Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sanditon’ Category


From the 1981 Sense and Sensibility: Irene Richards as Elinor is seen drawing and walks about with art materials (BBC, scripted by Alexander Baron)

Friends,

I found myself unable to reach the Jane Austen and the Arts conference held at Plattsburgh, New York last week. I have told why in my life-writing Sylvia blog.
Happily for me, the conference organizer was so generous as to offer to read the paper herself, and had it not been for a fire drill, would have. Two of the sessions, one mine was supposed to be part of, were sandwiched together so she read from the paper and described. I was told there was a good discussion or at least comments afterward. Since I worked for a couple of months on it — reread all six of the famous fictions, skimmed a lot of the rest, went over the letters — and read much criticism on ekphrastic patterns in Austen and elsewhere, the picturesque in Austen, her use of visual description, not to omit related topics like enclosure, a gender faultline in the way discussions of art are presented, I’ve decided to add it to my papers at academia.edu.

Ekphrastic patterns in Austen.

I hope those reading it here will find my argument persuasive, and my suggestion for further work on Austen using her discussions of visual art and landscape useful.


From the 1983 Mansfield Park Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price gazes at the maps her brother, William has sent her as she sits down to answer his latest letter or just write herself (scripted by Ken Taylor) – her nest of comforts in her attic includes window transfers of illustrations

Ellen

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

sandition
Shots of the English countryside near the seashore occur between scenes

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

ladydenham

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

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

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

arthurnearby
Arthur (Rickey Kettly-Prentice) nearby reacts

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

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

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

denhampressuringclara
Denham pressuring Clara

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

sidneysavingtheday
Sidney saving the day

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

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

anaside
Delivering an aside

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

Ellen

Read Full Post »

johnadeyreptonformrshenryleighbathhousebyadlestrop
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_linnellgravelpitskensington1812
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_cromemouseholdheath
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.

georgemorland
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.

background
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.

selbournetoday
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:

nunehamcortneyhenryeliza
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).

the-bard-thomas-jones
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:

ladyleightonwatercolorplasnewddlangollenbaeyjalandscape
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.

ilam
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.

stoneleighabbey
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.

turnerlymeregis
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.

Ellen

Read Full Post »

COLOUR PORTRAIT Tara Bergin
A color photo of Bergin

Dear friends and readers,

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

Appointment with Jane Austen

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

I waited ready:

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

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

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

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

womenshats
18th century style hats for women

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

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

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

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

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

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

vlcsnap-331051
From the cartoon paratexts of Fay Weldon’s 1979 BBC First Impressions (aka P&P): we the cartoon room layered over blurred image of Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth coming inside …

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

Read Full Post »

buckleyjohnedmund-illustrationsmarmion
A contemporary illustration (John Edmund Buckley) for Marmion (Scott used to be seen as Austen’s rival)

Dear friends and readers,

A third short blog, just to announce I’ve put onto my site at Academia.edu, a copy of the comparative review of the two Cambridge Companions to Jane Austen (1997 and again 2011) I wrote for ECCB, which will appear in due time (I hope), either this fall or next spring.

janeaustens-lettersa852-correction
Another of the Cambridge Publications

I’ve already blogged on the individual essays in the two volumes, summarizing and evaluating them individually, but have been asked for a quick overview several times now so thought this pre-publication appropriate.

MaryWollstonecraftSetting
The Place setting for Mary Wollstonecraft from Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party (Austen did not make the cut) — How we contextualize her today

Ellen

Read Full Post »

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

Written at Winchester on Tuesday, the 15th July 1817

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

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

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

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

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

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

WinchesterQueenEleanorsGarden
Winchester, Queen Eleanor’s garden

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

**********************
jamesedwardaustenleigh_nephew
James-Edward Austen-Leigh in middle age

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Reynolds’s reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane began it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I added:

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

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

Emma4
Emma

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

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

Anti-climactic too.

