Posts Tagged ‘homoeroticism’

Frontispiece to 1788 edition of Elegiac Sonnets

To the Goddess of Botany:

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

From Elegiac Sonnets, 1789.

We began with The Marketplace and the Canon.

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

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

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

John Constable, A Seascape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Now the topic was Nature and Art.

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


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

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

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

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

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

John Smith of Chichester, A Winter Landscape

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

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

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

Sonnet 67: To dependence

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

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

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


Read Full Post »

Philip Glenister as Wm Stafford curtly asking Mary Boleyn to be his wife (The Other Boleyn Girl, 2003)

Jim Sturgess as George Boleyn, in the tower, awaiting beheading (The Other Boleyn Girl 2008)

Dear friends and readers,

This week I’ve been listening to Simon Vance read Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies so effectively that I returned to re-watching the 2008 Other Boleyn Girl film and part of the 2015 mini-series Wolf Hall. And now after several Tudor films this year I’d not watched before, and a number of non-fiction as well as fiction books on the actors and/or milieus of this area, how the Renaissance era is seen from contemporary documents. I’ve also come up with with an fresh idea that might help explain the popularity of this era. For why after all should the murderous and sexually insecure impulses of a half-mad King Henry VIII deserve a moment’s attention.

It’s this: the appeal of this Tudor Matter comes from its unacknowledged freedom to present masculinity in ways that undermine norms for men either in costume, manners or sexual behavior since the later 19th century, and tell real truths about fluid sexual desire and what worldly ambition may necessitate. hese “Elizabethan” or “Renaissance dream-themes,” screenplays and films expose men caught up in situations where their masculine pride is directly hit. They kneel to strong women, and their swords are rendered irrelevant when it comes to the power of money, religion and the king. The origin of this is in the period: men were flamboyantly dressed, the poetry and plays of the era demonstrate how they defied sexual taboos by enacting enthrallment, abjection, and sensitivity; when aristocrats or courtiers or businessmen (lending money) or soldiers, they were at direct risk from monarchs with the power to execute them with impunity. There were a number of women who came to power and used it effectively: Catherine de Medici in France, Elizabeth I in England are only among the most famous and powerful; there are many minor levels of power and victimage. Historical fiction and gothics picked up on this strain beginning with later 18th century gothics (Sophia Lee’s The Recess, 1783) and Walter Scott (Kenilworth and The Abbot among many others), and have not let up since; films took this over in both the US and UK from The Prisoner of Zenda on, and especially in the Errol Flynn and Gainsborough movies. Stewart Grainger is with us still in Ross Poldark.

Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001) has been credited with putting new characters into the familiar mapped territory: George and Mary Boleyn. In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel has for a wider public transformed the character of Thomas Cromwell (it began in the scholarship of Geoffrey Elton and Marilyn Robertson, 1970s-89) from the monster of Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons into another kind of empathetic hero-monster, a fixer and businessman and intellectual coerced into cooperation, co-opted like many today feel they are. for myself I bond intensely with Mary Boleyn, and have ever wanted to read more about the so-called “minor” women of the court, from the French Jeanne d’Albret (mother of Henry IV who said Paris was worth a mass) to Katherine Parr. It’s the first age where we find numbers of women educated and writing letters and poetry and drama.

Beyond this I am just fascinated by bringing Elizabethan-set movies together, and looking to see what is their dramaturgy; what new did this movie contribute to the Tudor Matter, what new techniques did it use. I want to watch the older Elizabethan movies and trace the changes in movies about Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart, from Scott. I get the impression the 18th century was more stuck in frozen gender types than the age before or ours since. I find myself looking at the paintings of the Renaissance era to see where ideas and images came from for each decade of the 20th and 21st.

Ana Torrent as Katharine of Aragon (Other Boleyn Girl, 2008)

The 2003 film is peculiarly fascinating for the way it also defies dramaturgical norms: Andrew Davies is credited as adviser and this script has the characters speak directly to us; the focus of the story is inward shattering of participants. Who are these: Anne and Mary Boleyn, with George around the edges of their talk .The 2008 film was a commercially successful costume extravaganza, whose historical adviser was Gregory herself, whose characters in this film strongly feminist film: beyond the Boleyn Girls, the remarkable Ana Torrent for Katherine of Aragon, Kristin Scott Thomas for Elizabeth Boleyn, the mother of the two beheaded children. The agonies of childbirth are presented repeatedly. I found these two women writhing under their lack of power yet so strong. The makers of Wolf Hall have had the daring to give us a new Elizabethan revenge play, with Anne Boleyn as a cool and transgressive stealth tragic heroine, and Cromwell a driven Hamlet.

Clare Foy as Anne Boleyn, aggressively keen archer, POV Cromwell (2015 Wolf Hall)


Read Full Post »

anna karenina 2012blog
Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina (2013)

Dear friends and readers,

Although 20th century awarding of recognition for achievement in movie-making may not seem appropriate for a blog intended for matter Austen, 18th century and women writers, artists, and I admit I write just about all my film studies blogs on Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two; nonetheless it is rare that an art that can so exquisitely capture aspects of life’s fantastical array of qualities be treated on TV with the equivalent of “Hail Stupidity!” so that Pope’s Dunciad becomes relevant. Since I went to most of the movies I saw with Izzy, it’s no wonder I agree with her favored list, and her assessment of the prize-receiving fool’s gold and the way the program was handled.

I am just now listening to a recording of a dramatic reading aloud of the whole of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; the reader is Davina Porter, and I see how brilliant and right was Matthew MacFayden as Stiva. And Knightley was as good as ever I’ve seen Emma Thompson, Hattie Morahan. Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for actress in a leading role (Haneke’s Amour). No one dared not vote for Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. I assume the grave seriousness of the film was embarrassing to the voters. The great genius of film-making, Ang Lee, walked away with 3.

Still for the most part the choices and proceedings merit:

O Muse! relate (for you can tell alone,
Wits have short Memories, and Dunces none) [620]
Relate, who first, who last resign’d to rest;
Whose Heads she partly, whose completely blest;
What Charms could Faction, what Ambition lull,
The Venal quiet, and intrance the Dull;
‘Till drown’d was Sense, and Shame, and Right, and
Wrong— …
In vain, in vain, — the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow’r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primæval, and of Chaos old! 148 [630]
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain, [635]
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ethereal plain …


What new movie in a paying movie-house did I see this year in the movies worth seeing and great? The only ones that remain in my mind are Coriolanus, last February; Alfred Nobbs, last March. I admit since we go to HD operas, I don’t get to see enough new movies.


Read Full Post »

First (1813) edition, title page

Dear friends and readers,

This is an important letter. For two reasons: it is the first mention of P&P as P&P, and the only one Austen left of her arduous whole-scale rewriting and cutting down of First Impressions in her determination to somehow get someone to publish it. It is sold.

And it is her third letter to her beloved friend, perhaps near-lover, Martha Lloyd.

P&P: As Diana B suggests, the language suggests that either Henry let her know his hassle had been too much for him or she felt it had — and it cost him. I read a couple of articles recently about self-publishing in this era: in fact what happened is the publisher paid for the materials and distribution and the author refunded the money, and so S&S had cost Henry beyond what she had put in. Note she won’t see the £110 for another year.

P.&P. is sold. — Egerton gives £110 for it.-I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard, so much.-Its’ being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me. — The Money is to be paid at the end of the twelvemonth. —

From the time she first mentions this publication project and all the work she is doing on her books (Letter 71) to this, there has not been one mention of her daily work. There she does say she never has her mind off her “darling suckling child” (S&S), has two sheets to correct, has heard Mrs Knight’s flattery, tells of Henry’s brother and how when she leaves London the further proofs are to go to Eliza and finally how she’s going to alter the incomes if she can. She is enormously guarded. Here she sounds relieved.

Diane R:

Such a few cool lines. Five words to give the news:

P. & P. is sold.

How laconic, how understated Austen is even to Martha! How excited JA must be, underneath it all, to have sold a second novel! She is on her way. S&S is not a fluke. Her life’s work, after all the frustrations, is coming to fruition. Yet all we hear of is the financing and business end. A dry 110 pounds instead of 150. Overly cool. The lady doth protest too little. I imagine she and Martha getting together, acting initially cool, catching each other’s eye and then jumping up and down and squealing, locking arms: “You sold it! You sold it! You did it! Girlfriend!” But none of that here. It comes across all as business transaction, with a nonchalant sense of anti-climax. Is the sale really “welcome” because it is ‘”a great saving of Trouble to Henry?” Can we be deceived? Certainly Martha can’t be deceived.

Of course, as we know, money mattered greatly to Austen–but again she is too laconic. Even what would translate to 11,000 dollars in our (US) money would have had her jumping up and down for joy, this woman accustomed to begging carriage rides and wearing last year’s
decorations in her hat. She should have been exhibiting joy just for
the money. Or is there a little bragging in her coolness–“oh, I
wanted 15K but I settled for 11K.” By all measures, she must have
been beyond pleased: 11,000 is not 15,000 but it is better than zero.

And to wait to tell the news–the news JA must be bursting to tell
Martha from the first drop of ink on the page–until so far down in
the letter! Buried amid all the other domestic chatter–grey cloaks
being made for 10 shillings, visits. Does Austen know this letter will be shared? Is she doing her best to downplay the significance of selling her second novel to protect herself from prying eyes? Yet
would she have put what she was paid in the letter if she expected it to be passed around? Am I right to imagine the same stigma applied then as now to talking about money–especially for a lady, provided for by her brothers?

Martha Lloyd late in life

Martha. The beloved person she actually wanted to have as a partner for life and did indeed manage to live with on and off for some years and take trips with (to Worthing). It seems while Edward was in the house during this trip he had Martha’s room (“a very large Bedroom”). Was Martha given the largest to bribe her to stay with them? That’s putting it hard, but it is clear from so many mentions of disappointment in Martha over the course of the time in Southampton, the early equally reciprocated relationship and Austen’s idealizing of her is long gone.

Let us review the previous Martha letters: 26, 12-13, Wed-Thurs, Nov 1800 — read her euphoria, intense eagerness to be with her

Letter 27, 20-21, Thurs-Fri, November 1800. She is in a state of trembling intense expectation. No she’s not going to take any books. She is not going to Martha to sit next to her and read as she does in her own home. She wants to mingle her mind (and whatever else they do) with Martha — I mean walk but also physical interactions. I have wondered at the timing of Austen’s one visit. It seems to me no coincidence that this visit was allowed just before the announcement of turning Steventon over to James. One last softening intense happiness. It may just be coincidental but how often families do chose such moments to drop the beam. When the person is strong.

Letter 28, Sun 30 Nov, Mon 1 Dec, from Ibthorpe

Then the devastating upheaval, 29, 3-5, Sat-Mon, Jan 1801

Who was Mrs Dundas? She was Martha’s employer and is dying — died the next day as we eventually learn. Martha was Mrs Dundas’s nearly unpaid companion; that’s how Martha lived and now the money will surely cease. Martha’s silence over this illness is of a piece with the way that Cassandra destroys all untoward letters and Austen is indirect on family matters. This means a real loss: despite Martha’s several attempts to establish herself separately she never managed it. In one letter we had Jane determined to set up a way of life with Cassandra and Martha, and they would tell Frank and the family and then it’s only referred to much later. They were deliberately thwarted. The family was nervous about this. As I notice here so many never respond to my list of possible loves to include Martha – and Frank too.

Austen still cares so much for her. The opening (as Diana says) is unusually clumsy at moments, repetitive. Austen is just so emotionally involved and she herself cannot imagine herself doing this kind of watching over someone die — except as a stupendous heroic effort. and Martha is not just sitting there, she’s nursing this woman. At the close of the letter Austen returns to Martha to say what she can to her friend. She is sorry Martha’s nephew not well. Hopes his mother and father not uneasy. Miss Murden who she is sorry to hear is so often described as an “invalid.”

The problem with Terry Castle’s thesis about Austen’s lesbianism is she had not read Austen with care. She leapt onto the obvious (Cassandra and Jane) and then did not look to see Cassandra and Jane had separate beds. It was Martha that Austen laid on the floor with one long night of apparent real enjoyment when there were not enough beds. (Some will say Chacun a son gout, but love is blind.)

Olivia Williams and Gretta Scacchi as Jane and Cassandra Austen, now old, living marginally and Jane no longer well (2008 BBC Miss Austen Regrets)

The two threads come together when Austen writes about funeral or appropriate clothes and fringe single women on the edge of desperation. She is not going to get that 110£ for another year so she will have a moderately-priced “Grey Woollen . . . ten shillings.” So Miss Benn is there and should be given “something of the shawl kind” to wear indoors (it had better not to be too “very handsome” or she’ll never wear it) Mrs Stent will soon be out of her misery (“not much longer a distress to anybody”). Miss Murden invalided. It’s pleasant to see that like Austen Martha remembers a servant, Sally another girl with almost or really nothing. Note Sally genuflecting in front of Austen (she means to “be a good girl if I please”), and that “there is no apparent deficiency.” That’s Austen’s emphasis, translated: Let’s not think about under-clothes.

I agree with Diana B that Austen is satirizing weddings again in her commentary on Miss W’s wedding and the ditty:

Camilla good humoured & merry & small
For a Husband it happend was at her last stake;
& having in vain danced at many a ball
Is now very happy to Jump at a Wake

but it’s not out of complacency about her own publications. That’s not what her words refer to. They refer to the reality the groom is so much older than the bride. Camilla “good-humored, merry and small” is going to dance “at a wake.” He’s not far from death. She married because “it was her last stake.”



Family matters and (dare I say this) echoes and parallels with Emma fill the rest of the letter.

It seems Edward and his “harem” were at Chawton. This word is a muted reference to Austen’s awareness of how Edward had dominated his wife in his way; he likes women – he never did re-marry though, enough children he might have thought. They did cost even then. They have arrived at Winchester and sent word of “their happiness,” but it appears they do not look forward to their next stop: Steventon. Mary Lloyd. How sorry were they to go away? “they were certainly very sorry to go away, but a little of that sorrow must be attributed to a disinclination for what was before them.”

Steventon as seen from the side with a Anne Hathaway as a young Jane Austen writing on a bench (2007 BBC Becoming Jane)

Later in the letter this tension between the Godmersham and Steventon families is brought back: “Monday. A wettish day, bad for Steventon.” Although the loss to Jane Austen of Steventon was bitter, it was no beautiful house (perhaps something like Thornton Lacey as Henry Crawford describes, not really fit for a gentleman’s residence); it was damp. Dampness did not improve Mary Lloyd or her husband’s mood. The 1870 idyllic picture of Steventon JEAL invented was a response to his memories of Steventon as a boy; with Mary Lloyd it was no harmonious place.

But Mary Deeds is with them, says Jane, and “must be liked .. so perfectly unaffected & sweet temper … as ready to be pleased as Fanny Cage, deals less in superlatives & rapture.” So maybe more believable to the sharp Mary.

For Edward something important happening: name change in order to secure the inheritance. They’ve a letter now to forward from a lawyer. (I”ll mention lawyers cost.)

There is some chitchat of a coming Tuesday evening event – no vibes here about Tuesday at all. (Again the unmarried women.) The Miss Webbs to come, Cap and Mrs Clement, Miss Benn (cannot do without her — I think of Miss Bates. Mrs Digwood but not Mr prefers to kill rabbits at Steventon. I know “shoot” is her word, but the preference is clear. They need the turkey for Christmas is coming.

Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller as Emma (when we first meet her all grown up), with a wry Mr Knightley (our first sight of him too) (2009 BBC Emma)

As to hints of Emma: Has there been work on a brief draft. I discern a number of parallels and contrasts between the novel and what is going on in this letter. The “Steventon edition” for the ditty — as in Emma there is a Hartford edition (of poetry, of lines about first loves)

But yes there is an Emma reference that is light mockery — making fun of herself for the way she pretends to publish all these years — consider the many copies that have survived. What’s more the mockery of Mrs Butler is pure Mrs Elton. Then the eating Turkeys – Emma filled with diurnal food. And Miss Benn (Bates). Women who don’t marry are so poor. Edward is laying out money and the “sum” passing through their hands “considerable” 20£ At any rate she didn’t have it herself. So little to vex her had Emma. So Austen would begin …


Daisy Haggard as Nancy and Anna Madeley as Lucy Steele (2008 BBC S&S)

Like others on Austen-l about this letter: I’m glad it’s survived because it’s to Martha. Everyone seems determined to ignore this; its opening, its frame, its closing, the fringe women it’s all Martha all the way.

P&P really takes a small proportion of her mind. It’s a done deal and at the moment a relief to be so. A backseat here. I just read how some TV station in Utah won’t let a situation comedy about gay people get on the air. Martha was not in a situation comedy as she sits next to her dying patron.

Martha is found in Austen’s novels. In a minor character. Nancy Steele mentions eavesdropping on her sister, Lucy.

And I am sure Lucy would have done just the same by me; for a year or two back, when Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together, she never made any …

When Martha Sharpe and I had so many secrets together. Jane has conflated her two favorite women, Martha Lloyd and Anne Sharpe. In this scenario, she is Nancy … More seriously, alas, we don’t know enough about Martha’s inward character accurately described to try to discern which of Austen’s characters might have some of her traits, unless aspects of Nancy Steele caricature Martha. While in Southampton Austen several times expresses irritation through humor of Martha’s chasing after men.


Read Full Post »

How good Mrs West could have written such books and collected such hard words, with all her family cares, is a matter of astonishment (Jane Austen, Letter 145, 8-9 Sept 1816)

John Glover (1767-1849), country landscape (typical illustration in books of this era)

Dear friends and readers,

This is a continuation of my blog on Austen’s letter 108, 28 September 1814, where Austen wrote:

-– Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. — It is not fair — He has Fame & Profit enough as Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. — I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but I fear I must. — I am quite determined however not to be pleased with Ms West’s Alicia de Lacy, should I ever meet with it, which I hope I may not. — I think I can be stout against any thing written by Mrs West. – I have made up my mind to like novels really, but Miss Edgeworth’s, Yours & my own. –

To which I add:

Uncle Henry writes very superior Sermons. — You & I must try to get hold of one or two, & put them in our Novels: — it would be a fine help to a volume; & we could make our Heroine read it aloud of a Sunday Evening, just as well as Isabella Wardour in the [Scott’s] Antiquary, is made to read the History of the Hartz Demon in the ruins of St Ruth — Jane Austen, to James-Edward Austen-Leigh, Mon-Tues, 16-17 Dec 1816, Chawton

19th century Spanish illustration of just this scene in Scott’s Antiquary

Austen’s determination not to be pleased with West’s novel in the same paragraph as her mention of reading Scott’s Waverley suggests she is referring to Jane West as imitating Scott. If she must like Scott, or he must write these kinds of best-sellers, she can still be stout against Mrs West. It’s a self-reflexive joke. But how like Scott did West become. Were they feeble imitations. I had read some of A Gossip’s Story and knew it was domestic romance, didactic, obvious (see J. M. S. Tompkins, “Elinor and Marianne: A note on Jane Austen,” Review of English Studies, 16 (1940):33-343).

I searched in my own scholar’s library of handbooks and companions and books on Scott and/or 18th century women writers, and failed to find a plot-summary of West’s Alicia de Lacy, a historical romance. It was published too late to be in ECCO and I’ve no time just now to go over to the Library of Congress to see if they have it. They might not. (Memo to self & reader I’ll go this summer.)

So (the meantime) I read some brief biographies of West (in the ODNB too), summaries in literary histories of other of her novels and (to my surprise) discovered her poetry is reprinted in Lonsdale’s 18th Century Women Poets with a longish potted biography, and in Backscheider and Ingrassia’s enormously fat book of British women poets of the long 18th century. While I was not surprised at the latter (Backscheider & Ingrassia omit satire [!], ironic poems, burlesques, where the most radical voices can be found, prefer the conservative), I was surprised to discover a couple by West were not only readable but somewhat moving and read autobiographically could provide some explanation for this woman’s obsessive once popular texts.

Jane West was a better poet than she was a novel writer because in her poetry she managed to present more of her authentic story. I share two poems here:

Poems to women friends are a sub-genre of women’s poems. They often pour themselves into these, create an alternate world for the two friends This holds true for contemporary poets (like Elizabeth Bishop or Adrienne Rich); some of the most famous of 17th and 18th century poems by women (and occasionally by men) are friendship poems. The “matchless” Orinda (Katherine Philips) wrote matchless ones. “To Laura” is not a masterpiece but it is sincere and filled with loss and regret (which is not the common way, the common way is to celebrate, to pretend the two are together); she turns to death, a Christian death, but still a form of oblivion

Elegy III. To Laura

How long, how well, we’ve lov’d; Oh Laura, say!
          Bid recollection trace the distant hour
When first we met in life’s delightful May,
          And our warm hearts confess’d fair Friendship’s power.

Recall the portrait of the ingenuous mind,
          Which from experience no stern precepts drew:
When gay, impetuous, innocent, and kind,
          From taste congenial love spontaneous grew.

Deep had we quaff’d the cup of childish joy;
          The simple sweet our nicer taste disdain’d.
We thought youth’s promis’d feast would never cloy,
          And of the future fairy prospects feign’d.

Time lifts the curtain of expected years;
          Eager we rush the imagin’d good to find.
Say, if the blessing, when possess’d, appears
          Fair, as the phantom that allur’d thy mind.

Doth the stern world those faultless friends disclose,
          Thy guileless candour imag’d to thy soul?
Doth virtue guard thee from insidious blows,
          Or sense the shafts of calumny controul?

For me! I thought the golden wreath of fame
          Still in my reach, and like a trifler play’d:
But when I turn’d the glorious prize to claim,
          My hopes had faded in oblivion’s shade.

The dear associates, we in youth rever’d,
          The world’s rude changes from our arms have drove:
Some in the grave’s dark cells, have disappear’d;
          Some lost by distance; some estrang’d in love.

Yet there are views, which never will deceive,
          In one sure prospect no false colours blend:
Death on our brows will press his cypress wreath,
          And all our wishes in the dust will end.

Perchance, ere yet, yon zenith’d sun shall lave
          In the salt deep, my conflict will be o’er.
Then, Laura, bending o’er my turf-clad grave,
          Shall shed the tear, which I shall feel no more.

Or, if allotted many lengthened years,
          We walk consociate through the tedious gloom,
‘Till each lov’d object gradual disappears,
          And our dim vision but discerns the tomb:

Still our try’d faith shall shame the fickle herd,
          Whose civil forms are cold and unendear’d:
Nor shall a casual flight, or dubious word,
          Efface the kindness we have long rever’d.

Friendship’s sweet pleasures bless’d our early hours
          With tender fellowship of hopes and fears:
Our ripen’d age shall feel its nobler powers;
          Its calm endearments sooth our drooping years.

Then, when the levities of mirth offend,
          When passion ceases its tormenting strife;
How sweet in converse with an aged friend,
          To trace th’ eventful history of life.

From present sorrow, lassitude, and pains,
          To lift the soul to glory’s promis’d sphere:
There may we meet, and where love ever reigns,
          Perfect the union which we cherished here.

The second is franker. It’s about some really painful sexual experience she had as a girl. The poetic diction gets in the way as do the disguises, but the core matter can be discerned. He (the young man) behaved very badly to her it seems. In Rochester’s language it seems they had sex and then he had his joke and walked away, and then married someone much richer than she.

Pastoral 1. Celadon.

Oh! Celadon, did not the hours
Appear to glide rapid away,
When with me ‘mid fresh blossoming flowers
You carold the beauties of May.
When spring, with its infantine green,
Lightly ting’d the tall elms of the grove;
Ah! Celadon, sweet was the scene,
Its beauty was heighten’d by love.

Of all you then sang, not a strain
But I still can distinctly repeat;
Ah! youth, but reproaches are vain,
Can you say your behaviour is meet?
Is it just to abandon with scorn
The heart you so hardly subdu’d,
And to leave the poor virgin forlorn,
Whom late you so fervently woo’d?

When you gave me the eglantine wreath,
You embellished the gift with your praise;
You only design’d to deceive,
Yet you spake to the heart in your lays.
My beauty was then all your theme,
In beauty I never took pride;
I thought it procur’d your esteem,
I knew not its value beside.

You promis’d your passion should last
Till by death’s icy rigour represt,
Yet now all your ardour is past,
And you live at that passion to jest.
Was the fetter that bound you too weak;
Oh! why is my Celadon strange?
‘Till sorrow had faded my cheek,
I saw in the fountain no change.

Can you say my behaviour was light,
Was it easy my favour to gain,
When I promis’d your love to requite,
Could others attention obtain?
To a test all my words may be brought,
Let my life by suspicion be try’d;
You, Celadon, knew every thought,
I had none that I studied to hide.

You sure must remember the day
You wounded your hand with the hook;
Again how I fainted away
When you rescu’d my lamb from the brook.
Oh! how my heart flutters; e’en yet
I think of your danger with tears,
Yet Celadon strives to forget,
At once, both my love and my fears.

Fond fool! do I utter my grief
To the man from whose falsehood it sprung;
Shall the nest plunder’d dove seek relief
From the stripling that ravished her young?
Yet shepherds are free from deceit,
Their manners are simple and plain;
From all kind compassion I meet,
And all thy injustice disdain.

My mother has often times read,
While I reel’d off my spindle at night,
That lions and tygers have bled;
All vanquish’d by shepherds in fight.
‘Tis right for such deeds to exult,
For virtue and courage they prove;
But,oh! it is base to insult
The girl you have injur’d in love.

Your bride she is lovely, I fear,
I’ve heard she is richer than me;
The lot of the poor is severe,
Ev’n lovers from poverty flee.
Yet my father, I’ve often been told,
Had once a large portion of sheep,
But the winter flood broke down his fold,
And buried them all in the deep.

My mother, alas! she is dead; .
My sorrow she now cannot feel;
To earn her a morsel of bread
I work’d very hard at my wheel.
She said, for my duty and love,
A blessing I surely should know;
I trust I shall find it above,
For grief is my portion below.

I have heard our good curate oft tell
Many things about Angels of light,
That in virtue and truth they excel;
Such Celadon seem’d in my sight.
Oh! break thou too credulous heart,
I am sick of thy passionate strife;
The victim of Celadon’s art
I s weary of him and of life.

Yet the curses of vengeance to frame
Is a sin that I dare not commit;
This heart, which still throbs at his name,
Will never the outrage permit.
My wrongs, oh! they all are forgiven,
And my last dying wish it shall be;
May he never be question’d by heaven,
For vows he has broken to me.

Go fetch home thy new wedded fair,
Thy joys I will never molest;
I have found out a cure for despair;
My heart shall be quickly at rest.
No more shall the night’s peaceful air
Be vex’d by my clamorous breath
I have found out a cure for despair,
‘Tis silence-the silence of death.

George Lambert, A Pastoral Landscape with Shepherds and Their Flocks (1744): Mrs West would have seen this picture as appropriate to her poem


A third very long poem done in the Miltonic-Thompson style fashionable then, but few will like now — so I won’t bother reprint it (as I doubt anyone at all who comes even to read one of my blogs will even try it), — is a rich seasonal Spring: An Ode, but it shows an intense originality of imagery, rich and wildly strange in particulars. Another pindaric poem, Independence, shows how much she yearned for liberty despite herself.

These are not Scott-like at all, but neither are they feeble or strident didacticism. They represent phases of a young woman growing up.


I invite my reader to piece together a biography by reading Lonsdale’s life (or quickly here the wikipedia article which is accurate enough), the briefer life in Backscheider, Jane Spencer’s (alas too) few valuable words in The Rise of the Woman Novelist (pp. 145-6). West’s Advantages of Education is re-told to bring out the mentor (say Mr Knightley) and faulty heroine (say Emma) with the girl’s teacher (say Mrs Weston) taking a more central dominant role to enable the heroine to reject an attractive but unworthy and cruel rake.

These come down to (what we remember)

Self-educated, as the persona Prudentia Homespun she wrote when she was early left a farmer’s widow with 3 sons. She did support herself by networking from there her overt Tory and anti-romanticism agenda; naturally her books found distributors. So here we have a professional woman of letters (which say Anne Finch was not). What some today are calling career risks (her children) became the cause of her career. Her works did speak to women’s experiences, and she found out what was fashionable or this year’s agenda now and again and imitated it. What I would call an enemy of promise (an experience that shatters us, dulls us, turns us into another issuing a warning lesson) turned out to provide the bread for the table, the pewter to eat off of. That’s what I suspect Alicia de Lacy represents. I too could be stout against it.

We make a mistake to pay attention to outward outlines: underneath lie individual stories and Jane West’s was different from Austen’s who seems to have rather had yearnings for the women rather than the men. Marilyn Butler, JA and War of Ideas gives several plot-summaries (but not Alicia) but her analysis is rigidly contained in her political polemics and goes not near the living core of the conservative books — as she does for some of the radical ones (not her relative, Maria Edgeworth’s whose ripe lesbianism she deliberately ignores).

For references and plainness the best is the biography in British Women Writers: A critical reference guide, ed Todd, but the writer of that two-page life (Nicola Watson) has not realized the poetry tells the tale we need to hear …

Mid-18th century sack dress, back and side view

A straw hat (slightly later, not to be worn with sack)


Read Full Post »

Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), aged 27, at Kellynch, about to be rented; she is looking back, reading over old letters and books in a trunk she is packing as she prepares the family things for their life in Bath (1995 BBC Persuasion by Nick Dear)

Dear friends and readers,

This time I’ll begin with a comment on Jane Austen’s life as it is slowly emerging from a close reading of these letters. I think as she grew older — and that’s by this time (1809) she had gone outside the family’s point of view for her feelings and understandings. She had intuitively done so before they left Steventon (we see this in her reaction to the family’s intense sycophancy over the father’s letters to patrons for the two sailor sons — she is against what they do), but she had not thought it out, she had not developed an alternative view of her own. This happened during the time at Bath, which I conjecture included a period of breakdown: signs of this break-away for real include the thwarted desire to set up housekeeping with Martha and her sister, the ceasing of most raw filips against childbirths, marriage, flirting which show genuine resentment of those who are living conventionally. She got a lot, a lot out of her reading; we don’t begin to see the extent of her reading or what she knew about (like politics — the peninsular war is part of her terrain we have seen in the last couple of letters).

The sense I have that she was at this very time working on Lady Susan and had written The Watsons in all their mututal but differing frank and unsanctimonious register makes this group of letters (unusually uncensored with none omitted) of more interest than they would be. Lady Susan and The Watsons, with their bold frankness as going beyond her home and family. They would not permit her to go on with the first (Watsons) or publish the second (Lady Susan). The Watsons is as startling frank, exposes false values and reality, as relentelessly as Lady Susan.

I’m wondering if the missing four months between January and April where we find this startling letter of an attempt to get back a ms of a gothic style book (she had pinned hoped on too as part of a popular subgenre of book), contained a struggle by Austen and to keep on with The Watsons or Lady Susan and when she saw it would not do, she turned back to the three books she had on hand and decided they would ahve to provide her with what she could use at long last to attempt publication. When she got to Chawton she began to save and to revise, first her favorite novel, Elinor and Marianne, and then the one she knew in her gut would please (First impressions) if only she could get it to the public somehow or others.


Emma (Kate Beckinsale) trying to escape Jane’s letters, but apparently not managing it; Harriet (Samantha Morton)’s astonishment (1995 BBC Emma by Davies)
So, to general remarks first:

She does talk of weighing her style here and it can refer to novel writing: “I begin already to weigh my words & sentences more than I did, & am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my ideas flow as fast as the rain in the Storecloset …

Again no gap and we begin to get a real feeling of continuity going on.

The weather continues very bad: “not but that you may have worse, for we have now nothing but ceaseless snow or rain & insufferable dirt to complain of … ” There’s a second later reference to all the snow and one finally to how she does like to keep someone “waiting in the Cold” — on top of the detailed trouble between the new flooded (yearly?) storecloset (which would contain their things, precious things as we’ve seen), not to omit that the closet “defeated them” gives us what she needed to escape from (Lady Susan) and what to record felt life from (The Watsons).

I take it in this letter she admits the stanzas in the previous letter are by her: “I am sorry my verses did not bring any return from Edward” (I realize “my” could just mean she sent them but do not feel that’s that meaning in context, in context is by me). She did have some ambition — of the best kind — to be as purely classical as Homer Virgil Ovid and Propria que Maribus. She knew the phony pompous stuff parading as classical verse was not its best spirit.

As to the matter it is heavily family (again Henry is the “excruciating” one), illness, real discomfort over Martha’s behavior on Jane’s part (she is not sympathetic to Martha’s newly franic male catching). We can glimpse too distress, discomfort, mortification in Martha (which Jane records enough to allow us to see); some attempt at joking to lift Cassandra’s spirits over the coming death of Mrs E Leigh (Cassandra’s godmother). Literary talk which reveals the backwater Austen is in: sermons, Cassandra is trying to force More’s dreadfully reactionary didactivc Calebs in Search of a Wife on Jane and Jane trying to escape this book — this puts me in mind of Emma escaping one of Jane’s letters:

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.

Well Jane will not escape Hannah More and although she is downright against evangelicals, the milieu impinging on her will tell in her later books (MP, Persuasion). There is a catch in Austen’s throat as she uses the word “future home” for Chawton. I’ve not heard that word “home” since Steventon and again the very early days of Castle Square when Jane planted the syringa and hoped for the best.

And then most unexpected a genuinely grand ball! who’d have thought it.

Jane Austen is aware of what is happening in the Peninsular war. Fascinating. I must read Escaille’s Peninsular War.

But as important is the poor mad woman escaped from an asylum; not told as fun or amusing but with real interest and a kind of intense curiosity. Austen has unexpected identifications, no? She signed herself MAD four months (April) later.


An order for prize money, Portland, Maine 1813

Opening passage reveals the real rhythms of these letters to Cassandra; let us suppose three packets of letters to Frank showed the same rhythms. Like many another novelist, Austen was also herself a letter-writer and (in effect) diarist. Cassandra has hurt a finger on her writing hand in some way. Since she had written on Tues, she would have waited until Fri (3 day interval — as LeFaye suggests in the introduction to this 4th edition)

My dear Cassandra
I will give you the indulgence of a letter on Thursday this week, instead of Friday; but I do not require you to write again before Sunday, provided I may beleive you & your finger going on quite well.

A reference to Burney which shows Austen alive to the unreality of the idealization of the characeter, Cecilia:

Take care of your precious self, do not work too hard, remember that Aunt Cassandras are quite as scarce as Miss Beverleys.

Charles is now beginning to appear regularly in the letters again; he had not been here since before they left Steventon and he was so obstreperous and demanding for his own place when it came to the patronage plum giving out (and the letters written at the time) and also a dancer, someone who liked to dance and flirt (as we would say). Note again a characteristic given Henry which is not the one the family wants us to think of as dominating. Excruciating. Henry was a demanding urgent sort; I hear that incisive held-in-check aggressive tone in his notification of her death. She is jealous that Henry will get there first; tell what he knows and all Charles said. We have seen her credit Henry with real insight and information about Stoneleigh Abbey and the history of the incomes of all family members now and in the past.

Charles’s Fanny only in expectation of not being well. Poor woman was another made incessantly pregnant while she lived once she married. We’ve not got that September letter — hardly any from her to Charles. He makes money by violence. As to this encounter, see Southam on the hardships of the life on board ship (pp. 131-32). He gives us a description of the general (corrupt in the extreme, lousy) system of patronage and prizes (interest he calls it). Very few got any prize money it should be noted. LeFaye cites Sheila Kindred’s essay on Charles’s capture of La Jeune Estelle (JA Society, Collected Reports for 2006, pp 50-53): this is an excellent article, showing the exact particulars of what Charles did, how the sum from sale of perishable goods came to 539.14s.11d 3/4s (two and one third times his regular annual salary; he also sold the vessel; years later Charles specifically names this vessel in his entry in a naval dictionary. Later in the letter we find she is keeping up with the peninsular war.

I had the happiness yesterday of a letter from Charles, but I shall say as little about it as possible, ·because I know that excruciating Henry will have had a Letter likewise, to make all my intelligence valueless.-It was written at Bermuda on ‘I 7 & 10. of Decr; –all well, and Fanny still only in expectation of being otherwise. He had taken a small prize2 in his late cruize; a French schooner laden with Sugar, but Bad weather parted them, & she had not yet been heard of; — his cruize ended Dec 1 st My September Letter was the latest he had received. —

Cassandra is going to London in three weeks, I assume to join Eliza and Henry: how often Jane and Cassandra were apart. This is worth thinking about, not ignoring: the why, the effect, how they seemed not to have minded

This day three weeks you are to be in London, & I wish you better weather — not but that you may have worse, for we have now nothing but ceaseless snow or rain & insufferable dirt to complain of — no tempestuous winds, nor severity of cold. Since I wrote last, we have had something of each, but it is not genteel to rip up old greivances. —

Then a joke — I presume these sermons by her cousin were pretty bad; this is the same sort of joke as when she speaks of all her political correspondents. Cassandra has no unknown mysteries; Jane only the papers she can get hold of and read with intelligence and honesty:

You used me scandalously by not mentioning Ed. Cooper’s Sermons; — I tell you everything, & it is unknown the Mysteries you conceal from me. —

Back to sick aging single women, the Austen women’s world. I note all the references to letters Jane receives. She had not the Internet or a phone but did what she could

And to add to the rest you persevere in giving a final e to Invalid — thereby putting it out of one’s power to suppose Mrs E. Leigh even for a moment, a veteran Soldier. — She, good Woman, is I hope destined for some further placid enjoyment of her own Excellence in this World, for her recovery advances exceedingly well.-I had this pleasant news in a letter from Bookham last Thursday; but as the letter was from Mart instead of her Mother, you will guess her account was not equally good from home. — Mrs Cooke had been confined to her bed some days by Illness, but was then better, & Mary wrote in confidence of her continuing to mend.

Fanny Price (Sylvestre Le Tousel) in the passageway of the Portsmouth house; at least she is there in April (1983 BBC Mansfield Park by Ken Taylor)

A curious passage about Fanny Knight: She was 16 the day before (Jan 23rd). The way Austen talks reflects the back-handed disciplinary way these people might talk of their children. Then we get Austen citing a platitude: while you give happiness to others, you will get your share. (That is not the view endorsed by the novels.) She is not eager for Fanny’s overlooking what she is writing – I don’t think this is that much a joke — remember how she excused herself (she did) to her young nephew, and here I do think we have a rare reference to Austen’s novel writing. She does not flow; she has to work at her first drafts too. Indeed this is the most interesting passage we’ve had in a while. She does not forget the real life context she writes in: lodgings, she’s upstairs and not so warm, but not literally wet as she would be and was when she contended with water seeping in, eroding the house downstairs, ruining objects and clothes.

You rejoice me by what you say of Fanny — I hope she will not turn’ good-for-nothing this ever so long; — We thought of & talked of her yesterday with sincere affection, & wished her a long enjoyment of all the happiness to which she seems born. — While she gives happiness to those about her, she is pretty sure of her own share. — I am gratified by her having pleasure in what I write — but I wish the knowledge of my being exposed to her discerning Criticism, may not hurt my stile, by inducing too great a solicitude. I begin already to weigh my words & sentences more than I did, & am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration or a metaphor in every corner of the room. Could my Ideas flow as fast as the rain in the Storecloset, it would be charming. —

How often she uses the dash in her letters and in her manuscripts for her fragments of novels.

What a misery they lived in. I can’t get any contractor to come in and fix small jobs either. They (the Austen women) have been defeated — but she is defeated with good grace. That’s the task and her real tone: here she puts me in mind of Robert Louis Stevenson:

There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.

Everything had to be moved out. Imagine the wet and the blackness and sour smell.

We have been in two or three dreadful states within the last week, from the melting of the Snow &c. — & the contest between us & the Closet has now ended in our defeat; I have been obliged to move almost everything out of it, & leave it to splash itself as it likes. —


Hannah More’s didactic books enjoyed a long printing history; Coelebs now available in facsimiles. ON the church tracts for children, see Dixon

Early on in the general discussion on Austen-l (which has now ceased) of Jane Austen’s letters we had quite a controversy over this next passage (if I can find it I’ll put it in the comments here). It is true that the novel may be read as romance. Nonetheless, Austen is obviously pressured to read Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife and does not want to read it. She does not like intransigent didacticism, especially when aimed at women; she has shown over these letter no strong religiosity of spirit. She is unwilling to quarrel with Cassandra over this but she hopes to be left alone (she was not). The reference to her “delight” when she reads it is a reference to the hypocrisy of people who will say anything others do, or an admission that perhaps (like people watching Downton Abbey who know they are like black people watching Amos ‘n Andy) she will be drawn in. But until then she resists.

The passage is of interest showing that people read politically — More’s book was liked as reinforcing conservativism — and we may infer from this and that Cassandra left this passage go, that Cassandra would have destroyed letters showing Jane reading liberal and radical works or commenting positively on them:

You have by no means raised my curiosity after Caleb — My disinclination for it before was affected, but now it is real; I do not like the Evangelicals. — Of course I shall be delighted when I read it, like other people — but till I do, I dislike it. —

I don’t know why others have not picked up in these verses from Letter 65. (Brag had been preferred to Speculation at Godmersham, though Speculation was “under” Austen’s special aegis, Letter 64.)

To me the next passage suggest again Jane wrote the stanza she sent in the last letter (“‘Alas! poor Brag, thou boastful Game! …”) I am puzzled as to why they seemed classical to Austen as they are not in couplets, but it may be that the game aspect, the sense of urbanity is what she refers to here. I don’t know that she is making fun either; we need to know more about how classical authors were taught, which poems chosen, what the teacher might say — for this is from the schooling she acquired as a bye-blow of her father teaching boys and her brothers: — or possibly she read the kind of essays published at the time on Virgil; again most of the titles that come down to us taht she or her characters read are not criticism but novels, travel books, poetry, occasionally a straight history.

I am sorry my verses did not bring any return from Edward, I was in hopes they might-but I suppose he does not rate them high enough.-It might be partiality, but they seemed to me purely classical-just like Homer & Virgil, Ovid & Propria que Maribus.

Remember how twice a day she was intensely looking for a letter from Frank. One finally came. She is very anxious about him. She reads how so many are slaughtered at Corunna and she thinks about it. Maiming was common; he was seeking prizes and that means violence. It was a kind affecionate letter; she lingered over it, and I suggest she answered, showing her anxiety for him:

— I had a nice, brotherly letter from Frank the other day; which after an interval of nearly three weeks, was very welcome.-No orders were come on friday, & none were come yesterday, or we should have heard today. —

Their inadequate present home. They hoped that Miss Curling would not seek to stay with them. Their house would be damp and cold — damp from the floods from snow, cold from how they don’t over heat the place (as we’ve seen). This is a connection shoring up Frank’s connections in the navy so they must make do. Imagine Jane trying to make a room more comfortable and knowing she must really fail beyond showing that she made the effort: (This is The Watsons stuff).

I had supposed Miss Curling would share her Cousin’s room here, but a message in this Letter proves the Contrary; — I will make the Garret as comfortable as I can, but the possibilities of that apartment are not great. —

Eliza is a servant and they would like to take her with them to Chawton. Remember how she and Eliza sat and ate black butter together by the fire in “unpretending privacy” (Letter 63). Straight off plates held on their laps together; on another day Eliza kept to her bed ill. LeFaye seems to think “sweetheart’ refers to Eliza’s mother. That’s not likely. It’s a boyfriend-lover. Eliza is making no difficulties about how she will have t live apart from this boyfriend. For Downton and other country house and supposed norms that say servants shall have no boyfriends, at least at this level of life the mistress does not appear at all to stop romance. When they were going to Bath Austen wrote of another romance and how she would provide romance interest for servants then. Sally playing John Binns is playing hard to get to get a higher salary. Jane not as kind or forbearing as Mr Austen had been, but also she and her mother have less money:

My Mother has been talking to Eliza about our future home-and she, making no difficulty at all of the Sweetheart, is perfectly disposed to continue with us, but till she has written home for Mother’s approbation, cannot quite decide. — Mother does not like to have her so far off; — at Chawton she will be nine or ten miles nearer, which I hope will have its due influence — As for Sally, she means to play John Binns with us, in her anxiety to belong to our Household again. Hitherto, she appears a very good Servant. —

I get a great kick out of the following epigram like utterance: its spirit went staright into Austen’s Sense and Sensibility when Eleanor Dashwood comes to Cleveland and has to watch Mrs Palmer go into stitches of happy laughter upon being told her plants are all dead:

You depend upon finding all your plants dead, I hope. — They look very ill I understand. —


Emma Woodhouse (Romola Garai) just delighted to come to a ball at the Crown Inn (2009 BBC Emma by Sandy Welch)

Jane never tired of balls — in The Watsons Emma just revels in the one she goes to, with all its pains, mortification for the boy, attempted and thwarted romances (Miss Edwards for Captain Hunter) grating snobberies and stupid jockeying for position by those she’s surrounded by)

I imagine she might have said, echoing Johnson, the woman who is tired of balls, is tired of life. What could list shoes be? They were “shoes made of list, a strong, coarse material used for the selvage of carpets or other woven fabrics.” They sound rather porous, but presumably were not. Let us hope Jane reached home with with her ball shoes not ruined and her feet dry. But it’s odd that she can’t put the shoes aside for when she wants to go. Someone (a servant?) brings her a pair, there they are and so she must go home now. Would a family have only one pair? (I ask that rhetorically.)

Part of the enjoyment here is she is with gay younger women, still eligible for marriage. It’s a refreshing change from older single women forced to become companions, to be eager to come to someone’s house so they can get some tea. Captain Smith is a connection of her brothers and thus looking out for Jane for a partner. We have had Captain d’Auvergne before (see Letter 62) — he’s one of those who shows up for these dances – and his friend likes to be fancy too. Subsets of people do different sorts of things.

Your silence on the subject of our Ball, makes me suppose your Curiosity too great for words. We were very well entertained, & could have staid longer but for the arrival of my List shoes to convey me home, & I did not like to keep them waiting in the Cold. The room was tolerably full, & the Ball opened by Miss Glyn; — the Miss Lances had partners, Capt. D’auvergne’s friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an Officer to flirt with, & Mr John Harrison was deputed by Capt. Smith, being himself absent, to ask me to dance.– Everything went well you see, especially after we had tucked Mrs Lance’s neckhandkerchief. in behind, & fastened it with a pin. —

Anna too has gone to a ball and here Austen refers discreetly, indirectly to a sudden angry rebellion which was partly self-harm, self-destructive: Anna cut off her long hair. Jane Austen was one of those who said Anna should not be given a hard time as the cut hair would make her miserable enough, and also this would pass the incident most kindly. It could be that ignoring it was one way to repress the rebellion itself. As told in the following paragraph, the stepmother was for once decent and did not try to stop the girl’s enjoyment at the ball.

We had a very full & agreable account of Mr Hammond’s Ball, from Anna last night; the same fluent pen has sent similar information I know into Kent. — She seems to have been as happy as one could wish her; — & the complacency of her Mama in doing the Honours of the Eveng must have made her pleasure almost as great.- The Grandeur of the Meeting was beyond my hopes. –I should like to have seen Anna’s looks & performance — but that sad cropt head must have injured the former.-

A desperate pathetic Nancy Steele (Maggie Jones) (1971 BBC Sense and Sensibility by Denis Constanduros)

And then a series of not-so-funny jokes if you were Martha and reading this. Her relationship with Dr Mant is immoral but a decorous air because he is a clergyman. Ho ho. Maybe the joke is against Jane Austen herself. She felt her love was betrayed and so treated this heterosexuality as immoral. By this time Jane ans Martha are clearly growing apart. Dr Mant has not responded in some way that Martha longed for. Jane is not undeceiving Martha: Not telling Martha some painful truth. Martha is longing for a husband. That’s how Jane sees this: Martha cannot see happiness without this. Again we have Martha’s sending her regards; I see this as intense anxiety. She fears losing any one ‘s approbation. Martha is overdoing her solicitude about Cassandra’s finger.

Martha pleases herself with beleiving that if I had kept her counsel, you would never have heard of Dr Mant’se behaviour, as if the very slight manner in which I mentioned it could have been all on which you found your Judgement. –I do not endeavour to undeceive her, because I wish her happy at all events, & know how highly she prizes happiness of any kind. She is moreover so full of kindness for us both, & sends you in particular so many good wishes about [your] finger, that I am willing to overlook a venial fault; & as Dr M. is a Clergyman their attachment, however immoral, has a decorous air. —

Many of Goya’s powerful remembered images come from this wretched colonialist war set on foot by Napoleon

Peninsula war was very grievous, much misery. Moore’s son dead. Here is evidence she reads about politics. (I must read about this war when I return to my work on Winston Graham’s later Poldark books, one of which is set in Portugal and another has repercussions from the Portuguese entanglement.)

Too lovely handwriting shows low status is the joke here perhaps

Anna’s hand gets better & better, it begins to be too good for any consequence. —


Marianne Von Werefkin (1860-1938), Woman with a Lantern (1912)

And a final curious identification When I hear of the homeless I hear a bell ring for me; so Austen takes this gothic like story. Too bad she never lived to write up a novel from it, but then she was not allowed to publish Lady Susan and set aside The Watsons.

We send best Love to dear little Lizzy & Marianne in particular. The Portsmouth paperl4 gave a melancholy history of a poor Mad Woman, escaped from Confinement, who said her Husband & Daughter of the Name of Payne lived at Ashford in Kent. Do You own them

For full series, see Jane Austen’s letters


Read Full Post »

1812 winter walking dress

Dear friends and readers,

This is another wintry letter (see Letter 64): snow, cold, people ill, such a severe winter, a doctor. During this period she’s writing The Watsons, Lady Susan.

General observations:

It’s filled, stuffed with middling aged single women, Austen’s world and most of them living on the edge: from Miss Murden to the Miss Williams’s, to Martha – again a reference to her running after a man. I fear that Nancy Steele is a part satire on Martha. It hurt and offended Austen that Martha was not satisfied with her; she has learnt to accept it, but her feelings fuel characters who chase men no matter who or what. She grows irritated with one woman recently married, Mrs Col Tilson for parading herself and seeking attention.

There’s also still (!) the problem of escorts when she does go somewhere — two men have disappointed and now Austen is hoping for others who will not be troublesome. She wants men because the conventions say they must have them, for the appearance of the thing, but men who will not be felt as there. There is certainly enough here and in these letters to suggest a lesbian orientation. Terry Castle should have argued from a general reading of the letters (if she did one, but it takes time and effort and hard work and maybe she’d have found the letters boring).

Still on the problems of being a single women – even if at the same time she prefers to be single — of travel. It seems men use travel etiquette to control the women. Austen puts it this way: “Edw & Henry have started a difficulty respecting our Journey …” She does not detail it. I have to go back and look at where early on Frank makes for difficulties and see if the way it’s stated shows as clearly that Austen feels this is a partly a frustrating ploy.

Her mother (Austen’s) ill again is part of the vein of everyone sick,
and again we have from Austen dubiety that the mother is really ill;
as the years have gone on and with Mr Austens’ death, it seems to me
Jane’s view that this is hypochondria has won the day and Mrs Austen
is subdued. She has lost ground as she ages — what happens to older
people as even if they have enough money become more dependent on the

She is again looking forward to Chawton, at least comfortable in this
prospect — in having somewhere for sure they are really going to –
but as yet by no means really eager.

We now have 3 letters in a row with no break whatsoever. They also
look uncensored. Then suddenly a leap and Austen “disappears” (to use
Nokes’s term) for 3 months and then an astonishing letter demanding a ms back — if we take into consideration how we’ve hardly had a mention of the novels. One thus far to be precise, about First Impressions that Martha has memorized it is the implication — now there’s something I understand as I never did before — it’s significant it’s Martha who has read it incessantly. She and Martha were some sort of lovers. As Martha once loved Austen, so she loved FI (its former title).

I wonder if the missing gap registers a time when it came home to
Austen that wow now retired and in a house at least her brother owned,
with few people about, a lower status house, she’d be left alone to
write. If she voiced this openly and was shot down for it, but ignored
the family’s not wanting her to turn primarily into writer and thus
wrote her MAD letter anyway. She wanted the ms back because she was
going to Chawton and foresaw she could work on it.

I wish we could know this because then we’d have definite evidence (though Harman has close read persuasively new glimpses and hints) the family were partly complicit or didn’t mind how Austen’s attempts at a career (sending ms’s out) had gone nowhere. I don’t think this is special punishment but rather the way women were treated and Austen was no different.

1809 — we are getting close to Chawton, to when Austen begins openly
at long long last to writing about her novels in her letters. I know
the discussions are not really satisfying, but still there will be
some! the extent to which the letters either hid the writing or
Cassandra destroyed any references to it is much much greater and
frustrating than I had thought before I started this project.


Jacob Ruisdael (1628-82), Winter landscape

Moving through the specifics of the letter:

Cassandra’s godmother has not yet died and Austen has enjoyed the letter Cassandra sent telling of the life at Godmersham:

I am happy to say that we had no second Letter from Bookham last week. Yours has brought its usual measure of satisfaction & amusement, & I beg your acceptance of all the Thanks due on the occasion. —

I don’t understand this sentence unless it means literally what it says: Cassandra thought to send Jane and her mother and Martha a scarf worn close around the neck. Today a cravat is a highly uncomfortable neck-gear under which one ties a tie, but in the 18th century it could be any kind of clothing worn about the neck. Since (as we shall see) it was cold, perhaps Jane had a sore throat.

Your offer of Cravats is very kind, & happens to be particularly adapted to my wants-but it was an odd thing to occur to you. —

The cold and snow. In the previous letters there had been responses to stories of illness. We see that boys were taught to sew when they were very young, even if older they could divest themselves of this skill. Nothing so useful as a shirt or garment, but a footstool. The satin stitch was a strong one.

Yes — we have got another fall of snow, & are very dreadful; everything seems to turn to snow this winter. — I hope you have had no more illness among you, & that William will be soon as well as ever. His working a footstool for Chawton is a most agreable surprise to me, & I am sure his Grandmama will value it very much as a proof of his affection & Industry — but we shall never have the heart to put our feet upon it.-I beleive I must work a muslin cover in sattin stitch, to keep it from the dirt.-I long to know what his colours are — I guess greens & purples

And now the hitch over travel arrangements. We are not told why, but evidently Edward and Henry are starting up difficulties. Jane says “if the former” wants to stop us from going into Kent,” and I take the former to mean Edward. Jane’s plan will it will not do. Their arrangements are made; they are going to use the Croydon Road (which I take it was a coaching-able road); they have slept at the inn at Dartford before. Why Edward wants them to go straight to Hampshire and Chawton I know not.

Edwd & Henry have started a difficulty respecting our Journey, which I must own with some confusion, had never been thought of by us; but if the former expected by it, to prevent our travelling into Kent entirely he will be disappointed, for we have already determined to go the Croydon road, on leaving Bookham, & sleep at Dartford.-Will not that do? — There certainly does seem no convenient restingplace on the other road.

Then a paragraph noticing how little pleasure Anna Austen (later Lefroy) got out of life: put down and marginalized, ostracized by the jealous resentful stepmother, Mary, she does have a Matthew aunt who might actually be a decent interesting person. There is nothing against it. Austen will live in hope. Anna is getting to go only because James and Mary visited before this and Mary was pleased at the woman. Her praise proves nothing I suppose because she’s the usual hypocrite plus she has no understanding of what is worth while in people. Anna is growing up and looking better because of this, but Mary is very begrudging in all compliments, and won’t praise the young girl beyond this minimum. Austen may have sniffed at the smallness of balls nowadays; not she finds Anna will not even have this tiny ball and she is sorry. The girl would have enjoyed it.

“Anna went to Clanville last friday, & I have hopes of her new Aunt’s’ being really worth her knowing. — Perhaps you may never have heard that James & Mary paid a morning visit there in form some weeks ago, & Mary tho’ by no means disposed to like her, was very much pleased with her indeed. Her praise to be sure, proves nothing more than Mrs M.’s being civil & attentive to them, but her being so is in favour of her having good sense. — Mary writes of Anna as improved in person, but gives her no other commendation. — I am afraid her absence now may deprive her of one pleasure, for that silly Mr Hammond is actually to give his Ball-on friday. —

A whole bunch of marginalized, people who have suffered continual stress because of this squeezing of them. Earle Harwood we will remember displeased his family by marrying for love a young woman the domineering hypocritical would have ostacized. Miss Murden needs that disabled desperate carebox (basket); we may hope that we will have enough of a quorum to go on. The Williams family; there is nothing to indicate ugliness or bitterness beyond the home-y-ness acknowledged briefly. The purple and mahogany are excuses to end the men back to safety.

— We had some reason to expect a visit from Earle Harwood & James this week, but they do not come. — Miss Murden arrived last night at Mrs Hookey’s, as a message & a basket announced to us.- You will therefore return to an enlarged & of course improved society here, especially as the Miss Williamses are come back. — We were agreably surprised the other day by a visit from your Beauty & mine, each in a new Cloth Mantle & Bonnet, & I daresay you will value yourself much on the modest propriety of Miss W’s taste, hers being purple, & Miss Grace’s scarlet unity and forbearance. It’s been my understanding that flecks of gold are alway actually welcomed.

The state of Austen’s clothes. She is giving herself time to come up to some sort of costume.

I can easily suppose that your six weeks here will be fully occupied, were it only in lengthening the waists of your gowns. I have pretty well arranged my spring & summer plans of that kind, & mean to wear out my spotted Muslin before I go. — You will exclaim at this-but mine really has signs of feebleness, which with a little care may come to something. —

The eager Miss Nancy Steele (Anna Madeley) embarassing even her sister, Lucy (Daisy Haggard) (2008 S&S)

Marths running after any one, even Dr Mant. Is not this Miss Parolles’s from Burney’s Cecilia (or Anne Eliot, more discreetly) — or Miss Nancy Steele chasing after her doctor-male in S&S:

Martha & Dr Mant are as bad as ever; he runs after her in the street to apologise for having spoken to a Gentleman while she was near him the day before. — Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married Daughters. —

CA is Charles’s wife; she gave birth at the same time as Mrs Esten. Kintbury is the family home of the Fowle group. Mrs Esten is Esther Palmer and thus related to Mrs C-A, a Palmer. Mary Jane is Mary Jane Fowle, relative to Cassandra’s dead love (he is being kept alive in memory to spare Cassandra having to try again). The Aunt Martha is Jane’s beloved Martha who is leaving them.

We hear through Kintbury that Mrs Esten was unluckily to lie in at the same time with Mrs C.A. When William returns to Winchester Mary Jane is to go to Mrs Nunes for a month, & then to Steventon for a fortnight, & it seems likely that she & her Aunt Martha may travel into Berkshire together. —

This brings memories of their (Martha and Jane’s) love. It put me in mind of the letter sent to Martha and the ones about Jane’s visit to her before the blow feel about leaving Steventon. Jane’s love for Martha and their enjoyment of one another’s company is strong here because of the understatement.

We shall not have a Month of Martha after your return-& that Month will be a very interrupted & broken one; –but we shall enjoy ourselves the more, when we can get a quiet half hour together. —

Austen does distinguish Sydney Owenson from the huge mass of people turning out drivel, but she’s not really doing or delivering what is claimed: strong sensual and chivalrous action. Jane’s use of a pun shows she is alive to the intensity of romantic vocabulary, but begs leave to say it’s not real. If it could touch the body and warm the body up during winter it might be worth something. And she is rightly irritated by the foolish boast one has written something quickly. Austen’s books were “gradual performances”, at least 3 across a lifetime.

We have got Ida of Athens by Miss Owenson; which must be very clever, because it was written as the Authoress says, in three months — We have read only the Preface yet; but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much — If the warmth of her Language could affect the Body, it might be worth reading in this weather. — Adieu

(Nancy Paxton has an excellent chapter on Owenson’s The Missionary in her Writing Under the Raj.)


Emma (Kate Beckinsale) and Harriet Smith (Samantha Morton) visiting Miss and Mrs Bates and Jane Fairfax (1996 BBC Emma)

Jane Austen spends her time with marginalized half-desperate people — this is the bottom part of the world of the Watsons, Miss Bates telling Patty not to tell her what this or that in the house needs.

So, on this day so cold (and people without funds or clothes to offset it) that some servants’ friends nearly froze to death and one may now be permanently crippled:

She bids adieu as if Cassandra were in front of her; she must stir the fire and with Martha and Mrs Austen visit some maiden lady friends in the same economic circumstances as they:

So now Miss Murder is the paid companion of the chemist’s widow. She fears spending too much money on herself or has long habituated herself to denial. Probably the latter idea is meant too: Remember the stinking fish of Southampton; well Jane didn’t think the place was particularly good on light. The “neat parlour” is a carved out area three removes from a window. Reminds me of modern cubbyholds in offices. Only the big bosses get the windows. That last line is a kind of dig. They hear the apothecary at work. Years ago I was actually offered a full time job at LaGuardia Community College and a tenured person needled me I would smell the chicklets from the nearby chicklet factory. On the other hand it reads neutrally. It is simply the truth and Austen does not like pretension. In fact the sound made them lively or they heard lively people nearby:

“. — Adeiu –I must leave off to stir the fire & call on Miss Murden. Evening I have done them both, the first very often. — We found our friend as comfortable, as she can ever allow herself to be in cold weather; — there is a very neat parlour behind the Shop for her to sit in, not very light indeed, being a la Southampton, the middle of Three deep — but very lively, from the frequent sound of the pestle & mortar.

We have met the Miss Williams in an earlier letter where we learned they were not pretty and not young; they managed by the males taking far more than one sinecure and they were connected to Aletha Bigg (who rented the prebendal house LeFaye tells us). Not in good health either. Conversation consisted of the doctor coming in and talking of how severe the weather is and exchanging tales of illness. her mother went on and on about her illnesses; Austen does not make fun here. The mother cannot walk easily — perhaps arthritis? Can anyone wonder at Sanditon? Maybe its source was not centrally Austen’s own mortal illness and terrible pain at the time.

Who is Hamstall? As they are clergymen’s daughters, it’s natural for them to have such books. Examination of the Necessity of Sunday-drilling (memorization of passages in Sunday school?), Sermons, chiefly designed to elucidate … doctrines. The goal of the the third type Austen can at least approve: Practical and Familiar Sermons … Better than pontificating.

Mrs Smith (Helen Schlesinger) ill, imporverished (1995 BBC Persuasion)

We afterwards called on the Miss Williamses, who lodge at Dusautoys; Miss Mary only was at home, & she is in very indifferent health.-Dr Hacket came in while we were there, & said that he never remembered such a severe winter as this, in Southampton before. It is bad, but we do not suffer as we did last year, because the wind has been more N.E.-than N.W — For a day or two last week, my Mother was very poorly with a return of one of her old complaints — but it did not last long, & seems to have left nothing bad behind it. — She began to talk of a serious Illness, her two last having been preceded by the same symptoms;-but thank Heaven! she is now quite as well as one can expect her to be in Weather, which deprives her of Exercise. — Miss M. conveys to us a third volume of sermons from Hamstall, just published; & which we are to like better than the two others; — they are professedly practical, & for the use of Country Congregations. —

Could these be by Austen? Remember how she talked of Speculation being under her special protection and her protest against substituting brag? Maybe that was part of her talk conversation too. Read and perpend:

I have just received some verses in an unknown hand, & am desired to forward them to my nephew Edwd 6 at Godmersham. —

‘Alas! poor Brag, thou boastful Game!
          What now avails thine empty name?­
Where now thy more distinguish’d fame?
          –My day is 0’ er, & Thine the same.–
­For thou like me art thrown aside,
          At Godmersham, this Christmas Tide;
And now across the Table wide, Each
          Game save Brag or Spec: is tried.
“­Such is the mild Ejaculation,
          Of tender hearted Speculation.”-

This poem not included in non-attributed or dubious poems; still I wonder. The line: “My day is o’er … For thou like me art thrown aside … Austen gives this for hypocritical use to Lady Susan; the idea surfaces over and over for Jane Fairfax, Anne Elliot. I’ve seen her use “Ejaculation”, & Fanny is very tender-hearted at Speculation. She uses this stanzaic format in one of her attributed poems. I suggest it could be by her and Cassandra would understand this.

How hidden this pair of women were. They are as guarded as I remember Renaissance women being.


Frederick Wentworth (Ciarhan Hinds) (1995 BBC Persuasion)


She opens with her longing for a letter from Frank. She looks twice a day. This is not the first time she has expressed intense longing for letters from Frank; I will go back and look for the other couple of times before I try to write a published paper which I may do eventually — or give a paper at another conference. It need not be JASNA. I suggest their relationship was intensely close. Had we the three packs of letters we’d be able to discuss it; as is, all we have is his getting the place for her and his mother and sister, his apparent attempt to stop the move to Chawton, the depiction of males with letters “F” in the novels and the knowledge we do have of the letters — plus I think the intensity of MP and Persuasion towards the male heroes.

–I expected to have a Letter from somebody today, but I have not. Twice every day, I think of a Letter from Portsmouth. —

Then we see that in fact Austen longed to be rid of or ignore some of these marginalized companions: probably a combination of embarrassment and (the strong word she uses) “shame” (to be associated with them), plus boredom. Emma is bored silly by Miss Bates and also bored at the Coles’s party. She does know it’s wrong; she has Mr Knightley not be embarrassed or ashamed; and she felt back about dropping Miss Irvine. On the other hand, she is not a landowning gentleman like Mr Knightely or a heiress like Emma. To be seen with Miss Murden for Miss Austen is to be classed with her. The “as yet” also used of Charlotte when Elizabeth bids adieu suggest that Austen does identify to some extent; she knows that eventually Miss Murden will not be so well pleased, once she becomes used to not being scared of downright homelessness or near it.

— Miss Murden has been sitting with us this morning-as yet she seems very well pleased with her situation. The worst part of her being in Southampton will be the necessity of our walking with her now & then, for she talks so loud that one is quite ashamed, but our Dining hours are luckily very different, which we shall take all reasonable advantage of. —

Then, showing in a way how little some of her attitudes changed, we return to her usual irritation at the presence and burdens woman who are so stupid as endlessly to give birth give other women. She is talking about being at the christening or perhaps godmother? There is no indication who Mrs H.D. is

Mrs HY D. has been brought to bed some time. I suppose we must stand to the next.

She does identify with the upper classes. The queen’s birthday interests her for this but alas as we shall see later she “sides” with the queen against the king and the way he treats her. In this she makes stronger feminist comments than she does anywhere else. She does not care that the queen is accused of adultery; she is with her all the way. LeFaye tells us a ball was held at Southampton every Tuesday fortnight and this one was put off one day to look like they are celebrating the queen’s birthday. And here the old problem of having to get somewhere in a style she cannot afford and how her brothers will not only not help but take advantage of this somehow to discourage her from doing what they don’t care for. She lights on the Wallops as having males and accommodation least likely to be troublesome to them – embarrassing, limiting, perhaps demanding attention in return for their help:

The Queen’s Birthday? moves the Assembly to this night, instead of last — & as it is always fully attended, Martha and I expect an amusing shew. — We were in hopes of being independant of other companions by having the attendance of Mr Austen & Capt. Harwood, but as they fail us, we are obliged to look out for other help, & have fixed on the Wallops as least likely to be troublesome.-I have called on them this morng & found them very willing;

That Cassandra likes to hear this kind of detail about dances that bores many a 20th century reader; some of Austen’s descriptions of these balls are intended to amuse her sister. And Cassandra apparently has not given up on finding some husband for Jane — Jane has made it cystal clear to all she prefers Martha, off letter (like offlist) and on letter perhaps (destroyed ones) wanted a life apart with Martha and Cassandra and was stymied and repressed. Later we shall see (over Haydn the apothecary) at the same time Cassandra does not want her sister marrying down. To be fair, Austen in her descriptions does not openly long to marry him. Not for her endless pregnancies. So she shall decline Capt Smith’s invitations to dance. He is a friend of Charles (who does not appear anywhere near as often in all these letters as Frank does — probably a factor of her not writing about him and whatever she wrote being destroyed — his marriage for example). And he was less diplomatic than Frank, and less successful.

I am sorry that you must wait a whole week for the particulars of the Eveng. — I propose being asked to dance by our acquaintance Mr Smith, now Captn Smith, who has lately re-appeared in Southampton — but I shall decline it.­He saw Charles last August. —

Her irritation at women who parade in front of other women their great feats in getting married. And her ironic appreciation that it is the asses of the world who have “boundless influence.” In a sense she’s wrong here, for unless Mrs Coln Tilson has high rank and money as well, she will be ignored. And probably was:

What an alarming Bride Mrs CoIn Tilson must have been! Such a parade is one of the most immodest peices of Modesty that one can imagine. To attract notice could have been her only wish. — It augurs ill for his family –it announces not great sense; & therefore ensures boundless Influence. —

I’m not sure which Fanny is meant here, as after all Fanny Austen Knight lives at Godmersham. It cannot be Charles’s wife as she is with Charles (and having a hard time of it, as Deborah Kaplan’s articles show):

I hope Fanny’s visit is now taking place.-You have said scarcely anything of her lately, but I trust you are as good friends as ever.-[continued upside down at top of p. 1]

Poor Martha again currying favor. These anxious assertions in the last months of Martha’s living with the Austens at Southampton to Edward, to Cassandra, to Henry that she really does care for them teach us why she was eager to become independent of these people. Not Jane, probably it was Jane (and also Frank, but that was drinking down the poison of her desire for him, and his persistent indifference to her since they were young)

Martha sends her Love, & hopes to have the pleasure of seeing you when you return to Southampton. You are to understand this message, as being merely for the sake of a Message, to oblige me. —

And Henry irritated about something. He and Edward we recall were making difficulties about traveling in the last letter. Very pointed:

Yrs affect[ionate1y­J Austen.
Henry never sent his. Love to me in your last-but I send him Mine. —


The 2009 BBC Emma has the poorest Miss Bates of all the Austen films

And so this revealing slice of her life has come down to us. As I said this is one of a small series of letters where none are missing and perhaps nothing cut.

I am persuaded Lady Susan was written between 1805 (the watermark of the paper is that date) and 1809 with optimum time 1808 or so. In other words just the time she is living this bare existence of cold, genteel impoverished respectability, all morality she as far as others can see.

And what does she write? Not only The Watsons (from this time), a direct reflection of her milieu at the time and the one her father rose from, but Lady Susan — as a curiously distanced strong wish-fulfillment just as Pemberley was to be (for our extant text is that of 1811). Yes Lady Susan is an absolute cruel monster, especially to her daughter but she is also all gaiety, all strength, all liberty including a sex life at night when no one can gainsay her. No one to trouble her about how to get from one place to another. Lady Susan flies low.

In a way I’m repeating something of what Murdock said only from a very different perspective, and the drastic simplification when you compare it say to the nuances Leonora(Edgeworth), Delphine (Stael), Les Liasions Dangereuses (LaClos) is part of why she wrote it. She cut away all unpleasant realities which would preclude her inhabiting this presence — which defies all, exposes much even if not explicit, and by so doing (by the way) escaped the direct censure of her family. The family would see it as fable as it had no obvious connection to them.

People mistake when they see Austen’s primary inspiration as other books. Other books gave her the forms she could follow and improve on. But she was not bookish in this sense. Not a person who looks in the dreampools of books, but someone who wrote out of what she saw in the natural social world (so too did Trollope and he too has the same relative dearth of allusion).

She comes home from MIss Murden and she is Lady Susan at night, in the early morning. Machiavelli said he did the same; he wrote at his desk what he did because he was powerless, impoverished, marginalized in his later years. He’d even dress up to write. Jane didn’t have the clothes to waste.


See the whole series of blogs on Jane Austen’s letters


Read Full Post »

Mrs Smith (Helen Schlesinger) drinking tea with Anne, from the 1995 BBC Persuasion

Dear friends and readers,

The importance of this letter is it gives us glimpses of the woman in Bath that Austen knew who provided a number of the traits of Austen’s solitary (except for Nurse Rooke) Mrs Smith: crippled, poverty-striken, outside the pale of upper class socializing, sews in a small way. WE see Jane buoyant about going to Bath and uncertain; James, her brother, will not take a 2nd church post and the aunt does come forward with 100 pounds to make it up to his (resentful) wife, Mary.

We are missing a number of letters and developments have happened offstage. In Letter 61 there was still a slightly tentative feeling about the Chawton move: Mrs Austen still to be persuaded; Frank’s sudden intervention; there is no firm security of tone. Martha’s uncertainty. Now it’s a done deal and this may be seen in lines like “We want to be settled in Chawton in time for Henry to come to us for some Shooting, in October at least; — but a little earlier, & Edward may visit us …”

Will not Sept 4th do? People did move for Michaelmas (as rent was paid from Michaelmas to Michaelmas) but I am interested to notice that the Dashwoods move into their cottage (by my calendar) “”Very early in September” the Dashwoods arrive Barton Cottage. “The season is fine . . . ” (1:6:28; 6:24) — which I made out to be on or around Sept 2nd.

In the event the Austens moved in by early July, but I noticed something for the first time. Another gap. After the Austens moved in there are no letters for two years. LeFaye would say the sisters were not separated. I don’t believe it. Cassandra went as often to Kent as usual. Did Austen throw herself passionately into writing her books: she had been doing that all along, 4-5 hours a day and it would be expected that she spend much of her time with the family in the house as usual. She says Henry will come, Edward &c

This time I surmise a period of adjustment and it was not easy after all. Frank had not wanted this is my feeling, and Jane’s two well known poems to him are her way of insisting to him this is what she wants. Maybe the first two years of Elizabeth’s death were hard for Edward to cope with and he let everyone know that. Hard for Fanny too.

But I anticipate — as that the two moving in letters are Nos 68 and 69 and then two year silence and then Letter 70.

I was very moved by the close of this letter.


Hester Thrale Piozzi

Jane is really immersed in the diurnal and immanent (as Beauvoir would call it). The first page opens with the usual extravagant insistence on what a great letter writer Cassandra is and gratitude for a letter from her and Mr Deedes. My sense is these compliments were made to insist that Cassandra keep writing. Jane wanted these letters like some people long for email letters from friends. She imagines what Cassandra is doing and in turn pours out what is happening just now to her. She is willing to find kindness in one of the visitors who came to pay a duty call to Mrs F.A. (so the Austens did not announce that Mary no longer lived there): Mrs D is found “a really agreeable woman,” not so Mrs Bertie who Jane says had the merit of not being there when they returned the call.

Many thanks my dear Cassandra, to you & Mr Deedes, for your joint & agreable composition, which took me by surprise this morning. He has certainly great merit as a Writer, he does ample justice to his subject, & without being diffuse, is clear & correct; — & tho’ I do not mean to compare his Epistolary powers with yours, or to give him the same portion of my Gratitude, he certainly has a very pleasing way of winding up a whole, & speeding Truth into the World. — “But all this, as my dear Mrs Piozzi says, is flight & fancy & nonsense — for my Master has his great Casks to mind, & I have my little Children” — It is however in this instance, that have the little Children — & I that have the great cask –, for we are brewing Spruce Beer again; –but my meaning really is, that I am extremely foolish in writing all this unnecessary stuff, when I have so many matters to write about, that my paper will hardly hold it all. Little Matters they are to be sure, but highly important …

Austen quotes Mrs Piozzi’s book almost verbatim; she likens her and Cassandra’s situation to Piozzi’s, than which one might have thought no three were more different. But Cassandra and Jane together make up one Mrs Piozzi; Cassandra and Jane have demur at an invitation. Piozzi married, continually pregnant, surrounded by children, anxious to teach them, with the brewing business never far from minds or heart. Jane focuses ironically on the inconsequentiality of what Piozzi writes and herself. She too is brewing home-made beer.

In the first place, Miss Curling is actually at Portsmouth — which I was always in hopes would not happen. — I wish her no worse however than a long & happy abode there. Here, she would probably be dull, & I am sure she would be troublesome. — The Bracelets’ are in my possession, & everything I could wish them to be. They came with Martha’s pelisse, which likewise gives great satisfaction. —

Miss Curling was a relative of Mary Gibson; Jane finds her one of these people who make themselves a burden to others by demanding company, activity and she Jane is glad Miss Curling is staying far away.

While the bracelets might be a lovely memento from Elizabeth, Jane is ironic about this: They came with … which likewise gives great satisfaction.” Jane doesn’t like favors so she downplays them. Then the visit of people looking to make to Francis’s wife — which suggests that the Austens are not letting on that Mary Gibson has fled them and insisted Francis live with her on their own as far as this is possible. Francis recognized how Jane’s invention and landscape gave her much happiness and was glad of it, but he could so little for her.

Soon after I had closed my last letter to you, we were visited by Mrs Dickens & her Sister-in law Mrs Bertie, the wife of a lately made Admiral; — Mrs F.A. I beleive was their first object-but they put up with us very kindly, & Mrs D-finding in Miss Lloyd a friend of Mrs Dundas had another motive for the acquaintance. She seems a really agreable Woman-that is, her manners are gentle & she knows a great many of our Connections in West Kent.-Mrs Bertie lives in the Polygon, & was out when we returned her visit-which are her two virtues.- :

A controlled dry sort of humor; that the admiral’s wife knows a lot of the Austen’s connections in West Kent. It would no be hard for the wife to see more of them than Austen ever would. And directed at high-fire belief in herself.


2009 BBC Emma: Emma (Romola Garai) buoyant at ball at Crown Inn

There is an unusual tone in the second part of page 2: buoyant. Paragraph 2 has her beginning with her determination to “go to as many Balls as possible”; she is sarcastic ironic about all the usual pretenses: it’s the prettiest village Chawton, everyone will miss them, they know the house. She points out they get it wrong. Then a long piece on a ball she went to — with Martha — and the letter’s gaiety may come from her having enjoyed this ball.

A larger circle of acquaintance & an increase of amusement is quite in character with our approaching removal.- Yes — I mean to go to as many Balls as possible, that I may have a good bargain. Every body is very much concerned at our going away, & every body is acquainted with Chawton & speaks of it as a remarkably pretty village, & every body knows the House we describe — but nobody fixes on the right. — I am very much obliged to Mrs Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me — & she may depend upon it, that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own.-I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice

The hypocrisy of the pretenses to miss them;, of any interest to describe the house they congratulate the audience with.

Yet another joke husband; this is a man willing to marry her,
handsome, not snubbed he returns.

Our Ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, & I did not gape till the last quarter of an hour. — It was past nine before we were sent for, & not twelve when we returned. — The room was tolerably full, & there were perhaps thirty couple of Dancers; — the melancholy part was to see so many dozen young Women standing by without partners, & each of them with two ugly naked shoulders! — It was the same room in which we began– 15 years ago! — I thought it all over –& in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with Thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. — We paid an additional shilling for our Tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining, & very comfortable room. — There were only 4 dances, & it went to my heart that the Miss Lances (one of them too named Emma!) should have partners only for two.– You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance — but I was-by the Gentleman whom we met that Sunday? with Capt” D’auvergne. We have always kept up a Bowing acquaintance since, & being pleased with ” black eyes, I spoke to him at the Ball, which brought on me this civility; but I do not know his name, — & he seems so little at home in the English Language that I beleive his black eyes may be the best of him. — Capt. D’auvergne has got a Ship. —

Again this tight recognition of time. Now it’s 15 years ago she and Cassandra danced in this Southampton assembly room. Meaning she was 18 She is thankful she is as happy. Life could be much worse she knows. She goes on about a Captain D’auvergne.

She also went with Martha by ferry back and forth to Chiswell and thinks of Cassandra similarly going to Canterbury in a cool drive with Edward. Again intense enjoyment.

Martha & I made use of the very favourable state of yesterday for walking, to pay our duty at Chiswell-we found Mrs Lance at home & alone, & sat out three other Ladies who soon came in.-We went by the Ferry, & returned by the Bridge, & were scarcely at all fatigued. —

The Lances were a clergyman family who did well by marrying; one of the men built Chiswell.

–Edward must have enjoyed the last two days;-You, I presume had a cool drive to Canterbury. Kitty Foote came on Wednesday, & her Eveng visit began early enough for the last part, the apple pye of our dinner, for we never dine now till five. —

I presume the idea Edward enjoyed the last two days comes from Jane’s sense that he was lucky to have Cassandra with him and go to Canterbury The Footes were a family of the same level as the Austens who married into the Bridges.


1981 S&S: one of the Austen films where servants are given separate presence, noticed by upper class, treated with dignity (script by Alexander Baron)

Then a long piece on the servants. LeFaye’s notes on these people give Austen’s words a severe and condescending tone. Austen thinks they are bad servants the Hilliards. I read the line as unironic and true: “I am sorry that I cannot assist her.”

Yesterday I, or rather You had a letter from Nanny Hilliard, the object of which is that she would be very much obliged to us if we would get Hannah a place.-I am sorry that I cannot assist her;-if you can, let me know, as I shall not answer the letter immediately. Mr Sloper is married again, not much to Nanny’s, or anybody’s satisfaction;-the Lady was Governess to Sir Robert’s natural Children, & seems to have nothing to recommend her. — I do not find however that Nanny is likely to lose her place in consequence. — She says not a word of what service she wishes for Hannah, nor what Hannah can do-but a Nursery I suppose, or something of that kind, must be the Thing

Again I see no condescension or dissatisfaction with Nanny but a simple wish to help when Jane cannot; there is some slight animus, against the lady who was governess to Robert Slope’s illegitimate children and who he has now married. I suppose this is a then common narrow minded disapproval of a governess who marries her master and the master for having illegitimate children. It was common enough. Hannah’s job would be in the nursery caring for these children.

Where there may be an animus is towards the woman who was the governess to Sir Robert’s “natural” children (illegitimate) and is now marrying Mr Slope (whom Nanny wanted). The notes by LeFaye tell us he had 5 illegitimate children (LeFaye bothered to find that out) and married Anne Prade but do not say if Anne Prade was a governess to Sir Robert’s children.


1983 BBC MP: Edmund Bertram (Nicholas Farrell) is given the seriousness, intentness on religion, literary impulses Austen suggests her brother James had

A paragraph about family news: for once Aunt Jane Perrot-Leigh is not mean: she has offered to give James 100 pounds a year to replace the 100 pounds he would have gotten if he had taken a sinecure, a second position. “Nothing could be more affectionate than my Aunt’s language …”

What came over her? I suspect it was partly that James was the eldest son and must not do without. The aunt left her property to JEAL as James’s oldest son. But I wonder about this: in James’s poems we see that his wife was incensed at him for not taking the second position and sticking to his “integrity.” That she despised him for this. Maybe the aunt is smoothing things for him; or triumphing over her niece-in-law, both of them being domineering types

=- Having now cleared away my smaller articles of news, I come to a communication of some weight-no less than that my Uncle & Aunt are going to allow James £100. a year. We hear of it through Steventon; — Mary sent us the other day an extract from my Aunt’s letter on the subject-in which the Donation is made with the greatest kindness, & intended as a Compensation for his loss in the Conscientious refusal of Hampstead Living-£100. a year being all that he had at the time called its’ worth — as I find it was always intended at Steventon to divide the real Income with Kintbury. — Nothing can be more affectionate than my Aunt’s Language in making the present, & likewise in expressing her hope of their being much more together in future, than to her great regret, they have of late years been. — My Expectations for my Mother do not rise with this Event. We will allow a little more time however, before we fly out. — If not prevented by Parish Business, James comes to us on Monday. The Mrs Hulberts & Miss Murden are their Guests at present, & likely to continue such till Christmas. — Anna comes home on y” 19th

In one of his poems James laments how his wife is treating him because he won’t take a sinecure for a pulpit he would not genuinely be able to spend much time at. I did not notice Jane’s comment “We will allow a little more time before we fly out?” — meaning before they openly get indignant. She and her mother intend to protest this giving James 100 — when (probably the comparison) the Leigh-Perrots do nothing for the mother and her daughters Cassandra and Jane who are in much greater need and have much less. The Misses Hulberts are as unmarried ladies as Miss Murden; the Hulberts Bath denizens. Jane and Cassandra are not the only Austens to socialize with marginalized maiden ladies.

This letter has two cut parts, both not about family. The first is about Martha who (it’s suggested) acts up around Christmas. (I grow to like Martha more and more with each letter). Henry and the boys will make Xmas merry for Cassandra, but with Martha “so” … the idea Jane will have a sour Xmas.

The Hundred a year begins next Ladyday. — I am glad you are to have Henry with you again; with him & the Boys, you cannot but have a chearful, & at times even a merry Christmas. — Martha is so … [cut away two lines at bottom of page] “We want to be settled at Chawton in time for Henry to come to us for some Shooting, in October at least; — but a little earlier, & Edward may visit us after taking his boys back to Winchester;­suppose we name the 4th of Septr-will not that do? —

Our first two cut away lines. Martha difficult at Christmas; I sympathize. It’s odd to me that Austen and her mother would not to go Godmersham and be with Henry, Cassandra and Edward at Christmas. Hmmm. For the first time it strikes me that there is something to be explained at Jane and her mother not going to Godmersham. Now that Elizabeth is dead, there is no one to dislike or stop them. I conclude that in fact whatever was professed the mother especially did not like to go to Godmersham and it was felt only one sister need be there. This would give Jane time to write and to read, to follow her one bent. This is not socially allowed so not said aloud. (I make a harmless pun.) Notice the mother and sister (Jane) want to be with Henry and Edward. So it’s that they want control over their own space and time Again the 4th of Sept — S&S and P&P begin their dramatic scenes in September:


2006 ITV Persuasion: Maisie Dimbleby as Mrs Smith

And now the curious story of the Mrs Smith character

— I have but one thing more to tell you. Mrs Hill called on my Mother yesterday while we were gone to Chiswell — & in the course of the visit asked her whether she knew anything of a Clergyman’s family of the name of Alfordwho had resided in our part of Hampshire. — Mrs Hill had been applied to, as likely to give some information of them, on account of their probable vicinity to Dr Hill’s Living –b y a Lady, or for a Lady, who had known Mrs & the two Miss Alfords in Bath, whither they had removed it seems from Hampshire-& who now wishes to convey to the Miss Alfords some work, or trimming, which she has been doing for them-but the Mother & Daughters have left Bath, & the Lady cannot learn where they are gone to.-While my Mother gave us the account, the probability of its being ourselves, occurred to us, and it had previously struck herse1P2 … [two lines cut away at the bottom of p. 4 -text continues below address panel) … likely — & even indispensably to be us, is that she mentioned Mr Hammond as now having the Living or Curacy, which the Father had had.-I cannot think who our kind Lady can be-but I dare say we shall not like the work.-[upside down at top of p. 1

The second refers to a lady who sews for a living and had done some sewing for two Miss Alfords in Bath and would like to sew for them again; this woman had applied to Mrs Hill to see if Mrs Hill had some information about these women. Jane Austen then surmised the name “Alford” is a feint and the woman means to refer to herself and Cassandra who lived in Bath. She wants to send them “some work or trimming.” We might think this odd but only in fiction where people are not as circuitous as they often are in life. The lady knew Mrs Hill was visiting the Austens. Why then pretend to get the name wrong if she sewed for them before? the Austens would knew she knew the name and where they are because she told Mrs Hill about her desire to send them this work. And her mentioning Mr Hammond who replaced Mr Austen (who was not above holding more than one living) is another link and roundabout way of urging her presence on the Austens.

Lines are cut from the bottom of the page. I suggest this: in the last year or so of the Austen’s time in Bath they lived in Trim Street: this was a low street, ugly and the Austens hated it. (I’ve been there, walked it; the thing is it’s self-enclosed and hardly any sun gets in; even today there’s no grass and the houses are close together and dark.) They had really come down to live there. The lady assumes they don’t want to be reminded of their status nor that they used this woman as seamstress. The delicacy with which the woman hints of her presence and that Austen herself does not mention her name suggests the lady was not acceptable in genteel society: remember Mrs Smith, the cripple? she does not go to parties, is not invited anywhere, is anathemized as disgusting by Sir Walter. She sews small things for rich ladies and sends them by Nurse Rooke. The lady might be someone like Mrs Smith, or yet worse maybe socially speaking: living out of wedlock say, a laundress.

But she needs money and she needs work and hopes the Austens’ memory will be prompted out of their old association will take pity on her now they are secure and going to live in the rich man’s cottage. Maybe not for Jane says she “cannot think who our kind Lady may be — but I dare say we shall not like the work.”

Jane feels compunction for the servant but not this woman who they knew casually — and perhaps also she remembers the work the woman did then and thought it bad.

Cassandra cuts the two lines to eliminate how low they got and what Jane said about a woman they knew in Bath who corresponded and why they knew her.

I feel for this unknown woman more than anyone else thus far in Austen’s letters.

Anne Elliot (Ann Firbank) finding Mrs Smith’s block (1971 BBC Persuasion)


1979 BBC P&P: Charlotte Lucas (Irene Richards) and Elizabeth Bennet (Elizabeth Garvie) at the window as the movie-story begins

And then the final affectionate salutation:

Distribute the affectionate Love of a Heart not so tired as the right hand belonging to it. —

I like the feel of reality there. Her hand is tired. She has been writing a lot.


2005 P&P: Claudie Blakely as Charlotte saying goodbye to Elizabeth and her previous world

Back to general assessment: I wrote in too academic a spirit: placing the letters against two main types of letter collections that were published and have come down to us from the 18th century: the one where someone creates an interior self, a life, an identity reaching out to us; and the other where she (mostly this kind was written by women, though Southey does it in his Letters from London): the philosophical, political. Women were not supposed to and did not write political treatises (Wollstonecraft was a rare darer) and they did turn to letters to express themselves this way.

LeFaye in her introduction to her new edition of the letters sneers at this as if it’s fake, a put-on to impress. That is a crude response to language and the way academics take taking the product for the process. She’d probably see language like “performing whatever” in the same light.

What I’m impressed by in this letter (62) and increasingly throughout the Southampton ones and until Jane starts writing is the welter of minutiae Austen pours at us. It is tedious to go through. I suggest there’s a been a real growth in this since the letters started up again. It’s hard to put this into words but what I take away from Miller (whose words and sentences are often not parsable; you can’t parse them at all) is Austen’s intense turn away. I have said and maintain she turned away from social life; didn’t like it, shows real Aspergers traits. I see them in this letter. She rejoices when she visits people if they’re not there. A great merit. Whew. She abides our gaze Auden or someone else said. Anne Grant, Elizabeth Grant Smith, Julie de Lespinasse, Madame de Deffand are not faking for others when they make an identity we can revel in — nor Rousseau, but reveling in the zeitgeist of their age which encourages this new individuality and exploring themselves to us, and for us, and with us.

Similarly, Grant again, Helena Maria Williams, Shelley (Mary Wollstonecraft), Hester Thrale Piozzi (whose book Austen can quote nearly by heart — so I must read that one next) are not delving the political world to show off, but because they know it’s intensely important to what’s allowed them to live and experience in life.

Austen has little impulse for life-writing in these ways at all. At the end of her life Elizabeth Inchbald wrote a 3 volume memoir. Alas under the cruel repression and warnings of a priest, she burnt it. Lady Mary Montagu wrote and burnt as she went. Burney is all life-writing when she’s writing living prose. These are social acts, make no mistake about it.

It’s noteworthy that in the novels the heroines rarely write letters; when they do they are for news. What we have are letters which expose someone satirically (Lucy, Mary Crawford, Mary Musgrove) or in a spirit of showing more somberly what they lack (Edward Bertram’s obtuseness and pain). This intense hiding had only the outlet of these
more than half-repressed compromising books. D. A. Miller (JA and Secrets of Style) is hiding too only he hides knowingly and she does not.

I am not sure how aware she was of her lesbian impulses; it’s hard to say. Edgeworth seems unaware and yet they are so vivid in her Belinda. In S&S Austen is not sympathetic to transgressive sex; she shows Willoughby to have wanted to hurt Marianne and that he would have dumped her had she had clandestine sex with him fully the way Miss Williams did. Austen’s literary criticism is naive.

Letters 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 & 59, 60. 61.


Read Full Post »

Shell Cottage, Goodwood house, a creation of Louisa, Emily and Sarah Lennox (with more than a little help in the way of installation from their workmen)

Dear friends and readers,

Lisa Moore’s Sister Arts: Erotics of Lesbian Landscapes — and flower arrangements. This blog could be read alongside Amy Clampitt amid thrushes as both come from my reading the same Women’s Review of Books issue (Martha Vicinus, 29:1 (Jan, Feb 2012) as context. Moore’s volume is a companion to Donoghue’s Passions Among Women; both identify a pattern of life in the 18th century they call lesbian spinsterhood and claim was recognized by contemporaries. it reinforces or further supports sense from Austen’s letters that she loved Martha Lloyd more strongly than un-erotic friendship and the depiction of Charlotte Lucas contains memories of their parted relationship (see Letter 61). The value of Moore’s is her reading of texts and art, her identification of women and how her perspective has general application. This time I linked in the Lennox sisters as seen in Tillyard’s book, Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox, 1740-1832; its adaptation into a mini-series, Aristocrats (which I loved as a kind of Little Women) and the Illustrated Companion to that (shell work!). This because we have another woman’s world which shows the same aesthetic patterns as those found in Moore and yet only one of the women was (possibly) a (closet) lesbian.


Moore’s four women are Mary Delany, letter writer and respected artist of botany and flower making (1700-88); Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland(1715-85); Anna Seward, the poet and letter-writers (1747-1809); and Sarah Pierce, educator, writer (1767-1852). Moore finds in all these women a lesbian orientation which none of the women were permitted to follow openly, for one was coerced into marriage when young to an old man (Delaney), another was pressured to marry a rich powerful man who enabled her to become an important patroness of the arts (Bentinck). Like Donoghue, Moore makes a strong case and as with Donoghue, I can see Austen’s patterns with Martha, Anne Sharp and her sister more than conform to some of these Moore describes: they are closely similar.

This way of seeing Delaney makes sense of her urging Burney to become a lady-in-waiting to the queen and not being able to see how it was a death-in-life to Burney. Delaney even doubled-crossed Burney by going behind her back to the queen to get this to happen. Burney wanted to marry.

Obvious phallic detail from one of Delaney’s passion flowers

What most interested me was Moore’s interpretation of the flower and sea-shell art. I know that upper class women made these sea-shell caverns, had these picturesque caves built on their properties. I begin to see that Louisa Lennox, the sister who married the rather silly Irish man and lived all her life near her sister Emily who became Duchess of Leinster and supported the younger one, Sarah, when Sarah was ostracized for actually trying to live with a man she loved (he though took advantage of her real need and vulnerability) may reveals a hidden lesbian and sibling-erotic pattern. Louisa especially shows little interest in males and doesn’t care that her husband is child-like and obedient. One would have to read the letters to see what Tillyard might be discreet over here.

Lady Louisa Lennox by George Romney — a telling outfit? Louisa cared more about Emily than anyone else and Emily was fiercely loyal to Louisa.

Allan Ramsay (1713-84), Emily Lennox, Duchess of Leinster

Seward has long been seen as a lesbian from her relationship to Honora Sneyd (who was married to Maria Edgeworth’s father, who proceeded to impregnate her continually until she died). In Belinda, the treatment of Lady Delamar (who may stand for Honora Seyd), especially the fascination of the heroine with her breasts reveals a lesbian intensity and frustration. (See Patricia Smith, “Lesbian Panic in Narrative Strategies,” Modern Fiction Studies, 41 [1995], pp. 567-605.) What is generally known of Seward is how she cared for her father, inherited his money and used her disabled state to justify a life of retirement and socializing by writing to others.

Sarah Pierce was enabled not to marry because her brother supported her; he copied out some of her poems which would not have survived otherwise and they are love poems to other women, her friends.

We can reinterpret these artistic patterns of flowers, the letters and what has seemed “curiosities” and oddities (the shell work) become natural when we simply open our eyes to the strong gender element in the art.

Like Donoghue, what is valuable here is Moore’s book makes us understand yet other women. What this book seems to demonstate is how centrally gendered is art, and how art that we discuss as somehow universal is not and not only shaped by a particular culture but the product of the sexual outlook, experience, orientation, feelings whatever you want to call it of the artist. Using Moore’s perspective could not only shed light on the Lennox sisters’ lives but the botanical drawings and travel book and life, Chicoteau’s Chere Rose: A Biography of Rosalie de Constant (1758-1834) and imagery and activities of women in Ann B. Shtier’s Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science, Flora’s Daughters and Botany in England, 1760-1860


Read Full Post »

Chawon, its gates open (from Miss Austen Regrets, 2008)

Dear friends and readers,

A letter preparing to go to Chawton: it includes a sudden visit from Frank, much on the Stoneleigh inheritance, one of the references to Edward Bridge’s probable proposal of marriage to Jane. I suggest that part of Charlotte Lucas’s character and her relationship to Jane Austen is modelled on Jane’s friendship with Martha Lloyd.

This is a letter without a certain tone. I wondered if some of it was cut. For some time now we have had all the letters Jane Austen wrote and now suddenly again we are missing central documents about the move to Chawton and the letter itself doesn’t make entire sense.

We have been reading these letters long enough to see that on average Jane wrote 2-3 times a week. The one big gap of 4 years (I suggested) who saw a breakdown in Jane but otherwise 2-3 a week. So we are again missing letters suddenly. What needs to be gotten rid of? Obviously much surrounding the coming move and all it entails and circumstances around it. Remember it’s to a bailiff’s cottage. Not exactly going up in the world, indeed going down. There is the issue of why they were not invited before, how to cope best with furnishing the place and making it suitable for gentlewomen (among other things they actually bricked up a window that faced front lest anyone think they looked out at the world or would look in), what help they would get — servants, food, income. We are back in John Dashwood territory probably with Edward either not offering what he should have out of blindness/obtuseness/cheapness/grief.

There are three topics: lots on the coming move (really a lot), the strong relationship with Martha keeps popping up throughout, and yes the Stoneleigh business and Leigh-Perrots are an understandable irritant. Smaller sudden upsurges: Edward Bridges and his marriage, her own anti-marriage animus (partly exacerbated by the knowledge of Bridges marriage and how she knows she is regarded and an “old maid,” poor and not very useful). Note her comments like their floor in their Southampton lodgings flooded by rain so Jane writes:

I had some employment the next day in drying parcels &c I have now moved out of the way.

Here we might note what Cassandra does not destroy: Cassandra is not keen on Austen Leigh-Perrot either for she saves these comments nor did she try to hide Jane’s association with Edward Bridges.

Edward Bridges was her 2nd suitor (played by Hugh Bonneville in the 2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

Jane Austen and Cassandra’s lives are now useful to their family as women who did not marry and thus may be called upon to cope in place of a dead wife, always to remain available to the men as their sisters living respectably with the mother. We might stop and remember that for sure Jane had had two suitors: Tom Lefroy and Edward Bridges. The first Austen was forced to give up; the second she decided against but remained liking the man very much. Harris Bigg-Wither occurred during or just before the devastating 4 year break, so (I suggest) did the sea-side romance. The match Mrs Lefroy tried to get up of Blackall got nowhere; it’s not clear Jane really rejected him out of hand but since he did her, we have our portrait of Mr Collins is my guess.

Becoming Janes make Lefroy a central presence in her life

She has been thwarted altogether of her desire to live a lesbian spinster life in a group of women — for the one partner we see her want to be with thus far beyond Cassandra has been Martha Lloyd. We’ve also seen signs of identification with, and trying to help Anne Sharpe, the ex-governess at Godmersham and now paid companion of other women.

Note we have no movie going over Jane’s story as an old maid living in Bath, no movie of her love for Martha, no images of Martha that are attractive, no actress that has played her, or Anne Sharpe, or any of the single women we’ve seen her meet over the years since she left Steventon.

We are reminded too in this last of eagerness – or dominating tone that Jane Austen cannot know as we do that she will gird her loins, rewrite her stuff and publish at least one of her books. at last even at the risk of spending what money she has. — and Be Somebody. I just love Nuala O’Faolain’s autobiographical books. The first is called “Are you somebody?” Jane Austen is not yet. I am interested in her choice: Sense and Sensibility. In my published paper on the calendar to this novel I suggested chapters 1-6 were late rewrites reflecting this move to Chawton cottage. So gentle reader go there to see more fully what Jane was feeling.

The 1981 BBC S&S: John Dashwood (Peter Gale) persuaded by his wife, Fanny (Amanda Boxer), to do very little, especially not give his sisters and mothers money. Fanny is use his father never intended that.


In Miss Austen Regrets, Edward and Henry Austen pay an unexpected visit to Chawton cottage to tell the Austen women of Henry’s bankruptcy; unfortunately this movie includes no sense of Frank as a presence at all

We begin. Something is up. Jane is writing to tell Cassandra of a coming unexpected visit from Frank. Remember the
importance of that letter “F” — Elinor and Ferrars, Jane and Frank in Emma, Anne and Frederick in Persuasion, the destroyed 3 packets of letters.

Cassandra wrote something in that destroyed letter that occurred after letter 60 that upon reading Austen feels she must tell her Frank is on the way. He has resolved this immediately upon getting yet another letter by Cassandra – this getting leave, getting off is no small thing for a man trying to be promoted in that corrupt navy.

But he did not want Cassandra to know. He wanted to spring on her — and catch her unawares.

He is confronting her over something, determined to stop something, to intervene. He is going since she will not be at Godmersham. This being outside that place is what gives him the space to act.

Notice Jane’s loyalties. She tells. It is indeed “a hateful predicament” as she calls it. Also because her letter is beside the point. Frank will beat her to it, but she’s going to try.

I surmise Jane is for whatever Frank is against but does not dare tell Frank. Like a soap opera I know but let’s face it soap operas are like life intensified:

Your letter my dear Cassandra, obliges me to write immediately, that may have the earliest notice of Frank’s intending if possible to go Godmersham exactly at the time now fixed for your visit to Goodnestone. He resolved almost directly on the receipt of your former letter, to try for an extension of his Leave of absence that he might be able to go down to you for two days, but charged me not to give you notice of it, on account of the uncertainty of success …

Why is she snitching, doing what he said not to do. Because he got the leave. He’s really headed there.She is saying you stand warned, Cassandra.

Now however, I must give it, & now perhaps he may be giving it himself — for I am just in the hateful predicament of being obliged to write what I now will somehow or other be of no use. – He meant to ask for five days more, & if they were granted, to go down by Thursday-night’s Mail & spend friday & saturday with you;-& he considered his chance of succeeding, by no means bad. – I hope it will take place as he planned, that your arrangements with Goodnestone may admit of suitable alteration.

Now why tell? If Cassandra knows ahead, she will alter some plan she has to do at Goodnestone.


Chawton, an early 20th century photo of the building from the rear

After her “hateful” task of warning her sister against her brother’s arrival (uselessly), she turns to Edward Bridges’s marriage to Harriet Foote:

Your news of Edw: Bridges was quite news, for I have had no letter from Wrotham. — I wish him happy with all my heart, & hope his choice may turn out according to his own expectations, & beyond those of his Family — And I dare say it will. Marriage is a great Improver-& in a similar situation Harriet’ may be as amiable as :Eleanor.-As to Money, that will come You may be sure, because they cannot do without it. – When you see him again, pray give him our Congratulations & best wishes. — This Match will certainly set John & Lucy going.

In fact John and Lucy did not marry. It seems to me odd to speak of Eleanor Bridges as “amiable” in this casual way as she’s dead (since 1806) but it does seem the Eleanor Austen refers to. (As usual LeFaye is no help on this, not in the 3rd or 4th editions of the letters.) Wrotham is the place George Moore lived in with Harriet Bridges his wife. Austen suggests they were embarrassed and did not want to mention this as if she, Jane, would be hurt so she hastens to say she wishes the new couple the best. Why she thinks a couple will have money because they need it I don’t know except that she’s sure the family does have the connections or income to provide it.

It’s a temptation to linger here and wonder what sort of man he was who did like her and whom she was tempted by. This is what we have seen in the letters:

Austen liked him. I said it was worth while to ask why she was tempted enough to get into their original relationship. she enjoys dancing with him, he goes out of his way to be decent to her when they are losing status. He is tactful, cordial, a reader, intelligent, kind, not a snob. Austen didn’t marry him because by that time she didn’t want to marry. He would have kept her endlessly pregnant.

The sudden switch in topic is not unlike Austen but I can’t resist wondering if there wasn’t a line cut here, for now the plans for Chawton begin:

There are six Bedchambers at Chawton; Henry wrote to my Mother the other day, & luckily mentioned the number; — which is just what we wanted to be assured of. He speaks-also of Garrets for Storeplaces, one of which she immediately planned fitting up for Edward’s Manservant-& now perhaps it must be for our own — for she is already quite reconciled to our keeping one. The difficulty of doing without one, had been thought of before. – His name shall be Robert, if you please

Robert was apparently seen as a low class name – like Rafe. LeFaye quotes the snobbish Fanny Austen Knight calling “Robert” “hideous” (also Susan). Again it’s a pleasure to see Austen not participate in such ontological snobbery.

I also like to note that these women are taking the Bailiff’s house, they may have servants but they are living in quarters hitherto occupied by Servants and would be occupied by servants again late in the 19th century. Chawton was knocked up into smaller flats for people well below the gentry in the 2nd half of the 19th century.

Then this marriage of a cousin to Catherine Macaulay (that on Austen-l Arnie P made so much of). If we look at the context, we see that what this is part of is a skein semi-ironic satiric discourse on more than one marriage. Very much in character and probably brought on by association with her refusal of Bridges. She does not regret not marrying; she does not want it. She’s sarcastic; because Mr Maxwell was Tutor to young Gregory’s the neighborhood’s (mindless) loyalty decides the couple must be super happy. And who wouldn’t because the lines tell us the man married her for her fortunate. These are connections Cassandra has as a de facto widow of Fowles (though they never were married and so as far as we can tell no sexual consummation). At the end we see Jane thought of herself in terms she makes fun of Emma for coopting. She Jane made the match – that is, she might have said how nice a couple they might make.

Before I can tell you of it, you will have heard that Miss Sawbridge is married. It took place I beleive on Thursday, Mrs Fowle has for some time been in the secret, but the Neighbourhood in general were quite unsuspicious. Mr Maxwell was Tutor to the young Gregorys — consequently they must be one of the happiest Couple in the World, & either of them worthy of Envy-for she must be excessively in love, & he mounts from nothing, to a comfortable Horne. — Martha has heard him very highly spoken of. — They continue for the present at Speen Hill. — I have a Southampton Match to return for your Kentish one, Capt. G. Heathcote & Miss A. Lyell; I have it from Alethea-& like it, because I had made it before.

It’s pointed out that Miss Sawbridge was a cousin of Catherine Macauley the historian. We have no evidence that Austen read the latter or connected the former to the historian.


Paragon Buildings in Bath where the Perrot-Leighs resided. It’s worth noting that they do not invite the Austens to Scarlets (their fancy country estate) much

And now Jane turns to a really sore topic: the huge amounts of money the uncle is to get and how the aunt is so cheap and selfish as not to understand how privileged a woman she is. The value of going over the letter slowly is on first read I had not realized how long this section is; it’s the longest in the letter, and how irritated and pointed Jane is over this. More lines on this and emotion than anything else.

So how the aunt regards her servants as sheer instruments and
begrudges them any thing. No doubt in my mind this woman was the central source for Mrs Norris. The Aunt similarly seeks things to complain about bitterly. See her troubles, see all the fuss she is put to when her housemaid catches cold. And how she resents someone who refuses a place with her and puts it down to uppityness (racist talk). Jane says she likes the effect. She’s glad her aunt is irritated, serves her right. Mrs Austen professed to be shocked at this obtuseness. Jane says it’s par for the course, a sad commentary on human nature but the way people — some, especially this aunt – are.

Yes, the Stoneleigh Business is concluded, but it was not till yesterday that my Mother was regularly informed of it, tho’ the news had reached us on Monday Eveng by way of Steventon. My Aunt says as little as may be on the subject by way of information, & nothing at all by way of satisfaction. She reflects on Mr T. Leigh’s dilatoriness, & looks about with great diligence & success for Inconvenience & E~-among which she ingeniously places the danger of her new Housemaids catching cold on the outside of the Coach, when she goes down to Bath-for a carriage makes her sick. John Binns has been offered their place, but declines it-as she sup­poses, because he will not wear a Livery. — Whatever be the cause, I like the effect. — In spite of all my Mother’s long & intimate knowledge of the Writer, she was not up to the expectation of such a Letter as this; the discontentedness of it shocked & surprised her- but I see nothing in it out of Nature-tho’ a sad nature.

Of course Mrs and Jane Austen see the difference of these people and their own lives — for whom (they the Austens) the leigh-Perrots do nothing. Some of these complaints by the Leigh-Perrots are like those of John Dashwood in S&S, produced lest they be asked to help with the moving costs.

Anna Massey played the best Mrs Norris thus far because her behavior is plausible in context: here she says they should send a servant to fetch Fanny at a stop-over point. No use wasting money on this journey to them (1983 BBC Mansfield Park)

A separate line about how this mean old women regrets a servant’s death because it inconvenience her. Jane says that is not how the Leigh-Perrot quite put it in the letter to James but that is their real (ugly) feeling. And the line tells us the aunt owed the Chambers family money. The aunt’s payment was in arrears, but not a dime would these people get.

She does not forget to wish for Chambers, you may be sure — No particulars are given, not a word of arrears mentioned-tho’ in her letter to James they were in a general way spoken of. The amount of them is a matter of conjecture, & to my brother a most interesting one; she cannot fix any time for their beginning, with any satisfaction to herself, but Mrs Leigh’s death-& Henry’s two Thousand pounds neither agrees with that period nor any other.­ I did not like to own, our previous information of what was intended last July-& have therefore only said that if we could see Henry we might hear many particulars, as I had understood that some confidential conversation had passed between him & Mr T. L. at Stoneleigh.

Henry as sharp, alert, irritated about money as Jane. He often guesses or knows the amounts his relatives really have to spend at various moments of their lives (like the uncle Francis in one striking memory I’ve quoted in an earlier letter). Henry keeps up and gets beyond the lies, secresy and silence. And Austen wants to know too.

Unfortunately the actor (Adrian Edmondson) playing Henry Austen in Miss Austen Regrets is a gentle type, seemingly incompetent. The real Henry was closer to Austen’s Mr Knightley in understanding.


11995: Charlotte Lucas (Lucy Scott).

I’ve wondered if the prudent calculating Charlotte (as we see her) represents some memories of Martha as she became. The real Martha disappointed Jane too, and they were parted.

I’d also like to note the presence of Martha Lloyd in this letter: with a distinct change. I do not think she is mocking Martha but when Austen says of Mr Maxwell (marrying Miss Sawbridge”) that “Martha has heard him very highly spoken of” it’s not clear for sure that Martha is joining in on Austen’s mockery or has herself solemnly averred this and is thus become a butt.

With Martha’s withdrawal from Southampton, her reluctance to go live at Chawton and preference to live a conventional life either as a companion or wife (there are references, often ironic, about how she is wanting to marry a particular man, Austen is beginning to distance herself from Martha. Unreciprocated strong affection/love gives out after a while. I’ve suggested a strong lesbian component in Austen’s Charlotte: Austen’s woman does not want to marry so it does not matter who she does marry as long as he has an income, respectability, will not beat her, and leaves her to herself. See my “Some thoughts on Charlotte Lucas and the paired women in Austen films.”

We have been as quiet as usual since Frank & Mary left us;-Mr Criswick called on Martha that very morng in his way horne again from Ports­mouth, & we have had no visitor since.

An amusing contemporary-specific reference here: Lefaye refers to Mrs Criswick as belonging to Highclere. how? as a servant? Highclere Castle is the great house being filmed for _Downton Abbey_. Neither the 3rd or 4th edition lists Highclere Castle or tells us anything about it. Well, here is a promotional shot from this popular mini-series from BBC/WBGH:

I suggest Mr Criswick was a minor functionary, perhaps upper servant kind of person, suitable to visit Martha by now in effect a paid companion of another rich woman.

We called on the Miss Lyells one day, & heard a good account of Mr Heathcote’s canvass, the success of which of course exceeds his expectation. — Alethea in her Letter hopes for’ my interest, which I conclude means Edward’s-& I take this opportunity therefore of requesting that he will bring in Mr Heathcote. Mr Lance told us yesterday that Mr H. had behaved very handsomely & waited on Mr Thistlethwaite to say that if he (Mr T.) would stand, he Mr H. would not oppose him; but Mr T. declined it, acknowledging himself still smarting under the payment of late Electioneering Costs.-

Here are Elinor Dashwood’s tones. When Lucy sends her a letter Elinor recognizes is meant for Mrs Jenkins’s eyes, she gives it to Mrs Jenkins. Aletha writes as if asking for Jane’s interest. What interest? Jane has none. So Jane writes to Cassandra telling to tell Edward his help is wanted. What for I can’t say as the notes are wholly inadequate (non-existent). There are notes on the Lance family but nothing about their electioneering, what party they were part of, what they wanted. The note on Thistlewaite is a line and one half. The biographies don’t go down to this kind of detail. This is what editions are for.

To make this emphastic, in this section Jane Ausetn is writing of a coming local election. I now have LeFaye’s fourth edition on hand and yes on first look, it’s very disappointing. The 3rd edition has no details whatsoever on the Heathcote election, not who was running, what for, what Edward’s interest was worth, nothing, not in the notes to this letter or either index. The fourth edition simply reprints the scanty details in the index to the letter and the same material on the Heathcote family. I am glad I paid only $28 altogether.

Austen’s comment does tell us something — more than LeFaye here too — to contextualize it in Austen’s life. LeFaye says Mrs Lyell was a widow — so here is another woman without a man Jane is friendly with. One of Mrs Lyell’s daughters married Gilbert Heathcote. The details about the family supplied by LeFaye tell nothing about the politics but Austen herself says the costs of these elections are what are driving their decisions. That’s what they care about. Mr T does not want to pay the necessary bribes so Mr Heathcote can have the office. Now if Edward will only come out for Heathcote then the electors will go for him in the hope of pleasing Edward.

No wonder the French tried for a revolution; this kind of petty narrow dealing with no relief for anyone outside these family circles would not be broken into until 1832. Austen’s couple of sentences does show this sordid world of patronage. Petty and narrowly aggrandizing as can be.

Then visitors:

The Mrs Hulberts, we learn from Kinthury, com to Steventon this week, & bring Mary Jane Fowle with them, in her way to Mrs Nunes;­she returns at Christmas with her Brother.

This is all for Cassandra who regards herself as a pseudo-widow of Tom Fowles still.

Our brother Brother we may perhaps see in the course of a few days-& we mean to take the opportunity of his help, to go one night to the play. Martha ought to see the inside of the Theatre while she lives in Southampton. & I think she will hardly want to take a second veiw. —

A good editor would have combed the playbills and tried to find what plays were played in Southampton, who was the company, who the players. LeFaye does none of this.

James is meant; he still shows his literary bents (despite the wife’s disapproval). We see that Austen was very aware of the local provincial theaters and didn’t think very much of them and yet feels Martha ought to go at least once. So Martha hasn’t gone at all. They were readers of plays not goers except in London.

The reference to Martha is the second and she suddenly is felt as a presence as Austen gives us a genuine physical sense of her life and its doings — Martha by her side. The lines here remind me of the intense feelingfulness of those describing Fanny Price’s walk in Portsmouth that Sunday Henry Crawford visited.

The day was uncommonly lovely. It was really March; but it was April in its mild air, brisk soft wind, and bright sun, occasionally clouded for a minute; and everything looked so beautiful under the influence of such a sky, the effects of the shadows pursuing each other on the ships at Spithead and the island beyond, with the ever-varying hues of the sea, now at high water, dancing in its glee and dashing against the ramparts with so fine a sound, produced altogether such a combination of charms for Fanny, as made her gradually almost careless of the circumstances under which she felt them … (MP, 3:Ch 42)

It’s not a Henry but a Martha who cheers this woman’s heart and body. The reference to “blowing” reminds me that the revolutionary term for one of the later winter early spring months was blow-y month. And the details at the end of hardship from flood further reminds us of Fanny Price in Portsmouth:

The Furniture of Bellevue [? – we are told nothing about this] is to be sold tomorrow, & we shall all take it in our usual walk if the Weather be favourable. How could you haved a wet Thursday? — with us it was a Prince of days, the most delightful we have had for weekes, soft, -bright; with a brisk wind from the South west; — ‘everybody was out & talking of spring~ &: Martha & I did not know how to turn back. — on friday Eveng we have some very blowing weather — from 6 to 9, I think we never heard it worse, even here.– And one night we had so much rain that it forced its’ way again into the Storecloset -& tho’ the Evil was comparatively slight, & the Mischeif nothing, I had some employment the next day in drying parcels &c.

Bellevue was perhaps an auction, a painful one. Their lodgings are not only cold downstairs but easily wet. A high wind and rain and they are flooded and Austen has to spend her time trying to dry out their things. Again film adaptations recently have onely begun to show the real level of Austen’s life (the 2008 S&S and Miss Austen Regrets)


The 1983 BBC Mansfield Park film included sequences meant to evoke a realistic looking Portsmouth: here Henry rounds a corner by the ramparts with Fanny and Susan by his side
And so she concludes:

Martha sends her best Love, & thanks you for admitting her to the knowledge of the pros & cons about Harriet Foote-she has an interest in all such matters.-I am also to say that she wants to see you.-Mary J ane9 missed her papa & mama a good deal at first, but now does very well without them.-I am glad to hear of little John’s being better;­& hope your accounts of Mrs Knight will also improve. Adeiu. Remem­ber me affecte1y to everybody, & beleive me

No info from LeFaye on what precisely are Martha’s hopes with respect to the Bridges and Foote clan. Martha thanks Cassandra for sending “in” information — long since cut of course. Austen herself doesn’t ask about it. In this passage she projects a level of too much decency for this level of digging about other people.

Martha is aware she is not coming across as well so there now a line where she asks Jane to tell Cassandra she misses her (as she had wanted Edward reassured). At this moment I suggest that Martha is sitting next to Jane as Jane writes.

On to the children: Frank and Mary left their little girl with Jane and her mother. She now “does very well without them.” No false sentiment here. By association Jane asks about the child at Godmersham who was not well apparently (Cassandra is functioning as mother-nursemaid) and a remembrance of good Mrs Knight.

A note of genuine affection for them all ends the letter — with
Martha next to her whom she has so enjoyed her walk with.

But then again letters are missing — about Frank’s visit, about
Chawton, about Frank and Mary, about Martha? lots to hide.

So Letter 61 has two sections on Chawton cottage. Here we count Frank’s rushed visit to Cassandra as relating to the coming move to Chawton as well as the setting up of the cottage with a room for the owner, Edward. It could also be about Frank being loathe to see them give up the Southampton living arrangement and wanting to explain about his wife. it has one on Edward Bridges’s marriage.

We have a very long section on the aunt and uncle, interspersed with some details signalling her usual irritation at the hypocrisies of marriage (some in the Bridges’s section, the cause for the citiations of Miss Sawbridge and Aletha Bigg’s gossip).

Austen includes Henry’s information about the exact sums of who is getting what from the Stoneleigh legacy, and how they are waiting for him to supply further information from “confidential” talk with Mr T.L. at Stoneleigh” which will correct his previous guesses. Henry’s sum of 2000 pounds is now seen not to “agree” with the period it had been thought to cover or any other.

It then turns to happy matter: here and now with Martha which seems what Austen holds to most.

Susan (Eryle Marnard) and Fanny (Sylvestre le Tousel) laughing together in their room at Portsmouth (1983 BBC Mansfield Park)

Letters 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58 & 59, 60.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »