise here) the topic of gender was brought up with a tendency to deny there is a big or any meaningful difference between what boys have read and what girls read, what men draw and what women. It did come out that nonetheless in the last 20 years there has there been a specific effort to appeal to girls and women comic book makers, and for the first time a genuine number of women graphic novelists, comic book creators, artists.


From Niffenegger’s Nightbookmobile: called “Almost there,” the young women is beginning to immerse herself in the books that turn up in the night in a moving library bus

It happened the most recent of issue of Women’s Review of Books (Sept/Oct ’12) had an essay on Alison Bechdel’s Are you my mother? A comic Drama (a graphic novel) by Audrey Bilger where Bilger brought up Hillary L. Chute’s Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics (2010), “The Other Shoe Drops.” Chute shows that women’s graphic tales differ centrally from men’s: they tend to center on women’s lives, women’s dreams and they make trauma overcome or not a central part of the story. Bechdel may be the woman who set the Bechdel standard for movies: does it have any women conversing about something together; is the subject of the movie if it’s about women anything other than getting a man; does it have more than 2 women featured? Most movies do not pass this test. Are you My mother? A comic Drama is about a central experience for women: their fraught relationship with their mother, whether love-filled or not. This comic book includes dreams, memories, photographs made into comics, letters, stories of the mother’s girlhood, excerpts from Virginia Woolf, D. W. Winnicott (tells a story of growing up not centered on rivalry with a father).

This fits Simmonds, Niffenegger, the comic books I’ve made adapted from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Northanger Abbey (bound with Udolpho one based on LeFanu’s Carmilla, a female vampire story). Sense and Sensibility adapted by Nancy Butler, illustrations Sonny Liew is based on the 2008 BBC/WBGH movie with Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Janet McTeer, David Morrissey, Dan Stevens, Dominic Cooper (scripted Andrew Davies). The costumes are taken from this movie, the plot-design, the way the characters look.

Hattie as Elinor wears just such a dress as she looks down from a moor on high

Charity as Marianne flees Cleveland house to the grounds and temple in a tempest in just such a dress

An interesting aspect of some of the others (for Pride and Prejudice and Emma (Nan Butler, Julian Totino did the cover), is they are done in a way to appeal to GLBT tastes. The “message” from the cover is on the surface they are absurd schlock, mindless and idiotic. Embarrassing even.

There are film adaptations nowadays too. And wouldn’t you know it: you find one which is about disability. This one by a male team, but now the males are beginning to take advantage of breaking out of the macho-male (super-muscled) and over-sexed earlier cartoons (which simply reinforced the male heterosexual hegemony) to be unsettling yet touching, subversive, questioning. When done for a great novel, I suppose they are great pop art.

For they are pop too. Picturesque in the old sweet way:

The country walk from NA: Catherine is saying this is just like the south of France!

The new name tries to deny this. The term graphic novel is a marketing tool picked up by academic to give more status to their work, and it’s not true that graphic novels are to be separated out because they are not serialized. Some are serialized and some comic books are singletons (rare but it happens). But there is no hard distinction. I still remember that favorite “classic” comic I loved as an adolescent girl was Lorna Doone. How lovely the landscape looked, how wonderfully kind and good John was. I’m sure it influenced my memories of the book read long after. I don’t know the author’s name. I wouldn’t have thought to look for one.

A personal anecdote:

Emily terrified, from Mysteries of Udolpho adapted by Antonella Caputo, illustrations Carlo Vegara, Gothic Classics (Vol 14)

If you believe there has been no significant difference between men’s comics and women’s, I’ve got a bridge I could let you have, dead cheap. Remember the macho-male super-muscled men, the line drawings of conventionally sexy women.

When I was around 8 or 9 an aunt whose husband was a printer prepared 4 huge volumes of comic books, two for two of my boy cousins, two for the two girls, one for me and one for a girl cousin precisely my age. The four of us represented the adolescent age group in our family at Christmas. These were to be our presents. Aunt Helen (her name) had bought and saved comics for over a year and put together 4 sets of a huge number of these to make very fat volumes. Then my Uncle Bill (his name) bound them in brightly colored sturdy boards, and put our individual names on them in gold lettering (no less). My aunt was good with her hands, she was very good at wrapping presents artistically, and added a certain amount of art work inside the books.

These presents were tremendous hits with the four of us and my uncle and she did it again the next year. Then enthusiasm or invention or numbers of comic books gathered gave out. They tired of it. We grew older. Now I know for a fact the two sets of books were distinct. My girl cousin and I had Archie, Nancy, and comics for girls much more (love stories), Wonder Woman, while the boys had these wild and violent action-adventure male centered cartoons like Batman, Superman and other such. I can’t remember as I didn’t have any.

There were some deemed appropriate for both: Dennis the Menace, Charlie Brown, cat and mouse cartoons. Bugs Bunny. Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Daffy and Daisy Duck. The second year my cousin Pat and I had “classics,” “great books” turned into comics as did Richard and Bobby. I don’t remember these as well as do the other parts of the books; there were Lorna Doone, Jane Eyre, Treasure Island, Oliver Twist. Neither uncle or aunt were reading people particularly and they didn’t think out the default line (and they didn’t include better strips like Pogo); they did intuitively (as it were) choose what they thought appropriate.

The 8 books were read to pieces.

So, maybe I should end on Audrey Niffenegger’s Three Incestuous Sisters and Margaret Atwood’s art book of her beautiful poem sequence, The Journals of Susanna Moodie (with Charles Pachter her collaborator):

I did not have any particular expectations, but was slightly startled to have in my hands two over-size books. Three Sisters was a huge folio size (where will I put it?) hard-back book with very large pictures, so large I can’t scan them in without distortion. I could do individual figures but without the vast space proportionate to them, they would lose something. They’re also raw, very sexy.

As you open and go through: on the one side (left, is this recto?) a tiny bit of text and on the other (right, verso? or facing) a huge picture. The texts are of the slightest, a sort of naming (“Being cruel to Bettine,” “Paris Intercedes,” “Ophile, miserable, small, and alone”), which are a testimony to how little you really need to say to get across a story if you somehow suggest archetypal ones. Drenched in melancholy. I mean this is desperate, suicidal stuff.

