Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Lady Anne Barnard (1750-1825), A sketch of Klaarfontein, South Africa

Dear friends and readers,

My third and last report on the EC/ASECS conference held 12-14 November at West Chester University, Pa, with the broad topic of networks: (see 1 and2)

We are now at mid-morning, the second session on Saturday, 10:30-11:45 am. I chose a session which seemed to be about the colonialist and global experience of British people as recorded in their writings, “Oriental Networks: Culture, Commerce and Communication.” Greg Clingham chaired. Jennifer L. Hargrave’s paper was on the early and still remembered British missionary. Robert Morrison as reflected in his didactic outline for educating his two children in India. Her text was Morrison’s China: A dialogue (1821), a series of ten imaginary conversation with his children where Morrison imagines himself teaching his children about Canton, China. Within his limits, Morrison attempts to teach understanding and toleration, to enable his children (and by extension readers) to see analogies between some British and Chinese practices towards women. He sees the Chinese as having a highly literate and sophisticated society, and thought Westerners could learn from China (and elsewhere).

William Zoffany (1733-1810), The Palmer Family

Baerbel Czennia also talked about the intersection of cultural practices, and used contemporary paintings by British travelers and agents, and Anglo-Indian (the phrase had not achieved currency as yet) ones from the Indian communities to demonstrate that in India the colonializers attempted to make out of their allotments of the Indian private landscape small English worlds through landscape and by appropriating the British picturesque conventions. She had reproductions of watercolors of English and Indian landscapes.In these it’s a matter of erason, omission and what we have left are Europeanized Indian landscapes. Baerbel had slides of the work of Zoffany, of William Hodges, of their successors.

William Hodges (1744-1797), A view of the City of Benares (1783)

Hastings’s home in England, Daylesford shows the influence of Indian forms. Kew would combine scientific research with the bogus landscape gardens. She talked of individuals involved in intercultural networking so the gardens we have today derive from a complex of complicated relationships in previous history.

The third paper, Greg Clingham on Lady Anne Barnard’s diaries and journals from South Africa and her drawings. Happily, there are editions of her watercolors and drawings, which give us insight into settler colonialist and sheerly imperialist communities; and of her Cape Diaries, abridgments as well as vast compilations. He particularly recommended the riches to be found in her letters: there she combines a colonialist, personal caustic melancholy, and Scottish aristocratic sensibility and perspective.


She has a need to tell of what she sees while deprecating her views: she will tell of watching slaves carry heavy bundles on their bare-backs to pack up a family who are leaving; these bundles contain sticks and other objects the slaves count on getting once the day is done and they can go back to their living quarters. She shows how attached she is to her close family and friends, including low status women. she also drew people and scenes that she saw, did watercolors. It’s hard to tell what readings she wanted us to take from her pictures: we can notice that most of her white women are turned away from the camera- or painter’s eye, while the slave is seen frontally; she cannot hide her breast-feeding or body from the viewer. We cannot know how accurate these drawings are and how much they reflect conventional ways of drawing disparate classes of people, but there is a depth of feeling in them.

The discussion afterward was as wide-ranging as the three papers put together. There was not much critique from a post-colonial perspective but rather specific questions on the specific people brought up and some of the texts quoted, e.g., Baerbel had quoted Pope’s Windsor Forest. People wanted to know about Morrison in later life. I mentioned how I had heard paper about slave-dealers’ letters and that from these we can gather that an African woman with hanging breasts was seen as especially desirable (fecund, healthy, as a wet-nurse, sexy?) at the same time as small high breasts were valued as that was seen as the European white norm. So if Lady Anne draws black women with full hanging breasts (as one of Greg’s pictures showed) this might not be a mirror of what she saw but conventional prescriptive norms.


After lunch, Daniel Edelstein offered a description of a digital mapping of the French enlightenment, using the most recent standard editions of letters by universities. The following YouTube will provide an explanation by Prof Edelstein himself. He is talking about some of the details he used in his address:

The YouTube also leads to a site that explains a good deal of the project’s resources, aims, interests. Prof Edelstein first described in detail the categories used, justified the way the letter-writers were divided, which writers were brought in by virtue of their having written a number of letters. He seemed to concede his team seemed often to be going to a great deal of effort to come up with a confirmation of what many people reading the upper class French respected philosophes in France and elsewhere had thought: Paris for example, was an important nub. His data showed the group was a highly aristocratic set of people, mostly male, well-connected, often holding positions of authority in gov’t, a very literary group (tiny percentage of people working in scientific endeavor).

The paper stirred more opposition and fundamental debate than I’ve seen in a long time. It came out very quickly that his team did not take into consideration as central players women’s letters for which there is no standard edition. They seemed not to have taken into consideration lost letters; letters not saved because not valued, not written by upper class people. One woman said if Prof Edelstein had said his data was about an Enlightenment group that would have been more accurate. I asked if we were to do the same kind of winnowing, using standard university editions for English writers, if we found most of the people did not have high positions in gov’t, that might help explain some of the differences between what happened in the 1780s in England and in France. Someone said one value of such data is that it will help against unexamined assumptions: now we see how few of the philosophes were science-minded. As the debate became a little hot, Prof Edelstein answered one query about why they omitted English sources with the half-quip that England did not have an Enlightenment. What about Edinburgh? How does one define Enlightenment?

Mid-20th century suggestive illustration for masquerade ball

I was able to stay for the first two papers of the afternoon sessions and my last choice was for “Little Explored Networks in Frances Burney and Jane Austen.” Linda Troost chaired. Julian Fung argued that Burney’s Cecilia is a dark and pessimistic complaint/satire about the depravity of society, a society unlikely to reform. We see a network of vice, characters are intricately connected to people who want to do them harm. You cannot escape corruption because you are dependent upon people deeply engaged in it. She has some good characters outside of these networks but by force of custom and obligations conferred they too are compelled to make bad decisions. Characters debate whether you can go against society’s norms (theoretically) while the action of the novel shows people trying to resist and failing to. We see serious problems (such as how to make money, how to avoid debt). He felt the novel is a dystopia. It ends with a qualified seemingly cheerful resignation, but we can see underlying it currents of anger and grim realism.

Sylvia Marks began with Burney’s first novels (Caroline Evelyn, burnt and Evelina) and then discussed how Cecilia emerged from Burney’s Witlings after her two fathers (Charles Burney, and “Daddy Crisp”) prevented her from finishing and having the play staged. Sylvia drew out the parallels between characters in the play and novel, show how Burney’s use of the genre “conduct book” allowed her to avoid offending any specific individuals she might have had in mind (e.g., Elizabeth Montagu). Sylvia too saw Burney’s second novel as dark: it’s an uneasy depiction of treacherous, prodigal, blind, sycophantic elitist characters; experience teaches very few anything. As with The Wanderer we have a woman looking to support herself, who comes across ordinary nightmare situations along the way.

It was growing dark and I had a three hour drive home so felt I had to leave. I regretted not being able to stay for the papers on Austen, the last reception (hors d’oeuvres, beer, and wine) and, even more, a workshop led by John Bellomo, a fight choreographer, with student actors, where members of the society were invited to learn the simpler movements of saluting and stage combat. From photos it looks like it was fun. As we all know duelling was (unfortunately) central to male upper class culture, and violence remained on the surface, part of daily life, what with executions, the brutal treatment of animals by many, permitted violence inflicted on wives and children, pressing and flogging of servants and sailors.

The close of David Nokes’s 1991 BBC Clarissa: a duel to the death between Lovelace (Sean Bean) and Belford (Sean Pertwee)

As usual I can’t take into account all sorts of talk about the 18th century and academic studies and teaching which occurs in the interstices of time. One conversation I remember in particular about pregnancy, childbirth in the 18th century, how new sources and methods and perspectives are providing a new outlook on this aspect of women’s lives in the era. I came away with new titles, and possible projects to join in on.


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Jane Austen writing — as imagined and drawn by Isabel Bishop (1902-88)

Dear friends and readers,

Doubtless you will remember how last spring, early and late I was examining the later manuscripts of Jane Austen (using diplomatic transcripts, the online Jane Austen manuscript site), reading about the study of manuscripts in and of itself, and some subsets of Austen’s letters (those to her niece, Anna) — all with a view to writing a review for ECCB: The Eighteenth-Century Current Bibliography. When I sent the editor the final copy, she praised my piece strongly and promised it would be published this coming spring. I’ve heard nothing else since (nothing unusual in this as it can take a couple of years) but I’ve decided not to wait, especially since I attended a couple of book history sessions at the recent EC/ASECS where I heard a discussion of other new and expensive series by Cambridge of classic books already published within the last 50 years as equally contradictory, not seriously published with all the variants, really almost wholly reliant on earlier scholarship, over-priced.

This copy has all the references, notes and bibliography: Jane Austen’s Later Manuscripts in the Cambridge Edition

Facsimile of first page of manuscript poem, “When stretched on one’s bed” (about a migraine headache, a “fierce throbbing head”)

I can here also link in some of the thinking and documents that lie behind my brief essay-review, for it is a sort of essay. Here is a study of modern manuscripts (how to classify and approach them — Austen’s would be considered modern manuscripts), a chronology of the ms’s, and materials on Anna Lefroy and Catherine Hubback as Anna is a central voice (insofar as anything is) in the “Jane Austen’s theory of fiction” section of the book, ad Hubback is important for what she can tell us about The Watsons:

Jane Austen’s unpublished writing: the manuscripts, a chronology of writing

Jane Austen’s unpublished writing in context, or Jane Austen her own Vanity Press: Donald Reiman’s The Study of Modern Manuscripts

Anna Lefroy when still a young woman

Jane and Anna Austen in collaboration: Jane Austen her first sequel (Sir Charles Grandison, the play)

Austen’s letters to Anna Lefroy: No 103, a life of Anna, and Anna’s continuation of Sanditon

Jane Austen’s poems and letters to Anne Lefroy: No 113, and “Sigh, Lady, Sigh … ”

Catherine Anne Austen Hubback’s The Younger Sister: a fine and telling sequel to Jane Austen’s The Watsons

An Englishwoman in California: Catherine Anne Hubback’s letters

Catherine Hubback

Perhaps putting all this online and in one place will help someone who is deciding what editions of books which contain reprints in some form of the later manuscripts to buy or take out of the library.


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Richard Glover, Cattle Watering

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve gone on with my project for Valancourt books to produce an edition of Charlotte Smith’s second original novel, Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1789). The state of present availability: There is no standard scholarly 20th century edition of this novel available for an affordable cost. The novel has been reprinted by Elibron in a 5 volume facsimile of the 2nd edition of 1790 (corrected by Smith) and as part of the horrendously expensive 20+ volume set produced by Pickering and Chatto. You cannot buy the volumes separately. I have the Elibron reprint, have downloaded from ECCO a second copy of the same edition text printed in 3 volumes. I’m told I can google and put together an e-text that way. It would save me typing and I could correct against the other three copies I have, for I do have the volume in the Pickering and Chatto from a university library.

It’s a startlingly good book, strong, despite its languors the result of over-the-top emotionalisms, especially when a character is deprived of some treasured project (that can be marriage too). Thus far all the friends I’ve told about it, they come back grateful for now knowing a new author to turn to. This is the fourth text by Smith I’ve read in the last few months. The others; translation and adaptation of Prevost’s Manan Lescaut, of Francois Gayot Pitaval’s and Francois Richer’s, published court cases, Celebres et Interessants (1735-44), and her late long Rousseau-supporting novel, The Young Philosopher) A year ago before that, Montalbert; and just before, skimming Banished Man. I have read Desmond (a long time ago), and Old Manor House (twice, and I remember it). I need to reread Emigrants and Beachy Head.

What follows is a summary, evaluation account of the novel as I read it in the context of the politics of the era, its economics, Smith’s own life, and the aesthetics of the novel. In the comments are an explanation of one way of reading it as a picturesque novel. Landscape is central to the text morally as well as aesthetically.

I know my deep abiding interest in this book comes from its tone: one of corrosive reflections (a phrase which echoes throughout). I don’t deal directly with this aspect of the book here.

Volume 1 & 2:

Richard Westall, Harvest Storm

It opens with impressive beautiful descriptions of Cumberland — using a technique of glimpsing visibility and intertwining eyes seeing something and movement in a landscape that has been attributed to Radcliffe:

At length they came within view of Grasmere Water, and passing between two enormous fells — one of which descended, clothed with wood, almost perpendicularly to the lake; while the other hung over it, in bold masses of staring rock — they turned round a sharp point formed by the root of the latter; and entering a lawn, the abbey, embosomed among the hills, and half-concealed by old elms which seemed coeval with the building, appeared with its gothic windows, and long pointed roof of a pale grey stone, bearing every where the marks of great antiquity. The great projecting buttresses were covered with old fruit trees, which from their knotted trunks seemed to have been planted by the first inhabitants of the mansion. In some of the windows, the heavy stone work still remained, and they were totally darkened at the top by stained glass: in others, the sashes had been substituted; and the windows had been contracted by brick work, to make them appear square within; but, even in these, the stained glass had been replaced, which generally represented the arms of Newenden with those of Brandon.

Smith’s hero, Sir Edward Newenden is unhappily married to a narrow cold shallow society type (think of a cross between Fanny Dashwood and Lady Middleton), and slowly falls in love with her cousin, Etheline Chesterville. It’s a story of adulterous love. Etheline is innocent of such feelings, but she is their cynosure. Desmond tells a similar story but in the case of Desmond the married woman with children loves a man she is not married to (Desmond, the hero).

Smith is very good at depicting uncongeniality, misery, hurt — no one does mismarriage better than she, though she does not develop the outlines quite inwardly enough in the way of a 19th century novel. Then again respectable 19th century novels don’t tell this tale.

The recluse of the lake, Mrs Montgomery, the mother of the hero who appears suddenly and saves the heroine in much the manner of Willoughby in S&S, though she is saved as was Jane Fairfax from drowning; the moment resembles the first meeting with dozens of heroines saved o the brink of disaster (see Caroline with hers in Caroline de Lichtfield). This is utter archetype.

Mrs Caroline Montgomery has had a chequered history (begins Pickering & Chatto, Curran edition, Vol 1, Ch 6, p 46). Her mother (the present Charles Montgomery’s grandmother who remains nameless throughout) had been married to a Douglas, a wealthy nobleman killed fighting on behalf of Charles Edward in 1745; she was cast off and ignored by her husband’s family, the Douglas clan, and could not get them to pay her jointure nor did she have means to force them. This is reality in the period. In London she is mistreated by her own brother, now a merchant, whose wife encourages him to treat Caroline’s mother as a servant and worse. One day she meets Lord Pevensey, a kind man, another younger son of the Douglas clan, who had been forcibly married to someone else (described as malign, a misery to live with); they fall in love and she goes to live with this Douglas in Paris — as a financial support and protector and has two further children (sons) by him.

Lord Pevensey dies, and now her legitimate daughter by her first marriage (our Mrs Montgomery) and sons by her second long-term relationship have no resources or connections without begging and harassing his family; a male friend of her now dead beloved Douglas, takes them in, a Mr Montgomery, age 27, a member of a Scottish regiment fighting for France. The new Lord Pevensey, harsh, just 40, cold, Caroline’s mother’s partner’s brother brings a lawyer, demands all the jewels the now dead Pevensey had given her; Pevensey had left a will leaving Caroline’s mother an annuity of 800 pounds a year, and a thousand each to his sons, 2 thousand to Mrs Montgomery. The now Lord Pevensey disputed this in court. He then attempts to seduce Caroline (that is Mrs Montgomery, the older who is telling the story to Ethelinde) as the daughter of someone who fell from rectitude can demand no respect. Her (still nameless) mother dies, regretting intensely what had been her choices (but we are supposed to see she did the best she could in the circumstances she had). Caroline’s mother encourages her to marry this new Mr Montgomery; Montgomery sucours them and helps them, and Caroline falls in love with him; he will become the father of her son, the present Montgomery — and they marry. This Mr Montgomery (Charles’s father to be) is Catholic so he cannot hold an office and has little money. Lord Pevensey returns, enraged that Caroline is now legitimately married, he threatens Mr Montgomery; they duel and Montgomery wounds his adversary dangerously but himself survives. Dying Pevensey, remorseful, restores the promised rights to Caroline and the new couple have just, barely enough to live upon.

The problem now is the present Mr Montgomery has to earn a real living and meet signed obligations, and so must go fight in wars. So our Mrs Montgomery follows him despite a pregnancy — a great violent war between France and England is going on and Mr Montgomery must go to fight in Germany. It’s the Seven Years War again dramatized by Smith in Old Manor House (in the fields of North America). She gives birth to Charles, Ethelinde’s lover, at the beginning of campaign of 1759. It is on the field of the battle of Minden that with the help of an officer she wanders through atrocities, with her new born baby; she spots a jewel Lord Pevensey her father had given to her mother and the mother had given to Montgomery. But she searches on; she finds him declared dead but insists he is not and he is saved, just: a fracture on his arm, deep wound in the breast, loss of so much blood; he could have been regarded as a prisoner since he was fighting on the side of the French (even though Scottish) and the English had won, but the friend generously helped convince people Montgomery was a British subject (doubts on the basis of his Scottishness). So Smith is exposing the absurdity and uselessness of these battles to those who actually fight in them. (Others might think of winning money and promotion; she shows the price and rarity of this.) He returns a cripple. They did have some months together; he consents that his son be brought up a Protestant (no bigot Catholic) and dies of a violent and sudden illness.

She returns to England on the promise of some relations of her own and Montgomery’s that they would help and procure a commission for her boy (not that this kind of life was what she wanted), but after months of fatiguing useless attendance and solicitation, they retired to the cottage in Cumberland which she could afford and she brought him up regretting nothing but that “his talents and virtues are lost to society.” In fact all she sees of society makes her glad to return to their cottage where Charles has been brought up proficient in music, languages, other sciences (ends on p 64).

So by the time Ethelinde meets this second generation, the present Mrs Caroline Montgomery (the recluse of the lake), her beloved husband is dead and she too has been refused sucour and endured insults by someone who offered to keep her in a relationship which would subordinate and humiliate her (“Pretty affectation in a girl who has been brought up on the wages of prostitution”). Mrs Montgomery is another words a parallel figure to Ethelinde.

I admire Smith’s analysis of family as well as social life. She delves more deeply than Austen in the way she takes account of sexual motivations and the clarity of the class and money clashes underlying her characters behavior. I feel her working with a sense of ideal hope that this book will be good and meaningful and speak to people — after her two successes (The Romance of Real Life and Emmeline). Not yet at this point has she begun insistenelty to pretend she doesn’t care about her novels and is writing them but for money. Maybe later she did write on and no where as carefully in her desperation and after attacks on her for telling the truth about her life and circumstances.

In this sense of giving it her all I’m reminded of Mansfield Park. Desmond would correspond to Emma as attempts to do something new or other from the previous three.

The novel moves slowly and gravely — she worked hard on it. There is an equal weight given to interior life that I miss in her later novels and the transitions are carefully done. Smith is especially good at developing the sort of thing Austen only implies: how bad someone feels when someone else hits at them in teasing or quizzing: so Ethelinde (like Elinor) has to endure teasing, and it’s not good-natured over her love for the impoverished but handsome Montgomery: “uttered in a sort of malicious raillery, as they frequently uttered it, gave her the most unpleasant sensations of impatience and sometimes resentment.” Smith is very daring to enter into Edward’s mind and his love for Ethelinde as a married man.

Montolieu’s remark that Austen’s curious pattern of having a heroine in love forbiddenly, tabooed against utterance for a variety of reasons stops love scenes comes to mind. Smith falls down when it comes to these; the way the characters talk is unreal, something that happens only occasionally and at the close of Austen’s novels when the lovers come together as when Darcy says “by you have I been properly humbled.” Montolieu was aware how hard a love scene is to do — Trollope is unusually good at it.

Smith has set up a pattern of intense marital disappointment and temptations to adultery as well as much else destructive in society; we find ourselves in a world of gambling, drinking, parties which is not at all extravagant (or a vortex of dissipation) but reads as a probable imitation of how the gentry and upper class spent their lives. The very quietness with which Smith traces agons and losses makes them more intense. Once you have read her other novels you realize there is not more variety of patterns (like Austen the patterns obsessively repeat themselves and can be linked to Smith’s life), but the patterns are more active and they bring to the fore genuinely risky behaviors that are part of everyday life and how these continually impinge on women in particular — as well as vulnerable males.

The volume closes with Edward’s misery. He has done the right thing: he has insisted that Danesforth rakish Lord who encourages Maria, Lady Newenden, to gamble and is probably having a sexual liaison with her, leave the house and says if Lady Neweden follows him, she will not be allowed into his house again. He asks her if she thinks about what will happen to her children by him. She appears not to care a jot about them. This is a misogynistic portrait in part: she is made too bad, too one-sided, but her quarrels with her father, Mr Maltravers, who is horrified at her indifference to scandal and then her children are powerful. After all it was her father and mother who pushed her into marrying Edward for money. We feel she is capable of no love for anyone but we do not see her with Danesforte. She is bored by Edward.

Montgomery has not yet gone to India (!); he comes back to the house and leaves with Mr Chesterville and Ethelinde whom rumours about (with Edward) have made it impossible for her to stay. Her father continues playing for high stakes (he cannot resist for every once in a while he makes badly needed money even if on the whole he’s losing) and we hear her brother is a financial burden.

This is a strong book, highly original really, exposing the realities of this world before any reforms that mattered (social programs, redistribution of income) or changes in patriarchal, militaristic hierarchical norms had taken place, even a little. Its power is in the analysis of the psychology though in these last scenes which are not idealized emotions, Smith rises to the challenge and writes believable enough dialogue.

Volume 3

Canaletto, Lord and Lady (detail)

The heroine’s brother, Harry, is now in debtor’s prison and there have been some remarkable persuasive pictures of his confinement — and his hysteria. The depiction is overtly presented as an argument against imprisonment for debt. It looks forward to 19th century fiction in this.

A few of the men in the book are good to very good, but the rest are bad, rakes, fortune hunters (Davenant, Woolaston) or like Ethelinde’s brother, Harry, weak and selfish — as in Austen’s John Dashwood this is enough to produce awful behavior. Foolish fops: Ludford, one of the mean Bristol cousins who take Ethelinde in. Older sycophantic men who seek clients (Mr Royston) Ethelinde’s father and brother were inveterate gamblers and they bring her to debtor’s prison. We are probably to be appalled at all of them but Montgomery and Edward and Mr Harcourt, Mrs Montgomery’s aging brother (who turns up in the next volume). Smith’s Bath is a different place in this book from the one usually glorified or talked about relatively innocently in other novels: one which includes high gambling, drinking, sex too. (But not sickness, for that we must turn to 20th century novels.) Austen’s heroines never have any such overtly vivid active experiences as Ethelinde or the cousin’s husband, Sir Edward, who is by now the second most dominating character in the book. The ostensible “lead male,” Montgomery who loves Ethelinde and whose mother lives in rural northern England (and is thus far the only recluse of the lake in sight) are really far more marginalized in the action and scenes and emotion. Edward Newenden is the book’s hero. He endures humiliation at his wife’s taking a lover, Danesforte (a cavalier servente in public) so Smith explodes the idea that’s enjoyable. It’s he who can be reasoned against not dueling (again important in the era). It’s his strength and heart and ethics that are at the core compass of the book — and yet how he longs to leave the wife who withers his soul, ignores his children and go take up life with Ethy.

The women are mostly variously awful but for Mrs Montgomery and Ethelinde. is soulless and without character, hollow, can be turned to behave very badly then. The heroine’s cousin, Maria Lady Newenden, has committed adultery and Edward demanded she leave the lover or he will not have her in his house; he is in love with the heroine and very deeply. Ellen Newenden has no feeling for anyone but herself, no understanding of morality (a horsewoman, but she has a Sancho Panza sense of humor). Mrs Ludford a hypocrite and social climber; Mrs Royston, a Lady Bellaston after Montgomery (she will pay to keep him if he’s willing). She is rather like Lady Newenden, she is presented as amoral, aggressive, and just awful in her adulterous behavior. She seeks Montgomery as a lover and when he refuses her, she is angry. The coarse Mrs Maltravers. I did not go over the life of Victorine’s mother: yet another woman who defies the sexual prohibition before marriage and has had a child by Mr Harcourt. Victorine has no character at all, quite seriously: like Pope’s caricature she follows what others do mindlessly — often chosing the worst luxurious course.

In contrast, Ethelinde is absurdly virtuous to us when she refuses to marry Montgomery because he has no money even after her father recognizes marriage to Montgomery is her only safety, but we might remember how many of us will give up our lives to 5 day a week jobs we might detest or not respect at all at any time in order to make money. Before I get too over-the-top irritated at Ethelinde for refusing to marry Montgomery out of stupendously virtuous concern for what will happen to his finances — I have to remember how I allow the norms of other people to drive me wild and make me feel bad about myself. These are not about sex for me but money and position, but the insecurity and self-obsessive thoughts are the same. Luckily I live with someone who tells me to ignore them and myself know I should. Ethy does not.

“The recluse of the lake” is the hero’s mother, and although she told a moving story of her life in Volume 1, she has not been seen since; all we’ve had is the occasional letter to her son now in London. She does not function strongly enough to stand as a figure against colonialism as she urges her son to go.

An extraordinary energy emerges when Smith flowers in smaller stories, plots within plots, lyrically and simply told. Victorine has become the wife of Ethelinde’s brother, Harry Chesterville, and Victorine’s story is told at length to emphasize her mother who had sex outside marriage. I see this as a pattern in Smith. She does not have the courage to have a central heroine have sex outside marriage, or until Montalbert, a present living women (Rosalie I, see the patterns of Montalbert.) The full story of Victorine’s mother taking place on Jamaica is moving.

The sex outside marriage and adultery theme recurs in Desmond and is deeply felt. In Ethelinde Edward is dissatisfied, soul-worn, withered, made very unhappy; Maria, his wife is frivolous, mean, cares little about their children. It’s done with intense emotion and is persuasive, but this cousin and other females we meet are used to mock women as such. When a male in the book is a gambler or rake or mean, somehow the criticism seems directed at him individually (he is felt for as in Ethelinde’s father and brother — perhaps because Smith felt for her father who managed to lose all their money and by the time she was 15 “had” to marry a rich woman); when an erring female is presented, we get shaping comments which direct the invective at females as such (without bringing in how they are fitting into society).

Smith carries on this delving into the inner lives of people driven by these sexual mores that destroy their very fibre: we get a sense of why characters are so often presented as sickening in novels. Here we see the process. The ending includes: Sir Edward finding that the Chesterville brother-lord type is willing to misrepresent all that has happened: so according to the norms of this society, Smith has as characters, the adulterous wife, the woman who abandoned her children (and the tenderness there is Smith remembering how she couldn’t live her children) while her lover, Danesforte, accuses the impossibly virtuous Ethelinde of adultery — this is so appalling to Ethelinde’s brother as well as Edward that Chesterville can hardly contain himself from murderous anger. Edward also wants to murder the man who is now exploiting the sexuality of his vicious wife.

The inability to separate underlying what is protested against here or divorce is not made explicit. Now in some French novels this inference is made explicit — Madame de Stael comes to mind (Delphine especially which Napoleon singled out for particular hate): during the 1790s a more liberal divorce law was put in place by the French Parlement than has been in France until the last 20 years and a huge percentage of women (it was mostly women) filed. It was revoked by 1805.

Most novels that are artful will have a core of repeating patterns or some set of interrelated themes: this one is about the sexual angle of dysfunctional social and familial life as experienced under the inhumane and unjust conditions of the time and our own time insofar as it mirrors then — so we are back to the themes of The Romance of Real Life. Again and again we are shown sexual transgression in all its forms, sometimes moral and understandable, sometimes amoral and cruel.

Money is so central too: when Mr Chesterville dies, Lord Hawkhurst, his older brother at long last shows remorse, but when he attempts or thinks to go to the corpse to give it decent burial and perhaps take his niece and nephew in — he had refused this in life when Montgomery approached him — very like Chapter 2 of S&S his wife argues him out of it (pp. 236-43). The scene is actually stronger than Austen’s because the terms of what she is saying are made more explicit, the underlying vicious impulses and overt social norms brought out. But Austen’s text lives because her dialogue is more dynamic and ironical, less obvious and it opens a book of concise art, while this is lost in the back of Volume 3 after a series of impossibly neurotic (over-the-top) sentimental scenes few but 18th century specialists will endure. Smith exposes the whole patronage system. We are expected to remember young Chesterville cannot save himself and Victorine by going abroad (to India) because he hasn’t begun to have it in him to exert the self-control necessary to rob all the people he comes across through the means the company provides. It is only after Victorine is re-united with her biological father, Mr Harcourt, and they go to the West Indies, they grow rich again — from inheritance and slavery (never mentioned in this book).

Volumes 4 and 5: An attempted rape: the powerless of men and women against the system they find themselves in

Caspar Friedrich, Woman at a Window (1822)

In this volume Ethelinde’s father dies and since he gambled, he leaves her nothing (a reflection of Smith’s father). Her brother, another inveterate gambler who has ends up in debtor’s prison, is freed because the hero, Sir Edward, pays his debt; Sir Edward also helps the brother find a post. The story is presented as Sir Edward’s love for Ethelinde when his vicious wife commits adultery, but the way the action of the plot works out is the reader is worried about Ethelinde succumbing to Sir Edward’s love because she has nowhere else to turn to because of her gambling father and brother.

Smith’s secondary hero, Montgomery, the young man who is justifiably in love with Ethelinde and to whom she is in effect engaged, must travel to India to make his fortune. The hardship of this kind of thing comes out. This is colonialism from the point of view of those who do the work. Austen’s brothers had to go to sea; reading about Rosalie de Constant, a French woman artist of the very early 19th century, you will find a story of her brother who went to India several times and suffered much from loneliness and boredom and the social conditions in India. He came back more than once; he never made anything more than enough to support himself. In Ethelinde our young man doesn’t want to go any more than Rosalie de Constant’s brother did. So Montgomery, is being driven by everyone he knows to leave England, sail for India and attempt to make his fortune there. Every instinct in him finds this course of action repellent, from his knowledge of what making money from India means. to his fear for what will happen to Ethelinde when he leaves her without any source of income or shelter but what Sir Edward can offer.