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

MemoirJaneAusten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

janeaustens-lettersa852-correction
Cambridge facsimile reprint

Ellen

Read Full Post »

MrsAustenrealizing
Miss Austen Regrets (20008): Mrs Austen Phyllida Law) realizing how ill her daughter Jane (Olivia Williams) is

Galigai de Concini for ever & ever — Jane Austen

Dear friends and readers,

We draw near the fearful close; the third from the last letter by Jane Austen, to a dear friend, once governess at Godmersham, and since a paid companion, Anne Sharp. It’s the only one Between Anne Sharp and Jane Austen that we have; from this and others to Cassandra we can tell Anne and Jane wrote to one another and since they were often apart, this one letter may stand for thick packet of lost or destroyed letters.

In this wrecked correspondence nearly a month has passed since Jane dictated her will, thinking the end was upon her, but here she is, not dead yet, feels some recovery, but has (as she tells her friend) “been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days afterwards” after Anne Sharpe’s “kind letter” arrived (missing) — the most severe I ever had … ” After the longish opening detailing her sickness, the news of her going to Dr Lyford at Winchester and how fills the middle third of the text; then the last third: Anne has been ill herself, and has catered to those who thought themselves ill, and Jane’s reversion to comments on illness close the missive.

This is a precious text so I bring it into the blog:

159. To Anne Sharp
Thursday 22 May 1817
Chawton May 22d.

Your kind Letter my dearest Anne found me in bed, for in spite of my hopes & promises when I wrote to you I have since been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days afterwards — the most severe I ever had — & coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since the 13. of April, with only removals to a Sopha. Now, I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho’ slowly recovering my strength for the last three weeks. I can sit up in my bed & employ myself, as I am proving to you at this present moment, & really am equal to being out of bed, but that the posture is thought good for me. — How to do justice to the kindness of all my family during this illness, is quite beyond me! — Every dear Brother so affectionate & so anxious! — And as for my Sister! — Words must fail me in any attempt to describe what a Nurse she has been to me. Thank God! she does not seem the worse for it, & as there was never any Sitting-up necessary, I am willing to hope she has no after-fatigues to suffer from. I have so many alleviations & comforts to bless the Almighty for — My head was always clear, & I had scarcely any pain; my cheif sufferings were from feverish nights, weakness & Languor.- This Discharge was on me for above a week, & as our Alton Apothecary did not pretend to be able to cope with it, better advice was called in. Our nearest very good, is at Winchester, where there is a Hospital & capital Surgeons, & one of them attended me, & his applications gradually removed the Evil. — The consequence is, that instead of going to Town to put myself into the hands of some Physician as I should otherwise have done, I am going to Winchester instead, for some weeks to see what Mr Lyford can do farther towards re-establishing me in tolerable health. — On Saturday next, I am actually going thither — My dearest Cassandra with me I need hardly say — And as this is only two days off you will be convinced that I am now really a very genteel, portable sort of an Invalid. — The Journey is only 16 miles, we have comfortable Lodgings engaged for us by our kind friend Mrs Heathcote who resides in Winchester & are to have the accomodation of my elder Brother’s Carriage which will be sent over from Steventon on purpose. Now, that’s a sort of thing which Mrs James Austen does in the kindest manner! — But still she is in the main not a liberal-minded Woman, & as to this reversionary Property’s amending that part of her Character, expect it not my dear Anne; — too late, too late in the day; — & besides, the Property may not be theirs these ten years. My Aunt is very stout — Mrs F.A. has had a much shorter confinement than I have — with a Baby to produce into the bargain. We were put to bed nearly at the same time, & she has been quite recovered this great while. — I hope you have not been visited with more illness my dear Anne, either in your own person or your Eliza’s. — I must not attempt the pleasure of addressing her again, till my hand is stronger, but I prize her invitation to do so. — Beleive me, I was interested in all you wrote, though with all the Egotism of an Invalid I write only of myself. — Your Charity to the poor Woman I trust fails no more in effect, than I am sure it does in exertion. What an interest it must be to you all! & how gladly should I contribute more than my good wishes, were it possible! — But how you are worried! Wherever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort. Lady Pilkington writing to you even from Paris for advice! — It is the Influence of Strength over Weakness indeed.-Galigai de Concini for ever & ever. — Adeiu. — Continue to direct to Chawton, the communication between the two places will be frequent. — I have not mentioned my dear Mother; she suffered much for me when I was at the worst, but is tolerably well. — Miss Lloyd too has been all kindness. In short, if I live to be an old Woman I must expect to wish I had died now, blessed in the tenderness of such a Family, & before I had survived either them or their affection. — You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. — But the Providence of God has restored me — & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh” have been now! — Sick or Well, beleive me ever yr attached friend

J. Austen

Mrs Heathcote will be a great comfort, but we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half England, into Switzerland.
Miss Sharp
South Parade
Doncaster

This seems to be the one of the lesser guarded texts we have in the collection, and singularly free of barbed undercurrents and hedgings, no exaggeration, no hypocrisy: Mary Lloyd Austen is “not a liberal minded woman” and Anne is not to expect (as apparently Anna has hinted) that the expectation of eventually getting the Leigh-Perrot fortune as James’s wife will “amend that part of her character.” It’s said quietly, justly, nothing hidden but not overstated either. The letter is not a projection of love and friendship as intense exhilaration such as she wrote Martha Lloyd just before visiting her and just before Austen’s parents made their fateful decision to give up Mr Austen’s position as Vicar and thus the vicarage; it’s the loving friendship of an older woman. The way Jane addresses her friend as “my dear Anne” throughout captures a quiet affection an expectation that she will be understood. I know we’ve seen unkind remarks by Jane Austen about Anne Sharpe in letters to Cassandra, but none of the kinds of sarcasms she indulged in felt here.

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

CollegeStreetWinchester
8 College Street, Winchester where Austen spent the last weeks of her life

The first third of the letter. Jane tells her friend Anne she, Jane, has been very very sick indeed, but (and here we can see this is a sincerely held posture) has had some recovery and feels some hope again. For three weeks not out of bed except when somehow or other gotten onto a sofa. Did someone carry her downstairs? She can employ herself (is she referring to sewing?) and is equal to getting out of bed. Her mind is steady enough that she can write and write coherently. Then lines of gratitude really felt; some people when helped this way feel anger — not at the person who is helping as long as the person is kind as well as physically helpful for real; others take over their death, control it but from this letter (and others), it does not appear that Austen was took herself over. Her whole life had taught her to give in to others. She expresses gratitude to God (not exactly something I am comfortable with but this is what she expresses) for leaving her clear intellects. She had had high fever nights but no pain (well let’s take that with a grain of salt); one of her worst symptoms is “the discharge.” I’m not sure what fatal illness this symptom can be linked to but half-remember lymphoma has what could be called “a discharge.” These are intimate details to write.

The Alton apothecary, Mr Curtis, has been honest: her condition is beyond him. Lyford was a respected physician in the era; I remember he was called for the king (who wasn’t?) and his practice is in Winchester so they will not be going to London (where other famous physicians resided) but the closer Winchester. She does not mention that it’s also closer. When someone is so mortally ill moving them causes them great pain and can damage them further. She makes a joke of it: “I am now really a very genteel portable sort of an Invalid.” The phrase makes what has happened to her body feel less serious. Another friend, Mrs Heathcote (Althea Bigg’s widowed sister), has found comfortable accommodation and (will miracles never cease – -unexpected) James lends his carriage.

But notice that Austen herself seems to have wanted to go to London: “The consequence is instead of going to Town to put myself in the hands of some Physician as I should otherwise have done …” And she is not aware how close she is to death. For she talks of going to Winchester for “some weeks” to see what Dr Lyford can do further to “re-establish” her “in tolerable health.” This implies going somewhere else afterward.

Mrs Heathcote, an old friend with enough money and connections, has supplied a place for them to come to where they can be comfortable; Mary Lloyd Austen the carriage. This is the sort of thing she does well says Jane: implication she enjoys showing her relative power and wealth but we must not expect (as Anne has implied) that she will change at all because she and James have the reversionary legacy; that is, if and when Jane Leigh-Perrot predeceases James, he will inherit the whole. Besides which the property may not be theirs for 10 years.

This is a bit reminiscent of Fanny Dashwood’s way of summing up Mrs Dashwood’s life expectatany; she may well live for more than 15 and then an annuity will cost Fanny and John so much more; who knows how long she may live. Ditto Jane L-P who in the event easily outlived James. “My aunt is very stout” says Jane.

Stoutness brings to mind poor Mary Gibson Austen having given birth and survived — as she was to die not far off from these traumas (medically speaking childbirth is danger and trauma). Jane jokes Frank’s wife has suffered in bed a far shorter time and now has a baby as her reward. Jane cannot say the same: “we were nearly put to bed at the same time” is revealing. Jane Austen was surrounded by women continually impregnated and aware she was not — we’ve seen how she regards her books as her babies, S&S was her “suckling child.” We could say while Mrs F. A. was breeding, Miss Austen produced a final enough version of Persuasion and NA and brilliant white-hot first draft of Sanditon — but as they were not published Austen could not know if they’d ever see the light of day and be read and knew the 2 apparently finished were not quite finished. They were not yet born and must be brought forth by others.

Then Anne’s burdens of people. Austen (as one will who writes a letter) remembers she has been speaking of herself all this while. She describes Anne as charitable to her employer (kinder than under human ways she need have been). An irony: this provides such an interest to you all (the employer’s illness). This is Anne’s job, incessantly to supply comfort whatever distress she feels too. Austen gave this role to Elinor Dashwood early on (emphasized in Emma Thompson’s script). People write to her friend even from Paris, and the place brings up an old association.

Galigai de Concini for ever & ever. I used to think this a reference to a witty French philosophe’s letters (Ferdinando Galiani, very popular) suggesting a world of Enlightenment Jane and Anne had shared together as young women, but Chapman says it’s a reference to a devastating story of a woman burned to death who asked what she had used on her mistress to “charm” her (the mistress was getting back at this poor woman), answered the power of strong souls over weak. I wish I knew the Voltairian context: he would be telling the story with sardonic irony perhaps. The full context is court intrigue and a woman sacrificed as a scapegoat (see Marie de Medici, wikipedia). This was their shared motto: the source is as revealing as the surface content. A servant women (maid of honor at court) burnt to death as a witch. Strength may influences weakness, but with such strength you may garner envy and blame and be at high risk of destruction you are powerless to avoid or escape from. We must not press this dark conclusion too literally or far: remember Austen is dying.

Then the close of the letter: although Jane is headed for Winchester, Anne should continue to send her letters to Chawton as the communications between the two households “will be frequent.” That Austen’s mother suffered much as she watched Austen suffer “but is tolerably well.” She would survive a long time…. Anne has asked after Martha who here appears as “Miss Lloyd too has been all kindness.” From the next letter it appears that Martha came to the house once more.

Austen ends with ironical barbed gratitude — and a still living hope she may survive yet because she says “If I should live to be an old woman” she would never again now the tenderness she has in these last weeks. She must expect towish she had died now rather than have to remember back from some much less kind time in the future. And then the sweet line: “You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure” — were she
to have died now.

She becomes religious in her sentiment and wording: she says that God restored her (writing this letter you see) so she’s more fit to appear before him than she would have been before this new (partial) recovery.

Sick or well she is ever Anne Sharpe’s attached friend.

And then a line which shows life also goes on as it did: yet another plan for a small community of women Austen has been dreaming up thwarted. Mrs. Heathcote will be at Winchester, but Miss Althea Big is being frisked off to Switzerland “like half England.” I imagine Austen would have liked to see the continent; as far as we can tell she never left the the part of the British isles which includes England and Wales, was never to Scotland.

Two more readings:

Diane Reynolds:

In this letter, we see flashes of Austen’s lively humor — “I am now a very genteel, portable sort of an invalid”–and “we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half of England, into Switzerland” — but she is very ill, ill enough to have alarmed and caught the attention of her extended family. She mentions their great kindness and especially that James’s wife Mary is sending over the carriage from Steventon to transport her and Cassandra to Winchester so that Jane can be treated by a Mr. Lyford. Before that, she was treated by the Alton doctor or apothecary, Mr. Curtis, a Quaker, but he no longer knows what to do for her — and, not being a quack, has told her so.

She mentions that if she had not had good results from the Winchester doctor, she would have gone to London — one wonders if she would have sought out Hadon — was he even in London or was he by this time in Malta? – -and one wonders how much of the decision making about her medical care was done by the family, on whom she was still dependent, and how much by Jane herself? No doctor at this time could have done her much good, though it would be interesting to know more about her symptoms than the conventionalized language Austen uses can tell us. My sense is that she wanted to go to London and was overruled.

Austen is acerbic about her sister-in-law: of sending over the carriage: “Now, that’s the sort of thing which Mrs. J Austen does in the kindest manner!” This “sort of thing” is the small charity of consumption, the gesture that changes nothing materially for her poorer relations, for JA hastens to write that Anne should not see the loan of the carriage as any sign of a larger generosity on Mary’s part: “she is in the main NOT a liberal-minded woman” and as to the will–the expectation of a fortune when Aunt LP dies–“amending that part of her Character [her cheapness], expect it not my dear Anne;– too late in the day, too late in the day.” (One wonders too, if the too late in the day, repeated twice, isn’t also a passing allusion to Austen’s own state.) As Austen notes, Mrs. LP is “very stout”–and it is JEAL who inherits.

The letter is full of the kindnesses her family bestows on her, the best indication we have that she is demonstrably dying. The kindnesses withheld during life, such as the loan of the carriage — and we think of her having to beg and arrange her life around other people’s travel plans– are now pouring out. That she is being treated with more regard than she is used to comes clear in the letter and to my ears, while conventional in language, strains beyond conventional sentiments to a genuine awareness of the kindness: “Every dear Brother so affectionate and so anxious!” Or it is just conventional language, what she is expected to say? She does say it. Later, too, conventional language contains a touch of typical, clear-eyed sardonic humor: “if I live to be an old woman I must expect to wish I had died now, blessed in the tenderness of such a family”–“before I had survived …their affection.”

JA compares her “confinement” to that of Frank’s wife, who has just had a baby, noting hers has been much shorter than JA’s–“with a Baby to produce in the bargain. We were put to bed at nearly the same time, and she has been quite recovered this great while.” It’s interesting that Austen draws this parallel. Is she suggesting that she, who chose
the path that would avoid all the “confinements,” is now wondering why this has happened to HER? This was not how it was supposed to be.

The letter is double edged — implicit throughout it is Austen’s contrast between how she has typically been treated–a throwaway younger daughter/sister who never married and thus became a burden — and the kindness with which is now treated. Often I have wondered too, why it is only on the point of death that dependent people, like children, are given favors? The family is both kind and concerned — and one imagines, controlling how and where she is being treated. She expects the kindness will not last should she recover — and she expects, still, to recover: “But the Providence of God has restored me.”

Austen is able to poke fun at herself still: “I was interested in all you wrote, though with all the Egotism of an Invalid I write only of myself.” She will move to talking about Anne, but I also sense that Austen wrote this letter to send a record, a diary account of sorts, to someone close to, but not part of, the family. Between the lines
she has recorded that she wished to go to London — “as I should otherwise have done–” and that she knows Mary’s unusual burst of generosity is not a reformation. Tensions still exist. The family is kind now … but permanent change has not happened.

In speaking to Anne of Anne, the “Fanny Knight” tone reappears — Austen is distancing herself, perhaps lightly mocking Anne’s angelic — or heroic–charity with an edge of hyperbole. “But how you are worried! Whenever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort. Lady Pilkington writing to you even from Paris for advice! It is the Influence of Strength over Weakness indeed.”

Austen still has some humor to bestow, she is still herself — but sadly, she is dying, a fact her family is more aware of than she is, unless she is doing her best to hide it from Anne.

Diana Birchall:

Nearly a month after writing her Will. She is in bed, having been very ill indeed. “An attack of my sad complaint” seized her, “the most severe I ever had – & coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since the 13 of April, with only removals to a Sopha.” Still not having given up hope, she assures her friend, “Now I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho’ slowly recovering my strength these last three weeks. I can sit up in bed and employ myself, as I am proving to you at this present moment, & really am equal to being out of bed, but that the posture is thought good for me.” But there is no point in simply repeating this letter fully, for sentence upon sentence in it is heartfelt, poignant, the dying woman opening her heart to her friend, sincere and with every word given weight. From this letter comes much of what we know about her last illness; of her deep gratitude to her family, all of whom were attending her anxiously, we have no difficulty in believing; and of her intimate friendship with Miss Sharp, to whom she writes as openly of Mrs. James Austen’s character and expectations (“But still she is in the main not a liberal-minded Woman, & as to this reversionary Property’s amending that part of her Character, expect it not my dear Anne; – too late, too late in the day.” Too late for Jane too, with a little bitterness evident in her saying, “& besides, the Property may not be theirs these ten years. My Aunt is very stout.” Another touch of bitterness, softened by whimsicality: “Mrs. F.A. has had a much shorter confinement than I have – with a Baby to produce into the bargain.” She realizes how much of this letter is about her own condition (with all the Egotism of the Invalid I write only of myself”), but she notices how everyone consults Anne and asks her for advice (“Wherever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort”).

The “Galigai de Concini for ever & ever” reference is fascinating, and I will indeed turn to the lists to see what everyone makes of it! On the face of it, she is referring to the way Lady Pilkington, writes “even from Paris” for advice – “It is the influence of Strength over Weakness indeed,” meaning the governess’s strength, the lady’s weakness. Darn Deirdre anyway for giving the French of what “the sorceress” answered when asked what charm she had put on her mistress, but not translating it. I must go to the Digests and see if some sharp elf has done that.

The letter nearly finishes with the famous and touching thought, “In short, if I live to be an old Woman I must expect to wish I had died now; blessed in the tenderness of such a Family, & before I had survived either them or their affection. – You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure.” She still flatters herself with slight hopes of recovery. “But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I shd have been now! – Sick or well, believe me ever yr attached friend, J. Austen.” She does not stop with the heartfelt sentiment, but tacks on a gay riposte instead, surely to send off her no doubt sad correspondent with a smile: “Mrs. Heathcote will be a great comfort, but we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half England, into Switzerland.” She can still write of frisks…

************************
RuthWilsonasagoverness
Ruth Wilson as the quintessential governess in Sandy Welch’s Jane Eyre

The Eleanore Galigai Concini reference is tantalizing. Christy Somers provided us with a text showing Maria Edgeworth used the reference in her Absentee (1812) to make the same kind of meaning:

….to the effect of Mrs. Dareville’s mimicry, was almost too much for Lady Langdale; she could not possibly have stood it, but for the appearance of Miss Nugent at this instant behind Lady Clonbrony. Grace gave one glance of indignation which seemed suddenly to strike Mrs. Dareville. Silence for a moment ensued, and afterwards the tone of the conversation was changed.
‘Salisbury!—explain this to me,’ said a lady, drawing Mr. Salisbury aside. ‘If you are in the secret, do explain this to me; for unless I had seen it, I could not have believed it.
    Nay, though I have seen it, I do not believe it. How was that
daring spirit laid? By what spell?’
    ‘By the spell which superior minds always cast on inferior spirits.’
    ‘Very fine,’ said the lady, laughing, ‘but as old as the days of Leonora de Galigai, quoted a million times. Now tell me something new and to the purpose, and better suited to modern days.’
    ‘Well, then, since you will not allow me to talk of superior minds in the present days, let me ask you if you have never observed that a wit, once conquered in company by a wit of a higher order, is thenceforward in complete subjection to the conqueror, whenever and wherever they meet.’
    ‘You would not persuade me that yonder gentle-looking girl could ever be a match for the veteran Mrs. Dareville? She may have the wit, but has she the courage?’
    ‘Yes; no one has more courage, more civil courage, where her own dignity, or the interests of her friends are concerned…..

Was this where Jane Austen came across the reference? it is also referred to by Lord Chesterfield. So it may at once time been a familiar story among readers. Nonetheless, I’m with Diana in preferring the general sense of an apparently incorrect explanation:

I’m not satisfied that “Galigai de Concini for ever and ever” only refers to Anne Sharp’s mental ascendancy over Lady Pilkington. “For ever and ever” has a poignancy in this context that seems to be Jane referring to her long friendship with Anne. I like Ellen’s initial thought that it refers to something Jane and Anne shared together when younger. It has the sound of a rallying cry, a heartfelt farewell: a Long Live Us, us being two strong minded women in inferior, and similar, positions, who have always confided the slurs and stings they’ve received, to one another. (Another set of letters the family would have destroyed.)

girl-reading-by-William-Morris-Hunt
William Morris Hunt, Girl Reading (1853)

Ellen

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »