I cannot flourish in this east wind — Jane Austen
Dear friends and readers,
From the end of 1814 to fall 1815, what’s left are 5 more fragments, bits of letters accidentally survived, or deliberately mostly destroyed. We discover Mary and James Austen’s daughter, age 9, was then also engaged in imitating the writing aunt, and appears to have been trying to write (under Jane’s influence) imitations of Austen’s wild juvenilia (as the family apparently saw them, dismissing the content as totally non-serious).
Anna is still trying to persuade her aunts and grandmother to visit her, at the same time as she moves out of her husband’s family’s house (where she seems not to have been made comfortable — a child of the other family is bothering her) to a place closer to Chawton and Anna becomes pregnant for the first time.
Austen reveals how she goes about with servants: this time at Grafton House it was Manon, a French maid.
The interest of this time could be said to be what is kept silent about in the extant letters is Austen’s writing & revision of Emma, creating a fair copy for publication, and beginning Persuasion. While I never went on to revise my original calendar for Emma (but may find I have the time now), I am persuaded (like many others), that while there might have been snatches of drafts, this is Austen’s perhaps first novel that we have that did not exist in some large version in a previous draft that was thoroughly revised. Though Mansfield Park was not wholly epistolary, my calendar shows it represents two different phases of a book as it were smashed together with the calendars never adjusted: a novel growing out of the play which climaxed in the later elopement; a secondary narrative woven in about Henry’s courtship of Fanny; the two dovetailed into Portsmouth. My calendar for Persuasion (also unrevised) shows it too is not a revision of an earlier extensive draft, and the scheme line organizing the projected third volume (where the characters were to go to a play on a Tuesday night, doubtless to see Captain Wentworth mistakenly assume Anna is to marry Mr Elliot).
So she is hard at work at the first hot level of creation and intensely rapid revisions to ready it for the press.
It could also be said that however fragmentary, however kept from us, across all 7 fragments and the one long letter to Fanny Austen (see also 111-112, 118; letters 113-114) we see her emotional investment in her nieces.
The two fragments left of letters to Caroline:
#115, to Caroline Austen, Tuesday 6 December 1814. Jane Austen had just returned from London to Chawton the day before she wrote this letter.
My dear Caroline
I wish I could finish Stories as fast as you can. — I am much obliged to you for the sight of Olivia, & think you have done for her very well; but the good for nothing Father, who was the real author of all her Faults & Sufferings, should not escape unpunished. — I hope he hung himself, or took the sur-name of Bone or underwent some direful penance or other. —
#119 to Caroline, not Anna, ?Thursday 2 March 1815?.
… we four sweet Brothers & Sisters dine today at the Great House. Is not that quite natural? — Grandmama & Miss Lloyd will be by themselves,I do not exactly know what they will have for dinner, very likely somepork [?-Do you know that … ]
At this time, Caroline is only nine years old, and this is a kind letter to a child, with the compliment, “I wish I could finish Stories as fast as you can.” Even so, she can’t resist a word of authorial advice, “I am much obliged to you for the sight of Olivia, & think you have done for her very well; but the good for nothing Father, who was the real author of all her Faults & Sufferings, should not escape unpunished.” And a joke, another of her “hanging” jokes — “I hope he hung himself, or took the sur-name of Bone, or underwent some direful penance or other.”
Not quite sure I get the “Bone” joke, but it is interesting, isn’t it, that the nine-year-old imitates her older sister in trying to write stories like Aunt Jane. And Caroline was supposed to have had writing talent, too. Perhaps someone who’s been reading her reminiscences lately, can tell us a little more about her writing?
A letter to a 10 year old. What’s striking is Caroline has been writing novels too, and Austen sees them as versions of her juvenilia. Did Caroline read the juvenilia? Austen had copied them out? Perhaps they circulated in the family. She is ever self-deprecating: Casssandra wrote the greatest letters; she will soon not be able to keep up with the quality of her nephew; now Caroline writes faster. And what does Austen encourage her to do to her characters. Hang them. Brutal summary action. So I wonder what was cut out (as ever), what we are missing. Maybe something not as inconsequential as LeFaye’s annotations want us immediately to conclude.
The younger sister might also be imitating Anna. Jane Austen is not chary of punishments, and here harsh ones — perhaps she reminded of her Juvenilia. Bone — how about Bone-y as in Napoleon Bonaparte; the abbreviated name was used as a kind of bugbear to frighten children with.
Do we have here yet another gifted niece? I think so, as with Anna, minor gifts. There are two texts, both like her siblings’ dedicated to remembering Aunt Jane. 1) Reminiscences of Caroline Austen, beginning in 1804 and ending 1874, the latter part sometime just brief diary like annotations; and 2) My Aunt Jane Austen. My Aunt Jane Austen, slender as it is and unfinished has some startlingly suggestive remarks. Looking at the later years well after Jane Austen’s death, Caroline writes of the events she has before her “they are distractions, and the clue is lost amongst them.” The clue was the presence of Jane Austen with her genius interacting with the gifted members of her nuclear and their nuclear families. It is Caroline who tells the story of the tyrannical Mrs Craven, and probably one of the sources for the portrait of Lady Susan vis-a-vis Fredericka. She describes the nervous invalid Mr Lloyd commandeering his daughters to play cards with them, and says “I fear he lived in their memories chiefly as a nervous hypochondriac, as the shadow cast over their young life.” Mr Woodhouse. Caroline also tells incidents in the family life with vividness; her anecdotes are novelistic.
#116. To ?Anna Lefroy? ?late December 1814 (it’s undated)
[recto] … Thank you for the history of your morning in Town, You know I enjoy particulars, & I was particularly amused with your picture of Grafton House; it is just so. — How much I should like finding you there one day, seated on your high stool, with 15 rolls of persian before you, & a little black woman just answering your questions in as few words as possible!- … [verso] … for your very kind invitation, but we are [?afraid it is] quite out of our power to accept it. We are going to [?Henrietta St] only for a fortnight, which will not allow of any other visit being taken out of it, and therefore you must not impute it to want of inclination, but of ability. — We shall be much [?disappointed] if we do not see you somehow or other, & shall … [nearly all the next line missing] … st be …
[No address, date or direction]
This is painful one (if it was Anna who cut it up I am not surprised): I take Austen’s remark at face value: while she does not want too many particulars clogging up a novel, throughout the letters she has been hungry for details of life lived from her sister, from anyone who writes. To extend her world. I take it she enjoyed Anna’s scene — and found it to be accurate from her experience of this fun shopping place. It’s sometimes suggested that shopping as a leisure activity for ladies with stores catering to an impulse for socializing in prestigious surroundings begins at the turn of the 20th century (Selfridge’s for example). But in the instances Diana so generously finds, we see this kind of enjoyment made a large part of shopping expeditions.
And then the overdone (transparently awkward) apologies for not coming to visit Anna who apparently has been so keen to have these visits and yet her aunt cannot find even one half day out of a fortnight
This is a fragmentary letter, and the first part is a reply to a letter of Anna’s, which told “the history of your morning in Town.” Jane Austen says in friendly chatty mode: “You know I enjoy particulars [but not in Anna’s fiction, perhaps, where we recently saw that she famously said Anna gave too many particulars!], & I was particularly amused with your picture of Grafton House; it is just so.” Then she gives a picture of her own:
“How much I should like finding you there one day, seated on your high stool, with 15 rolls of persian before you, & a little black woman just answering your questions in as few words as possible.”
I suppose customers had high stools, so they might sit and wait, as Elinor and Marianne had to do at Gray’s in Sackville Street: “On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to attend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at the end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession.” They might remain seated while looking at the fabrics, in this case persian. The Regency and Georgian fashion glossary website defines persian as “lightweight plainweave silk lining fabric printed with large floral patterns; in use from !8th century.”
The “little black woman,” we may assume, is the clerk, dressed in a black gown, though why she would be so monosyllabic with Anna we don’t know. Actually, I’d always thought shopgirls in a big concern like Grafton House would be more common a century later; but evidently not.
Grafton House is actually of some interest in Jane Austen, and if you look you’ll see it is mentioned quite a few times in her letters. Here are some of the quotes, but darn Deirdre anyway, why doesn’t she have the mentions of Grafton House in her index, for heaven’s sake? I had to find them by the hateful useless online Brabourne, whose numbers don’t match up with LeFaye’s, and which is completely unsearchable anyway:
From Letter #87, Sept 1813 – Thursday Morning, Half-past Seven. — Up and dressed and downstairs in order to finish my letter in time for the parcel. At eight I have an appointment with Madame B., who wants to show me something downstairs. At nine we are to set off for Grafton House, and get that over before breakfast. Edward is so kind as to walk there with us. We are to be at Mr. Spence’s again at 11:05; from that time shall be driving about I suppose till four o’clock at least. We are, if possible, to call on Mrs. Tilson.
From Letter #88, 16 Sept 1813 – I hope you will receive the Gown tomorrow & may be able with tolerable honesty to say that you like the Colour; – it was bought at Grafton House, where, by going very early, we got immediate attendance & went on very comfortably. – I only forgot the one particular thing which I had always resolved to buy there – a white silk Handkf – & was therefore obliged to give six shillings for one at Crook & Besford’s.”
A silk handkerchief was expensive in those days! And clearly prices were good at Grafton House. Such shopping was no doubt something of an event to the sisters, who lived in the country, and all the particulars were of keen importance and interest to their enterprise, experience, and budgets.
Same letter: “We must have been three quarters of an hour at Grafton House, Edward sitting by all the time with wonderful patience. There Fanny bought the net for Anna’s gown, and a beautiful square veil for herself. The edging there is very cheap. I was tempted by some, and I bought some very nice plaiting lace at three and fourpence.”
And from an earlier Letter, #70, 18 April 1811: “Wednesday was likewise a day of great doings, for Manon [LeFaye identifies Manon as Eliza’s maidservant] & I took our walk to Grafton House, & I have a good deal to say on that subject. I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too…We set off immediately before breakfast, and must have reached Grafton House by half past eleven; but when we entered the shop the whole counter was thronged and we waited full half an hour before we could be attended to. When we were served however, I was very well satisfied with my purchases.”
LeFaye in a note does identify Grafton House as “probably the premises of the drapers Wilding & Kent, which were on the corner site of Grafton Street and 164 New Bond Street.”
Emily Hendrikson’s Regency Reference website gives a little description: “Although Bond Street wasn’t the most elegant looking street, it was deemed the most fashionable. Jane Austen liked to shop at Grafton House, 164 New Bond Street, as did many other ladies.This was a linen-draper’s shop where fabrics for gowns, trimmings, and accessories could be bought. Accompanied by a maid or footman, the ladies shopped there in the late morning hours before the street became the province of the gentlemen from two until five.” We have seen that she went with the French maid, Manon.
The rest of Letter #116 is merely a very half-hearted excuse for not visiting Anna. The phrases are rote, more so than I have seen in almost any paragraph by Jane Austen anywhere; it’s so tepidly written she almost resorts to cliches (!) “…your very kind invitation, but we are [afraid it is] quite out of our power to accept it…you must not impute it to want of inclination, but of ability. – We shall be much [disappointed] if we do not see you somehow or other, & shall…” Somehow or other?
#117: To Anna Lefroy ?between early February and July 1815
[top of p. 3J … from the first, being born older, is a very good thing. — I wish you perseverance & success with all my heart — and have great confidence of your producing at last, by dint of writing … [nearly all the next line missingJ … work. — Shall … [top of p. 4J … If You & his Uncles are good friends to little Charles Lefroy; he will be a great deal the better for his visit; — we thought hima very fine boy, but terribly in want of Discipline. — I hope he gets a wholesome thump, or two, whenever it is necessary. [nearly all the next line missingJ … [?J with us when we … [No address, date or direction]
Basically LeFaye has no idea when this was written either. From No 118, which follows hard upon it, seems to me Austen has grown closer to Anna and is treating her — writing to her — in the same open spirit as to Cassandra. It may be that Anna was complaining about the way she was treated vis-a-vis her other siblings and Austen reminds her she is at least oldest (Austen was the younger sister, and nearly the youngest of the Austen children). Austen has gotten to know some of the tensions in that household is the way I’d say this. Austen says thump the child — it may be the child is allowed to do what he wants with his age as an excuse; I’d want to know who was the mother and how his presence impinged on Anna’s. Why this was permitted? Anna not standing up for herself to me foreshadows Anne Elliot overwhelmed by her sister, Mary Musgrove’s children and needing help from Wentworth. Remember how he pulled the boy off Anne’s shoulder? Perhaps little Charles was a climber …
The first fragment is so very fragmentary as to be almost unintelligible. (There. Is that not a Jane Austen-like observation?) Deirdre does some detective work to show that the undisciplined child Charles Lefroy was probably staying at Hendon with Anna, Ben and his brother. Jane had been visiting George Lefroy (Madam Lefroy’s son) and his family at Ashe, and was familiar with the naughty five-year-old. “I hope he gets a wholesome thump,” she says cheerfully, if not very kindly.
I’ve cited and discussed this one in the earlier blog linked in above; and I suggested that it ought to be placed earlier. Here I’ll comment on Laetitia Hawkins. Hawkins was the daughter of Sir John, long-time friend and important biographer of Johnson, an early rival to Boswell, who knew a lot about Johnson from their early shared lives together. She was also a strongly conservative writer, anti-Jacobin, and may be allied with Hannah More, Jane West, Elizabeth Hamilton &c. Roseanne might indeed have been tediously didactic. Austen did not like to be coerced. There are two articles on Hawkins beyond Isobel Grundy’s short life for the ODNB. One is on her letters to Helena Maria Williams a mild Girondist type, living a modern free life relatively (she was a journalist, lived with a partner, wrote remarkable letters from France favoring the revolution and then at least its principles and then further travel books as she too fled …), a conservative riposte: Steven Blackmore, Revolution and the French disease: Laetitia Matilda Hawkins’s ‘Letters’ to Helen Maria Williams, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 36:3 (summer 1996), p 673 ff. The other is a review of Kate Williams, Lisa Wood’s Modes of Discipline: Women, Conservatism and the Novel after the French Revolution, The Modern Language Review, 100.3 (July 2005):790ff
“We have got ‘Roseanne’ in our Society” – refers to a novel by Laetitia Matilda Hawkins, “Roseanne, A Father’s Labour Lost,” 1814. It was dedicated (Deirdre says) to the Countess of Waldegrave, in praise of her practice of “pure Christianity.” I will content myself instead with mightily enjoying Jane Austen’s epigrammatical and wittily apt phrase of criticism: “we…find it much as you describe it; very good and clever, but tedious.” Mrs. Hawkins’ great excellence is on serious subjects. There are some very delightful conversations and reflections on religion: but on lighter topics I think she falls into many absurdities; and, as to love, her heroine has very comical feelings. There are a thousand improbabilities in the story. Do you remember the two Miss Ormesdens, introduced just at last? Very flat and unnatural. Mlle. Cossart is rather my passion.”
And we know how Jane Austen feels about “improbabilities” in a story. (“Bad, very bad,” as Mr. Knightley said.) The only reason I’d want to read “Roseanne” is to find out who was Mlle. Cossart who is her passion!
She returns to ordinary gossip, writing to Anna much as she writes to Cassandra. Miss Gibson has returned to the Great House, “and is pretty well, but not entirely so.” According to Deirdre, Miss Gibson had been nursed through an attack of measles at the Cottage by Mrs. Austen and her daughters. I’m still not sure who she is; a sister of Frank Austen’s wife Mary Gibson, perhaps. Captain Clement wanted to drive out Miss Gibson, but they have not done so yet. He may be Henry’s banking partner, but why he’s a Captain eludes me.
“I cannot flourish in this east wind which is quite against my skin and conscience,” Jane Austen protests. She will see “nothing of Streatham while we are in town” – a reference to her friend Mrs. Hill, nee Catherine Biggs, married to the Rev. Henry Hill, and living in Streatham, where she is about to lie in. Jane Austen writes, “Mrs. Hill is to lye-in of a Daughter early in March – Mrs. Blackstone [a family connection] is to be with her. Mrs. Heathcote & Miss Big are just leaving her.” The knowing the sex of the baby was a joke; Alfred-Wither Hill was born March 14.
She finishes this fragment with another bon mot: “the latter writes me word that Miss Blachford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers. And one may as well be single if the Wedding is not to be in print.”
120. To Anna Lefroy. Friday 29 September 1815, Chawton.
My dear Anna
We told Mr Ben Lefroy that if the weather did not prevent us, we should certainly come & see you tomorrow, & bring Cassy, trusting to your being so good as to give her a dinner about one 0′ clock, that we might be able to be with you the earlier & stay the longer — but on giving Cassy her choice of the Fair or Wyards, it must be confessed that she has preferred’ the former, which we trust will not greatly affront you; — if it does, you may hope that some little Anna hereafter may revenge the insult by a similar preference.of an Alton fair to her Cousin Cassy. — In the meanwhile, we have determined to put off our visit to you till Monday, which we hope will be not less convenient to You. — I wish the weather may not resolve upon other put-offs. I must come to you before Wednesday if it be possible, for on that day I am going to London for a week or two with your Uncle Henry, who is expected here on Sunday If Monday therefore should appear too dirty for walking, & Mr Ben Lefroy would be so kind as to come & fetch me to spend some part of the morns with you, I should be much obliged to him. Cassy might be of the Party, & your Aunt Cassandra will take another opportunity —
Your GrandMama sends her Love & Thanks for your note. She was very happy to hear the contents of your Packing Case. — She will send the Strawberry roots by Sally Benham, as early next week as the weather may allow her to take them up. —
Yours very affec
My dear Anna
Seven months have passed since Letters 117 and 118, and Anna has moved to Wyards. Cassandra’s note tells us Austen finished Emma March 29, started Persuasion August 8. Diana remarked that from other letters and documents we know that in September the manuscript of Emma was at John Murray’s, and his reader William Gifford famously wrote to him on 29 Sept, “Of Emma I have nothing but good to say.” All this should have been in notes to this letter; none of it is.
Much in such fragments and amid the gaps left depends on how we read the tone. To me this one is much much friendlier, warmer, less stilted in language (“My dear Anna” and “yours very affectionately” feel loving). Yet Austen may be using Cassy’s preference as an excuse (and we know a child’s preference can be over-ridden when it’s a case of a wanted visit) not to come herself. And we should remember from earlier letters that Cassy at first feared Cassandra, and both aunts showed some indifference to her plight aboard a ship. There is the word “affront.” Austen is parrying here: by saying that they hope Anna will not be greatly affronted, they make it hard for her to complain. My guess is she saw through the excuses in previous letters, and hurt, complained. Yet there is real affection in the words, and literally too Jane offers to come on Monday. The insistence on some need of a vehicle against the dirt (and possibly poor people on the road who would bother them, or gasp! unknown men) suggests she is not adverse to coming for a visit. And Austen says she must come before Wednesday so is not using the coming visit as an excuse not to come (they’ve no time) but a reason to set a specific day before leaving.
These Austens are not a forgiving lot – or remained sternly against Ben as not fitting their idea of a husband who would rise in the world (and whatever else they held against him). It seems that Anna was not comfortable with his family as she has moved into lower status quarters to get away, to get some independence and privacy. She is sliding away from gentility into that middle area which includes farmers, laborers, servants even. And is seven months pregnant. I prefer to think this development — moving out, perhaps moving down, pregnancy has elicited some of the original relationship, but it seems Cassandra does not want to come. The grandmother may not want to traipse through mud, but September is still a good month in the UK and there is some exaggeration here. OTOH, Mrs Austen is glad to know some things Anna was wanting have come. Sally Benham is a village girl used as a servant.
Here is Austen cheerful on the surface, making do, trying to cover up tensions (not make them worse as she was when she wrote Fanny nastily over Anna’s pianoforte &c). And herself looking forward to her London visit, now the busy and to-be-paid author. It might strike her how far Anna is from herself knowing anything like this now she’s pregnant, something Austen usually does not forget. She has identified with Anna from the time we saw her say Anna does not get to go to balls anything like those she, Jane, went to.
Diana has the last word on this letter:
There has been a gap in letters from March to September, and now at the end of that month Jane Austen writes a note to Anna, who has moved from Hendon to Wyards. This was a large farmhouse just outside Chawton, “belonging to an Alton shopkeeper, one end of which was occupied by a sort of bailiff or foreman with his family, and they rented the remainder.” Since Anna was now so close by, it would seem that there was no need for correspondence between them. This is only a note about possibly going to see Anna and bringing Cassy “trusting to your being so good as to give her a dinner about one o’clock,” but then the child is given the choice of going to the Fair or Wyards, and she chooses Wyards. A typical Jane Austen riposte, in which she hopes that the insult will be revenged someday if a young cousin of Cassy’s should prefer a fair to visiting her. They will come Monday instead; it must be before Wednesday, since then she is going to London with Henry. “If Monday therefore should appear too dirty for walking, & Mr. Ben Lefroy would be so kind as to come & fetch me to spend some part of the morning with you, I should be much obliged to him,” Jane writes, reminding us once again of the difficulty of transportation in the neighborhood, or any neighborhood, at that period. The smallest trip involving “solitary female walking” involves anxious study of the state of the road – it’s all just dirt of course, and raining as much as it does in England, the muddy roads thick with horse droppings would have been something fearful. When Elizabeth Bennet’s petticoats were inches deep in mud, we must remember she was bringing horse dung into the Netherfield drawing-room.
Cassy was Charles’s eldest daughter, whom Caroline Austen wrote that she lived at her Grandmother’s “for a time, under the especial tutorage of Aunt Cassandra.”
“These fragments have I shored against my ruin.” We are at the high point of Austen’s all-too-short career and time in London. In Nov 1796 the publisher by return of post rejected her manuscript, sight unseen; now an important publisher, Murray, does not let time slip before he has a respected reader read the text quickly and comment on it. A dedication to the Prince as a patron is not seen as inappropriate! And yet Miss Austen’s real relationships (those that count) remain embedded in her intimate family group. These include female communities (so by extensive other women novelists and writers of memoirs and letters).
Since we are reading these letters with the knowledge of what’s to come, I’ll mention the poignancy is also that Henry would become ill — he was probably straining intensely by this time and I suggest the illness was connected to the crash (ultimately connected to Napoleon’s fall), which crash also meant Austen had to return to Chawton. She would also crash when the uncle died and disappointed them all — the sense is he had led them to expect legacies — it’s suggested that her Hodgkins’s Disease (a cancer, a lymphoma) was helped along, brought on, by Austen’s distress (registered in a later letter).