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Joshua Reynolds, c 1763-5: previously “George Clive & his Family with an India Maid” (c 1763-5)

Dear friends and readers,

Amid all the hoopla 200 years on from Jane Austen’s death on July 18, 1817, one essay stands out: Charlotte and Gwendolen Mitchell’s identification of Austen’s aunt, her cousin, and their husband/father and maid in a painting by Reynolds. The essay comes at the end of a series of articles discussing the celebrity status of Austen, recent and older books on her, the films, and fandom (as it’s called) in the July 21, 2017 issue of Times Literary Supplement, a compilation resembling the one I described found in the New York Times Book Review (and doubtless countless others in other magazines, periodicals, websites, blogs, video media), in this case closely as to pages (16). The quality of the articles, the tone, and (by virtue of this essay alone) substance is much better than the NYTimes Book Review. I’ll review these briefly before turning to the pièce de résistance of the set, original research on a painting hanging in a gallery in Berlin.

The series opens with a witty essay from an unexpected standpoint: unlike all the other opening gambits of this “celebration” (an over-used word) of Austen I’ve come across, the TLS begins with someone who is decidedly neither a fan of Austen scholar: Ian Sansom assumes that “like most other sane people” (in fact he is hostile to Austen worship and not keen on her novels), he has only a few dog-eared copies of her novels. After quoting Woolf’s fascination with Austen and characterization of her her readers and critics as genteel elderly people liable to get very angry at you if you criticize Austen in any way, and their remarks as as so many “quilt and counterpanes” on Austen “until the comfort becomes oppressive” (this can be taken as misreadings of a sharp hard text kept from us), describing the paraphernalia that comes with “dear Jane” (Henry James’s formulation) and some mocking descriptions of Yaffe’s book on the fandom, and a couple of other books no one much mentions (one I have an essay in, Battalgia and Saglia’s Re-Drawing Austen: Picturesque Travels in Austenland), he has a good joke: much of this comes from the money and social capital to be made so it’s fitting she has been turned into money itself (the face on a £10 note) — especially since money is a central theme of her books. He then goes on to make a fairly serious if brief case for seeing her novels as not so much as over-rated, but wrongly unquestioned, and not seriously critiqued for real flaws.and retrograde attitudes: “What’s it [the hoopla is] all about is what it’s avoiding.” He is refreshing with his debunking and his own genuinely enough held ideas about what is valuable in the novels individually: My complaint is he asserts now and again his views on particular critics is right and on the novels held “by almost every else,” viz. Mansfield Park is “the most utterly unendearing of all Austen’s works.” In the end he (perhaps disappointingly) he defends Austen against Bronte’s accusation there is no passion in Austen. I like that he is so fond of Northanger Abbey, though I cannot agree with it: “this is the novel in which Austen comes closest to a rounded presentation not only of human society, but also of human consciousness.” But read his many-columns of reflections.

There follows a similarly sceptical article by Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, an essay on amy Heckkerling’s Clueless, as the finest of all the Austen films on the grounds it’s comic and an appropriation (transfers the material to a contemporary LA setting). The attitude fits the essay into those which look upon the dramatic romance mood so common to most of the Austen cannon (especially the Heritage mini-series) as dull, not fun (Austen here is fun). But he too has an unexpected turn: it seems the movie is badly dated (as comedy often is so rooted in particular time and place), a mirror or a group of attitudes, postures from its 1990s era, and leaves out much that gives Austen’s Emma depth. It’s “sunny optimistic” (“light, bright and sparkling” is not an ironic phrase by Austen it seems but truly accurate for her best work), finding in fashions, in the surfaces and undangerous manners of life what Austen intended to give us (maybe she did this consciously when she began each novel, and in her talk about them in her letters she remains mostly light — when not moral. Douglas-Fairhurst does concedes the film leaves out much that gives Emma its depth: it offers us, a half-empty glass despite its implied self-congratulatory assertion it is itself more than half-full.


So Hugh Thomson’s 1890s illustrations are appropriate after all — it seems

Things become more usual for a bit as TLS then offers the famous people’s points of view (a paragraph or so each), except that there is a sense in the way they are arranged that each known presence tells us more about themselves than Austen. The group printed include mostly those who praise Austen strongly, those who came early (I’m among these) or say they came to her late but learned to respect and value her books highly; you have to read these with care since all are diplomatic (even those who register some doubt, e.g., Lydia Davis, Geoff Dryer — I wish people would not call the heroine of Pride and Prejudice Lizzy Bennet, as no one but Mrs Bennet refers to her by this nickname). You can find among these potted pieces authentic (meaning not repeating the usual things, not cant) readings. For myself I like Claire Harman’s take best: she emphasizes how long it took Austen to get into print; consequently how little time she had before she (as it turned out) died young, that her career might have been very different, but that perhaps the long period of freedom, of writing for herself, not seeking to please others before she turned to publication (not a stance usually taken nowadays) made her books much subtler, with much art for its own sake; and demanded great strength of purpose and character in her (an “uncheerful but utterly rational self-belief”) and made for better books.


From Miss Austen Regrets, a rather more somber and much less luxurious film than most: Olivia Williams as Jane and Greta Scacchi as Casssandra getting ready for church in their plain bare room

But the editor turned back and as opposed to the representatives of famous writers and scholars brought out in the New York Times to judge recent books, we are offered Bharat Tandon’s uncompromising evaluations who has devoted much of his scholarly life thus far to Austen. For the first time I saw why some of those who choose key speakers for JASNAs chose him this past autumn. At the JASNA itself alas his speech went over badly — because it was an audience he was not comfortable talking to at all, and so he punted and hesitated and they were bored anyway (and complained later). Tandon reviews some of the same books found in the New York Times Book Review (and elsewhere) but by contrast does not slide by what is wanting. Thus Lucy Worseley’s TV documentary misses out what one might want to know about the houses Austen visited and lived in: she takes you to them, offers glamorous film, but then just gasps out exclamations of how wonderful Jane is or this house is, not about its history say, actual status then or now — nor how its influence might be found in the novels. Looser is again highly praised as is Paula Byrne: though Tandon reminds us Byrne’s “new” book represents her two books rehashed for more popular consumption. Byrne does add a chapter on the film adaptations, and Tandon reveals he is another film-goer who prefers the commercialized comedies in movie-houses to the TV mini-series. This is a lack: the deeply felt dramatic romances bring out important realities in Austen’s texts to which readers respond, and their adherence to women’s aesthetic gives filmic representation to important functions Austen has had in the worlds of art. A book I had not heard of by a critic I admire (she writes on gothic, Radcliffe, de Sade), E. J. Clery has written a biography placing Austen in her brother’s banking world: “the banker’s sister.” I wrote two portraits of her brother (Henry, the 4th son, a shrewd individual mind …) and sister-in-law, Eliza Hancock de Feuillide Austen, kindly, strong, deep feeling, thoughtful, a mother and Hasting’s daughter) when close-reading the letters for four years in this blog and know that neither Eliza nor Henry are usually done justice to. And we are back to the worlds of money in Austen. Tandon is at moments super-subtle, but he brings in new analogies, sources (Cecily Hamilton , a suffragist turns up). This beautiful sculpture — an image of it — graces his essay — this Jane Austen is recent, commissioned 2017 by Hampshire Cultural Trust and is by Adam Roud.

Tandon is worth more than one reading, and his description of Henry’s commercial world is a fitting lead-in to the last long essay by the Mitchells identifying a picture by Joshua Reynolds long thought to be of a Clive family group as Tysoe Saul Hancock, his wife Philadelphia, their daughter Elizabeth and their Indian maid Clarinda. Eliza was Henry’s wife, and he was not unlike her first husband in his (unsuccessful) attempts to curry open favor (and advantage) from William Hastings (in a transparent letter). The argument is complicated and I cannot do it justice in this necessarily short blog. They first tell of an “obscure provenance” and how the identification of the figures with an branch of the Clives came to be accepted, why on the grounds of what we know about the specifics of George Clive’s family in the early 1960s make this identification not probable. Making the new identification persuasive is harder, but the Hancock family and their maid were in London in 1765, there are records of interactions between Reynolds and Hancock at this time,and best of all two recorded payments (3 guineas for the man, 50 for the woman) on days Reynolds notes sittings of the child, Miss Hancock, and a mention of “Clarinda.” The specifics of the individuals in the picture (age), that they resemble other pictures of these people helps the argument. Like others they are careful only to suggest that Hastings was Eliza’s father through the suspicions and ostracizing of the Hancocks in letters against the loyal friends who insist on Philadelphia’s outwardly virtuous deportment. I agree the child in the center is the right age for Eliza Hancock, and has the same tiny features in a large moon round face that is in the familiar dreadful miniature of Eliza; the woman looks pretty and some of the features like Philadelphia Austen Hancock, that Hancock himself is absurdly idealized is just par for the course (he was fat and looked ill). The essay includes speculation on where the picture was hung but also comments (to be accurate) by others at the time who identify the family as the Clives. I am more than half-persuaded. The picture which will be argued over but I feel the Mitchells do not add to their case by in their last paragraph sneering at non-scholarly Austen writers as “a motley crew of camp followers” (including bloggers).

You can hear (if you like) Emma Clery talking about Austen’s Emma in this BBC podcast set up by Melvyn Bragg to discuss Emma.

Ellen

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Cassandra’s drawing of Jane — close-up

“We are all offending every moment of our lives.” — Marianne Dashwood, Austen’s S&S

“We all love to instruct, though we can teach only what is not worth knowing” — Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s P&P

Sitting with her on Sunday evening—a wet Sunday evening, the very time of all others when, if a friend is at hand, the heart must be opened, and everything told…” Edmund from Austen’s MP

“She regained the street — happy in this, that though much had been forced on her against her will, though she had in fact heard the whole substance of Jane Fairfax’s letter, she had been able to escape the letter itself.” Emma from Austen’s Emma

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! — just old enough to be formal, ungovernable and to have the gout — too old to be agreeable, and too young to die … May the next gouty Attack be more favourable — Lady Susan from Austen’s Lady Susan

But why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? …. Catherine Morland from Austen’s NA

One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it, unless it has been all suffering, nothing but suffering….’ Anne Elliot from Austen’s Persuasion

Friends,

July 18th, 1817: Not, one might think, an occasion for happy commemoration. On that day a relatively young woman ended a long painful period of dying (dying is hard work), in bad pain (opium could not cope with it except as dope), cradled in the arms of her loving sister, a close friend, Martha Lloyd, and relatives near by. She had managed to publish but four novels, and no matter how fine, there were so many more she could have written or drawn from her stores of fragments. Two came out the next year, posthumously, one clearly truncated (Persuasion), the other not in a satisfying state according to Austen herself (Northanger Abbey). (Titles given by her brother and said sister.) She had been writing for 21 years at least before her first novel was published — Sense and Sensibility, by herself with money saved up and money and help from said brother, Henry and his wife, her beloved cousin, Eliza Austen. After Emma and a couple of unwise (seen in hindsight) decisions, she was just beginning to make money — or there was a hope of it. She was not altogether silenced as her books were reprinted in sets of novels over the 19th century, while over the next 170 years (1951 was the last date for a new text) fragments and letters by her emerged, albeit framed by contexts set up by her family and then academic critics. A sentimental identity was concocted for her by her loving nephew, Edward Austen-Leigh in 1870, in a memoir of her, an important year and publication because his portrait and picturesque edition was the beginning of a wider readership for her novels.

It will be said the poem she is said to have composed on her last days where she wrote: “Behold me immortal,” has been fulfilled. All her extant writings seem to be in print; some are widely read, the major six filmed over and over, and recently a seventh (Lady Susan) and an eighth (Sanditon) added, with influence on many other familial romanes and witty romantic comedies, and from her work, a growing number of appropriations to boot. All written and/or discussed in newsprint, on public media, TV, in conferences as of the utmost importance. Her fictions has been translated into the major languages of the world. Who has not heard of Jane Austen? A New Yorker joke of 30 years ago was a good alibi on the stand was you were writing a biography of Jane Austen. The Bank of England commmemorates her today with a £10 note.

Nonetheless, she had so much life left in her, she was so open to trying new trajectories, looking for new ways to develop her novels (as Persuasion and Sanditon seem to suggest), that the commemoration ought to be done with a sense of loss, of what might have been before us (and her) — as well as acknowledgement of what her journey’s end was. That this is not the tone can be accounted for in numerous ways, but a central one is the phenomenon of celebrity — as it is enacted in her case. For all such individuals, a kind of “ideological magic” (Theodor Adorno’s word) is ignited which may be sold through respected cultural industries’ institutions because it is recognized to confer power on people surrounded by this awe — such a person can get elected to be president of the United States however ill-qualified, or simply be worshipped as genius and each decade his or her identity (biography) reshaped to fit the new decade’s ideas of what is most admirable. That this re-shaping is going on before us can be seen in the various articles that were published in the New Times Book Review on Austen yesterday (on which more below).

For my contribution, for yes I’m pulling my little bandwagon along behind or with the others too, I’m prompted by Diane Reynolds’s fine blog on the first lines in Austen’s fiction.

I thought to myself, What more fitting in thinking how she was cut off, than her last lines? Tracing these in order of publication (so at least we know that there is evidentiary basis for our chronology),

Sense and Sensibility (1811):

Between Barton and Delaford there was that constant communication which strong family affection would naturally dictate; — and among the merits and the happiness of Elinor and Marianne, let it not be ranked as the least considerable, that, though sisters, and living almost within sight of each other, they could live without disagreement between themselves, or producing coolness between their husbands.

Pride and Prejudice (1813):

With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.

Mansfield Park (1814):

On that event they removed to Mansfield; and the Parsonage there, which, under each of its two former owners, Fanny had never been able to approach but with some painful sensation of restraint or alarm, soon grew as dear to her heart, and as thoroughly perfect in her eyes, as everything else within the view and patronage of Mansfield Park had long been.

Emma (1815):

The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. — “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! — Selina would stare when she heard of it.” — But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

Northanger Abbey (1817):

To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced that the general’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.

Persuasion (1817):

His profession was all that could ever make her friends wish that Tenderness less; the dread of a future War all that could dim her Sunshine. — She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to that profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.

Lady Susan (1871)

For myself, I confess that I can pity only Miss Mainwaring; who, coming to town, and putting herself to an expense in clothes which impoverished her for two years, on purpose to secure him, was defrauded of her due by a woman ten years older than herself.

The Watsons (1871):

As for me, I shall be no worse off without you, than I have been used to be; but poor Margaret’s disagreeable ways are new to you, and the would vex you more than you think for, if you stay at home —
    Emma was of course un-influenced, except to a greater esteem for Elizabeth, by such representations — and the visitors departed without her.

Love and Friendship (1922)

Philippa has long paid the Debt of Nature, her Husband however still continues to drive the Stage-Coach from Edinburgh to Sterling: — Adieu my Dearest Marianne, Laura

Sanditon (1925)

And as Lady Denham was not there, Charlotte had leisure to look about her and to be told by Mrs. Parker that the whole-length portrait of a stately gentleman which, placed over the mantelpiece, caught the eye immediately, was the picture of Sir Henry Denham; and that one among many miniatures in another part of the room, little conspicuous, represented Mr. Hollis, poor Mr. Hollis! It was impossible not to feel him hardly used: to be obliged to stand back in his own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Harry Denham.

Catherine, or The Bower (1951)

A company of strolling players in their way from some Neighboring Races having opened a temporary Theater there, Mrs Percival was prevailed on by her Niece to indulge her by attending the performance once during their stay — Mrs Percival insisting on paying Miss Dudley the compliment of inviting her to join the party when a new difficulty arose.

If we pay attention just to these last lines, we do not see the ironist and satirist primarily. Yes there is a barb in the Sense and Sensibility line; and the ending of Emma brings us yet another exposure of the complacent shallowness of Mrs Elton’s moral stupidity (she does though have the last word); however muted, some hard ironies in Lady Susan, plangent ones in Sanditon. In a novelist supposed to pass over death, two have direct allusions to death (fear of widowhood for Anne Elliot, a more pragmatic re-enacting of life now without the partner). If we cheat just a little and go back one sentence we begin to darker emotional ironies: Elizabeth Watson will stay in a seethingly bitter home so Emma can visit a brother not keen to have her. Go back two or three paragraphs, and we learn for Sense and Sensibility the moral of our story has been:

The whole of Lucy’s behaviour in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience.

More famously in Mansfield Park:

… Sir Thomas saw repeated, and for ever repeated, reason to rejoice in what he had done for them all, and acknowledge the advantages of early hardship and discipline, and the consciousness of being born to struggle and endure.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh puts in a final appearance before the happy coda of Pride and Prejudice:

But at length, by Elizabeth’s persuasion, he [Darcy] was prevailed on to overlook the offence, and seek a reconciliation; and, after a little farther resistance on the part of his aunt [Lady Catherine], her resentment gave way, either to her affection for him, or her curiosity to see how his wife conducted herself; and she condescended to wait on them at Pemberley, in spite of that pollution which its woods had received, not merely from the presence of such a mistress, but the visits of her uncle and aunt from the city.

Still, I suggest what we have in these last lines, is coda, resolution, a sense of quiet satisfaction at the way things turned out for the characters (like all of us far less than perfect people) at journey’s end. This continuum of stability, of order, of reasoned perspective is central to what many readers seem to value Jane Austen for still.

According to Cassandra, Austen’s last written lines were:

“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–‘.”

As Hermione Lee in a good book on biographical writing has shown (she is not the only biographer to do this), what is often asserted as the dying person’s last words won’t stand courtroom-like scrutiny. Emotionally involved people have their agendas just as surely any more distanced politicized (as who isn’t?) group of people. And it’s hard to remember or get the emphasis accurately: Cassandra says that towards the end of conscious life Austen said “she wanted nothing but death & some of her words were ‘God grant me patience, Pray for me Oh pray for me” (LeFaye’s edition of Austen’s letters, Cassandra to Fanny Knight, Sunday, 20 July 1817).

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


Another portrait of Jane Austen by Cassandra — when she was in good health as may be seen from her strong body (see JA and Food). Some readers/critics complain vociferously that we don’t see her face refusing to recognize this was at the time a trope for absorption in landscape reverie

But, as I mentioned, the usefulness of Jane Austen as icon makes for a ceaseless attempt to get past such texts, peer into them to find what is wanted by the viewer, and pry something new out. I recall how Hamlet did not like being played upon by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Matthew Arnold congratulated Shakespeare that he eluded it: “Other abide our question; thou art free …” Since her nephew’s memoir, Jane Austen has not been so fortunate. And this pronounced phenomenon – the re-invention of Jane Austen as well as an exploration of who these millions of readers are (now recorded in book reading groups and blogs across the Internet) is found across the many publications this year. I’ll confine myself to what was printed in the New York Times Book Review and their Sunday Review for some examples.

The most to the point was John Sutherland’s on Helen Kelly’s JA: Secret Radical: at first he lightly and deftly, but definitely skewers Kelley: he picks out precisely the most untenable of her theses and arguments. I did not know that Kelley trashed Tomalin’s biography (I missed that), Sutherland picks up that as as well how she is deliberately insulting, provocative. One online review I read said she combines blog-style snark and literal readings with academic (sort of) approaches; I know that she misreads in a peculiar way: if we do not see Catherine doing something then she didn’t do it — no novelist conventions are allowed the usual play.

Bu then he says something significant: that the aim of Kelley’s book (as with many other readers who want to turn Austen into a political radical) is ultimately against the Marilyn Butler thesis that Austen is a deep conservative.  The problem here is as with other critics Kelley is dependent on, she no where mentions Butler. But the opposition is important: Butler’s thesis is persuasive and convincing in her first book especially, Romantics, Rebels and Revolutionaries because there Butler analyses at length true radicals in the era against which both Scott and Austen emerge as reactionary. Butler’s thesis fits  William St Clair’s about “the reading nation” that it is no coincidence Scott and Hannah More and Austen a little later were readily available and the likes of Wollstonecraft’s works and Charlotte Smith, Holcroft, &c were not. Butler’s edition of Northanger Abbey remains the best and she wrote the present authoritative ODNB of Austen.

Jane Smiley on Deborah Yaffe, a book about readers and writers of Austen, especially of the common reader kind (“Fandom”), complete with interviews. She is a journalist. Smiley says the second half of Looser’s The Making of Jane Austen contains worthwhile analyses: it is a “book history” book, tracing the literal publications, what they looked like, who bought them. It’s weak on illustrations, but then in the second half she discusses the way Austen has been discussed in the 20th century: by male academics, and then by women readers (Speaking of Jane Austen by Sheila Kaye-Smith and G. B. Stern is important), and now the new manipulations of her texts. Smiley feels just about all of Paula Byrne’s book on Jane Austen and the theater of the time teaches us in an interesting insightful way: about the theater, when Jane Austen went there, and how the plays of the era relate to her books. From my reading I find Byrne’s claims for sources in specific plays won’t bear scrutiny, but as a book about an aspect of the cultural world of Austen, it’s fascinating. Byrne’s other book (A life in Small Things) explores Jane Austen through small things she left and marginalized texts adds real information and readings of Austen’s life-writing.

Sutherland is followed by an essay by Lizzie Skumick on sequels, the writer and texts in question, Joan Aiken. I have one of them somewhere in my house and remember I found it unreadable. Then a Francesco Moretti like analysis of Jane’s vocabulary using computer cluster technology by Kathleen Flynn (who wrote the JA Project, a time-traveling tale, claiming to unearth further secrets about Austen’s private life and death) and Josh Katz. They find Austen uses many intensives (very, much), lots of abstractions, in fact defies prescriptions for good writing. What then is her magic? they fall back on interpretation (forgetting Sontag who we recall instantly was against interpretation) and argue the tension between appearance and reality, pretense and essence (a good nod to Marvin Mudrick book on irony in Austen: “defense and discovery” were her modes). Moving on, Rahhika Jones reveals no deaths in Austen’s pages while we are reading them — we hear of a stillborn Elliot. But we hear of a number of deaths before the fictions start is the truth. And these deaths are important: Lady Susan’s husband, her support, Mrs Tilney, Eleanor’s, Mr Dashwood — all these set the action and it’s not just a question of property and money. Not content, we get a quiz with “famous” people (small celebrities) who alluded to Austen. Finally on p 16 it gives out.

Not to despair, in the Sunday Review we find Devoney Looser arguing suggestively against the idea that Austen did her major writing on a tiny desk with a handy set of pages to push the little bits of writing under. It does sound improbable as long as you don’t take into consideration she might have done it once in a while when company was expected. Looser is also not keen on the assumption that Austen carried about much of her papers in a writing desk (rather like an ipad). Again it does seem improbable she took them all — but that she took some when she traveled (the way one niece describes) is demonstrated in one of her letters where she talks about a panic when her writing desk with was carried off in another carriage during trip. The desk was rescued.

Some of these revisions of Austen in each era’s image can add much to our knowledge. Such a book is Jan Fergus’s on Austen as an entrepreneurial businesswoman, a professional (a word with many positive vibes) writer. Each must be judged on (my view) on its merits as contributing to sound scholarship (documents explicated using standards of probability and historicism) or ethical insight into Austen’s creative work.

Susan Sontag in several of her essays on the relationship of art (especially photography) and life (especially the representation of pain, of illness) asks of works of art, that they advance our understanding of the real. Do they instead conceal reality under the cover of sentimental versions of what probably didn’t happen or not that way. Austen’s own fervent adherence to doctrines of realism in her era (probability, verisimilitude) suggests she thought the justification for her irresistible urge to write and to reach a readership is to promote an understanding of the reality of another person’s experience of life. I suspect such a standard would produce contemporary serious critiques of Austen’s fiction along the lines of the older irony-surveying Marvin Mudrick. This, as Amy Bloom on Lucy Worseley’s documentary about the houses Jane Austen lived in (also in the New York Times Book Review) concedes is not what’s wanted by a majority of Austen’s readers; Bloom reviews a BBC “documentary” (as much myth as fact) by Lucy Worseley on Jane Austen’s houses. It’s characterized, Bloom says, by “shameless ebullience” is a composite phrase using Worseley’s frank admission.

One counter is Elena Ferrante’s unusual (and obsessive) defense of anonymity as the only true way to elicit for a piece of art its value in its own right (not as belonging to some group, some identity, some agenda). While her choice of anonymity has been defended on the grounds she has a right not to tell her name or about her life, the principles she tirelessly repeats in Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey has not received the endorsement it should. Online when she has put an essay arguing why anonymity is important, against in effect celebrity (fame) and icon worship, commentators don’t believe she really thinks as she does. Her idea, like Sontag’s, Austen’s own, and numerous of Austen’s more sober critics, that it’s the duty of the fiction-writer to “get close to the truth” of reality calls out for more attention. Sontag puts it in her Regarding the Pain of Others, that falsehoods protect us, mitigate suffering, and allow us to avoid the terrifying moment of serious reflection (I condense and paraphrase).

Are there any terrifying moments in Austen. Yes. Some of this important material in found across her letters (which are often glossed over or dismissed on the grounds she never meant them to be read by others); some in the Austen papers (the life history of Jane Austen’s great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Weller Austen, how badly she was treated as a widow and her struggle to provide for herself and for her children), in Austen’s fiction, an undergirding of deep emotions held at bay, which I think come outs strongly in her treatment of death as experienced by widows in her fiction. At this level Austen also (in some words Victor Nunez gives his Henry Tilney hero in Ruby in Paradise about reading Jane Austen): “Saved me from evil. Restored my soul. Brought peace to my troubled mind. Joy to my broken heart” (Shooting Script, p 41).

It’s good the books survive, and some of the films, biographers, and literary critics do justice to them.


From the Jane Austen Book Club: Sylvia (Amy Brenneman) reading Emma

Ellen

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

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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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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Master-and-Commander A heroic scene done exquisitely realistically in Weir’s Master and Commander (2003)


Geologizing

The contrasting geologizing scene on the Galapagos Islands

Dear friends and readers,

As it was more than 2 weeks ago now that I spent three nights as much mesmerized by the features about Peter Weir’s Master and Commander as by the movie itself, I had better write now before I lose contact with what made the movie the meaningful experience it is, and (as I am told) reflects the poetic center of Patrick O’Brian’s historical adventure fiction. It’s this: it combines utterly incompatible feelings (Robert Graves wrote about this regarding verse): on the one hand, the worship necessarily blind to reality of violence on behalf of securing power (and with it wealth, privilege, status, the ceremonies of admiration), and on the other, the realization this demands death, maiming, torture (whipping, flogging, whatever it takes to enforce discipline to be cruel) when what makes life worth living is friendship, imaginative arts, knowledge and immersion in the natural world. Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe in the film) enacts the thrust of the first, and Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) the activities and point of view of the second, with all the characters arranging themselves variously on a continuum between them.

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This kind of intense quiet music-making punctuates the sequences

I seem to remember best a wholly naturalistic (it was filmed not computer generated) of Russell Crowe as the captain going for a swim, and everyone aboard watching him with bated breathe lest they lose him.

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Russell Crowe as hero

Also the horror of the ship hospital, the operating table as the maimed men were amputated, sewn, and on beds left to die. Richard McCabe as Mr Higgon’s surgeon’s mate’s anguished terror at making a mistake as he imitates Maturin as surgeon whose arm is too hurt to perform himself.

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The boy has lost his arm, we watch him follow Maturin around the Galapagos; he is groomed to be a captain himself

I have listened to a marvelous reading aloud on books-on-CD of the third book of the series, H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick Tull where the character of Stephen Maturin emerges fully for the first time as sceptic, objector, doubter, sensitive soul, the alternative voice, and have now placed the first book high on a TBR pile of historical fiction.

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Paul Bettany as questioner

I’ve also looked up on my Eighteenth Century World at Yahoo list to see if there was any commentary on the film in 2003 when I saw it with Yvette. I had gone to a session in a ASECS (American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies) panel on film where:

A young Spanish professor, Diego Tellez Alarcia, gave a remarkably well-organized, lucid, and detailed exposition on Master and Commander, an adaptation of several novels by Patrick O’Brian. Mr Alarcia went over the type of film M&C represents, the real historical & contemporary events (one involving the USS Essex) it alludes to, its relationship to O’Brian’s novels, and how it functioned to whip up patriotic emotion after 9/11. Mr Alarcia first used Krakauer, an important film critic (who I’ve read) to argue that films provide a new way of studying history: we can study our culture as an engine of history itself as well as a mirror of society. Films are a new way of writing history as valid as speech and the written word. Mr Alarcia went on about how much effort was put into making the details of the film historically accurate (ship, food, clothes &c). The genre this film belongs to also is the swash-buckler, the rebellious adventure film, the tongue-in-cheek (Captains Courageous, Mutiny on the Bounty, Billy Budd, Pirates of the Carribean). I learned something new about O’Brian’s career: I had thought the Jack Aubrey novels are a roman fleuve, but did not know that O’Brian also translated 30 books from French.

I’ve appended as the comments I received on that listserve some 12 years ago on the film, beginning with a person who loved the books to someone who differed on the film but was glad of the attention repaid to journalism at the time.

We can connect this to Austen in various ways because of her sailor-brothers: here I choose to compare her with her brother’s Francis’s viewpoint on a renegade hero of the time, and Byron’s ironic understanding.

One chapter in Southam’s JA and the Navy is about a little known satire by Austen which shows her to have been a narrowly partisan amoral imperalist Tory type. Southam prints a little known and until now Austen’s little understood satire in the manner of Pope, Swift and others:

Of A Ministry Pitiful, Angry, Mean Of a Ministry pitiful, angry, mean, A gallant commander the victim is seen. For promptitude, vigour, success, does he stand Condemn’d to receive a severe reprimand! To his foes I could wish a resemblance in fate: That they, too, may suffer themselves, soon or late, The injustice they warrent. But vain is my spite They cannot so suffer who never do right.

In brief, Popham was court-martialed for disobeying an order to protect ports in the Cape of Good Hope. Instead he took his ships and attacked some ports in Argentina in order to steal their cargo and help friends upset the Argentinian gov’t and eventually take over. Among other helpmates were the revolutionaries: politics makes temporary bedfellows this way. There’s a long chapter in Southam’s JA and the Navy which shows that in this case Austen was fiercely on the side of an amoral thug-pirate type, Popham.

Why? because he was supported by her brothers; for among other things, his relationship with Moira and others to whom Henry had (very unwisely, but trying hard to make money from money) lent big sums of money. It’s a good instance of her narrow Toryism. The man was out for himself to make huge amounts of money; left his post to go over to another country and simply grab it. One of the sorts of people that make the world miserable for the average person. Even Nelson thought him a horror: Nelson, we have to give this to him, did not seek wealth personally except as it came as part of actions he thought genuinely for the good of the people and land of England.

People like to ignore or not talk about how Wentworth is presented as making money from his ships; we are not told what this actually means in reality. He, though, is not the charlatan type Popham was.

Now Southam keeps saying that the brothers (Francis and Charles and in this case Edward and Henry) would have approved of Popham, but while Henry clearly has behaviors that resemble Popham’s (and Edward is fiercely partisan on behalf of his property, will not help other landowners), not Francis and the two passages that Southam quotes are filled with comments that were they turned to look at Popham would judge him “horrible” and very wrong. In the chapter he registers the idea that it’s just “horrible” for people to bomb others. Popham was an early inventor of the equivalent of today’s drones (drop it on the ship and blow it up), but it was real claptrap and when used as often killed those using it. Nonetheless, he tried it and destroyed four ships in the process.

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A drawing-illustration made from the movie — the officers studying maps, planning strategy

Given the continual dropping of bombs on people helpless against them and the targeting of civilians since WW2, it’s worth it to quote some of Francis’s words here. He speaks first (at length, a long sentence) of how impossible it is to “direct” the bombs with “any tolerable precision.” When people drop drones, we are often told a single “terrorist” is killed; not so; you cannot direct them that way; the drone drops the bombs on a house and destroys the house and anyone in it plus usually the whole street. Hundreds are killed and maimed and lives destroyed. Francis Austen:

“This horrible mode of warfare seems scarcely justifiable in principle (amongst civilized nations) short of self-preservation and perhaps its entire want of success may have been a fortunate circumstance for England who could not have expected to be the only power to use such machines and whose shipping would be constantly liable to similar attacks with much greater facility from the exposed situations of the anchorages then used.”

In other words, such bombs could be used against England’s ships. The second is a long passage where he says one must obey the orders of one’s commander. When one is ordered to stay and protect a port, one must. Francis always behaved that way and he missed Trafalgar (which he regretted all his life because it meant less money and less prestige and fewer connections he could pressure) because he obeyed an order. Jane Austen was taking precisely the opposite position. Throughout her letters we see her usual mockery (Southam calls this joking) and adversarial positions to whatever is happening.

Here Southam cavalierly says that Austen liked Popham because her brothers did. One can see parallels with Henry’s banking and loan practices and who he was more than willing to be friendly with but all the evidence suggests Francis would have judged Popham fiercely and said he should be court-martialed.

During this time Jane Austen was reading Charles Pasley’s Essay on Military Policy (you can download this as an ebook and I have) and we find in her letters one of these short phrases, but it is in full admiration. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperalist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. I wondered what Austen would have thought of Maturin.

Byron provides a rejoinder to Jane Austen, Pasley, and Popham: Wellington: The Best of Cut-Throats (1819)

Though Britain owes (and pays you too) so much,
Yet Europe doubtless owes you greatly more:
You have repaired Legitimacy’s crutch,
A prop not quite so certain as before:
The Spaniard, and the French, as well as Dutch,
Have seen, and felt, how strongly you restore:
And Waterloo has made the world your debtor
(I wish your bards would sing it rather better).

You are ‘the best of cut-throats’: – do not start;
The phrase is Shakespeare’s, and not misapplied;
War’s a brain-spattering, wind-pipe-slitting art,
Unless her cause by right be sanctified.
If you have acted once a generous part,
The world, not the world’s masters, will decide,
And I shall be delighted to learn who,
Save you and yours, have gained by Waterloo?

I’ve done. Now go and dine from off the plate
Presented by the Prince of the Brazils,
And send the sentinel before your gate
A slice or two from your luxurious meals:
He fought, but has not fed so well of late.
Some hunger, too, they say the people feels: –
There is no doubt that you deserve your ration,
But pray give back a little to the nation.

Never had mortal man had such opportunity
Except Napoleon, or abused it more:
You might have freed fallen Europe from the unity
Of tyrants, and been blest from shore to shore:
And now – what is your fame? Shall the Muse tune it ye?
Now – that the rabble’s first vain shouts are over?
Go! hear it in your famished country’s cries!
Behold the world! and curse your victories!

crewbattle

To return to the 21st century film, Stuart Klawans, the film critic of The Nation provides a perceptive commentary on this film helps explain why it’s alluring experience. His argument is that it has a

deeply erotic charge … which turns out to be powerful and strange.” “It’s there from the first wordless, nocturnal sequence, in which the camera follows a prowling character through the sleeping quarters below deck, where rows of hammocks, seen from below, swing from the ceiling like multiple scrotums. Perhaps the penis is Russell Crowe himself, who makes his first appearance semi-dressed, bursting erect from the captain’s quarters through doors that part like a loosely buttoned fly. Never mind that the Surprise, like all ships, is calls ‘she.’ Weir conceives of it as a huge male body, whichis literally suffused with its crew’s blood. [Klawans was puzzled to read reviews claiming the picture was “stupendously entertaining” and “thrilling”.] You might have thought these writesr were describing The Adventures of Robin Hood rather tnan movie that lingers over the amputation of a young boy’s arm. Sailors are lavishly blown apart; a skull is opened and the brains probed before a fascinated crew; in one extended scene Maturin even performs surgery on himself, digging into his own guts while watching the spectacle in a mirror. Even during the longueurs, when male bodies are not being ripped into, Weir reminds you of the permeability of flesh by providing all the actors with highly visible scars. So it came to me: This penetration of male bodies is what’s thrilling about Master and Commander. How’s that for an S&M title? The infliction and endurance of pain is the sex …

Klawans isn’t “belittling the grandeur, the magnificence, the meticulous recreation” of details of “nautical life, or neglecting “Crowe’s wonderfully assured performance, which is as self-amused as it is amusing.” He agrees with Crowe “that M&C is one enormously expensive art movie.”

I was struck by the emotionalism of Maturin’s intellectual senstive-physician sidekick. I liked how the film questioned and exposed the values behind the male world. Yvette said to that they are the same pair of A Beautiful Mind. Maybe it’s a woman’s emotion picture shot into the center of a swashbuckler by way of Captain Hornblower. It is also siimply a bunch of men enjoying themselves enormously, pretending they are the men at sea, in danger, winning battles, exploring, watching punishment of those who risk all, or betray or undercut the rules. All this under the cover or rational of historical accuracy.

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And given my return to historical fiction (Poldark novels, Wolf Hall) and its relationship to historic fiction (older), biography, our understanding of history, now I would like to read a few of the novels

Ellen

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2ndedition
2nd edition — 2011

Dear friends and readers,

I am relieved to say that two years after having being sent Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts, and the 2nd edition of the Jane Austen Cambridge Companion, I’ve sent the reviews of book to ECCB. I originally wrote about the two books in a single review but was asked to divide them into two. So I won’t be putting the two onto any site, but rather (eventually) the earlier version bringing the two together. For now I written enough about Lisa Moore’s book, but very little about these two companions which could have been important as bellwethers; in the event both are too discreet, too careful, a result of the intense and intricate politics of Jane Austen studies, fashions, sequel, heritage, film, and institutions. I read and evaluated the essays of the 1st edition (1997), and compared them with this second one (2011), and thought the least I could do was put a brief summary and evaluation of the most worthwhile or innovative (or notable, e.g., Clery) essays in the Cambridge Companions. The essays summarized below might be of use or interest to my readers. If anyone would like to see either of the separate reviews, contact me off blog. As to simple practical advice, if you have the first edition, it’s a waste of money to get the second, so much has been reprinted. Further, much has been lost so don’t discard the valuable essays of the 1st edition, instead take a copy of the 2nd edition out from a library and xerox (or scan into your computer) the essays whose subject is of interest to you. I recommend Selwyn and Sutherland.

1stedition

1st — 1997

Only in the 1st edition: Rachel Brownstein on NA, S&S, PP: Mr Bennet’s comment: we love the phrasing, economy, symmetry, sense, detachment even as when we look at the context we critique it; social interactions the substance of life; we condemn most people for wanting feeling, sympathy, love; she looks at conjunctions of romantic narrative and irony in the 3 books. Heroine centered, there is an irony that undercuts Austen’s use of conventions. NA parodies tropes of romance, giving new meaning to clichés; S&S, laughter hollow, opposing pairs, much more pain than pleasure as we compare; it’s as certain as death world a hard mean place (p. 45); couples together make for an anti-social activity, attitudes, the unsuitability of the couples; final irony against sisters as such. P&P a witty undercutting delight (it’s men who traffic in women not women men) where narrator, heroine and reader come to identify – Elizabeth holds back in self-control, detached; we are given enough about Darcy’s mind; we are not so very different from our neighbor – she is careful to say the chronology set up is a construct and across Austen’s oeuvre we find a set of many constants though Brownstein to give her credit opens and closes her essay on the problematic nature of these pairings, or trios. Brownstein admits the chronology she has used has nothing to do with the book’s themes. Irrelevant. This is an essay from a woman’s point of view as none of the three there are any more. Brownstein wrote a famous history of the novel: Becoming a Heroine. A number of her authors are men, and the choice of women’s books very much canonical (e.g., no Oliphant). Becoming a Heroine nonetheless approaches how we read as women in our books, our autobiographical self-narrative as we go

Only in the 1st edition: John Wiltshire: MP, Emma, Persuasion: Central to his description of Emma: it is about a restricted life, restricted spaces, restricted in POV and what Emma can do; she contributes a buoyancy of spirit, and confidence and has intuitive knowledge throughout. Restrictions in walking are part of it — Jane Fairfax going to the post office in the rain overdid we recall. Wiltshire sees that Mr Knightley represents a continuation of restriction, but that Emma moves to his point of view and within this restriction can thrive. He does see the unpleasantness of the walk for Emma a function of the probable poverty she sees. MP a contrast: everybody wealthy but Fanny, Mrs Norris neurotic, compulsive bully; Fanny the POV who is transient, dependent. Austen moves in and out of the characters, and creates through Henry and Mary Crawford appealing pair through their sympathy and agendas. That there is much sympathy for Mary when we begin to see her as negotiating social life, she was abused or neglected too, is seeking an emotional center for her life. They too have a fraternal tie. Novel has psychological depth with narrative portraiture; a physical world. Broad and wide. Persuasion we get a continuous registration of a inward and physical state and slowly we watch heroine break out; she becomes herself though emerging through her physical environment. The intricacy of her psychology a new reach, and development, setting focuses tensions and increases them. In this novel we see bonds elective affinities replace family bonds, themes of loss and mourning, fidelity and transience come into narrative, she is finally eloquent in words and thus if enabled to enact a life, (which she does by marrying Wentworth, that not in Wiltshire) find a place in this world. Wiltshire says he has united these so-called Chawton books artificially: he shows that the relationship between character, theme, and setting he has been making so much of is utterly different or incommensurate in all three. Novels combine romantic narrative with social satire and psychological insight; from MP on broader, more thoughtful social critique, greater power of imagining her figures within the social setting and spaces they inhabit. Distinct social and physical words are conceptual worlds. How Austen does this by her narrative techniques.

1st reprinted in 2nd: Juliet McMasters, “Class.” McMasters sees that Emma and Miss Bates are prophetic of Fanny Knight and Austen: years later Lady B was equally condescending; JA’s low position; McMasters goes over ladder; then JA’s attitude and then her characters – she goes carefully through the characters using the ladder, with an emphasis on Emma as Emma has them all more detailed and mentioned; Austen’s attitude towards class seen in her judgement of such characters and also whether she makes a character of this or that rank fine or contemptible; for Austen rank matters but identity more; humane and social values in daily life for her people much more

1st reprinted in 2nd: Edward Copeland, “Money.” Copeland wants to make the case that a complication of engagement with money characterizes the three later novels where the first three are about heroines acquiring a man who will support them – put that way especially with his qualifier that the later novels all turn on or focus on a single woman without money. (The problem is that the first three novels do tell of incomes, thought P&P least of all –it’s that the first two concentrate on land and clergy; and NA concentrates its energies on gothic satire. Very useful though as he goes through each level of income and shows by recourse to Austen’s novels just what that income brings; for Emma it’s signs of consumerism that matter; in Persuasion sheer money beat out land; we have the complication of the estate and Portsmouth pension. He admits some characters seem to know nothing: Henry Crawford is not real quite. Also answers question the women are usually cited as what they get a year except heiresses; for inherited income you make a 5% equation and you have the yearly sum. He does carefully cite many sums including Austen’s nuclear family’s own.

1st reprinted in 2nd: Isobel Grundy, “Jane Austen and literary traditions.” Grunday begins with the reality that Austen did not write her novels with a tradition in mind: they did not belong to theLlatin one; she had no BA as a modern reader might in English literature, she could not know of the novels of her period with clarity or extension; she read what what came along and had been in her father’s library and then Edward’s. A letter shows her rejoicing at a better book club in Chawton; at access to Paisley (but mocking Mrs Grant which Grundy omits when she mentions Austen reading Grant). Grundy find these letters relatively stuffed with literary references that are appropriate to whatever she speaks of, so we have a woman who read extensively and understood insofar as she could, but this combined with “real intellectual deprivation,” lack of choice of books, lack of stimulating varied conversation, and what she could glean about reactions to her own books couldn’t help; she shows no recognition or authority but her own taste. There seems to have been nothing deep entrenched in her from her reading (I’m not sure about that, how about Grandison or Johnson); no dialogue with forerunner to what she’s doing – yes, far from that, she wants to erase anyone she thinks is a peer, ridicule them (Grundy again omits this). Books in Austen’s novels further delineate the inner life of a character – but when Grundy says Austen does not attach herself to a tradition, I reply, “ah what about Ch 5 of NA?

Grundy sees the problem of trying to unearth some coherent understanding of books or schools of writing in the teeth of Austen’s reticence and non-cooperation, an insistence she is not to be taken seriously. Here’s where the hagiography comes in: why not say what Austen did from nature and what she did read extraordinary, but no, she wants to find evidence of classics. So there is what her brothers were taught when young. Grundy then concedes that Austen might mock pedantry, but “I will not accept she dislikes scholarship.” she points to Austen’s insistence on accuracy, not the same as scholarship. She cannot avoid hagiography; otherwise she would not try to get through this thicket of disjunctive jokings (Goldsmith and historical novels). She uses “surely” several times. Myself I do see a tradition in her mind: Edgeworth, Burney, Radcliffe, Brunton, West – novelists of her day that she sees herself vying with and dialogues with indirectly – Doody in the older Grey’s Handbook takes the easier task of simply finding out her reading, but I think Austen did see this is a tradition no one was recognizing. Isabelle de Montolieu assumes it – as does Stael.

Then Grundy turns to the novels, and despite some lapses into hagiography and wishful thinking (Austen is not thinking of Lady Winchilsea), and the usual overstretched attempt to show allusions, once she gets to the novels where we are given not just a text but an intelligent use of it, she shows Austen made genuine intelligent use of a wide range of texts you might expect from her class, gender, type, background, and she probably gets the emphasis right: while Austen saw her novels in terms of other novels, especially those by women, in the attitudes she is directly in Augustan school. I agree that Catherine is better read than we realize but then NA is a literary book. Austen was a strong reader and took what she read – would read against the grain, would not accept others’ aims; though we have to take into account her unqualified admiration for Edgeworth, the presence of Burney, Johnson, Grandison, Cowper.

1st reprinted in 2nd:  Claudia Johnson, “Austen cults and cultures” (the word Janeites is eschewed in the title.” It’s better than I remembered. Thoughtful , not condescending, informative and insightful. JA “a commercial phenomenon and a cultural figure,” HJ aimed at “her faddish commodification by publishers and marketers.” The growth of readers first occurs in 1870 JEAL Memoir. James cannot stand she is loved by the wrong people for the wrong reasons (233). Austen’s appeal reaches those who do not recognize the authority of those who like to think they adjudicate literature.  She is looking at the history of her reception: what writer can be seen independent of this? Difficult to disentangle “the real Austen” from the agendas of those discussing her. Modern Austen criticism begins with DWHarding who “claimed Austen herself was above her admirers, meant to rescue her from them.” She sees turn of century male scholarship as a form of play, and Kipling’s story presenting Austen not as an escape but what helps you in the trenches of life. People who attacked (Harrison, they are ahistorical; ridicule the idyllic dreams). Chapman accords her intense respect (as others) books seen as “refuge from realities”.  Harding and Booth are two different forms of bullying, Harding elitist and Booth from the angle of marriage and other disciplinary norms for women (Johnson rightly lists under this approach quite a number of critics, with Sedgewick as the protester against it). Then there are the male critics who are concerned not to be gender deviant because they reads these books (Lewis, she’s acerbic, serious, moral). Mudrick comes out of mindset, is an attack on JA as frigid, lesbian (Austen can do no wrong). The problem with the inclusion of this essay is it needs to be updated, the latest fashions in Austen criticism (which may be seen as a cross between Janine Barchas and Sarah Raff) are not here, but they fit into a point of view.

Johnson’s point is that Austen criticism turns out to be a matter of disciplinary self-identity. They differ from the other books taken up by cults and fan groups (among them just now the Poldark novels because of the mini-series) because her novels “hold a secure place in the canon of high as well s popular culture.”  The academic criticism of all the amateur and bellestristic study has not assailed its object (Austen’s texts) but the “triviality of its non-knowledge.”  She says it’s not the novels that police us as has been claimed by some, but novel criticism as a discourse. Here where I think she “falls down” is she too participates in hagiography and is unwilling to critique why Austen lends herself (what in her fiction and letters) to these skewed, half-nuts and overdone evaluations.

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A recent cover illustration for Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

2nd edition (new): Thomas Keymer – NA & S&S begins with usual praise using Scott — see how this is verisimilitude and has power of Wordsworth, only to knock it down by saying rightly texts show immersion in popular modes; where he’s fashionable is wanting to situate her in “market-leading genres of the day.” But she did use gothic and nervy routines and formulas for S&S. Long tradition wants to make NA and S&S early, callow somehow but in fact we see that NA was revised several times and ready for publication in 1803; the latter three not technically flawless experiments but do bear witness to earlier fragments. So we are talking of a novel parts of which refer to what no longer exists (dress and other streets) after 1807 (so it reflects a Catherine of 1809).

Keymer demonstrates intertextual range, what is generally alluded to and what he can cite: he cites a list of novels with word Abbey in them; comedy is to frustrate expectations; he does admit the interweaving of gothic elements. Nonetheless, Austen playing on idiom in general; goes into Radcliffe and says Austen distinguishes Radcliffe from debasements and horrid novels. Wants us to see her assured tones – but I wonder about how the tone one takes in public is different from the tone one feels in private (p. 27). How the register of parody is pitch perfect. But she is not just kidding because in her fifth chapter the strong praise, elsewhere she shows anxieties about her rivals doing more than she, shutting off possibilities; superficial simply to see it as satire for admiral is awful, not that such novels have nothing to say for themselves. He then turns to references in the text: the Blaise castle visit has having genuinely sinister implications (p 29); nothing at all authentic about Blaise. Slavery can be brought in because the builder of Blaise, Thomas Farr was a Bristol merchant – we learn that by the time the book published Farr bankrupt by American war and folly bought by John Scandrett Harford, a quaker and abolitionist and had made the estate a center for abolition activity p 30; as for Tilney we see how he married wife for money and how Radcliffe has helped Catherine to see what Henry admits is true Not about what the novel is, but about what it’s doing. For S&S he turns to Barbara Benedict and her thesis this is a state of the art regency novel; did not resist but repeated marketable routines; Lynch too on the character types &c&, still he has to say Austen disrupts these stereotypes. Marianne like Catherine reading life out of novels.

Keymer does find the ending of S&S dispiriting. It bears comparison to alternative fictional types where the heroine is over-emotional and has to be taught a lesson – what this kind of thing is doing is preventing us from seeing how differently and in a superior deep way Austen is embodying this clichéd theme (p 34). Finally he turns to Butler who says it’s congruence, and Elinor learns legitimacy of feeling. Novels quoted: Elizavbeth Gunning Orphans of Snowdon (1797) Isabella Kelly Abbey of St Asaph (1795). By no means is sensibility entirely rejected – and Keymer concludest Elinor’s self control does show a perverse endorsement of social codes that work to restrict and oppress Marianne – histrionics her only way of fighting back. So he brings NA and S&S together at last: Catherine and Marianne responding to calculating world with justifiable screams of distress.

2nd edition (new): Penny Gay on Emma and Persuasion. She remarks how different are MP and P&P. Her task to see how the mature artist who never repeated herself produced two novels in a row so different one has to find new generic descriptions (p 55). Gay wants to find the theme of a novel about novel writing in Emma – after in passing she says it’s like a detective story – she has some insights about the novel – such as Mr K and Emma have a strong sincerity between them because their relationship is familial, p 57 – notices how Frank plays games and does nothing about Emma’s dangerous gossip over Jane; that Emma hardly goes anywhere; has not been to Donnwell in a couple of years, not to London because Mr W won’t Jane Fairfax as tragic heroine well supported; Persuasion rooted in larger world, in navy, aware of larger political happenings too, Anne is carried about from place to place without her wanting this; on a sensitive soul whose feelings are validated; romance motifs pulled out; a comparison of two endings shedding light – I feel it’s the lack of comedy in the second that makes for the superior quality of it (not Gay, it’s Anne participating more, and the theatricality of the letter scenes); a comic and elegiac novel; social commentary in both, a stable optimistic man the hero.

2nd edition (new): David Selwyn, “Making a Living,” comes from the older school of criticism: genuinely historical and close reading: JA had many relatives of people who could be no means take an income for granted. How people behave towards their estates characterizes them, so most Crawford and Rushworth do decorative improvements; Dashwood ruins his property, but Mr Knightley’s Donwell Abbey is “unimproved,” when he makes changes like a footpath which will “not cut through the home meadows” it is to increase productivity, not satisfy aesthetic whims; he retains the “abundance of timber in rows and avenues”. He is involved in day-to-day business of his estate, careful scrutiny of a drain, acres destined for weath or spring corn or turnips. He is vital part of economic structure of his locality. Selwyn gives deep, accurate thorough portrait of economic arrangements of Austen’s characters, again a great deal taken from Emma; along the way explains many terms, e.g., parlour boarder, a boarder who lives with the family, eats with them. He is too optimistic, saying “good people” did that and this … honest people making a comfortable enough living in Highbury shows stance of Austen’s novels her fans like; people seem far more precarious in Sanditon – commercialism at its center; real sources of income which enable some characters to hold up heads are ‘decently obscure’ (the Woodhouses, Sir Thomas Bertram).Joke at close: Emma would be shocked by some of Sanditon – so too The Watsons.

2nd edition (new): E.J. Clery has written brilliantly on the gothic, especially Sade and Radcliffe. He quotes Tauchert as an authority on a conservative woman-reading feminine approach. “Gender” begins with idea that Austen mocks heroines equipping themselves with superficial training that makes for gender identity; males must project gender too – and Tilney show this to be silly stuff. Clery shows Austen uses words like “queer,” Strange” half-witted by Tilney when the character admits to awkwardness. He talks of de-stabilizing of gender identity in recent queer theory; 19th century it was a form of impropriety merging on antisocialness. Critics notice many misdirections of feeling in Austen, violations of code. Social artifice is made visible alongside Enlightenment ideal of rational individual. Her renown is as a conventional romancer; he thinks 70s and 80s feminists wrested Austen from canonical readings; the queering the latest manifestation of D.W. Harding impulse to prove the readers of the novels those Austen would have most detested. With the movies overtaking discourse on Austen and their insistence on romance, is there any way of reconciling these positions; Austen who plays with and subverts, Austen who ends books stupidly (S&S especially). He says he is going to address this through literary form: movies end on bliss, kiss, novels have brusque endings, Austen enjoys giving pain to romantic readers.

Throughout her books she is mocking romance in all sorts of ways while heroine quietly long for it. In the books we do not project forward after the happy ending, and we see all the things that will be troublesome in the “union” (indeed I’d add Juliette Towhidi under the guidance of PDJames in Death comes to Pemberley who insists on Darcy as still rank obsesses insists on these until near the end). Is there real cohesion at the endings? No attention paid in NA, S&S, not much in P&P. DAMiller narrative mocks what it cannot do without. Emma though presents perfect happiness and Darcys have the Pemberley and Gardiners. He argues we transcend because it’s such hard work to get there; we enter mind of heroine throughout, closed off from hero (his idea this is radical departure is unreal and silly – very common in 17th century long haleine romances, 18th century, like Burney). Communication problem not just social but psychological. He suggests a second plot-design in the background of hero chasing a vocation, having to have independence, proper manliness (fact not unnoticed by modern parasitic sequel writers as in Mr Darcy’s Diary) his solution is we are ecstatic when these two minds come together, the utopian potential of understanding is what we are given.
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From Davies’s 1995 P&P: two sisters living together (Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, and Susannah Harker as Jane)

2nd edition new, a valuable addition: Kathryn Sutherland: “JA on Screen.” She begins from a broad perspective angle and then bring in cultural reading comparisons and finally ends on particular films. How film and novels are good at telling stories; one is motionless words, the other moving (and aural) pictures. That Austen is a singularly anti-visual novelist, stays with generalities; characters focusing on a particular object often pathological; it’s the interplay of subjective understandings that brings us the characters and stories. Her visual transformation first seen in first illustrated editions of 1890s; not among earliest films but staged in 1935 and then play turned into film meaning to convey ideas about war. 1970s BBC mini-series, first are influenced by stage and illustrations; Fay Weldon breaks away, but we are still in Laura Ashley land. Huge media attention, and it has become impossible in discussions and thinking about Austen to disentangle the novels from the films; they reflect our time (so Transpotting and 1995 S&S can be brought together). But it was out of the same nostalgia (1870s) that the cult of Austen began; what then is the link between academic and popular understanding as two march together, occur together. The personal identification with character filled out found in AC Bradley likened to the intelligent reinvention of Lost in Austen where some essential solace is found – both have supplied what is implied in the Austen text but not brought out. Lost in Austen substitutes the reader for Elizabeth in the fantasy. Tie-in books and readings have reinterpreted these books as romances (refers to Becoming Jane Austen as an absurdity) but what how different is false emphasis from super-edited academic texts.

Turns to films: they are interpretive, the visuals in the 1990s are high luxury, and camera work of the gorgeous cinematic landscape type of far shots; post-2005 shabby and minimal, with hand held cameras. But if we look we find since Said no one can discuss without discussing Antigua though before him few ever mentioned it. “We are always reading new novels even when they are the same old novels”. Screen interventions have momentous impact: we see the hero and heroine so it must be a courtship marriage story from the outset; the McGrath with its arrow scene; Davies use of Colin Firth, his turning on its head Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza Williams so what damned him later is made to damn him before we meet him. Davies’s language sounds like Austen’s and he substitutes himself (so does Emma Thompson do this feat.

Interestingly Sutherland is impressed by Miss Austen Regrets. Film good at delivering the silences in the books; silent images of Amanda Root which begin 1996 Persuasion convey the meaning of the novel well; no intrusive voice, no voice-over (why is she against this?); she feels Hughes used Austen’s letters with tact and understanding, Olivia Williams played the part with complex understanding and it is a contribution to Austen studies when we go back and read the letters – she does not realize Nokes an intermediary. A bleak and beautiful film. European use of camera work, triangulation of Fanny Knight, Haden and Austen before last turn of film. She does connect this to one woman whose engagement broken leaving her in emotional wasteland and another marrying in middle age in the novel Emma: we are viewing the novels and Austen from the perspective of a woman who reneged on a promise to marry. New observational style, drab wardrobe, luminous use of light at times. She sees this as showing us Austen’s life and its little matters (what Paula Byrne turned to though Sutherland does not say that).

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Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets (2009, scripted Gwyneth Hughes)

The politics of Jane Austen studies in which so many have invested careers, businesses, to say nothing of people’s self-conceptions and on-going fan communities have prevented the second edition of the Cambridge Companion from doing anything more than differing from the first in a couple of new subject matters and in a few indirect mirrorings of recent fashionable norms and ways of framing in order to praise Jane Austen and her writing. The assumption in both volumes is Austen’s novels are pretty nearly flawless, Austen herself made to fit as far as possible today’s ideals for women writers. I concluded my review with the comment that we need a sound edition of Austen’s letters (perhaps together with a second volume from the Austen Papers) of the type represented by those published by the McGill Burney scholars. The one we have, with its appendices muddled and contradictory, the information offered biased and not precisely aimed at the references and individuals in the letters, falls under the rubric of “family friends” and “advocates” (as described by Donald Reiman in his The Study of Modern Manuscripts: Public, Confidential and Private [Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1993]).

Ellen

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Cassandra Austen — our only image of her

Dear friends and readers,

As I end this four year long close-reading of the letters of Jane Austen as they appear in Deirdre LeFaye’s edition, based on Chapman’s originating scholarship, it is time to make some attempt at an assessment of Cassandra and Jane’s relationship. These last letters occasioned controversy on Janeites as to how far was Cassandra a confidante who understood her sister and appreciated her full gifts?

I read these letters closely to try to break away from conventionalized stereotypical views and believe I did manage that with respect to Henry and Eliza Austen, Jane’s relationship with Martha Lloyd and her brother, Francis. I did not know that the letters to Charles and Henry were so few (and Jane so disdainful of Charles’s first wife’s family), and am convinced now there was a cache of letters between Jane and Eliza (as there was between Francis and Jane) destroyed.

I was reconfirmed in my idea that Jane favored her father, remained in a tense relationship with her mother for many years, that her Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot stole that lace (or “smooched” it as Maria Bertram says of Mrs Norris’s propensities), that unhappily due to her older brother, James’s bullying wife, Mary Lloyd, Jane and her older brother lost a closeness they originally had. I did realize that equally unhappily after Anna Lefroy grew older, Jane was unsympathetic, unfair to a niece who had looked upon her as one of her surrogate mothers, but not that Anna’s novel-writing was an offering to draw her aunt in again. Nor that Jane was at once aware of Fanny Austen Knight’s limitations and kept an emotional intellectual distance while at the same time drawing close to the conventional niece because she, Jane, was perhaps more comfortable with someone who could not understand her. I knew about her early love for Thomas Lefroy, Mrs Lefroy’s compensating attempt to match Jane with Rev. Samuel Blackall, an apparently real regard for Edward Bridges which was cut off, and the sudden late congeniality with Charles Thomas Haden (too young for her by this time and beneath her socially). I did not know how much she favored Frank until these letters. I did not know that she loved Martha Lloyd potentially the way she perhaps could have at least adhered as a wife to man she could be congenial with. The letters do not include the affair with Harris Bigg-Wither which culminated in an acceptance and then clumsily broken off engagement. I did not realize how complicated and interesting a person Henry’s thwarted career (that he went as far as he did is remarkable), his marriage to Eliza and his helping his sister publish her books shows him to have been, nor how little Jane did him justice.

I am persuaded I see the over-all arc or trajectory of the two sisters’ relationship over the years but the details of what quite was understood between them by Cassandra as opposed to Jane either were never written down or destroyed by Cassandra. In their earliest letters to the time of leaving Steventon, the letters between them register much tension and disagreement: Cassandra repeatedly not only does not approve, she scolds, she does not respond to Jane’s letters, she writes others more often (she is not comfortable); Jane is guarded, indirect, placating (Cassandra writes the best letters anyone ever did and Jane longs for these). Jane has turned to Martha Lloyd just before the Steventon breakup; Mrs Lefroy steps in – very badly – to try to find a man for Jane after having herself colluded in removing Tom Lefroy. There is no sense at this time in the wild hurt Jane Austen registers at how everything is being done for her brothers, how she is expected to give everything up to James (even books and piano) that Cassandra at all shared Jane’s feelings. She seems to have accepted the roles imposed on her.

Then we have the time in Bath and the silence of 4 years. My reading of the letters just before and especially after, the one new novel from this time (The Watsons) compelled me to conclude Jane Austen had a breakdown of some sort, from which she came back with difficulty and through resuming writing (Lady Susan, preparing Catherine or Northanger Abbey for publication) — when we pick her up again we find her exchanging visits with single women of desperate gentry level like themselves, especially after her father’s death when they move from Green Park buildings to Trim Street. A new note is seen in the open intense relief of leaving Bath and the letters of their times away at the seashore in summer.

I suggest at some point in these 5 years Jane made her compromise; she acceded to appear and act the way Cassandra wanted in reciprocation for the real help Cassandra afforded — she was given space and time to write. This space and time was essential to her recovery. The plan concocted by Frank was part of this. So by the time of Southampton, like a married couple, Jane and Cassandra and Martha too have made an understood bargain. Frank is in on it. Unfortunately the household did not work because Mary Gibson was deeply uncomfortable with these triangular relationships. She wanted and got out as soon as she could. She also (like Mary Lloyd Austen) was no reader and wanted out of the nights of reading and days of writing (for Jane) too.

We need to recall how almost immediately from the time of Thomas Fowles’s death, Cassandra excludes marriage and by the time of Southampton, with Jane as moral support in effect, is dressing like an older spinster. Being thrown at men (implicitly) in Bath must not have been much fun for them. Like others before them, Emma Donoghue sees in their behavior a pattern of understood lesbian spinsterhood — they had with them other friends, a female community Jane was repeatedly trying to stabilize. Then we see tension with Martha who during the time at Southampton wants marriage and can’t find anyone (no money, she had had small pox, and from the one painting she was very homely in the first place; and she had no connections). Cassandra does now agree to the idea of a female group of friends to live together — she, Jane, Martha and here and there Jane yearns for others — apart from the mother. But one dialogue with the brothers, and that’s made hopeless.

Many people who read this blog have even close friends and more to the point relatives they may see and depend upon and like very much who are different from them fundamentally. And spouses too — who live a life together where nonetheless there are big gaps. There was enough shared — more than enough — of spinsterhood, poverty, family; Martha came on the trips (we have her at Worthing one of the trips for which we have evidence of who was there), ever there on and off until May 1817, a ghostly second or first love for Jane. All the talk about the deep confidence and how Jane and Cassandra told one another more than any one else is at one point contradicted by Fanny — so Jane in a spontaneous moment denied this. And it was three-way anyway. The way in which it’s phrased has a double symmetry that reminds me of such statements in romances (like of Pamela and Philomena in Sidney’s Arcadia).

There was an important part of Jane Cassandra did not understand and just tolerated. Jane’s books are talked about as simply laugh, what fun she had writing them. The talk about the novels as reflected in the family letters was, isn’t Aunt Jane a card? What good fun these novels are. We are told of Jane Austen getting up, walking about in gales of laughter and then returning to her desk. My sense that Austen was not in fully conscious contact with what are the depth of her fiction is part of that. The work of revision is probably not what is being described when Jane is getting up and down doing what the relatives described as fun. Cassandra was sounding board for these readings which ended in gales of laughter (as heard on the other side of a door) and for the literal verisimiltude Jane Austen was consciously working; this latter one aesthetic rule rigidly adhered to by both Cassandra and Jane is reconfirmed in what Jane says Cassandra had to say about Anna Lefroy’s fiction.

I have become convinced through this close reading of Austen’s letters and a study I did of the manuscripts for a review for an Eighteenth Century bibliographical periodical that Austen’s deepest imaginative gifts were only part of her conscious life through her tenacious practice of absolute unqualified verisimilitude through literal probability and her attention to style. What she did was endlessly revise and we have evidence that all the novels up to Emma and Persuasion were the product of many years of revision. You can study the process a bit in the few left and you discover she characteristically begins with burlesque with a kind of rigid moral message or anger at some perverse social custom, and then as she proceeds, not just softens but will change the tone until we are near the grave, plangent, and have an utterance that does not fit this morality and is at a distance from the anger. Her criticism in the letters shows no awareness of the deeper strains of the books she reads.

I’m not sure that makes her into two Jane Austens but I think another part of her writing career does. I agree with Harman that the family’s toleration and pride in her books was limited — to all Harman’s instances I add the striking comment on Emma a couple of months after publication, no one will want this copy around here. Only after her death do we know her name and only more than 50 years later a memoir with a repressed book (so she fits into the 1790s — and I’d like to add her “Plan of a Novel” resembles Blake’s “Jerusalem” in its idiosyncratic mix of names of real people she knows, archetype, and allusions to a book by Cottin itself a semi-political one) and one where only volume 1 was complete.

The savings of the comments Jane got rarely show any appreciation of what these texts are. Note what Cassandra says she likes to remember of Jane in these letters: in all the circumstances of their lives together probably includes reading and writing but what is specified is the “chearful family,” and then during the illness and death – when she was so dependent, filled with anxious semi-penitence.

They shared a room. It was understood they would. Another way of putting this is Jane Austen never had a room of her own. In London she often slept with Fanny. At Chawton when she was gone her bed was given to young Cassy to sleep in. (I could repeat how until the end Jane Austen hadn’t the power to go and come in a carriage as she pleased. Had she married she would have had that, but also a master over her head who could control her movements, take even her jointure if he pleased, impregnate her endlessly, which from her letters she did not want. Her novels would be her children.) Casssandra and Jane are as a pair ignored when their financial means are discussed. The family wanted them as a pair. Yet they were often apart. Jane was not much at Godmersham; she was more with Henry and Eliza at London where Cassandra seems not to have gone much. We are missing all the letters between Eliza and Jane and what happened when Jane arrived for the last two months of Eliza’s agon into death.

There’s the problem that Jane Austen’s letters have not exactly been inspiring works of great imaginative thought or feeling; passages here and there have been remarkable for concision of wit, and one can’t get entirely out of this by arguing for Jane’s double life, or that the letters we have are not only a remnant but wholly unrepresentative. Had Austen written to someone who was (as we see at the opening of the collection) not disposed to disapprove scold, grow cold and not write back when Jane does not obey conventions, someone who Jane would have to exercise her gifts, maybe thecollection would have been different. From Frank’s letters we know he could be decent, humane (though a cruel flogger, so mean that he was in effect reprimanded for it and in this period that suggests ferocity). He occasionally shows original thought (he is horrified at the early use of versions of bombs as barbaric and refuses to go along with their use), but on the whole Jane’s attraction was to a pragmatic brother. The few we have to Frank show she was wary of him, slightly in awe of his power. Yet there is the oddity of how his daughter hated these letters so that she rushed to burn them the moment she had opportunity (was alone with them). Those comments we have by Jane on Henry are superficial, dismissive of his grief for his wife, his depths; Jane was not invited to Godmersham as he was, not a favorite there as he and Cassandra were. Later in life Jane has been co-opted into the family conventional erasure of anything uncomfortable or with the slightest whiff of unrespectability. If the portraits of Lady Susan or Mary Crawford are meant to evoke Eliza Austen, this is as painful as Austen’s snide comments about Anna just after her marriage (including a piano that she as a young woman had been deprived of). Later in life Austen apparently turned into mild version of what happens to people when they become hostages of others — the family way of erasing Eliza’s illegitimacy and Henry’s endlessly maneuvrings to escape the fate of a fourth brother in a family with little money and weak connections.

Nontheless, enough is here from these three letters to show an enormous gap in understanding between Cassandra and Jane. Just read Cassandra’s words (see comment from Middlemarch below). When Jane is on the same page as Cassandra it’s in some of Jane’s worst moments and in some of Jane’s literary criticism of Anna’s novels and various texts by others. In the case of novels, all fail for both Jane and Cassandra on the criteria of strict verisimilitude.

I see Cassandra as dealing with her own grief in these three letters; she deflects Fanny and she deflects Anne Sharpe, and what she’s on about is what she feels for herself and wants to believe for her sister. She is constantly alluding to heaven: Jane’s up there in heaven. Yes she wants hope for Jane and herself. She is scared of of that God and placates to the nth degree of self-censorship so as to hope all this was not and is really not as bad as it is. Well, Cassy it is and was that bad — meaningless deeply painful ordeal of death at a young age. Cut off. Jane recognized it — in the poem she was angry and in her last words saw all that was left was oblivion from pain.

That’s as far as one can go for an outline of an adult relationship finally forming, once of compromise and understanding and support enough in the exigencies of a difficult fringe powerless life.

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CEA 3. From Cassandra Austen to Fanny Knight. Tuesday, 29, July 1817. Chawton Tuesday.

Diane Reynolds led again:

Here stands the final letter. Jane has laughed much and danced often and enjoyed her years at Steventon, including naming the new furniture. She has suffered much, as has Cassandra. They draw closer than close, an impregnable duo, a fact C does not let go of in the last letters. They move to Bath, Jane falls into depression, her father dies, the mother and sisters become poor dependents, sometimes humiliated, though Jane can still enjoy a good slide on the ice, and then vital life returns as they settle into Chawton. All along Jane has been writing and finally, in 2011, Sense and Sensibility is published, followed by four to five glory years as book after book emerges, four in all, catches the eye of the Prince Regent’s librarian, visits London gloriously, then experiences mysterious illness, decline and death.

Reading the letters has been enormously important, inadequate as they are, for my understanding of Austen’s life and personality.

In this final letter, written to Fanny, Cassandra opens with flattery, working as hard as she can to erase any idea in FK’s mind that Jane didn’t like her, though C doesn’t go as far as to say that FK was actually a favorite. Instead, C leans into the intimacy FK and Jane shared: “her who was I believe [here C is qualifying with the “I believe”] better known to you than to any human being besides myself.”

FK apparently sent C a letter of grievance and condolence. C reads it three times, thanks her for it, says “nothing could have been more gratifying to me than the manner in which you write of her.” As for Jane, now “a dear Angel,” the praise she imagines Jane bestowing on FK’s letter is more qualified: in heaven Jane “may perhaps receive pleasure in being so mourned.” (Or not.) C then dwells NOT on JA’s love for FK, but on the similarities between the two: “there are certainly many points of strong resemblance in your characters.” But what C comes up with is weak indeed. “in your intimate acquaintance with each other and your strong mutual affection you were counterparts.” In others words, they knew each other well and liked each other. This is meant as warm reassurance to Fanny–and yet this is far as C will take it. Fanny must be satisfied that her praises pleased C, might possibly have given JA “pleasure” (of what sort we don’t know) and that C acknowledges that Fanny was an intimate.

The next paragraph is more satisfying in giving us some historical particulars: the funeral day was tranquil and quiet, C watched the “little mournful procession” down the length of the street, until Jane’s coffin was out of sight around the corner. Her emotions are more stirred in recollection than they were at the time. We get the necessary conventional statements about how deeply JA was mourned (which may well have been true, but the language is conventionalized) and of Jane being “hailed in Heaven: with “joy.” C mentions–and I find this interesting–experiencing not only “considerable fatigue of body” but “anguish of mind for months back.” We can assume C knew for months her sister was not going to recover, but we must add to that the blow of the L-P will. However, C quickly assures FK, she really is well and grateful for God’s support: more conventionalities, more ways of deflecting pity or effusions.

C naturally writes of herself, not forgetting to mention Edward’s kindness during the funeral time, and in phrasing that sounds very much like Miss Bates to me (could C have been Miss Bates–this would shed new light on Miss Bates as possibly catering to superiors and snobbish to inferiors) C writes “indeed I can never say enough of the kindness I have received from him and from every other friend.”

C also does not want to forget JA–indeed wants to remember her all the time and looks forward to the day they will be reunited in heaven. We get a glimpse of the variety of her relationships with Jane: “confidential intercourse” (they had secrets, a special relationship known only to them), of Jane as part of the “chearful family party” (another face of Jane) and then in Jane’s aspects of invalid and dying self. Interestingly C. adds the words “I hope” JA is in heaven–she can’t quite simply mouth the commonplace without acknowledging that we really don’t know. C is unusually heartfelt, however, as she writes, with exclamation pints, “Oh! If I may be one day reunited to her there!”

And then, as the letter and thus all the letters end, C gets down to business. There’s a lock of hair for Fanny and the question of whether Fanny prefers a brooch of Jane’s or a ring. C also mentions the gold chain for Jane’s goddaughter Louisa. These are finer gifts than anything given to Miss Sharp, and come with the assurance that every one of Jane’s bequests is “sacred” to C.(Perhaps this a sharp allusion to promises made to fulfill the wishes of other dying people that were quickly broken.)

C ends with a much warmer salutation than that offered Anne: “God bless you my dearest Fanny! Believe me most affectionately yours.” And that is it.

An unremarkable gentry life and death for the times, except for six extraordinary novels. If Jane could only know how beloved she has become.

This letter contrasts sharply with the one to Ann Sharp; in the first paragraph Cassandra comes near to gushing. Diane characterizes it as full of flattery, seeking to assert (again) how close Jane was to Fanny: she thinks her sister “better known to” Fanny “than any human being besides myself.” Cassandra seems here not to have read – or understood – Jane’s letters to Fanny which show Aunt Jane openly peering intently into the consciousness of Fanny for material because she expects Fanny will not understand what she is doing, and then seeing that she had made Fanny very uncomfortable, trying to backtrack but still convinced that Fanny knows herself little (and this writer even less). When she fancies her sister speaking of Fanny in heaven in the same terms as Jane’s letters thought about her when in life we see the difference between a mediocre mind and that of genius. Again we have how Jane up there in heaven may be receiving pleasure in seeing Fanny so mourn her. Fanny has apparently written again (to Cassandra) and Cassandra read it three times and just rejoiced in Fanny’s kind expressions to Cassandra and yet more strongly for Aunt Jane. Fanny Knight is certainly more valuable object (personage) than Ann Sharp in Cassandra’s mind. It would probably be wrong to suggest that Cassandra did not understand Fanny nor Fanny her: they lived on the same plane with the same values, norms. Not that Fanny sees through this; it’s what she expects.

Then a paragraph on the funeral, to which Cassandra not only did not go but seems to have tried to behave as if she was not even paying attention when she was alert every split minute. All calm and tranquil. This woman spent her life denying emotions she felt which she had been taught she was not supposed to have – so “when I had lost sight of her forever – even then I was not overpowered, nor so much agitated as I am now in the writing of it.” In the writing of this event and her emotions, she cannot ignore the latter as they fuel her pen. Then how much Jane is mourned sincerely – by her family. Scattered throughout the letters are the assertions about how Jane is now in heaven – of course it’s put that Cassandra hopes this as Cassandra would not presume and is ever so grateful to God for supporting her in all this. (Good of him – I find myself remembering Eliot’s analysis of this kind of thinking which I posted yesterday.) In the midst of this she admits to the ‘fatigue and anguish of mind for months back.” She then turns to Fanny’s father – Fanny has said he looked unwell when he got back – Fanny is not into this denying business. Cassandra replies she did not think Edward “appeared unwell” (careful qualification there) but she “understands that he seemed much more comfortable after his return from Winchester …” Perhaps relief now the remains are gone. An ordeal finished, the burden a little lifted because the presence of the person and then the corpse showing what had happened vanished. She need not tell Fanny what a great comfort he was to her.

Then how she is getting through these first days. Always a problem. She goes out a lot – into the yard? To visit – employs herself, but of course she chooses those employments which give her leisure to remember.

Note how this woman is continually monitored by her super-ego. It’s interesting how she likes to remember her sister: not writing, not reading but “in confidential discourse, in the cheerful family party, which she so ornamented, in her sick room, on her death bed.” (She and I part company there, I’m not keen on remembering the sick time, nor death bed, though it is ineradicable and keeps coming back.) But there is that “the cheerful. She then hopes to be united in Heaven but lets slip how grieved she will feel when “the time must come when my mind will be less engrossed by her idea [image is the meaning of this word, from Locke]. She then hastes to placate her God again – never cease to reflect on Jane as inhabiting Heaven and never cease all those humble endeavours (please God) to join her there. I seem to temember it was around the changeover from BC to AD when this notion of a personal God really somehow paying attention to what’s in someone mind, personal prayer as actuating anything was first articulated.

And so now to give Fanny out of “the precious papers” “now my property” – Austen had written out a few more bequests it seems – so a gold chain to Louisa, and lock of hair to Fanny. Every one of Jane’s requests will be sacred. (Did Jane say nothing about the letters?). Does Fanny prefer a broche or a ring.’

And so these letters end. Diane set them in the context of this 42 year life emphasizing its successes and concluding on how Austen is now so beloved. I know this is a strong impulse: while the person is dying you want to reassure them they have lived a good life, been so loved. Jane’s last poem does not suggest she was thinking over her life;she was asserting a kind of immortality some of us might like to think she felt from her books but what the poem shows is her identifying with Venta. When she is buried, the foolish people with their races will think she is gone, but no such thing, she has been able to get back at these ‘sinners” by raining on them. In the last stanza she enacts what Johnson said the mad astronomer did in Rasselas: asserts her control over the weather. Mad jokes? Those are her last words that we have beyond the few where she begs for the oblivion, the surcease of death.

For Diana Birchall’s reading see comments.

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MissAustenregrets
Thus Miss Austen Regrets registers Jane Austen’s death: as absence, the film takes us two years past Austen’s death after the scene of her grieving with Cassandra and opens on a church graveyard (2008)

As in her other letters Cassandra’s last is filled with religious egoism which she presents as consolation. George Eliot’s Middlemarch‘s analysis of the ultimate sources of this kind of religious utterance in her Mr Bulstrode, a “humble” evangelical Christian, offers an explanation. Eliot was brought up among such people and shows us a man who looks out at the world from the standpoint of self: Bulstrode says of an enemy who comes to Middlemarch, God made this man come to Middlemarch because God had me in mind; when another individaul wants to sell a property and Bulstrode can afford it, this is God manipulating the world to reward me; in CEA’s letters, God must be gratified to look down and see you, Miss Sharpe get this bodkin I send; the smallest thing in the universe is intended for and about her or Jane Austen, and this includes cruel horrifying events: hideous death for Jane Austen very young is God wanting to punish Cassandra. The person does not conceive how insignificant he or she is against the huge universe, how many more real motives and circumstances and history actuate whatever happens because he or she is putting an unthinking utterly self-centered view as controlling the universe. In his Varieties of Religious Experience William James describes these circuits of what passes for thought more abstractly.

Cassandra was uttering what she could out of her denied pain; she had the cant of religion available to her and unlike her sister didn’t pay attention to the full meaning of words she wrote down. Diane Reynolds offers the modern kinds of consolation: look at the valuable life, see the person valued by all around her as she vanishes forever. Psychologists urge the people around the dying person to assure the person they will be okay financially, and to tell them they had a good life and were valued (whatever the words). This is for the sake of the people around the dying. The social world urges the grieving person to begin to recover quite quickly, or hide it. And that is what we also see Cassandra obediently doing. Diana points out what she calls the oddities of the final poem. Having watched a beloved person die in an ordeal of horrifying pain and drugged last days, someone quite intelligent, I know from him that he saw my repetition too of these sorts of useless statements — you were a good father, good husband, lived a good life, for the irrelevance they were. There is no use in anything we say to the person destroyed in the prime of life. Words are then powerless.

Austen was not a solitary genius and her family encouraged her, and some did understand her books to some extent. But a number did not. My sense is Austen never did come into contact in a close way with anyone with her calibre of mind; some of her relatives recognized its value. I see Henry as one of them. Consciously she did not give him credit enough. She kept people away from her insofar as she could, especially I feel the more sensitive insightful ones. (This might not be true of Eliza Austen or Anne Sharpe). I feel for Cassandra; the words she uses are not important it’s the emotion she feels and ahead of her lies long years of absence, and after her mother predeceased her.

I put the picture of Jane’s four books up as preface to Cassandra’s first letter. But were they consolation for Jane? Let us not insult her instinct. What we have from Jane shortly before death is remnants of a letter where she is presenting some case to Henry’s business partner’s wife. We know how devastated she was to see no money would be coming from her mother’s brother. I infer she knew that bad mistakes had been made in the few business dealings Henry did for her over her books. She had made little by Emma, lost the copyright of Pride and Prejudice. Then the twisted angry half-mad poem and records of her begging for oblivion, surcease from pain and life during the last ordeal.

I mean this when I conclude this collection by saying I see in these framings “hope spring eternally in the human breast.” Can’t give up hope, can we?

