Archive for the ‘Becoming Jane’ Category

I have always respected her for the courage in cancelling that yes … All worldly advantages would have been to her — & she was of an age to know this quite well — Cassandra Austen speaking of Jane Austen’s refusal of Harris Bigg-Wither (quoted from Family Record, 93)

Ah! those were pleasant days when I had the Laconia! how fast I made money in her … ” (Wentworth, Persuasion I:8:67)

Once once we are buried you think we are dead
But behold me immortal” — Austen’s last writing, on it having rained hard on the Winchester Races

Friends and readers,

This is to recommend not just reading but obtaining E.J. Clery’s Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister. Clery carefully correlates documents left by Henry Austen’s life’s activities and those left by people he did business with, was friends or connected to (letters, life-writing, other texts as well as military, banking, lease and all sorts of contractual and court records), with close readings of Austen’s novels and her and her family’s papers, to create a fresh coherent story that sheds real light on aspects of her life and outlook, on his character, and on Jane and Henry’s relationship.

Clery gradually produces a portrait of Henry Thomas Austen as an ambitious, chance-taking, highly self-regarding man who aspired to gain a higher status in life and more respect for his personal gifts than the fourth son of an Anglican clergyman was thought by his world entitled to. At the same time or throughout each chapter Clery attempts to create the contemporary socially engaged businesswoman Austen favored today moving through the familiar events of Austen’s life (there have been so many biographies of Austen by this time) and writing or thinking about writing each novel.

Clery is not the first critic-scholar to assume that Jane was closer in mind to Henry than any other of her brothers, nor the first to credit him with the initiative and knowhow to help Jane achieve her heart’s desire to publish her novels. (And by this earn our gratitude.) But Clery is the first to interpret these novels metaphorically and literally as engaging in and critiquing or accepting financial outlooks literally analogous to or undergirding the outlooks Clery assumes Henry’s military, business and clerical behavior showed he had. Each chapter of Clery’s study begins with a retelling of Henry’s business and social life at the time of the publication or writing of each of Austen’s novels (chronologically considered). Clery then produces an interpretation of the novel in question, which assumes Jane’s cognizance of Henry’s state of mind or business at the time and that this alert awareness actuated some of the novel’s major themes (perhaps hitherto overlooked or not quite clearly understood).

Henry late in life, a curate

Beyond all this, as a mine of information the book is as useful as James Thomson’s explication of the money system in the era in his “Patterns of Property and Possession in Fielding’s Fiction (ECF, 3:1 [1999]21-42)

This book, then, is not a biography of Henry Austen. Its matter is made up of explications of Henry’s business practices, living arrangements, day-to-day activities in the context of what was happening in business, military, court and city events. His marriage to Eliza Hancock de Feuillide takes a very much second place in the scheme of things nor do we learn much new about her, though Clery is concerned to defend Eliza against the implication she was a bad mother or somehow cool, shady or amoral person, which the insistence on a direct connection between her and Austen’s portrait of Lady Susan and Mary Crawford has led to in the past. She also suggests, I think persuasively, that over the course of the relatively brief marriage Henry and Eliza grew somewhat estranged: she had not been eager for the marriage, and once obtained, he was not especially keen on her company nor she on the life and Austens at Godmersham.

A very poor miniature of Eliza Austen when an adolescent girl

Her gravestone: appropriately Henry buried her with her mother and son

After Henry’s life considered almost sheerly from a career and advancement standpoint, we are given an explication of one of Austen’s novels: like David Nokes in his underrated biography of Jane, Clery has read the letters with an original thoughtful alertness as to the events found in them. She tells us what on a given afternoon Jane or Henry (or Eliza), was doing and with whom, and how this related to what they did yesterday and the following evening and some ultimate career goals (which these business friendships fostered). In these vignettes she comes near to recreating Henry and Eliza and Jane as characters, but is hampered in the case of the first two complicated, enigmatic (neither wore his or her heart on sleeve) people by her acceptance of the Austen’s family’s adversarial dismissive portraits of them, with Henry “wayward” and Eliza ever a flirt (see my blogs on Henry and Eliza). The book is then or feels like a sort of constrained dual biography which then morphs into not always wholly persuasive yet intriguingly innovative literary criticism of Jane Austen’s oeuvre.

There is so much to be learned about financial practices and banking in each chapter; she goes well past the level of generality found in the previous articles (by Clive Caplan and T.A.B. Corley) to give us an in-depth picture of how Henry actually got himself promoted, put into positions where a lot of money went through his hands (a good deal of it which legally stuck to said hands), who he knew who mattered, who they knew whom they pressured, and how once “fixed,” Henry preceded to develop his interests further. Receivership, speculation, the “rotten” credit system come one by one under the reader’s eye. We learn the state of the economy in crucial moments, especially with regard to war, which all these people looked upon as a money-maker for them (thus Tory and Whig enthusiasm). Where we the Austens living in London when the successful business of publishing Sense and Sensiblity began, and what it (and the other novels) entailed. I give Clery great credit for providing us with the sums to see the profoundly immoral and unjust systems at work (for example, the money in the military sector was to be made buying and selling commissions off the table). Henry was of course “conscious of no criminality” (290).

Modern photo of the site of Henry’s bank in Alton today

One is struck by the small sums (£100) Henry and Francis disbursed yearly for a few years to the mother and sisters in comparison to the thousands they pulled in and spent on themselves. Clery mentions the Austen women were utterly dependent on these men who controlled the women’s movement and spending. The year Henry was said to have gone completely bankrupt and he said he could only supply £50 for his sisters, and mother his closest long-time partner, and Henry Maunde probably killed himself (283-84); there were intense recriminations among those involved about how much money Henry and Francis had held back. Suits and countersuits. Henry was resilient enough to almost immediately turn back to a clerical career, begin study for a title, and two years ahead of time (of James’s death) write begging letters in order to gain his brother James’s vicarage (312). Clery also reports in slow motion Henry’s two illnesses during the period of the decimation of the country and other banks when the (“rotten”) credit system (based on massive loans unaccounted for) imploded, and it seems to this reader by no means was Henry’s much boasted about optimism thick-set into his being.

But if it’s clear he had to know (it’s right before him, us and Clery and all) how insecure were all these securities, nonetheless he gave both his sisters crucially bad advice when it came to offers of money for Jane’s books. It’s important to remember that when Jane self-published Sense and Sensibility, and lopped and chopped First Impressions into Pride and Prejudice and sold it outright for £150, not only had her work been continually rejected, no one had offered her anything. It’s repeatedly said in his behalf (for the letter disdaining Murray’s offer of £450 is in Henry’s idiolect) that self-publishing was the common way: not when you were given such a ready money large offer. In just about all the cases of self-publishing I know of there has been nothing like this offer; as for the other common route, to solicit subscribers you need to know people, you need to be well-connected, you need really to be known and you have to have people solicit for you — those cases I’ve read of slightly later (including Burney much later in life) the person hates to solicit. It’s more than half what Radcliffe was paid for The Italian. Murray was not a “rogue” in this offer; he knew the market for fiction far better than Henry or Jane did. Another comparison might be Charlotte Smith; the sums she was offered early on with her first successes are smaller than that offered Austen. Murray was said to be a generous publisher (as was Johnson to Smith).

Henry repeats the same mistake years a few years later when Murray makes an overture to buy the copyrights of all six novels. After “consultation with Henry, Cassandra refused. Murray had “remaindered the 539 unsold copies of Emma at two shillings, and the 498 copies of the second edition of Mansfield Park at two shillings sixpence.” Of course he didn’t offer more for a “new edition” as she hinted. They ended selling all the copyrights to Bentley for £210 minus the £40 Bentley paid to Egerton for Pride and Prejudice, and they reappeared as inexpensive cheaply produced volumes for six shillings each (“sales were less than predicted and the number of copies issued each time was reduced”, 318-19)

Here is the source of the continual itching of the acid chip-on-the-shoulder consciousness that wrote the biographical notice, the continual bitterness, albeit mild, of some of his satire in The Loiterer. Henry cannot accept that the real gifts he felt in himself and by extension in his sister were not valued by a world he himself knew indifferent to integrity. He kept hoping otherwise when, Edmund Bertram-like, he studied for a face-to-face examination in the New Testament and Greek, only to be told by the Bishop “As for this book, Mr Austen, I dare say it is some years since either you or I looked into it” (291). He got the position based on his connections and family status.

Close up detail of Cassandra’s one portrait of Austen’s face

Some of the readings of the novels may surprise long-time readers of the criticism of Austen. Emma is interpreted as Austen’s rebellion against commercialism, a “self-flagellation” where we are immersed in a world where most of the characters who count are indifferent to money (242-43). Emma has been repeatedly read as a seriously Marxist analysis of society. I was surprised by how little time Clery spent on Sanditon. Clery seems to me accurate that the fragment represents a return to the juvenilia mode, but is after all a fragment and nuanced and subtle enough to support persuasive continuations about the proposed novel as about financial bust. Clery does uncovers some new sources of inspiration: a novel by Thomas Skinner Surr called The Magic of Wealth (his previous was A Winter in London); the author, a banker, also wrote a pamphlet defending the Bank of England’s paper money policy (see 295-96 and my blog on Chris Brindle’s stage adaptation).

But there is much to be learnt from Clery’s analysis of the juvenilia themselves, what’s left of Austen’s letters, the Austen papers; Clery’s reading of Sense and Sensibility as an “austerity novel” exposing ruthless “greed” and measuring everything by money as the center of society (139-51) and her reading of Mansfield Park as dramatizing and exploring “a speculative society” on every level (194-214). Clery precedes MP with an account of Eliza’s dying, Henry expanding his banking business by becoming “Receiver General for Land and Assessed Taxes” (190) and Warren Hastings’ pose of indifference: there is no need to over-interpret Fanny’s position as an exploited bullied dependent, or her famously unanswered question on slavery. Everything in MP lends itself to talk about money, only this time what is wanted and achieved by many is luxurious ease. Finally, Persuasion is presented as defending “embracing risk” (274-76), with Wentworth linked to Francis Austen’s admiration for a naval hero accused of “wrongdoing in connections with the Stock Exchange Hoax of 1814” (216, 275).

Details of their lives come to hand for each novel: “How appropriate that the party had a chance to see Midas at Covent Garden Theatre during a short three-night stopover at Henrietta Street” (204). The quiet disquiet over Austen’s possible incestuous feelings towards at least one of her brothers now becomes part of a Henry story across Austen’s oeuvre.  I’m not alone in feeling it was Frank, given the poem about his marriage, Frank’s providing her and her sister and mother with a home, the infamy of the letter “F” and clandestine Jane, the destruction of their letters (attributed to his granddaughter), not to omit Frank marrying Martha Lloyd (whom Jane loved) later in life (see Honan, Jane Austen: Her Life).

Green Park Buildings, Bath, end of the row — Austen and her family lived in Green Park buildings 2 centuries ago

In recent years there have been a number of books claiming to link this or that Austen novel with a building, a real life person or event never mentioned in the novel in question or Austen’s extant letters so it is so refreshing to be able to say of the bringing of contextual matter outside the novels into them not discussed before is not dependent on theories of invisibility or subtexts. I especially liked when Clery brought Walter Scott’s career, Austen’s remarks about him and his texts together. She brings out that Patronage is the contemporary novel by Edgeworth with Mansfield Park (193) but what Austen continually took notice of in her letters is how Scott is doing. In Clery’s book just as a number of financial scandals come into public view as well as Henry’s “precarious position” (Edward gives him a promissory note for £10,325), Mansfield Park is lagging in the “performance” department and Emma is not electrifying the reading world, Scott’s Antiquary is published, at a much higher price than either MP or Emma, and withing 3 week 6,000 copies sold, the author gaining half-profits of £1,632.” Jane Austen tells the truth as far as she knows it: it was disheartening.

When they all returned to Chawton Cottage, Jane wrote her niece Fanny of Henry: “London is become a hateful place to him, & he is always depressed by the idea of it” (292). I detect a strong plangent note in her closing letters quite apart from her last fatal illness. Stress can kill.

Deign on the passing world to turn thine Eyes,
And pause awhile from Letters to be wise,
There mark what ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron and the Jail,
See Nations slowly wise and meanly just
To buried Merit raise the tardy Bust.

Clery attributes Jane’s burial in Winchester Cathedral and the floor plaque with its inscription to Henry and the publication of her novels too. He ended his life impoverished but, Clery asserts, Henry ‘s courage in life gave us his sister’s novels (324-25).


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The one image of Jane by Cassandra that we have

From the shop: the theme this year was Austen’s “afterimage” and there were a number of talks on sequels, and many for sale

Dear friends and readers,

As those who go to the annual general meetings of the Jane Austen Society know, the conference “proper” (as I call this time) begins on Friday around 1’o’clock when the first of three “keynote” lectures is given to the whole assembly; depending on your definition, it ends late Saturday afternoon when the last of the sessions of papers is given, or sometime before noon on Sunday, when around 10 or so a sumptuous brunch is served and the last keynote lecture is given, usually home-y, with the accent on Jane Austen’s “countryside,” tales of what happened to the houses she lived in or visited, by those who have themselves lived in or written about the place, often a relation of Austen herself. Quite a number of people seem to come just a slice of time within this Friday and Sunday noon; others last from Monday to Monday.

Those who stay all week (imagine the stamina it must take) go to the increasing spread of “special” lectures or events (amateur plays), concerts, teas (with a lecture), which are increasingly Austen-related, plus several different tours to famous or historical or museum places in the vicinity. These begin on Tuesday morning and end the following Monday evening. Sometimes these “special” lectures or events named after the food or drink served, are as good or far better than the content of papers at the sessions. It used to be that the Fanny Burney society (whose members often belong to JASNA too) met on the Wednesday and into the Thursday and even Friday morning of JASNA’s week because nothing content-rich was going on at the same time — making a hat workshops, silhouette workshops, fun things with ribbons making up many of the “events” on Thursday and Friday morning. But now that the pre-conference time is becoming more serious, the Burney bunch experience serious conflicts. This year they linked themselves to the Aphra Behn Society and are meeting in November.

One of the pool areas

I thought I’d begin this year’s description of the JASNA at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach hotel with the pre-conference events and non-conference experiences Izzy and I went to or had. We arrived by plane, pacific time near 4:00 pm, on Tuesday night, had an early supper with a friend, and settled into, or got used to the hotel. We quickly saw we didn’t need two rooms and separate beds were available in one, so we cancelled one of our rooms and stayed together for the conference, cutting our cost in half immediately. The hotel was a large (vast) opulent place (we were given two different large maps), comfortable but everything beyond the room separately charged and expensive. Several pools, several eating places, alcoholic drinks flowing. Spas in several places, each one charging hugely for each activity you might want to do. Two very expensive restaurants. Another small place where you could buy small meals to take back to the room (breakfasts, lunches) and an Italian pizzeria where central staples for most people.

At the Bowers Museum

We went on the all-day tour on Wednesday to the Bowers Museum in the morning, and after a group lunch together, to the Heritage Museum where we were taken on a walking tour of a 19th century house built by Hiram Clay Kellogg. The Bowers Museum appeared to pride itself on the couple of rooms of native American art (much cruelty could not be hidden) and early white colonialist painting designed to delude people into coming west to experience a sort of “paradise.” One socialist realist painting of the hard working lives of hispanic people in the 1930s. Then there were modern rooms of eclectic art (from tribal communities around the globe). The most interesting exhibit in the museum was made up of real photographs and films of the (in)famous Shackleton expedition to Antartica where terrific suffering was endured by a group of men, to no purpose, but the satisfaction of grandiosely deluded man. The animals taken along were shot and eaten. We were conducted through the Kellogg house by a witty instructor who succeeded in giving us a feel of what life was like in that house for the very wealthy family and its household of servants who lived there at the turn of the century. Much of the older domestic technology catches one’s attention. I recognized things that were still around in the 1950s. Izzy and I did enjoy the museum and house tours and bought souvenirs to remember the day by, me a book of poems about cats and she a stuffed penguin.

Kellogg House

I might as well tell the other non-conference activities here we fitted in On Friday and Saturday afternoons too, I went swimming in a beautiful warm water pool twice, drank lots of whiskey and ginger ale and had two meals poolside; Izzy came once. There was a lavish breakfast on a terrace on Saturday morning. There was a wedding going on in one part of the hotel on Saturday night, and also a lavish costume dinner with a very loud band playing modern rock to late at night. The staff were so abjectly polite and so eager to serve us I wondered if they were whipped at night. More likely, they are badly underpaid since everywhere were signs reminding you the gratuity was not included in the bill. From the hotel (inside so artificial & ornate) the horizon at a distance was beautiful. Step outside concretely and you found yourself in a non-sidewalk world, malls far away from one another.

Over the evenings I also observed private parties of Janeites going on from the high terraces of some of the rooms. Quietly too other kinds of meetings of sub-groups of people, different hierarchies. I did meet at the sessions some new fellow lovers of Austen and we shared some reading experiences, renewed acquaintances on the Net and with people I hadn’t seen since the AGM at Portland. Myself I think that is central to why people go to conferences: to meet with others of their own “tribe.”

Arnie Perlstein, Diane Birchall and myself

I felt I was seeing a good deal of the Santa Ana while the bus was on the road and also in the one restaurant we went to — the literal landscape seemed to me flat, the houses architecturally dull, high commercialization and ugly. Huge amounts of slow-moving traffic on all the roads; the world a maze or labyrinth of such roads with cheap malls far apart. The place suffers from a lack of public transportation. Izzy and I took a long walk on the beach Thursday morning and looked at the other hotels, at communities of people in trailers and vans, fisherman, people surfing.

Izzy and I at the beach

On Wednesday and Thursday there were also three lectures, and Diana Birchall’s quietly charming two person play, “You are passionate, Jane.” The first potentially valuable lecture was given on Wednesday evening, 7 to 9, by a professor from Cal Tech, James Ashley.

The problem with this one was he was at once too abstract and too eager to be accessible. So if you wanted to learn about how to calculate longitude at sea (his topic) and how finally the problem was solved, you’d have done much better to read Dava Sobel’s little book. Using a power-point presentation, he showed us the oceans and the constellations invented by people using stars and said how we could all go out and determine latitude by using arms, fists, and the pole star. He didn’t connect his discourse to Austen, which was disappointing. I expected he might have said something about her brothers’ lives aboard their ships, the travels using older methods, how they were educated but no. There was no serious research on Austen, no attempt to explain for real what he was talking about. The imagined audience might be high schoolers/undergraduates, suitable for many conferences. The weather was lovely and a few people followed him out the door.

Muslin dress

During or just after a mass tea and cake event in a ballroom, two museum women gave excellent talks on costume and art on Thursday afternoon. clarissa M. Esguerra from the LA County Museum gave a detailed account of the changes in fashion from the 1770s to the 1830s for men and women. She seemed to have dozens of slides, attached each of the fashions to some ideal in the other arts at the time (say what passed for Greek and Roman dress), new political norms (egalitarism, following more natural or body-fitting fashions in lieu of a stiff formality) but showed also that quickly extremes emerged in which individuals were clearly trying to show their wealth, status, sexuality or masculine or feminine attractiveness (as these were seen). She went over the kinds of materials used, all the layers of clothes, undergarments, shoes, hats, hairstyles, bags carried. I had not realized how male styles evolved in a similar trajectory. In each era there were fossilized holdovers. Men’s styles by the 1830s begin to resemble the way men dress today. Bridal outfits hark back to this era for both genders. Towards the end of her lecture she connected what she had described to characters in Austen’s books, how they dress and how Austen expects us to judge and evaluate them. This part was all too brief.

An image by just one of the many artists Zohn described: Ana Teresa Barboza

Kristin Miller Zohn provided a fascinating series of images demonstrating (she felt) that very contemporary art today has its roots in Regency fashion. What was most intriguing were close parallels between pictures and statues, plates, decorative arts, cooking equipment, hunting implements, jewelry, silhouettes, facial masks, china, pottery, of the later 18th century and post-1990 post-modern art. Like just about everyone who publicly speaks at these conferences she made no critical statement whatsoever about the celebrity culture she said began to flourish in the later 18th century, and its analogues in exotic esoteric imagery today. Greed is in, with only the very occasional contemporary artist (Kara Walker) providing some intelligent humane remembering or critique of some of the sources and workers providing allusions (to slavery, to massacres in the highlands and colonies outside England). There were grieving figures, and some moving narrations accompanied some of what she showed us. I took down names of artists and works but as my sten is so weak I will not try to transcribe as I would make errors. She sped through some 30 artists at least inside 45 minutes or so. I was impressed by how many women and non-European, non-white artists she included. She didn’t neglect the development of photography. It connected to Austen’s world because the modern artists sharply exposed the underbelly of her capitalist military establishment but there was little directly connected to her.

You did have to pay extra for the three lectures.

Diana as Charlotte, Syrie as Jane

I’ll conclude on Diana’s play, which I read years ago and probably have a pdf of somewhere in my computer files, but an hour’s search defeated me. Syrie James played Jane Austen already in heaven, and Diana was Charlotte Bronte. The conceit is that a select group of appropriate people, apparently mostly novelists, who have just died, have to answer a series of questions Miss Austen puts to them to her satisfaction before they too can pass by the gate. Syrie must have some acting in her background because she delivered the wry lines very well: Austen came out as very full of herself, set in her ways, and aware of how Bronte had written of her to Southey. Bronte is longing to join her two sisters and is the more emotional role. Allusions to other women authors connected to these two were amusing: Jane has read “Mrs Gaskell’s” Life of Charlotte Bronte, and is in the know in ways Charlotte cannot yet be. There was good feeling towards the end as the two grew together despite their (supposed) characteristic personalities.

I doubt I chose the best papers to listen to in the next day and a half and I know I missed a number I would have liked to hear. I did hear a few very worth while papers, found two of the key lectures fascinating, and will try to give the gist of the lectures in the next two blogs. The thing to keep your eye on will be how little connects us to what Austen was herself. She was lost in the aftermath of her reputation and how it’s used. (Next time, for us Williamsburg, Va., and “Northanger Abbey after 200 years,” I will try to go for more “close reading” lectures if I can be sure they are that.)

For me going to this was accompanying my daughter who loves the Austen books, writes fan-fiction herself. I was glad most people smiled at me, a few talked to me (one interesting one with an author of a sequel I’ll review soon, Kathleen Flynn’s The Jane Austen Project, another with a scholar I’ve long admired), but would have been saddened by the end, but that I love the dancing on the last evening. I was so glad Izzy finally danced for a couple of hours too — this is her third JASNA AGM.

For now I end on a poem, one I’ve never read before or shared on this blog:

Rereading Jane Austen’s Novels

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

Talk about rural idiocy! Imagine
a life of teas with Mrs. and Miss Bates,
of fancywork and Mr. Elton’s sermons!
No wonder lively girls get into states —

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

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

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

— Katha Pollitt


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Bath House, for Mrs James Henry Leigh by John Adey (1755-1860, Humphry Repton’s son)

“Those cottages are really a disgrace. The church spire is reckoned remarkably handsome. I am glad the church is not so close to the great house as often happens in old places. The annoyance of the bells must be terrible. There is the parsonage: a tidy–looking house, and I understand the clergyman and his wife are very decent people. Those are almshouses, built by some of the family. To the right is the steward’s house; he is a very respectable man. Now we are coming to the lodge–gates; but we have nearly a mile through the park still. It is not ugly, you see, at this end; there is some fine timber, but the situation of the house is dreadful. We go down hill to it for half a mile, and it is a pity, for it would not be an ill–looking place if it had a better approach — Mansfield Park, Chapter 9

“… the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood — ” Persuasion, Chapter 11

Dear friends and readers,

I thought before going on to notes from my last conference this fall, “EC/ASECS: The Strange and Familiar,” I would devote a working blog to my project and thinking about “Ekphrastic patterns in Jane Austen.” After all this is supposed a blog focusing on Jane Austen.

For the past month, I’ve been slowly making my way through Austen’s famous six novels alongside many studies of the picturesque in landscaping, about landscape architects in her era and their debates, on how literary people, gardeners, historians have approached the mode (especially different when it comes to the use of enclosures to take the land from the propertyless and vulnerable), and how writers about Austen in particular place her and her novels in these debates. One might expect her outlook to change because the worlds of her books have different emphases, and since her stance towards life changed over the years: from (generalizing) a mildly rebellious, personally acid (as a woman) point of view to seriously politically grave and questioning, to acceptance, ever with irony, mockery of the very gothic mode she had loved, to late melancholy over what she wished she had known, and a new valuation of the sheerly aesthetic.

Yet I find broadly across the thirty years of writing life (1787-1816/7) a sameness, a steady holdfast to a point of view. This may be voiced as a strong adherence to judging what is presented as aesthetically pleasing or true by its usefulness. How far is what is created useful for those who live in or near it — use includes how much comfort and pleasure an individual can have from art, which seems to depend how far it works with the natural world (or against it, destroys the natural world), at what cost does this use come, and she counts as cost not only the removal of people and destruction or neglect of their livelihoods (especially in Mansfield Park and Emma), but how far it erases history or the past which she sees as giving meaning to the present through group memory and identity. She excoriates those who seek only status through their purchases and efforts, shaping what emerges from this motive as hypocritical at least as regards joy in all the aspects of the natural world, and disrespectful of animals, plants, whatever has been built. There’s nothing she despises more than someone who professes to love something because it’s fashionable — as say the gussied-up cottage. She has little use for celebrities: partly she is too snobbish and proud to chase after someone whose work so many profess to admire but in fact understand little of. To appreciate any art, no matter what it is, from drawing, to singing and playing an instrument, to curating (as it were) an estate, you must do it diligently and caring how it will turn out for its own sake, not for the reward you might personally get.

John Linnell (1792-1882), Gravel Pits in Kensington (1812)

This is what I found to be true of the implied author’s attitudes and to account for the treatment of pictorialism wherever it be found in her works. I began with the idea that she found very funny viewers, readers who approach art and judge it insofar as it literally imitates what happens in life: walking in the autumn or death of the year, sitting in a garden in the cool fall, working in a kitchen, aboard a boat — these three are the subject of aesthetic conversations, however brief, in, respectively Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion. Now I see she partly wants to take aboard critiques from characters who never forget the practical realities of life, so remain unable to engage with improbable conventions of design, typical scene drawing, and what’s left out and/or assumed. The aesthetically naive or obtuse reaction has something direct to tell us about what is the relationship of what is seen to person seeing. I originally saw in the gap between artistic convention in a medium and what it’s representing in real life as allowing for enjoyment in contemplating how the convention is just a convention and we could presumably choose another. So we are free in art. Now I’m seeing the importance of going outside convention, our own enjoyment of whatever it is, to understand ourselves better. Then we can do justice to others who may not be able to respond imaginatively on a sophisticated level but have other valuable traits.

John Crome (1768-1821), A Heath

This is a very serious or moral way of putting this matter but I think in what seems to be the beginning of an era of indifference to the needs of others, to previous understood relationships, to truth anything less is a further betrayal.
I found myself so strengthened by Austen as I went along (as I have been before) this time because in contrast our world outside is seeing remorseless attacks on the natural world, most people inhabiting the earth, worship of pretension, competition for rank and accumulation of money at whatever cost to others and group loyalty (never mind what to). A different version of these latter probably dominated the world-centers and made the later 18th century world the suffering-drenched place it was, but there were at the time groups of reformists, revolutionaries who were (to use FDR’s formulation) for a much better deal for all, even including animals.

George Morland (1763-1804), The Artist’s Cat Drinking

I’m going to hold back on working this thought pattern out in close reading of appropriate places in Austen’s books for my paper, and here just briefly survey one old-fashioned book published surprisingly recently (1996) for the way Austen is treated as knitted to and writing for her family.  Matey belongs to those who read Austen’s books as non-critical of her era, to some extent unexamined creations (staying away from “politics”), belonging to a closed small world of what I’d call rentier elites. I thoroughly disagree with most of this; I think Austen’s outlook to be so much larger than this, and critical of her world and family too, but Batey understands what is provable by close reading and relevant documents (which recent published critics seem not to). Matey’s book is good because Matey uses the particulars of Austen’s family’s lives and their neighborhood (and its inhabitants), their properties and how they treated them wisely.  She looks at how authors that Austen is known to have read or from her novels probably knew and how their topics and attitudes are treated in Austen’s books. Her documented sources  are books Austen quotes, alludes to, or are unmistakably part of her text). She researched about these common sensically and with discrimination, ever thinking of what is Austen’s tone as Batey decides whether this or that text or garden place or drawing could be meant to be part of Austen’s discourse.

Contemporary illustration: Box Hill

Each of the chapters is attached either to a period of Austen’s life or one or a group of her texts; they all have beautifully appropriate reproductions of picturesque landscapes; they all pick up on some aspect of debates on the picturesque in the era, often closely attached to, coming out of the particular Austen texts (but not always). “The Background” (1) tells of Austen’s family’s life briefly, how they lived in picturesque landscapes, how Edward the third brother was adopted by a rich couple who gifted him with immense wealth in the form of two country mansions and wide lands with all the patronage, rents, and power and education that came with that. The Austen family is presented as highly intelligent, wanting few personal relationships outside themselves (unless it be for promotion) and their gentry world. Austen wrote for her family is Batey’s assumption. We learn how Austen grew up inside “The Familiar Rural Scene” (2), loved Cowper, band egan her first long novel as epistolary narrative .  Batey dwells on Austen’s love of Cowper and how his poetry educated her into the kind of writing she did. Cowper is much quoted, how Marianne is passionate over his verse, Fanny has imbibed it in the deepest recesses of feeling and memory.

Selbourne today —

Batey swerves slightly in “Agonies of Sensibility” (3): as she is herself politically deeply conservative, she makes fun (unexpectedly given how she’s presented Austen thus far) of the writers and the texts she says influenced Austen profoundly: Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther (where, I suggest, the hero kills himself as much because he has to live in a sycophantic court as any love affair he has), Charlotte Smith’s deeply depressed poetry and more desperate novels (highly critical of the social and political arrangements of the day): as with Cowper, Batey quotes at length and Smith’s poetry does justice to itself. Batey shows how the family paper, The Loiterer mocks “Rousseau’s half-baked” (her words) ideas. She goes over the juvenilia she can link directly to the family members: “Henry and Eliza” where she uses names and places of people close by:

Lady Harcourt’s flower garden in Nuneham Courtenay (based on precepts in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloise)

The same paradoxical pull-back shapes her “The Gothic Imagination” (4):  Batey talks of “the whine” of this material: the graveyard poets, the grand tour, Ossian, Blake. Batey does not take seriously any of this as deriving from contemporary anguish; her perspective is that of the aesthete (very 1950s American); she discuss the sublime from Burke apolitically, the lucky landowners, and even (or perhaps especially because ever sceptical). Samuel Johnson is hauled for his sceptical assessments (no sign of his Journey to the Western Islands). So Batey’s outlook on Northanger Abbey is it is about this “craze” which Austen saw through. Nonetheless, she quotes tastefully, and you can come away from this chapter with a much richer terrain and Austen text than Batey herself allows for. And she combines, so Smith’s Emmeline now comes in. She quotes from the effective presence of the abbey, the Tilney’s conversations on the picturesque and history, Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest as found in Austen’s text (amply quoted with illustrations appropriate).

Thomas Jones (1742-1803), The Bard

Batey has not heard of feminism but she does know these are women’s texts and includes a reproduction of an landscape by a woman I’d never seen before but alas tells nothing of the artist, not even her first name:

Lady Leighton, a watercolor of the gothic seat at Plas Newyd where the ladies of Langollen (a famous lesbian couple) read Ossian together (it was said).

I must start to condense. “Enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque” (5) and “The Beautiful Grounds at Pemberley” (6) contain a valuable discussion of Gilpin, who he was, how he came to wander all over England and write books on landscape and accompany them with evocative illustrations. She goes over the flaws in these (they are semi-fake, omitting all that is unpleasant, like exhausted hard-working human beings, and “eyesores” like mines), his theoretical works, of course the mockery of him (Batey is big on this). She does tell how Richard Payne Knight and Uvedale Price exposed the way these landscapes avoided showing how exploitative of the people and landscape products (for use) these enclosures and picturesque-makers were, but does not apply this to Austen: rather she quotes Marianne either engaged with the sublimely or critical of hypocritical cant. For the Sense and Sensibility discussion (where Batey stays on the surface again) she includes many lovely black-and-white and grey illustrations of real landscapes (ruins that real, i.e., crumbling buildings), tourist sites (Netley Abbey to which Austen’s family came). The productions for Pemberley are gorgeously colored: a Turner, a Joseph Wright of Derby, photographs of vast green hills. For Pride and Prejudice Batey simply dwells on the visit to Pemberley saying how unusually detailed it is, without asking why. She does notice Darcy has left much of the original placement of streams in place, and invites gentlemen to fish there; but how is it that every window has a gorgeous view from it, how did this come about, were these specifics originally related to some discussion (in a previous longer P&P) of how Darcy made the landscape never crosses her mind.

Batey thinks Ilam Circuit walk gives us a sense of what was to be seen outside Pemberley windows

No matter how much was “lopp’d and chopp’d” says Batey, we have all in place that we need.

Batey approves of the chapters on Mansfield Park, “A Mere Nothing Before Repton (7)” and Emma, “The Responsible Landlord” (8), because there is so much serious criticism of the picturesque which Batey finds herself able to enter into in the first (land should be useful, should honor history, the church). She has a fine thorough discussion of Stoneleigh Abbey which Mrs Austen’s cousin tried to take over when its owners died so took his aunt and her daughter with him, possession being nine points of the law: the letters are quoted and they feel like a source for Northanger Abbey. Repton’s work for the Austens as well as generally is done far more justice to than Mr Rushworth ever understands.

Stoneleigh Abbey before (Batey includes an “after” too: all the animals, the gardening work are removed as unsightly)

Batey believes Mr Knightley is modeled on Austen’s wealthy brother, Edward, who did work his own land, who valued his cows, who was conscientious — within limits: she does not bring out how later in life Edward was among those who refused to pay for a share of improvements of roads as he himself would not profit from it (we can’t do that, must not share). She does not seem to realize the earlier portrait of John Dashwood is also Edward nor that Edmund (whom she also identifies with Edward) is more than a little dense. But yes Mr Knightley is our ideal steward of land, working hard to make sure all can get something from nature (though, let me add, some do get more than others as the pigs in Animal Farm said was only right), and has not bowed to fashion, kept his trees, his house in a low sheltered place, has not spent enormously for “an approach.”

It comes as no surprise that Batey’s last chapter, “The Romantic Tide” (9), does not concentrate on Persuasion or Sanditon. These do not fit into her idealization of wealthy mansions, landscapes of and from power (I’d call them) . The aesthetic debates of MP and Emma set in a larger social context do not reach her radar. Thus that the Elliots have lost their house as Austen’s sixth longer book begins, the money basis of the economy, of war (Wentworth’s business like William Price’s is when called for killing and grabbing the property of others) and increasingly transient nature of existence for the fringe gentry are not topics here. We begin in Upper Cross but move to dress and harps in Mansfield Park (Regency costume enables Batey to bring in Fanny Knight and Austen’s times together in London). The furor over cottages orne probably represents an association from Mary Musgrove’s house, but the details are now all taken from the satire on Robert Ferrars’s despising of large buildings, worship of cottages and hiring Bonomi (without further context) in Sense and Sensibility. Sanditon‘s seaside gives way to “the insufferable Mrs Elton’s” lack of a real abode, her origins in trade in Bristol, and Lydia Bennet’s vulgarity. Batey’s text turns snobbish itself.

Where originality comes in again is not the sublimity of the sea, but in how the Austens enjoyed themselves in summer after summer of Austen’s last few years on the coast, “undeterred by threats of invasion.” Batey thinks the source place for Sanditon Bognor, which made a great deal of money for its entrepreneur, something what we have of the fragment suggests Mr Parker will not do. Anna Lefroy’s apt continuation has him going broke but for brother Sidney, a hero only heard of in the extant text. Jane Austen, we are told, disapproved of challenges to the traditional way of life, was against exploiting sickness and hypochondriacs like the Parker sisters. Batey seems to forget Austen was herself dying but includes the idea she “had little time for the socialistic propaganda of William Godwin”! In Sanditon Austen is harsh towards Burns and (we know from her letters) was strongly enamored of Crabbe — he has a hard look at nature and the rural landscape. A Fanny Price, name and character type, the story of a couple separated as imprudent with no retrieval are found in Crabbe. However, as Batey acknowledges in her book’s last few paragraphs, in Persuasion Austen revels in Charmouth, Pinny, Lyme.

William Turner, watercolor of Lyme Regis seen from Charmouth — Austen stayed there in 1803 and 180 and Anne Elliot discusses romantic poetry with Captain Benwick there

Batey’s is a useful book if you don’t look in it for any perception of why Austen was compelled to write and the full complicated nature of her texts. If it seems to be, it is not much different from Janine Barchas’s comparable History, Location and Celebrity, recent, respected: Barchas’s book is not filled with matters of fact in Austen, but in other books (of genealogy), in Barchas’s case buildings Austen never mentions (interesting if lurid), in amoral people not connected to her except by chance of first or last names (of which Austen does not have much variety). A “proof” can hinge on a number: Thorpe and Catherine have driven seven miles to one place, well seven miles in another there is this other gothic place, and Barchas has her subject matter. Both give us historical context, and between the two, Barchas remains speculative, a matter of adding one speculation to the next, and then crowding them around a text that never mentions them; Batey has the merit of writing about texts and movements Austen discussed, alludes to, quotes from, places we know for sure she visited, lived in. Both have good bibliographical references and you can use them as little encyclopedias.


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Marine Pavilion, Brighton, with 1801-2 ground plan

Dear friends and readers,

We can understand these two letters most clearly by reading them as a pair, utterance and answer, antiphony. We are in danger of accepting and then justifying the lack of any sense of what makes for honest art in Clarke’s previous and this letter as “what everyone does,” unless we have before Austen’s direct rebuttal. So let’s start with the two texts in tandem and then read them as a conversation inside the conversation on Janeites about them:

138(A). From James Stanier Clarke, Wednesday 27 March 1816, Pavilion

Dear Miss Austen,

I have to return you the Thanks of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent for the handsome Copy you sent him of your last excellent Novel — pray dear Madam soon write again and again. Lord St. Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid you the just tribute of their Praise.

The Prince Regent has just left us for London; and having been pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg, I remain here with His Serene Highness & a select Party until the Marriage.’ Perhaps when you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.

Believe me at all times
Dear Miss Austen
Your obliged friend
J. S. Clarke.
Miss Jane Austen
at Mr Murrays
Albemarle Street

38(D). To James Stanier Clarke, Monday 1 April 1816

My dear Sir

I am honoured by the Prince’s thanks, & very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which You mention the Work. I have also to acknowledge a former Letter, forwarded to me from Hans Place. I assure You I felt very grateful for the friendly Tenor of it,
& hope my silence will have been considered as it was truely meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your Time with idle Thanks. —

Under every interesting circumstance which your own Talents & literary Labours have placed you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed, you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are a step to something still better. In my opinion, The service of a Court can hardly be too well paid, for immense must be the sacrifice of Time & Feeling required by it.

You are very, very kind in your hints as to the sort of Composition which might recommend me at present, & I am fully sensible that an Historical Romance, founded on the House” of Saxe Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in — but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. — I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. — No — I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way; And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.-

I remain my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged & very sincere friend
J. Austen
Chawton near Alto,” April 1 st – 1816-
[No addressJ

Diana Birchall chose to deal with each letter separately; here she is informative about the first:

It’s a little confusing to deal with Deirdre’s numbering of the letters.  Letter 138A is Rev. Clarke to Jane Austen, written on 27 March 1816, and  Letter 138D is her reply, written on  1 April. Where are B and C I don’t  know. But let’s look at this exchange.

James Stanier Clarke writes from the Pavilion at Brighton. Remember that the domes we associate with the Pavilion had not yet been erected at that date. The structure was still a rather grand farmhouse, with huge stables and some Eastern art, but the work of turning it into a palace was barely begun. Still, it’s where the Prince Regent’s court was at the moment.  Clarke wrote to convey the Prince’s thanks for the handsome presentation volume.  “Lord St Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid  you the just tribute of their Praise.” Actually the Prince had just left for London, and perhaps the real purpose of the letter was for Clarke to announce to his friend his new appointment as Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg. This of course was Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, about to come to England to marry Princess Charlotte, the Prince  Regent’s daughter, which happened on  5 May  at Carlton House. Here Clarke  makes his famously absurd suggestion, “Perhaps when you again appear in  print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold; any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.” Finishing with an effusive flourish, he directed the letter to Jane Austen c/o Murray, and it had to be forwarded to Henrietta Street, and then Chawton.

Will look at Jane Austen’s reply later –


Then my commentary: Austen’s response to Stanier Clarke’s letter shows that if his suggestion is not to the ambitious author who can churn out what’s wanted for money and fame “what everyone would do if they could,” it is wholly intolerable to Austen — which he should know. He has spent time with her, she has said in a previous letter and perhaps face-to-face, my dear Sir, these themes are not themes I can write on nor am I comfortable with, he has presumably read the passages on how justifying the church as a career requires real work awakening moral and social consciences alike.

Imagine your self with a friend and a friend makes plain some attitude she has: do you blithely ignore it and repeat your urgent suggestion as if she had never spoke.

I hope not. If you do, you in effect (unless you’re a parent and moralizing or think you have the authority to urge something which goes against your child’s character because the child cannot break off relations, is younger, possibly dependent) are careless of your friend’s feelings or whether you irritate him or her. It does not make me doubt the sincerity of Clarke’s friendship in the sense that he really thinks one can churn out novels: it makes me wonder if he paid any attention to Emma , which it is right to point out he does not even name. In his previous he admitted he had not begun to read it or read very little thus far. His descriptions of her novels show some understanding of their value: he anticipates Scott’s main praise — “there is so much Nature — and excellent Description of character in everything you describe.” But his likening MP to slightly idiotic or vacuous descriptions of his own of clergyman makes one wonder if he really thought these were serious books — or just woman’s romances. 

So to his suggestion:

Perhaps when  you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any  Historical Romance illustrative of  the History of the august house of 
Cobourg,  would just now be very interesting.

Austen replies (and the honesty plainness and fullness of the reply is poignant since she so rarely does give herself away like this: she has it seems given him the respect of a friend:

You are very, very  kind in  your  hints as to the sort of Composition which might recommend me at present,  & I am fully sensible that an Historical  Romance,  founded on the House  of Saxe- Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of Profit  or Popularity, than  such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as  I deal in – -but  I could no more  write  a  Romance  than an Epic Poem. — I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, &  if it  were indispensable for me to keep it up  & never relax  into laughing at myself or other people, I am  sure  I  should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. –No — I must  keep to my  own style & go on in my  own Way;5  And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in  any other.- 

Austen is not treating him the way she does the Countess of Morley; in her “your Ladiship’s,” she shows she regards herself as of a much lower rank and does not expect the countess really to regard her as an equal. She apparently did expect Stanier Clarke to listen to her. She here gives one of the most valuable of all her statements about her fiction.

Why doesn’t he? I suggested to a man like him the life of sincerity and integrity is unreal; he can’t conceive of it. I now suggest on top of his maybe finally he didn’t respect her art. We must return to his first paragraph: He may have been the kind of person who respond intensely to his surroundings so we have to remember (as we shall see Jane does) he is in this courtier like place where for a person like himself (in effect a sort of upper servant, equivalent of a governess), who has just achieved a post and salary and place with Leopold of Cobourg, the man who was to be married to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the girl who it was thought would be queen, and so father of the next royal set. In the event she died from a horrible childbed experience. He is just full of pride, and has been puffed up as he has puffed others up for several days. I’ve no doubt one of his purposes was to boast about his new place – which as we shall see she tells him point blank she regards as one demanding such a sacrifice of thought and feelings that (it’s implied) barely worth it.

Here again is his boasting intended to make Austen feel all is not over with the list-servs (though a friend of hers has just died):

Lord St. Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid  you the just  tribute of their Praise. The Prince Regent has just left us for London;  and having been  pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the  Prince of Cobourg.

Her reply was originally from a religious perspective much harsher than the one she sent.

She sent this:

Under every  interesting  circumstance which  your  own Talents & literary Labours have  placed  you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed,  you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are  a step to  something  still  better.  In my opinion, The service  of  a  Court can hardly  be  too  well paid,  for immense must be  the  sacrifice  of  Time  &  Feeling  required by  it. 

Given that Clarke’s a literary man (who wants to be published) to get the favor of such a person is a guarantee of it, so good. She hopes he will get something better — which if he read her words carefully (which I doubt he did) would seem strange to him. How could he get anything better than the prospective husband of a queen. Maybe she thinks chaplain is not that respected an office really (remember how Mary Crawford looks at it and says others do), but also it’s not likely to further a writing career. Finally that last line – I take it to mean that like Fanny Burney she regarded time at court as a death in life, preventing her from doing what makes life worth while

The original version points to the continual hypocrisy   these positions required: For once LeFaye tells us something to the point:

In my opinion not more surely should They who preach Gospel, live by the Gospel, than they who live by a Court, live by it – & live well by it too; for the sacrifices of Time & Feeling they must be immense.

In other words, at a court the central of religion to be truthful and moral is not possible because you must continually be lying in some way or other so outside the court they had better live by the gospel for real to make up for the Immense sacrifices of time and feeling.

Time shows this is a literary thought for the Bible emphasizes truthful feeling not time. Austen would hate to give up her writing time to be living at that Pavilion. 

Austen is aware of how much she disliked his letter and how hers contradicts his at every point and sometimes deeply so her opening is very courteous, courtier-like one might say, but not untruthful. In her opening she excuses herself for putting off writing back — she thinks that to him this several month interval between his letter of December (still unanswered) would be slightly insulting: after all is he not chaplain to … living with these big shots, did he not tell these great people paid tribute to her book. (I am not so convinced as others appear to be that the court group liked Emma — would they really? come now, a book where nothing happens but an old man eats his gruel and his daughter copes with him — would they even grasp the satire on her snobbery? her use of Harriet would seem to them nothing wrong at all. So what does she say? does she believe it. Not quite. She thanks him “for the kind manner in which you mention the Work.” She is aware she never answered his previous much more decent letter where he offered her a place to visit at the library; now 5-6 days have gone by since this last one and she just forces herself.

I assure You I felt very grateful for the friendly Tenor of it, & hope my  silence will have been considered as it was truely meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your Time with idle Thanks. —

She is not lying in the sense that he did praise her and repeat praise of her. She was grateful for his stance of friendliness but knows better than to listen to him literally.   He meant well, he means well by his materialistic point of view to her. But all she can offer are “idle Thanks” of a woman who can do nothing for him (that’s why her thanks are idle).

It matters not if the average ambitious person would understand Stanier Clarke’s offer, Jane Austen is not such a person, her books do not come out of such outlooks and she realizes he can’t get that. Yet she does forgive him as she knows there are far worse fools and meaner people. He has after all paid her the compliment of using her to flatter the Prince Regent by connecting him to an author who was being recognized however slowly as having something fine in her books – that’s why Murray took her and keep the relationship up as best a busy publisher could.

From Diane Reynolds’s reading of the first and second letter:

The ostensible reason for this letter is to thank JA for the advance copy of Emma sent to the PR. Oddly, he refers to it not by name, but with the generic boilerplate, “your last excellent novel.” Does he even remember it’s called Emma?

All through the letter, Clarke’s worldview shines through, leading to the question: how sincere is he in his “friendship" towards Austen? Does he really admire her works or does he sense, with the instinct or calibration of a professional courtier (or in our world, marketer) that the wind is blowing in her favor, and he wants to be on board  with a rising star? Or is it both admiration and calculation? … Clarke does sound uncomfortably like Mr. Collins in this letter in his language towards higher-ups …

I couldn’t agree more with what Ellen’s interpretation says, which certainly echoes my own: that regarding her vocation (what she was supposed to do with her life) Austen had a rare integrity, a singleness of purpose. She knew what she was meant to be–a writer– and what kind of writer she was meant to be … When she says she could only begin such a romance if her life depended on it and even then probably not get beyond the first chapter, she is not joking.

Another voice in this conversation (written earlier) appeared on WWTTA: Fran to whom we may give almost the last word:

I can’t help feeling the fact that she wrote this letter on All Fools’ Day may have been an example of her warped sense of humour as well. She’d gone as far as dedicating Emma to the Prince that year, but I’m rather glad she finished Persuasion before her untimely death, rather than attempting the kind of sycophantic potboiler Clarke suggested.

To be fair, Austen did write a parody version of the sycophantic potboiler, which has been typed out on Republic of Pemberley and includes a father modeled on Stanier Clarke whose adventures

comprehend his going to sea as Chaplain to a distinguished naval character about the Court, his going afterwards to Court himself, which introduced him to a great variety of Characters and involved him in many interesting situations, concluding with his opinions on the Benefits to result from Tithes being done away, and his having buried his own Mother (Heroine’s lamented Grandmother) in consequence of the High Priest of the Parish in which she died refusing to pay her Remains the respect due to them. The Father to be of a very literary turn, an Enthusiast in Literature, nobody’s Enemy but his own …


As Chapman’s notes show (interestingly, from Austen’s own marginalia), Stanier Clarke is not the only acquaintance and friend Austen burlesques in this parody


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Miss Austen Regrets: Olivia Williams as Austen back at Chawton writing Persuasion, reads it aloud to Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra

Dear friends and readers,

Austen has been forced to go home: if she wanted to stay to oversee the publication of Emma and second edition of Mansfield Park, she could not. Henry’s act-game as banker was over. We see her at home from a scrap saved by Anna Lefroy and a poignant letter to a friend of the new dead Miss Benn and a partially performing letter to her niece, Caroline Austen, now growing up and reading the same books Austen did as a girl, but as intelligent and perhaps more daring with her aunt, Caroline protests against the repressive morals of these older books with their “good girl” messages. Austen understands but makes a joke of it. Will not discuss with openness the cruelty of Genlis’s stories. Maybe does not want to see it.

Austen is also now giving away copies of Emma — one copy she kept aside for a special person, and it’s good to realize that giving a copy to Miss Benn, the single woman living in hovels, meant more to her than one to the Prince Regent. Books; she lives among books, for Genlis’s Les Veilles du Chateau connects to Emma. She is writing Persuasion and perhaps rewriting Susan: soon to be referred to as Miss Catherine; the title Northanger Abbey is apparently posthumous. But it hurts no longer to be the star. Her comments that the copies of Emma are not wanted here suggest Gwyneth Hughes’s reading of her time in 1816 around the publication of Emma is accurate: Austen is again put in her place. A single woman with little income and less practical power. It hurts a little after the flattery and excitement of the prince’s librarian’s interest in her and aristocrats with some understanding like the Countess of Morley.


Baby (2)

Baby (1)
Miss Austen Regrets: imagined scene of baptism where Jane offers her Emma and almost drops Jemima, and then dismissed by Mrs Austen for incompetence … who cares for a novel?

135. To Anna Lefroy. ?Dec 1815 – Jan 1816, no address

As I wish very much to see your Jemima, 1 I am sure you will like to see my: Emma, & have therefore great pleasure in sending it for your perusal. Keep it as long as you chuse; it has been read by all here.- …

We learn Anna had given birth to her first child, oldest surviving daughter on 20 October 1815, but Lefaye suggests roads and winter weather were such, Austen had not yet visited her. She also might not have been in a great hurry. She again likens her books to having a child: “As I very much wish to see your Jemima I am sure you will like to see my Emma. She can keep the books as long as she chuses; everyone has read it here. Suggests a lack of continuing enthusiasm …

A fragment of a letter saved by Anna when Jane congratulated her upon Jemima — an odd one as Jemima was born in October and (whatever justifications and explainings away LeFaye thinks up in her notes) the weather cannot have kept Jane from Anna’s baby if she wanted to see it in the month and half she’d been home. The letter did go on but Anna chucked all but the comparison of her baby to Austen’s novel Emma that Austen was then sending her a copy of — as it’s certainly not wanted here she says. This suggests where Gywneth Hughes got the tone right in her depiction of the baptism. Perhaps the rest of the letter was about the hurt Austen was feeling or some other family matters painful to Anna or what she knew the relatives would be horrified at if published. Henry goe bankrupt, huge sums lost, what people said to one another — some of which is dramatized in Miss Austen Regrets (a much better film that people allow).


Emma (2009): Tamsin Grieg as Miss Bates, character partly modeled on Miss Benn

136. To Catherine Anne Prowting. …. ?early 1816

My dear Miss Prowting

Had our poor friend! lived these volumes would have been at her service, & as I know you were in the habit of reading together & have had the gratification of hearing that the Works of the same hand had given you pleasure, I shall make no other apology for offering you the perusal of them, only begging that, if not immediately disposed for such light reading, you would keep them as long as you like, as they are not wanted at home.
Yours very sincerely
J. Austen
Sunday Night
[No address]

Austen’s only letter to Catherine Prowting, who is mentioned only in passing once before: so not a close friend. As usual in her note, LeFaye misses the point: she gives us a history of this middle class family in the area: fair enough, this explains why Prowting might be able and want to read Emma, but the real connection and importance of the letter is first Miss Benn. Miss Benn, that single woman reduced to moving from one hovel to another, coming for tea in order to get some, is dead, age 46. Jane would have sent this copy to her — I like to think far more gladly than to the prince or a countess she hardly knew. She is trying to reach Miss Benn and cannot so goes for the next person near Miss Benn.  The woman doesn’t exist anymore, so Jane remembers that Miss Prowting used to like to read with Miss Benn and Jane has heard that Miss Prowting enjoyed works by “same hand.” So perhaps she will like this “light reading.” She makes no other apology for sending them; not to worry, keep them as long as she likes, they “are not wanted at home.”

A copy saved for Miss Benn. There is no way to date this letter for real: LeFaye calls it early 1816 because she knows Jane is back and giving copies of Emma away. Tomalin doesn’t mention Prowting, but Nokes has three mentions: she lived in a large house; she was unmarried. So the second connection is Miss Prowting is part of the community of unmarried women Austen was continually trying to keep together. We see a fragment of the circle of women Jane yearned for — and still concocts in her mind by sending this book.

She has certainly come down from the high of London now. 


Modern facsimile of book Austen handing out among her nieces

137. To Caroline Austen

Wednesday 13 March 1816, from Chawton, to Steventon

My dear Caroline

I am very glad to have an opportunity of answering your agreable little Letter. You seem to be quite my own Neice in your feelings towards Mde de Genlis. I do not think I could even now at my sedate time of Life, read Olimpe et Theophile without being in a Rage. It really is too bad!-Not allowing them to be happy together, when they are married. — Don’t talk of it, pray. I have just lent your Aunt Frank the 1st vol. of Les Veillees du Chateau, for Mary Jane to read. It will be some time before she comes to the horror of Olympe. – -We have had sad weather lately, I hope you have liked it. —

Our Pond is brimfull & our roads are dirty & our walls are damp, & we sit wishing every bad day may be the last. it is not cold however. Another week perhaps may see us shrinking & shivering under a dry
East Wind.

I had a very nice Letter from your Brother not long ago, & I am quite happy to see how much his Hand is improving. — I am convinced that it will end in a very gentlemanlike Hand, much above Par.– We have had a great deal of fun lately with Post-chaises stopping at the door; three times within a few days, we had a couple of agreable Visitors turn in unexpectedly-your Uncle Henri & Mr Tilson, Mrs Heathcote & Miss Bigg, your Uncle Henry & Mr Seymour. Take notice, that it was the same Uncle Henry each time.

I remain my dear Caroline
Your affec: Aunt J. Austen

The third letter whole and complete — to Caroline Austen and of interest for understanding not just Austen’s immediate milieu but what is the attitude towards books and writing around Austen at Chawton. Caroline is 11, an impressionable age, and Austen is over-speaking — she is half serious here. The child has been disappointed in one of the Veillees du Chateau. The title really means Evening Meetings at the Chateau and they are very well described in Ellen Moers’s chapter on governess literature in her Literary Women. Diane the other day was dismayed to discover many of her students asked to read Emma did not know what a governess was — much less the whole contex. For a full account of Genlis’s life and works, see my biography and evaluation of Genlis’s works (especially under the theme of education) at Under the Sign of Sylvia I.

Genlis at 50 by Pulcherie (or Caroline?), her daughter by Sillery-Genlis (her husband)

Modern students who do not read older books (like say Jane Eyre) will not know about governesses (there is no governess at Downton Abbey note — not a familiar figure any more) will not grasp what it meant to be a governess; and certainly will probably will not recognize the connection of Emma to Genlis’s_Adele et Theodore and miss altogether Holcroft’s translation of Les Veilles du Chateau. Thus the probable critic made of Mrs Weston’s educational methods (wanting) when Austen likens her to Baronness d’Almane taking care of the Countess of Ostalis – an older child in the house whom the Baroness is supposed to have not controlled or shaped sufficiently strictly at all — is missed altogether. Mr Knightley says to Emma’s allusion yes Mrs Weston will probably indulge her daughter even more than she did you. Of course we know that Mrs Weston was at the same disadvantage she endures as a wife: little power because not much status and dependent on the kindness of the husband or pupil. Mr Knightley says since Mr Weston will be all kindness there will be little merit in making him a good wife. We know MR Knightley is over-optimistic at least as regards Frank: Mrs Weston is expected to think super-well of Frank and go along with all her husband’s optimisms or remain silent.

There are worse tyrannies I suppose.

So what is this story of Olimpe and Theophile – it’s a novella in the second volume of the 4 volume set which even if Austen is half-mocking it was obviously sent to Caroline to read from another of Genlis’s works, which can bring to mind Emma: after all Mr Knightley and Emma are to live with Mr Woodhouse at the end of the book, and thus be if not under the control. at least heeding this elderly parent. Austen has now also sent volume 1 to Frank’s wife to give her to older girl, mary Jane to read. What Austen is doing is pretending not to pay attention to the morals inculcated because perhaps she intuitively realizes how hard (and I’d add mean) they really are. The Tales of the Castle (Holcroft’s translation) is a disciplinary book (as is Adele and Theodore), much more so if that’s possible: the mother tells all the tales, the mother controls all the children utterly (as she doesn’t in the Adele and Theodore altogether). There are several stories that bring to mind Emma: Delphine even has French lines that are redolent of lines in Emma (Moers agrees) – the lines in Emma feel like loose paraphrases almost.

Why are poor Olimpe and Theophile not to be happy; it’s really a dreadful story. A long internecine twisting one where originally they are bethrothed, but Olimpe’s parents die so she has no dowry; Theophile’s father is determined he shall marry someone else. Theophile refuses to comply. The father uses rumor to destroy Olimpe’s reputation: it seems she has left a convent she was placed in to live with a friend who is said to be disreputable; the father claims at one point she has married. No such thing. Olimpe remains utterly virtuous, is waiting for Theophile who eventually reaches her; they flee and marry and live in Scotland but they do not have much happiness. They are so poor and she dies. A long coda of discussion led by the mother showing where the young couple went wrong! They are selfish not because they have disobeyed anyone and married in defiance of their parents but rather that the young couple has done wrong because parents must be obeyed – or atleast heeded — once you have promised something you are bound to go through with it. All things promised must be done no matter what. The mother’s moral includes the idea that the bride is to blame for not controlling herself more and being imprudent; how Austen felt about that in 1816 I don’t know but obviously at 11 Caroline did not like this moral. Austen says even now she does not think she could read the book without being in a rage, which implies she was in a rage when she first read it. But is she still? She says that Olympe’s death doesn’t bear thinking about. Then why give the book to the child? The only book around? (What did this translation get into print anyway? Holcroft did not spend his life writing radical tracts and great books because he first needed money and then in the 1790s was terrorized, bullied and threatened and repressed by the trials and rumor mongering of the 1790s.

Austen might have rented the set from her circulating library, but it was first printed in 1785 (Holcroft’s translation printed in that year) I guess she owned this book — as good reading for growing up girls as she once was. She sent vol1 to Mary Jane and Caroline had Vol 2. Delphine is on yet another of the 4 volumes. I suspect Austen was more in sympathy with Genlis than she likes to let her niece or others know — we can see that in the alignment of Mr Knightley’s remarks with the narrator’s allusion to Adele and Theodore. So, better to talk of the weather than such tooks: “Don’t talk of it, pray.”

I find myself remembering The Mill on the Floss and how angry I was at the end of the novel when Eliot has the sister, Maggie bow down before the brother Tom who has ruined her life for years; instread of (As I thought she should do) stab him to the heart, she drowns herself.

Moers also brings Austen’s works under the purview of governessing and books as teaching moral lessons from women teachers. Scheherazade belongs to this genre too — it can be erotic. Dinesen, Gaskell.  Austen hedges by saying she could not even now read without being angry and then does not discuss the tale at all (Genlis does discuss details): that implies the adult reaction is tempered. Women did regard novels as forms of dialoguing with one another and teaching moral lessons. One of Radclliffe’s early novels – Sicilian Romance opens with the chief older woman a sort of governess in character very like Mrs Western by the way, powerless, meaning to do good but not able to do all she would want or even much. The motif was part of the period’s assumptions and found in women’s novels.

Austen then talks of the weather – safe topic. Here of interest is they don’t live in comfortable housing which can keep them warm Surely today a few of us will identify here. Damp wall, and another week they can add shivering and shrinking when the east wind hits the house.

Apparently James Edward Austen-Leigh’s handwriting is improving: it will end “in a very gentlemanlike hand.” Necessary for genteel status (the super rich have never had to write clearly). And then references to uncles arriving,Henry and his business partner Mr Tilson. Two of Austen’s women friends who we have seen mean so much to her, especially the endlessly pregnant Mrs Bigg (married to a much older man and I hope we all remember Austen’s poem upon that occasion).

She ends with a dig at Henry: Take notice, that was the same Uncle Henry each time.” She keeps up the myth of his mercurial not-to-be trusted somewhat shallow character – let’s laugh at this you see. It’s a way of reading him which refuses to recognize the man’s seriousness. It was at this time he began to contemplate turning poor curate. What else was there? He was trying to dig himself out – Mr Seymour comes with him in one instance (the lawyer) but the sums were huge and he was a fourth son.

I maintain there is a sly mockery of Henry in the final line of her letter to Caroline: Jane entered into the family’s way of dismissing Henry’s real agons in trying to be a worldly success while the fourth son of a vicar with few funds and only one big connection — and that through his sister’s illegimate relationship with Hastings — it was a friend of Hastings Mr Austen called on for his sons going into the navy.  Will this be the same or a different Henry. Ho ho, see how he changes — probably he did try to put different faces on all he was enduring, he brings different partners with him who are also sinking and not amused.

Understanding Austen is hard — if you want really to get her full meaning and that means reading the books she read and trying to understand the true relationship of her books to them.


Amanda Root as Anne Elliot (1995 Persuasion)

Let us think of her getting on with Persuasion. The two brothers, Frank and Henry bought back Catherine from Crosby in 1816: we know of the incident from JEAL’s memoir and the time generally — after the publication of Emma. Alas not the precise date. Since she told Crosby she had kept a copy, she could have begun work on revising Susan now become Miss Catherine but it would be useful to know when it was brought back as that probably (?) would have been instigated by her and (I imagine) something she might do while rewriting so that her rewriting (she might hope) could be published by her and reach others.

It makes a difference whether she had copyright and control over what she had written. Imagine the frustration (demoralizing feel) to work on a copy of your own book someone else is said to own now and be able to prevent you from publishing. I am myself not impressed by the power copyright has given authors: if they have made money using it that was the circumstances surrounding their relationship with the publishers enabled them to use it as a weapon, not in itself. Here it is a weapon against her – as it sometimes happens when an author gives up her copyrights, sometimes out of need for immediate money.

How different are they from Tales of the Castle (say) or Jane West’s A Gossip’s Story (often cited as a “source” for S&S) or Emma from Brunton’s Discipline (an text analogous to Emma it’s said). Austen recognized the affinity of her books to West’s and Brunton’s. In Deborah O’Keefe’s Good Girl Messages, a study of girls’ books whose basic outlook is hostile to women having any autonomy or individual life apart from or which have nothing to do with what Mason identifies as the four great episodes of women’s lives. The 4 “ms”: menstruation, marriage, motherhood, and menopause. ” Genlis’s differed from these where the emphasis is on contemporary sex partners, encourageing “girls to enact a death wish [Olimpe], be passive, submissive, self-distrustful, and sexy (but of course hard-to-get) around males; Genlis wants her daughters and step-daughters to be obedient to parents. While Persuasion is version of what may go wrong when you obey, Austen has Anne qualify and justify Lady Russell; that the idea about parents versus children is in Austen’s mind is seen in its famous mock ending: “I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.” We may be meant to see that Catherine’s reading in gothics was bad for her rather than alerting her to the gothic horrors she sees in realistic mode in the abbey — a view I would prefer and have argued for in a published paper.

Felicity Jones as Catherine intently absorbed by her romance novel by Anne Radcliffe (2007 NA)

See comments for other readings of these letters.


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There are … unique possibilities of fluidity, suggestiveness, and emotional scoring in the screenplay — all related of course to the demands of motion pictures … the film play merely avails itself of the novel’s freely shifting background. What is unique is the flexible alteration of scenes of varying duration, of contrasting shortness and length for emphasis, of suggestion and symbolization … Seemingly unrelated ‘shots’ of objects in quick succession superimposed on each other or dissolving into each other … poetry of sensation or relations is often achieved by this kind of composition, for which the technical word is montage … speech can be shuttled back and forth … an art of sound devices now parallels the art of camera devices … films habituate us to freedom of movement in time and space … [so a screenplay] is a new form of dramatic literature — John Gassner

Dear friends and readers,

This is to hope for all my readers a good year to come, solvent, productive, happy, choose what adjective you will, and to express my hope for what will come when I’ve finally finished my close reading of Austen’s letters (with the aid and companionship of many people on Janeites and Austen-l), begun more than 3 years ago. We have less than 20 left.

My Valancourt edition of Smith’s Ethelinde is at a standstill for now. My windows computer crashed and neither my daughter or I can find where in the Macbook Pro software that is attached to the printer we may copy the facsimile text of the 1st edition I’ve been using onto Word or OpenOffice.org whereupon I’ve been correcting and editing typescript. All we can manage to produce are copies that are pictures (jogs) or texts (pdfs) that are not changeable: they are pictures not text documents susceptible of alteration. Of course I could simply type the last volume and a half. I’ve not come to accept that arduous job as yet, am still hoping the new Windows computer I should have in say 3 weeks will enable me to return to my task — but it will be belated. It may be I shall have to type it; if so, I’ll use a strict time schedule and the larger work of an edition (introduction, commentary, notes) will be put off for some time.

Similarly I am cut off from my website until I get new Windows computer: apparently Macbook Pro has no filezilla or notepad +- which I need to add, change, take away from the website. I also dare not trust to my ability to keep up work on the website so will not add any more large new works to it, just small reviews and in the case of the Austen timelines and the use of Tuesdays in her novels only necessary corrections. So I won’t go on to revise the Emma calendar as yet, and probably when I do will not make it the complete kind of transformation I did for Austen’s first three novels. It will take more strength and know-how than I have simply to keep my husband’s legacy, this website up, rather than add to it in any major way.

I am glad I did the Winston Graham and foremother women poets pages in time.

So what I am thinking is when I finish the letters, go on a journey through the Austen films. I will gradually return to revising the five chapters I’ve written as A Place of Refuge: the Sense and Sensibility Films in the context of the whole corpus of Austen films. It’s what I’ve wanted to do all along — not to go into detail on all of them, but to have a wider perspective. I do have trouble lifting myself from my micro-analyses, or narrow part of a set of trees to see the whole wood.

I have a multi-system, multi-region Pioneer DVD player so I can watch them all in full size for the first time. I’m trying to think of some new interesting angle to look at them as a body of work from. I found myself fascinated by the underlying scripts of each I studied thoroughly, in several cases taking them down word-for-word in stenography (in my notebooks) when there was (as for most movies there is not) no published screenplay: these include Baron’s Sense and Sensibility (1981); Constanduros’s Sense and Sensibility (1971) and his Emma (1972); Davies’s Sense and Sensibility (2009); Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets (2008); Menon’s I Have Found It (2000); Taylor’s Mansfield Park (1983); Weldon’s Pride and Prejudice (1979). I’ve more spotty versions of Davies’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Northanger Abbey (2007).

It’s relevant to mention that (well timed), Julian Fellowes has just released a book of the (now polished) scripts of Season 2 of Downton Abbey, held back in the US until this past week. For those interested in this mini-series, which many lovers of Austen’s books are (if the Jane Austen Society facebook or listservs are any measure) these are far more central to appreciating and enjoying the films than the expensive luxury art-paper Worlds, Chronicles, and Scenes from DA books. The 2nd season is much fatter than the first season of scripts, not only because they have moved from 7 episodes (or plays) to 9 (including the long Christmas one), but because he has put much more commentary and notes and his fellow producers and director are now quoted by him (I assume with their full concurrence). Again he reveals his own Toryism and fatuities all over the place, and also is insightful about what he’s doing filmically, for the characers, plot-design, serial drama. It has more stills too and this time all in color. I hope he produces a book for each season of scripts.

My view is that while the acting and filmic techniques, muse-en-scene, music, shooting styles of the movies make the experience, the script writers ought to publish the scripts: — Julian Fellowes has been doing this and far from hurting his career (no one can plagiarize these thing, they are too public), it’s helped sales and spread knowledge of Fellowes’s abilities as a script-writer. You can get Fellowes’s Vanity Fair and Gosford Park, for the first complete with many stills, diaries and discussions with the producer & director, Mira Nair. There was an attempt to publish screenplays in the early 1950s as anthologies when film studies first entered the academy, but the books did not sell so it was given up. I have three invaluable anthologies of great screenplays of great famous movies from the 1940s.

I’ll of course use the films to shed light on the books and vice versa. So there’s the plan for some kind of continuous material for this blog, interspersed with blogs on women’s art, the 18th century and any and all things having to do with Austen.

A list of screenplays of Austen films in print (that I own)

Davies’s Emma (1996) (proper published book)
Dear’s Persuasion (1995)
Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (1998)(proper published book)
Heckerling’s Clueless (an on-line version 1995)
Hood’s Becoming Jane (2007)
Moggach’s Pride and Prejudice (revisions by Thompson) (2005)
Nunez’s Ruby in Paradise (1993)
Rozema’s Mansfield Park (1999) (proper published book)
Stillman’s Metropolitan (1990) (proper published book)
Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility (1995) (proper published book)

Hope springs eternal in the human breast
Man never is but always to be blest …

Scan 7


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Anne Hathaway as a young Austen writing from Steventon (Becoming Jane)

Olivia Williams as an older Austen writing to Chawton (Miss Austen Regrets)

Dear friends and readers,

Two more letters from London in the winter 1815: Henry now just recovering from serious illness, about to face his bankruptcy, she writes buoyantly, showing congeniality with an apothecary, enjoying herself with Fanny. She will not take Henry’s lingering seriously. Interestingly she is writing Persuasion, often said to be the most melancholy romantic of her books at this time: one might remember Galperin’s book on Austen where he argues Persuasion was (or is?) meant to be funny. The novel as we have it is though deeply felt, romantic and conceived in a spirit which overtly takes in the larger world, and a strong contrast to Emma:

What is most striking about these two letters are how cheerful they are. 

All three letters (and this needs to be emphasized) around this time show a real affection and interest in Haden (who can allude to Shakespeare and take an intelligent view of Mansfield Park) stronger than any male we’ve seen since Lefroy. In the early part of her relationship with Bridges, she is grateful to him for his kindness, for not condescending to her like his relatives, but she is never keen, and towards the end he has offended her in some embittering way — besides his having married a “poor honey.”

This kind of resentment this set of London letters seem unusually free of: there is no jealousy of Fanny that I can detect; she is amused and entering into fun. Perhaps both women felt it so obvious they could not marry him (as beneath them, as not having the estate required), this freed them to enjoy themselves.

 They hobnob with apothecaries, Jane worries about her servant Richard. We see in the letter acts of kindness — remembering others. Keppel street is now not despised.

I like Diane’s point (see below) that Haden is more like the (generalized) portraits of Willoughby and Frank Churchill, or Mr Elliot than like our sober awkward heroes, unable to socialize with ease (Darcy). Austen liked the socially adept and we’ve seen her prefer the more conventional person (Fanny, her brother Frank in numerous ways) to the more unconventional (Anna, Henry — her brother who she does not sympathize with, or see him fully again and again); that is, people she is unlike if the descriptions by others of her social behavior which Henry in his hagiographical note seeks to offset and counter (“her true character” by those who really knew her &c&c) is accurate.

To me one of the elements of her personality which went into what feels like enigmatic shaping of her books is this movement away from the unconventional is unconscious; she realizes that level of understanding in her books only through her revisions upon revisions when the “gold” of the text starts to come in …

With Martha she is more serious, the relationship is permanent: back to money, back to making sure she is understood, but we can see she is now likes that she has been asked to dedicate her book. So she has to re-tell Martha she is not eager about the money.

At the same time the letter registers that Henry is not getting better real quick, he is lingering — despite her professing to think Haden hangs around to see Fanny and she is aware of how badly his business is going. There is a disconnect here. She does not seem to understand what this bankruptcy is going to mean, how serious it will be for her too. Did Henry hide it from her? Did she not want to look, not know enough about the way banking proceeded (without all the laws to protect it as today — though we see some very negative results of that protection now).

Austen just does have 20 months to live and we are probably seeing her at her most successful, with most eagerness towards her future. I now realize how painful, miserable her death from a cancer must’ve been, what the decline so hesitantly noted means. She couldn’t sit up when she is propped up on three chairs. This period lacks morphine; they had only opiates from opium.


Importantly (according to Cassandra’s note) Austen has begun Persuasion: she began it August 1815. The next letter registers her worries that Emma repeats itself, has not enough adventures to interest readers – and it is a quiet book — the 1972 movie is marvelous in making it feel active — so I suggest that it is insufficiently appreciated that in her return to Catherine (NA) which we’ll see evidence of soon in the letters ajnd this new book there is a change. A sea captain who has high adventures, dangerous, making money, visiting people outside the family and of lower origins (Wentworth’s friends) and here we should think about  Charles and Frank’s status at the time, how they lived, their wives and familes. 

And NA is a book about history, a part gothic and also shows an attempt to do something new. She died too quick for us to see what she would or could have made of them some more.


Henry Austen when a clergyman

Letter 128, Sun 26 Nov 1815 (Letter 128)

Two days after the previous letter, Austen writes another similar letter to Cassandra: with vignettes of her and Fanny and Henry’s London life while Jane reads proofs for Emma and enjoys socializing in the evenings, doing errands, visiting relatives (Keppel Street where Charles’s childen live with their mother’s family), and again we see her delight in Mr Haden.

She is sending and receiving parcels and is up to proofing the last phase of Emma before Jane and Frank are found out: when Emma tries to give Jane arrowroot. She wants to be sure that Martha at least knows the truth she would have preferred not to dedicate the book to HRH, and says it was Henry’s idea to use this dedication as a way to hurry the printers on. It’s comic (a joke) of hers to insist that Martha be “thoroughly convinced of my being influenced by nothing but the most mercenary of motives.” She has other motives then, Martha owed 9 shillings to one of the Palmers and Jane has paid it (see Diana’s qualification of this interpretation below).

My Dearest

The Parcel arrived safely, & I am much obliged to you for your 
trouble.-It cost 2 pound lO but as there is a certain saving of 4 pair on the 
other side, I am sure it is well worth doing.-I send 4 pr of Silk Stocke–; 
but I do not want them washed at present. In the 3 neckhandfs, I include 
the one sent down before.- These things perhaps Edward may be able to 
bring, but even if he is not, I am extremely pleased with his returning to 
you from Steventon. It is much better-far preferable.-I did mention 
the PR- in my note to Mr Murray, it brought me a fine compliment in 
return; whether it has done any other good! I do not know, but Henry 
thought it worth trying.- The Printers continue to supply me very 
well, I am advanced in vol. 3. to my arra-root, upon which peculiar 
style of spelling, there is a modest query? in the Margin.-I will not 
forget Anna’s arrow-root.-I hope you have told Martha of my first 
resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate &c-for fear of 
being obliged to do it-& that she is thoroughly convinced of my being 
influenced now by nothing but the most mercenary motives.-I have 
paid nine shillings on her account to Miss Palmer; there was no more 

Then an account of them shopping and moving about London: Grafton House, 164 New Bond Street, a fashionable linen-draper, Sandling the house of the Deedes family (perhaps with Park). The sadness of seeing these motherless children of Fanny Palmer, and Fanny Austen Knight who took over her mother’s place when Elizabeth Austen died, identifying.

Well-we were very busy all yesterday; from ll past 11 to 4 
in the Streets, working almost entirely for other people, driving from 
Place to Place after a parcel for Sandling which we could never find, & 
encountering the miseries of Grafton House to get a purple frock 
for Eleanor Bridges.-We got to Keppel Street however, which was all I 
cared for-& though we could stay only a quarter of an hour, Fanny’s calling 
gave great pleasure & her Sensibility still greater, for she was very much 
affected at the sight of the Children.-Poor little Frank looked heavy.-We 
saw the whole Party.-Aunt Har’.’ She hopes Cassy will not forget to make 
a pincushion for Mrs Kelly-as she has spoken of its being promised 
her several times.-I hope we shall see Aunt H.-& the dear little Girls 
here on Thursday.

Morning meant all time before dinner. Then the gay evening with Haden and Fanny — they are flirting (Jane thinks they were on two chairs, hard to tell) and Mme Latoucher and Miss East, music playing (harp). Barlowe is one of Henry’s clerks. Mr Haden paying Jane the compliment of reading MP “prefers it to P&P” no doubt pleasing her. Hare and 4 rabbits from Godmersham so they are well stocked. (Pheasants in the previous letter.)

So much for the morning; then came the dinner & 
Mr Haden who brought good Manners & clever conversation;-from 7 
to 8 the Harp; at 8 Mrs Lamp; Miss E. arrived-& for the rest of the Eveng 
the Draws-room was thus arranged, on the Sopha-side the two Ladies 
Henry & myself making the best of it, on the opposite side Fanny & Mr Haden in two chairs (I beleive at least they had two chairs) talking 
together uninterruptedly.-Fancy the scene! And what is to be fancied 
next?-Why that Mr Haden dines here again tomorrow.- To day we are 
to have Mr Barlow-and Mr Max is just bringing in the remaining papers.

Then she turns attention to Chawton, a ill farmer, Cassandra cooking sugar? Jane is sure that Cassandra needs rest.

Poor Farmer Andrews! I am very 
sorry for him, & sincerely wish his recovery
— A better account of the 
Sugar than I could have expected. I should like to help you break some 
more.-I am glad you cannot wake early, I am sure you must have been 
under great arrears of rest.-

Then back to London: trip to Belgrave Chapel:

Belgrave Chapel and the west side of Belgrave Square
Belgrave Chapel

The Herries family had two unmarried daughters so perhaps they are interested in Henry. “Mortar” defeats me because in context it makes no sense. Jane is in terror on a fine bright Sunday with plenty of mortar (money?) and nothing to do?

Fanny & I have been to Belgrave Chapel, & 
walked back with Maria Cuthbert.-We have been very little plagued 
with visitors this last week, I remember only Miss Herries the 
Aunt, but I am in terror for to day, a fine bright Sunday, plenty of 
Mortar’ & nothing to do.-

Another long account of Henry: there is a lot about him in these letters by this time – more than any other of her brothers; he appears more and a complex picture emerges. He goes out daily but he is not yet well. We have to remember these looming bad business affair. He is not sure what he should do next. Jane is ever suspicious of illness: this time it’s Mr Haden who is making the illness worse; he’ll be allowed to get well when Fanny goes home; that is when Mr Haden no longer has Fanny to flirt with.

Henry gets out in his Garden every day, 
but at present his inclination for doing more seems over, nor has he 
now any plan for leaving London before Dec 18, when he thinks of 
going to Oxford for a few days; to day indeed, his feelings are for 
continuing where he is, through the next two months. One knows the 
uncertainty of all this, but should it be so, we must think the best & 
hope the best & do the best – and my idea in that case is, that when he
 goes to Oxford I should go home & have nearly a week of you before 
~ take my place. – This is only a silent project you know, to be gladly 
given up, if better things occur.-Henry calls himself stronger every 
day & Mr Haden keeps on approving his Pulse-which seems generally 
better than ever-but still they will not let him be well.- The fever is 
not yet quite removed.- The Medicine he takes (the same as before 
you went) is cheifly to improve his Stomach, & only a little aperient. 
He is so well, that I cannot think why he is not perfectly well.-I 
should not have supposed his Stomach at all disordered but there the 
Fever speaks probably;-but he has no headake, no sickness, no pains, 
no Indigestions!-Perhaps when Fanny is gone, he will be allowed 
to recover faster.-

The first reference in a while to Anna Austen Lefroy’s world; the family at the Wyards are people Anna and Ben lived with at first:

I am not disappointed, I never thought the little girl 
at Wyards very pretty, but she will have a fine complexion & curling 
hair & pass for a beauty.-

Then a reference to Frank and his wife: she had a cold and Jane is glad it was not a bad one; it’s not fair that “sweet aimable Frank should have a cold too.” Then there is (to me) a switch in tone when she quotes Burney’s Evelina from a letter where Captain Mirvan is ugly and obnoxious to Madame Duval throughout: Madame Duval is pretending to worse health in the letter in order to get better treatment and the coarse Captain just mocks her more. It’s one of these places in 18th century texts where a much harder nastier (I’d call it) sense of humor comes out than the one socially acceptable today.

We are glad the Mama’s cold has not been 
worse & send her our Love & good wishes by every convenient 
opportunity. Sweet amiable Frank! why does he have a cold too? Like 
Capt. Mirvan to Mde Duval,” ‘I wish it well over with him.’

A non sequitor: ”Fanny has heard all that I have said to you about herself & Mr Haden.”

This one interests me because we see here that Jane thinks of her writing to Cassandra as a mode of talking –- as some of us at least do about letters and postings on the Net.

The letter concludes with a relatively rare comment on the youngest brother Charles. Jane succeeding is filled with milk of human kindness. Sweet Charles has no one sent him a present. She will send all the 12 copies that were to be dispersed among the “my near connections – beginning with the PR and Countess of Morley.” This sarcasm shows us (as Diana suggests) how little she actually knew the Countess; I’ll add too how the sycophancy of giving these prestigious well connected rich people copies of her book grated on her:

Thank you very much for the sight of dearest Charles’s Letter to yourself.- 
How pleasantly & how naturally he writes! and how perfect a picture 
of his Disposition & feelings, his style conveys!-Poor dear Fellow!- 
not a Present!-I have a great mind to send him all the twelve Copies 
which were to have been dispersed among my near Connections- 
beginning with the PR. & ending with Countess Morley.-Adeiu.- 
Yours affectionately …

And here’s Diana’s slightly different reading:

I think we left off, did we not, after the James Stanier Clarke letters, 125 D (to him), and 125 A (from him). I’m ready to move on from there. I think I hit a bump in the road when I realized that in order to “do” Clarke properly I really ought to summarize Chris Viveash’s excellent small book about him, simply because probably most other people don’t have it and would like to know all about him. If you haven’t read thia book about Clarke’s career, well, there’ve been tons of blogs written about him, and the sketchbook, and the dedication, and… I see Ellen wrote about Letter #126, the short business letter to John Murray, and Diane wrote about Letter #127, both very fully. Rather blithe that, about pheasants and printers and Haden.

So let’s get to Letter #128. Jane and Cassandra have been deedily exchanging packages. It was a skill then, planning what should be delivered depending on when somebody was going somewhere; but it’s all taken for granted, not seen as a difficulty, just how things had to be done. Jane is sending four pair of silk stockings, “but I do not want them washed at present,” she says. Wonder why not? Were they worn ones, or new? She is pleased Edward is going to see Cassandra, whether he can bring the things or not.

She mentions that it was indeed Henry who wanted her to goad the printers with the news of her dedication to the Prince Regent – it does sound more like him than her! She is going through proofs, and is nearly finished, as the “arra-root” Emma sends to Jane Fairfax is toward the end of the book. You can see she thought out every detail of the dedication question, in all its delicacy. “I hope you have told Martha of my first resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate & c – for fear of being obliged to do it.” It seems clear she didn’t really want to, though perhaps was a little bit pleased to have the honor of having been asked. And now Martha thinks she did it for “nothing but the most mercenary motives.”

She describes a day of running around with Fanny – “from 1/2 past 11 to 4 in the Streets,” five and a half hours, “working almost entirely for other people, driving from Place to Place after a parcel for Sandling which we could never find, & encountering the miseries of Grafton House to get a purple frock for Eleanor Bridges.” Don’t know who is Sandling, but the widowed Fanny Lady Bridges was living at the dower house at Goodnestone (according to Deirdre). A very brief visit to Keppel Street (15 minutes, barely a full call), where Fanny was “very much affected” by the sight of the motherless children.

“Then came the dinner & Mr. Haden who brought good Manners & clever conversation.” She brightens up at the mention. Several other visitors, and the harp was played; Mrs. Latouche and Miss East on the sopha, Jane and Henry “making the best of it” opposite, with “Fanny & Mr. Haden in two chairs (I believe at least they had two chairs) talking together uninterruptedly.” Did they seem too close? “And what is to be fancied next? – Why that Mr. H. dines here again tomorrow!” Today they have Mr. Barlow (Henry’s chief clerk). She notes, “Mr. H. is reading Mansfield Park for the first time & prefers it to P&P.” So multiple readings of her books were already known!

She and Fanny have been to Belgrave Chapel and walked back with Maria Cuthbert. Deidre informs us that “Miss Cuthbert, her sister Maria, and their brother lived at Eggarton House near Godmersham, where they looked after Elizabeth, the feeble-minded sister of Mr. Thomas Knight.” However, I see that Elizabeth Knight died 1809, so the Cuthberts no longer had her charge, yet the connection with them was still evidently kept up. Someone has done a short blog about Jane’s visiting this Belgrave chapel, with a picture of it.

Jane writes that they have been “very little plagued with visitors this last week, I remember only Miss Herries the Aunt, but I am in terror for to day, a fine bright Sunday, plenty of Mortar & nothing to do.”

What she means by “plenty of Mortar” Deirdre cannot say, only refers to a popular song and wonders if she meant money. I’m sure I don’t know either. “Bricks and mortar” was daughter in Cockney rhyming slang, but that doesn’t fit.

Henry is getting better, goes out in his garden every day, but doesn’t think of leaving London, or going to Oxford, until 18 December. Jane’s comment on this is, “One knows the uncertainty of all this, but should it be so, we must think the best & hope the best & do the best – and my idea in that case is, that when he goes to Oxford I should go home & have nearly a week of you before you take my place.” Again, planning for everything, adapting to the convenience of others… “Henry calls himself stronger every day & Mr. H keeps on approving his Pulse – which seems generally better than ever – but still they will not let him be well.” He takes “only a little aperient” (a mild laxative, coming from hops or asparagus). Her bon mot: “He is so well, that I cannot think why he is not perfectly well.”

A couple of affectionate remarks about her brothers – “Sweet amiable Frank! why does he have a cold too?” and in thanking Cassandra for a sight of Charles’s letter, “How pleasantly & how naturally he writes! and how perfect a picture of his Disposition & feelings, his style conveys!” She adds, “Poor dear Fellow! – not a Present! – I have a great mind to send him all the twelve Copies which were to have been dispersed among my near Connections – beginning with the P.R. & ending with Countess Morley.” If ever we wondered if she actually knew Countess Morley, this is the answer, for calling the Prince and the Countess her “near Connections” is a joke.

On this phrase: “I have paid nine shillings on her account to Miss Palmer; there was no more oweing.”

She was talking about Martha in the sentence before, so it’s not quite clear to me if it’s Martha who was owing Miss Palmer nine shillings. Then she writes (after “encountering the miseries of Grafton House, to get a purple frock for Eleanor Bridges”), “We got to Keppel St however, which was all I cared for – & though we could stay only a qr of an hour, Fanny’s calling gave great pleasure & her Sensibility still greater, for she was very much affected at the sight of the Children – Poor little F.[Frances-Palmer, three years old] looked heavy. – We saw the whole Party. – Aunt Hart. [Charles’s sister-in-law, and later, second wife] hopes Cassy [Cassandra-Esten, then age seven] will not forget to make a pincushion for Mrs. Kelly – as *she* has spoken of its being promised her several times. I hope we shall see Aunt H. – & the dear little Girls here on Thursday.”

As others are writing away: Keppel Street, as we have seen, was the home of Charles’s in-laws, the Palmer family, at No. 22. John Grove Palmer (d. 1832) former Attorney General of Bermuda, married Dorothy Ball, and had one son John Palmer (witH whom he was on bad terms? according to Deirdre), and three daughters: Esther, who married John-Christie Esten [Deirdre also calls him James], Chief Justice of Bermuda; Harriet-Ebel, and Frances-Fitzwilliam. The two latter both married Charles Austen. Now, Charles married Frances in Bermuda in 1807, and she died in 1815, leaving him with four daughters Charles did not marry her elder sister Harriet until 1820, so at this date the “Miss Palmer” Jane Austen refers to is undoubtedly the children’s “Aunt Harriet.” Jane Austen as we have seen visited in Keppel Street often when she was in London, but there is no reason to believe that Fanny always accompanied her. It may be that’s why Fanny’s visit, and her emotion, made “I have paid nine shillings on her account to Miss Palmer; there was no an impression on the Palmers – perhaps she had not visited and seen the motherless children since Frances’s death which occurred in September 1814, a little more than a year before this letter


Olivia Williams as Jane and Jack Husten as Mr Haden (Miss Austen Regrets)

Letter 129, Mon 2 Dec 1815, Hans Place, to Cassandra (see text in comment section)

There is a letter missing (15 December) between this one and the last (26 November 1815): we can tell because this refers back to it. It may have described too frankly Henry’s impending bankruptcy. As the letter opens he has returned from Oxford but might not if he had known. Known what? We cannot say. Mr Tilson , one associate wrote on Wednesday that Mr Seymour, the lawyer (who may have proposed or thought to propose to Austen) said it’s safe for him to come back. Henry now may be at risk for debtor’s prison.

Then we get one of these typical sentences of hers where she avers that Henry is just fine: that he gave a good account of his feelings, met with utmost care and attention (it sounds like from Austen’s pen, women friends again), was “quiet and pleasant, no respect the worse, quite sure of being himself.” I’ve learned not to trust these after the series about him just after Eliza’s death: even through her laconic accounts and almost refusals to recognize his withdrawal and distress came through. Let us recall he’s been sick for weeks; but according to Jane he made sure his return would be a “complete gala” By securing Mr Haden.

Really? Henry delights in Mr Haden in the same way Jane does? More likely Henry invited Haden to make it not be a family party (no talk of bankruptcy then), because he knew his niece and sister seemed besotted (Jane says Haden’s somewhere between “a man and an angel”), and knew Haden would come partly in hope of some fee. Haden is still caring for Henry as a medical man.

Then we get the famous passage – wonderfully playful about Mr Haden being no apothecary. He is not, there is none in the neighborhood, not even a medical man . No he is a Haden, nothing but a Haden …

The wit deflects (as her irony often does in her books) what Cassandra’s warning that Jane and Fanny are getting too familiar with someone beneath them: Jane’s joke Haden is the only person not an apothecary in this neighborhood is perhaps a reference to how people doctored themselves then, made up their own concoctions.

Then maybe Cassandra was asking about the bouts of singing with Fanny; again Jane counters: Mr Haden has never sung to them, he must have a pianoforte. Austen writes the letters by association. Jane moves on from this to Mr Meyers giving his lessons (that’s where the singing is coming from she implies), 3 a week but often on different days, never punctual, does not produce sufficient value for the money paid. She has no more faith in music masters than her Elizabeth Bennet does in teachers: Austen reverses the usual idea and says the master is taking liberties with the scholar’s valuable time.

Quick and determined change of topic: they will be delighted to see Edward on Monday, only sorry Cassandra loses him; they will be grateful for the turkey he brings (as they were in previous letters for the pheasants). He will be alone in the bedchamber as Henry has moved downstairs where it’s warmer. “He found the other cold.” He’s not well but this maneuver of his brings to Austen thoughts of her hypochondriac mother: she’s so sorry mother suffering but “this exquisite weather is too good to agree with her.”

It’s winter & a passage refers to her sense of the beauty of winter that we’ve seen in earlier letters. Then she goes on to have some fun – showing her distance from these (pseudo?) sick people: she loves this weather in all as: “I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left . Longitudinally Perpendicularly, Diagonall … ” she hopes it will last “nice, unwholesome, Unseasonable relaxing close muggy” … Just what she longs for all the time (!).

Switch again: she thanks Cassandra for her long letter, it did her such good: did it? How? By reminding her about Mr Haden? Henry accepts Cassandra’s offer of 9 gallons of mead. This is not the first reference to their making homemade wine.

I don’t understand what was the mistake about the dogs. Perhaps someone could enlighten me?

Henry is clearly cold: he is making a 3rd attempt at strengthening, warming plaister. Jane is oddly cheerful let’s admit: she has no doubt he will set off for Chelsea about the bonds, she has no doubt he’ll be every day at Henrietta St. She is carrying on the attitude towards plaister and her doubts about Henry’s continued illness instead of registering for us all these trips are about his becoming a bankrupt.

She is not admitting a reality that will affect her: so she goes on to gay socializing. She and Fanny were “snug, quite at their ease” when their “invalid” (Henry) was at Hanwell. Then we hear about her maneuvers not to have guests beyond Haden. She fended off the Malings. She even caught a cold but it’s been put to account: they had an excuse to see no one but Mr Tiloson and “our Precious” (Haden) They will be allowed in this evening (the Malings)

Then there are the Palmers and girls coming – this morning; Jane appears miffed that Miss Palmer said she could not come Thursday and would not name or come another day. Was fare cheaper on others days? Jane offers not to send dirty linen to Chawton any more (a thought linked to the Palmers) for you have to pay the same bill whether your clothes were clean or not (Makes me wonder what were their daily customs as to bathing too). Family matter reminds her of Anna’s arrow-root which she has for Anna — thought helpful when pregnant? Or nursing? And she has gloves for Cassandra.

Jane ends on a God bless and apology for her brevity. But she felt she had to send it to spare Cassandra writing again – though this letter does not seem to say much at all.

Books were sold unbound and people provided their own bindings; in a PS Austen thinks to herself suddenly she had no business to chose one for the regent. Here LeFaye provides a note to the effect that after all Murray did send the book bound. So again Austen is struggling against the family’s impulse to put themselves forward when near the prince (push in, choose things for him). She and Cassandra will take counsel (go to a lawyer of their own did not). The joke of the next sentence is its juxtaposition: she is glad Cassandra put a flounce on her chintz. Just a momentous as any prince’s binding. “I am sure it must look particularly well, & it is what I had thought of …” Dry humor; the association may be that she Austen did not think of all these ribbons …

Diana’s reading:

I don’t have much to add to what Ellen, Diane and Arnie have comprehensively written about this letter. Henry is clearly improving, well enough to be traveling. In the previous letter, #128 on 26 November, she wrote “Henry gets out in his Garden every day, but at present his inclination for doing more seems over, nor has he now any plan for leaving London before Dec: 18, when he thinks of going to Oxford for a few days.” Deirdre seems to think he may be have left the bank’s head office on account of the impending collapse of the Alton branch of Austen, Grey & Vincent. Her remark, “I had the pleasure of hearing from Mr. T[ilson] on Wednesday night that Mr. Seymour thought there was not the least occasion for him absenting himself any longer,” makes this seem likely. Where was he? At Hanwell, Middlesex, a village eight miles northwest of London, on the Wycombe Road. Jane has had “the comfort of a few lines from Henry…giving so good an account of his feelings as made me perfectly easy. He met with the utmost care and attention at Hanwell, spent his two days there very quietly & pleasantly, & being certainly in no respect the worse for going, we may believe that he must be better, as he is quite sure of being himself.”

Henry was an optimist, and Jane is showing herself and Cassandra as being aware of his upbeat spirit, which they both know may paint too bright a picture of everything from the bankruptcy to his health. Still, despite the subtle qualifier, she is reassured enough to be cautiously optimistic about his improvement, too, and the tone of her letter is cheerful.

And what was Hanwell, who lived there? That was the home of the Miss Moores. We may remember that she has mentioned the place before. In Letter #112, 29 November 1814, she writes to Anna, “We are expecting your Uncle Charles tomorrow; and I am to go the next day to Hanwell to fetch some Miss Moores who are to stay here until Saturday.” The note tells us that these were the Misses Harriet and Eliza Moore, of Hanwell, perhaps relations of Mr. Gordon of Cleveland Row, a business friend of Henry’s. The other reference, Letter #105, 23 August 1814 from Hans Place, is this passage: “Henry wants me to see more of his Hanwell favorite, & has written to invite her to spend a day or two here with me. His scheme is to fetch her on Saturday. I am more & more convinced that he will marry again soon, & like the idea of her better than anybody else at hand.” That was Miss Harriet Moore. So where Henry went, when it may have expedient for him to be out of town, was to these friends.

His return was “a complete Gala,” but Jane’s tone of satisfaction seems more sparked by Haden than Henry. How she likes him! “I need not say that our Eveng was agreable.” As Ellen says, Cassandra may have cautioned her about being too intimate with a mere apothecary – perhaps a remark in reaction to Jane’s last letter, where she rather friskily told about Fanny and Haden sitting so close together, saying, “I believe at least they had two chairs” – certainly an indecorum sufficient to alarm Cassandra! So now Jane mocks her about that, with her playful “he is not an Apothecary” riposte, and “he is a Haden, nothing but a Haden, a sort of wonderful nondescript Creature on two Legs, something between a Man & an Angel – but without the least spice of an Apothecary. – He is perhaps the only person not an Apothecary hereabouts.” No wonder Cassandra was worried, there is indecorousness somewhere afoot!

Haden does not sing without a pianoforte accompaniment; Jane mentions Fanny’s music lessons with a Mr. Meyers, which she does not much approve of, on the basis that Music Masters are “made of too much consequence & allowed to take too many Liberties with their Scholar’s time.”

Edward is coming and “A Turkey will be equally welcome with himself,” a back handed Jane compliment! She proceeds to be sarcastic about her mother, too: “I am sorry my Mother has been suffering, & am afraid this exquisite weather is too good to agree with her.” She continues into her famous panegyric on the weather: “I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left, Longitudinally, Perpendicularly, Diagonally.”

Then domestic matters – Henry is grateful of Cassandra’s offer to make “his nine gallon of Mead.” We don’t know what “the mistake of the Dogs” was. He is trying a “strengthening Plaister,” perhaps something warming, which it is to be wished he will be able to keep on, as she is sure he will be getting out more now. “He sets off this morning by the Chelsea Coach to sign Bonds & visit Henrietta St., & I have no doubt will be going every day to Henrietta Street.” So he is back taking care of business again.

She and Fanny were “very snug by ourselves, as soon as we were satisfied about our Invalid’s being safe at Hanwell.” By “Manoeuvring & Good Luck we foiled all the Malings attempts upon us” – using her slight cold as an excuse. This was very useful, and they saw “nobody but our Precious, & Mr. Tilson.” Precious would be the precious Haden, of course!

The Malings will be allowed to drink tea; the Palmers may come; Jane will not send down any more dirty linen, but she has got Anna’s arrow-root and Cassandra’s gloves. She adds that she has “no business to give the P.R. a Binding, but we will take Counsel upon the question” – meaning the presentation copy. In the end Murray decided on the binding. She moves from that to being glad Cassandra has put the flounce on her chintz, as if the Prince Regent’s presentation copy is just another of the trivial details she packs into the end of the letter.

My rejoinder:

I demur only at Diana’s simply accepting Jane’s characterization of Henry at face value. He has returned with a transcript by Jane of his usual kind of remark: he means to stay home for a while now. Enough. Yes he did go to the flattering women, and Jane takes that to mean he’s just fine; well there’s another way of seeing all these resorts to people who make up to him. Sore feelings; all he has worked so hard to build against terrile odds now going to pieces. Who wouldn’t turn to such comfort no matter how much it will be of little avail for what matters. He is very poor in later life. As to his physical state, he’s still suffering from cold and stays downstairs where the heat need not rise; her funny characterization of how she just loves this awful weather is directed at him as well as her mother.



There was one high point for her social existence ahead as yet: Scott’s review and what he wrote of Emma. Scott himself praising her this way, writing about her …

And of course she was writing Persuasion and rewriting Northanger Abbey.


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