Yet the paradigm for the figures is Gorey. The book is a kind of Gorey book writ large — without the streak of black humor, devilish.

Here is one of the sisters finding comic together in sleep:

This is from early in the sequence by Atwood:

Further Arrivals

After we had crossed the long illness
that was the ocean, we sailed up-river

On the first island
the immigrants threw off their clothes
and danced like sandflies

We left behind one by one
the cities rotting with cholera,
one by one our civilized

and entered a large darkness.

It was our own
ignorance we entered.

I have not come out yet

My brain gropes nervous
tentacles in the night, sends out
fears hairy as bears,
demands lamps; or waiting

for my shadowy husband, hears
malice in the trees’ whispers.

I need wolf’s eyes to see
the truth.

I refuse to look in a mirror.

Whether the wilderness is
real or not
depends on who lives here.

And in one of the later poems (emblematic and intertwined so impossible to pick out) the pictures inclde an old woman among her children in the poem; how they see her; how she feels at the moment. Towards the end of Atwood’s poem when Moodie now old says her mind “in its old burrows/little guess how/maybe” she will “prowl and slink,” Atwood is writing of how Moodie slithers through the bedrock of Canadian culture and has come to terms with its roots.

A green background might signal spring. Her spirit ever rejuvenates the literature and spirit of the culture. “gold and/fiery green.” The old woman’s fingers are “curving and scaled,” but they did the writing. Her eye is an “opal” and no has “no/eyes glowing.” After all the real women is gone, dead, and now she’s old in the poem and wrinkled. The grandchildren cannot begin to know what she felt at the height of her living life, when, for example, she waited for her husband to come home and she wrote a marvelous love poem, “Sleigh Bells.” What does Canada have more of than snow?

Atwood does not try to overcome, erase, compete with Susannah Moodie, but collaborates with her, re-lives the experience and brings it back to us. Her Alias Grace (I just love it, a favorite book, Jane Eyre type) came out of an experience Moodie had when she went to an asylum so Moodie’s famous 19th century memoir meant a lot to Atwood.


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Where the happy ending of the 1995 BBC Persuasion (by Nick Dear) corresponds to Austen’s book: Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot (Ciaran Hinds, Amanda Root) walking off alone together

Dear friends and readers,

If you’re like me, you have stashed away somewhere the poems and stanzas on Austen’s novels by sufficiently well-known authors you’ve come across (Auden, Anne Stevenson, the lesser known Richard Howard). Thanks to Katha Pollitt (who gave me permission to feature this on my blog and comment too) tonight I offer another to add to your collection. It appears in her latest collection of poetry, The Mind-Body Problem (Random House 2009), just published by Seren Press in the UK. Some may find it quietly provocative and much worth considering:

Rereading Jane Austen’s novels

by Katha Pollitt

This time round, they didn’t seem so comic.
Mama is foolish, dim or dead, Papa’s
a sort of genial, pampered lunatic.
No one thinks of anything but class.

Talk about rural idiocy! Imagine
a life of tea with Mrs and Miss Bates,
of fancy work and Mr Elton’s sermons!
No wonder lively girls get into states –

no school, no friends. A man might dash to town
just to have his hair cut in the fashion
while she can’t walk five miles on her own.
Past twenty, she conceives a modest crush on

some local stuffed shirt in a riding cloak
who’s twice her age and maybe half as bright.
At least he’s got some land and gets a joke –
but will her jokes survive the wedding night?

The happy end ends all. Beneath the blotter
the author slides her page, and shakes her head,
and goes to supper – Sunday’s joint warmed over,
followed by whist, and family prayers, and bed.


An opening scene of 1995 P&P where Mr and Mrs Bennet (Benjamin Whitrow, Alison Steadman) repeat famous first dialogue of Austen’s novel

Katha says that this time round the Bennets do not seem so comic as they did to her the first time she read the book. I read P&P for the first time when I was 12 or 13 and they didn’t seem all that comic to me then. I saw them as a pastoral version of the miseries of marriage, with Mr Bennet reminding me of my father, intelligent, bored and irritated with my mother who was restless and utterly conventional, often egregiously wrong when it came to understanding with any depth of something that had happened. I knew in real life this made for intense bitterness and an Oedipal relationship with a favorite daughter, all of which was so softened in Austen.

How do others see this poem? The “local stuffed shirt,” the much older man who married one of Austen’s heroines include Brandon (35 to Marianne’s 17); Mr Knightley (who says that when he was 13 he held Emma as a baby in his arms); Mr Martin who just feels considerably older than Harriet (16) …

I objected to the last two stanzas on literal grounds: Austen does present a number of her heroines marrying an older man, but such semi-arranged marriages were the norm. It was worse in the early modern period where essentially an older man from another connected family bought himself a younger girl and age differences could be 30 years easily. You still see it in the 19th century (e.g., in a novel like North and South by Gaskell the heroine’s cousin’s mother married a man 30 years older than she and when we meet her, she still smarts from her long life of subservience and boredom though now she reaps her harvest as a rich widow.

It was also the norm for the families of this sliver of society to control who their daughters could meet and marry lest the children marry down or not marry to aggrandize the family if they could. I agree what a restricted life they led: for young gentlewomen no opportunity to meet anyone outside of the family group, its connections, its friends. Austen was indeed forced to live in the family group. There’s are lines in the letter where we see she tried to find an alternative way to live on her own without marrying, to be in a group of women friends which included Martha Lloyd and perhaps Anne Sharpe, but it was not allowed. Her brothers would not hear of it.

From Austen’s letters (and the novels too) we find she preferred reading to cards as a regular thing, but when she played cards it was speculation or brag she liked. They sewed. I see no indication they prayed at night. Maybe it’s not there because it’s so expected, but I doubt it. I remember Mary Crawford. They didn’t have tea but supper, late supper and Austen loved to eat. She leaves scenes of herself by the fire at night with a group of mostly women and servants there too eating snacks, drinking home-made liquor when they could.

Katha also responded generously:

Thanks for posting the link to the poem, Ellen. It’s the Saturday poem today in the Guardian. It comes from The Mind-Body Problem, which has just been published in the UK by Seren Press. I’m so happy!

The poem is not meant to be so literal. it’s a rather free evocation of the social world of the novels, as it affects the young women heroines: a tiny circle of acquaintances, a rather rigid social code, sexist restrictions galore. The local stuffed shirt is my own opinion of many of the male primary and secondary love interests. Perhaps you like them more!

My characterization of JA’s own life in the last verse is also not literal. it is intended to suggest the constrictions of life as a great writer who must live as an adult as the daughter in a country reverend.


Mr Knightley and Emma (John Carson, Doran Goodwin) sharing a joke together (1972 BBC Emma)

Thinking about the poem the next day, I decided Katha had read the books very much in the mode of Marilyn Butler (Jane Austen and the War of Ideas) who sees them as deeply conservative (anti-Jacobin, anti-sensibility, anti-romance). And there is much to be said for the general accuracy of this point of view. Austen exposes the vulnerability of women, their ennui, their lack of choice and liberty, their internal pain, but in the ending of the books Austen does indeed see the results of this system as a happy ending for the women. The heroines who succeed end up in the same position as their mothers and aunts. Compared to her women peers (Charlotte Smith, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Inchbald and a host of French women novelists), Austen’s characters escape unscathed.

It is true that I like the men in the novels better than Katha seems to. Even before I saw the 1981 BBC and 1995 Miramax S&Ses I saw Brandon as a man of sensibility who had been badly hurt and saw in Marianne a revenante of Eliza Brandon, Edward as sweet and shy, and before the 1996 Emma (Andrew Davies’s) Mr Knightly as saturnine in temperament, withdrawn but tolerant, not expecting much of others. I like that they are not macho male, like that the rakes are not glamorized and firmly rejected as cads. I’m very fond of Henry Tilney. Austen herself did not want to marry and Charlotte Lucas voices something of her view: since you cannot tell how it will be with you after time and chance, the man’s income, house, and disposition for courteous behavior is what counts. But Austen does make her pairs of people who are happy at the end psychologically and ethically congenial.

More of the three other I know, Katha’s take stands up as a whole, is consistent and I admit to me compared with my life and opportunities and expectations Austen presents a frustrating limited prison, no matter how green. It’s honester than Auden’s: there is nothing shocking in Austen’s understanding that the basis for social interaction is money and status (he’s pretending to startle us); Stevenson’s poem falls off in the last stanza and fails on the level of general statement, she punts at its end; and Howard’s is a muddle. What I particularly like about Katha’s is it’s not adulatory.


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First (1813) edition, title page

Dear friends and readers,

This is an important letter. For two reasons: it is the first mention of P&P as P&P, and the only one Austen left of her arduous whole-scale rewriting and cutting down of First Impressions in her determination to somehow get someone to publish it. It is sold.

And it is her third letter to her beloved friend, perhaps near-lover, Martha Lloyd.

P&P: As Diana B suggests, the language suggests that either Henry let her know his hassle had been too much for him or she felt it had — and it cost him. I read a couple of articles recently about self-publishing in this era: in fact what happened is the publisher paid for the materials and distribution and the author refunded the money, and so S&S had cost Henry beyond what she had put in. Note she won’t see the £110 for another year.

P.&P. is sold. — Egerton gives £110 for it.-I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard, so much.-Its’ being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me. — The Money is to be paid at the end of the twelvemonth. —

From the time she first mentions this publication project and all the work she is doing on her books (Letter 71) to this, there has not been one mention of her daily work. There she does say she never has her mind off her “darling suckling child” (S&S), has two sheets to correct, has heard Mrs Knight’s flattery, tells of Henry’s brother and how when she leaves London the further proofs are to go to Eliza and finally how she’s going to alter the incomes if she can. She is enormously guarded. Here she sounds relieved.

Diane R:

Such a few cool lines. Five words to give the news:

P. & P. is sold.

How laconic, how understated Austen is even to Martha! How excited JA must be, underneath it all, to have sold a second novel! She is on her way. S&S is not a fluke. Her life’s work, after all the frustrations, is coming to fruition. Yet all we hear of is the financing and business end. A dry 110 pounds instead of 150. Overly cool. The lady doth protest too little. I imagine she and Martha getting together, acting initially cool, catching each other’s eye and then jumping up and down and squealing, locking arms: “You sold it! You sold it! You did it! Girlfriend!” But none of that here. It comes across all as business transaction, with a nonchalant sense of anti-climax. Is the sale really “welcome” because it is ‘”a great saving of Trouble to Henry?” Can we be deceived? Certainly Martha can’t be deceived.

Of course, as we know, money mattered greatly to Austen–but again she is too laconic. Even what would translate to 11,000 dollars in our (US) money would have had her jumping up and down for joy, this woman accustomed to begging carriage rides and wearing last year’s
decorations in her hat. She should have been exhibiting joy just for
the money. Or is there a little bragging in her coolness–“oh, I
wanted 15K but I settled for 11K.” By all measures, she must have
been beyond pleased: 11,000 is not 15,000 but it is better than zero.

And to wait to tell the news–the news JA must be bursting to tell
Martha from the first drop of ink on the page–until so far down in
the letter! Buried amid all the other domestic chatter–grey cloaks
being made for 10 shillings, visits. Does Austen know this letter will be shared? Is she doing her best to downplay the significance of selling her second novel to protect herself from prying eyes? Yet
would she have put what she was paid in the letter if she expected it to be passed around? Am I right to imagine the same stigma applied then as now to talking about money–especially for a lady, provided for by her brothers?

Martha Lloyd late in life

Martha. The beloved person she actually wanted to have as a partner for life and did indeed manage to live with on and off for some years and take trips with (to Worthing). It seems while Edward was in the house during this trip he had Martha’s room (“a very large Bedroom”). Was Martha given the largest to bribe her to stay with them? That’s putting it hard, but it is clear from so many mentions of disappointment in Martha over the course of the time in Southampton, the early equally reciprocated relationship and Austen’s idealizing of her is long gone.

Let us review the previous Martha letters: 26, 12-13, Wed-Thurs, Nov 1800 — read her euphoria, intense eagerness to be with her

Letter 27, 20-21, Thurs-Fri, November 1800. She is in a state of trembling intense expectation. No she’s not going to take any books. She is not going to Martha to sit next to her and read as she does in her own home. She wants to mingle her mind (and whatever else they do) with Martha — I mean walk but also physical interactions. I have wondered at the timing of Austen’s one visit. It seems to me no coincidence that this visit was allowed just before the announcement of turning Steventon over to James. One last softening intense happiness. It may just be coincidental but how often families do chose such moments to drop the beam. When the person is strong.

Letter 28, Sun 30 Nov, Mon 1 Dec, from Ibthorpe

Then the devastating upheaval, 29, 3-5, Sat-Mon, Jan 1801

Who was Mrs Dundas? She was Martha’s employer and is dying — died the next day as we eventually learn. Martha was Mrs Dundas’s nearly unpaid companion; that’s how Martha lived and now the money will surely cease. Martha’s silence over this illness is of a piece with the way that Cassandra destroys all untoward letters and Austen is indirect on family matters. This means a real loss: despite Martha’s several attempts to establish herself separately she never managed it. In one letter we had Jane determined to set up a way of life with Cassandra and Martha, and they would tell Frank and the family and then it’s only referred to much later. They were deliberately thwarted. The family was nervous about this. As I notice here so many never respond to my list of possible loves to include Martha – and Frank too.

Austen still cares so much for her. The opening (as Diana says) is unusually clumsy at moments, repetitive. Austen is just so emotionally involved and she herself cannot imagine herself doing this kind of watching over someone die — except as a stupendous heroic effort. and Martha is not just sitting there, she’s nursing this woman. At the close of the letter Austen returns to Martha to say what she can to her friend. She is sorry Martha’s nephew not well. Hopes his mother and father not uneasy. Miss Murden who she is sorry to hear is so often described as an “invalid.”

The problem with Terry Castle’s thesis about Austen’s lesbianism is she had not read Austen with care. She leapt onto the obvious (Cassandra and Jane) and then did not look to see Cassandra and Jane had separate beds. It was Martha that Austen laid on the floor with one long night of apparent real enjoyment when there were not enough beds. (Some will say Chacun a son gout, but love is blind.)

Olivia Williams and Gretta Scacchi as Jane and Cassandra Austen, now old, living marginally and Jane no longer well (2008 BBC Miss Austen Regrets)

The two threads come together when Austen writes about funeral or appropriate clothes and fringe single women on the edge of desperation. She is not going to get that 110£ for another year so she will have a moderately-priced “Grey Woollen . . . ten shillings.” So Miss Benn is there and should be given “something of the shawl kind” to wear indoors (it had better not to be too “very handsome” or she’ll never wear it) Mrs Stent will soon be out of her misery (“not much longer a distress to anybody”). Miss Murden invalided. It’s pleasant to see that like Austen Martha remembers a servant, Sally another girl with almost or really nothing. Note Sally genuflecting in front of Austen (she means to “be a good girl if I please”), and that “there is no apparent deficiency.” That’s Austen’s emphasis, translated: Let’s not think about under-clothes.

I agree with Diana B that Austen is satirizing weddings again in her commentary on Miss W’s wedding and the ditty:

Camilla good humoured & merry & small
For a Husband it happend was at her last stake;
& having in vain danced at many a ball
Is now very happy to Jump at a Wake

but it’s not out of complacency about her own publications. That’s not what her words refer to. They refer to the reality the groom is so much older than the bride. Camilla “good-humored, merry and small” is going to dance “at a wake.” He’s not far from death. She married because “it was her last stake.”



Family matters and (dare I say this) echoes and parallels with Emma fill the rest of the letter.

It seems Edward and his “harem” were at Chawton. This word is a muted reference to Austen’s awareness of how Edward had dominated his wife in his way; he likes women – he never did re-marry though, enough children he might have thought. They did cost even then. They have arrived at Winchester and sent word of “their happiness,” but it appears they do not look forward to their next stop: Steventon. Mary Lloyd. How sorry were they to go away? “they were certainly very sorry to go away, but a little of that sorrow must be attributed to a disinclination for what was before them.”

Steventon as seen from the side with a Anne Hathaway as a young Jane Austen writing on a bench (2007 BBC Becoming Jane)

Later in the letter this tension between the Godmersham and Steventon families is brought back: “Monday. A wettish day, bad for Steventon.” Although the loss to Jane Austen of Steventon was bitter, it was no beautiful house (perhaps something like Thornton Lacey as Henry Crawford describes, not really fit for a gentleman’s residence); it was damp. Dampness did not improve Mary Lloyd or her husband’s mood. The 1870 idyllic picture of Steventon JEAL invented was a response to his memories of Steventon as a boy; with Mary Lloyd it was no harmonious place.

But Mary Deeds is with them, says Jane, and “must be liked .. so perfectly unaffected & sweet temper … as ready to be pleased as Fanny Cage, deals less in superlatives & rapture.” So maybe more believable to the sharp Mary.

For Edward something important happening: name change in order to secure the inheritance. They’ve a letter now to forward from a lawyer. (I”ll mention lawyers cost.)

There is some chitchat of a coming Tuesday evening event – no vibes here about Tuesday at all. (Again the unmarried women.) The Miss Webbs to come, Cap and Mrs Clement, Miss Benn (cannot do without her — I think of Miss Bates. Mrs Digwood but not Mr prefers to kill rabbits at Steventon. I know “shoot” is her word, but the preference is clear. They need the turkey for Christmas is coming.

Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller as Emma (when we first meet her all grown up), with a wry Mr Knightley (our first sight of him too) (2009 BBC Emma)

As to hints of Emma: Has there been work on a brief draft. I discern a number of parallels and contrasts between the novel and what is going on in this letter. The “Steventon edition” for the ditty — as in Emma there is a Hartford edition (of poetry, of lines about first loves)

But yes there is an Emma reference that is light mockery — making fun of herself for the way she pretends to publish all these years — consider the many copies that have survived. What’s more the mockery of Mrs Butler is pure Mrs Elton. Then the eating Turkeys – Emma filled with diurnal food. And Miss Benn (Bates). Women who don’t marry are so poor. Edward is laying out money and the “sum” passing through their hands “considerable” 20£ At any rate she didn’t have it herself. So little to vex her had Emma. So Austen would begin …


Daisy Haggard as Nancy and Anna Madeley as Lucy Steele (2008 BBC S&S)

Like others on Austen-l about this letter: I’m glad it’s survived because it’s to Martha. Everyone seems determined to ignore this; its opening, its frame, its closing, the fringe women it’s all Martha all the way.

P&P really takes a small proportion of her mind. It’s a done deal and at the moment a relief to be so. A backseat here. I just read how some TV station in Utah won’t let a situation comedy about gay people get on the air. Martha was not in a situation comedy as she sits next to her dying patron.

Martha is found in Austen’s novels. In a minor character. Nancy Steele mentions eavesdropping on her sister, Lucy.

And I am sure Lucy would have done just the same by me; for a year or two back, when Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together, she never made any …

When Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together. Jane has conflated her two favorite women, Martha Lloyd and Anne Sharpe. In this scenario, she is Nancy … More seriously, alas, we don’t know enough about Martha’s inward character accurately described to try to discern which of Austen’s characters might have some of her traits, unless aspects of Nancy Steele caricature Martha. While in Southampton Austen several times expresses irritation through humor of Martha’s chasing after men.


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Oakley Hall: Anna lived there between 1831-33 and 1840-49

Dear friends and readers,

This is really a correction of my first blog on Jane Austen’s letter to her niece burlesquing a contemporary sentimental novel, dated 29-31 October 1812. I reprinted a copy of the letter in my previous blog, discussed the two illustrator-artists, where I described Jane Austen’s remaining correspondence, what people have tried to use it for (as a general statement of Austen’s fiction), my argument that this is fully possible since the letters are so narrowly directed to a real niece whose feelings she does not want to hurt, though we can ferret some principles she ceaselessly repeats as hers when she does discuss fiction: literal verisimilitude, sticking to probability, mockery of too much feeling as probably hypocritical.

I also will let stand my comments on the two illustrators and character sketch of Anna, brief account of her life, and later fiction, and a brief account on an important “third” niece (beyond Fanny Austen Knight): Catherine Austen Hubback. Where I went wrong was in the specific novel: the novel Anna and Jane had been reading together was Lady Maclairn, or The Victim of Villany (published 1806). LeFaye’s fourth edition cites this novel, about which LeFaye wrote a brief notes & query article and Isobel Grundy a longer article about a group of novels dramatizing various attitudes towards slavery; Rachel Hunter of Norwich’s (1754-1813) novel is Grundy’s central focus.

Deirdre LeFaye, “Jane Austen and Mrs Hunter’s Novel, Notes and Queries, NS 32:3 (Sept. 1985):335-36

Isobel Grundy, “Rachel Hunter & the Victim of Slavery,” Women’s Writing, 1:1 (1994):25-34 (available on line in a number of databases sold to universities)

The rest of this blog is on how Rachel Hunter’s novels is presented so differently by LeFaye and Grundy. Neither LeFaye or Austen ever mention slavery; Grundy (probably rightly) thinks it an important issue in the novel.


A recent facsimile reprint of Hunter’s fictionalized didactic book

Grundy’s article is not about Austen’s burlesque letter (though Grundy has surely read it), LeFaye’s article is. I was startled to read Grundy’s account. Nowhere in Austen’s letter is there the least reference to slavery. Grundy’s desciption of Rachel Hunter’s book makes it appear that this novel is centrally about slavery.

I do not think that Grundy is distorting because it is so rare with her, but I cannot resist the analogy with MP which in some accounts would seem to be centrally about slavery, when it’s not. MP includes slavery in its perspective; slavery is an analogous phenomenon to the amoral unjust structuring of society we have all to endure and struggle against. It may be that Hunter’s book is more like Smith’s Tales of a Solitary Wanderer, one of which takes place in Jamaica, where slavery does become a central issue, but Smith’s other novels are explicitly about and defend the principles and early phases of the French revolution. Austen never mentions the French revolution unless we are to say a reference to the peace of Amiens (not named) to account for events in Persuasion, or the existence of more and active militias in P&P count.

LeFaye seems unaware Hunter’s novel is about slavery, but I was a little surprised to see she thinks that Austen and her niece read it without an awareness its topics (also?) include “seduction, bastardy, perjury, elopement, secret marriages lunacy, and suicide as everyday occurrences.” She says Anna would have been shocked had she read it in a later atmosphere; surely one does not have to live 20 years later to notice these things — which like slavery are probably there. Curious this. It implies a really shallow mind which represses anything unconventional.

LeFaye appears to share what she takes to be Austen’s attitude towards the book; that it’s simply absurd: “Austen’s family’s comments are fully justified.” (Such a comfort to read an author whose attitudes reinforce your own.)

I can’t tell from either essay whether the novel was epistolary; if so, that would explain Anna’s comment the repetition of stories about people now dead 3 times before the central story began. Each repetition would give us another characters’ perspective; also the delayed central story is common to a novel which brings forth transgressive or tabooed matter (think of Austen’s own Sense and Sensibility and the told stories of Eliza Brandon and Eliza Williams).

LeFaye is correct in her identification. Austen is making fun of Hunter’s characters in Hunter’s novels; something about them is just ridiculous, and it may be this is part of her finding (probably rightly) the sweet (to her false) sentimentality of the book irritating:

Miss Jane Austen’s tears have flowed over each sweet sketch in such a way as would do Mrs Hunter’s heart good to see; if Mrs Hunter could understand all Miss Jane Austen’s interest in the subject she would certainly have the kindness to publish at least 4 vols more about the Flint family, & especially would give many fresh particulars on that part of it which Mr, H. has hitherto handled too briefly; viz, the history of Mary Flint’s marriage with Howard.

The truth is Grundy’s subject and conclusions are of far greater general applicability than Austen’s burlesque. Grundy argues that Hunter’s novel ends up supporting slavery, and that it’s typical of many supposed critiques of slavery at the time which flatter the writer and reader by saying how we abhor slavery but just now is not the right time to do anything about it, so all we can hope to have are mild ameliorations.

What galls a reader like me — and Grundy points to — is how the slaves are made to feel for their masters (who are corrupted by this practice, conflicted). It reminds me of the end of Gaskell’s Mary Barton where John Barton grovels before the owner of the factory because he killed Carson’s son when it was Carson and his son’s policies which starved Barton’s son to death, Carson’s son who dreamed up the scheme to prevent all union men from ever working again and drove Barton to a bitter regretted revenge which destroyed him.

Grundy does not insinuate that Austen in her letter has an “interest in the subject,” the subject of slavery and finds wholly inadequate way Hunter treats it. This is to make Austen into someone born in the mid-20th century. Nor does she explain why Austen and LeFaye never mention it. Grundy’s account does not bring up Mary Flint’s marriage to Howard; that’s what Austen says interests her. It sounds to me like Austen is interested in this romance or marriage and its circumstances– that she is connecting it to something in her life and possibly Anna’s.

My comments on the jokes about threadpaper, the two illustrators, and the absurdity of the Car of Frankenstein (perhaps prophetic title, showing Austen knows of the Germanic sources of gothic), remain the same. Austen ends on a hope that Mrs Hunter will be better provided. She herself often was at a loss for transportation as she felt she had to wait for her brothers to ferry her places (to maintain her class status).


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Fireplace in room at 10 Henrietta Place, shared by Jane Austen and Fanny Knight when they stayed with Henry Austen in 1814

Dear friends and readers,

I left off my journey through Jane Austen’s letters, an attempt to delve beyond the barriers her family set up by destroying most of them, by close reading, at Letter 71, Thurs 25 April 1811). Jane Austen was then living at Chawton, but at Sloane Street with Henry and Eliza Austen while working on the proofs of Sense and Sensibility. I did so after I had broken with chronology to study the extant letters from Jane to her niece Anna Austen Lefroy (76, Thurs-Sat, 29-31 Oct 1812; 103, ?mid-July 1814; 104; Wed-Thurs, 10-18 Aug 1814; 107, Fri-Sun, 9-18 Sept 1814); 113, Wed, 30 Nov 1814). This was a subsection of my study of the Cambridge editions of Austen’s manuscripts. I’d concluded perhaps one could understand some important letters better if one read these, those to specific correspondents apart from Cassandra, separately and placed them against a reading of biographical and life-writing material relating to that person.

I also was beginning to realize Austen herself simply did not discuss her fiction in any sufficiently detailed or articulate way in her letters, and that she was more unconscious of what she ended up with than I had supposed before I also studied the later manuscripts).

I simply didn’t have the time to keep it up anymore when I was no longer sure of the value of what I had proposed.

Recently on Austen-l, Diana Birchalls has proposed to take over leading those who want to continue going through Austen’s letters chronologically one-at-a-time, and I’ve decided to join in and write more briefly on each, and every few weeks write a blog going over a few letters at a time. Before suspending my project I had written singly on Letter 72 (but not blogged), so this blog has more on Letter 72 than 73-75, but after this all will be much shorter, concise, and occasionally — on those rare instances where a letter by Austen to someone other than Cassandra has survived — set that one against a context of other letters to that person (if we have them) or what can be usefully added about Austen’s relationship to that person (usually a brother or relative).


Map: Lower Sloane Street, Sloane Square, Sloane Terrace (1827)

Letter 72, Tues, 30 April 1811, Sloane St, Jane to Cassandra, no address.

This is very much a medias res letter, 5 days after the last.

I had sent off my Letter yesterday before Yours came, which I was sorry for; but as Eliza has been so good as to get me a frank, your questions shall be answered without much further expense to you. — The best direction to Henry at Oxford will be, The Blue Boar, Cornmarket. — I do not mean to provide another trimming for my Pelisse, for I am determined to spend no more money, so I shall wear it as it is, longer than I ought, & then — I do not know. — My head dress was a Bugle band like the border to my gown, & a flower of Mrs Tilson’s. — I depended upon hearing something of the Evens from Mr W.K.2-& am very well satisfied with his notice of me. ‘A pleasing looking young woman’; — that must do; — one cannot pretend to anything better now — thankful to have it continued a few years longer — It gives me sincere pleasure to hear of M” Knight’s having had a tolerable night at last – -but upon this occasion I wish she had another name, for the two Nights jingle very much. — We have tried to get Self-controul but in vain. –I should like to know what her Estimate is but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever — & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled. Eliza has just rec” a few lines from Henry to assure her of the good conduct of his Mare. He slept at Uxbridge on Sunday, & wrote from Wheatfield. — We were not claimed by Hans place yesterday, but are to dine there today- — Mr Tilson called in the event — but otherwise we were quite alone all day, & after having been out a good deal, the change was very pleasant

LeFaye says a letter is missing. So even here there is something to hide. We are to remember that Eliza was not well and Austen says how pleased she is to be “quite alone all day, & after having been out a good deal, the change was very pleasant.” The same Jane: concerns with money, even tiny sums: Eliza got Jane a frank that is why she is writing to answer Cassandra so quickly. She shall spend no more on her pelisse. She returns to contrivances over fashion in the close. Where is Henry going? There appears to be real worry about him – from Eliza. His horse. Where he stayed and slept. There was an evening (part of what was destroyed) where she was complimented as “a pleasing looking young woman.” She says she must be content with that. She is past 35 — her Marianne would think that very old indeed (Mrs Dashwood not much older).

There are four parts of this letter that merit attention: Austen’s remark she regards Brunton as a peer-rival. First, for those who’d like to read Self-Control, it’s printed in the Jane Austen Library Series; as for its quality and relationship to Austen’s fiction and that of her contemporaries & later 19th century women authors, I’ve written a separate blog (“Somewhere between Jane Austen and Anne Bronte”)

Second, Austen’s attitude towards governesses and the disciplining of children. The letter continues:

I like your opinion of Miss Allen much better than I expected, & have now hopes of her staying a whole twelvemonth. — By this time I suppose she is hard at it, governing away-poor creature! I pity her, tho’ they are my neices. Oh! yes, I remember Miss Emma Plumbtree’s Local consequence perfectly.-“I am in a Dilemma, for want of an Emma,” “Escaped from the Lips, Of Henry Gipps.”

She again (as in The Watsons and Emma) feels for a woman who has a mean rough lousy job — “governing away.” In other words, these people forced the poor governess to be the tyrant to work away at the necessary repression. The whole thing chilling in every way from the poor pay and treatment a governess would get to what she was expected to do. Austen’s awareness in her “hopes of her staying a whole twelvemonth.” She expected Cassandra not to like this put upon young woman (!). How ironic the poor oppressed despised expected to train children in submission.

I don’t under two lines: “I am in a dilemma” are not encouraging. It
seems that the meanness wanted is from an “Emma” — who or what character or incident this refers to may be impossible to get it if it’s a life story (LeFaye offers no help).

The passage connects to the latter reference to visiting Mrs Dundas for Martha’s way of separating herself from these Austen was to become a paid companion to Mrs Dundas (who, to look ahead) dies the day after letter 77, 29-30 Nov 1811).

A third part is the local politics. Again the letter continues:

But really, I was never much more put to it, than in contriving an answer to Fanny’s former message. What is there to be said on the subject?- Pery pell — or pare pey? or po.– or at the most, Pi pope pey pike pit. I congratulate Edward on the Weald of Kent Canal — Bill being put off 7 till another Session, as I have just had the pleasure of reading. — There is always something to be hoped from Delay. —

“Between Session & Session”
“The first Prepossession”
“May rouse up the Nation”
‘And the Villainous Bill”
“May be forced to lie Still”
‘Against Wicked Men’s will.”

There is poetry for Edward & his Daughter.

After the nonsense words between Fanny and Jane (they put “p’s” before each word but it is not possible to decipher this). LeFaye’s note leads us to an informative cited in the Cranbrook Journal. A local issue where Edward was one of those who had been misled (Edward, partly drawn in John Dashwood never was more than dim) to conclude it was not in their individual interest to pay for any improvement for someone else’s land that might not immediately give profit. A narrow and ultimately destructive attitude (that is exploited today). Austen is empathetic with the self-centered politics of the landowner eager to stop a canal. The verses are Jane’s. Yes a little later in the letter she is ironic over Edward’s good day and is “very glad to hear of his kind promise of bringing you to Town.” But note she does not quite believe it. “I hope everything will arrange itself favourably. Edward has agreed to provide transportation for Cassandra:

I forgot to tell you in my last, that our cousin Miss Payne called in on Saturday & was persuaded to stay dinner. — She told us a great deal about her friend Lady Cath. Brecknell, who is most happily married – -& Mr Brecknell is very religious, & has got black Whiskers. — I am glad to think that Edward has a tolerable day for his drive to Goodnestone, & very glad to hear of his kind promise of bringing you to Town. I hope every thing will arrange itself favour ably. The 16th is now to be M” Dundas’s day [for Martha].

To me it’s ludicrous that this is a favor: his “kind promise.” He’s got resources, money, freedom as a man and she’s spending her life caring for his children but it’s a big favor if he offers to drive her. Having returned to Martha, and remembered a fringe woman cousin, she returns to Eliza and Anna:

I mean, if I can, to wait for your return, before I have my new Gown made up-from a notion of their making up to more advantage together — & as I find the Muslin is not so wide as it used to be, some contrivance may be necessary. — I expect the Skirt to require one half breadth cut in gores, besides two whole Breadths. — Eliza has not yet quite resolved on inviting Anna – but I think she will. — Yours very affectionately, Jane.

At the close of the letter another marginalized ummarried woman persuaded to stay to dinner. Miss Payne, a cousin. Her intelligence indicated by the sketched in conversation which Austen captures. Mrs Dundas (as I said above) is the woman Martha is hired to be companion to. That’s why a day must be carved out.

I am glad to see that Austen shows a sign that Anna ought to come to London too. She is working on it: “Eliza not quite resolved on inviting Anna … but I think she will.” Eliza would not forget the mother’s hatred and resentment nor perhaps her old flirtation with James: Anna cannot escape a past that is not hers because she cannot get outside this family group. And then letters missing again.

For Christy’s helpful addition on Mary Lloyd’s shameless selfish unreasoning attitude towards Eliza (and Anna too), and how it affected Anna’s chances at London, see her comment.



Letters 73-74, Wed, Fri 29, 31 May 1811, Chawton, to Cassandra at Godmersham

We can see from Letters 73 and 74 Austen just does not discuss in her letters what she is now spending most of her time doing — correcting the proofs of S&S about to come out, and a whole-scale (no trivial task) thorough revamping of First Impressions into P&P to try to get it published. We hear nothing whatever of this in these heroic efforts in these two letters.

It’s not probable Cassandra would have so assiduously eliminated these details as in the later letters in this second half o the set (looking at the letters as being 151, letter 74 is about half-way) do contain details. Censored — as in the reference to ordination in MP which no longer makes sense, but there.

73: Yes there’s a lot about flowers and growing things, the heat (“excessively hot” — oh that she had lived in summer of 2012 in Virginia), but then a little later a fire is wanted. She suggests how hard it is to keep count of these people dropping babies: “It was a mistake of mine, dear Cassandra, to talk of a 10th Child at Hamstall: I had forgot there but but 8 already.”

Some of the Flower seeds are coming up very well — but your Mignionette makes a wretched appearance. – -Miss Benn has been
equally unlucky as to hers; She had seed from 4 different people, & none of it comes up. Our young Piony at the foot of the Fir tree has just blown & looks very handsome; & the whole of the Shrubbery Border will soon be very gay with Pinks & Sweet Williams, in addition to the Columbines already in bloom. The Syringas too are coming out. — We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plumbs — but not many greengages-on the standard scarcely any-three or four dozen perhaps against the wall. I beleive I told you differently when I first came home, but I can now judge better than I could then

There is a continuation of the unsympathetic attitude towards Anna:

Anna is nursing a cold caught in the Arbour at Faringdon, that she may be able to keep her engagement to Maria M.6 this evening, when I suppose she will make it worse.

I am interested by her worry lest Martha if she be “home” might be discommoded by Frank, his wife and growing progeny. Austen is hoping for Martha to come here. Let Frank, Mary &c go to Steventon, and Martha please to come here. In this letter she says she must not press Miss Sharpe to come, but two days letter in the next letter she is pressing Anne to come:

I have had a medley & satisfactory Letter this morns from the Husband & Wife at Cowes; in consequence of what is related of their plans, we have been talking over the possibility of inviting them here, in their way from Steventon — which is what one should wish to do, & is I daresay what they expect; but supposing Martha to be at home, it does not seem a very easy thing to accomodate [sic] so large a party. –My Mother offers to give up her room to Frank & Mary-but there will then be only the Best, for two Maids & three Children. — They go to Steventon about the 22nd — & I guess(for it is quite a guess) will stay there from a (fortnight to three weeks. — I must not venture to press Miss Sharpe’s ~ coming at present; — we may hardly be at liberty before August

74: She is so eager for Anne Sharpe’s acquiescence and after all (she says, pathetically if we are paying attention), Cassandra and Martha do not dislike the plan. She persists on and off with this and speaks of Mary Cooke jokingly (another thwarted female partnership), she is sorry for her as only 2 curates around for possible husbands. (Curates Mary Crawford would have pointed out are usually nearly broke).

There’s a long paragraph on her maneuverings to get Martha’s agreement and Miss Sharpe to come, and this morphs and ends Austen’s attempt to fend off any spinning wheels from Mrs Knight. The last thing she wants or needs. She’d spin a rope to hang herself.

This circumstance has made me think the present time would be favourable for Miss Sharp’s coming to us; it seems a more disengaged period with us, than we are likely to have later in the Summer; if Frank & Mary do come, it can hardly be before the middle of July, which will be allowing a reasonable length of visit for Miss Sharpe supposing she begins it when you return; & if You & Martha do not dislike the plan, & she can avail herself of it, the opportunity of her being conveyed hither will be excellent. — I shall write to Martha by this post, & if neither You nor she make any objection to my proposal, I shall make the invitation directly-& as there is no time to lose, you must write by return of post if you have any reason for not wishing it done. — It was her intention I beleive to go first to Mrs Lloyd — but such a means of getting here may influence her otherwise.

How eager she is. How pathetic. Then:

I cannot endure the idea of her [Mrs Knight] giving away her own wheel, & have told her no more than is the truth, in saying I could never use it with comfort; — I had a great mind to add that if she persisted in giving it, I would spin nothing with it but a Rope to hang myself – but was afraid of making it appear a less serious matter of feeling than it really was.

An 18th century spinning wheel

She finally bends and enters into Anna’s enjoyable evening at Farringdon wholeheartedly. Not threatened here:

From Monday to Wednesday Anna is to be engaged at Farringdon, in order that she may come in for the Gaieties of Tuesday’ (1′ 4th), on Selbourne Common, where there are to be Volunteers & Felicities of all kinds … . — Poor Anna is also suffering from her cold which is worse today, but as she has no sore throat I hope it may spend itself by Tuesday She had a delightful Evens with the Miss Middletons — Syllabub, Tea, Coffee, Singing, Dancing, a Hot Supper, eleven o’clock, everything that can be imagined agreable [sic]. — She desires her best Love to Fanny, & will answer her letter before she leaves Chawton, & engages to send her a particular account of the Selbourn day.

This is followed by the famous comic heartlessness – she knows she should not quite say this — the passage does reflect an awareness of the Peninsular war once again — and how important and bloody the fighting there really was.

How horrible it is to have so many people killed — and what a blessing that one cares for none of them!

As letter 73, so 73 is involved in gardening: quick set hedges are cheap you see. They began their china tea too

You cannot imagine – -it is not in Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the Orchard. — The row of Beech look very well indeed, & so does the young Quickset hedge in the Garden. — I hear today that an Apricot has been detected on one of t1i.e Trees. — My Mother is perfectly convinced now that she shall not be overpower’d by her Cleft Wood — & I beleive would rather have more than less.

And a Tuesday!

I bless my stars that I have done with Tuesday

She hopes that Anna’s sore throat may be over by Tuesday. Tuesday not lucky. I did not read the first 70 or so letters looking out for bad Tuesdays, and only begin as of now.


Letter 75, Thurs, 6 June 1811, Jane, at Chawton, to Cassandra, at Godmersham

“I have a magnificent project — which was immediately thwarted, to bring together herself, Martha, Anne Sharpe, and Cassandra. It’s yet another and continual disappointment that her new plan for their community, for Anne Sharpe, for Martha to be with her is thwarted. She opens, returns, comes back to it, and at one point comes close to pointing out how she realizes they are all putting her off, in plain truth pretending, lying:

I have given up all idea of Miss Sharpe’s travelling with You & Martha, for tho’ you are both all compliance with my scheme, yet as you knock off a week from the end of her visit, and & Martha rather more from the beginning, the thing is out of the question [italics Austen’s].

And still she leans on Martha, still cherishes a service as if it were a gift:

I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way, for she is just now sending my Mother a Breakfast set, from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow; it is certainly what we want, & I long to know what it is like; & as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present, I will not have any regret.

On Jane’s behalf let me say I wish Martha had gotten one of the men she was said to be oogling after at the close of the previous letter.

Like Diane Reynolds, I note note that here again we have Austen at a height of her powers, working away, 6 days between this letter and the last, no acknowledgement anywhere she’s hard at work on S&S proofs, or the revised P&P.

My favorite line to Cassandra:

I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.

Letter 75 continued in the comments.


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