I have written this from the standpoint of what I take to be an accurate biographer of a life as it is lived. Yes in 1870 James-Edward Austen-Leigh wrote a loving memoir of his aunt, and began the wider popularity of his aunt’s books by providing a sentimental framing and reading of her life and works. He printed two valuable works by her. Yes other relatives, Lord Brabourne in particular, began further to publish her letters. Yes today she is known across the world, her books exist in beautiful varied editions, films have made her name a household word, and they themselves provide some knowledge of the books. But none of this is what she died knowing. What her life was. And a good deal of this wider dissemination makes a travesty of the meaning and reading of life her books offer us. That’s why it’s important to see the letter collection for what it shows us.

Theburningoftheletters
Cassandra’s burning of the majority of Jane’s letters (also included in Miss Austen Regrets)

Ellen

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Silverbodkin
Silver bodkin, 18th century or earlier

Dear friends and readers,

A second letter from Cassandra, this time to her sister’s close friend, Anne Sharp, governess (once at Godmersham) and paid companion, which is not exactly a warm generous letter of shared grief. It seems to me prompted by one from Miss Sharp to her, perhaps plangent, in the throes of grief (one hopes) under control – seeing the response she elicited. I present the readings of this letter as they occurred on Janeites and Women Writers @Yahoo and Austen-l, so I am again grateful to have two guest bloggers with me.

Monday 28 July 1817
My dear Miss Sharp

I have great pleasure in sending you the lock of hair you wish for, & add a pair of clasps which she sometimes wore & a small bodkin which she had had in constant use for more than twenty years. I know how these articles, 1 trifling as they are, will be valued by you & I am very sure that if she is now conscious of what is passing on earth it gives her pleasure they should be so disposed of. — I am quite well in health & my Mother is very tolerably so & I am much more tranquil than with your ardent feelings you could suppose possible. What I have lost no one but myself can know, you are not ignorant of her merits, be who can judge how I estimated them? — God’s will be done, I have been able to say so all along, I thank God that I have. — If any thing should ever bring you into attainable distance from me we must meet my dear Miss Sharp. —

Beleive me very truly
Your affectionate friend
Cassandra Elizth Auster.
ChawtonJuly 28th
Miss Sharp

beltclasps
A pair of belt clasps

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Diana Birchall began it:

There are two letters still in this collection, and here is the first of them. A short note from Cassandra to her sister’s friend Anne Sharp. It is eight days since the letter to Fanny, and she writes: “I have great pleasure in sending you the lock of hair you wish for, &, I add a pair of clasps which she sometimes wore & a small bodkin which she had in constant use for more than twenty years.”

I wonder what the clasps were – hair clasps? The bodkin is variously described as a needle, or a hairpin. They were generally silver, and here’s a picture of one:

http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/15206/lot/797/?page_lots=3

In the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Hamlet is quoted (“When he himself might his quietus make with a bare bodkin”), which is appropriate, as Jane Austen knew her Shakespeare so well. Here it is described as “a stiletto worn by ladies in the hair,” which in something called the Seven Champions, “Castria took her silver bodkin from her hair, and stabbed to death first her sister and herself.”

Assuredly, Jane Austen did not use her bodkin for murder, but a bodkin seems to have multiple meanings. Some definitions call it a blunt large-eyed needle, while others call it “a long hairpin with an ornamental head.” Women used bodkins for threading and rethreading ribbons, cords and laces; their chief purpose was to thread bands or cords through corsets and bodices. Some had a little scoop on the end, for scooping earwax which was used in handling the sewing-thread! (I get the idea that this was earlier than JA’s more elegant day though.) It is mentioned on the Jane Austen UK site, that such sewing implements had to be wrapped up to be kept from rusting, and oil from the hair was used by running the needle through one’s hair. Ear-wax and hair-oil on the garments one was sewing!

Bodkins used in sewing had a hole like a needle, while the merely ornamental might not; however, women are described as using them as hairpins tucked up under their caps, and then taking them out to use in sewing. I wish we knew just how Jane Austen wore or used this bodkin, which according to Cassandra she had owned since her early twenties; but one article says “In the 18th and 19th centuries, bodkins could appear hung on chatelaines, or as part of matching sewing and needlework sets. Bodkins could be worn on a dress as a clasp, or wrapped in chenille used decoratively. Another article calls the bodkin an antique comb. Even after all this, I’m not sure whether Jane Austen used a bodkin to tie up a braid or knot of hair, or if she used it solely in sewing. That she had it “in constant use,” sounds more active than ornamental.

Cassandra writes that trifling though these articles are, she knows Miss Sharp will value them. Rather strangely she writes, “I am very sure that if she is now conscious of what is passing on earth it gives her pleasure they should be so disposed of.” Really? Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, this is surely a strange locution – is that what JA is doing in Heaven, watching out for where her bodkins go?

Cassandra goes on to say that she and her mother are well, and, she adds revealingly, “I am much more tranquil than with your ardent feelings you could suppose possible.” This tells us something about Miss Sharp, about Cassandra, and about Jane, who had this ardent friend and this dry, practical sister. Then Cassandra shows a bit of superior status, to let Anne know she is the one who was closer to Jane, who knew her best: “What I have lost, no one but myself can know, you are not ignorant of her merits, but who can judge how I estimated them?” That seems rather tactless, surely. Why should Anne Sharp be no better than “not ignorant” of JA’s merits? Why is Cassandra parading her superior closeness and knowledge of the subject? There can only be one reason: she had been made to feel uneasy, perhaps a bit jealous, that this Anne Sharp was possibly as much to Jane as she was herself. She would not have had to make this point otherwise.

She ends with another bit of religious sentiment that reads oddly today: “God’s will be done, I have been able to say so all along, I thank God that I have.” We may connect this with her taking Jane’s death as retribution on herself, as she does in the previous letter.

Even her closing, friendly sentiment shows superiority! “If any thing should ever bring you into attainable distance from me we must meet, my dear Miss Sharp.” What about something bringing Cassandra into proximity with Miss Sharp? Must Miss Sharp always be the one to travel?

It seems a very friendly note on the surface, and is signed, “Your affectionate friend,” but there are little stiletto pricks with the bodkin, I think!

Diane Reynolds followed suit:

In this brief note, written a few days after the funeral, Cassandra is obviously tidying up her sister’s effects and so sends Anne a few modest items: a lock of hair, a pair of clasps and a small bodkin “which she had in constant use for more than 20 years.” A bodkin was a small pointed device for punching holes in fabric but also a stick for holding hair in a knot. I am imagining this bodkin as the sewing device.

C is stoic, not sentimental. She is not going to make a shrine or museum of her dead sister’s things. She is sensibly dispersing items whose lingering presence would have no use and which would no doubt give pain as reminders of loss.

Anne’s inner circle status is clear, especially when C writes that “I am very sure if she [Jane] is now conscious of what is passing on earth it gives her pleasure” that Anne has these personal items. They are “trifling,” but we can imagine JA would indeed be pleased to see them helping a single woman and close friend with little money.

Once again, we see C deflecting pity or emotional outpourings, while at the same time acknowledging Anne’s intimacy with Jane, and perhaps making a barbed comment: “I am much more tranquil than you, with your ardent feelings, could suppose …” My sense, however, is, rather than attack Anne’s emotionalism, she is simply erecting a wall, saying “I am fine, please don’t gush to me about this terrible event.” She goes on to acknowledge, that Anne is “not ignorant of her [JA’s’] merits.” However, “what I have lost, nobody but myself can know” and “who can judge how I estimated [Jane’s merits]?” This is a moment where I wish C had been more forthcoming and HAD estimated her sister’s merits, but … ah well. C appears in a hurry or not inclined to write at the moment (she must have had a heavy load of correspondence to deal with] or not inclined to confide in Anne, so she turns to a platitude to deflect her recipient: “God’s will be done, I have been able to say that all along, I thank God that I have.” The task of sending the items now done, the reason for the note finished, C ends the missive, as warmly as she can inviting Anne Sharp to visit should Miss Sharp ever come into “attainable distance” from C. (She makes no offer to travel to visit Anne.) She does end on “my dear Miss Sharp” and signs off as “very truly … your affectionate friend.” We do feel amid the stoical stance, affection for this friend.

However, while, Cassandra cannot unbend for Miss Sharp, thank goodness for Fanny Knight, who C will be much more willing to confide in in the final letter.

And I chimed in:

I’m glad both Diane and Diana have already written (if others have I won’t know until tomorrow or until the next Janeite digest comes into my box). this way I can feel surer my reaction is accurate: through the attempt to be cordial, warm, and acknowledge how special Anne was to her sister, Jane, Cassandra is curt, erecting a distance, and herself seems to doubt they will ever meet again. Curtness: “I am very sure that if she is now conscious of what is passing on earth it gives her pleasure they should be so disposed of.” It’s the “so disposed of” that carries the curtness: disposed of, An online dictionary specializing in connotations of words says “if you dispose of something, you get rid of it.” “Trifling as these articles are, they will be valued by you. There is a sting there even if the overt message is an acknowledgement that the smallest thing from jane means a lot to Anne.

Erecting a distance: I take Cassandra’s reference to herself and her grief to be in answer to a letter Anne wrote in which she tries to condole and fine words adequate, do justice to this great love of Cassandra’s and Cassandra does not care for others trying to characterize her grief, however compassionately meant. “What I have lost no one but myself can know …” I feel a kind of huff here: “you are not ignorant of her merits.” What a backhanded way to put it — from Jane’s letter it sounded as if Jane late in life felt Anne understood her, counted on this. It’s a quiet discounting of Anne’s position. “who can judge of how I estimated them.” Let us assume Anne was self-controlled and did not respond what feels natural: “I was not judging how you estimated them, my dear Cassandra.” Cassandra would perhaps have preferred conventional cliches: today she would have no trouble receiving many; “We are so sorry for your loss and have this problem about your papers ….”

We can’t know if the next line was a response to lamentations by Anne about Jane’s early death or sufferings but it feels like a response to that kind of statement: “God’s will be done, I have been able to say so all along, I thank God I have.” (Anne reading this: Well sorry I didn’t come up to your exemplary gratitude. I have these ardent feelings.)

Mrs Austen is “tolerably so,” — that’s a phrase used in impersonal social situations.

And then finally goodbye. Cassandra’s words are: “If anything should ever bring you into attainable distance …. ” Cassandra does not expect it: “if anything”? hardly likely it seems. Then of course we must meet. But as Diane points out it is Miss Sharp who must get herself near, not Cassandra.

There are no letters to Martha Lloyd: partly they were destroyed them all but also Martha was still silently there — in May. What was there to discuss after Jane went to Winchester — letters were passed round. They had said their goodbyes. Had there been, I wonder what Cassandra would have written — not quite the same vein as I agree it’s also a matter of Miss Sharp’s rank. Martha did work as a companion, but only and off. She had a family to turn to. MIss Sharp has only her jobs — governess. For those who’d like to see a frank (shameless) expression of this have a look sometime at Elizabeth Eastlake’s famous diatribe on Jane Eyre. Hireling — that’s Jane’s words for musicians (the Burneys would not like to have heard that one).

I agree that Anna went down when she married and that was part of the alienation; for a time after Jane’s death, her husband did become a vicar, but he died young and she returned to penury and dependence. The first words of Cassandra’s final letter show a real warmth in contrast: read it three times too.

Diana points us to the peculiarities of ideas religious feelings prompt Cassandra to utter. I am surprised at the “if” — “If she is now conscious.”

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MarthaLloydlateinlife
Martha Lloyd Austen — late in life, now married to Francis: perhaps his way of re-asserting his deep connection to his sister, as it was disapproved by Mrs Leigh-Perrot, a act of imagined shared contra mundum

Was Cassandra a snob? cold to Miss Sharp? Diane saw more “than a few hints of snobbery,” and that Cassandra was “a barbed writer” like her sister, cozying up to the higher status Fanny Knight. There was snobbery in JA’s attitude towards Anna Lefroy.” I’d like to remark also on Martha’s ghost-like presence and Cassandra’s coming great long loneliness — however she might deny this. She lived on past the death of her mother, and from what documents we have it seems she and Henry grew close, while Fanny Knight as Lady Brabourne kept her distance.

Ellen

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