Posts Tagged ‘Charles Austen’

Miniatures of Philadelphia and George Austen — Jane Austen’s aunt and father

Five Dancing Positions

Dear Friends,

The second half of the Jane Austen Study DC hosted by JASNA-DC at the American University Library, as “curated” by Mary Mintz. In the morning we listened to excellent papers on some realities and perceptions of religious groups and servants in Austen’s day; the afternoon was taken up with the equivalent of photographs, miniatures, and drawn portraits, and how dance was so enjoyed and a source of female power in the era.

After lunch, Moriah Webster spoke to us about miniatures in the era; her paper’s title “Ivory and Canvas: Naval Miniatures in Portraiture [in the era] and then Austen’s Persuasion.” Moriah began by quoting Austen’s pen portraits in her letters on a visit she paid with Henry Austen to an exhibition in the Spring Gardens in London, where she glimpsed

“a small portrait of Mrs Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs Darcy; — perhaps I may find her in the great exhibition, which we shall go to if we have time. I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings, which is now showing in Pall Mall, and which we are also to visit. Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly herself -— size, shaped face, features, and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite color with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow… Letter 85, May 24, 1813, to Cassandra, from Sloane Street, Monday)

Samantha Bond as the faithful Mrs Western, next to her Mr Elton, to the back Mr Knightley (Mark Strong) and Emma and Mr Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton), trying to lead a discussion of picture looking to favor Emma’s depiction of Harriet (1996 BBC Emma)

The detail and visual acuity reminded me of many other verbal portraits in Austen’s letters and novels, which I wrote about in my paper on “ekphrastic patterns in Austen,” where I went over the attitudes of mind seen in the way she explained her own and others picturing process, both analysing and imitating the picturesque seriously, and parodying it. She asks how does the way we think about and describe, the language we use and forms we absorb enable and limit what we can see.

Moriah was not interested in the philosophical and linguistic issues (which were the subject of my paper)

“He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side-screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape (Northanger Abbey, 1:14)

One of the many effective landscapes from Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility (director and screenplay-writer and Elinor n Miramax 1995 film)

Marianne argues passionately “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning (S&S, 1:18)

but rather the real miniatures and drawings we know about in Austen’s life as well as how the way drawing is approached distinguishes a character’s traits of personality, and the way pictorial objects function in the plot-designs of her novels.

I offer a few examples of what interested her — though these were not delineated in her paper:

Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood is a fairly serious artist (1981 BBC Sense and Sensibility) who can be hurt by people’s dismissal of her work

Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price dreams over her brother’s precious drawings of his ships (1983 BBC Mansfield Park)

For Kate Beckinsale as Emma drawing is a way of manipulating situations, defining her relatives, a vanity she does not work hard enough at (again the 1996 BBC Emma, with Susannah Morton as Harriet)

She did dwell on Persuasion. The novel opens with Anne cataloguing the pictures at Kellynch Hall; and has a comic moment of Admiral Croft critiquing a picture of a ship at sea in a shop window in the same literal spirit as Mr Woodhouse objects to Emma’s depiction of Harriet out of doors without a shawl.

Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!” (laughing heartily); “I would not venture over a horsepond in it.” (Persuasion 2:6 or 18)

John Woodvine as Crofts regaling Amanda Root as Anne and us with his reaction to a picture in a shop window (1995 BBC Persuasion)

More crucially we have a cancelled chapter and one about a miniature of someone who Captain Benwick was engaged to and died (Phoebe Harville), and is now prepared to discard and use the framing for a miniature of her substitute (Louisa Musgrove); this becomes the occasion of a melancholy and passionately argued debate over male versus female constancy and prompts Wentworth (listening) finally to write Anne Elliot a letter revealing the state of his loving mind.

What Moriah concentrated on was who had miniatures made of them, for what reasons and how much individual ones cost; how these were made, and who they functioned as social and cultural capital in these specific people’s lives. All the miniatures we have testify to the status of the person pictured, a status (I remark or add) that Austen (apparently) never achieved in the eyes of those around her.

Although she didn’t say this it’s obvious that Austen’s brothers had miniatures made of them because they rose to important positions in the navy; her father was a clergyman; her aunt became the mistress of Warren Hastings.

