Dear friends and readers,
A snowy letter. So is the next.
Three months have passed, and according to LeFaye and the evidence of this letter itself Jane did visit Henry in late November after all. We will recall by early November she had been eager to go for 3 weeks, apparently she did go after all and LeFaye thinks one thing she did was contact Egerton over the coming publication of MP in May. We have no letters from this time, no sign of it anywhere, and no mention by Jane. Henry and Jane are clearly getting along but why the letters were destroyed we can only guess. At any rate she went home and did not return until spring.
In this letter Austen appears to have the proofs of Mansfield Park — or at least a copy for Henry to read. She is reading The Heroine, and presumably in the throes of early composition of Emma. She goes to the theater to see the great Kean, enacting Shylock in a new psychologically sympathetic way. She visits with Henry’s friends. She hears from Cassandra: poor Cassy stayed at Chawton after all – and was de-flea-ed. Jane discovers she is without her trunk of small clothing items so she must borrow or re-buy.
After reviewing this letter (with Diana Birchall), I attempt a comparison between Burney’s journalizing letters and Austen’s — this comes out of my reading of Burney the last month or so.
Diana went over Henry and Jane’s itinerary according to the map:
“A gap in letters of three months. We left her at Godmersham in November; Christmas is long past, she has gone to see Henry, and is staying with him in Henrietta Street. She has just arrived: Cassandra was wrong to think of them at Guildford last night, they stayed at Cobham. Cobham is 20 miles
southwest of London, and 10 northeast of Guildford, which shows us their route from Kent. Earlier they went through Farnham, which gives a picture of their mode of carriage-traveling, from village to village. Everything at Cobham was comfortable, and it is pleasant to think of the party sitting down to a “very nice roast fowl.” We don’t know why she could not pay Mr. Herington (a Cobham grocer, Deirdre guesses)”
I too was happy for Henry and Jane they “had a very nice roast fowl” (she likes to eat), “very good Journey, & everything at Cobham was comfortable,” but it would seem to have detracted from the atmosphere that she could not pay her bill. What bill was this? I assume Henry paid for the food and lodging. It was over £2, the amount sent by Mrs Austen which is now returned as useless. So she’s not a rich lady, is she? Why is Cassandra to “try her luck?” Is there some dispute over the amount? So we are still in the Bath world of tiny amounts — people made fun of the 1995 S&S film for having Emma-Elinor worry over the price of sugar and meat. It was true to Austen’s continuing experience.
But they did not begin reading until later, Bentley Green not far from getting back to London. Is it a proof of MP he has? If so, how do they have it? It is improbable that it’s a copy for selling, for then it would be put on sale. A MS? not likely as the revision process would make them a mess unless this was a copied out fair copy. Sigh. (Partly over the idea that this fair copy was not saved if it was one.)
“Henry’s approbation hitherto is even equal to my wishes; he says it is very different from the other two [P&P and S&S], but does not appear to think it at all inferior. He has only married Mrs. R[ushworth]. I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part. – He took to Lady B[ertram] & Mrs. N[orris] most kindly, & gives great praise to the drawing of the Characters. He understands them all, likes Fanny & I think foresees how it will all be.”
People talk to please. Henry says he foresees how it will be to please. He sees (Austen says it was kind in him) that she labored hard over Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris — so we see how the hard comedy of the novel is what she is conscious of. For Fanny-haters, note she is pleased he “likes Fanny.”
Her doubt in herself is seen in her comment on Henry’s reading, but more than that is suggested by her her comment: “I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part.” If you go to my calendar, you will find the calendar of the book shows what we have falls into three distinct parts:
1) Sotherton, the play, 2) the aftermath of Henry breaking off and then Mary stuck there, he returning to fall in love with Fanny, her growing up and ball, and the proposal, with the 3) last section in Portsmouth that forms an sub-epistolary novel suddenly not fitting the 1806-1809 calendar of the rest of the novel at all, but one for 1797-98.
My calendar shows (like as several other studies before me have done) the play sequence was written at a different time from the courting, and the real result of the play, Henry and Maria’s encounter in London and elopement part of the text written at the time the play was written. So the middle section (Henry going off, return, Fanny and Mary’s difficult friendship, his courting and falling in love with Fanny, the Ball, the trip to Portsmouth) are later interwoven stories filling the book out to 3 volumes and making it into a conventional novel about a nearly coerced marriage (between Henry and Fanny) which was luckily avoided.
Austen here shows she thinks the earlier material will be much more entertaining for her reader. It’s brilliant, the play within the play, the salaciousness, the investigation into the nature of love and marriage in Inchbald’s Lovers Vows as in the speeches rehearsed by Edmund and Mary, maybe too she liked the Sotherton sequence leading into it.
Diana’s comment: “If he foresaw all that, he had the cleverness of a Frenchman or an elf, because people have been debating for two centuries about alternate endings to MP!”
Diana: Austen adds that she finished The Heroine last night and was very much amused; she wonders James did not like it better. . This is a novel by Eaton Stannard Barrett, an Irish lawyer and poet. The subtitle at the time JA read this was “Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader,” and was changed in a later edition to Adventures of Cherubina.
My commentary: The Heroine by Barrett was an influential book on other books beyond Austen’s, Austen used the previous text from MP to help her give structure and patterning to Emma. See my Barrett’s The Heroine … . The Heroine is a deeply conservative, nay reactionary text in the tradition of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (as pointed out by Gary Kelly among others)
I’m not surprised Austen’s oldest brother, James, didn’t like it. He writes sensitive melancholy landscape poetry.
I leave those who are interested to read the plot-outline of The Heroine and how it parallels Emma’s (destructive finally) friendship with Harriet and how Cherry-Emma learns a lesson and to depend on the sensible male Stuart-Knightley.
What it’s not is a parody of Radcliffe. There are allusions to Radcliffe’s book but what is sent up is not her style rather the outlook which makes important the heroine’s sensitivity and the whole exploration of sex is dismissed. From my blog:
“The text is presented as a series of letters from Cherry to an unnamed correspondent and begins as a transparent parody of Pamela. The style is nothing like Radcliffe; the prose is simple and direct. These really could be renamed Chapters as there is little use of epistolarity, but the mode combined with the obvious caricatured presences does has the effect of ironic distance.”
Austen is ever the partisan and just cannot see what is in front of her if she is herself involved — or she refuses to (as in the case of Byron in the next letter where she seems to shut her mind, snap it goes.) She is endlessly jealous of Radcliffe as a rival. Barrett is burlesquing many books, and the kind of attack he mounts would also skewer her Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park too. He is at his funniest when at the opening when he alludes to politics of the day (as in the idea that while other characters can appear in his hell, Junius remains invisible). Again my blog:
Barrett is enormously well-read in romance; my edition by Sadleir includes pages and pages of allusions from major (Goethe’s Werther) to minor and popular books (Children of the Abbey). If anything Radcliffe is a minor presence in his book; he may be thinking of her when he writes against “impassioned sensibility … exquisite art … depicting the delicate and affecting relations between the beauties of nature and the deep emotions of the soul” that seduce female readers sexually (“voluptuous languor”), but his text is far more like Walpole’s Otranto. Barrett’s hostility to the gothic, though, is undermined by his fascination with it — though he does not go so far as to enact it quite in the way of NA.
Austen also enjoyed The Female Quixote where the heroine is similarly taught a lesson against reading women’s romances and how she must depend on sensible men. FQ is exquisitely funny when it parodies later 17th century French heroic romance, but it has nothing to do with the gothic; about a third of the way into the book Charlotte Lennox can no longer keep up the burlesque, and her text becomes a domestic courtship romance.
Back to the trip where Diana enjoys the line: “I was very tired, but slept to a miracle, & am lovely today.” I agree Jane is luxuriating and the allusion to Mr Knight (rich, he left Godmersham to Edward let’s recall) is to the rich way she feels herself traveling. “Bait” means to refresh the horses. They are wiped down, allowed to rest, given water. The next passage shows us they went on with the same pair.
They arrive, the upper servant, Mr Barlowe, knows his place, Austen unpacks, sends out letters to friends with the letter P (I feel like Mrs Jennings because LeFaye is no help. She does not like the Papillons, makes fun of them. My guess is single women of the type she has been visiting and visited by in towns she stays at for years.)
It is snowing. – We had some Snowstorms yesterday, & a smart frost at night, which gave us a hard road from Cobham to Kingston; but as it was then getting dirty & heavy, Henry had a pair of leaders put on from the latter place to the bottom of Sloane Street. His own Horses therefore cannot have had hard work
I like that Jane is aware of how the horses did suffer. Though they did not change horses, he paid for two more to pull them. She remembers there is a slaughtering colonialist war going on in Portugal and Spain — though she does not use this term she does show interest in it again and again throughout the letters though her reactions are not exemplary (how wonderful we know so few who are dead, her attack on that general). For those who don’t know about this war it was deadly and had slaughter after slaughter; Goya’s paintings and famous May 2nd comes from it. (A busy year Diana puts it — so too this year in Syria and Afghanistan — the latter a real equivalent. Bigland’s book (see letter 90) read aloud by Jane by the way includes a large section on European politics; and the stuff on Paisley connects too.)
So I take the unusual explicit reference to the weather (but remember the last letter registered the cold) as part of her awareness of the world around her. Horses overworked in the wretched raw March snow, men dying still not so far away.
Her “veils” reference is not so decent. She is making fun of how lower class people are getting above their station by wearing fancy hats with veils. She watches for them and takes pleasure in the women’s attempts to get above their stations because she feels so secure in hers.
All this brings to mind some worry Cassandra had yesterday and Martha Lloyd. Not exactly rich and easy Martha’s life (as we’ve seen) — that’s the association. Austen’s letters move by association. Jane hopes Martha had a pleasant visit to them or somewhere else and thus Cassandra and Mrs Austen could sit down to their beef-pudding without too much guilt. This cold and train of thought brings on the misery of the chimney sweep to her mind. She says she will think of his cleaning the chimney in Chawton tomorrow.
About the end of the first page, she turns her attention to London. Crowds are enormous for Edmund Kean. It’s probably worth it to say a new style of acting was coming in: not so much more naturalistic, but more willing to open up the inner vulnerable psyche. That’s what Mrs Siddons and it led to Shylock being presented no longer as this comic or vengeful villain, but a sympathetic outsider. This was only the beginning, but it was important. You can see a reflection of this in Scott’s Isaac of York in his Ivanhoe.
“A good play for Fanny. She cannot be much affected I think,” she comments. Fanny is now aged twenty, and I suppose Aunt Jane is looking out for her, to see that the impressionable girl won’t take in anything she shouldn’t – which is pretty rich coming from someone who’d been reading Les Liaisons Dangereuses when she was several years younger than Fanny!”
I don’t see what one text has to do with the other> Why Fanny cannot be much affected by this play and therefore it’s good for her to watch is a puzzling statement. If Austen means to suggest she is aware Fanny is not exactly a sensitive original type when she watches a play then why is it good for her to watch this one? It had not yet been interpreted to be anti-bigotry.
Mrs Perigord was Madame Bigeon’s daughter who had left her husband (probably over his abuse of her). She cannot have much money so it’s important that Austen pay this bill for a willow for hat-making and she does. Muslin was delicate material and Austen has not yet allowed it to be dyed although “promised” by others several times. She probably means she wouldn’t let them. Why are people wicked for dying cloth? It may be a joke, word play as Diana says, with the underlying idea that white is pure:
“Now comes another quote I love, and it is rather startling to see it in context of a fairly prim and prosy paragraph; we are suddenly moved to remember that the maiden aunt is Jane Austen, capable of anything. For Mrs. Perigord has come, bringing some Willow, and she mentions that “we owe her Master for the Silk-dyeing.” Jane, however, protests that her “poor old Muslin has never been dyed yet,” despite several promises. And then she says: “What wicked People Dyers are. They begin with dying their own Souls in Scarlet Sin.” This can only be written for the pleasure of the word play, the fancy.”
I don’t get it as dyes come in all sorts of colors.
In the evening Austen tore through The Heroine and Henry read more of MP “admiring Henry Crawford” only “Properly” “as a clever pleasant man.” This does sound priggish — she is saying that he does not admire Henry Crawford as a rake or cad who uses women (the way a man might).
The last sentence suggests that Austen is telling only the good things that are occurring or occurred that night or over the days: we have seen many times that Cassandra wants upbeat stories and what is not upbeat given a virtuous turn or told not at all. This is the best she can produce about their evening is another way of paraphrasing this.
And now a paragraph about Henry’s friends and business associates who naturally are invited — and just as naturally may well refuse. Performative behavior is nothing new.
I suggest by-the-way that Fanny Price and Henry Crawford would not do as partners because Jane does not herself find Henry that congenial nor he her. That’s (Jane and Henry Austen’s relationship) an undercurrent in the novel. All her novels are rooted in her life-story. She is attracted to Henry, he is amusing, but her dream life declares it would never do. — unlike dear Frank.
Austen does not expect John Warren and his wife actually to come. The implication of the next sentence is that she at least (and maybe Henry) regards this socializing as an affliction. It’s said in a jok-y way: “Wyndham Knatchbull is to be asked for Sunday, & if he is cruel enough to consent, someone must be sent to meet him.” The Knatchbulls were upper class people and Wyndham a learned man from Oxford (in Arabic no less). Fanny Austen Knight would marry into this family and become a Lady.
From The Loiterer I’d say Henry was a reader and fit into Oxford so I assume this joke is for Austen’s benefit who is not keen on social life. Then Kean mentioned with a sarcastic voice, as if she’s repeating other people’s cant. I do think LeFaye guess may be right: that Henry’s friend may have played in a performance as Frederick. I think it’s the MP Frederick referred to, so it may be that the friends joked that Tilson or Chownes was a Frederick-Henry Crawford type (rakish).
At the end of the paragraph we see Austen still cannot get over being someone who moves about in her own carriage: she is to call upon Henry’s friends this way: “Funny me.”
The next fortnight tickets for all good seats gone at Drury Lane but Henry means to buy ahead for when Cassandra comes. He does seem to like Cassandra; she was his choice when he was ill.
A pathetic vignette occurs right after a mention of Sarah Mitchell who LeFaye has discovered had an illegitimate child. So a servant whom Cassandra has had to hire (and didn’t like this at all): Jane wonders what “worst thing” has been forced upon Cassandra.
Well Cassy springs to mind. Let us recall how badly Cassy did not want to be left with her Aunt Cassandra. Well she was left and is apparently treated as someone with fleas. No wonder she was not keen to stay. I feel for the child who had wanted to be with her parents. There are not many beds at Chawton we see and she got her aunt Jane’s.
Then Austen answering some joke about grotesque looking people; Austen is alive to people’s bodies and she says she has not seen anyone in London with quite Dr Syntax’s long nose or as montrous as two figures in a comic afterpiece burlesque.
The whole paragraph is to me distasteful, unfeelingly jocular.
And so the evening comes to an end.
The following morning she reports her trunk has still not come. A loss of her clothes could not be a small thing to Austen. Apparently she did not bring a second set of small things with her in case the trunk was lost or stolen, and now she may have to borrow “stockings & buy Shoes & Gloves for my visit,” but she says (ironically) that by writing about it this way (berating herself for her foolishness) that will make the gods relent and it will show up. There’s nothing the gods like more than people admitting to learning lessons
There’s a decidedly irritated undercurrent here starting with the mention of the “Warrens, or maybe it goes back to where Austen admits she is not telling what happened in the evening that was not good.
I’ve been reading Burney’s diaries and journals and thought I’d end today’s offering with a comparison. Austen’s letters contrast to Burney’s journals which are far more formal, self-conscious, fictionalized in part. Austen is immersed in life and reflecting it in her words. In some ways I much prefer Austen’s though concede the general public would find Burney’s “more entertaining” to use Austen’s diplomatic phrase
It’s sometimes said that Boswell’s Life of Johnson, huge as it is, once you see all Boswell’s journals emerges as an interlude where a secondary hero takes the stage, but it is no different in feel or outlook from the rest. I suggest that Fanny Burney’s novels — huge as 3 are — and her plays too — might be considered as interludes, special episodes in the 50 volume book that was her life. It’s easy to discover there’s a preface to Cecilia not printed in the present editions, but found in the diaries and journals, a previous partial manuscript of Camilla extant in the diaries and journals; you might say the novels spill over into the journals or the novels spill out. The plays are notoriously life-writing spilling out expressionistically. Burney saved the drafts of her plays.
By contrast, Austen’s novels not interludes or continuations in a new spirit within her epistolary writing; I have (I think) demonstrated that both S&S and P&P were originally epistolary (and so have others) and think parts of MP were epistolary, but they are no longer. The novels do not spill out of the letters, anything but … at least as we now have the letters. Once her book was published, Austen did not save her drafts. Perhaps she had only one fair copy or two at most and Burney had many more. Burney appears to have been given so much more time and liberty to write.
One problem we are having reading these letters is Austen is journalizing just as surely as Burney, loving to put down her life. But Austen appears not to have had as much time to work out her vignettes, she gets them down rapid-scapid. Austen died young and when Burney’s husband died (November 1817, a few months after Austen), she worked for 23 further years elaborating her 50 volume + work.
That Austen is aiming at the sort of thing Burney was but didn’t have the time or life span to work it out expresses one we have such trouble going over these letters. It’s like we have drafts of letters. And of course our editor is not only not up to it, she doesn’t want to help us for real. I had really meant to go through this letter thematically not chronologically (section by section), but it seems to me demand the step-by-step or sentence-by-sentence approach. I will however as in the previous two letters reprint the text in the comments.
An interesting parallel: Austen has one beautiful fair copy of a text prepared as if a presentation copy; clearly she wanted Lady Susan to last. So Burney did precisely that with one of the plays her father and “Daddy Crisp” repressed (Witlings?)
Of course it might be Austen poured herself into the novels while Burney poured into the life-writing. We don’t know this for sure as we are missing the majority of the letters and all but a few drafts.
I was amused to discover in A Scribbler’s Life, a one volume excerpt from the 40 volume set (before the court journals came out and emphasizing the earlier years) that Burney as a girl would “always have the last sheet of my Journal in my pocket, & when I have wrote it half full — I join it to the rest, & take another sheet.”
These pockets are great bag-like things inside one’s skirt — no need for a handbag and reticule just for show.
The niece who described Austen at Godemersham in the visit we’ve just read about (her hair long and black) also said that she remembered Austen walking about with her writing desk at Godmersham. It is somewhere in the family papers.
A comparison: for both the life of a courtier is a death-in-life.