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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Frontispiece to 1788 edition of Elegiac Sonnets

To the Goddess of Botany:

OF Folly weary, shrinking from the view
Of Violence and Fraud, allow’d to take
All peace from humble life; I would forsake
Their haunts for ever, and, sweet Nymph! with you
Find shelter; where my tired, and tear-swollen eyes
Among your silent shades of soothing hue,
Your ‘bells and florrets of unnumber’d dyes’
Might rest–And learn the bright varieties
That from your lovely hands are fed with dew;
And every veined leaf, that trembling sighs
In mead or woodland; or in wilds remote,
Or lurk with mosses in the humid caves,
Mantle the cliffs, on dimpling rivers float,
Or stream from coral rocks beneath the ocean’s waves

Dear friends and readers,

This is my 2nd report on the Charlotte Smith conference at Chawton House Library (October 14th-16th). I’ve described the morning panels and musical recitals; in the afternoon, there were three more panels, two again on Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets and her poetry, the third on her novels. This suggests someone preferred the poetry papers or more likely there were more of them and they were strong: this verse first made her reputation, and continued to be respected (if forgotten). I first fell in love with Smith’s poetry. I report on only these two on poetry here (saving the third for third blog in order to keep the reports shorter). I want to stress here, this is just the gist of what was said, many details and sub-arguments omitted.

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From Elegiac Sonnets, 1789.

We began with The Marketplace and the Canon.

Michael Gramer’s “Subscription and the Poetic Corpus,” was a comparative study of the first 3 editions of the Elegiac Sonnets. He compared Smith’s sequencing of her first 19 poems in the first and second editions; for the third, he suggested the 35 poems open and close in the same fundamental trajectory of permanent heartbreak. The compelling goal of the 1st edition was to support her husband and herself and children while in the debtor’s prison, and to hire lawyers or do whatever was necessary to see him freed. What we see is a drama of non-renewal, of indifference before the poet in nature and outside in society. I agreed with the pairings Michael outlined: thus sonnets 7 (“On the Departure of the Nightingale”) and 8 (“To spring”) revisit and deepen sonnets 2 (“Written at the Close of Spring”) and 3 (“To a Nightingale”). In Sonnet 9 (“Blest is yon shepherd on the turf reclined”) Smith envies the shepherd; in Sonnet 10 (“To Mrs G,” “Ah! why will memory with officious care”) she fails to bring her memories out vividly or repeat them; 11 (“To Sleep”) and 12 (“Written on the sea shore. — October, 1784) drift towards death, with the last registering an indifferent universe. Mid-way Sonnet 6 (“O Hope! thou sooth sweetener of human woes!”) and the last, 12 (below) offer a sense of closure.

Written on the Sea Shore, Oct. 1784.
ON some rude fragment of the rocky shore,
Where on the fractured cliff the billows break,
Musing, my solitary seat I take,
And listen to the deep and solemn roar.
O’er the dark waves the winds tempestuous howl;
The screaming sea-bird quits the troubled sea:
But the wild gloomy scene has charms for me,
And suits the mournful temper of my soul.
Already shipwreck’d by the storms of Fate,
Like the poor mariner methinks I stand,
Cast on a rock; who sees the distant land
From whence no succour comes–or comes too late.
Faint and more faint are heard his feeble cries,
Till in the rising tide the exhausted sufferer dies.

There is some change in ordering in the 2nd edition, but not significant. The third edition extends the perspective further to create a world of widening allusions, with the poet still the lone wanderer who is not cured, but (as yet) feels not altogether hopeless. It was published by subscription, usually not favored by women; it too sold widely, and then there was a second subscription. Almost unheard-of. The fifth edition listed the subscribers’ names. At one point her husband, Benjamin (she had left them by then), heard she was making money, broke into her house (she was in law his), attempted to beat her, through violent attacks got her to give him the money in her desk.