Francis who became an admiral and Charles in his captain’s uniform

She did imply the irony today of the plain unvarnished sketch of Austen by her sister, located in the National Gallery like a precious relic in a glass case in the National Gallery while all around her on the expensive walls are the richly and expensively painted literary males of her generation.

I regret that my stenography was not up to getting down the sums she cited accurately enough and the differing kinds of materials she said were used to transcribe them here so I have filled out the summary with lovely stills from the film adaptations — it’s easy to find many of these because pictures, landscapes and discussions of them are more frequent in the novels than readers suppose. Miniatures as a subject or topic are in fact rare.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners (1995 BBC P&P) is placed in a clearly delineated landscape (1995 A&E P&P scripted by Davies) and is reminiscent of

A William Gilpin depiction of Dovedale

There was some group discussion after this paper, and (as seems to be inevitable) someone brought up her longing for a picture of Austen. She was reminded that we have two, both by Cassandra. But undeterred she insisted these were somehow not good enough, not acceptable. Of course she wanted a picture that made Austen conventionally appealing. At this point others protested against this demand that Austen be made pretty, but she remained unimpressed by the idea that women should not be required to look attractive to be valuable.

It is such an attitude that lies behind the interest people take in Katherine Byrne’s claim a high-status miniature (the woman is very dressed up) that she found in an auction with the name “Jane Austen” written on the back is of Jane Austen. See my blog report and evaluation, “Is this the face I’ve seen seeking?”


Dancing in the 2009 BBC Emma: at long last Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley gets to express himself to Emma

The last talk was delightful: Amy Stallings on “Polite Society, Political Society: Dance and Female Power” dwelt on the dances themselves, how accessible they were, the social situations, how they are used in Austen’s books, and finally how in life they were used to project political behavior or views in assemblies and private parties and balls too. Her perspective was the political and social functioning of dancing (reminding me of Lucy Worseley), going well beyond the literary depiction of dance in Austen. She scrutinized ballroom behavior and dance to show that the ballroom floor was a kind of stage on which a woman could find paradoxical freedom to talk with a young man and older women might project political agendas and alliances (especially if she was the hostess).

If we look past the movie and see this scene as filming a group of famous admired actors and actresses we can see the same game of vanity and power played out (everyone will distinguish Colin Firth as Darcy in this still from the 1995 BBC P&P)

Her talk fell into three parts. First, she showed how dance was made accessible to everyone in the class milieu that learned and practiced such social behavior. This part of her talk was about the actual steps you learned, the longways patterning of couples, how it enabled couples to hold hands, made eye contact. Longways dancing is a social leveller, she claimed. I found it very interesting to look at the charts, and see how the couples are configured in the different squares. As today, it was common to see women dancing in the men’s line. People looked at what you were wearing and how well you danced. She quotes Edgeworth in her novel Patronage (which like Austen’s Mansfield Park has both dancing and amateur theatrics). There was pressure to perform in dancing (as well as home theater).

Dancing difficult maneuvers in the 1983 Mansfield Park: Fanny and Edmund

The second part dwelt on dancing in novels of the era. She quoted from Henry Tilney’s wit and power over Catherine in their sequences of dancing:

JJ Feilds as Tilney mesmerizing Felicity Jones as Catherine (2007 ITV Northanger Abbey)

Her partner now drew near, and said, “That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.”
“But they are such very different things!–”
” –That you think they cannot be compared together.”
“To be sure not. People that marry can never part, but must go and keep house together. People that dance only stand opposite each other in a long room for half an hour.”
“And such is your definition of matrimony and dancing. Taken in that light certainly, their resemblance is not striking; but I think I could place them in such a view. — You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with any one else. You will allow all this?”
“Yes, to be sure, as you state it, all this sounds very well; but still they are so very different. — I cannot look upon them at all in the same light, nor think the same duties belong to them (Northanger Abbey, I:10.

and alluded to (by contrast) how Darcy will not permit Elizabeth to achieve any power over him through dance or talk; in his downright refusals and more evasive withdrawals he robs her of status and any hold on him. So she becomes grated upon, frustrated. Amy discussed Scott’s Redgauntlet as containing a particularly effective pointed description of a tête-à-tête; the disruption of walking away, walking out and its potential to humiliate is drawn out in this novel.

One of Jane Austen’s most memorable masterly depictions of social humiliation and kindness is in the scene where Mr Elton deliberately sets up Harriet to expect him to ask her to dance, and then when Mrs Weston takes the bait, and asks him to ask Harriet to dance, he can publicly refuse her. I thought of a similarly crestfallen hurt in the dancing scene in the unfinished Watsons where a young boy is carelessly emotionally pained and (as Mr Knightley does here), so Emma Watson there comes in to rescue him at the risk of herself losing social status by dancing in the lead position with a boy.

Mark Strong as Mr Knightley observing what the Eltons are doing

The expression on Samantha Morton’s face as she is drawn up to dance by the most eligible man in the room is invaluably poignant (once again the 1996 BBC Emma)

Amy’s third part was about the politics of the dance floor and particular assemblies in particular localities. First she did insist that Austen’s novels are explicitly political in various places (including Fanny Price’s question on slavery, Eleanor Tilney’s interpretation of Catherine Morland’s description of a gothic novel as about the Gordon riots &c). She then went on to particular periods where politics was especially heated and cared about, often because a war is going on, either nearby or involving the men in the neighborhood. She described assemblies and dances, how people dressed, what songs and dances were chosen, who was invited and who not and how they were alluded to or described in local papers in Scotland and England in the middle 17th century (the civil war, religious conflicts and Jacobitism as subjects), France in the 1790s (the guillotine could be used as an object in a not-so-funny “debate”), and in the American colonies in the 1770s.

Amy went on at length about particular balls given in 1768, December 1769, May 1775, where allusions were made to loyalist or American allegiances, to specific battles and generals. One anecdote was about a refrain “British go home!” While all this might seem petty, in fact loyalists were badly treated after the American colonists won their revolution, and many died or were maimed or lost all in the war. Her argument is that women have involved themselves in higher politics (than personal coterie interactions, which I suppose has been the case since people danced) through dance from the time such social interactions occurred in upper class circles and became formal enough “to be read.” We were way over time by her ending (nearly 4:30 pm) so no questions could be asked, but there was a hearty applause.

Again I wish I could’ve conveyed more particulars here but I don’t want to write down something actually incorrect. I refer the interested reader to Cheryl A Wilson’s Literature and Dance in 19th century Britain: Jane Austen to the New Woman. The early chapters tell of the many dances known at the time, the culture of dance, and what went on as far as we can tell from newspapers and letters at assemblies, with a long chapter on doings at Almack’s, where Jane Austen just about whistles over Henry her brother’s presence. Frances Burney’s Cecilia, George Eliot’s Adam Bede, and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair are among the novels mined for understanding. Wilson goes over the quadrille (squares) and how this configuration changed the experience of hierarchy and then wild pleasures of the waltz. Here Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and The Way We Live Now are brought in. Lady Glencora Palliser and Burgo Fitzgerald almost use an evening of reckless dancing as a prologue to elopement and adultery. I imagine it was fun to write this book.

At Lady Monk’s ball Susan Hampshire as Lady Glencora and Barry Justice as Burgo Fitzgerald dance their way into semi-escape

He begs her to go off with him as the true husband of her heart and body

It was certainly good fun to go to the Jane Austen Study Day and be entertained with such well thought out, informative and perceptive papers very well delivered. I wish more Austen events were like this one.


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Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra Austen looking down at Jane towards the end of Miss Austen Regrets — Cassandra is the silent continually-there and caring presence throughout these last letters

Dear friends and readers,

This week we are chronologically up to one of the few openly vulnerable and near despairing letters of Jane Austen, this the first and only one we have to her younger brother, Charles, telling him how very ill she has been, of the shock and dismay of the family when upon the death of the wealthy uncle, James Leigh-Perrot, they learned he had deliberately misled them to believe he would relieved their exigent needs by immediate legacies, sorrow over what was thought to be the hopeless case of Charles’s young daughter, Harriet with her “water on the brain,” and Jane’s inability to travel without a hired coach, due to her weak and pained state. The second has a claim to uniqueness too: this is the only letter we have to Jane Austen by a member of her family (the others are business letters, letters from the Rev Clarke): written a day after hers to Charles, Edward Cooper proves himself not to be the fatuous cant-filled evangelical implied by Austen in an earlier letter, but someone perceptive and brave enough to put down in print his sense of a double-dealing betrayal. And twenty days later Jane Austen’s will as dictated to Cassandra.

Cooper’s letter first appeared in Richard A. Austen-Leigh’s invaluable edition of the Austen Papers, published in 1940. He was a grandson of Austen’s nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh, who was responsible for the memoir, publication of Lady Susan and The Watsons; and like his grandfather dedicated to publishing and sharing with the public papers about the life and work of Jane Austen; with his uncle William Austen-Leigh (one of James-Edward’s sons), he produced the family biography, Jane Austen: her Life and Letters, and by himself other articles and notes. The papers contain letters by nearly all the near family members of Jane Austen, and by her cousins, people related by marriage, including Mr and Mrs Austen, Henry and Frank Austen, Thomas Leigh, letters by and to Warren Hastings, a series by Eliza de Feuillide to her cousin Philadelphia Walter, letters of Jane Leigh-Perrot to a cousin, James-Edward Austen-Leigh’s letters. They begin with the important biographical explanation by Jane’s father’s grandmother as to how she and all her children but the eldest were deprived of an inheritance and how she worked all her life to try to provide enough for her sons to become gentlemen. They end with Francis’s letters late in life to interested Americans conceding that Harville (and by extention Wentworth) contain aspects of his character. He recognizes himself in them. The letters and documents are set up as correspondences so you can read with understanding of what was said and what is replied. Essential context for Jane’s letters and what is known of her intimate life. They were reprinted by Thoemmes Press in 1990 with an introduction by David Gilson.

Charles Austen

157. To Charles Austen. Sunday, April 1817. Chawton

This is the letter before her will — as in the case of many women from the medieval period to the later 19th century (until 1870, the Married Women’s Property Act), it’s an informal letter signed by her — and co-signed. Most of such letters show a pathetic few belongings, cherished by the dying person, a tiny bequest. So here we have the bequest; after Jane died, Cassandra distributed Jane’s belongings and in lieu of the usual sheerly physical items, shared out writing by Jane.

Her letter to Charles tells of how sick she has been — unable to write “anything not absolutely necessary.” So that means she has not lost sufficient control of her consciousness to put together sentences. (I’ve seen that in cancer; the person cannot write at all, cannot understand what he or she reads.) Bilious attack is bile — she’s sick to her stomach, nausea, and it feels acidic. She’s had high fever.

But it is also a relapse — so she was this bad before. The news the uncle misled them and left everything to the stingy (kleptomaniac) corrosive-tongued aunt then hit her hard. Foolish she says, but she could not get over this important disappointment, understandably. She asked that Cassandra return from the funeral (so women did attend even if not at graveside). Mrs Austen, as ever phlegmatic on the outside, and, as people do often do, making excuses for that which hurt them (it’s an assertion the world is fair): oh he never expected his wife would outlive him.

No? he did make the will knowing the money was his.

Mrs Austen wishes her younger children had got something immediately — James got the vicarage, Edward adopted a rich man, and Frank doing very well with his prizes and working for private companies. But Charles in need and Jane with the small sums she’s made from her books.

Austen concedes the aunt is just now so miserable they are feeling more regard for her than they ever did before. To paraphrase Mr Bennet, not to worry, none of this would last, neither her affliction nor liking her more — and with good reason, especially James-Edward Austen-Leigh whose life she made a misery eventually by tyrannizing over him with threats of disinheritance. Now her immediate prostration makes them feel for her. Mrs L-P had lost her one companion and thorough friend.

Austen is not surprised at Harriet Palmer’s illness — well her older sister, dead in childbed, the infant dead, 4 children now to care for, one with a mysterious brain problem (perhaps autism of some sort now emerging), who would not be ill. Charles’s mother-in-law feeling better. Charles’s diaries show his real involvement. Apparently their cousin Cooke showed real kindness and affection — since this is not common, Austen rightly emphasizes this and wants to convey it. The Cookes are the same favored kindly Cookes of Bookham that we meet in Frances Burney d’Ablay’s life, and one of the few direct connections between FBA and Jane Austen. One might have expected some explicit talk by the Cookes about the Austens (including Jane and her novels) to enter FBA’s voluminous life-writing, but there is apparently no reference to Jane Austen at all. On the Cookes of Great Bookham, Jane’s two visits (1799, 1814), see Lucinda Brant, In Jane’s Visting Footsteps.

The rectory, demolished 1961

In the PS she remembers that Harriet, the sister-in-law has been asking to see her. Perhaps to be nice, as Harriet must know how sick her sister’s husband’s sister was, Austen says she can only come if a hackney coach is sent (that costs, this is not a group which keeps carriages). A moment of levity that connects to some private teasing — she hope Cassy takes care the coach is green. Was green a favorite color of Cassy?.

She realizes she didn’t use black-edged paper to signal their mourning for the uncle.

She ends the letter itself with a “God bless you all” — more emotional than usual — and that Charles should “conclude me to be going well if you hear nothing the contrary.” Meaning no news is good news — shall I paraphrase Mr Bennet again? no, just say often for the powerless the best news is not to hear anything from anyone for why would they be contacting you? most letters are after all about business. There’s a telling dialogue about letters and how when you pay people they will work for real and continually (otherwise not is implied) in Emma between John Knightley and Jane, but I digress …

Diane Reynolds responded:

Ellen has covered this letter well, and despite Austen’s attempts at humor–that Cassy must send a green hackney chariot for Jane should Jane be needed to visit, it is arguably more relentlessly dark than anything we have yet read. She is badly ill and her illness magnified by the “shock” of the uncle’s will, leaving the bulk of the money to the (nasty) aunt. The will has “brought on a relapse.” But my sense from the Le Faye notes is that the “younger Austen children” — that would include Jane, no (?), would inherit a 1000 pounds each should the aunt pre-decease them. Maybe some of the shock is the misery ofJane knowing she won’t live long enough to inherit–or am I entirely misreading this?

Jane tries to rouse herself to better cheer in the middle of the letter, speaking of being “better this morning” and “coddled,” mentioning her mother never had great expectations from the inheritance, but wished more for her younger children–and sooner. JA even expresses sympathy for the misery of the aunt.

As I think of the great importance in Regency England of inheritance, I think too of the new book, Capital by Piketty, that posits we are turning a corner in the US where inheritance will assume such importance–a time when people will inherit more than the average person can earn in a lifetime. The importance of this loss to the
Austens was great.

In the last part of the letter, JA is back to illnesses — Miss Palmer and Harriet. But she tries to end on a more cheerful note, with the joke about the green chariot–which also communicates how ill she is.

See also Diana Birchall’s reading.


Rev Edward Cooper, Rector of the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Hamstall Ridware, Jane Austen’s first cousin ( their mothers were sisters and granddaughters of Theophilus Leigh of Adlestrop)

Letter from Rev. Edward Cooper to Jane Austen -Hamstall, April 7, 1817

Edward Cooper’s letter is important because of the rarity of any letter to Jane Austen. That there is none other by any family member seems such an unexpected thorough-going absence it feels the result of an agreement, a plan. They all agreed to destroy whatever they had written to her — for surely some members of her family kept copies of what they had written. To us today it seems a lot of effort, but people did it; before computers when I was young people used carbon paper and thin tissue sheets to make typed and written copies. I also knew that ironically (and unfortunately) that Edward Cooper was someone who Jane Austen is down as to some extent despising, feeling he was somehow dull or ludicrous in his evangelical enthusiasm, or maybe it was that she wasn’t having any of it. He grated on her.

Now reading it in the light of all the letters we have, especially the most recent again we have an instance of Jane Austen maybe being wrong about people. Cooper seems not only intelligent but he appeals by his frankness; he is disappointed, he was led to believe he would be getting something. His letter confirms that the uncle was himself knowingly giving the wrong impression in order to make sure the family remained nice to him, grateful until he died. It’s interesting Cooper suggests he had reason to believe nonetheless he was “no great favorite” with the uncle; as far as we have documents (from James-Edward later and his daughter Mary), this might have been the aunt’s doing; it is just the sort of thing a Mrs Norris might do: sow discord to keep the uncle estranged from others and tied to her. Since we are not to speak ill of the dead Cooper turns round to say after he wants to think charitably of the uncle so if in thought or act the uncle did think unjustly of he, Cooper, he forgives the uncle. A bit absurd but no more than some of the contradictions on behalf of morality we find in other of the relatives’ letters (including Cassandra): when they get to heaven, they will understand one another.

Note though he does not want to write James, who as eldest son was one of the executors – thus could push things his own way and was to inherit after the aunt. (In the event James Austen predeceased Jane Leigh-Perrot.) He’s unwilling to write because he does feel uncomfortable in talking to someone who will be taking all the advantage of this title — so he foresees that James will somehow show off, not be tactful and asks that Jane ask her brother to lay aside this status. Also what is the requisite period of mourning? One black suit for his boys should be enough — he is thinking of the cost of mourning clothes, of dying the boys’ regular clothes.

The letter also shows that this man had no idea Jane was dying. Cassandra had told him both were unwell to explain why she Cassandra had no time to write. There is this strong tendency in this family to secrecy — as a girl Austen in her Juvenilia mocked this whispering secresy (especially one of her playlets), but by the time she was writing the novels it had been inculcated into her as thoroughly as any of George Austen’s children. In effect Edward Cooper has been lied to enough to fool him. There are no phones, no internet, no trains, no cars: it’s easy to fool people who are outside walking distance. To be fair, there is still a strong inhibition today against telling that someone is actually dying and when they have died, including cause of death in the obituary.

His tone would be quite different were he to know how ill his cousin, Jane, is. If you you look carefully you see the main evidence for Cooper’s dullness are quotations from Jane Austen — irritated by his overt perhaps proselytizing evangelicalism. The man was not a genius, but this is the letter of a frank person who is alive to the nuances of things around him and willing to articulate them (thus refreshing and giving us truths hard to find written down in the case of the Leigh-Perrots and now James).

St Michael’s Church, Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire (recent photo)

Again Diane:

It reinforces how the blow of the inheritance going to Aunt LP reverberated through the family. People needed and expected that money. Rev. Edward sounds utterly stunned — and is reaching out in shock to a sympathetic party, which meant JA’s attitude, as well the expectations of she and her sister and mother, must have been known to him. I find it interesting that he wrote to her, even though he knew she was sick, rather than her mother or Cassandra. He evidently felt more assured that she would feel as he did. Obviously, this is also a way to avoid writing a letter to James he simply can’t bear to write — he seemingly can rely on Jane to be a tactful–or at least reliable — intermediate.

Given that this was a family that gives no sign of pie in the sky fantasies or wishful thinking, people truly were led to believe they would inherit, leading one to suspect a level of cruelty in this whole affair. We feel how far up the class ladder the lack of social safety net went–these gentry people really needed this money. This appears to have the shock the unexpected loss of a good job would have on a modern person–or perhaps the shock of the sudden closing down of a business that had employed more than one family member.

For a gathering together of what is known about Edward Cooper and what Jane wrote see Jane Austen in Vermont, a 2013 Midlands tour to the UK.


Sylvie Herbert as Madame Bigeon — showing real identification and interest — in the film she dines with the family, sits by Jane in front of their London fire (Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)

It does not seem out of place to reprint Jane Austen’s will here too — numbered as one of the letters in Deirdre LeFaye’s edition:

158. To Cassandra Austen
Sunday 27 April 1817

I Jane Austen of the Parish of Chawton do by this my last Will & Testament give and bequeath to my dearest Sister Cassandra Elizabeth every thing of which I may die possessed, or which may be hereafter due to me, subject to the payment of my Funeral Expences, & to a Legacy of £50. to my Brother Henry, & £50. to Mde Bigeon – -which I request may be paid as soon as convenient. And I appoint my said dear Sister the Executrix of this my last Will & Testament.

Jane Austen
April 27, 1817.
My Will.-
To Miss Austen

Jane Austen had a very bad day or night indeed, so harrowing they thought she was near death. Most comments are on the 50 pounds to Madame Bigeon, but we could equally wonder why Austen felt she owed Henry 50. She might have wanted to send this sum to Madame Bigeon to signal to Madame how grateful she felt towards Madame for her years of faithful friendly work for Henry and herself. We should remember that throughout Austen’s letters once she is in Bath we find she is friendly with servants, sometimes eats with them, takes books out of the library for them, treats them with respect, and then and in later years (at Godmersham for example), identifies herself with governesses in the great houses where she is a visitor.

Diana Birchall:

Solemn and moving. It is time. All to Cassandra, who will be Executrix (interesting that women, denied so much, could do that), except for legacies of fifty pounds to Henry (who needs it) and the same to Mme. Bigeon, his housekeeper.


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