At the climax of Volume 4, Montgomery turns to Ethelinde and makes an impassioned argument on behalf of dropping out of their caste, of taking a job which requires manual labour which will leave him dependent on a wage (but free of a patron), which will require them to return to Cumberland to live very modestly. She is just about yielding, when she is pulled away by his mother who through her experience, her own tiny income (which is inadequate for her own needs and would be pulled upon by these two young people) and her knowledge of what can happen (visions of too many children hover over the text), counsels Ethelinde to urge her Montgomery to go to India. But before she is pulled away, Montgomery erupts into French and quotes a long passage from a text by Rousseau (which I don’t recognize) but which argues for breaking from their caste:

Soyons heureux et pauvres; ah! quel tresor nous aurons acquis! J’ai des bras, je suis robuste; le pain gagné par mon travail te paroitra plus delicieux que les mets des festins. Un repas appreté par l’amour, peut — il jamais, être insipide?

What I don’t understand is why at no point does Mrs Montgomery say stay home: only at the close of the novel does she accept the quiet way of life after so much suffering has been gone through and she is old and frail. Mrs Montgomery is at risk of losing all her money and thus Montgomery must go to India. Smith means to expose the intense hardship and loss the global colonial system inflicts on ordinary people — it only comes out indirectly in Austen say. I keep likening Ethelinde to MP and then Persuasion, only Austen is apparently comfortable with such demands on men. She protests against the forced marriage (sale) of women in India (Catherine or the Bower), but that’s all.

We realize that Montgomery was not wrong, for what has happened is Ethelinde has gone to live with Sir Edward’s sister who is indifferent to her. In her house are living her ruthless amoral husband and a man who attempts to seduce and then brutally to force Ethelinde to have sex with him and become his mistress. The scenes here read as what could easily happen

Then we have the astonishing shake-down savage talk between Sir Edward Neweden and Lady Newenden’s parents, the Maltravers’: the frank needling accusatory conversation over who brought what money to the marriage and who owes who what, the open lying of the mother and father are utterly modern. The thought that comes to mind is we don’t experience this so directly in marriage since we have — through our norm of marrying for love — to some extent freed the marital relationship of such viciousness.

I found myself also moved by the over-sentimentalization in a way of Montgomery and Ethelinde and Mrs Montgomery’s goodbye where they think they may never met again. In a way it’s better than Austen’s almost automatic mockery of emotional goodbyes. Why should people not mourn and deeply at such forced emigrations, trips, ejections. It’s Austen who should justify her refusal to acknowledge these destructive wrenches.

This scene between the hero and heroine is followed by one between Montgomery and Sir Edward in which Montgomery tries to enlist Sir Edward to argue Ethelinde into at least marrying him before he goes to India. This climax is to me slightly astonishing because as the emotion between the two men becomes overwrough, Sir Edward confesses to Montgomery his intense love for Ethelinde. This is the equivalent of the Princess de Cleves’s confession of her longing for Nemours to her husband. The Princess’s confession has often been called improbable, but my experience tells me this is not true. It is probable for a certain kind of sensitive sincere person who wants to live a life of candour.

I have come across more modern variants of the Princess’s confession to her husband, e.g., Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?where Lady Glencora Palliser confesses her love for Burgo to her husband. Trollope solves the crisis by having Plantagenet, her husband behave as ideally as Lady Glen: he forgives and blames himself; as narrator, Trollope also suggests to the reader who may doubt this scene an out: the husband is not taking his wife seriously; she does not really want to commit adultery; this enables readers who would get upset at their favorite heroine wanting to commit adultery to dismiss the scene as trivial or non-serious.

I have never before come across it between two men. Mrs Smith, as narrator, is well aware the reader will expect an explosion from Montgomery much worse than the Prince de Cleves inflicted on the Princess. Montgomery almost does this, but he controls himself when he is told by Sir Edward that he will leave Ethelinde with his sister, return to his wife and travel with his wife to Europe. He feels deeply sorry for this man and appreciates his candour. The scene of course enables Smith to pour out what a person who longed to marry another and couldn’t might feel when stuck with someone who is betraying and treating them awfully — and is simply uncongenial.

In Ethelinde, after the scene where Edward Newenden confesses his love for Ethelinde, Montgomery does not know what to do. Certainly it’s an ambiguous gesture; again in La Princesse de Cleves the heroine confesses her adulterous longings to her husband and by so doing destroys his peace; he cannot forgive and understand. She is innocent and means well and perhaps Edward does this to control himself; it also keeps Montgomery’s suspicions at bay.

Edward is an ambiguous figure. As I say, we can’t really feel for his wife since she is presented so negatively but were that not the case and she allowed to speak for herself (we never see into her mind), we might see her as having been sold by her parents for this man with a title. Smith’s Sir Edward anticipates the males which begin to inhabit the books as of Desmond: the selfless older man who does everything for the heroine, loves her and asks nothing. Warburton I remember well in Montalbert was very moving. But they are kept at a distance; this first time she is allowing us to see inside the figure to understand why she is so sympathetic to him.


Henry Fuseli, Romeo and Juliet

Then there is the attempted rape on Ethelinde by Davenent and his salacious friend at Ellen Newenden’s itself. Ellen’s portrait, as horsewoman of a lesbian tendency is one that carries on through the 19th century into our own time. In the last quarter of the Poldark novels, the villain-protagonist, George Warleggan marries such a woman, Harriet, and we see how Harriet’s cold carelessness can destroy a semi-vicious man, Stephen Carrington because he is someone who buys into the class and hierarchical values.

Ethelinde endures a realistic near rape. She flees Ellen Newenden’s house with the help of servants and we see her take lodgings where she pays small amounts of money. We get the sense of what a gentlewoman walking alone in the 18th century might fear. She is driven to take residence in an unpleasant aunt’s (Lady Ludford, see below) where she is despised (this is in the vein of Austen’s books). The whole adventure of escape, including the servants’ fear of the master who wants to help his friend get at Ethelinde is persuasive.

I find this a painful book to read. I end up dreading what’s to come, at the same time as it’s moving, I find grating the endless passages of mixed distress, and that the characters do what’s expected of them by the society (however vicious it may be). This makes for this pain. So Edward goes abroad ostensibly with his wife (she never appears again on the stage of the novel) but it’s all misery the ugly scenes with her parents he endures. Mrs Montgomery loses all her money so Montgomery must go abroad.

Then what I expected to happen happens. The near rape. Why does no one in the book think of it? The central male of the book, Sir Edward, goes to Europe with his wife, but she finally leaves him for the rake-villain of the novel. Who is to protect Ethelinde? she seems incapable of a job. The book turns to a Clarissa mode where Ellen Newdenden having made the mistake of marrying Woolaston allows Davenant to prey on Ethelinde. Ethelinde of course is far more cagey than Clary and she has no problem in rejecting a man she has never felt any attraction to.

This is a bit of improbability surely: given how realistic Smith has tried to be it doesn’t make sense that no one foresees this determined pursuit. I realize Smith wanted it to occur to keep interest up and involve flight with landscape. For myself I found some of this so painful to read, I really hesitated in going on with Volume 5. Once Ethelinde was safe outside the compound which contained Davenant, I was relieved and somehow don’t find the scorn that she receives from Lady Ludford and aroused jealousy from the daughter, another cousin, Clarinthia Ludford, hard to take. I am driven to wonder why. I know there is an analogy with the Clarissa story in that the men at Brackwood (Ellen Newenden, now Mrs Woolaston’s house — or should I say her husband’s) were planning to abduct and one had tried to rape Ethelinde — at least that’s what is implied. But I don’t think that’s it so much (though I was apprehensive lest she should change her mind and not flee). I can read other very painful kinds of stories (recently Doris Lessing’s Grassing is Singing) I don’t feel this.

It’s the peculiar form of feeling in Ethelinde that the humiliation wrests that is probably so hard to take. Her pride so seared by these sexual-social attacks. Her erstwhile protector, Ellen Newendon now become Mrs Woolaston, comes in and asks how dare she be so choosy? What does it matter who she fucks with? or marries for that matter? individually? Partly also that she is so obedient; I can’t stand how she buys into some of the norms used to control and destroy her.


Until this reading of the novel I had the impression it was filled with beautiful landscape and high sensibility. It’s famous for its descriptions of Cumberland. In fact while these are good, they are very few and far between. Most of the book takes place in London or in houses in other provincial parts of the suburban countryside comparable to the ones Austen uses.

It is every bit as realistic as Burney’s Cecilia. For example, as part of the threads in Volume 4 and 5 Montgomery’s mother goes to Lyons when she hears that her income in an investment is threatened by a bankruptcy. A letter comes in which she reports this is what happened. A hard cash mentality is what lies behind most novel-stories and at one point Mrs Montgomery puts to Montgomery what is the problem: can he and Ethelinde live on £70 a year with her and what income he could get given that he has no education to do anything under his caste? It is this sort of hard detail that characterizes numbers of the scenes in Ethelinde and helps make it the strong serious book it is.

But book has a transcendent beauty in the fifth volume — that kept me going. When Ethelinde goes walking along the beaches by herself, into the wilds, Smith writes prose akin to her poetry (see the 2nd edition, 1790, Vol 5, Ch 3, one sequence on pp. 75-76).

Unfortunately when she meets up with an interesting ethical looking man who likes solitude like herself, he turns out to be not another Edward Neweden type (the kind of male heroines meet in the other novels seen from outside) but we are back to the more sentimental improbable tripe: the older man is a long-forgotten uncle, Mr Harcourt seeking out his long lost daughter, Victorine, now in the East Indies with Ethelinde’s brother.

Smith does not register that in the West Indies money is made based on slavery as she does that in India it’s made by wresting it corruptly from the natives (not paying taxes for example). Victorine and Ethelinde’s brother have gone to the West Indies to recoup their fortunes. Perhaps she does not want to make it clear that whatever the characters do to have money they must exploit horribly the unfortunate in these colonialized countries.

The introduction of Mr Harcourt with his huge wealth produces a series of turns and twists in the plot-design which allow Smith to show us how each of her characters reacts to the presence of great money. Her real strength is in just this sort of exposure of the greed and manipulation and hypocrisies of social life.

The Ludfords: Mr becomes obsequious, Mrs intensely envious and raw with resentment, Clarinthia only glad that the money will remove Ethelinde from Southampton where she attracts suitors. Clarinthia rejected a nice man, Southcote, because he was decent, yet when she sees him turning to Ethelinde, she is livid.

They return to London and meet Mrs Montgomery who is presented as unable to lift herself above anxiety; whatever happens in the letters from her son, it’s a new reason to dread the future. Had Smith represented this attitude of mind as what’s engendered by her history and circumstance it would have been effective, but it’s just represented as innate (as kind of typical universal characteristic). Montgomery writes he is well but not making money as he can’t do what’s asked; she worries he is unhappy; he writes to Ethelinde he is and she worries he will sicken, and then he will drown on the way back.

Ethelinde’s brother, Chesterville, resumes his selfish profligate ways and his wife is a vain creature. Another dialogue emerges about sharing the money with their uncle’s half-sister’s son — so Ethelinde’s brother and his wife become just like John and Fanny Dashwood, only much bitterer and more is explained. Ethelinde’s brother does not want to share any of the uncle’s wealth with anyone and he talks in language strongly reminiscent of Chapter 2 of Austen’s S&S. What could his sister and her widowed friend, Mr possibly need more than a tiny income? This suggests Austen need not have heard what her brother wrote in a letter after their father died. This dismissive callous way of talking was commonplace. The brother does gamble and his wife is frivolous: the gambling is a behavior we don’t find in Austen, but an attempt on the part of other relatives to ensnare Mr Harcourt into marriage recalls the marriage manipulations of Austen’s novels. (The analogue in life is again Smith’s father.)


An illustration of Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon, 18th century: a prison

The deus ex machina of the novel is money — which has lain at the center of the action all along. Not only does Sir Edward return with his, but so does this long-lost uncle, Mr Harcourt, who turns out to be brother to the widowed mother, Mrs Montgomery of the young secondary hero, Montgomery. Mr Harcourt has grown very rich in the West Indies. This is not a novel where the source of this wealth — slavery — has reached the novelist’s consciousness. So two males with money solve most of the problems of the family.

Some individual bravery and moral decisions come into play. Montgomery himself returns on his own from India after he discovers that the kind of work and behavior he will have to enact in order to become rich is beyond his reach. It’s not put morally but rather in terms of his character. His return occasions some of the suspense of the action. His ship becomes lost and he is thought dead for a while. Ethelinde almost marries Sir Edward. There are several paragraphs which make it clear that the moral of this is the young man and young woman should have married without money. They had something worth taking a risk for and what they thought was out there was not except at terrible moral cost. Further, their concern was over “false” ideas of status. This then takes the theme of Persuasion up (one finds it also in Crabbe, the young couple advised to be prudent who destroy their happiness in life for nothing) very strongly and does not qualify it in the manner of Austen’s novel. The only character to come near this in Austen is Edward Bertram when in Mansfield Park he tells Mary that it will cost him a price he doesn’t want to pay to become rich. And the conversation is buried and all we are really asked to pay attention to is Mary’s deflating and mockery of him to see how her moral character is wanting.


Wm Turner, Abingdon

While some of Volume 4 takes place in a countryside and among houses very like what we find in Austen’s P&P, a good deal now takes place in the countryside of England. This includes a sequence out in the landscape which has some brooding lovely poetry, and two near visions one of which takes place in a church burial ground. These visions are not ghosts but are projections of Ethelinde’s loneliness and distress. She almost sees her dead father and has a sense of Montgomery’s presence. These two sequences are very well done.

Montgomery miraculously survives and returns to marry Ethelinde; they get enough money from Mr Harcourt, Mrs Montgomery’s fantastically rich half-brother, and Sir Edward Newenden whose wife has died. We are not told of the hinted terrible circumstances: miscarriage, abortion (?) childbirth, Danescourt beating the hell out of her, or tossing her into the streets to survive as a prostitute. Even Ethelinde’s brother begins to behave when he sees that Mr Harcourt might marry a cold-hearted gold-digger, conveniently part of the Hawkhurst family. Woolaston has spent all Ellen Newenden’s money and fled so again Sir Edward comes forward to do the right thing for his sister.

It’s in some of the realistic working out of the stories that the novel manages to hold this reader. I had remembered Ethelinde’s visit to her father’s tomb. That is a gothic-picturesque scene – and is found in other women’s novels of the era, to my memory close is a scene in Sophie Cottin’s Amelia Mansfield. Again Austen skirts this (her NA).

I was most moved by Sir Edward who when he thinks that Montgomery is dead offers his hand in marriage to Ethelinde. Of course she refuses: her reason is not unsound: Montgomery has become ‘interwoven” in her existence,” Vol 5, Ch 13, p 294. She is so aware of his moral nature and goodness and pressure is about to consent to stay by him as friend and semi-sister. They also have the one believable love dialogue: for a moment she almost yields and says “Sir Edward, my dear Sir Edward — ” and he “Dear! …” (p. 296) One of the few believable erotic love gestures is that of Ethelinde and Edward as they say goodbye after Montgomery has returned. She does respond at last: “almost involuntarily she lifted his hand to her lips …” (and then a paragraph follows of their quiet gestures and his departure) (Vol 5, ch 13, p 305).

So much better than all the verbiage the novel subjects us to. Real feeling for a moment. He is the presence in the novel that most moves me — a variant on Smith herself who seems ever to have dreamed of finding some mate in marriage when it was closed off forever by her terrible marriage. It’s been suggested that Smith did have a chance to have a partner after she left her husband, but refused this because it would hurt her children’s future.

I was involved enough to hope that Montgomery was dead and Ethelinde and Edward would marry. But I knew it was hopeless. Smith would not permit it — as she knew that this would be unacceptable. I don’t know that people would see it was her, but she just couldn’t let herself go.

It ends in a mood or atmosphere that is reminiscent of Austen: a few close good people make a small circle of friends, the center of which is a wedded couple, or the qualified happy ending at last.

And so it ends with the same sort of language of quiet resignation and happiness with a qualifying note that one finds at the close of several of Smith’s and Austen’s mature books.


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Antonio Canaletto, a rare full-size sketch of a gentleman and lady (usually these are tiny figures inside a large varied landscape)

Dear friends and readers,

Has anyone else read the latest issue of PMLA where Joan DeJean said she went looking for an explanation for the success of the new “long 18th century” in various colleges and found that in fact the era has been eliminated altogether, erased, abolished in many non-English language departments around the US: Joan DeJean, “A Long Eighteenth Century: What Eighteenth Century?” PMLA 127:2 (2012):317-20.

It may be that this abolition is not true of English departments, but there I’ve seen the department itself begin to be abolished. Where I teach nowadays there is only 1 course of general education literature required across the college (when there was once 2-3) and that can be fulfilled by courses from other departments (where that could only be fulfilled by genuine period and serious theme courses given by the English department.

Her article confirms what I’ve seen in general: the abolition of humanities courses of all sorts. It also coheres with what I’ve seen others teach in the general education introductory literature courses. I used to teach one — I did it for about 10 years on and off. It’s now abolished: I did the two parter I’ll call the first half of British literature and the second half. There was also a one term version; I did notice other colleagues who did the one term version especially would do a couple of famous medieval, and Renaissance works and then basically leap to the 19th century. One reason towards the end I did separate books (I did not order the Norton) was it enabled me to chose what I thought would be more popular (Fielding’s Joseph Andrews, Gay’s Beggar’s Opera), work I simply liked better (I’d use Cruttwell’s Penguin of Johnson), ” to go outside English (I’d assign Lafayette’s La Princesse de Cleves in English) …

A great loss.

Another favorite picture:

Ducrois and Valpato, View of Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli

I have it as the wallpaper on my laptop

The picture combines elements of the drawing and watercolor art of
Piranesi (dream fantasias) and Wilson (idealized but apparently real)
with a real penchant for unidealized figures and places:

Just this sort of vision lies behind the novels of Radcliffe (and her gothic school) as well as Goethe (who didn’t have a school of followers, but can be likened to the Johnson of Rasselas here). It was disseminated through prints.

Of this lovely scene Kathleen Stuart (Tales and Travels, the book of prints of watercolors from the recent exhibition at the Pierpont Morgan I’ve been drawing on for a number of weeks now) writes:

“The work seen here depicts a view of the ancient city of Tivoli, on the Aniene River about twenty miles east of Rome. Famed for its picturesque terrain and dramatic waterfall, Tivoli was one of the most popular destinations for travelers on the Grand Tour. It was also the site of the first-century B.C. Temple of the Sybil, seen here in the center of the composition. The temple was a frequent subject for artists of the day, who commonly focused on it as an architectural ruin: for example, the engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) in which the temple is isolated and seen in foreshortened view from below –or as an emblem of classical
antiquity set in an ideal landscape; as in Richatd Wilson’s painting of about 1754, Landscape Capriccio on the Via Aemilia, with the Temple of the Sybil at Tivoli and the Broken Bridge at Narni

By contrast, Ducros represented the temple as unidealized, viewed from the side instead of head-on, and blending into the neighboring buildings and verrdant surroundings, with a group of figures in the foreground engaged in the activities of daily life. Ducros depicted the temple in at least two other finished watercolors, both viewed from the river upstream from the falls (Musee cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne; Kenwood and elsewhere

Of the artists she tells us:

“Born in Switzerland, Ducros trained in Geneva before traveling to Rome in 1776. There he quickly established himself as a specialist in large, highly finished topographical landscapes in watercolor, which were prized for their realism by visitors on the Grand Tour. In 1779 Ducros entered into a partnership with the printmaker Giovanni Volpato to produce engraved souvenir views of Rome. Volpato, who had settled in Rome in 1771, was famous for his engravings after Raphael’s frescoes in the Vatican logge. The partnership of Ducros and Volparo flourished, and in 1780 they issued their first series of prints, Vues de Rome et des ses environs, which was published in Rome to great commercial success.”

For that matter what humanities? In the latest move to destroy libraries, the NYPL is dismantling its serious research capacities which have served the ordinary person (with no connections, who merely needed to reside in the city): See reproduced letter in comments.

A tragic loss.


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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)


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Anna Austen Lefroy (later in life)

Sea House Inn, Worthing, 1785, Watercolor by John Nixon

Dear friends and readers,

The second letter by Austen to Anna in Todd and Sterne’s introduction (see Letter 76) is a postscript to a letter by Mrs Austen where the recipient has had to sign for it. The letter is written after the publication of S&S and P&P, and just before publication of MP (August 1814).

First a general account: Basically the first half of the remnant of 103 is by Mrs Austen, Jane’s mother, Anna’s grandmother. This is not stated in the Later Manuscripts Later Cambridge volume, nor do they situate the PS as part of a letter written just before Anna’s apparently disapproved marriage to Ben Lefroy. The letter is really an excuse for not having made any or more wedding clothes (in her Notes and Queries it seems that LeFaye assumes when Anna stayed at the cottage in May the grandmother was making her trousseau, but that’s not the way the words read here and I don’t know what her evidence is), and Austen’s is a reiteration that it’s fine if Anna does not come over. I include the full text of Caroline’s letter describing the bleak wedding ceremony, its lack of any celebration. It’s striking to see Anna’s continued dependence as she’s nonetheless sent her aunt and grandmother a manuscript piece of her novel.

After the text and commentary, I offer a brief life of Anna, an account of her writing, and an argument that Anna’s continuation shows a real grasp of Austen’s technique and sense of what was to come in the later parts of the novel (never written by Austen herself). Also some account of two articles on Sanditon as Worthing.

The text:

Letter 103, To Anna Austen, ? mid-July 1814?

