Posts Tagged ‘British India’

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1927-2013) when young

One has to convey in a language that is not one’s own, the spirit that is one’s own, one has to convey the various shades and omissions of a certain thought-movement that looks maltreated in another language — Raja Rao

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been on an on-and-off long bout of reading Jhabvala, short stories (especially East into Upper East), novels (The Householder, A Backward Glance and Heat and Dust) and screenplays (Shakespeare Wallah and Howards End), as well as about her (older books by Laurie Sucher and Jasmine Gooneratne, and recent by Rekha Jha, Rishi Pal Singh, Ramal Agarwal), not to omit the great pleasure of watching Merchant-Ivory films, most of whose screenplays are by Jhabvala. I would very much like to read and see more of these. Her oeuvre is enormous, and her latest critics generalize about phases, from the early books where it’s a question of “western” or English eyes and characters trying to assimilate into Indian culture, and basically being destroyed; to the middle books and stories where there is a romantic entry into Indian life from a spiritual or imaginative, a quiescent passive point of view, to the latest stories, where we see cross-cultural clashes and exploitation between western values and behaviors and traditional Indian. Older writers compared her to Jane Austen (and point to Jane Austen in Manhattan, a Merchant-Ivory film), Chekov, Thackeray, newer ones to other Indian and Anglo-Indian writers: Kamala Markandaya, Naipaul, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao — and E. M. Forster.

Her writings belong firmly in the colonialist and post-colonialist genres. She herself shows this migrancy – born of Jewish Polish parents who lived in Germany, numerous members of her family were killed in concentration camps, they moved to England where she got a degree in British literature, but then she married an Indian man and spent 25 years in India, last quarter of her life in America. I found myself very drawn to her autobiographical essay, “Myself in India,” where she tells the truth about the isolated existence she endured in India, the impoverishment of the people. It can be found in this collection:

For myself until two days ago when I led a class at OLLI at Mason in discussing her stories the best I could do was come up with generalizations. Jhabvala’s stories, novels, screenplays (original, not adaptations) are mostly set after 1947/48, Indian independence after the dissolution of the Raj. These are about Indian people trying to make it in a modern contemporary world – ambitious cool – whose roots though are in the traditional Indian culture. That’s the key – minds and bodies in two worlds. Jhabvala’s stories are also strongly feminist at times. Traditional cultures are very hard on women. Subtitle to some of them: Women amid snares and delusions. You might expect the women who emerge from these imprisonments (my view) to thrive far more, do better, and here in the US I’ve see it in students (but they are already living here with parents who brought them here), but in Jhabvala’s stories while many of her women thrive at first, are social successes, succeed at high management and political positions (often unofficial) eventually they self-destruct as the two did early in her famous Heat and Dust. The enemy of these women is internal (as Woolf said was the enemy of westernized women too – the angel in the house) – but it’s not angel that bothers these women. They find themselves in an exploitative, cynical and amoral world and retreat from it — to stasis, boredom, and illusion.

I think this is now the best book on Jhabvala — the older Sucher and Gooneratne are too western-oriented

Jhabvala is fascinated by the fake Guru, this manipulation on the part of supposed holy or tranquil or utterly unmaterialistic and spiritual people (I don’t have a better word) to draw to them the belief and trust of Indian people brought up in traditions seeking to experience some transcendent divine place, eternal, complete with notions of reincarnation, to release the soul into this divine (supernatural is my word) realm by various practices and rituals. Many of the Indian characters who don’t do well in Jhabvala and other Anglo-Indian writers (especially women also deprived of agency by law and custom) look for this non-individualistic realm and will pay money and support holy people they think put them in touch with these realms. Or they become a seer themselves. She also shows that westerners with a rational, pragmatic, scientific and materialistic set of assumptions can be equally taken in. It’s not such a funny comedy of delusions, because these patterns of behavior in her fictions are linked to what I’ll call masochistic patterns of behavior where people become dependent on one another (again especially women with a man in charge), some of these dependencies might seem bizarre, unmotivated, unexplained, gaining very little and giving up all. One explanation is Jhabvala is characterizing the social milieus of her stories, not probing individual psychologies – but some of this comes from this attempt to cross over – to get into this other culture while remaining in the modern one.

Her stories are epitomies or microcosms of the clashes between these world views. She looks around detachedly. Hers is an attempt at objectivity, yet so many of the stories are so sad. People are so betrayed, so hurt. Ironically several of the stories in East to Upper East present us with women as powerful people. Where they are held back it’s from marital customs found also in the patriarchal arrangements of the western world. The women who are most fulfilled are those who never marry, or if they do, end up (in effect) leading individualist lives based on their own agency.

I’m writing this brief survey blog posting tonight because of the class that went so well. I had dreaded it — three people who usually talk were not there (I knew they would not be), and I was not sure what to say about the particulars of the stories. I found their commentary and responses intelligent, sharp, with much understanding of the motives of Jhabvala’s driven ambitious characters. I’ll tell in brief concise form a little about the best stories we discussed from East into Upper East, “Independence,” “Progress and Development,” “A New Delhi Romance,” “Husband and Son,” and “Two Muses.” Sumitra, the heroine of the first, rose to heights of power, influence, and did some good in her time, but ends in angry despair. Her granddaughter wants to do a documentary about her life in order to record what was the truth of gov’t in India, but we see what kept the woman and the man she sustained afloat would never be acceptable in published forms. The four heroines and hero of “Progress and Development” begin life with high idealism; they will marry for love, have careers where they do good; they all end embittered and disillusioned, the male finding meaning in his family and children, only one of the women, Pushpa, a Mary Wollstonecraft kind of character sustaining the necessary illusions to keep going. The one who makes the best marriage as to status and the the apparent nature of her husband ends a suicide.

The last three are more domestic stories. “A New Delhi Romance” could be a story about two teenagers in the US, only it ends in an arranged marriage for the girl, selling herself to shore up her father’s scandalous fall from power and wealth. “Husband and Son” is about a woman whose society allows her no agency at all; she tries to find an outlook by becoming socially involved with a scoundrel dance teacher who when he seduces a young girl in the school is exposed for the fake he is; she ends caring for her profoundly depressed and ill husband who himself retreated from corrupt power. Last “The Two Muses,” the most autobiographical of the lot. The theme is here the distance between an artist’s life and his work, and how much an artist who is said to be creating masterpieces should be allowed to shirk his responsibility to others in real life; we watch a probably useless man being catered to by his wife, Lilo, who never reads a word he writes, and his mistress, Netta, who is responsible for his continued solvency and reputation.

I would like to read more of her autobiography and these stories are autobiographical

I feel I learned about the author in ways I just could not without live talk and give-and-take. At first Jhabvala is like this wall of guarded matter, but after a while if you persist and especially today I saw that they are in effect a real accurate commentary on the failure of Indian society to reform itself and provide meaningful modern and comfortable lives for most of its people. The politicians inhabit all the right roles, make liberal, well meaning comments, have wonderful luxurious times with one another on the tax money they get for salaries, but do nothing for infrastructure, land reform, re-distribution of income, general education. I found myself imagining Arundati Roy who won the Booker for her The God of Small Things written an invented language, half-way between a native idiolect and English –- as a candid and excellent journalist she writes for The Nation about India – very bitter at this recent turn of events with a religious bigoted dictator in charge. She would have no trouble recognizing what Jhabvala is realizing in words and exposing. As to moods, the stories can be felt as neutral or disillusioned ironic satires or melancholy bleak romances.

Next week we’ll spend a half hour on Mira Nair’s 2006 Namesake and Jumpha Lahiri’s 2003 novel of the same name.

I have put in a proposal to teach the following course in the spring at OLLI at Mason; I will do it at OLLI at AU too

Anglo-Indian Novels: the Raj, its Aftermath & diaspora

In this class we will read E.M.Forster’s A Passage to India, Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown (Raj Quartet 1), Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat & Dust, & a couple of short stories &/or essays by Jumpha Lahiri (from Interpreters of Maladies) & V.S Naipaul. We’ll explore a tradition of literature, colonialist and native cultural interactions; migrancy itself, gender faultlines, what we mean by our identity, belonging, castes. We’ll include in our discussions Anglo-Indian movies as a genre (e.g., Mira Nair movies, to wit, her Namesake out of Lahiri’s masterpiece), & specifically David Lean’s Passage to India, the BBC Jewel in the Crown (by Ken Taylor and Christopher Morahan), Merchant-Ivory’s Heat & Dust. We’ll take historical and contemporary perspectives on this rich material.

From David Lean’s 1984 A Passage to India


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Artist unknown, a painting of Philadelphia around the time of her initial return to England — she was clearly what was known as a “beauty”

… una donna senza storia …
… une femme sans histoire …

NPG 4445,Warren Hastings,by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Warren Hastings, by Joshua Reynolds (1732-1818); painted around the time of the above, their first return to England with Saul Tysoe Hancock (her husband of whom no image has survived)

Dear friends and readers,

For the past month (we have been going slowly) a group of us on Austen-l, Janeites and cc’d to other listservs have been reading the third chapter of Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh’s invaluable Austen Papers. We are near the end; it has taken us thus long because in order to begin to understand Hancock’s letters one must know the contemporary history of Indian colonialism, inside the state despotism and the East India. While we made a couple of startling inroads such as there was a devastating famine at the time of Hancock’s return to India (partly engineered by British and Dutch colonialist policies), we have not had the kind of sources or resources to understand Hancock’s context adequately.

One must also know the life-history and as far as if possible, character of his wife, George Austen’s sister, Jane Austen’s paternal aunt, Philadelphia Austen Hancock. Most of Saul Tysoe Hancock’s letters are addressed to her: all but a few to their legal daughter, Eliza Hancock, and to a family friend from Phila’s young years, Molly Freeman. Philadelphia is the elephant in the room, the silent presence. This preliminary sketch has to be regarded as a pendant to those I wrote on Philadelphia’s daughter, Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen, and her husband, Jane’s fourth brother, Henry Thomas Austen. I will follow this with a two-part blog on Hancock’s letters to Phila.

Sources include Jane Austen’s Catherine or the Bower; the letters of George and Cassandra (Steventon) and Hancock in the Austen Papers; Claire Tomalin’s scattered account in JA: A Life; Deirdre LeFaye’s life of Eliza Austen and Eliza’s letters; short lives of Warren Hastings in various articles in JStor and the Literature Resource Center (on-line at Mason); the four articles cited on Henry Austen; and the sources for the previous biographical blogs (family papers, biographies); mostly importantly for the French phase of Phila’s life, Michel Devert, “Le Marais de Gabbarret and de Barbotan, Bulletin de la Societe de Borda, 340 (190):331-350.


Anglo-Indian painting from the later 18th century: early image of the Raj

The first attempt to tell the history of Philadelphia candidly is in her niece Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Catherine, or the Bower (1792): we are told the heroine, Kitty, had had a friend who disaster had visited:

It was now two years since the death of Mr Wynne, and the subsequent dispersion of his family who had been left in great distress. They had been reduced to a state of absolute dependance on some relations, who though very opulent and very nearly connected with them, had with difficulty been prevailed on to contribute anything towards their Support. Mrs Wynne was fortunately spared the knowledge and participation of their distress, by her release from a painful illness a few months before the death of her husband. — The eldest daughter had been obliged to accept the offer of one of her cousins to equip her for the Indies, and tho’ infinitely against her inclinations been necessitated to embrace the only possibility that offered to her, of a Maintenance; Yet it was one, so opposite to all her ideas of Propriety, so contrary to her Wishes, so repugnant to her feelings, that she would almost have preferred Servitude to it, had Choice been allowed her — . Her personal Attractions had gained her a husband as she had arrived at Bengal, and she had now been married nearly a twelve month. Splendidly, yet unhappily married. United to a Man of double her own age, whose disposition was not amiable, and whose Manners unpleasing, though his Character was respectable. Kitty had heard twice from her freind since her marriage, but Letters were always unsatisfactory, and though she did not openly avow her feelings, yet every line proved her Unhappy. She spoke with pleasure of nothing, but of those Amusements which they had shared together and which could return no more, and seemed to have no happiness in veiw but that of returning to England again.

Philadelphia was born in 1730 (her brother George, 1731, Leonora 1732) to William and Rebecca Walter (nee Hampson) Austen; her mother died when she was 2 (at the birth of Leonora). There had been a baby girl who died before (1728-30). Rebecca had also had a son by her first husband, William Hampson Walter (1721-98). William remarried a second much older wife (by 13 years) and died himself 1736. Susanna Kelk was this woman’s name, she lives on in his house but refused to take his children; he had not revised his will (remember John Austen IV).

This is not a formula for producing a self-asssured identity. The biographers of Austen comment that Philadelphia must’ve had a hard time in the early years of her life.

From Andrew Davies’s film adaptation of Cleland’s Fanny Hill: Mrs Cole (Samantha Bond) greeting Fanny

We next find Philadelphia at age 15, apprenticed to a Covent Garden milliner, Hester Cole, a sum of 45 pounds paid for her to learn for 5 years how to make an sell hats. So while her brother George was placed on his way to become a gentleman at Oxford (so too Hastings whose biography resembles that of George Austen), Philadelphia is placed in a trade that bordered on respectability in London. A curious coincidence: 1748-49 was the year Fanny Hill was published and Phila begins life in what she assumes andis cited as a millinery shop – to a Mrs Cole of Covent Garden. Perhaps Cleland used the familiar shop’s name? Philadelphia had 2 fellow apprentices, Sarah and Rose. It was at this time a family connection whose names were Freeman were so kind to Phila as to elicit her husband Hancock’s continuing desire to reciprocate – we do not know what that kindness consisted of but it seems to have been to rescue her from spending her life as a seamstress.

Family history of this sub-branch of people:

George Austen’s mother, Rebecca had married as her first husband William Walter and as we’ve seen the son of this marriage, William Hampson Walter married Susanna Weaver and she and Cassandra Austen were correspondents and George Austen honored the half-brother connection (or step-brother). Philly their daughter became Eliza’s correspondent when they were young and as Mrs Whitaker sister Cassandra’s correspondent when they are much older. Well William Walter had a sister, Catherine Margaret who married John Cope Freeman. So here is where the Freeman family comes in. Hancock remains grateful to them for having helped Philadelphia when she was a seamstress;he writes to Molly. Catherine Margaret and John Cope Freeman had two children, son and daughter, whom they named precisely after themselves (doubtless to confuse us). John Cope Freeman Jr was the father of the Miss Freeman Hancock wrote to (Molly or Mary, or maybe Stella). The daughter, Catherine Margaret (II) married a Charles Stanhope. Ah. So now the Stanhope name comes in and they had a son, Philip Dormer Stanhope born 1753. He is the Stanhope who plagues Hancock’s life in his last months; he first married in 1780 Elizabeth Hughes.

When Phila’s five year apprenticeship was over, Philadelphia is recorded as off to India. It seems the process may have been set on foot by Francis, the same uncle (third son of Elizabeth Weller Austen, George’s uncle, Henry Austen’s great-uncle), acting for a client in the employ of East India company. Phila had to get permission from directors of the company and have names of friends in India to act as “surety.” For the trip round Africa and into Indian Ocean with landing on Bombay Castle she is responsible for herself; 2 years earlier Warren Hastings (orphaned like George Austen with his gifts recognized by those who had the care of him) had been plucked out of Westminster and sent by guardians to East India company clerkship. Hastings goes to Calcutta, Phila lands in Madras in 1752 (Chennai). A turmoil of violence erupting in that city at the time. Six months later Phila marries Saul Tysoe Hancock, that is to say February 1753, when he was 30 and had been in India for 5 years. Francis was Hancock’s lawyer too. No children were born to the couple.

In 1759 Saul and Phila Hancock move to Bengal where Hancock becomes friends with Hastings, who by then had become dedicated to the work and his career, had studied and understood something of India (though he was arrogant in his dealings with Indians). Hastings’s first wife died in 1759, an infant daughter lived but a week, a baby son George sent to England to George and Cassandra Austen. Think of Hastings as a CEO of a corporation, and Hancock a minor but centrally placed private contractors and operative in the corportion. Hastings has a town house in Calcutta, a garden at Belvedere. Phila seems to have known first wife — it was a small world of interconnected people. A private business partnership for two men, trading ventures in salt, timber, carpets, Bihar opium, rice for Madras, money made. Phila is now pregnant and a baby girl was born in 1761. She is given name of Hastings’s dead daughter (so Eliza named after Hastings’s first daughter) and Hastings becomes godfather. (Pride made Hancock brazen out situation says Tomalin). Hastings had built up spectacular fortune mostly from opium; 1764 Hastings pays 1500 pounds for himself, Hancocks, baby girl and Indian servants to return to England.

Jane’s father, George Austen had married Cassandra April 1764, and went almost immediately to the parsonage at Deane; so the Austens had the care of this precious Hastings baby right away. The Hancocks and Hastings arrived in England on June 16, 1765 and Hancock took a house in Norfolk Street, with Hastings nearby in Essex Street, off Strand. Hastings learns baby George died of diptheria the previous autumn – of course George and Cassandra desolated. Could we expect anything else?

In the Austen Papers (Chapter 2: Steventon) letters we saw that Phila visited in 1766 with Hancock and was there at the birth of George, Hancock a godfather. Hancock met Leonora in London and took a kindly interest. (Leonora lived on to 1784; Elizabeth Hinton died, Hinton was decemt but she was not considered eligible to go to her brother George, notice. Dropped from family including by Phila). Next two years George borrows from Hancock, to the tune of 228 pounds. Hancock leaves to make more money in 1768.

A vignette of Philadelphia by Cassandra Austen to Susannah Walter in a letter of August 1770:

Sister Hancock staid with us only a few days, she had more courage than you had, and set out in a post-chaise with only her little Bessy, for she brought neither Clarinda or Peter with her, but believe me she sincerely repented, before she got to her journey’s end, for in the middle of Bagshot heath, the postilion discovered that he had dropped the trunk from off the chaise. She immediately sent him back with the horses to find it, intending to sit in the chaise till he returned, but was soon out of patience and began to be pretty much frighted, so began her walk to the ‘Golden Farmer’ about two miles off, where she arrived half dead with fatigue, it being in the middle of a very hot day. when she was a little recovered she recollected she had left al lthe reset of her things (amongst which were a large parcel of India letters, which she had received the night before, and some of them she had not read) in the chaise with the door open, she sent a man directly after them and got them all safe and after some considerabel time the driver came with the trunk and without any more misfortune got to Bolton Street about nine o’clock. She is now settled in her cottage near Cobham, Surrey. The lettes brought good accounts of both my brother Hancock and Mr Hastings.

We come to our one and only letter from Hastings to Phila; by this time Hancock’s letters have recorded considerable financial help to the Hancocks, and we have seen that Hastings gives financial help, returned to India and took up with Mrs Imhoff, the wife of another partner (a pattern here) – Phila’s first response was to offer to return to India. Hancock forbids it and then now and again reports about Mrs Imhoff and Hastings’s relationship. Philadelphia was clearly out.

A summary of the letter: Fort St George, 31st January, 1772 (p. 58, the Austen Papers): Hastings is on his way back to India; as opposed to Hancock, while it was to make more money, he had a high position awaiting him. We have to recall there was an imposed famine in Bengal, because the one book I have omits all these realities. In the early part of his time there Hastings seems to have been successful — for the East India company and himself, with the usual information about improvements to economic structure and judicial trials (for efficiency), some respect for certain kinds of Muslim law Hastings achieved — but later he found the office far too problematic and his taking of huge sums (especially some bullying of famously local begums) come out of this. Upper class lives are a tiny part of what is being experienced here.

Tellingly (not in the letter) Hastings was having his trouble with Junius at this juncture, which we know about because Junius was famous anonymous writer who wrote for reform strongly: he is today thought to be Philip Francis; well Francis was in India at the time and Hastings and Francis conflict over the spoils so to speak (and appointments) to the point they actually duelled: later in England at the trial Francis was one of the key witnesses against Hastings.

Philadelphia and her daughter Eliza were among those people Hastings sent money from India for — she is regarded as part of this demi-monde milieu that Hancock seems so to loathe and does not want Betsy to become any part of. Now Hancock’s position as a surgeon (not a sinecure as he complains bitterly and one he has to pay taxes on) kept him at a geographic distance from Hancock He has little time for Hancock and basically interacts with Woodman, his brother-in-law, close to George Austen, and disburser of funds and advice to Philadelphia.

This letter cannot be readily understood on its literal surface well beyond the actual relationship of Philadelphia and Hastings. On more diurnal matters, it’s interesting he says he is writing her late at night, reserving to himself this private time to talk to her (as it were) by letter. There is an intimate tone here: he regrets parting from Fort St George and the Council Board there, a British stronghold by the sea, a sto-pover:

Hastings is not looking forward to Bengal — Hastings was by the way a highly educated man in the language of the country. He is sending yet another child, a little Watson — someone should look to see if this name shows up on George Austen’s school roster. Maderia, a painting on dooruars, a fashionable fad at thetime, chintz.

The letter was prompted by other considerations too. We come to the business of the letter: he hopes “our concerns” will come to some conclusion now.” It’s his going which enables this – the increase in revenue to him. He does not have the difficulties Hancock does. If Hancock is like a small private contractor of a corporation. Hastings is one of the official CEOs. He says Hancock’s health has held out and it is the dry air of Madra. Hancock is not keen on Madras’s air as we have seen — he suggests it’s very humid. I know who I believe. Then an emotional goodbye of sorts to Betsy and herself. I suggest it’s easier to break firmly from Philadelphia and let her know it once he has left the Austen grounds of their relationship. Future letters show her abject and him referring to Woodman.

Hastings then thanks Phila for some disinterested act of friendship — she did some favor, achieved something in the patronage line. He will write again on this subject — but we lack that letter — it was not saved. I suggest this too was the cause of this letter. Again Betsy should be reminded to love him as her godfather and mother’s sincere and faithful friend.

It startles me to think of the great fuss made about a non-existent conversation over slavery in MP, though I don’t discount the business in Antigua, Emma has far more on slavery explicitly. The passages in Catherine or the Bower are part of this larger world the Austens themselves fed off of (in their naval sons, and their banking son) as well as Wentworth’s abilty to make money off the empire. These are the real contexts. A propos of these letters they are not annotated because they deal with real sore content the Austen family is not keen on, and Hancock and India this chapter takes us far more into the direct terrain than any other. I recommend Smith’s Ethelinde too for the light it sheds on Edmund Bertram’s unwilling to take a position in the navy or other charming occupations Mary Crawford sees as money-making and prestigious.

There is one (eloquent) letter from Philadelphia to Hastings, written well after the above letter from Hastings to he in the Austen Papers — categorized as part of another subset of the family doings; I have printed it complete in a second blog on Philadelphia). This separation of her letters into categories that do not directly reflect her life shows how little her individual personality is paid attention to or her story. It is, as Jane Austen, suggested significant and characteristic of the stories of women. In the letter she is hesitant and apologetic. She is worries lest she offend him because he has told her not to bother him directly. We cannot see what might be her real feelings (anger, hurt? indifference to him by this time) because her need and anxiety about his response to her is too great. It does show the woman who lost her poise in a carriage accident recorded by Cassandra Austen; the woman who could not make up her mind where to live in the 1770s.

In 1776 George and Cassandra Austen in London visited Phila and Betsy, with word that Hancock had died (November 1775), she afflicted, he died penniless. Woodman: “all his effects will not clear his debts here.” We see from letters by George and Cassandra that Phila cannot make up her mind where to live precisely (with her daughter), loses her poise (and consequently nearly some valued goods) in being forced to roam around the countryside with an entourage of babies, children, child-minders …

1773 Hastings had given Betsy 5000 pounds (he was Governor of Bengal and is referred to as “the Governor” by Hancock in his later lettrs); in 1775 Hastings gave another 5000. Everyone sworn to secresy. Woodman was also Hastings’s borther-in-law. Woodman and George Austen trustees.

A few months later Phila receives 3500 from Woodman, another sum of 5000 from “bill on Ind. Co” She opens an account with Messrs Hoare & Co, her brother’s bankers. George also continues to repay money owed to his sister (from Hancock)

One should remark (as Tomalin does) that there was no attempt to send Eliza away to a school. I see this as to Phila’s credit and we may assume Eliza did have good masters, was dressed well, rode and the rest of Hancock’s curriculum for her. Pace Hancock though connections were kept up with George and Cassandra Austen in Hampshire and the Walters in Kent.


Chateau du Marais, a Barbotan — where Feuillide took Eliza and her mother to live

Hancock’s death mattered: it was after his death that Phila moves to France with Eliza – no longer called Betsy.

Phila is 46 and Eliza 13 when Hancock died. A striking and pathetic glimpse of Philadelphia when the news finally reached her that Hancock had died: Woodman to Hastings (Woodman was Hastings’s brother-in-law and agent): the “story of your success” is

dampened by the “unwelcome news of poor Hancock’s death by a letter from Mrs Bowers [Hancock’s housekeeper? a member of his household in India], which Mrs Hancock received on Friday last: we feel much for her, & endeavour to support her under the affliction. Her brother and sister Austen were there when she received the letter, which has helped to comfort her, as it adds much to her distress that she had not received any other letter from India. the Salisbury having put into Cork in Ireland, only part of her letters are yet come up” (Austen Papers, p 82)

On the 20th of June Woodman wrote Hastings to confirm that Hastings’ letter to Philadelphia had arrived “confirming the death” while Woodman finds that Hancock was so badly in debt what he left could scarce clear “his debts here.”

Two years later they go to France: the man Phila now became involved with was Sir John Lambert, an Anglo-French baronet. Why? It’s assumed that their position was not comfortable: they did not have huge sums to silence everyone. Here a fragment of Mary Crawford’s mind reflects the Hancock women: she says with large enough parties, a house, and enough spent Maria Bertram if married to Henry Crawford would find a world to belong to. But you have to throw a lot of money at this.

This would be 1778 and in a note Tomalin says Phila’s account at Hoare’s “shows many transfers of money to Sir John Lambert during 1778; there’s also a letter of credit to Lambert at Paris for 200 pounds – that means he gets 200 pounds. Phila and Eliza were in Germany and then Brussels in June 1778 – and then Paris. Much that we know about this visit comes from Eliza’s letters to her cousin which we’ll be getting to in these Austen papers eventually.

The survival of Eliza’s letters from France to her cousin is attributed to her mother saving them.

Eliza is 19 when she marries Feuillide (age 30) in 1782 and she herself says it was not a love match – she was bound to follow ‘advisors of rank and title” – in that sentence she is excusing herself. Lambert was called by Eliza “le chevalier de Lambert” – he had French relatives. Capot de Feuillide was not a count; this was a misrepresentation; he is said to have been known as handsomest officer in the army; attended balls.

Woodman to Hastings in a letter “They [the de Feuillide family] seem already desirous of draining her [Phila] of every shilling she has. Phila defended her decisions; “it is “entirely to her satisfaction, the gentleman having great connections and expectations.” Great expectations – remember Dickens’s great novel’s title. Phil is recorded as lending money to Feuillide for his draining projects too. How much not said. Eliza is the conduit for money wrenched from the abysmally vulnerable of India.

Lambert was involved in the affairs of the Capot de Feuillide (to give this 30 year old man his full name) for years after Eliza’s death – for Henry Austen does business with Lambert’s heirs after her death. Again Tomalin cites amounts paid to Lambert – 370 pounds between Oct and Dec 1778, more again in 1780

After Lambert got out of Phila what he could and vanished, she seems to cave in (as it were) and spend the rest of her life as mother, mother-in-law, grandmother. This is from within as she had the wherewithal to do otherwise. She reminds me of Madame de Genlis up to this point: both not mothered, both married up to gain security, the husbands of both not high enough so that they must look to another more powerful man and do; both became devoted to their children (with yet more ambivalent actions by Genlis) out of memories of what they had not known and known. The daughters of both show devotion to them and to their own children, in Eliza’s case to a disabled grandchild of the powerful man; but Madame de Genlis can lead her own life once the threat of the guillotine is removed; Philadelphia had not the connections of Genlis and she had had it. Genlis seems to have bones of steel inside her where others have mere calcium,and she never lost her grim determined hypocritical performative abilities. These Philadelphia never had (it seems to me if she had she might not have lost Hastings).

Perhaps she’d had enough after Lambert and what she saw was the result of Eliza’s first marriage (Feuillide’s house, land projects, mistress, ceaseless desire for money); I see her as tiring of the struggle and letting Eliza take over with herself as advisor at most. It is said that one of the many causes of cancer is stress; I’ve read these hinting analyses of Austen’s fatal illness which suggest stress was an element, especially after there was no legacy, to be no relief when the uncle died. Against that cancer repeated itself in Eliza and there does seem to have been genes inherited in the family which made for severely disabled children.

In 1784 records show Eliza and Phila traveling south to live in a romantic chateau in southern France, 450 miles from Paris, sparse population; Feuillide’s mother lived with them. (No records of mistress until he returns to Paris to try to wrest his property back.) His mother died at the end of the winter; “fever’ everywhere (marshes remember, perhaps malaria). Phila lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Eliza upset by miscarriage and – Feuillide building a chateau on his northern lands which Eliza enthusiastic about. James Ausen plans a visit. 1785 – but Feuillide, Phil a and Eliza go to Pyrenees spa very favored by aristocratic and rich bourgeois French – Bagneres-de-Bigorre (Sophie Cottin went there for her health and the French social world doubtless too)

The final return to England:

Gravestone of Phila, Capot, Eliza …

Eliza pregnant again and Feuillide wants child born in the UK especially as Hastings has returned; May 1786 Phila and Eliza set off on bad roads, into a ship across the channel, baby born in London June 1786. Named what? You guessed it: Hastings. (Eliza named after Hasting’s first dead daughter.)

Eliza will not give baby up when it does not develop as expected and her mother is with her. Now there is plan for Henry to accompany Eliza to France; Eliza reported as richly dressed. No one reports on Phila except she is with daughter at Tunbridge Wells.

The next autumn (1787-88) was when theatricals start occurring in Steventon – we must assume Phila there too. Eliza much older than her boy cousins who are rivals. Phila may be helper to Cassandra Austen — as women did, and friends too. They keep up with Walters (Eliza writes cousin)

Phila is not individually mentioned until her illness and death in 1792 (age 62). Phila had a “hard and painful swelling on one of her breasts;” a mountebank (but no one then knew what to do – today we are not much on) woman doctor hired; pain was reduced. Eliza stays with her mother in Orchard street that summer of 1792. Edward visited on his way to Lake district (remmber he lives the life of an heir). Phila in “acute pain” in August; Eliza talks of her amendment (how people hope on), Eliza calls in one Dr Roops; October Phila confined to bed, severe attack Laudanum prescribed. Eliza in a state of distress “bordering on distraction. Terrible autumn. I can imagine it.

Christmas 1792-93 Phila still alive with ”violent cough, no appetite, disordred bowels.” She is recorded as telling Eliza her complaint is “getting better” by Eliza in a letter and Eliza does not believe this.. She has Hasting son her hands – he is 5. Boy cannot keep upright. Count attacked by angry mob at his property; new house pillaged (this commonly happened during first English civil war too – 1642-47), draining projects cease. He goes to Paris and is recorded as owing Phila 6500 pounds.

Phila dies Feburary in Hampstead. Tomb: “Philadelphia wife of Tysoe Saul Hancok” whose “moral excellence united the praise of every Christian virtue” commended for her pious resignation to “severest trials of a tedious and painful malady.” Feuillide is there and takes his wife to Bath, but then the fool return to Paris lest his property be forfet – those who survived knew better than to do this. It was hopeless. The thing to have done was join the emigres developing an army to attack the French republic.

