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
Mrs Heathcote will be a great comfort, but we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half England, into Switzerland.
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.
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:
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.
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…
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.)
William Morris Hunt, Girl Reading (1853)
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