Archive for May, 2013

Hans Place today — see Jane Austen’s World: In 1814, Henry moved from his rooms above his bank to a house he purchased in Hans Place in Knightsbridge ….

Dear friends and readers,

As we had a debate over this letter I decided to put it on my blog separately (see letters 76, 103-4). Austen has returned to London despite her voiced reluctance for several letters to take up Henry’s invitation. Still, having, as usual, lost, she allows herself to have a good time. Diane mentioned a dry tone; I thought of Elinor Dashwood. The feeling Austen conveys is an over-full schedule which she’s enjoying because it is over-full; at the same time she has intervals of quiet (with Henry and without so that she can write) and solitude too:, e.g.

Our evening yesterday was perfectly quiet; he only talked a little to Mr Tilson across the intermediate Gardens; she was gone out airing with Miss Burdett. — It is a delightful Place — than answers my expectation.

I live in his room downstairs, it is particularly pleasant, from opening upon the garden. I go & refresh myself every now & then, and then come back to Solitary Coolness.–

Now, I have breakfasted & have the room to myself again. —
It is likely to be a fine day. — How do you all do? —

Henry continues working at his business through socializing; he has moved and set up a new home for himself. He has now done more than adjust to Eliza’s death as we see him courting two new women. The family group soon consists of Henry and Jane, brother Edward and his oldest daughter, Fanny, who go to the races and a ball; and brother James and his son, Edward (who would grow up to become James-Edward Austen-Leigh) who come to London, ostensibly to go to the dentist and buy wigs. Glimpses of each and Jane in Henry’s garden. Cassandra does not like Edgeworth’s Patronage! Jane remains obtuse towards Anna. We also see how in Austen’s mind her Juvenilia remain as central to her created world as her later novels, in this case Love and Freindship.

I quote the whole letter passage by passage so no need to reprint the text separately. Diana Birchall’s reading, Diane Reynolds’.


Henrietta Street today — courtesy of Jane Austen’s World — where Austen had stayed with Fanny after Eliza’s death, his rooms above the business

On Tuesday morning, she begins with a vignette of her trip:

I had a very good Journey, not crouded, two of the three taken up at Bentley being Children, the others of a reasonable size; & they were all very quiet & civil. — We were late in London, from being a great Load & from changing Coaches at Farnham, it was nearly 4 I beleive when we reached Sloane Street; Henry himself met me, & as soon as my Trunk & Basket could be routed out from all the other Trunks & Baskets in the World, we were on our way to Hans Place in the Luxury of a nice large cool dirty Hackney Coach. There were 4 in the Kitchen part of Yalden — & I was told 15 at top, among them Percy Benn; we met in the same room at Egham, but poor Percy was not in his usual Spirits. He would be more chatty I dare say in his way from Woolwich. We took up a young Gibson at Holybourn; & in short everybody either — did come up by Yalden yesterday, or wanted to come up. It put me in mind of my own Coach between Edinburgh & Sterling. —

It’s clear she enjoyed this excursion — as one might today a train, looking all about her, and not minding the other people as long as she is not too crowded in. We might look at the vignette as capturing what she would have liked to do many times but was constrained to be dependent on a brother or relative or friend to take her. We don’t know who paid but perhaps she did — she has some money of her own beyond the allowance now.

At Farnham she does switch to Henry’s private coach; they then ate out: I take it the numbers cited are people and where they are, downstairs (in the kitchen part) and upstairs (15 at the top — floor?) at Yalden — the coach service. Percy Benn would have been happier had he been coming away from his academy (perhaps he is going there). They had been together before in another similar place (“we met in the same room at Egham). (Reading letters so poorly annotated is so frustrating.) A Gibson picked up — this would be a relative of Frank’s wife; Lefaye as ever gives us a full family tree and leaves it to us to guess. Austen enjoys the idea that the experience is one she suggested in Love and Freindship.

Henry is at last recovering. Eliza died April 1813 and it’s now August 1814. We see how he still wants to have people about him.

Henry is very well has given me an account of the Canterbury Races, which seem to have been as pleasant as one could wish Everything went well. Fanny had good Partners, Mr John.Plumptre was her 2d on Thursday, but he did not dance with her any more. — This will content you for the present. I must just add however that there were no Lady Charlottes. They were gone off to Kirby — & that Mary Oxenden, instead of dieing, is going to marry Wm Hammond.-

While Jane was contentedly at Chawton, he went to visit Edward and Fanny Austen; they went to the races at Canterbury which occasion included a dance or ball: Fanny Austen Knight with him (so perhaps the father-brother, Edward) and John Plumptre who danced only the second dance with her. The next line suggests some estrangement — they did eventually break up. Godmersham is close to Eastwell and we’ve seen the continual interaction with the Finch-Hattons from letters dating back to 1805. Perhaps Jane hints that Henry has been flirting with Lady Charlotte. Another family in this area were the Oxendens (the later 17th century Finch family interacted with them); one girl reputed to have died, but no such thing, she married. I see a curious equivalence (marriage as an alternative to death) suggested in the witticism.

Then they are waiting for the older brother James and his son, James-Edward — the first mention of the nephew who will become important to Jane and who has been rightly credited with starting the Janeite cult. Whatever people individually think of his biography, it contains much that is invaluable; a great deal we know comes ultimately from it. And he and Anna clubbed together to begin to publish the as yet unpublished fragments: Lady Susan and The Watsons (second edition of memoir)

So there she and Henry sit, and it’s here we get her celebrating Henry’s garden, and her quiet. There is perhaps some explanation here for her part of her reluctance to accept Henry’s invitation. She had thought she would be squeezed in; so perhaps when she came with Fanny and they slept together over his shop she had not cared for that after all. But he has fixed his home yet more now, clearly eager for company to live there. Austen also characteristically mentions the servant, John, the young woman nameless (it could be she is fastidious in the sentence and means to suggest many servants are not so clean looking) and Richard a sort of footman. (I take it the never mentioning servants in the novels unless they were needed for a plot moment is her obeying a convention lest her snobbish readers despise her or disapprove her fiction).

No James & Edward yet. — Our evening yesterday was perfectly quiet; he only talked a little to Mr Tilson across the intermediate Gardens; she was gone out airing with Miss Burdett. — It is a delightful Place — than answers my expectation.Our evening yesterday was perfectly quiet; he only talked a little to Mr Tilson across the intermediate Gardens; Having got rid of my unreasonable ideas, I find more space & comfort in the rooms than I had supposed, & the Garden is quite a Love. I am in the front Attic, which is the Bedchamber to be preferred. Henry wants you to see it all, & asked whether you would return with him from Hampshire; I encouraged him to think you would. He breakfasts here, early, & then rides to Henrietta St — If it continues fine, John is to drive me there by & bye, & we shall take an Airing together; & I do not mean to take any other exercise, for I feel a little tired after my long time Jumble. — I live in his room downstairs, it is particularly pleasant, from opening upon the garden. I go & refresh myself every now & then, and then come back to Solitary Coolness. — There is one maid servant only, a very creditable, clean-looking young Woman. Richard remains for the present. —

Again there seems to be hinted a reluctance: Jane encouraged Henry to think Cassandra would come, suggests some dubiety they are not telling him.

Onto Wednesday:

Modern edition, recent review

It seems that James and the young JEAL can escaped from Mary, but not not Anna. Either James or JEAL has need of a dentist and one of them there to buy a wig. Austen’s errand to buy some “willow”. Again something which cries out for a decent note. It could be willow-bark from an apothecary, but I wonder if it isn’t something to plant in Henry’s garden the way she planted syringa in Southampton. I believe there’s a passage about willow in Cowper too.

Wednesday morning –My Brother & Edward arrived last night. — They could not get Places the day before. Their business is about Teeth & Wigs, & they are going after breakfast to Scarrnan’s & Tavistock St — and they are to return, to go with me afterwards in the Barouche. I hope to do some of my errands today. I got the Willow yesterday, as Henry was not quite ready when I reached Hen” St-I saw Mr Hampson there for a moment. He dines here tomorrow & proposed bringing his son; sol must submit to seeing George Hampson, though I had hoped to go through Life without it. — It was one of my vanities, like your not reading Patronage.

I agree there is snideness and it’s odd in a way since the Hampsons are related to Jane Austen by blood. Her grandmother was a Hampson — that is her father’s mother, Rebecca Hampson, William Austen’s first wife. This is not the first snobbery towards them; when Eliza had that large party Austen again wrote of the reluctance of her family group to be friendly with this branch of the family when a member showed up around the time of the party. They had to include him. She would prefer not to pollute herself by seeing him (shades of Lady Catherine I’m making this, but it’s the same root feeling that rejects Cassie as “too Palmery”)

Since we’ve mentioned snideness I’ll fast forward to the close of the letter where Jane finds room for a sneer at Anna’s Ben:
“All well at Steventon. I hear nothing particular of Ben, except Edward is to get him some pencils.” James and JEAL conveyed this need and Austen mocks it. He thinks himself some kind of intellectual with his apparently (in the family’s eyes) anti-careerist behavior based on conscience you see …

This is gratuitous, uncalled for. She never thinks that Anna is not invited to races or balls; had she been would she have turned to Ben? A shutting off of her niece’s realities has gone on in her mind since 1801 (when she wrote the poem and gave her the Murray Mentoria).

She lightens her dislike of meeting her father’s less than upper class Hampton family by saying it’s like Cassandra refusing to read Edgeworth’s Patronage, a superb novel by the way – and another where the characters do a play — a translation of one by Voltaire so if Jane and Cassandra had been reading Patronage aloud the past month the reference to too many plays in the previous letter could be to Patronage. Patronage is influenced by _S&S_ (it has a doppleganger heroine reminiscent) and the depiction of the great house culture and sycophantic patronage needed anticipates Mansfield Park. It’s worth remark that the sisters’ taste differed: Cassandra preferred Hannah More’s didactic Colebs in Search of a Wife, Jane Edgeworth’s sophisticated novels

She then turns to the visiting. I don’t know why the hit at Mrs Latouches.

After leaving Henrietta Street we drove to Mrs Latouches, they are always at home — & they are to dine here on friday. — We could do no more, as it began to rain. — We dine at 1/2 past 4 today, that our Visitors may go to the Play, and Henry & I are to spend the evening with the Tilsons, to meet Miss Burdett, who leaves Town tomorrow. — Mrs Tilson called on me yesterday. — Is not this all that can have happened, or been arranged? — Not quite. — Henry wants me to see more of his Hanwell favourite, & has written to invite her to spend a day or two here with me. His scheme is to fetch her on Saturday. I am more & more convinced that he will marry again soon, & like the idea of her better than of anybody else at hand.

It seems to be implied Mrs Latouche has no one to visit? They (she and Henry? or with James and JEAL?) could do no more than invite these people with nowhere to go normally. Underlying this is her identification with this from her years in Bath. Then James and JEAL want to go to the play (doubtless Paula Byrne or Gay looked up which play it was the two men went to and then made much of it as an influence on Jane’s work), but Jane will accompany Henry to the Tilsons once again. These are his important business partners and we see throughout these letters how he never neglects his partners or contacts if he can at all help it. Mrs Tilson must therefore be endured. She is the “She” mentioned in the scene before the garden time as gone out for an airing with Miss Burdett (much to Austen’s apparent relief). Henry has now a new candidate for companion: Miss Harriet Moore is brought up here.

LeFaye’s note (on p 555) is her usual absurdity; tons of stuff about the family connections, their status (is what’s she’s after) and for Harriet all we get is Harriet’s name and who her sister, and who she was either the niece or granddaughter of. It seems never to have crossed LeFaye’s mind that Harriet’s liking “Emmy very much, but MP was her favorite of all” (quoted by LeFaye in her note to the letter) was her flattering Henry for this genius in the family whom Henry was helping to publish (or Jane as her sister). Instead of all but the stuff on John Moore (which is relevant to another letter and in “biographical index”) the note should have consisted of the passage quoted where she gets this information about Harriet’s preferences and then the reader could see how far this is phony, and how far it’s just an attribution to her.

There is no entry for Harriet Moore in Tomalin. Nokes paraphrases the letter but says nothing beyond that (p. 444), then we are told Miss Moore was “a beauty;” later Austen has to play hostess to her and says she knows “so little about her” and the idea of a coach ride with a younger sister floors Jane: “We shall not have two ideas in common” (p. 455); that when Henry fell sick later on Jane was relieved that at least now she was spared Harriet and her relations (who were “fortunately” sick too (p. 464), and when the sickness was over there was less need for the apothecary Mr Haden (who Nokes agrees with me Jane was intensely attracted to) and Henry went to spend a weekend with the Moores where “he met with the utmost care and attention” (p. 475). Still nothing about Harriet.

LeFaye just repeats the lines of this letter (p. 193) and repeats the lines which Nokes at least tried to say something about on p. 455, but then does go on to offer what Jane said of the sister: “She is young, pretty, chattering & thinking cheifly (I presume) of dress, company, & admiration.”

We know that Henry eventually married a sober, serious basically impoverished gentlewoman, Eleanor Jackson who quietly endured the endlessly religious life of his later years and whom in an earlier latter Jane presented as slightly imbecilic. Eleanor in that letter sat gravely and did not get Jane’s mode of joking. (By the way Lefaye’s family trees in her Family Record are as confusing as her biographical index, with information we don’t want and without information we want so it’s not easy to make out where Henry’s second wife is among them.) From the above it seems as if Harriet was a very different kind of choice, but no more intelligent or cultivated — in the way Eliza was.


2008 S&S: Charity Wakefield as Marianne in a pelisse meant for travel

Time has passed before the next paragraph begins as Jane declares she has now eaten breakfast. You could not tell from LeFaye’s note that the Crutcheleys include a young widow whom Henry was also attracted to: Elizabeth or Mary I’m not sure which. In another letter Austen calls her his “favorite” and that’s why she needs to have a pretty Pelisse so she looks right for the visit.

Now, I have breakfasted & have the room to myself again. — It is likely to be a fine day. — How do you all do? — Henry talks of being at Chawton about the 1st of September — He has once mentioned a scheme, which I should rather like — calling on the Birches &-the Crutchleys in our way. It may never come to anything, but I must provide for the possibility, by troubling you to send up my Silk Pelisse by Collier on Saturday. — I feel it would be necessary on such an occasion; — and be so good as to put up a clean Dressing gown which will come from the Wash on friday.-You need not direct it to be left anywhere. It may take its chance.-We are to call for Henry between 3 & 4-& I must finish this & carry it with me, as he is not always there in the morning before the Parcel is made up. — And before I set off, I must return Mrs Tilson’s visit.-I hear nothing of the Hoblyns & abstain from all enquiry. —

Henry is suddenly including his relatives on his future choices — that’s why he wants to go to Chawton in part. And that’s why the phrase “it may never come to anything.” I presume Austen hoped it would not and we see her reluctance to be dressed up as she is willing to let the dress get to her by chance. Without the knowledge Mrs Crutchley is another candidate the paragraph remains obscure: it’s Nokes who supplies this information. Tomalin who did little original research hasn’t got the name in her index. Lefaye identifies the Hoblyns only as people who were possibly on Sloane Street or Portman Square. Either way they are upper class and genteel; possibly Henry is cultivating friends for clients and Jane hopes she is will not be called upon to have to go with him. It does seem it was de rigueur for him to have a female relative visit to make these connections

In her last paragraph Jane remembers the people at home, followed by the sneer at Ben Lefroy in a postscript Jane is remembering her nephews and nieces here: they have a garden, she imitates baby language she used with them. These appear to be Frank’s children (who she would be sure to say something gentle like this too, affectionate vicariously). As she wrote this perhaps brother James read it over her shoulder or she read the letter to him or she spoke of it, because his reply is his gardens are doing well too. Mrs C is Mrs Craven: since she is known to have been such a harridan, LeFaye suggests Jane is ironic here. (We might remember Mrs Craven’s power over Martha Lloyd here too). “What a comfort!” (Could it be death is rescuing her?) . I suppose then the closing sneer would come out of this hard irony — if it is ironic.

I hope Mary Jane & Frank’s Gardens go on well. — Give my Love to them all-Nunna Hat’s Love to George — A great many People wanted to mo up in the Poach as well as me. — The wheat looked very well all the way, & James says the same of his road.- The same good account of Mrs Craven’s health continues, & her circumstances mend. Sh egets farther & farther from Poverty. — What a comfort! [Good bye to You.-Yours very truely & affectionately Jane Austen

All well at Steventon. I hear nothing particular of Ben, except that Bdward'” is to get him some pencils. –

Diana Birchall on Love and Freindship

Joan Hassell’s illustration for Love and Freindship where the friends faint alternatively on one couch

Thank you very much for the reference Diana and the literary criticism/reading of Love and Freindship, taking us back to her juvenilia — but let’s note here how she does not regard the juvenilia as lesser. We know that to the end she continued to keep them by her side as much as she did her fragments, her unfinished books, her manuscripts — and probably her letters too.

The reference reminds us how she valued her comedy and it may be that the comic aspect of her work was what she came closest to understanding of the parts of her work she is most valued for today. Today her literal verisimilitude is not what most people read her for though they will acknowledge how that aspect of her art makes it so believable as an experience. I admit hilarity while delicious is not what I value her for most and I think were it not backed up by some valid vision of experience she would remain a lesser writer.

I read the letters probably primarily as life-writing, for that’s what they are, and seek to build up a picture of Jane Austen as she was, as a person. Given her deep embeddedness in her family it’s central to understanding her to understand them far better than has been done, to both value and see their traits which stymied and actuated her as a writer and experience as a woman too.

My original aim was to get behind the biographies, to see for myself the evidence upon which the biographers build and as Tomalin says and Nokes enacts, the life blood of biographies are the letters the subject left. For us that includes the letters her close relatives left. And after this their imaginative fictional and other writings.

My aim has become to shape a more adequate picture of Jane’s family and friends. I’ve learned how she loves Francis and how their relationship is not done justice to, how she yearned to be a partner to Martha and came as close as she could to being that (given their financial circumstances and strong censoring social constraints). I’ve learned that Henry and Eliza are distorted in the representation, that James’s work is wrongly dissed and dismissed. To see who and how and why Henry is courting this or that women is part of each tiny stroke by which the real Henry can emerge — to him we must be grateful for the publication of the novels.

So yes it irritates me to see the new bits of evidence as we go towards a better understanding of her family and herself ignored or ridden over. Not that anyone is going to pay any attention to me beyond perhaps reading what I write and maybe thinking about it. Only those who publish books and are part of the academic world or high in the commercial social one can alter the larger public image which is to the monetary and career advantage of those in charge today. They are ever slightly recasting it to flatter them and her cult’s identity politics.


The latest reprint of Chapman’s still fundamental edition of Austen’s fiction

On my continuing critique of LeFaye’s edition of Austen’s letters –

Though I’ve edited only two novels (on the Net – the two French novels, both of which have been commended in reviews in peer-edited journals, French ones: Caroline de Litchfield, Amelie Mansfield) and am editing a third for Valancourt: Smith’s Ethelinde, I write out of an experience of reviewing letter editions. I did two in Renaissance studies, two for Jane Austen for academic periodicals (Later manuscripts is on line) and now am studying the Burney, Volume 5.

And I wrote a biography of Anne Finch, found many of her unattributed poems. It’s all on the Net and this is used by scholars.

It’s true the Burney volumes seem to have a team and enormous resources, but each volume comes down to a single or two editors. You can compare Betty Rizzo’s Volume 4, part 2 (Streatham volume) to Lefaye’s.

It’s against all these latter, though since I’m now about the Burney and recently published on the Austen later manuscripts that I speak. LeFaye falls into the category of “family friend and advocate:” she really edits from that point of view. I’d say that (as well as the muddled way the volume is set up) is the origin of all the faults and flaws in this edition. Reiman’s study of modern manuscripts describes her behavior (so to speak) in this edition, her choices to a T.

It’s not just a matter of caution. There is a document that Nokes cites which leads him to call say Harriet Moore a beauty; he doesn’t quote the whole but does cite his source. What is the source text for the statement about Moore’s liking for Emma and preference for MP. LeFaye should have quoted that, not given us an extensive appreciation of Moore family connections is my point.

She knows a helluva a lot I’m sure and about the Gibsons. If there is no document, she should say so. Not give us another extended (and confusing) family history. Is she giving us these data is to assume (in effect) that we are going to check them out ourselves? That’s not what an editor of letters is supposed to do. An editor of letters is supposed to make a complete compact volume for a more general readership

in this week’s letter we had the remnants of two broken off but started new romances for Henry. LeFaye’s notes obscure this. Here she may not be that aware but she is aware of her view of Henry and the one she wants us to see. Shallow and worldly. If so, why marry Eleanor Jackson? what he was was desperately trying for independence as a fourth son.


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The body repeats the landscape. They are the source of each other and create each other — Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

Truth is what Jane Smiley cares about most–truthful descriptions, truthful conclusions. If one of the purposes of fiction is to illuminate dark corners of life, then she fulfills it triumphantly — Margaret Forster

A Thousand Acres (1997 film, scripted Laura Jones): the central characters play monopoly (yes that’s Colin Firth as Jesse Clark)

Dear friends and readers,

Although I’ve yet to watch the film adaptation of Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, I’ve chosen the above still as a nightly game of monopoly is played for many months among the novels’ five central characters, two sisters, Ginny Cook Smith and Rose Cook Lewis, their husbands, Ty smith and Pete Lewis (respectively), and an old friend turned lover of both, Jesse Clark. I’ve decided to make my way slowly through a few of Jane Smiley’s books, I admit partly because she emailed me to praise my book (!), and then sent me two: her latest, Private Life and her portrait life, Charles Dickens. I had read one of her books before, Ordinary Love and Good Will (two novellas published together), and begun two more, 10 Days In the Hills, and 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. I hope to go back to these and try her Dickens once again. For now I’ll discuss two I’ve just finished, A Thousand Acres and Private Life (an early & recent novel) as superb experiences of women’s art, with a little about 10 Days, MOO, Good Will, 13 Ways, a review by Smiley of a novel by Anita Brookner, and a review of Smiley’s novels by another favorite writer, Margaret Forster (I’ve yet to try a book by her I’ve not loved).

The three sisters: Ginny (Jessica Lange), Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), Caroline (Jennifer Leigh)

As everyone knows, A Thousand Acres retells Shakespeare’s King Lear, the story of a King who gives away his property to three ungrateful daughters, two of whom take over everything and throw him out, while the third because she refused to trick him by flattery is banished, only to become the only loving daughter-queen of the foolish and (in the end) broken-hearted man. A second story has a Lord who stigmatizes his bastard son who is twisted by this derision, and becomes vengeful and deludes this fool father into banishing a son who loves him, this second father also only to discover the rejected is the good person who rescues him from the cruelty inflicted on him by his bastard son.

Like Charlotte Lennox (Shakespeare Illustrated), Smiley presents these stories from a woman’s point of view set in US mid-west at the middle of the 20th century. We slowly discover over the course of the book what seemed stereotypical “good families” covers over a central father Larry, who has been a remorseful bully, inflicting incest on his three daughters, after his complicit (like Charlotte Harlowe in Richardson’s Clarissa) wife dies, rigidly using every minute of their lives by (among other methods) isolating them. Similarly we discover the secondary father, Harold Clark, has broken his sons’ prospects by imposing central US values for men (competitiveness for wealth, macho male physicality “on behalf of country” called patriotism) on them though overt and hidden humiliation, punishment, ejection. What holds these people together is their need to cultivate their landscape to become working farms, sheer hard work, to maintain their dignity and self-respect and know a little fun within their strait-laced self-policed (in public) community.

I’d liken it to an anthropological exposure of American realities and lies. Its imagery is powerful, derived from the central US plains, its food, its animals, its farming practices, cars, furniture, things owned; the perverse destructive behavior comes from the social dysfunction of a culture of isolated (though acting together) individuals within kept-apart competitive family groups. Jesse is the important questioner: I felt exhilaration when to Ginny’s self-effacing endless justifications of the parents, and implicit demand, how dare you not come back to your mother’s funeral, how dare you not be there for her as she lies dying:

don’t you realize they’ve destroyed us at every turn? You bet she was sad, of course she was sad! But why didn’t she give me a fucking chance? He put his face in his hands ..

And then the truth of his mother’s betrayal comes out. I loved also the depiction of his girlfriend, Alison, whose story runs parallels: driven to kill herself because forsooth they don’t approve, she’s not religious.

Our heroine, Ginny, is now embarked on an affair with Jesse; she has sex with him the day after sexual intercourse with her husband in bed. It seems to me an interesting range in her character; she has had two more miscarriages than her husband knows and he does not like to have sex with her it seems because of these. it’s okay in her mind as long as she gives in in public.

Rose, who had breast cancer, given no other option, had a complete masectomy and is deeply ashamed of her lack of real breasts — this after enduring years of physical abuse from her husband. Now she gets back by liaisons and Pete, her husband’s having failed to become a singer (what he wanted), unable to become a successful businessman, drinks heavily, drives wildly. The two sisters go to a thrift shop and Rose tries on a dress alone but comes out with a kind of flat appalled look. She and Ginny talk:

    I’m not really to the point where I can take off my clothes in a dressing room yet.” She sighed. I pulled out of the parking lot.
    A few minutes later, she said, “What’s the hardest thing for you?”
    “Well, I don’t know. Probably being comfortable with people
outside the family.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Oh, you know. I either act too shy, or else I want the person to be my friend so much that I act like an idiot. I never believe that Marlene Stanley or anyone else actually likes me, even though I suppose I know they do.”
    “God! This is just like how you used to talk in junior high.”
    I stiffened a little. “What practice have I had since then? Anyway, in junior high, you used to say, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be friends with so-and-so? Let’s bring some cookies and offer one to so-and- so, then maybe she’ll be our friend.’ ”
    Rose laughed a full-throated, merry laugh. “Usually it worked too.
    We drove in silence for a few minutes.
    Finally, she said, “You know what? The hardest thing for me is not grabbing things. One of the main things I remember about being a kid is Mommy slapping my hands and telling me not to grab. What’s worse is I have this recurring nightmare about grabbing things that hurt me, like that straight razor Daddy used to have, or a jar of some poison that spills on my hands. I know I shouldn’t, and I watch myself, but I can’t resist.”
    “I dream about standing in the lunch line naked. It’s always the lunch line in ninth grade.”
    “Nakedness dreams are very common.”
    “I suppose they are.” (p. 61-62)

Caroline was brought up by her and Rose differently than themselves, enabled to be more conventional, have pretty things, go with boys, go to college, and thus that’s how she got away to become a lawyer. She turns on her sisters, beats them out by replacing them as the obedient daughter. A glimpse from Ginny late in the book overhearing Caroline wheedling Larry, the father and he bullying her just the way Ginny used to. Giving her hours and life up to pleasing him. Suddenly we know the father inflicted incest on Ginny for sure (she had been in denial to Rose) and on Caroline too.

I mentioned interwoven into the story is an on-going evening game of monopoly. Most of the time when characters sit down and play cards I really have no idea what’s happening but here I do. What American has never played monopoly? Again Jesse has the acute observation. When Jesse’s father, Harold Clarke decides to renovate the Clark kitchen, the daughters’ father, Larry spends a thousand dollars on fancy things typical of renovatiosn (the sorts for which US people end of spending $40,000). Then he puts them out in the rain defying all efforts to bring them inside, infuriating Rose as wasteful.
Jesse has it: “it’s just a gesture that’s supposed to denigrate what Harold does” — and Rose who also renovated. Is Grandfather crazy asks Pammy, one of Rose’s daughters to her aunt, Ginny? No, intones Ginny, it’s all exaggeration. I would not say that. I’d say it: it’s spite, mean spite.

Ginny and Rose confronted by father (Jason Robarts)

Larry goes to court to wrest his property back, and loses his case; he signed a contract (as they say in the US) and Tyler, Rose and Ginny kept up the business very well (Pete has killed himself by this time); the suit is in fact vindictive and judge orders the father to pay fines. Nonetheless, the foursome were ostracized: no one approves of telling hard truths about family life or exposing its realities.

Yet telling one another the truth about their motives and what happened in secret tears the five apart, with winning the farm a final blow as to keep it going asks too much. Ginny flees to a meagre job in a nearby town as a waitress; Ty drifts off after making one last attempt to reach Ginny, and as before he cannot. “Don’t flirt with me” she says — reminding me suddenly of just that same comment from Cora, Lady Grantham (Downton Abbey) to Lord Grantham after their daughter Sybil’s death and he wants to make up. We are too feel they never see one another again. He is become a drifter unless he meets someone he can connect to. Rose and Jesse break up, and Rose’s cancer returns, so Ginny comes back (as if waiting in the wings) to become her sister’s daughters’ mother. She had enacted that by providing kindliness for much of their younger lives. Caroline remains estranged.

The last two chapters are fitting: an auction is going to be had, and I get the feeling if not an estate, some of it will be put out on the lawn just like these yard sales I see in the US. So Ginny and Caroline (Rose now dead from cancer) get to come for first dibs. The chapters are lists of things intensely familiar to me as common American objects, commercially made products. The debris and build-up of a lifetime. In effect I have that from 44 years of marriage (and from my parents before), only in my case I did not accumulate farm equipment, cooking stuff, cleaning stuff, I accumulated books mostly and some furniture and (less but something now — 2 closets full) clothes. I did notice Ginny’s father and mother are not listed as having much clothes. (My mother had just tons and tons of clothes and jewels, to put it in bags took a half a room.) In a way it’s a sum up of a lifetime — and then sold, disbursed which is what happens.

Looking at it from a sort of junk aspect, Ginny thinks to herself (uncritically the way she often still does) people will buy all these things. I can never really figure out why they – but then I got to library used book sales and buy myself.

The book’s great strengths are the implicit way it reveals what is as opposed to what seems, the controlled style, the use of irony (yes think of Austen if you must, she was one of the first to use this mode in English, in French it’s Madame de Lafayette) and the scenes where quietly things that should devastate are shown, with every once in a while a pointed naturalistic sum-up:

Ginny takes Rose’s daughters, Pammy and Linda, to the neighborhood pool where we see how Ginny colludes in her oppression: she gently but persistently urges both nieces to “make friends” with the others by asserting things about friendship that are not so: It sounded good, but the fat was that I really didn’t believe it myself” (p 86), and Pammy tries, equipped with polka dot sunglasses, but when they are leaving, Ginny knows they have not had that summer joy she dreamed of for them, “nowhere to be privately, contemplatively immersed. The energy we had brought, the expectation of fun, seeped away, and left us even more listlessly reluctant to go home …” (p 95) Yet at the pool a woman comes over to Ginny and tells her that when her and Rose’s mother died, the mother was so worried for both, that both would lead these frustrated lives, but especially Ginny. the friend was deterred by the murder of one son (what else is war?) in Vietnam and death of another in a car accident. The woman would have liked to have been the good friend. Nuggets defining people in this scene: “Rose always did things rights as an assertion of herself. Pammy did things right so that she wouldn’t get into trouble. Linda, a year younger, was more carefree.” Pammy another Ginny.


There is at the end too much forgiveness for the Lear figure. Ginny has images in her mind of him prowling the house at night desperate. There is no excuse for maiming someone else bodily and emotionally in their inmost being. Glynis Carr has suggested Ginny is both a Demeter and Persephone (“Persephone’s Daughters: Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acre and Classical Myth.” Bucknell Review 44.1 (2000): 120-136


Sven Bicketts has an insightful review of Private Life in the NYTimes which will spare me the trouble of summarizing the story.

What does he omit? the circular feel of the narrative — very like say Eva Figes’s Seven Ages of Women or so many women’s memoirs. The first section is labelled 1942; the second 1883, then each moves up slowly at significant moments in Margaret’s life, her marriage to Andrew, the birth of the one child, its death; the growing estrangement, and so on to 1957, and then back to 1942. 1942 was the time of internment of Japanese, where Margaret has made a few real friends.

It begins strongly: Margaret, an older woman (grey, in her sixties), is in bed, upstairs, somewhere in California, and hears someone coming in. She wonders if it’s her husband as she’s had no telegram, at first leery, discovers it’s a lover-friend. Pete. He drives her somewhere we discover gradually is an internment camp for Japanese people; they visit two friends, an older woman dying of pneumonia, not being treated as she needs to be even were she not deathly ill at all.

Book moves in next phase (blank page with 1883) to Margaret as a little girl remembering back to her grandparents and parents, and so swiftly confidently telling of two brothers’ deaths, the father’s suicide partly because of this, her mother moving in with her farmer father and the upbringing of her and three sisters.

So it’s a historical novel (in effect) too, set in the US.

Bickets also omits how funny is the satire on Andrew; how he become so self-involved; that he’s an outsider to all these establishment types so seen as a crank, and then partly because of this he does become a sort of crank as he finds himself rejected over and over; how he loses perspective. How Smiley bonds with him as much as she does with Margaret. A funny satire on the publishing business, on the nature of fame versus notoriety.

As the novel nears to an end the oddity is the laughter feels merry, and yet what one is laughing about is our heroine has spent her life with a delusional crank — who however is just like many people. She looks back on all she didn’t do — like get to Paris, London or Rome – and we empathize yet we know she could not have. I thought of a “saying” of the kind Trollope trots out towards the end of his The Way We Live Now(which I just finished, having really read parts of it with understanding that I never did before): He resolved ” “to take the world as he found it, and not to lose himself in regrets for a kind of happiness which he could never attain” — Trollope as Roger Carbury TWWLN When I do this I call this sort of this self-urging …

It ought to be devastating anguish at the close, but it’s not. We are dialoguing with the book instead.

How also Andrew bullies Margaret, isolates her from those few people she might find some fulfillment with, keeps her from traveling and experiencing the world.

Yes it’s a quintessentially women’s novel, no less in its ability to make wide-ranging statements about US paranoia and public life through this delving into one women’s subjective private experience as a housewife. Andrew is persuaded that Margaret is being used by a ring of fascist Nazi conspirators and himself tells on her. He is not believed (as this crank).

It ends on a quiet searingly bitter note which somehow includes acceptance and a glimpse at redemption. Our heroine has thrown away her life — lost it. Lost all the people who mattered in a world of inanity and cruelty too. But she has provided little spaces of sanity for the women circles she was part of.


Hugh Grant: a marvelous mock-dance in Love Actually

To conclude: her imitation of Boccaccio, 10 Days in the Hills includes a wittily intelligent way of describing movies as they really operate today — she makes fun of voice-over and all the new enunciation techniques as well as what she calls the perpetual “manliness problem” which gets in the way of many males acting well. She says Hugh Grant is a rare actor who simply dismisses the problem. She plays with the reader too. She is partly writing a playful metafiction
which reminds me of Karen Joy Fowler’s Sister Noon.

I love the anti-war attack as part of its framing: her terms are those of Virginia Woolf. The people running the war is are simply horrifyingly openly indifferent to the deaths and destruction that don’t affect them. So too everyone else not in the arena of those who count.

I’m told repeatedly to read Smiley’s Moo, an academic satire, but honest, after reading Elaine Showalter’s explanation of the genre, Faculty Towers, I’d probably need a strong anti-depressant to get through. (I admit I’ve bought a copy though.)

Good Will an ironic title. Smiley’s male narrator created an enclosed world he expected his wife to live with him in, one which excluded outsiders. He was very cruel to the son, and I was relieved to find at its close that my feeling the stance was ironic was correct: we are not to see the narrator as he sees himself.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson grieving over her mother, Lady Dedlock (Gillian Anderson) (Bleak House 2009)

Jane Smiley as critic: I’ve begun her 13 Ways and knows she defends the traditional “good” heroine, i.e., Esther Summerson but read the whole book for its revelations of how a fine American author reads, what are her assumptions, her aesthetics. “Only the Lonely” is her title for a perceptive review of Anita Brookner’s A Closed Eye where she’s concerned to bring out the cultural difference between a British and American woman’s novel. Smiley says this about Brookner’s heroine:

Harriet seems more fatally restricted by her chilly social world than the Islamic women of Naguib Mahfouz’s works, who never leave their houses after marriage but at least spend joyful hours confiding in their children and servants … As subtly and lucidly as can be, Brookner makes the case that if women fail to claim their lives, their self-respect and their desires, the very pain they sought to avoid returns to them many-fold.

And Margaret Forster on Smiley’s early Blind Horses. (Smiley loves Trollope for his horse scenes too; she is herself a horsewoman as they say.)

It measures up, in spite of a wobbly first quarter. Here, just as in A Thousand Acres, is the same slow, unwinding of the narrative string and then the sudden pull, the shocking jerk as the point of it all is pushed home. Patience, such patience this writer has, content to proceed with measured steps, hesitant but carefully confident too … The tension here is real and almost unbearable, and it all stems from Kate’s sense of alienation. She loves her children only in relation to how well they connect with her horses. Any rebellion against riding is a sin. And her children seem at first extraordinary in that they do not rebel, do not protest. They resent and even hate her in varying degrees, but they conform. Each fantasises about escape, but only one manages it … Her husband–a background but important character–can hardly tolerate how his wife reacts to the tragedy which overtakes them. He always has pined for what he calls ‘just four normal American kids’ and he at last sees clearly why they never could be, and never will be, normal in the way he desires. There is a sickening feeling of absolute truth about his realisation

I have begun Smiley’s Duplicate Keys. Her foray into turning the formulaic or traditional mystery-detective-crime novel into another. There’s a certain kind of woman’s book I find that is the equivalent of an intimate supportive woman friend. They are not easy to spot since the advertising for books, and particularly women’s books, is often so misleading, indeed downright lies. Smiley belongs with these in the 20th, now 21st century: with Rosamund Lehman (one of her heroines reads P&P while having her abortion), Christina Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Emma Donoghue, Carol Shields. And there are women’s films which do the same: Sandy Welch, Gwyneth Hughes, Anne Pivcevic, June Wyndham-Davies as producers. All variously daughters of Jane Austen.


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Anna Austen Lefroy

Dear friends and readers,

Although I wrote about Austen’s 16 letters to Anna last year and individually, I thought I’d write again and provide an over-view since on Austen-l and Janeites we are now up to letters 103 (mid-July, 1814, Chawton to Steventon) and 104 (10-18 August 1814, Chawton to Steventon) in our journey through all Austen’s letters. These are the 2nd and 3rd of 16, the first is letter 76 (29-31, October 1812, a burlesque of novel; see also Isobel Grundy’s essay

Lady MacLairn, The Victim of Villany by Rachel Hunter

There are left to us 16 altogether and letters 103 and 104 show Jane Austen and her mother awaiting Anna’s coming wedding and Jane responding to an novel Anna was in the midst of writing, a novel which seems to be a close imitation of her aunt’s. The real poignancy of the set is they exist and we have them only because Anna herself gave them up to her brother when he was writing his biography. Anna was one of the three children of James who tried to transmit knowledge of the aunt. It is true that Austen’s remarks on her niece’s manuscript cannot be taken as general criticism since they are meant just for Anna’s eyes, but that Austen would necessarily be kind is not so; we’ve seen by this time Austen’s hostility to her niece (growing since Anna began to have courtships) to the point that Anna would not bring her fiance over to Chawton unless both her aunts were not there.

On the 8th of November Anna would marry Ben Lefroy

An image of their marriage license

In the 16 letters we will see much hypocrisy and lack of sympathy, including one where Jane pretends to sympathize with Anna’s purchase of a piano for herself and admire her furniture, after which Austen writes to Fanny saying she expects to find in the future Anna will regret this self-indulgence and mocks the furniture. And In the these remnants Anna has to have seen how her aunt really felt about her; one of them she herself tore up and left only a remnant and yet despite the pain she helped her brother. By contrast, Fanny had about 30 and only 5 have been retrieved — by her son, Brabourne.

Letter 103

18th century wash linen: this might be included in a trousseau

First a general account: Basically the first half of the remnant of 103 is by Mrs Austen, Jane’s mother, Anna’s grandmother. The grandmother’s letter functions as a sort of an excuse for not having made any or more wedding clothes or trousseau items (in her Notes and Queries it seems that LeFaye assumes when Anna stayed at the cottage in May the grandmother was making her trousseau, but that’s not the way the words read here and I don’t know what her evidence is), and Austen’s is a reiteration that it’s fine if Anna does not come over. I include in my first blog the full text of Caroline’s letter describing the bleak wedding ceremony, its lack of any celebration. It’s striking to see Anna’s continued dependence as she’s nonetheless sent her aunt and grandmother a manuscript piece of her novel.

This is a poignant as well as savagely cut letter (as is the fifth chosen by Todd and Bree, Letter 113). Pp. 1 and 2 are missing. In the text as we have it, Mrs Austen writes first. She asserts she is “well in health” just weak in her eyes. She says when she reads or writes it’s without glasses and since she needed glasses she had not read or written anything. Anna is about to get married and Mrs Austen is begging off making her any clothes. She did not have the spare time to do a full trousseau for the wedding. In the opening lines we see that Anna sends a MS rather than come over; the grandmother will sit and think of the niece because the niece is not coming over and she has not been there for 3 or 4 weeks. The grandmother is glad the niece has not come over sooner, for at this point she can no longer sew anything. I agree it’s not clear how much she has sewn, but there is a apology in the third line with the implication that the grandmother has indeed sewn all that is needed.

The family did not want this wedding. Anna herself was caught between a rock and a hard place. Live with the stepmother and she never gets to go anywhere; who wouldn’t escape to a man who presents himself as a figure of high integrity even it means he is unlikely to take sinecures (after all her father did not want to do it — harassed by his wife into it).

At the close of this fragment Mrs Austen suddenly assures Anna how much she, Mrs Austen, loves Anna; indeed she loves “very few bettter.” What can she talk about? fruit and flowers. Also that she has been thinking about Anna, and worried about the married life to come, Anna’s future, what her life will be like once she marries.

Ann Murray’s Mentoria (1801): google book cover; Jane Austen wrote a poem to Anna years before and placed it in this book as a gift

We then turn to Jane who provides a postscript. Jane says she is glad her niece has not come sooner — she is about to come over. So another part of the letter is about why Anna had not been coming over. Anna knew the relatives were not keen. Perhaps the front part of the letter had Jane’s doubts about the young man — or it could have been the stepmother or problems with James, the father — not a happy man as we’ve seen.

In the context of this Austen’s few remarks about Anna’s fiction are sent. Alas, the novel was destroyed by depressed Anna. Anna’s daughter, Fanny Caroline left a note to explain how her mother had destroyed the manuscript one night in a sudden fit of despair in the 1820s by throwing it in the fire.

What do we see in Austen’s comments shorn of the novel they are about: a fiction must have intense energy flowing through (“the spirit does not droop at all”); characters must be mixed not all good or all bad; verisimilitude again: a high status woman would not be introduced to a mere slip of a girl. The name Cecilia (from Burney and made popular) that Anna had made too good a heroine (too “aimable” is the tactful way of putting this), but Jane says she is still interesting. (Jane Austen had amiable heroines later on and before mid-1814.) She finds Lord Orville stiff and unnatural (unreal); her good hero, Mr Knightley (sans peur et sans reproche) is not even though very good he is natural in presentation, believable. Darcy is not so nice: and her other heroes are flawed.

In my blog I also include a brief life of Anna (her husband died young and left her with too many children and much of her later existence was spent in penury), then go on to describe and discuss Anna’s continuation of Sanditon because even if Anna destroyed this novel we do have this plus her one published romance, Mary Hamilton, a book like Persuasion in mood. Anna also much later on wrote some awful religious-didactic children’s stories.

See Diana Birchall’s paraphrase and reading. I agree the grandmother’s tone is cool and the aunt bland.

Letter 104

One of Charles Brock’s illustrations to Jane Austen’s novels (for Pride and Prejudice, 1898, supposed Mr Collins and Charlotte, colorized for a calendar)

Like others I recognize the importance of this letter – there are a couple of others to Anna where we see Austen open up her way of thinking consciously about fiction as she wrote as well as read it; and there is one to JEAL, the nephew. Austen did recognize her older brother’s children had gifts. if she does not go in for “wild screams of praise,” that shows respect to Anna; overpraise is a sign of non-serious dismissal.

In the blog I began by reprinting the whole letter. I did that for each of the first three letters to Anna. I’ve taken to doing this for all Austen’s letters (only now I’ve begun to put the text in the “comments” part of the blog) but I wasn’t doing it at the time. Then I made real efforts by reading all the letters about this specific novel to work out something of the novel’s characters and story. Again I’m by no means the first person to try and I read some other critics’ efforts.

I agree with Diana Birchall on the general principles we can call them that the particular remarks exemplify: literal versimilitude very important in Austen’s mind, intense application of time and space to keep to a diurnal imitation of reality; psychological probability, no extravagances of phrase. Admittedly what Austen is instructing her niece on are surface elements; there are some underlying assumptions (about how necessary it is to get a reader to believe in, immerse him or herself in a fiction). Like Jane Austen herself, Anna’s characters wandered around the seacoast of southern England, the spas. Austen treats of these only as problems in verisimilitude. Anna’s female characters must not risk any untoward or too inviting behaviors. They should be above all discreet. Ireland won’t do but some of Anna’s Irish characters will.

I”ll add that it seems to me Austen also reads for suspense and thinks Anna should keep suspense up. She tells which characters she likes (whatever that means) and wants to see more of. She also likes sketches of life so to speak – the sketch of Clanmurray “and your picture of the two poor girls enjoyments is very good.” I surmize there was irony in Anna’s work here:she was exposing how little enjoyment the heroines had; Austen would enjoy wry exposures where much is left implicit.

Then Fanny Caroline, Anna’s daughter’s important note which I’ll simply reprint again:

The story to which most of these letters of Aunt Jane’s refer was never finished. It was laid aside for a season because my mother’s hands were so full she lacked the leisure to continue it. Her eldest child was born in October [1815], and her second in the Sept. following [1816] and in the longer interval that followed before the birth of the third [1818] her Aunt died and with her must have died all inclination to continue her writing. With no Aunt Jane to read, to criticise and to encourage it was no wonder the MS every word of which was so full of her, remained untouched. Her sympathy which had made the real charm of the occupation was gone and the sense of the loss made it painful to write. The story was laid by for years and then one day in a fit of despondency burnt. I remember sitting on the rug and watching its destruction amused with the flames and the sparks which kept breaking out in the blackened paper. In later years when I expressed my sorrow that she had destroyed it she said she could never have borne to finish it, but incomplete as it was Jane Austen’s criticisms would have made it valuable.’ Fanny-Caroline Lefroy, MS Family History (Hampshire Record Office, 23M93 / 85 / 2).

By these ‘later years’, however, Anna had evidently forgotten that she did make an attempt to continue with her story, for in a letter to JEAL, dated 26 October 1818, she says: ‘I am in the middle of a scene between Mrs Forrester & Mrs St. Julian — I hope I shall do it tolerably well, because it requires to be done so-I want to get a good parcel done to read to you at Christmas but you know how little time I have for any thing of that sort-’ HRO 23M93/86/3. Fanny Caroline Lefroy, MS Family HIstory (Hampshire Record Office)

I then went over Mary Hamilton the one extant romance type novel Anna did publish – beyond her continuation of Sanditon (which I reviewed with Letter 103 above). We see how intensely emotional – but not superficially so — was Anna’s romance writing, it’s very like Persuasion in feel. I summarize it.

Then I try to contextualize the letter differently: I bring in remarks about Anna (some unkind) and what is known about their relationship just then – that is clearly an influence here. How Austen seems to want a community of women and yet does not seek to make Anna part of it – the way she did Fanny, e.g., Austen does not care for Anna’s emotional character and genius and either ignores or wants to change it. Austen does worry about Anna’s future with some responsible caring words to her brother, Francis, but these are offset by words which blame Anna without taking into account why Anna makes the choices she does.

I’ll leave anyone who is interested to read the quotations. That Jane Austen was hard (I think unfairly sometimes) on her niece and her husband, Ben (when Ben did not want to do what might lead to a promotion and Anna supported him in this) is suggested by Fanny Caroline’s further note defending her mother against her great-aunt’s strictures:

My father although deeply attached to my mother was far too high-principled and conscientious to take Holy Orders for the sake of being immediately married. Possibly he had not yet quite decided on his profession, at all events he was not ordained until three years afterwards. As to my mother’s reluctance to go to Chawton, sent away as she was to mark my GodMother’s anger with him, it was not possible she should go with any other feelings.’ –Lefroy Notes.


Another Brock illustration for Pride and Prejudice (Elizabeth teases Darcy, asking him if he admired her for her impertinence?)

After I posted the above on Austen-l and Janeites, Diana wrote:

Ellen, wonderful overview of the Anna letters. Jane Austen certainly had some mixed feelings about her. I’m now thinking that Letter 104 may be disingenuous … she doesn’t want to give Anna any real, deep, serious criticism or advice; just superfluities. And this may be because she doesn’t think that Anna has it to be a fine novelist, like herself. Yet she doesn’t want to discourage her or hurt her feelings, so she gives her some mild praise, “there, dear” pats on the head, and minor unhurtful critical comments just to make the thing smoother, close up some holes and inconsistencies. She’s not truly trying to affect, help, change, improve. Just to patch up the most egregious errors, so it can perhaps come out as a nice ladies’ novel … but she isn’t giving it the deep compliment and respect of treating it seriously, by the standards of her own.

To which I replied:

There’s a strong tendency to try to separate Jane Austen’s writing and fiction off from the writing of the rest of her family, and to insist Austen’s superiority was seen then as people see it today. The epitaph describes her gifts as strong intelligence, rather than having a strong imagination or gift for writing (not mentioning the novels as unmentionable). The family did encourage her to write during the 1790s but we do not know they did while she was in Bath. We do feel they must have known by the end, and there is Henry getting her work published (and spending his own money); there are her brother James’s and nephew’s poems to her about her work; Caroline’s awe in her life of her aunt, and all the effort both James-Edward Austen-Leigh and Anna took to memorialize her and put what had not gotten into print they had control over into print. Francis had kept all Jane’s letters and probably never would have wanted them to be destroyed. But none of this is cause enough to separate her work off. She did not, they did not, no one in her era did (even Scott does not see her as somehow different or much much better than his other women writers).

If it’s true that Austen’s letter shows condescension and dismissal, and I have half-agreed, and if we are seeming to to take a uncharitable view of Austen’s reaction, this uncharitable view is one we find Austen voicing again and again. Partly because she spent so many years unpublished, we have seen her throughout (but especially before published) trash and speak out harshly against most novels & authors she reads — the exceptions being the super-respected males (Johnson, Cowper). Understandably still (this being the one thing she has that gives her respect and yet among most people
she’s an old maid with no dowry, getting on), she will brook no sister near her throne. And it’s not that she’s not eager to recognize some quality near hers; she often genuinely reacts against qualities in novels she doesn’t like and burlesques. I suspect that Anna’s fiction is an imitation of her aunt’s but (from Mary Hamilton) much more romantic. This won’t do entirely since Jane Austen goes into oodles of praise for her nephew in a couple of years (as we’ll see, Letter 146, Mon-Tues, 16-17 December 1816), but then he is a man, and (as I suggested) watch out for people who over-praise. Trollope makes this explicit: cleverer than Southey we might say he advises a friend always overpraise a woman’s work, it’s not something you should take seriously.

So it may be her hostility is to Anna. Anna to me shows such pathos. She is trying to regain back her aunt’s respect and love. She must’ve seen how much Fanny was preferred, how better a time in life Fanny was having. No groups of suitors for Anna. Few visits to London. Good thing she got married
too: we see how her stepmother discouraged her father’s writing and sensibility proclivities (deep resentment there).

OTOH, we have no proof that Austen could write deeper criticism. The criticism we see here is just what we see her write for her own fiction. She is one of those authors unable to articulate consciously what is really valuable in what she writes. Her theory which enables her to delve reality is this literal verisimilitude, hold to it. So it could be this is her calm strong praise to talk about this novel the way she talks about her own.

We may hope it made Anna feel good. We can see that later on she may have seen the other disparaging remarks and certainly Fanny Caroline, the daughter, knew about this.

If anyone were to attempt a new edition (hard because now all sorts of copyrights have been claimed to stop you), there’s an argument for 1) printing the letters in groups, as Austen’s letters to Anna separately as a group, to Fanny, what there is to Frank, etc. 2) reprinting with them (as is done in the Burney correspondence) the Austen family letters that are
left, including (importantly) Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen’s and Philly’s letters to her. It would not produce huge amounts of text, but say a three volume set. With unbiased notes, set up alphabetically you might really have a usable scholarly resource.


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Carnarvon 1800 by John Sell Cotman 1782-1842
John Sell Cotman (1782-182), Carnarvon — one vision of her poetry, geologic cataclysmic time

To Hope

Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
    How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
    And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
    Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
    Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
    Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
    ‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.

Dear friends and readers,

A milestone on my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde, or The Recluse of the Lake for Valancourt: I’ve typed two volumes and have begun the third. I’m slowly accumulating material for an introduction and notes. It ought to have been titled Newenden (the way d’Epinay titled hers Montbrillant).

I cannot say my reading of the novel has changed much. It’s more a matter of emphasis. I had not realized quite how central & dominant to the novel are the slow devolution into a bitter loneliness on the part of Sir Edward and adultery on the part of Lady Newenden. I find the depiction more true to life on the part of both people and their slow interaction with others than anything in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: Smith gives us the how and why, the real feel of such a drift. Ethelinde a study in adulterous longing from a genuinely woman’s point of view: sexual fulfillment and companionship ached for.

She is Sir Edward and in later novels he as a figure will be given her poems. Her rotten marriage transposed sexually. I’m puzzled why Sir Edward does not kill himself. Outflanked by the social hypocrisies of his wife’s parents, the vicious rumors of Lord Danesforte about him and Ethelinde; a clever man the wife’s apparent lover, his misery because she is such a bitch (Lady Newenden), his relationship with Ethy a ruin, Ethy’s father taking the money loaned him and gambling and giving it to Lady Newenden’s lover. In other novels Smith’s greatest poetry is often attributed to such a male figure.

There is ever a male who is obsessively after the heroine. Whether his general behavior otherwise be reprehensible (Delamare in Emmeline) or noble & self-sacrificing (Montgomery), it’s this obsessive pursuit of the heroine that makes for the discomfort and misery of the story. In Emmeline, the heroine is not openly willing to reject him but rather flees; in Ethelinde we get these emotionally twisted scenes of her not being able to say yes or no. Could this be a version of her relationship with her husband? of what he was? these have an individuality beyond the typical portrait of the upper class male educated to be a vicious bully and amoral and yet think very well of himself — as we see in Stael’s and Epinay’s fictions — how Smith read the French! In the light of French women’s more explicit fiction, when we place Ethelinde’s wastrel selfish gambling brother and the father’s original behavior, the novel becomes feminist in the 18th century way.

Cotman: Normandy fantasy

I would have much preferred for Sir Edward to end up with Ethelinde: I almost believe in their relationship as much as any marriage. Her Manon is deeply transgressive in its sympathy for the lovers and Manon herself, The Romance of Real Life reveals families as they are and this book fits right into this trajectory too.

The recluse would have been left out at the end, but she would then have been a more tragic figure had the son drowned as we thought — a sixth volume had been in the works. Could it be she was planning to have Montgomery return after Sir Edward marries Ethy; it would have become an emotional version of the Martin Guerre story.

I was blaming Smith for marginalizing transgressive heroines, female characters led to live with men outside wedlock, for making her heroine super-chaste, but after reading Wollstonecraft’s really stinging attack on Adeline in that novel, and realizing how much time and space and sympathy Smith gives such heroines across her oeuvre (here Caroline’s unnamed mother, Montgomery’s grandmother) and the thoughts she gives her — in this novel several female figures have lovers and children outside marriage — to have some joy, they take a risk and pay.

The novel has little specific politics of Desmond and the later books. The wide landscape there, but here acid satire on the hypocrisies and snobberies of social life is central to her purpose. I just love it. It connects her to Thackeray. Long obsessive conversations between Ethelinde and Montgomery about how they cannot afford to marry, how this will “ruin” their chances in life go round and round. I can only think there is a personal element here, she must have been herself subjected to this morbid nagging. When she is pictured sitting on the stairs as her father and Montgomery talk, the scene feels like a memory — maybe when she was sold to Benjamin Smith. Austen’s Persuasion with its thrust to trust at the close, and several stories by Crabbe are aimed at just this kind of cruel prohibition — which in Crabbe ruins lives all the more, as the people haven’t got a chance of growing rich anyway. Whatever happiness they can have is in personal fulfillment.

I probably enjoy the novel more when it approaches from a frank and caustic point of view the kind of satire we find in Austen towards say Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mrs Norris. For example, the hypocrisy and insolence (Smith’s narrator calls it) when Mrs Ludford, Ethelinde’s rich aunt pretends to forget her siblings’ ages and says how good it was Ethy’s mother’s other children except for the one brother did die (p 186 in 1790 ed, p 40 in my edition: Mrs Norris expresses the same idea only it’s presented more indirectly. (The line is later in MP than I thought). These intersections they bring out Austen for me where I could be exhilarated in a twisted kind of way as we both dig the imaginary knife in and so doing expose the pettiness meanness of the world — there is more truth in Smith’s opener version: paradoxically it’s true that Colonel Chesterville has not put his son to the right path; maybe he would have been better off apprenticed (p 187) than brought up in idleness and self-indulgence. But this establishment view is presented against a backdrop that makes us see the ugly nature of Mrs Ludford’s motives for saying this (unlike Trollope say where such establishment comments are not undercut in this way).

There are long similar stretches in Celestina.

It’s remarkable how many scenes in Austen occur in variation in other novels by women of the era. The difference between Austen and Smith includes Smith lets us feel the full bitterness of these. I’m struck by how the tone of the plangent section of Volume 2 when Montgomery comes to London, Edward is in love with Ethelinde and she more in love with Edward than she realizes, is close the mood and atmosphere of the 1983 S&S mini-series by Alexander Baron. The 1980s darker mini-series were more like these novels than any films before or since.

Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood, Bosco Hogan as Edward — conversing over her drawings, the landscape, sitting together — perfect image for Smith’s Edward and Ethelinde (1981 BBC S&S by Alexander Baron)

What emerges in the latter part of Volume 2 is that Chesterville is a stand-in for Charlotte Smith’s own father who failed her so abysmally, who sold her, betrayed her. The acid in the soul of his novelist is Colonel Chesterville’s not caring for his daughter, and when Ethelinde’s aunt (it was an aunt who suggested to the father to marry Charlotte off and married Charlotte’s farther herself), Mrs Ludford, suggests Ethelinde needs another situation and her father would be glad to get rid of her (by implication) this touches upon how the orignal sin in her life was her father’s deserting her for a nasty woman and giving her up to an awful boy. If Charlotte was too young to know, Mr Turner was not (Elibon, Vol 2,, p 203, p 44 my typescript)

The novel’s scenery is all great prose poetry wants but it remains a framing.

Helen Allingham (1848-1926), Temple of Winds, Blackdown, Sussex — another, botanic, allusive, southern England

The undermining of false stereotypes of masculinity.

Ronald Colman as Sydney Carton in 1935 A Tale of Two Cities — perfect for Sir Edward

Sir Edward refuses to duel. After reading on Inimitable-Boz, a defense of Carton’s sexuality and courtship of Lucie Manette I began to see Sir Edward as anticipating Sydney Carton.

Sir Edward’s wife, Maria, is a cold tempered socialite, presented as nasty-tongued, nervy, bored with anything but her vanity, loving gambling, despising anyone who likes to read or walk in the landscape and mocking the depression marriage with her is causing Sir Edward. He married her for her money but also to be her husband, and she wanted his title, but now she is clever enough to throw this up to him and when he forbids her to see or be with Lord Danesforte any more — on the score of gambling debts too – she turns on him and accuses him of adultery with her cousin, Ethelinde. There is no adultery (both too virtuous) but he loves Ethelinde intensely and now feels he must cut himself off from her and her improvident father (a gambler) and brother (yet worse)

A long meditation of Sir Edward as he contemplates Ethelinde’s future as the wife of a man without any adequate monetary support and connections — his desire to help alleviate any of her difficulties at any cost to himself reminds me of Sydney Carton. We might historicize Carton too: this is a time when there is no state or gov’t or any kind of safety net. Reading the brilliant analysis of Charlotte Smith’s depiction of Edward’s selfless yet deeply selfish (she is so deeply congenial a spirit, so good) and sexual (she is beautiful ohim) love for Ethelinde, and how persuasive their relationship, teaches me that the problem we have in reading Dickens’s Carton and many other heroes of “sensibility” and depression, is that the time is indeed more than 160 years ago when women also had no means of getting decent support on their own either. I find Volume 2, chapter 10, pp 239-44, the long inward delving into this man astonishing still.

Smith provides the psychological underpinning that Dickens & other male authnors omit to understand this kind of male temperament — they are too embarrassed. Who would admit desperation at their class background in this way (except for Godwin). To call them men of sensibility is to use a label to erase what the text does: undermine masculine stereotypes.

It’s ridiculous to get too worked up over a novel but as I’m typing it I do bond with it, and did find myself intensely hurt when at the ASECS someone ridiculed Sir Edward and read the book as if we were to empathize genuinely with Lady Newenden when she is the cruel pernicious presence of the piece from her outward conduct.

Smith gives Edward a good phrase for his attitude towards Ethelinde: she has a sanctity of character. So much better than purity which brings in this baggage of asexuality no no sexuality in this woman for real. She’s not corrupted or corruptible because of her background and asocial-ability. Sanctity of character is a phrase I’d use for Esther Summerson as well as Jarndyce as played by Denholm Elliot (the 1988 Bleak House like the 1989 ATOTC written by Arthur Hopcroft).

How Edward feels about Ethelinde:

that her whole life might be exposed to trials, he could not soften, to difficulties he could not alleviate; all his sense, his morality, his resolution, hardly supported him when he considered it; and he sometimes fancied he could rather bear to destroy her, and then himself, than endure the certainty of that, the very idea of which inflicted anguish so acute

When she writes so moving and ably and subtly we have to see that she did value her fiction and talked denigratingly of it because others didn’t value it or wouldn’t admit they saw it what is there (p 241-43 of Elibron, pp 52-53 of my new edition)

Again the lone figure against time and nature.

John Sell Cotman, from a Dulwich exhibit of his Normandy watercolors

From her poetry: the autobiographical background: Her terrors for her children, several of whom predeceased her and did know hardship. I’ve no doubt she saw a version of this woman who lies at several removes behind this novel; Sir Edward’s terrors for Ethelinde’s future

The Female Exile.
WRITTEN AT BRIGHTHELMSTONE IN NOV. 1792. [from Elegiac sonnets (1797-1800)]

November’s chill blast on the rough beach is howling,
   The surge breaks afar, and then foams to the shore,
Dark clouds o’er the sea gather heavy and scowling,
   And the white cliffs re-echo the wild wintry roar.

Beneath that chalk rock, a fair stranger reclining
   Has found on damp sea-weed a cold lonely seat;
Her eyes fill’d with tears, and her heart with repining,
   She starts at the billows that burst at her feet.

There, day after day, with an anxious heart heaving,
   She watches the waves where they mingle with air;
For the sail which, alas! all her fond hopes deceiving,
   May bring only tidings to add to her care.

Loose stream to wild winds those fair flowing tresses,
   Once woven with garlands of gay Summer flowers;
Her dress unregarded, bespeaks her distresses,
   And beauty is blighted by grief’s heavy hours.

Her innocent children, unconscious of sorrow,
   To seek the gloss’d shell, or the crimson weed stray;
Amused with the present, they heed not to-morrow,
   Nor think of the storm that is gathering to day.

The gilt, fairy ship, with its ribbon-sail spreading,
   They launch on the salt pool the tide left behind;
Ah! victims—for whom their sad mother is dreading
   The multiplied miseries that wait on mankind!

To fair fortune born, she beholds them with anguish,
   Now wanderers with her on a once hostile soil,
Perhaps doom’d for life in chill penury to languish,
   Or abject dependance, or soul-crushing toil.

But the sea-boat, her hopes and her terrors renewing,
   O’er the dim grey horizon now faintly appears;
She flies to the quay, dreading tidings of ruin
   All breathless with haste, half expiring with fears.

Poor mourner!—I would that my fortune had left me
   The means to alleviate the woes I deplore;
But like thine my hard fate has of affluence bereft me,
   I can warm the cold heart of the wretched no more!


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Benjamin West (American 18th century painter): his family (there is a drawing of Elizabeth by West in the Historical Society of Pennysylvania)

Dear friends and readers,

On April 12th of this spring at a monthly meeting of the Washington Area Print Group I heard Rodney Mader tell the story of the life and writing of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, a learned woman from an upper class family in Pennsylvania. He gave a paper on her long melancholy autobiographical poem, The Deserted Wife, which prompted a lively 45 minute discussion afterward. This matter makes a fitting coda for the predominant themes of my blogs on the ASECS meeting at Cleveland this year: women’s life-writing, unconventional choices, and poetry.

Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson by Anne Ousterhout

Fergusson’s life course is intriguingly puzzling. She begins as a socialite, admired and well-read writer thoroughly ensconced in the local high cultural milieu. When young, she was engaged to Benjamin Franklin’s son; she wrote & circulated a Trip to Great Britain, an outgoing sophisticated travel book. She then marries Henry Hughes Fergusson, who became a loyalist during the American revolution. When Henry is thought to have impregnated a servant girl, Jenny, in her friend’s house, Elizabeth estranges herself from him. Although she refuses to listen to his pleas from England (where he eventually went) that he was guiltless of impregnating the girl and for her to return and live with him in the UK, she writes a poignant poem showing how intensely she feels the degradation of her position and loss of her husband. She remains angry with him for undermining the servant of her friend. Her grating and obsessive behavior eventually alienates all her friends (she is regarded as a pest) so she ends up a reclusive woman writing an unpublishable poem and late in life a translation of Fenelon’s Telemaque (a 17th century sequel to The Odyssey, all about Odysseus son’s education).

How did she change from publicly engaged woman to someone whose books were her friends. Prof Mader tended to account for Fergusson’s decision through her husband’s Scots loyalism. She was forced (unwillingly) to separate herself from this. The colony wanted to confiscate her property as that of the wife of a treacherous man. She was devoted to the place and it had been central to her identity. Nontheless, she fled her home at Graeme Park and lived with a friend, Betsy Stedman for the last 30 years of her life. But she did not find solace in this arrangement. Her poem tells her tale as an aching story of sexual betrayal and unhinging sorrow. Fergusson imitates Pope’s Eloisa and is like Richardson’s Clarissa; she alludes to Pope, Mary Wortley Montagu, Edward Young, James Thomson, Henry Mackenzie, Lord Chesterfield. Prof Mader suggested the poem represents a moving gesture of containment and self-control.

Keith House, Graeme Park today

In the discussion afterward one scholar brought up the large Quaker community nearby. Was it a Quaker influence which led Fergusson to insist for real that sexual infidelity is not to be tolerated. Most women at the time would say they would not accept sexual infidelity but quietly tolerated it. Men were allowed to have mistresses. Quaker women’s culture provided for an empowerment of women: they would not tolerate the husband’s infidelities. Prof Mader said he believed that Jenny’s child was her husband’s; she had been a servant in the house of Charles Stedman, her friend Betsy’s uncle. Her Quaker friends would be against loyalism to the UK. Against that she seems trapped by social structures — did not want the kind of conformity whether unconventional or not Quakers demanded of their members. She wrote she did not like the work of Mary Wollstonecraft. Perhaps (I suggested) she simply preferred not to marry, to live with and among women. People agreed that made sense. But there was her continual fight to re-gain her property which she spent so much on she ended up a bankrupt.

In talking about the poem, Prof Mader said Fergusson ventriloquizes (uses) other poets’ voices. The poem is very melancholy, a Penseroso. That it was not common for women to write private poetry. A couple of us disputed that. I pointed outAnne Finch who wrote of her private autobiographical experience through the masks of translation, fables, and public genres, to Charlotte Smith who simply openly wrote autobiographically (for which she was castigated by Anna Seward and often criticized by others). Another woman scholar talked of life-writing in later 17th century poetry of other women.

It’s a book history group and people also talked of the history of the manuscript, how people in the era kept commonplace books. The US had an oral culture. The interested reader can read the poem (published for the first time), together with Prof Mader’s introduction’ in “Rodney Mader, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s ‘The Deserted Wife’,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 135:2 (April 2011):151-90.

Engraved print of later 19th century impressionist painting by a woman, Tina Blau (1845 – 1916), Spring at the Prater


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Henry Robert Morland, late 18th century, a laundress

Dear friends and readers,

Again Diana Birchall and I in tandem. This time the best way to convey the outline and pith of this letter is to provide the text, Diana’s walk though the content more or less step-by-step and then my contextualized approach of its themes seen in terms of its individuals who matter to Austen.

The letter is cheerful. This is what Cassandra has demanded all along and Jane has acceded to since she was able to, which is around the time they arrive at Southampton — and especially since she begins to write for publication. She has MP out in print and is working on Emma.

What strikes me are the paradigms — or repeating patterns — we’ve seen from just before Austen was ejected from Steventon and forced to go to Bath (as we saw something she intensely did not want); a desire to develop a woman’s community, a time together with beloved women friends is thwarted. Martha and Anne can’t make it; they lack free time altogether. Her recognition of marginalized women and their problems. In this letter there are so many mentions of servants, and predominantly women servants, including the girl who will go do very hard work for Frank and Mary.

Although Austen doesn’t seem to recognize its importance, she does record how two women whom she is pushed into visiting are identifying with another woman, the fictional heroine, Fanny Price. I say she doesn’t recognize its importance, since this is not included in the folder of comments on her novels that she gathered. It’s not conventional: not overt I like this or disdain that in the way the other exclamations or occasionally more thoughtful general judgements she copied out are.

That much more than what is usually paid attention to (“oh what a Henry!”) out of context or with no context. One good reason for him to be there as we’ve seen him emerge, especially since Eliza’s death when he begins to turn up regularly in Austen’s letters (as she is one of those who come to visit and to help) is to network for business. His business was dependent on the rich and well-heeled investing in his firm as well as borrowing from it. And so goes even if (as we’ve seen) he himself when asked about these parties says he would prefer not to; we may assume he liked the theater but can’t say for sure. It seems to be Edward who has gone this trip; the women need a male with them as escort and the younger girls get a great kick out of the popular trash of the theaters of the day.

This letter also makes it clear beyond the complicated family trees, we want specific information about individuals; it’s hard but not impossible. I note each of the Burney Journals and Letters do just this: entries are about individuals. LeFaye also provides no meaningful information on the ball at White’s — that it was, for exampple, more than a bit premature, because (as we all instantly recall) Napoleon escaped from Elba, came back and there was another long bout of war as the Allied powers regrouped determined to stamp him out and put a Bourbon back on the throne. We need to know something about the UK economy at this point too. Henry’s there to help his banking business.


GMT 14
Burlington House, today the home of the Royal Academy

Diana’s paraphrase:

A week later, another letter to Cassandra, who is still at Henrietta Street.

Jane calls Cassandra’s a “pretty letter,” brought by Mr. Louch, one of Henry’s banking partners. She has heard also from Frank, whose visit is delayed by a Naval Review, and Portsmouth being in a bustle. This must have to do with the visit of the Emperor, whom she hopes Fanny has seen, “& then I may fairly wish them all away.” She goes tomorrow (where?) “& hope for some
delays & adventures.” A mention of her mother’s wood, and “Bavins,” which I’ve never heard of, but the dictionary calls it “a fagot of brushwood or other light combustible matter, for kindling fires,” though apparently you bought it.

Then a famous line: “Henry at White’s! – Oh! what a Henry.” This of course refers to Henry’s excursion into high social public life, being at the fabulous ball sponsored by White’s Club at Burlington House, lent by the Duke of Devonshire, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. Beau Brummell was one of the organizers, and there were 4,000 attendees, including the Tsar of Russia, King of Prussia, Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb, and all the ton, at a cost of £10,000. Whatever you may think of Henry, it would be impossible to think of any other of Jane Austen’s brothers at White’s – or at least, he was the most likely!

I don’t know what to make of the “Miss B” reference – Deirdre thinks it was Miss Burdett. A possible match for Henry? Mention of Sackree and the children, and a gift of a ham and “4 Leeches” from Godmersham. Leeches seem an odd gift, did you keep them in water or something until somebody needed to be bled? [see just below]

Now here comes mention of how they have “called upon Miss Dusautoy & Miss Papillon & been very pretty.” Deirdre has long footnotes on the Dusautoy, Papillion, and Hinton families, who seem complicatedly interrelated. I suppose we ought to research it, and there’s an article on the Dusautoys in the Collected Reports, but as usual she sites the volume not the year of the journal. What’s amusing is that she says, “Miss D. has a great idea of being Fanny Price, she & her youngest sister together, who is named Fanny.” You can read the touch of subacid mixed amusement and horror. Little did she know that it was only the beginning of thousands of people thinking they “are” one or another of her characters – another was Princess Charlotte, who thought herself like Marianne.

A bit about Miss Benn and her infected finger – a much more serious matter then, before antibiotics. Oh! (slaps forehead) Arnie will say I am having a Breakthrough Moment. Perhaps this is what the Leeches are for! Or not.

“The Clements are gone to Petersfield, to look.” An innocuous statement enough. Notes tell us that the Henry Clement was Henry Austen’s banking partner in Petersfield, and a member of this Alton family, who were connected to the Prowtings, whom Miss Benn has just visited. One of the major obstacles to understanding these letters is the heavy interconnectedness of these families, all of the permutations of which would have been known to Jane Austen, but which are murky to us.

“Only think of the Marquis of Granby being dead,” she comments. “I hope, if it please Heaven there should be another Son, they will have better Sponsors, & less Parade.” The sponsors of the Duke of Rutland’s child were the Prince Regent and the Duke of York. Jane Austen often mentions matters concerning noble personages, almost as if she knew them; she certainly took an interest in them, but I suppose these things were made much of in the newspapers, so she’s commenting on what she reads.

Trip planning – she hopes Henry doesn’t want her in town again; she’s planning to go to Bookham, and wants to go straight home afterward. Then something about the movements of Martha, and the Deans Dundases, who have taken a house at Clifton. More interesting is that she has received a letter from Miss Sharpe, who has been suffering (we don’t know with what), but is now
more comfortable. She is at the house of Sir William Pilkington, in Yorkshire. Austen writes, “She writes highly of Sir Wm – I do so want him to marry her! – There is a Dow: Lady P. presiding there, to make it all right.” Sir William, born 1775, didn’t marry until 1825. Mysteriously, she writes, “The Man is the same; but she does not mention what he is by Profession or Trade. – She does not think Lady P. was privy to his Scheme on her; but on being in his power, yielded.” Yielded to what? What scheme on her? Has Miss Sharp been telling Austen hopefully about advances from her employer? Not very decorous, but Austen writes in a sort of odd glee, “Oh! Sir Wm – Sir Wm – how I will love you, if you will love Miss Sharp!”

We commonly write about the situation of spinsters forced into governess work, as serious and pitiable (as it is treated in the novels), but here it seems to be a matter for pleasantry. Yet Miss Sharp was her good friend, and she certainly sympathized with her. Perhaps this girlish sort of levity was how they joked together.

Some domestic material about Mrs. Driver (housekeeper at Godmersham) being off by Collier (coachman), and not having time to leave the keys. “The Coach was stopt at the Blacksmith’s, & they came running down, with Triggs, & Browning, & Trunks & Bird cages. Quite amusing!” A farcical scene, one presumes.


A Marengo c.1903-4 by Walter Richard Sickert 1860-1942
Walter Richard Sicket (1860-1942): A Marengo, an imitation conversation piece

My exegeses from the point of view of the individuals on Austen’s mind. The paragraphs arise associatively as themes runs through Austen’s mind.

So, to Frank (first Frank):

She has had a letter from Frank; apparently he hoped to come to Chawton to see Jane and mother but has been delayed:

— I heard yesterday from Frank; when he began his Letter he hoped to be here on Monday, but before it was ended he had been told that the Naval Review will not take place till Friday, which will probably occasion him some delay, as he cannot get some necessary business of his own attended to, while Portsmouth is in such a bustle

At the close in a postscript: Frank and his wife Mary have hired Mary Goodchild to be an undermaid. She’s just delighted …

Then Henry:

The famous way over-quoted exclamation about Henry. Diana provides some context by seeing the juxtaposition might have meaning. I agree. It sounds like the two sisters have been wishing for a possible new sister-in-law. Certainly he wants women around. About the individual LeFaye says nothing, but the family was politically radical and rich. That’s interesting that he was drawn to a rich and radical woman — he wants interesting people I see. He likes to travel into the country, of course was married to Eliza:

Henry at Whites! — Oh! what a Henry.-I do not know what to wish as to Miss B, so I will hold my tongue & my wishes …

But there is more on Henry. Jane is reluctant to come back: Henry wants her in town perhaps when Cassandra leaves, but this is not what Jane wants; however, she feels she can’t say no since it was “kindly intended:” he takes her places and also helps her with her publishing. MP has just come out and Emma is going strong. Still she doesn’t want it. I think that’s significant.

I certainly do not wish that Henry should think again of getting me to Town. I would rather return straight from Bookham; but if he really does propose it, I cannot say No, to what will be so kindly intended. It could be but for a few days however, as my Mother would be quite disappointed by my exceeding the fortnight which I now talk of as the outside;-at least we could not both remain longer away comfortably. —

Now for Martha Lloyd:

This is as and more significant than the passages about her brothers or Anne Sharpe (to follow). There are as many lines about Martha as Frank, more than about Henry, and as many as about Anne Sharp. Jane does not want to return to Henry because Martha is coming. This was to be Martha’s time and it appears that Cassandra wants to be there too. The friendship has stayed strong — more than friendship it was at one time.

The details (not looked into by LeFaye at all) are about Martha’s constraints and lack of money. Martha is a paid companion (toady was the ugly sneering term): Mrs Craven we are told by Caroline was a harridan of a woman (that’s backed up by others). And notice she’s not been paid. The tiny sum not given her. Would she quit? not likely. We are not reminded in modern serials that often it was hard to get the money owed, as servants were used by fringe people. Martha needs this money to to come: “I fear her going at all, depends on that.” She also worked for the Dundases – remember that old lady’s death. Well this group is going to Clifton instead of Bath; Martha would not prefer this (she prefers seeing Jane and Cassandra) but it would make a change (away from the lady she works for and Mrs Craven). It’s very hot at that time of year (to the English at any rate): I find poignant: “as far as she has any time …”

— The middle of July is Martha’s time, as far as she has any time. She has left it to M” Craven to fix the day.-I wish she could get her Money paid, for I fear her going at ail, depends upon that. — Instead of Bath, the Deans Dundases have taken a House at Clifton, — Richmond Terrace — & she is as glad of the change as even You & I should be-or almost. — She will now be able to go on from Berks & visit them, without any fears from Heat. —

By association and because the plan (thwarted again) was for the four friends Austen turns to write of Ann Sharpe. People quote the joke about Mr Pilkington marrying Ann as evidence of how Austen is partly desperately mercenary and because the line is half-jokey. But coming up after Martha’s problems it’s not all that funny nor is it quite intended to be. First she has been suffering but we don’t know why; anyhow now she’s better comparatively. Perhaps just being a governess to this man and some children? but it does read like a physical ailment. Worse yet: another planned happy time for the women crushed here too. “There is no appearance of her quitting them.” A real pleasure lost. What kind of man was Pilkington? LeFaye tells us what sister married who. Useless. So it could be that Austen is half-mocking that Anne writes so highly of the very man whose family keeps her from coming. He is her boss, one of her bosses. Perhaps she was excusing him for not giving her this time. “The man is the same” suggests they have met him and he’s the same sort of man still, not changed. There have been love passages is hinted too: Lady P privy and the need of another woman, the dowager.

— This Post has brought me a Letter from Miss Sharpe. Poor thing! she has been suffering indeed! but is now in a comparative state of comfort. She is at Sir WP’s, in Yorkshire, with the Children, & there is no appearance of her quitting them. — Of course, we lose the pleasure of seeing her here. She writes highly of Sir Wm — I do so want him to marry her! –There is a Dowager Lady P presiding there, to make it all right.- The Man is the same; but she does not mention what he is by Profession or Trade. — She does not think Lady P was privy to his Scheme on her; but on being in his power, yielded. — Oh! Sir Wm — Sir Wm — how I will love you, if you will love Miss Sharp!

Miss Benn:

Might as well bring in Miss Benn (reflected in Miss Bates) here and while not too many words, she has been in these letters for years now and occurs in two separates places. Her finger not yet good, but she is in good spirits – as Miss Bates often was and she too was glad to “accept any invitation:”

— Miss Benn has drunk tea with the Prowtings, & I beleive comes to us this evens, She has still a swelling about the fore-finger, & a little discharge, & does not seem to be on the point of a perfect cure; but her Spirits are good-& she will be most happy I beleive to accept any Invitation. —

I will agree that the leeches are perhaps for Miss Benn. Indeed I think it’s probable from what I’ve read about leeches, and actually I’ve read some genuinely medically informed papers on this. They used leeches for digits (fingers, extremities). It’s good to see that the Austens are taking care for Miss Benn to help her, and they are enlisting the woman servant, Sackree to help too. That’s picture of decent caring for someone who is a nobody.

Mansfield Park as subject, aka Fanny Price:

Fewer lines. These have escaped critics as remarks on MP Austen gathered, probably because she didn’t single them out in the folder she kept. She did not see this identification as important as it is for readers reading her (and other books like hers:

— We have called upon Miss Dusautoy & Miss Papillon & been very pretty.-Miss D. has a great idea of being Fanny Price, she & her youngest sister together, who is named Fanny. —

This could mean they want to be Fanny, they see she’s the heroine, or Miss Dusautoy fears that Austen herself has her in mind or if not her, someone like her. That would imply trepidation when the lines suggest they are delighted to be Fanny together. They recognize traits and are not at all put off. Miss Papillon is part of a family Austen saw often and makes fun of so it’s not improbable the people in the neighborhood did fear they’d find themselves in these books (another reason for anonymity in the era).

A dead baby joke. We haven’t had one of these in a while. The irritant here is her revulsion against the phoniness of the people’s professions (the sponsors) and the overt displays:

Only think of the Marquis of Granby being dead. I hope, if it please Heaven there should be another Son, they will have better Sponsors & less Parade.

For the rest we have household news. Of this we can say Austen is paying attention Sackree, a woman servant and conveys her anxieties the work she did will get there:

Sackree & the Children set off yesterday & have not been returned back upon us. They were all very well the Evening before. — We had handsome presents from the Gt House yesterday, a Ham & the 4 Leeches. — Sackree has left some shirts of her Master’s at the School, which finished or unfinished she begs to have sent by Henry & Wm. — Mr Hinton is expected home soon, which is a good thing for the Shirts

After all Sackree’s efforts Jane would not want them to get lost. Jane is described in another letter as making shirts for men. An arduous task, time-consuming, difficult. Remember how she said she wished she could buy dresses ready-made at one point. That awareness plus the servant wanting her work to acknowledged (and thus herself feel more secure).

Mrs Austen’s doings

It may be hot, but it’s going to be cold and Mrs Austen thinking ahead (a long life of required thrift here) is getting her wood in, and a wood that provides heat quickly and light (you save on candles)

— -I go tomorrow, & hope for some delays & adventures.-My Mother’s Wood is brought in — but by some mistake, no Bavins.’ She must therefore buy some. —

At the very close, her mother wants a letter from Cassandra.

And just before the very end: Triggs, the gamekeeper: a comical scene of the gamekeeper trying to cope with the birds that have been brought from elsewhere, making sure they don’t get loose, Triggs who supplied a chair to get to Bookham — did he not? Austen knows him too:

The Coach was stopt at the Blacksmith’s, & they came running down, with Triggs, & Browning, & Trunks & Bird cages. Quite amusing!


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