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John Constable, A Seascape

Bethan Roberts’ “On the margin” returned us to Smith’s 44th sonnet, “Written in the churchyard in Middleton in Sussex” (it had been discussed in the morning). We were looking at the sonnet’s content about a church near the sea from a geological standpoint: Bethan had illustrations (1796 1807, 1828, 1847) showing showing the gradual encircling of the church by the waters. It’s a poem about erosion; all dissolves away, only she fated to remain (and endure hard-work, geological, archealogy). The poet wishes she could escape the noise and movement of the oceans, mountains, life itself. She is intensely desolate. Bethan also showed images of paintings by Constable of this area. She ended on Smith’s poem to St Monica. The learned antiquary no longer comes to this spot, no holiday rituals occur here, not even “the pensive stranger” who looks at the place from afar. Only the poet comes close to find meaning in this spot

The antiquary comes not to explore,
As once, the unrafter’d roof and pathless floor;
For now, no more beneath the vaulted ground
Is crosier, cross, or sculptur’d chalice found,
Nor record telling of the wassail ale,
What time the welcome summons to regale,
Given by the matin peal on holiday,
The villagers rejoicing to obey,
Feasted, in honour of Saint Monica.
Yet often still at eve, or early morn,
Among these ruins shagg’d with fern and thorn,
A pensive stranger from his lonely seat
Observes the rapid martin, threading fleet

The broken arch: or follows with his eye,
The wall-creeper that hunts the burnish’d fly;
Sees the newt basking in the sunny ray,
Or snail that sinuous winds his shining way,
O’er the time-fretted walls of Monica.
He comes not here, from the sepulchral stone
To tear the oblivious pall that Time has thrown,
But meditating, marks the power proceed
From the mapped lichen, to the plumed weed,
From thready mosses to the veined flower,
The silent, slow, but ever active power
Of Vegetative Life, that o’er Decay
Weaves her green mantle, when returning May
Dresses the ruins of Saint Monica.

Oh Nature ! ever lovely, ever new,
He whom his earliest vows has paid to you
Still finds, that life has something to bestow;
And while to dark Forgetfulness they go,
Man, and the works of man; immortal Youth,
Unfading Beauty, and eternal Truth,
Your Heaven-indited volume will display,
While Art’s elaborate monuments decay,
Even as these shatter’d aisles, deserted Monica!

M.O. Grenby returned us to Charlotte Smith as a businesswoman as well as poet. We learned how in her letters dealing with her publishers, Smith would demand higher prices than they were willing to pay, would argue with their assertions they had made less than they had; used them (and her work in effect) as stocking a bank from which she could draw needed money. Smith also wanted to influence almost every level of the publication process, was actively interventionist, changing the order, the content. She suggested a French translator. (What kind of translation matters.) Her later books meant for children were also published to make money. We know exact sums Smith asked for and what she got. She was willing to move from one publisher to another. It does seem most of Smith’s efforts did not bring the money she wanted. When the older Cadell with whom she began as a writer died, she had an even worse time and eventually cut off relationship with the younger Cadell. It’s telling that at the end of her life when the liberal brave publisher, Joseph Johnson, began to publish her, she got better payment and advances without doing half as much strenuous negotiation (or hardly any at all).

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Thomas Bush Hardy, “Under Beachy Head” (the poem published by Johnson was “Beachy Head”)

There was not much time for discussion afterward (the musical recital and lunch had made us much later in the afternoon by that time than intended), so we had a brief coffee, and immediately after another panel of papers.

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

Now the topic was Nature and Art.

Lisa Vargos’s paper on Smith’s “Nature Writings for Children,” suggested how original or at least different was Smith’s approach to the natural world and time from that of most romantics or readers at the time. (Reminding me of Mme de Genlis in her Adele and Theodore and many another woman writer before and since (discussed so long ago by Ellen Moers in her Literary Women), Smith sets herself up as a teacher, Mrs Woodfield, who with her two pupils, Elizabeth and Henrietta, explores the landscape. Mrs Woodfield shows how hard it is to control nature, rather they, as people, must join in on an intimate community within the natural world and exert influence on behalf of this continuum of living creatures and plants. Rural Walks contains innovative dialogues, and anticipates aspects of our contemporary theories about climate change. Often Elizabeth cannot see or respond to what Mrs Woodfield is putting before her while Henrietta is more receptive and perceptive. A kind of common humanity is felt, as Mrs Woodfield describes the tragic death of a small animal (dormouse). In her Conversations Introducing Poetry Smith is Mrs Talbot talking to George and Emily. Lisa discussed “To the Snow-drop” which shows Smith’s knowledge of Erasmus Darwin. Smith had in mind Anna Barbauld’s poetry for children; her book also aligns itself with Gilbert White’s writing. As a teacher she is not a disciplinarian, she challenges children to say why this or that is happening. One underlying aim is to help them find (or create) a permanent place to dwell within themselves.

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Richard Ritter’s talk, “Finding ‘Remote Pleasures at Home:’ Charlotte Smith’s Conversations and the Leverian Museum,” was about the museum as such, and how museums in the later 18th century functioned commercially. Smith as teacher is in this part of her book bringing the children there to see the collection; everything is neatly displayed, and the children supposed to look, ask questions and given a sense of a system within which specimens were set up with great care, and made to look “alive.” The limitations of taxonomy were felt. Here and there Smith’s poetry registers the sudden violent destructive power of natural history. What made his talk interesting was the conflicts he described between those like Smith who had their doubts about such displays:

The birds, or insects, or quadrupeds, though they may be very well preserved, lose that spirit and brilliancy, which living objects only can possess. The attitudes of the birds are stiff and forced, and without their natural accompaniments. Their eyes are seldom so contrived as to resemble those of the living bird; and altogether, their formal or awkward appearances, when stuffed and set on wires, always convey to my mind ideas of the sufferings of the poor birds when they were caught and killed, and the disagreeable operations of embowelling and drying them. — Charlotte Smith, Conversations, Introducing Poetry: Chiefly on Subjects of Natural History. For the Use of Children and Young Persons, 2 vols (London: J. Johnson, 1804), ii, 64-65.

and those so enthusiastic for this kind of show that they overlooked the down side, such as imprisoning animals in an unnatural environment which gives false impressions to those come to see.

Oil painting on canvas, River Landscape, with Fisherman, and distant Ruins of an Abbey, manner of George Smith of Chichester (Chichester 1714 - Chichester 1776) and John Smith (Chichester 1717 - Chichester 1764).Tall tree in foreground; river runs across the centre of the picture. A fanciful ruin of slender Gothic arches on an eminence at right. A fisherman seated on near bank.
River Landscape, with Fisherman, and distant Ruins of an Abbey, manner of George Smith of Chichester (1714-1776) and John Smith (1717-1764).A fanciful ruin of slender Gothic arches on an eminence at right.

Valerie Derbyshire’s paper, “In pursuit of the picturesque: Looking a Smith’s places with an Artist’s Eye,” was about the effect of a some popular contemporary landscape artists on Smith’s poetry. Valerie dwelt on George and John Smith, followers of Gilpin, especially; she seemed to feel his paintings were liked by Smith; but she also mentioned Thomas Hearne’s paintings based on an artificial aesthetic, putting nature in an ordered landscape; Paul Sandby, with his ideal classical landscapes of anywhere and everywhere; Richard Wilson’s more romanticized (as to light and mood), but more accurate landscapes. And of course Gilpin, whom Austen’s brother and Austen herself mention with much delight and respect. Val showed us where specific landscapes could have been influential. Smith rejoices in her picturesque memories of her childhood and uses them: Emmeline is herself outside the social world; Ethelinde makes heavy use of some recognizably real places; Celestina is another homeless heroine, living in an exiled state. Valerie said the descriptions of the Isle of Wight and some of the English countrysides owe a good deal to this kind of painting.

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John Smith of Chichester, A Winter Landscape

The talk afterward was informative. Lisa talked about botany in the era, the use of herbs for medicine. There is a poignancy about Smith’s tone in her children’s books. I asked Val how she felt about John Barrell’s Dark Side of the Landscape where he argued that most of these landscapes were unreal because they left out the rural poor, the hard work, the disordered dismal existences. Valerie acknowledged the cogency of Barrell’s objections and said Smith must’ve been aware of this gap or discrepancy between these distanced views as she describes beggars, exiles, soldiers the desperately poor in her poetry. There was not time to talk about why such figures are not found in Smith’s novels more often — perhaps readers wanted romancing?

I have now thought about this problem of the source of Smith’s landscapes. I know that Radcliffe studied travel books to concoct her landscapes and perhaps Smith did this for the Hebrides. Her years at Bignor Park were important and in her letters and the poetry until she is too sick and in pain to walk she wanders in the English countryside. She had herself been to France. She orders books from libraries and borrows them when she is writing her novels, and she grieved so about their loss because (as she says in her letters) she used books too to write with.

I also thought about Smith’s depiction of a debtor’s prison where she does not dwell on the other people surrounding her hero and heroine sympathetically, but as dangers to the heroine (sexually) and people the hero keeps away from (this in Marchmont). I’ll end on this sonnet, one whose political point of view was not much covered in the conference:

Sonnet 67: To dependence

Dependence! heavy, heavy are thy chains,
And happier they who from the dangerous sea,
Or the dark mine, procure with ceaseless pains
An hard-earn’d pittance — than who trust to thee!
More blest the hind, who from his bed of flock
Starts — when the birds of morn their summons give,
And waken’d by the lark — ‘the shepherd’s clock,’
Lives but to labour — labouring but to live.
More noble than the sycophant, whose art
Must heap with taudry flowers thy hated shrine;
I envy not the meed thou canst impart
To crown his service — while, tho’ Pride combine
With Fraud to crush me — my unfetter’d heart
Still to the Mountain’s Nymph may offer mine.

It’s a bitter poem. It’s said in studies of emigration to the US and Australia and Canada from the UK what was longed for most was independence, liberty from the clique-patronage system of the ancien regime, which Smith loathed. So the problem of dependence in the poem is much larger than a woman seeking a position or freedom from a tyrannical husband or family. She attacks the ancien regime system at its corrupt narrow source, and at the same time asserts a secular ethical outlook that strengthens people. So if she does not truly identify with the poor or lower class people, she does understand what makes the world everyone lives in so corrosively destructive.

It was time for coffee and some biscuits. My next report will cover papers on Smith’s fictions.

Ellen

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Hubert Robert, Madame Geoffrin Drawing (for a cover, as it is a work French in feel) — let us say Lady Churchill pouring over her daughter’s letters, writing in reply

Dear friends and readers,

Since Love and Friendship is apparently doing well enough commercially that Whit Stillman’s film has not yet left general run theaters, and more and more people have seen it. Stillman’s re-titling of Austen’s mid-career epistolary novella has come under discussion. I thought I’d add a qualifying note in the form of this blog: Austen did not title her fair copy manuscript, it’s salutary to remember that except for the four novels she shepherded into print, we can’t be sure any of her titles represent her first or last decision or determined preference at all, if she had one.

Two of these four texts supervised by Austen herself, have had other names: Pride and Prejudice was for many years a long sharply satiric novel, possibly heavily epistolary denominated First Impressions. Austen told people in the “know” about her authorship, that Martha has read First Impressions so many times, that she might commit it to memory, in order to write it out and sell it herself. Sense and Sensibility began life as a brief epistolary novel, named after the two correspondents: Elinor and Marianne. By the time it was lengthened into the book Cassandra mentions as written 1797-98, it had become Sense and Sensibility.

Lady Susan (so-called) comes third in the succession of posthumous works after Austen’s early death (1871). Of these three, Northanger Abbey (1817) was titled Susan when it was sold in 1803 to Crosby; when we hear of it again in 1816 it has become Catherine. Family tradition says Persuasion (1817) was first titled The Elliots, whose appropriateness is signaled by its first French translator who called the novel La Famille Elliot [ou l’ancienne inclination]. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are Henry and Cassandra’s inspired choices; the pairing them as “sister-novels” (two Bath books?) the result of the way Henry and Cassandra printed them together, with the biographical notice by Henry.

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In life Austen paid attention to what was worn (a 1798 ensemble overdress, fischu of European Cotton Silk) — something Lady Susan would certainly sell herself for

James Edward Austen-Leigh tells us that Lady Susan is untitled. We see we have a genuinely fair copy, all gussied up as if Austen was pretending she was publishing her book. This kind of psychological imitation is found in early modern women for texts they cherish and would like others to see in this permanent (more or less) form. So she must’ve cared about the book. Why not name it? Yet, as Austen-Leigh says, it has no name. Austen-Leigh named the book after its chief protagonist, but Austen might have preferred any number of thematic names. In the 18th century novels were named after the chief protagonist; an important theme; or the place the novel importantly occurs in. Following her predilection in her first four, she might have played upon the tradition of widows as hypocritically grieving, while conducting liaisons, so a thematic The Gay Widow (no pun intended) might be appropriate; given the way Austen is regarded the film-makers could scarcely have gone for Adultery Exposed. But maybe, just maybe Austen did have a an ironically amoral/moral title in mind in the manner of LaClos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Eager to prevent Austen’s texts from being lost or hidden from the public any longer, later that same year (1871) JEAL published the fragment, The Watsons. Family tradition, confirmed by Catherine Anne Hubback (daughter to Jane’s brother Frank) who finished the novel with details which suggest a knowledge of the autobiographical backgrounds of Austen’s texts, is this was originally called (by Austen herself) The Younger Sister. This time JEAL was covering up. Sanditon came out many years later: 1825. This is Chapman’s title, calling attention to the unusual setting. The text is untitled in the manuscript, Frank’s grand-daughter declared it was called The Brothers, so like The Younger Sister an autobiographical allusion or source for the work is obscured. Gilson in his magisterial Bibliography also records “The Last Work,” perhaps as semi-comment on the author’s sad death, her weakness and silencing from her illness.

That leaves us with Mansfield Park, Emma, and what we have of titles for the so-called Juvenilia, among which is Love and Freindship (first published 1922) as Austen’s own.

Does it matter? yes. A rose by any other name smells as sweet; still, framing matters. When Stillman decided to re-name the work with a juvenilia name he could hope more Austen readers have read (and found hilarious) outside the famous six novel canon, he was not distorting Austen’s framing. Stillman has said he found Love and Friendship appropriate to the novella, but film-makers no more than authors are on oath when they discuss their book. No one in the novel confides in a friend, friendship is a function of your acceptability. Love too is meted out contingently. The letters are from Churchill, most to them from rather than to. How about The Churchill Letters? this seething place within.

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William Westall, Rievaulz Abbey from Duncombe Terrace (as Austen’a taste for Gilpin and reading in Radcliffe and Smith when young suggests a liking for picturesque book illustrations) — Churchill from afar

Ellen

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COLOUR PORTRAIT Tara Bergin
A color photo of Bergin

Dear friends and readers,

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

Appointment with Jane Austen

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

I waited ready:

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

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

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

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

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18th century style hats for women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Cover

Dear friends and readers,

I want again to report on, share part of a review of a book, this time because I suspect its title, Sentimental Memorials, as well as the marmoreal cover illustration, will put potential readers off. Norma Clarke’s own books are uniformly insightful and informative, and her description of Sodeman’s book is to be trusted (appeared in TLS, July 31, 2015, but not on-line). Clarke suggests that Sodeman shows a direct line from 18th century novels by women to those of women writers of the later 20th and early 21st century. Sodeman discovers

in the novels of Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith and Mary Robinson a concern with the status of their own writings at a time when literature was becoming professionalized and when the novel, increasingly popular, became downgraded as genre. Women established the new genre of historical fiction, and left to friends the task of including them in their histories, while in fact the participation of women in popular genres was then and still is seen as an embarrassment.

But the most popular works offered debased forms of excessive emotionalism or action-adventure. By contrast, says Clarke,

Sodeman imagines the generation of women writing and publishing in the 1780s and 90s as sharing “a vibrant memory of elite women’s literary accomplishments … while becoming aware that their own efforts were culturally devalued, and that history-writing and and canon-formation were leaving women out. Frances Brooke in 1785 complained that “the road of literary fame” was closed to most women. They were not included in the multi-volume collections; they were not being memorialized. Sentimental Memorials rescues each of its subjects not from obscurity, for they are now much studied, but from negative characterization.

More profoundly, she argues that the establishment of the literary canon itself depended on a sentimental reading of the past shaped by illusions of historical recovery. Historians like Hume and Robertson used the devices of sentimental fiction to fill gaps, inviting readers to imagine what Mary Queen of Scots felt, for example, as she left France. Antiquarians found or forged manuscripts and built invented pasts on these “authentic” fragments. The “found” manuscript was already part of gothic convention when Ann Radcliffe made powerful use of it in The Romance of the Forest (1791). Jane Austen gets a little slap for missing the point in Northanger Abbey: Radcliffe was critiquing a device, not simple-mindedly deploying it to create terror.

Sodeman asks us to consider her subjects as women who possessed a heightened awareness of the historicity of forms, and of the likely obsolescence of their own fictions. It is an ingenious way of reclaiming elements — such as Radcliffe’s use of interpolated lyrics, Smith’s repeated appeals to her readers to sympathize with her as a victim of the legal system — that have dissatisfied stem critics. It leads to a subtle blend of textual criticism with literary history and single-author study.

Sentimental Memorials … takes the ephemerality of sentimental fiction and discovers in it a concern for enduring reputation. It examines the uses of autobiographical detail in imaginative prose that depicts national and international concerns while at the same time conveying personal truths that have public meanings … Sodeman is steeped in the critical literature about realist fiction and its relation to facts or history

There are some flaws:

[Sodeman] has little to say about the longer history of women’s writers; and although she quotes Clifford Siskin’s formulation, the “Great Forgetting,” she manages when discussing Mary Robinson as “the English Sappho” to make no mention of Aphra Behn, the most famous “Sappho” in the English tradition… Similarly, Sodeman explains Ann Radcliffe’s interpolated lyrics as a strategy to accentuate artifice and intensify feeling without indicating that many readers would already have associated the device with the sentimental figure of an oppressed woman: Radcliffe was following a model set in the mid-century by Laetitia Pilkington in her Memoirs. In the “Great Forgetting”, it was the so-called scandalous women who were most forgotten. Their works tended not to be realist fictions but memoirs, stories of lived lives that were compelling because they were real.

Clarke concludes:

Writers such as Smith and Robinson owed as much to this tradition as they did to realist fiction. Questions about fictionality, truth, the status of individual experience and the forms in which it was received and believed were crucial to memoir. So, too, for readers, was the mingling of wonder and scepticism. The vibrant memory” of women writers in the ’80s and 90s operated on literary materials that have yet to receive the attention that has been paid to realist fiction and forms which, as seller lists demonstrate …

are far from obsolete.

Ellen

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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.

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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.

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

Ellen

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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.

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MemoirJaneAusten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

janeaustens-lettersa852-correction
Cambridge facsimile reprint

Ellen

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