Eliza lives through a very hard time from the time of her first miscarriage on. Some bright spots: love of mother, love of child, enjoys theatricals, husband does show up. We have nothing of Phila’s inner life but a widow whose first love (Hastings) remarried and who was otherwise exploited by men but her brother (George), with Hastings paying people to try to advise her from afar.

Wm Hodges (hired by Hastings) View of Calcutta from Fort William, 1781:

The life of Philadelphia Austen Hancock as revealed in the letters of others (she is silent woman) show the continuing marginality of many of the Austens, who hovered uncertainly on the periphery of the wealthy world. Worry about money seems to have run in much of the family. In Philadelphia’s case, she was forced to go India to seek a husband, and married one 20 years older than herself. According to the introduction, the family tried to move back to England but couldn’t make it financially, so Tysoe returned to India to try to make a second fortune there. The family he left behind included Philadelphia and the daughter Eliza. He buys utterly into the values that life is not worth living without high status and that is his ruination and in a way hers too.

In his first letters, Hancock exhibits continual anxious stress about expenses, appears thwarted in business ventures and laments that he may never be able to return to England. I am reminded strongly of Burnett’s The Making of the Marchioness, written 130 years later, but still describing the same situation–the disenfranchised poor relation forced unwilling to live in India and to make a life there, no matter the longing to be in England. Once again, we see the cruelties of primogeniture, and not incidentally, the added pressure to exploit the Indians because of the concentration of wealth in just a few hands, leaving the English who might otherwise have done well in England to wrench fortunes out of other lands. We feel Tysoe’s unhappiness. He longs to be with his wife, laments the huge expenses he bears in India and sees few opportunities. He tries to control her behavior to force her to educate Eliza so as to find her an upper class husband and thus provide him with prestige by proxy. But over the years, he does not make the money he wants to be able to insist on their living a fully upper class luxurious life; he dreads any return, has perhaps gone native to some extent, and does not want to show himself out of shame: he regards himself as a failure in every way. He knows Eliza is not his and others do too. He scolds his wife irritably so that we see how hard pressed she is, but also registers her loyalty to him. It may be said he drove her to marry her daughter to the false count. She did not live to see her daughter’s second wise marriage to the kind and upright Henry Austen and good life with him in London.

Often the magic figure of 600 pounds per annum comes up. Hancock does not want Phila to manage on less. He is fiercely opposed to any drop in the class ladder he envisages for Phila and Betsy. Money, money, money, the endless concern, threads through these letters to Phila. (Much more on Hancock in my next blogs on the Austen Papers.)

As to any kind of in-depth portrait of Philadelphia (which could be attempted for her daughter, though LeFaye has not done this), we can say little about her from the records I’ve seen, but that hers was a desperate flotsam and jetsam life and she won the deep affection of her daughter. She was taught no system of values or norms whereby she would want to express her inner life or have feelings of her own, never mothered, hardly fathered. The letters to Hancock show their marriage was a bargain whereby he said he would provide for her and on those grounds she married him. She may have hoped Hastings would love her, but it seems she lacked the social cunning he felt a mistress or wife of his would need; I surmise she was either not smart enough or too smart for his taste. Perhaps she was too dependent in nature. She exhibited wary judgement while in England and with the money Hancock provided and Hastings through his agents, she lived a conventional life of a gentry mother bringing up her daughter genteelly. After Hancock’s death, she showed herself susceptible to unscrupulous exploiters. Not surprising: perhaps Lambert exhibited concern and helped her with kindness and grace (something Hancock does not understand in the least). In her last years she turned to her daughter; during her decline and illness she was with her brother and his wife as well.

Her fate was shaped by the death of her parents when she was young; then by her having had an affair and child by a powerful man when she had no power. Everyone knew who was Eliza’s father, but it was equally in everyone’s interest at the time not to acknowledge Hasting’s parentage in any open way too — no drop in legitimate status either: there is the determination to keep the 10,000 pounds a secret and the poignant letter from Philadelphia herself to Hastings saying how she leaves him alone (as I said above, I will add that one from later in the Austen Papers). Hastings preferred another married woman who had been married to an underling. So she allures people who want money and yet is stigmatized, a semi-pariah at the same time. She may have been persuaded to marry her daughter to a French count thinking that would give them status. It did not because of his motives and nature.

Nokes opens his biography with Hancock’s letters and the story of his life — but no one tries to tell the life of Philadelphia. This has been one of the first attempts to bring the documents we have together to tell her life. Jane Austen thought it important: it’s one of the first she tries to tell after the Juvenilia — and the few paragraphs in Catherine, or the Bower, bear witness to the initial crucial phase of Phila’s life.


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