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Archive for the ‘Austen Poetry’ Category

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Charlotte Heywood (Amy Burrows), Felicity Lamb (Bonnie Adair) Clara Brereton (Lucy-Jane Quinlan)

Diana’s letter: [Susan] has been suffering from the headache and six leeches a day for ten days together … convinced on examination the evil lay in her gum, I persuaded her to attack the disorder there. She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves are a good deal deranged … Jane Austen’s Sanditon

Though he had not the character of a gamester, it was known in certain circles that he occasionally played well, & successfully; to others he was better known as an acute & very useful political agent, the probable reason of his living so much abroad — Of Mr Tracy, Anna Lefroy’s continuation

Dear friends and readers,

Today a friend sent me a news item that the first “period costume drama” of Jane Austen’s unfinished Sanditon is slated to be filmed, in an advertisement that says this is the first filmed Sanditon. Well not so. Chris Brindle’s play from Jane Austen and Anna Lefroy’s Sanditon is, and it’s the argument of this blog it’s probably much more in the spirit of Austen than the coming commercial one.

First, the ad suggests a cosy, creamy film (rather like the recent Love and Freindship), with the completion written by Marie Dobbs. Dobbs turned a satirical and highly sceptical story whose focus is a group of people seeking to make money on the false promises of a seaside spa to cure people, into a melodramatic romance, complete with an abduction, an elopement and three marriages, the accent now on love. Yes box office stars, Holliday Grainger for Charlotte and Max Irons for Sidney Parker have been cast. And much better — reasons for thinking this might be another strong Austen film: the screenplay writer is Simone Reade, who has to his writing credit a fine movie from R. C. Sherriff’s powerful WW1 Journey’s End and the 1997 Prince of Hearts. In addition, the director is Jim O’Hanlon who directed the 2009 Emma scripted by Sandy Welch and starring Romolai Garai and Johnny Lee Miller. And Charlotte Rampling is to play Lady Denham!

Nonetheless, I wanted to recommend not waiting and availing yourself of Chris Brindle’s production of Sanditon, available on DVD from http://www.sanditon.info. I’ve watched it three times now, and went back and reread (as I’ve done before) Anna Lefroy’s continuation, which, together with her aunt’s fragment are the basis for Chris Brindle’s script. It has that Jane Austen quality of telling real truths while leaving you somewhat cheered.

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Shots of the English countryside near the seashore occur between scenes

This interlude between the two acts captures the brightness of the production; the singer is Amy Burrows who plays an appealing Charlotte. She also narrates the good 40 minute documentary available from the site about Anna Lefroy’s life and other writing and relationship with Austen as well as the circumstances surrounding Austen’s writing of Sanditon: Austen, as we all know, was fatally ill knew it, often in bad pain; this was her last piece of writing.


Singers: Amy Burrows and Nigel Thomas (click on the YouTube logo to go over to hear the song)

Brindle is an ancestor of the painter of a miniature of Anna Lefroy, and has interested himself in the landscape, houses, and culture of the era.

First some admission or warning-preparation. The people doing the production had a very small (or no) budget and parts of the play are acted in front a black screen; several of the actors are half-reading the scripts. I found this did not get in my way once I became interested in the play and characters and that was quickly. These parts of the performance reminded of good staged readings I’ve attended.

On the many pluses side: like Catherine Hubback’s Younger Sister (Hubback has also until recently not be a favored subject for the Austen family so that it was hard to get hold of her continuation of The Watsons), Lefroy clearly knows more of the direction Austen meant to take the story in than we can see in the extant text. In her Mary Hamilton she captured something of her aunt’s tone in Persuasion: here she continues the peculiar comic feel combining real hypocrisies, delusions, with a comic control from distancing style. Lefroy’s continuation was not widely known until 1977 when it was published in a good edition and is still ignored, partly because Anna’s close relationship is her aunt is downplayed in favor of Austen’s relationship with the richer Fanny Austen Knight.

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His carriage overturned, Mr Parker demands that Mr Heywood (Adam Bone) produce a surgeon ….

In the film, the parts are very well-acted, especially of the key figures, Mr [now given the first name of] Tom Parker (Vincent Webb) and Lady Denham (Barbara Rudall). What Lefroy did was to bring out the implications of her aunt’s story: Parker is fringe gentry desperately trying to make money to support his gentleman’s lifestyle, overspending to make an impression, a physician-chaser (he deliberately allows his carriage to overturn where he thinks he will meet with a physician whom he can bring to Sanditon to allure the sick into believing the spa will cure them. For Mr Parker, there is just enough lightness of humor to make them sympathetic figures, without overlooking his actual predation, which is however registered by Mrs Parker’s querulous fretting (Bonnie Adair). It’s more than hinted in Austen’s fragment that the sanguine Sidney, the younger brother (played by Pete Ashore), is an intelligent decent man (a sort of Mr Knightley figure) who rescues Parker from bankruptcy. Lefroy’s text adds a villain-friend of Sidney’s, a Mr Tracy (Adam Bone) whom she characterizes in a more worldly way than any of Austen’s heroes: Tracy is rather like one of Trollope’s semi-rakes; he lives high off his rank, cheating just enough on cards and here as a speculator in a local bank, to sluice money off other people; his creditors don’t call his debts in because they keep hoping to be paid in full. Brindle adds further that Tracy also takes advantage of the delusionary conceited Lady Denham (a sort of Lady Catherine de Bourgh figure) to bankrupt her account.

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Lady Denham disdaining Clara Brereton in a scene between egregiously rude dowager and put-upon heroine that repeats across Austen’s oeuvre

This open emphasis on money as the girding understructure of the society is matched by a development out of Austen’s text: Clara Brereton (Lucy-Jane Quinlan) is a paid companion to Lady Denham, who exploits and bullies her; she is also being seduced by Sir Edward Denham, Lady Denham’s nephew. They have to hide this from her and Austen’s text ends with Charlotte spying them seated on a bench where Clara looks very distressed. In Austen’s text Denham is an admirer of Richardson’s Lovelace, and Clara may be seen as a short version of the name Clarissa. Brindle adds (somewhat improbably) that Denham is pressuring Clara to put some poisonous or sickening compound into Lady Denham’s medicines to do away with the old woman. Brindle has picked up a view of Austen’s Mr William Elliot I have and think may be seen in the 2007 ITV Persuasion (scripted by Simone Burke). Mr Elliot pretends solvency but is actually near broke; that’s why he is hanging around his uncle, Sir Walter and is willing to have a liasion with Mrs Clay to have evidence he can use against her if she should try to marry Sir Walter. Sir Edward Denham is in type a Mr Elliot: a really bad man, desperate for money. I found it an ambiguous feel was given this simple characterization when the same actor played both the good man (Sidney) and the bad one (Denham): Pete Ashore. The choices for doubling are effective: the simple good Mr Heywood, the smooth calculating crook Tracy: Adam Bone.

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Diana’s anguish (wildly antipathetic comedy found more in Austen’s letters & juvenilia) is counter-checked by the clarity of Alice Osmanski’s delivery

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Arthur (Rickey Kettly-Prentice) nearby reacts

The best scenes though are those which don’t forward the plot directly. One set are those given where we have just Alice Osmanski as Diana Parker talking out Diana’s inimitable letters or place in dialogue with the Parkers, Charlotte and different configurations of the other characters. She was brilliant, vivacious, half-mad and well-meaning all at once. Rickey Kettly-Prentice is too thin for Arthur, but otherwise utterly convincing as this falsely hypochondriacal young man who finds he does not have to work for a living. Working for money in Austen’s novels is presented positively again and again, but Arthur is the first male to himself almost self-consciously enact a drone role.

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Miss Lamb’s hard face while she tells Clara her history

The other are those where the plight or hard circumstances of young women without money or status are made central: the characters who carry this are Charlotte Heywood (not brought out clearly in Austen’s fragment because as yet she is not sought by Sidney Parker), Clara Brereton and Miss Lamb, her given the ironic first name of Felicity. Austen tells us only that she is a “mulatto,” very rich, brought by a governess along with a few other girls in a seminary arrangement to spend time at the seashore. Brindle has her tell a story to Charlotte and Clara that reminds me of the story of in the 1808 anonymous epistolary novel, The Woman of Color. Felicity is the daughter of a slave-mistress of her father, both badly treated by the man, with strong suggestions that she was sexually abused by Lamb at age nine. Fittingly for Austen’s fragment, Brindle has disease (a factor in the West Indies for the English who had not built up immunities) do him in. He loses all his relatives but Felicity, and ends up semi-dependent on her while she is there, and sends her to England in order (in effect) to buy a white husband in order to to produce whiter grandchildren for himself. In her intense conversation with Clara and Charlotte Bonnie Adair as Felicity seethes with anger and hurt and shows no disposition to marry anyone; she wants independence and liberty and the play ends without her having engaged herself to anyone.

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Denham pressuring Clara

Brindle also fills in Clara’s story: Lucy-Jane Quinlan speaks with a cockney accent throughout and is given a sort Dickensian deprived background, which is poignant. As it’s understandable that Miss Lamb should not be keen to marry any man, and want to control her money so it’s understandable the portionless Clara should be willing to submit to Edward Denham’s bullying, insults (there are brief moments of this) in order to marry him. It’s her only way to provide for herself she says to Charlotte.

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Sidney saving the day

Telling it this way brings out the undercurrents of melodrama and harsh realities that actuate the crises and character’s hypocrisies. The appeal of the piece, its piquancy, is like poor Susan’s miserably over-medicated existence (appropriately Susan is played by the same actress who plays the hard-worked maid, Daisy, Ruby O’Mara), kept muted most of the time. Susan and Daisy don’t say much: Susan is continually using a handkerchief, writhing quietly; Daisy is kept busy. Only in the moments of exposure — such as when Sidney saves everyone by exposing Tracy (and declares for more building up Sanditon), or Mr Parker finds he must admit he is nearly without funds, and the hysteria of Lady Denham for whom a proposed income of £100 a month or a year is horrifying. Fatal. Otherwise how have a happy ending for Clara. I’m sure Brindle has also read Emma where Jane Fairfax’s happy fate is the result of Lady Churchill’s sudden death.

This is a play and production which does not turn Austen into complacent romance or uncritical social comedy. Not that Simone Reade’s production necessarily will. Brindle says in the documentary he meant to do justice to Anna Lefroy’s continuation, her writing and life relationship with her aunt. He does so. Perhaps the delight or feeling that this is world where there are good people whose strength has not been undermined or twisted by circumstances inheres most in Amy Burrows’s character and performance. She does not seem at all your moralizing exemplary heroine, just someone (as she says) who has been lucky to have kind (if not very rich) parents. She is given several wry choral asides for turns in the story.

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Delivering an aside

Try it, you’ll like it if you give it a chance.

Ellen

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Dear Friends and readers,

Valancourt Press has published my edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake. You can see the book, a description of the story, and places and ways to buy at Valancourt’s on-line site. The artist who painted that alluring suggestive image on the cover is Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835). This is the first scholarly paperback edition. It took me 5 years (on and off) to type, proof-read, annotate and introduce the novel. 136 notes at the bottom of appropriate pages. A select bibliography, and note on the text.

I would describe the novel’s central story differently. Smith’s Ethelinde is centered on a depiction of adulterous love more sympathetic and true to experience on both the novel’s hero, Sir Edward Newenden and his once loved wife, Maria. It is the story of Newenden’s gradual falling in love with Ethelinde Chesterville, the novel’s primary heroine, his physical as well as emotional need for her in the face of his wife’s increasing distaste for him, for his idealistic and ethical values, and for his children; and in the face of her love for the novel’s secondary younger hero, Charles Montgomery. we trace his efforts to repress his longing for the congenial sensitive readerly Ethelinde; and experience the final thwarting of his intensely compelling and sexual desire for Ethelinde. Delayed until the middle of the first volume of the novel and then told as tales within a tale, we have the stories of Mrs Caroline Montgomery, the widowed recluse of the lake, and mother of Charles Montgomery, whom Ethelinde falls in love with, together with a parallel deep past story of Mrs Montgomery’s unnamed mother, who after she was widowed and impoverished, lived happily with a man she was not married to and had two sons by. There are other inset histories about women driven by economic, social, and legal constraints as well as threatened violence to live with men outside marriage. And in the present tense, the story of Charles Montgomery’s failed attempt to secure patronage for a high-paying position, Ethelinde’s father and brother’s accumulation of debt from gambling and extraordinary socializing; Sir Edward’s sister, Ellen, her horsewomanship and rescue from predatory males seeking marriage to control her estate. Houses are symbolic sites: Ludford House for bitter commercialism; the haunted gothicized Abersley, in Worcestershire; the Montgomery cottage and Grasmere Abbey in Cumbria where the novel begins; before the novel ends numbers of our characters have traveled across the globe.

The Recluse of the Lake is not as dominated by landscapes as people sometimes suggest; but what is there is strong, frequent enough, and unforgettable. It was quickly translated into French and there the landscape passages are particularly felicitious too. Charlotte Smith was a great poet.

You can buy it at Amazon.US too: available at Valancourt as a kindle, ebook, and trade paperback. A friend said a notice on Amazon.UK says it will be available as of November 1st.

I think back to those weeks & weeks in the early 1980s in the Rare Book room and in the microfilm and microfiche reading room of the Library of Congress: was spending time reading Charlotte Smith’s poems, and two of her novels. Realizing how little of Smith was in print then, I could not have daydreamed that someday I could be responsible for bringing one of the few (at this point) of Smith’s fine novels not yet back into print in 2016.

I’ve traveled a long way from my days and nights at the Library of Congress. I go to conferences, live and research a lot on the Net, teach literature in non-traditional programs.

I wish Jim had lived to appreciate all this, to see this book made of Smith’s novel and my apparatus, congratulate and gently tease me, and praise the whole performance that is this edition of Ethelinde.

“Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!”

Ellen

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Emma (Kate Beckinsale) painting Harriet (Samantha Morton) while Mr Elton (Dominic Rowan) looks on (1996 A&E Emma, scripted by Andrew Davies)

Ekphrastic: a graphic, often dramatic, verbal description of a visual work of art, either real or imagined. From the Greek, “out” and “speak” respectively.

Friends, I’ve been wanting to connect Jane Austen to my series of women artists, or at least pictures in some way since I began the project. Today Diane Reynolds’s delight in Austen’s use of the literalism of Admiral Crofts’s reaction to a sublime picture of tiny individuals watching a ship flounder at sea in a shop window in Persuasion showed me the way. So, a meditative blog on how Jane Austen treats pictures she creates by words and how she treats visualizations, and how in her texts the two are seen to influence one another:

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Admiral Crofts (John Woodvine) amused at the picture he describes to Anne Elliot (Amanda Root) in the window shop (1995 BBC Persuasion, scripted by Nick Dear)

it so happened that one morning, about a week or ten days after the Croft’s arrival [in Bath], it suited her best to leave her friend, or her friend’s carriage, in the lower part of the town, and return alone to Camden Place, and in walking up Milsom Street she had the good fortune to meet with the Admiral. He was standing by himself at a printshop window, with his hands behind him, in earnest contemplation of some print, and she not only might have passed him unseen, but was obliged to touch as well as address him before she could catch his notice. When he did perceive and acknowledge her, however, it was done with all his usual frankness and good humour. “Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend. Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!” (laughing heartily); “I would not venture over a horsepond in it.” (Persuasion 2:6 or 18)

I’m also fond of the passage in Emma where Mr Woodhouse objects to Emma’s painting Harriet without a shawl out-of-doors as all in the family and friends fall to discussing this “likeness” that Emma has taken of Harriet:

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Mrs Western (Samantha Bond) leading the discussion, next to her Mr Elton, to the back Mr Knightley (Mark Strong) and Emma and Mr Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton) (1996 Emma scripted by Davies)

“Miss Woodhouse has given her friend the only beauty she wanted,” — observed Mrs. Weston to him–not in the least suspecting that she was addressing a lover. — “The expression of the eye is most correct, but Miss Smith has not those eyebrows and eyelashes. It is the fault of her face that she has them not.” … “You have made her too tall, Emma,” said Mr. Knightley. Emma knew that she had, but would not own it; and Mr. Elton warmly added, “Oh no! certainly not too tall; not in the least too tall. Consider, she is sitting down — which naturally presents a different — which in short gives exactly the idea–and the proportions must be preserved, you know. Proportions, fore-shortening. — Oh no! it gives one exactly the idea of such a height as Miss Smith’s. Exactly so indeed!”
“It is very pretty,” said Mr. Woodhouse. “So prettily done! Just as your drawings always are, my dear. I do not know any body who draws so well as you do. The only thing I do not thoroughly like is, that she seems to be sitting out of doors, with only a little shawl over her shoulders–and it makes one think she must catch cold.”
“But, my dear papa, it is supposed to be summer; a warm day in summer. Look at the tree.”
“But it is never safe to sit out of doors, my dear.”
“You, sir, may say any thing,” cried Mr. Elton, “but I must confess that I regard it as a most happy thought, the placing of Miss Smith out of doors; and the tree is touched with such inimitable spirit! Any other situation would have been much less in character. The naivete of Miss Smith’s manners — and altogether — Oh, it is most admirable! I cannot keep my eyes from it. I never saw such a likeness.” (Emma 2:6)

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Mr Woodhouse continues to be concerned for Harriet’s health

We tend to dismiss these as just literalism made fun of (which they are), or revealing of a particular character’s obsessions (which they do): the criteria of Mr Woodhouse and Admiral Crofts consist of an absurd literalism; we see how the Admiral cannot enter into art conventions at all because he has led a life at sea; Mr Woodhouse is this hypochondriac. Further that no flattery of Emma is too egregious for Mr Elton to utter.

But their egoistic points of reference make us remember how we respond to the conventions of art and forget what precisely is put in front of us visually. We become more conscious of what we are enjoying, and critique whatever conventions are in play: say that of two men contemplating the sea even if in a tempest (which may have been chosen to allure the unthinking view attracted to the sublime).

I suggest we could see these as part of a skein of self-reflexive commentary on art in Austen, often aimed at exposing the problematic nature of romantic texts and images. We also see more deeply what is wanted that escapes explicit conventions:  the drawing of Harriet’s picture is prefaced by a discussion of what makes attractive visualization: it appears not to be accuracy per se, as Emma felt she’d gotten down her sister, Isabella’s and John Knightley’s children well enough. What is to be avoided is the insipid, what sought for vivacity, an energy of a particular individual’s felt life.

We can extrapolate out further: for example, I’d lump with these two, Catherine remembering while on a tour of Northanger Abbey Mrs Allen’s comment that from her reading of gothic descriptions of abbeys and castles, Mrs Allen was often “amazed” to think how the kitchen staff got through all their work with such inadequate equipment. Well, the case is altered in the well-appointed kitchens of the Tilney abbey, which the General is determined Catherine will appreciate:

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Neither NA film shows this in-house tour, and the graphic novel (JA’s NA, Nancy Butler, Janet Lee, Nick Pilardi) pictures non-functioning fantastic rooms, the opposite of what Austen writes and Catherine was awed at

[but] “Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the general allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland’s, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on. They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an abbey! How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself” (Northanger Abbey 2:6 or 23)

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Davies substitutes a development of a few lines where Eleanor Tilney (Catherine Walker) confides in Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) in a woodland walk her mother had loved (2007 NA scripted by Andrew Davies)

In P&P Elizabeth staring at Darcy’s picture is a trope going back to Greek romance: the lover’s state of mind is what is doing the falling in love.

 

It’s when she is planning, dreaming of her coming tour to the Lake District we see something more original: it’s a criteria of specificity, the sort of thing that leads to literalism. What is literal is real, and its a core insistence on getting as close to literal probability that is central to Austen’s structuring of her novels as well as her chosen moods, stories and dramatized events. Readers seem to remember the first half of Elizabeth’s effusion, it’s the second half that leads us to this further path.  Elizabeth is telling us what kind of descriptive travel writing Austen thought worth the writing and reading.

 

Italics Austen’s:

… she had the unexpected happiness of an invitation to accompany her uncle and aunt in a tour of pleasure which they proposed taking in the summer.
“We have not quite determined how far it shall carry us,” said Mrs. Gardiner, “but perhaps to the Lakes.”
No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth, and her acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “My dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone — we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers, shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers.” (P&P, 2:4 or 27)

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Elizabeth (Jennifer Ehle) is placed in a clearly delineated landscape (1995 A&E P&P scripted by Davies) and is reminiscient of

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A Gilpin depiction of Dove Dale, Derbyshire (!)

Northanger Abbey and Persuasion have the most complicated aesthetic discussions of Austen’s books, but when her qualified acceptance of the picturesque, the sublime, melancholy and romance, and comments on history are factored in, Austen still demands  of herself as the foundation of her story and its actual events verisimilitude, and accuracy (probability). She is on the side of characters who demand we include an appreciation of what is literally there as part of our criteria for judgement.

To return to Mr Woodhouse, Admiral Crofts, Mrs Allen: it is Austen who mocks these pictures, these descriptions as absurd partly because they show the artist has taken advantage of a lapse of mind in the origin text or viewer. Nothing is being observed from nature. Try to scrutinize and you come up against vagueness, nothing there-ness, non-life. In S&S upon Edward Ferrars’ expressing his dislike of hypocrisy in pleasure (“affectation”) by refusing to admit he has strong preferences too, Marianne tells her objection to popular art (cant):

“It is very true,” said Marianne, “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Every body pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind; and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning.” (S&S, 1:18)

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Unnoticed: a good deal of quiet landscape beauty and talk about art, picturing it together: Elinor (Irene Richards) and Edward Ferrars (Bosco Hogan) (in the 1981 BBC S&S, scripted by Alexander Baron)

In Mansfield Park Fanny Price has to face continual deflation; having no status, her romantic illusions are not let pass; typical is the dialogue in the chapel where Mary Crawford objects to her sentimental mush over prayers, Edmund corrects her too on  soberer grounds (death itself which monasteries are supposed to deal with, graveyards which contain the results from such heroics, the realm prayers attempt to reach and banners glorify):

They entered. Fanny’s imagination had prepared her for something grander than a mere spacious, oblong room, fitted up for the purpose of devotion: with nothing more striking or more solemn than the profusion of mahogany, and the crimson velvet cushions appearing over the ledge of the family gallery above. “I am disappointed,” said she, in a low voice, to Edmund. “This is not my idea of a chapel. There is nothing awful here, nothing melancholy, nothing grand. Here are no aisles, no arches, no inscriptions, no banners. No banners, cousin, to be ‘blown by the night wind of heaven.’ No signs that a ‘Scottish monarch sleeps below.’”
“You forget, Fanny, how lately all this has been built, and for how confined a purpose, compared with the old chapels of castles and monasteries. It was only for the private use of the family. They have been buried, I suppose, in the parish church. There you must look for the banners and the achievements.” MP 1:9)

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Fanny (Sylvestre LeTousel) has to have her own nest of comforts to dream over her and William’s letters and his exquisitely detailed map of his ship (the map not in Austen. 1983 BBC MP scripted by Ken Taylor)

In her letters, where she and Cassandra talk of paintings (the Anglo-cum-Indian painter, Wm Hodges) or pictures in novels (mostly landscape and print, as John Glover) her attitudes are shaped by how she feels about the people involved (very ambivalent over William Hastings and his second wife) or the texts illustrated (Glover of a woman’s novel she has mocked). Is the picture in the exhibit like her own characters? Mrs Bingley’s favorite color.  Mrs Darcy whose image Mr Darcy would keep to himself? Then she enters into what she sees.

Only Gilpin appears to have been exempt from sharp criticism (see Davies’s Elizabeth above), perhaps due to the concrete topography, perhaps that she herself traveled through reading books with illustrations, though here too she will poke fun at too strict an adherence to principles in lieu of capturing the reality. See “Enamoured of Picturesque at a Very Early Age”

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I’m drawn to this reproduction of an actual page in a book: writing in the margins here is not defacing

I’ve been reading Anthony Trollope’s Small House of Allington where Trollope makes similar demands upon and fun of a few famous books — so his narrator as Bell Dale (a version of Elinor Dashwood) says of Pilgrim’s Progress the problem is all the characters are mad, they are not a well lot, half distraught all the time, when they are not rejoicing. Trollope sweeps away the genre of exemplary allegory and applies to this work a sophisticated psychological outlook — like his own. As he does mean to point out the absurdity of what presents itself as teaching profound lessons, so Austen at least in the case of the sublime-picturesque in the art of her era deflates as silly or not thought out pomposity.

she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side-screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape (NA 1:14)

For readers like me (and I daresay others who laugh with delight too) we find the mocking fun infectious, because it’s a form of liberation. Principles must yield to actuality. We are not required to shut off the critical part of our mind. It can also be a joyous release because the conventions of a solemn or vacuous work of art lose their grip.

It’s where Austen catches at what’s jarring, and sees disjunction that we pick up snatches of her intuited theory of verbal and visualized pictures.

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Catherine, Henry (J.J.Feilds) and Eleanor Tilney climbing Beechen Cliff (2008 NA)

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”
“You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprised.
“Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho (NA 1:14)

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Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen on her way down to meet Ann Radcliffe, who Austen read intensely, was influenced by in her creation of a subjective prose style and whose pictorialism I assume she admired (2008 Becoming Jane Austen, scripted Kevin Hood and Susan Williams)

Ellen

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KatharineParrQueen1stMasterJohn

KatharineParrComicalActress
An actress in semi-comic imitation of Catherine Parr as she appears in a portrait that anticipates several of her stepdaughter, Elizabeth’s (attributed to “Master John”)

Dear Friends and readers,

In previous years when I’ve sought to commemorate Austen’s birthday, I’ve placed on the blog something she wrote or something written about her novels, usually poems; e.g., the beautiful elegy she wrote in 1808 commemorating the death of her friend, Mrs Lefroy four years ago before; Anne Stevenson’s poem, Re-reading Jane: “To women in contemporary voice and dislocation/she is closely invisible …”

This year I’ve been reading biographies of Tudor women as I watch movies based on what I call “The Tudor Matter.” I have noticed before that Austen’s entries in her parodic History of England include queens and any ladies Austen can find involved in this time frame whom someone included or neglected to include in their history, or female figures in novels of Austen’s era about these Elizabethan women. Her entry on Henry VIII is an extended defense of the two women he beheaded with some remarks correcting a date (so she does care about dates), and a final comment on Henry’s last queen which shows she had read enough about Catherine Parr to know she too came close to being beheaded:

It would be an affront to my Readers were I to suppose that they were not as well acquainted with the particulars of this King’s reign as I am myself. It will therefore be saving them the task of reading again what they have read before, and myself the trouble of writing what I do not perfectly recollect, by giving only a slight sketch of the principal Events which marked his reign. Among these may be ranked Cardinal Wolsey’s telling the father Abbott of Leicester Abbey that “he was come to lay his bones among them,” the reformation in Religion, and the King’s riding through the Streets of London with Anna Bullen. It is however but Justice, and my Duty to declare that this amiable Woman was entirely innocent of the Crimes with which she was accused, of which her Beauty, her Elegance, and her Sprightliness were sufficient proofs, not to mention her solemn protestations of Innocence, the weakness of the Charges against her, and the King’s Character; all of which add some confirmation, tho’ perhaps slight ones when in comparison with those before alledged in her favour. Tho’ I do not profess giving any dates, yet as I think it proper to give some and shall of course Make choice of those which it is most necessary for the Reader to know, I think it right to inform him that her letter to the King was dated on the 6th of May. The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince, were too numerous to be mentioned, (as this history I trust has fully shewn;) and nothing can be said in his vindication, but that his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous deprecations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was a principal motive of his doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion himself be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for Ages been established in the Kingdom. His Majesty’s 5th Wife was the Duke of Norfolk’s Neice who, tho’ universally acquitted of the crimes for which she was beheaded, has been by many people supposed to have led an abandoned Life before her Marriage — Of this however I have many doubts, since she was a relation of that noble Duke of Norfolk who was so warm in the Queen of Scotland’s cause, and who at last fell a victim to it. The King’s last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it. He was succeeded by his only son Edward (Cambridge Juvenilia, ed PSabor, 180-82, notes 461-63)

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Catherine Howard by Holbein

To imitate Austen’s own sweeping confident tone, her manifest numerous errors (such as Henry had no religion, he did have one if a typically wholly subjective one for his own personal justificatory need), absurd characterizations (her pronouncing the brutal sycophantic Norfolk noble), lack of knowledge (alas Catherine Howard did have a lover before her marriage, one she remained entangled with afterward) of which I have now given sufficient proofs are by modern readers of Austen explained away by saying that this is irony, that the very purpose of her book is to show that written history is not possible if your aim is objective truth. Or they point to her intuitive summations which are very much to the point: Henry VIII’s crimes and cruelties; there is no excuse for the savage barbarisms of the man, and here and there she does highlight some significant aspect of the personalities she mentions: Wolsey’s gift for performance and ability to deeply feel and express such feeling.

Austen is a strongly partisan reader and literary critic. If she is on your side, she defends you unqualifiedly, sees whatever happens in ways that redound to your credit. If someone were really to try to write an adequate explication and background for each of her assertions from the literature of the era, it’d be the chapter of a revealing book about her reading, attitudes and the books of the era others read and responded to and how this is part of a tradition we still participate in today, as witness the continuing films and books.

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As witness: Claire Foy, Damien Lewis, Mark Rylance, Charity Wakefield as Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and Mary Boleyn in street procession (2015 Wolf Hall, scripted Robert Vaughan out of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy)

Like mine author, I am not in a position to do all that would be necessary. So I will double down on the general attitude of mind in the passage that reflects the attitude of mind of the whole small history and then one sentence towards the end. The attitude of mind is Austen’s form of feminism. She looks out at history from the point of view of the experience of the 50% of humanity often left out: women. Most of the passage is about the women Henry married and then slaughtered or nearly slaughtered. We all remember how Austen wrote of a similar set of accusations about Queen Caroline of Brunswick:

— I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter,” Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate” to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad. — I do not know what to do about it; — but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. —-

A timely online article from Persuasions On-line worth your perusal is Martha Bailey’s “The Marriage Law in Austen’s Time”

This appears at the end of a letter to her beloved friend, Martha Lloyd 16 February 1813, the one relationship most fans of Austen and scholars too choose not to go into deeply. While Martha Lloyd has been suffering all the miseries of a single woman with no income (having to be a similarly underpaid companion/toady) and Austen mentions that Martha must’ve suffered particularly from the raw cold damp (Martha’s room was not adequately heated), and herself as a prisoner of her mother’s supposed ill-health. Her letter to Martha also includes an allusion to Eliza dying and in great pain, Henry active in his banking business, and three indirect allusions to Mansfield Park (which we surmise Austen was writing at the time): Martha has not been able to answer her friends questions about Northamptonshire, and (a seeming non-sequitor), Austen is so aware of “the tricks of the sea,” and is aware of how Lady Keith’s sister could not have enjoyed herself at a ball because she is “shy and uncomfortable in a crowd of Strangers.” The associative threads here lead us all back to Mansfield Park. The specific allusions of the letter are a melange of details of women’s lives into which Jane and Martha must fit.

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Lucy Davis as Charlotte Lucas eyeing the constrained Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet as Charlotte tells Elizabeth she is quite satisfied with her lot, as look at this room she gets to sit in, and most of the time alone (1995 Pride and Prejudice, scripted by Andrew Davies)

So there is Austen’s form of feminism before us all — she is strongly partisan for the individuals and groups of individuals she feels sympathy for, identifies with — that is how she behaves or feels. She looks out at the world unashamedly from a woman’s perspective; her loving friendship (with lesbian overtones or experience included at times) with Martha gives her the liberty to express her views on Caroline and adultery openly. The same we see in her History of England, written many years later.

So the sentence I mean to parse:

The King’s last wife contrived to survive him, but with difficulty effected it.

Austen’s gift for concision has enabled her to say in one sentence what it takes Linda Porter a chapter to discuss adequately in her felicitously written and beautifully informative Katherine the Queen: this is a perceptive book on the phases of Katherine Parr’s life as Katherine moved from child- to girl-hood, through four marriages and finally death in childbirth (her one and only pregnancy, Thomas Seymour the begetter) and the aftermath of her absence in the lives of the others she lived amongst and left remnants of herself to (as well as problems to cope with). Austen knows that Katherine Parr did not just passively or luckily outlive Henry; she had to work to escape arrest and death at least once. Henry’s suspicions were aroused and then worked up to a near estrangement and then fury because of Katherine’s political and religious views – and worse yet, poor woman (as mine author might say) she translated and paraphrased and published (!) three works: Palms or Prayers taken out of Holy Scripture (1544); Prayers or Meditations (1545) and posthumously, The Lamentation of a synner (1548).

So we may assume from the text before us and all we know of Austen’s other texts (novels and letters) that she admired and liked Catherine Parr, took her side as a woman no matter what. Parr’s near catastrophe was the result of her attempt to disseminate information and texts from the evangelical Protestant reform movement and even persuade Henry to alter his hierarchical and Catholic political views (such as work, deeds are necessary for salvation); Austen overlooks, she passes pver that. In this History, Austen is adamant that in these lethal Elizabethan politics she favors the Roman Catholics: thus the lines about Norfolk and her passionate partisanship, she says, for Mary Queen of Scots. I am adamant that much that Austen writes in this early text is written straightforwardly; or, to put this another way, her irony is directed at previous historians, and at human behavior as she catches it on the fly, but not the literal general content of her history, meaning the general outline she presents. A series of victims of a brutal man. She is often pro-Catholic but here what’s at stake is to defend a woman: as she defends the regent’s wife, Caroline so she defends all the women in this particular passages — on the grounds they are women and get a raw rough deal. It’s telling for those who might still assert Austen ignores sex that three of the cases I’ve just mention swirl around adultery; and for those who might still assert (or believe in their hearts that Austen ignores or is not interested in or mum on politics), the fourth is thicket of religious, dynastic and party politics (family clans the parties that mattered then).

I found the most interesting part of Porter’s book the section on Katherine’s writings where I found as I have discovered several (countless) times before that intelligent reading women of this period read evangelical writing, and were deeply taken by it: from Italian (Vittoria Colonna, Veronica Gambara) to French (Jeanne d’Albert and Margaret of Navarre) to English (Anne Boleyn and now the mother-surrogate to Elizabeth Tudor, Katherine Parr). Katherine also like the women of letters of this era used translation as a way of self-expression, some of which by Katherine Parr show closely similar attitudes to that Elizabeth Tudor (I that was to come) in her translation of Margaret of Navarre’s Prisons. There is something in this material sensitive, educated women cannot resist — and communicate to one another through ( I can much better understand women reading Rousseau). Also men close to power but without it (e.g., Anne Boleyn’s brother, George). Anne Seymour, nee Stanhope, Duchess of Somerset, Katharine’s rival, her fourth husband’s brother’s wife (Edward Seymour who became protector when Henry died) is also deeply drawn to this material. I mention Katherine’s sister-in-law because she was one of Parr’s enemies.

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Katherine, from the years of her second marriage, to a much older man, John Neville, Lord Latimer who got into serious trouble during the Pilgrimage of Grace (explained lucidly by Porter), with Katherine held hostage for a time — to my mind she looks intelligent and shows fortitude (women in the 18th century wrote novels featuring heroines with fortitude)

It was due to Katherine’s reading, the friends she made (Cranmer who was a strong influence on her religious beliefs, Porter, 203-4, 234-35) and life-long associates, and translating that Henry began to listen to people who wanted to replace Katherine with a candidate of their own. He had had enough of strongly intelligent women in his first and second wives: Katherine of Aragon who fought him successfully and Anne Boleyn who could not (not having the connections her predecessor had.) He had had enough of royal women after Katherine of Aragon. Enough of highly sexual women after Katherine Howard. Parr was beginning to fit into these paradigms. In Porter’s book we see Katherine intelligently deflect these accusations by falling back on her previous entire loyalty to Henry. Lucidly and persuasively Porter analyzes central events of Henry’s reign during Parr’s years as queen from a correctly skeptical point of view. When Henry VIII goes off to one last battle in France he destroys so many people and places, he spends huge amounts of money — and everyone around him, including and especially Katherine are all praise. Parr tells of the intensely affectionate home-coming Parr gave him. Blame her? Well mine author would understand.

So on the occasion of Austen’s birthday, I provide a brief exegesis of a passage in her History of England, and a footnote to one line — remember nowadays people write reams on the smallest phrase Austen utters so I’ve precedent — Linda Porter’s excellent Katherine the Queen supports Austen’s contention.

As to Porter’s book in general in relationship to Austen: Porter writes a biography where the novelistic technique of pretending to be inside the central subject’s mind is used at times (Austen condones this through Eleanor Tilney’s critique of the way men write history), but this is not overdone, and as to factual basis, Porter footnotes all she says and clearly has read all the extensive literature on Henry’s reign and Katherine’s life. Porter is concise, engaging, not cliched in her conclusions, for example, arguing either that Katherine is a person of high integrity and learning, or that she is seeking power, influence for herself sheerly, or that she was passive flotsam and jetsam upon the seas of life. If married to a much younger man with a close family connection when she was in her early teens, and then to a much much older man to obtain money, power and land for her family again, Parr held her own and lived usefully in her second and third marriages. She could not avoid Henry VIII; she may have been mistaken to love Thomas Seymour, something of a boasting lout-rake, who molested her stepdaughter with more than her complicity, but Katherine then paid the ultimate price.

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Katherine’s own bedroom in Sudeley Castle, from her very last years

Katherine’s correspondence with Henry’s three children shows a decently considerate step-mother. Parr left letters and paraphrases of reformist texts, a trail of documents because she married so often, was widowed thrice, and attempted to mother other people’s children in two her marriages. The one drawback is Porter doesn’t quote Katharine enough. I’d like to believe Porter’s interpretations of her unqualifiedly, but for her argument about Katherine’s religious politics, the center of the later part of Porter’s book I need more documents. I know publishers discourage close reading, and to ferret out Parr’s individual voice from guarded letters, paraphrases and adaptive translation, micro-analysis on Porter’s part would have been necessary.

What does emerges is how ordinary Katherine Parr was, how the outlines of her life fit the lives of these “elite” women traded (trafficked?) by men in these power- (land, money) hungry families: her life experience feels so typical, even in her death from her (one) pregnancy. No one woman friend emerges (which is common if you are paying attention), but she was fortunate in some of her male friends and mentors. She appears to have loved and been loyal to her brother, William Parr and he reciprocated. Reminding me of Cromwell, Cuthbert Tunstall, diplomat, churchman, found of children, a writer, humane, even approved of by Thomas More, was Katherine’s father’s friend, and constantly there for her in Katherine’s life:

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Cuthbert Tunstall (1474-1559) when young

The relationship with Henry of course is what brings Parr into the terrain of Austen’s history and warrants comment: he was an insecure man, fantastic as it is to say this of this terrifying beheader tyrant, deeply duplicitous man (as so many of these absolute monarchs and today totalitarian leaders become). Porter persuaded me that Parr was still very attractive at what was then middle age (an age that most novels and histories and still movies today do not admit women as having because they will not hire women that age to play women that age) and that Henry wanted her sexually, hoped for children from her, and assumed she would be an obedient (no talk back) woman who would submit and yet be companionable. He didn’t mind a mother for his children as long as she didn’t take their interests over what he deemed his.

Porter succeeds in showing more than Eric Ives on Anne Boleyn that Katharine wanted an image of herself to provide her with enough respect to protect herself with, some power to be able to act individually, and to that end she kept having herself painted with the regalia of her “office” — in abstract patterns too like her stepdaughter for a while would and used ritual successfully.

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Katherine late in the marriage to Henry

I don’t know what I am so attracted to this woman (as I take it Austen was to single her out); like Mary Boleyn, Jeanne d’Albret, Katherine Parr’s story compels me. I have next on my TBR pile an excellent biography for d’Albret meant for academic and non-academic readers alike: by Francoise Kermina (in superb French, she too a wonderful stylist). Kermina’s biography of Madame Roland is the best text on her there is in print and some of her brief sketches are equally good. In typology I’d make Mary Boleyn into a Marianne Dashwood type with Katharine Parr Elinor.

In each case of the books I’ve been reading since last fall – began with Anne Boleyn – the woman’s death is by no means the end of the biography. Her life in each case is so interwoven with these men who are powerful and clans and it was these people who in general destroyed and twisted these women – there are occasional winners and outliers and they end these books. Katharine had been and was becoming one again (a winner), but childbirth did her in (as it did so many women) Mary Boleyn was an outlier who survived. She had not sufficiently surfaced in the histories so Jane”s history omits her.

So this is how I honor Austen: her feminism, her intelligence, her understanding of others’ books, her writing. Austen is with Katherine Parr all the way and read whatever was available about her — and the other Elizabethan women and characters she treats of — with care and perception.

Ellen

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COLOUR PORTRAIT Tara Bergin
A color photo of Bergin

Dear friends and readers,

It’s not often I come across a new good poem about Jane Austen, so I’d like to share Tara Bergin‘s

Appointment with Jane Austen

Blushing in a manner out of keeping with my age
(my graying hair, my falling face)
I entered Greyfriar’s Inn.
I was blushing, and out of keeping with my age.
In I went, making my foolish entrance,
folding down my umbrella self-consciously — 
aware of the locals at the bar with their gin
and their small talk — 
and walked right up to the barmaid,
somewhat brazenly, I thought. One glass of beer,
I said to her, and she, smiling kindly,
pulled it. I stood and waited.
I waited for them all to stop their fond,
drunken reminiscences,
for them to stop putting forth their opinions,
and to turn to me and say — in an accusatory way — 
What are you doing here? On a Wednesday night?
Unaccompanied?
With an accent we can’t quite identify?

I waited ready:

Why am I here? I would say.
I am here as an imposter, an outsider,
a reluctant admirer of your lovely daughter Jane — 
I am here for my Lecture in the Picturesque,
to learn of sidescreens and perspectives,
to learn of window tax and syntax — and “ha-has” — 
for harmless gambling in the parlor,
wearing mittens and handworked collars and a pretty amber cross — 
I am here to steal a pistol and a spoon found underground,
to rob the peacock feathers streaming from the silly boy’s crown — 
I am here, I would say, for sensation — 
For sensation? they would say, and I would say:
Yes! Painful sensation of restraint or alarm!
Oh ye patrons of Greyfriar’s Inn, I would exclaim,
I am here to meet your high-waisted Jane,
to embrace her as my comrade; as my brother-in-arms!

I stood and waited. But the good patrons of Greyfriar’s Inn,
they never said a thing; just continued talking amongst themselves,
quietly reminiscing. I paid the barmaid and turned my head.
I looked out at the wet; I looked out at the southwest rain,
and the redbrick houses. I watched the famous silhouette,
gently swinging back and forth above the gate.
I raised the glass to her impassive, sideways face.
Nothing ventured. Nothing gained.

The poem was first published in September 2014 in the Poetry Magazine, and may now be found at the Poetry Foundation.

One reading: the poet presents herself as an outsider to things Jane Austen, the Jane Austen world and usual topics. She has come “here” to learn about the picturesque, of the realities of her Regency world which we can attach to her novels and life (window tax, “ha-has”), the things that we read of in her novels and that we are told she wore, the foolish fashions of her time.

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18th century style hats for women

People are even excavating where Steventon was (finding spoons underground?) She wants somehow to get close to Austen, to be her inward friend, a comrade in writing say. But she fails. The people who are Austenites that she came to be with carried on talking to one another, among themselves, their own insular talk, remembering experiences they had had with, through, in Austen. None of this helped her. The “picture” provided is not even one of Cassandra’s pictures but a silhouette (the one with the sharp nose?) which swings like a sign above the gate. Austen is abiding all these people’s non-questions; they are not looking at Austen somehow, perhaps that is to say her books. Maybe they don’t want to look.

An extrapolation, looking at inferences: I suggest a metaphor is at play here. Bergin suggests she learned nothing worth knowing about Jane Austen from this slide lecture about one aspect of Austen’s sources. Nor the things of her world, nor in her books, nor what she wore. Point taken: what passes for Austen studies in 2015 — well one kind of Austen studies — are source and influence studies, what we may call the wild surmise school of biography bolstered (justified?) by theoretical practice.

Is it close reading of the books themselves that we do not dare venture? one where we eschew the old moralizing themes but instead look to see how the world of the regency era operates in Austen’s novels, how her characters build that, react to it, and to one another, where she seems to stand.

I would not recommend going back to the close readings uninformed by self-examination and deconstruction of social norms, but perhaps the suggestion is some new break through is needed through daring to read the books out of a contemporary world perspective.

Or is that she went to find Austen among those said to know about and love her and couldn’t find her there at all.

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

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From the cartoon paratexts of Fay Weldon’s 1979 BBC First Impressions (aka P&P): we the cartoon room layered over blurred image of Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth coming inside …

Well, I just listened to a similarly Austen-empty BBC radio program. Melvyn Bragg interviewed three Austen scholars on Emma: Janet Todd, John Mullan, Emma Clery. What was most striking is how empty the talk seemed: the usual biography trotted out, a description of the story for listeners who cannot be presumed to know Austen. Bragg tried to upend the cant of usual views: one of three said how by the time of Emma Austen had found her art, viz., in one letter she wrote of how she draws together most delightful, three or four families in a village.” Another that nonetheless (?) “everything” and “nothing” is in Emma. He replied (in effect) “really?” and then, so “what is in the book?” as ten minutes had gone by and no one had said.

So one of those interviewed started the stuff about how Emma is about the disturbed milieu and the time, and he countered, “the book is all about the relationships of these characters,” and asked about the characters. So Todd it was who tried to tell the story and describe the characters which took some disentangling. She did say how malicious Emma was early on to Mr Martin. It might be that this kind of forum, the semi-pop quick question-and-answer radio show does not lend itself to revealing this author. The problem here seemed to be the surface nothingness of Emma. So Mansfield Park was mentioned as full of critiques. Hmmn.

Could it be an environment that for the last 4 decades (since say the 1990s) all stories on TV or film are presented in some ratcheted up super-excited plot-design lush format or in a bath of emotional warmth? No wonder Emma is a lost case when the actual text is paid attention to.

Here and there someone managed: One person admitted openly how unusual Austen was for the literati of the time to know no one, to go to no parties of literary people, even to avoid the one occasion we know of when Austen could have met someone. That was refreshing. Another in reply to the demand for the content of the book said that Austen’s book is about a young women utterly hemmed in by her invalid father — though (qualifying) the heroine does not seem to mind. Then we heard “the theme is boredom,” but then (the qualification was irresistible it seemed) is common in this era in novels …

Had Bergin been sitting there, she might have produced the same poem.

Ellen

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Master-and-Commander A heroic scene done exquisitely realistically in Weir’s Master and Commander (2003)


Geologizing

The contrasting geologizing scene on the Galapagos Islands

Dear friends and readers,

As it was more than 2 weeks ago now that I spent three nights as much mesmerized by the features about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander as by the movie itself, I had better write now before I lose contact with what made the movie the meaningful experience it is, and (as I am told) reflects the poetic center of Patrick O’Brian’s historical adventure fiction. It’s this: it combines utterly incompatible feelings (Robert Graves wrote about this regarding verse): on the one hand, the worship necessarily blind to reality of violence on behalf of securing power (and with it wealth, privilege, status, the ceremonies of admiration), and on the other, the realization this demands death, maiming, torture (whipping, flogging, whatever it takes to enforce discipline to be cruel) when what makes life worth living is friendship, imaginative arts, knowledge and immersion in the natural world. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe in the film) enacts the thrust of the first, and Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) the activities and point of view of the second, with all the characters arranging themselves variously on a continuum between them.

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This kind of intense quiet music-making punctuates the sequences

I seem to remember best a wholly naturalistic (it was filmed not computer generated) of Russell Crowe as the captain going for a swim, and everyone aboard watching him with bated breathe lest they lose him.

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Russell Crowe as hero

Also the horror of the ship hospital, the operating table as the maimed men were amputated, sewn, and on beds left to die. Richard McCabe as Mr Higgon’s surgeon’s mate’s anguished terror at making a mistake as he imitates Maturin as surgeon whose arm is too hurt to perform himself.

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The boy has lost his arm, we watch him follow Maturin around the Galapagos; he is groomed to be a captain himself

I have listened to a marvelous reading aloud on books-on-CD of the third book of the series, H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick Tull where the character of Stephen Maturin emerges fully for the first time as sceptic, objector, doubter, sensitive soul, the alternative voice, and have now placed the first book high on a TBR pile of historical fiction.

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Paul Bettany as questioner

I’ve also looked up on my Eighteenth Century World at Yahoo list to see if there was any commentary on the film in 2003 when I saw it with Yvette. I had gone to a session in a ASECS (American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies) panel on film where:

A young Spanish professor, Diego Tellez Alarcia, gave a remarkably well-organized, lucid, and detailed exposition on Master and Commander, an adaptation of several novels by Patrick O’Brian. Mr Alarcia went over the type of film M&C represents, the real historical & contemporary events (one involving the USS Essex) it alludes to, its relationship to O’Brian’s novels, and how it functioned to whip up patriotic emotion after 9/11. Mr Alarcia first used Krakauer, an important film critic (who I’ve read) to argue that films provide a new way of studying history: we can study our culture as an engine of history itself as well as a mirror of society. Films are a new way of writing history as valid as speech and the written word. Mr Alarcia went on about how much effort was put into making the details of the film historically accurate (ship, food, clothes &c). The genre this film belongs to also is the swash-buckler, the rebellious adventure film, the tongue-in-cheek (Captains Courageous, Mutiny on the Bounty, Billy Budd, Pirates of the Carribean). I learned something new about O’Brian’s career: I had thought the Jack Aubrey novels are a roman fleuve, but did not know that O’Brian also translated 30 books from French.

I’ve appended as the comments I received on that listserve some 12 years ago on the film, beginning with a person who loved the books to someone who differed on the film but was glad of the attention repaid to journalism at the time.

We can connect this to Austen in various ways because of her sailor-brothers: here I choose to compare her with her brother’s Francis’s viewpoint on a renegade hero of the time, and Byron’s ironic understanding.

One chapter in Southam’s JA and the Navy is about a little known satire by Austen which shows her to have been a narrowly partisan amoral imperalist Tory type. Southam prints a little known and until now Austen’s little understood satire in the manner of Pope, Swift and others:

Of A Ministry Pitiful, Angry, Mean Of a Ministry pitiful, angry, mean, A gallant commander the victim is seen. For promptitude, vigour, success, does he stand Condemn’d to receive a severe reprimand! To his foes I could wish a resemblance in fate: That they, too, may suffer themselves, soon or late, The injustice they warrent. But vain is my spite They cannot so suffer who never do right.

In brief, Popham was court-martialed for disobeying an order to protect ports in the Cape of Good Hope. Instead he took his ships and attacked some ports in Argentina in order to steal their cargo and help friends upset the Argentinian gov’t and eventually take over. Among other helpmates were the revolutionaries: politics makes temporary bedfellows this way. There’s a long chapter in Southam’s JA and the Navy which shows that in this case Austen was fiercely on the side of an amoral thug-pirate type, Popham.

Why? because he was supported by her brothers; for among other things, his relationship with Moira and others to whom Henry had (very unwisely, but trying hard to make money from money) lent big sums of money. It’s a good instance of her narrow Toryism. The man was out for himself to make huge amounts of money; left his post to go over to another country and simply grab it. One of the sorts of people that make the world miserable for the average person. Even Nelson thought him a horror: Nelson, we have to give this to him, did not seek wealth personally except as it came as part of actions he thought genuinely for the good of the people and land of England.

People like to ignore or not talk about how Wentworth is presented as making money from his ships; we are not told what this actually means in reality. He, though, is not the charlatan type Popham was.

Now Southam keeps saying that the brothers (Francis and Charles and in this case Edward and Henry) would have approved of Popham, but while Henry clearly has behaviors that resemble Popham’s (and Edward is fiercely partisan on behalf of his property, will not help other landowners), not Francis and the two passages that Southam quotes are filled with comments that were they turned to look at Popham would judge him “horrible” and very wrong. In the chapter he registers the idea that it’s just “horrible” for people to bomb others. Popham was an early inventor of the equivalent of today’s drones (drop it on the ship and blow it up), but it was real claptrap and when used as often killed those using it. Nonetheless, he tried it and destroyed four ships in the process.

studyingmasts
A drawing-illustration made from the movie — the officers studying maps, planning strategy

Given the continual dropping of bombs on people helpless against them and the targeting of civilians since WW2, it’s worth it to quote some of Francis’s words here. He speaks first (at length, a long sentence) of how impossible it is to “direct” the bombs with “any tolerable precision.” When people drop drones, we are often told a single “terrorist” is killed; not so; you cannot direct them that way; the drone drops the bombs on a house and destroys the house and anyone in it plus usually the whole street. Hundreds are killed and maimed and lives destroyed. Francis Austen:

“This horrible mode of warfare seems scarcely justifiable in principle (amongst civilized nations) short of self-preservation and perhaps its entire want of success may have been a fortunate circumstance for England who could not have expected to be the only power to use such machines and whose shipping would be constantly liable to similar attacks with much greater facility from the exposed situations of the anchorages then used.”

In other words, such bombs could be used against England’s ships. The second is a long passage where he says one must obey the orders of one’s commander. When one is ordered to stay and protect a port, one must. Francis always behaved that way and he missed Trafalgar (which he regretted all his life because it meant less money and less prestige and fewer connections he could pressure) because he obeyed an order. Jane Austen was taking precisely the opposite position. Throughout her letters we see her usual mockery (Southam calls this joking) and adversarial positions to whatever is happening.

Here Southam cavalierly says that Austen liked Popham because her brothers did. One can see parallels with Henry’s banking and loan practices and who he was more than willing to be friendly with but all the evidence suggests Francis would have judged Popham fiercely and said he should be court-martialed.

During this time Jane Austen was reading Charles Pasley’s Essay on Military Policy (you can download this as an ebook and I have) and we find in her letters one of these short phrases, but it is in full admiration. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperalist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. I wondered what Austen would have thought of Maturin.

Byron provides a rejoinder to Jane Austen, Pasley, and Popham: Wellington: The Best of Cut-Throats (1819)

Though Britain owes (and pays you too) so much,
Yet Europe doubtless owes you greatly more:
You have repaired Legitimacy’s crutch,
A prop not quite so certain as before:
The Spaniard, and the French, as well as Dutch,
Have seen, and felt, how strongly you restore:
And Waterloo has made the world your debtor
(I wish your bards would sing it rather better).

You are ‘the best of cut-throats’: – do not start;
The phrase is Shakespeare’s, and not misapplied;
War’s a brain-spattering, wind-pipe-slitting art,
Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
If you have acted once a generous part,
The world, not the world’s masters, will decide,
And I shall be delighted to learn who,
Save you and yours, have gained by Waterloo?

I’ve done. Now go and dine from off the plate
Presented by the Prince of the Brazils,
And send the sentinel before your gate
A slice or two from your luxurious meals:
He fought, but has not fed so well of late.
Some hunger, too, they say the people feels: –
There is no doubt that you deserve your ration,
But pray give back a little to the nation.

Never had mortal man had such opportunity
Except Napoleon, or abused it more:
You might have freed fallen Europe from the unity
Of tyrants, and been blest from shore to shore:
And now – what is your fame? Shall the Muse tune it ye?
Now – that the rabble’s first vain shouts are over?
Go! hear it in your famished country’s cries!
Behold the world! and curse your victories!

crewbattle

To return to the 21st century film, Stuart Klawans, the film critic of The Nation provides a perceptive commentary on this film helps explain why it’s alluring experience. His argument is that it has a

deeply erotic charge … which turns out to be powerful and strange.” “It’s there from the first wordless, nocturnal sequence, in which the camera follows a prowling character through the sleeping quarters below deck, where rows of hammocks, seen from below, swing from the ceiling like multiple scrotums. Perhaps the penis is Russell Crowe himself, who makes his first appearance semi-dressed, bursting erect from the captain’s quarters through doors that part like a loosely buttoned fly. Never mind that the Surprise, like all ships, is calls ‘she.’ Weir conceives of it as a huge male body, whichis literally suffused with its crew’s blood. [Klawans was puzzled to read reviews claiming the picture was “stupendously entertaining” and “thrilling”.] You might have thought these writesr were describing The Adventures of Robin Hood rather tnan movie that lingers over the amputation of a young boy’s arm. Sailors are lavishly blown apart; a skull is opened and the brains probed before a fascinated crew; in one extended scene Maturin even performs surgery on himself, digging into his own guts while watching the spectacle in a mirror. Even during the longueurs, when male bodies are not being ripped into, Weir reminds you of the permeability of flesh by providing all the actors with highly visible scars. So it came to me: This penetration of male bodies is what’s thrilling about Master and Commander. How’s that for an S&M title? The infliction and endurance of pain is the sex …

Klawans isn’t “belittling the grandeur, the magnificence, the meticulous recreation” of details of “nautical life, or neglecting “Crowe’s wonderfully assured performance, which is as self-amused as it is amusing.” He agrees with Crowe “that M&C is one enormously expensive art movie.”

I was struck by the emotionalism of Maturin’s intellectual senstive-physician sidekick. I liked how the film questioned and exposed the values behind the male world. Yvette said to that they are the same pair of A Beautiful Mind. Maybe it’s a woman’s emotion picture shot into the center of a swashbuckler by way of Captain Hornblower. It is also siimply a bunch of men enjoying themselves enormously, pretending they are the men at sea, in danger, winning battles, exploring, watching punishment of those who risk all, or betray or undercut the rules. All this under the cover or rational of historical accuracy.

crew

And given my return to historical fiction (Poldark novels, Wolf Hall) and its relationship to historic fiction (older), biography, our understanding of history, now I would like to read a few of the novels

Ellen

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JanefromBack
Jane Austen drawn by Cassandra, meditating a landscape scene?

Dear friends and readers,

So we come to the last two letters. These are not her last writing; that is the poem she wrote, probably dictated (the handwriting is said probably not hers) on July 15, 1817:

Written at Winchester on Tuesday, the 15th July 1817

When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin
And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.

The races however were fixed and determined
The company came and the Weather was charming
The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined
And nobody saw any future alarming.–

But when the old Saint was informed of these doings
He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And then he addressed them all standing aloof.

‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said

These races and revels and dissolute measures
With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain
Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.

Ye cannot but know my command o’er July
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers–‘.

WinchesterQueenEleanorsGarden
Winchester, Queen Eleanor’s garden

Venta Bulgarum was the Roman name of Winchester and each July on St. Swithin’s day a steeplechase race was held (see a Day in Winchester).

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jamesedwardaustenleigh_nephew
James-Edward Austen-Leigh in middle age

Letter 160. to James Edward Austen, Tuesday 27 May 1817, Mrs Davids, College Street, Winchester, to Exeter College, Oxford

I find the opening sentence of this letter to be filled, redolent with a generous reaching out. Austen’s illness made her grateful to those who cared for her. The next three lines suggest hope has sprung again (“eternal in the human breast”): her handwriting may not be anything to boast of, but she is gaining strength, up from 9 am to 10 at night, though on a sofa, she eats with Cassandra “rationally.” In fact, her handwriting betrays her. She registers a deep desire not to have that so, but she cannot write any better. She had not been having rational meals nor had been able to cope with them. She claims to employ herself, walk from one room to another. The new Dr Lyford claims he will cure her (the job of the doctor in this era was to provide hope), if not she will write a formal complaint.

With that joke, the brave face breaks down a bit, and I feel by the end of the letter it’s clear she knows she is dying and this is a near deathbed letter. Nothing specific just a feeling as she writes.

An account of her trip, with the loaned carriage very little fatigue but apparently not room for Henry and nephew even in the rain — it rained all the way and to see them getting soaked distressed her. We can see he family rallying round her aware this is the last as they keep trying to visit as they can: nephews one of which is sick himself. Mr Heathcote (whose wife we remember from the previous letter procured the cottage for them) will call on JEAL soon (to tell him of the aunt’s condition).

Then this return to a new trembling emotionalism; she hopes if ever Edward is ill, he will be “as tenderly nursed.” Blessed alleviations and she has been assured she is worthy of their love — so she was herself feeling overwhelmed, guilty. She concludes remembering Martha (who occurs in letter to Anne Sharpe just before) who sends her best love — again she may be there.

Diane Reynolds’s reading:

As Ellen points out, we are very near the end: one more letter written by JA after this one, then 3 letters that Cassandra wrote that I am inclined to want to do as well: two to Fanny and one to Anne Sharp.

JA is fewer than two months from death as she writes to her nephew. It is more pleasant for her to write to JEAL than his parents, and she uses the letter as an opportunity to send thanks to them through JEAL for the loan of the carriage. Martha must have visited, for she uses the fact of JA writing to JEAL to send her love and hence not have to write a letter herself: people work through others so as to reduce their own letter writing burden.

Austen mentions that because of the carriage she was able to travel with “very little fatigue”–but she still had some. As Ellen points out, it distressed her that Henry, who rode on horseback beside them, was caught in the rain. I would imagine that, given her own weakened state, she felt perhaps more acutely than otherwise his sufferings. I agree too that the siblings are saying their goodbyes: it must be clear that she is dying.

Yet she does insist to JEAL that she is getting better and the letter provides a window into her life at Winchester–convalescing on a sofa during the day, eating “rationally” with Cassandra, whatever that means–I take it to mean taking meals in the normal way, and feeding herself–she is able to “employ” herself–does this mean she can read, write a little, possibly sew?–it implies she is not reduced to simply lying on the sofa. She is in place with a bow window in the drawing room overlooking a garden, no doubt pleasant at the end of May.

As Ellen mentions, JA is able to joke at the possibility of her death. People are visiting.

The end of the letter expresses again her gratitude at the kindness of friends and relations, wishing the same for JEAL should he be ill, and saying he would deserve such care. She jokes that she is not worthy of it–but it is not entirely a joke. She is not used to being so regarded–but it may also allude to being a difficult patient, in more pain that she admits.

The notes say the handwriting in this letter–as JA herself says–is shaky. One wonders if some of her “employ” is fiction writing, but at this point that must be doubtful.

The symptoms of her illness are distressingly vague. If it is cancer, we must imagine her in a good deal of pain–but she does not, for obvious reasons, mention that to her nephew. Euphemism is the rule of the day.

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

HenriettaStreetFireplace
Henrietta Street Fireplace — one of the objects in the places where Jane probably saw Francis Tilson now and again

Letter 161 (C): To ?Frances Tilson, Wed 28/Thurs 29 May 1817, Mrs David’s, College Street, Winchester

Diane began it:

We have come, after a long journey, to the last extant JA letter. According to La Faye, the original was probably lost. What we have, says La Faye, are the scraps of it used by Henry in his Biographical Notice. The date is probably the end of May, and it is probably written to Frances Tilson. Le Faye’s biographical index identifies the recipient as the wife, nee Sanford, of one of the partners in Henry’s failed bank: the name of the bank was Austen, Maude and Tilson. Frances was about 2 years younger than Jane and would die six years later. (If we are entertaining conspiracy theories, is Frances’ death mysterious?)

I don’t think of Tilson as a JA intimate and have to wonder why JA is writing to her from her deathbed–almost–and about family matters that were considered unfit for publication. It’s not hard to surmise that she was writing frankly of the combination of the bank failure and the lost inheritance to someone she felt comfortable approaching. I can imagine Henry was perhaps suspected of deceit by his former partners in claiming he had an inheritance coming–perhaps he held out hopes that this could right things–and Jane may well have written, even at his behest, to defend her brother, insisting that they all did indeed expect the inheritance. Or I can also imagine her pouring her heart out to a sympathetic person on the “inside-” someone who would already know details hidden from others– in frustration at the bank failure, the inheritance going elsewhere and the shock it caused.

In what little we have, Austen seems at pains to paint a tender portrait of herself as an invalid, selflessly attended by Cassandra and her “beloved family,” perhaps to soften a bad family impression and raise sympathy. As she said to JEAL, she is mostly on the sofa, able to walk from room to room and tended without complaint by Cassandra. She adds that she has been out in a sedan chair once and hopes to be graduated to a wheel chair. She cries over the care of her family and prays “to God to bless them more and more.” Perhaps this a plea to friends to treat them gently.

Then we get an editorial comment, presumably by Henry. According to him, Jane “touches” with “gentle[ness]” on “domestic disappointment.” One has to imagine the uncle’s will is the subject–though, in reality, who knows? The particulars “do not concern the public.” (They do.) But he cannot allow himself to “suppress”–an interesting word choice–the expressions of “sweetness and resignation” of “our authoress.” We then get this scrap from Jane mid-sentence: “But I am getting too near complaint. It has been the will of God, no matter how secondary causes may have operated…” The key phrase to me is the “secondary causes.” Even while asserting the will of God, “sweet” and “resigned” Austen has hardly forgotten the malevolence she perceives at play.

More cuts and then another editorial comment on how quickly JA “could correct [another telling word choice] every impatient thought. [She is not allowed impatience] and turn from complaint to cheerfulness.”

The final bit of the letter that follows shows a flash of Austen’s characteristic humor: she advises Frances that a person La Faye identifies as Captain Benjamin Clement is a “respectable, well-meaning man” and his wife and daughter, she hopes, won’t this time wear too short skirts: “I hope (since the fashion allows it) with rather longer petticoats than last year. She has not lost her touch. Clement was also, at least some Clement, a partner in the bank, so this upcoming meeting might also be about bank fallout. Allowing herself this joke says to me JA was comfortable with Frances.

One can imagine Frances handing Henry a too-hot-to-handle letter and he quickly framing it in terms of Austen’s sweetness lest any rumors leak out. Or one can imagine, if Austen wrote the letter at his behest, that he would know to ask for it back, and thus get hold of a potentially damaging epistle. But this is all imagining.

We end in midstream, Austen still holding on to a slim hope of recovery or partial recovery, still acutely concerned about the family misfortunes and still poking fun at people. It will take Cassandra to tie up the loose ends in the letters that follow her sister’s death.

I added:

Diane has written very perceptively about this one, working out why one of Austen’s last letters would be to the wife of Henry’s business partner, and how Henry came to have a copy of said letter. i am just adding a few thoughts.

I agree there is enough here to suggest Jane knew Francis well — women whose husbands/brothers/fathers (men) are in business together might well. There are many references to Tilson and his wife visiting. I note that last group includes Catherine Anne-Prowting. (She was the sister-in-law of Captain Benjamin Clement who with his wife is also referred to.) It was to Miss Prowting Jane sent a copy of Emma when Miss Benn died before Jane could give Miss Benn hers, and (to me), a offer with pathos as Austen is excusing herself for sending this book, saying she did so because Miss Prowting read with Miss Benn novels by Jane, making light of this one (Emma) as easy reading, to be kept or read or not as Miss Prowting feels, as certainly the volumes “are not wanted at home” (Letter 136, early 1816).

Emma4
Emma

It need not have been a letter “too hot to handle.” If Henry made himself appear someone who had expectations, it was common to do so if you did. We’ve seen these letters were handed about; maybe there was nothing in it which Henry could not see and it became the focus of a discussion about moneys — the domestic disappointment could be the legacy that didn’t come through or something else.

I find it an ironically fitting letter to end the collection with. We have staring in front of us all the evidence we might want of how the relatives censored the letters, only let through what at any given point in Austen’s life could be seen as socially acceptable or better than that, exemplary, and when not, something one could explain away as non-serious joking, so much trivia that didn’t matter to her. Here Henry has drawn on precisely those passages which show the family and Cassandra as selflessly devoted (and maybe she was in this last illness when it became apparent her sister was dying) and Jane all gratitude. He wanted also to show her submitting herself to God and not complaining, but since he could not find a sentence which was not purely that and only sentences where that came in as a qualification of what she had said, he has to fill in some explanation. They liked to present her as a “joker:” ho ho ho, that Jane, joking even in death. (That’s how the last ironically exalted verses were seen).

Anti-climactic too.

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

MemoirJaneAusten

JEAL has real literary gifts, real talent — as did his older sister, and, as seen in her Reminiscences, Caroline too. His evaluation of his aunt is sentimental and unreal, an angel in the house, but the portrait is filled with useful information, and later especially scenes of her writing her books, commenting on them. Seen as a fragment of his own autobiography (which many biographies are), it makes good sense: Chawton was a haven from Steventon at the time and Jane Austen the playful spirit in it. She colluded in presenting a non-sexed version of herself to others.

From somewhere in his memories of The Vinea second slender book and his letters in Austen papers (plus his daughter’s biography of him) you discover he loved the novels of Walter Scott. Scott was bought but often to show off and look like you like what others are said to be liking — but he was no favorite of non-readers or non-serious readers. JEAL himself says he had to leave the room when people began to make fun of Scott. He loved Thackeray in ways that show a strong literary taste — it was the style he liked.

I remember vividly (because it’s unusual) that JEAL wrote some very bitter words about his uncle’s leaving all his money to the wife after having given the family an explicit impression (not quite a promise) there would be immediate relief for each nuclear family (as we would call them). I don’t think religion has anything to do with this level of reality. Some are in the Austen papers; some in his daughter’s biography of him. He called his uncle a “sneak” — this word “sneak” is used of this man by other people at the time of the original theft of the lace. Something in his behavior struck people that way. JEAL was angry remembering how his aunt in later years would threaten to disinherit him in order to pressure him to do this or that. Luckily she approved his choice of wife — Emma, an heiress. And he used angry words of her — words which bring to mind Mrs Norris. He does not at all allude to any characters in the novels over this.

While he does not say this, I suggest that part of his anger was on his father and then his mother’s behalf. As I’ve suggested, a fair reading of that household (through James’s poems) suggests much tension and bullying on the part of the wife who disliked all this reading and intellectuality of which she had none. She cannot have been keen on Anna the stepdaughter’s writing either (she was openly antagonistic to this girl and would not speak to Eliza). We see how she would withhold permission from Caroline to visit her cousins. She wanted her husband to take two sinecures and there were open quarrels over that. He was too much the idealist. He did die young — she didn’t kill but this relationship didn’t help him to live long; Jane took it that he sided with his wife and estranged himself willingly in some ways but she may have been wrong. And as I’ve suggested the picture of Chawton by JEAL is in comparison to Steventon.

Now the withholding of this money cannot have made them happier even if James was made executor: it was not his.Then when he dies, the wife is left with a tiny amount of money — doled out by the aunt — JEAL does mention this.

He saw his aunt’s books through Victorian lenses: that means she is looked upon as leaving out much that matters: the great books of the Victorian period give us a wide picture of the world, society, over social and political criticism. JEAL does not see that his aunt’s books belong to a genre of women’s novels but then no one talked that way. And many women did and some still do what they can to separate themselves from their female sources: Burney certainly did.

JEAL had an agenda for the memoir. He wanted to and did believe in the happy home. It was important to him to believe that. More: against the wishes of a part of the family, he wanted to write up the life of this difficult woman – she had not married, she had not done what others did and they didn’t want prying. Not only did he write up the life but he published Lady Susan (a daring text) and The Watsons (which placed characters in a milieu he knew very well was that of Austen’s father). The point not to lose sight of is twofold: some members of the family copied out these letters; they were not quite private, but what has been called confidential papers (to be circulated among family and friends and kept); second that JEAL published it at all.

A similar case as to publishing about Jane Austen’s life may be made for Brabourne only for Brabourne it was easier as mores had changed some more and due to JEAL’s memoir and the Steventon edition, Jane Austen became a more widely read author and it openly redounded to Brabourne’s credit to publish her letters. The doctored nature of them is par for the course: Anna Barbauld did it to all the correspondence she edited, including Samuel Richardson’s.

janeaustens-lettersa852-correction
Cambridge facsimile reprint

Ellen

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