… I am pretty well in health and work a good deal in the Garden, but for these last 3 or 4 weeks have had Weakness in my Eyes; it was well for you it did not come sooner, for I could not now make petticoats, Pockets & dressing Gowns for any Bride expectant-l can not wear my spectacles, and therefore can do hardly any work but knitting white yarn and platting white willow. I write & read without spectacles, and therefore do but little of either-We have a good appearance of Flowers in the Shrubbery and Borders, & what is still better, a very good crop of small Fruit, even your Goonsberry [sicJ Tree does better than heretofore, when the Gooseberries are ripe I shall sit upon my Bench, eat them & think of you, tho I can do that without the assistance of ripe gooseberries; indeed, my dear Anna, there is noboddy [sicJ I think of oftener, very few I love better, — My Eyes are tired so I must quit you — Farewell. yr affect. G:M:
C. Austen

My dear Anna — I am very much obliged to you for sending your MS. It has entertained me extremely, all of us indeed; I read it aloud to your P.M.-& A C.-and we were all very much pleased. — The Spirit does not droop at all. Sir Tho: — Lady Helena, & St Julian are very well done-& Cecilia continues to be interesting in spite of her being so amiable. — It was very fit that you should advance her age. I like the beginning of D. Forester very much-a great deal better than if he had been very Good or very Bad. — A few verbal corrections were all that I felt tempted to make — the principal of them is a speech of St Julians to Lady Helena — which you will see I have presume’ to alter. — As Lady H. is Cecilia’s superior, it would not be correct to talk of her being introduced; Cecilia must be the person introduced ­And I do not like a Lover’s speaking in the 3d person; it is too much like the formal part of Lord Orville, & I think is not natural. If you think differently however, you need not mind me. — I am impatient for more — & only wait for a safe conveyance to return this Book — Yours Affecty, JA

This is a poignant as well as savagely cut letter (as is the fifth chosen by Todd and Bree, Letter 113). Pp. 1 and 2 are missing. In the text as we have it, Mrs Austen writes first. She asserts she is “well in health” just weak in her eyes. She says when she reads or writes it’s without glasses and since she needed glasses she had not read or written anything. Anna is about to get married and Mrs Austen is begging off making her any clothes. She did not have the spare time to do a full trousseau for the wedding. We need to recall Caroline’s letter describing the bleak bareness of this ceremony, not just the lack of physical decoration, but the seeming lack of any enjoyment.

My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness, yet not so as to be in any way remarked upon or censured, and this was the order of the day.

The bridegroom came from Ashe Rectory where he had hitherto lived with his brother; and Mr and Mrs Lefroy came with him and another brother, Mr Edward Lefroy. Anne Lefroy the eldest little girl was one of the bridesmaids and I was the other. My brother came from Winchester that morning, but was to stay only a few hours. We in the house had a slight early breakfast upstairs, and between 9 and 10 the bride, my mother, Mrs Lefroy, Anne and myself, were taken to church in our carriage. All the gentlemen walked. The weather was dull and cloudy, but it did not actually rain. The season of the year, the unfrequented road of half a mile, to the lonely old church, the grey light within of a November morning, making its way through the narrow windows, no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to our wedding. Mr Lefroy read the service, my father gave his daughter away. The clerk, of course, was there, though I do not particularly remember him, but I am quite sure there was no-one else in the church, nor was anyone asked to the breakfast, to which we sat down as soon as we got back.

I do not think this idea of sadness struck me at the time, the bustle in the house and all the preparations had excited me, and it seemed to me a festivity from beginning to end. The breakfast was such as best breakfasts then were: some variety of bread, hot rolls, buttered toast; tongue or ham and eggs. The addition of chocolate at one end of the table, and the wedding cake in the middle, marked the speciality of the day. I and Anne Lefroy nine and six years wore white frocks and had white ribband on our straw bonnets, which, I suppose, were new for the occasion. Soon after breakfast, the bride and bridegroom departed. They had a long day’s journey before them, to Hendon; the other Lefroys went home: and in the afternoon my mother and I went to Chawton to stay at the Great House, then occupied by my uncle Captain Austen, and his large family. My father stayed behind for a few days and then joined us. The servants had cake and wine in the evening, and Mr Digweed walked down, to keep him company. Such were the wedding festivities of Steventon in 1814! (as printed in Maggie Lane, JA’s Family, pp 173-74)

Weddings were not drab in mood, solemn affairs where no one smiled in 1814; this wedding was that way. The Austen family is mourning Anna’s wedding, letting her know how little they appreciated her decision to marry a man older than she who will not take up a curacy to support her (see the life of Anna just below). Considering the death of her mother, her stepmother’s ruthless coldness, the girl’s experience of happiness and security was much chequered and that may have turned her to romance.

At the close of this fragment Mrs Austen suddenly assures Anna how much she, Mrs Austen, loves Anna; indeed she loves “very few bettter.” What can she talk about? fruit and flowers. Also that she has been thinking about Anna, and worried about the married life to come, Anna’s future, what her life will be like once she marries.

We then turn to Jane who provides a postscript. Jane says she is glad her niece has not come sooner — she is about to come over. So another part of the letter is about why Anna had not been coming over. Anna knew the relatives were not keen. Perhaps the front part of the letter had Jane’s doubts about the young man — or it could have been the stepmother or problems with James, the father — not a happy man as we’ve seen.


Colin Firth as Darcy fencing (1995 BBC P&P)

In the context of this Austen’s few remarks about Anna’s fiction are sent. Alas, the novel was destroyed by depressed Anna. Unlike LeFaye’s notes and edition of the letters, Todd and Bree inform us of how Anna destroyed the ms one night in the 1820s by throwing it in the fire. We are not old of of Anna’s “frequent pregnancies” but only the 3 live births. Fanny Caroline Lefroy’s poignant account of how her mother told Fanny she had destroyed the ms is in LeFaye including FCL’s exact words that too many children and years had gone by and when Jane Austen died, Anna had no motive for continuing, the motive was Aunt Jane reading it. The “real charm” had been presenting this material to Jane, now she’s gone and all there was was the “painful loss” for Anna Lefroy. Years later FCL expressed her regret her mother had destroyed her book because then at least they’d have had something to match with Jane’s criticisms in the letters. And now (she’s right) we don’t.

Caroline Austen in her memoir says that upon Aunt Jane’s death some thread and reality of emotion was lost from the family forever and they were much much the less for this.

So what do we see in Austen’s comments shorn of the novel they are about: a fiction must have intense energy flowing through (“the spirit does not droop at all”); characters must be mixed not all good or all bad; verisimilitude again: a high status woman would not be introduced to a mere slip of a girl. The name Cecilia (from Burney and made popular) that Anna had made too good a heroine (too “aimable” is the tactful way of putting this), but Jane says she is still interesting. (Jane Austen had amiable heroines later on and before mid-1814.) She finds Lord Orville stiff and unnatural (unreal); her good hero, Mr Knightley (sans peur et sans reproche) is not even though very good he is natural in presentation, believable. Darcy is not so nice: and her other heroes are flawed.


Mary (Tessa Peake-Jones) Bennet, eager for life (1979 BBC P&P)

How did Anna’s novel relate to her life? what did the scissored off parts refer to? to Anna’s thoughts shared with Mrs Austen and her Austen aunts, who are now turning away Lefroy:

Brief. Born April 15, 1793 (Lane, JA Family p 99), her mother dies 1795; Anna crying for mother, father sends her to aunts and grandmother, and she was there while Austen writing First Impressions; thought characters real people — witness to and memories of vivid creativity (Lane, JA Family 101). Her father remarries 1797; stepmother narrow, jealous, easily irritated woman does not like her, so Anna seems to have spent a lot of time at Steventon again and seems to have been there when Austen was told the parents were giving Steventon up to her father. She cut off her hair around 1808-9; “brilliant and wayward, taste for literature” (LeFaye, JA Family 153); she rebelled again by getting engaged to Michael Terry, good looking neighbor (1809, related to Digweeds who Jane sneers at), shy in mid-30s, parents gave in but in spring 1810 she broke it off — Tomalin, 216); then an engagement to Ben LeFroy (letter 90, 25 Sept 1813, Lane, JA Family 169-70). Anna marries Ben to escape her home as much as anything and they live with Edward at Hendon, Nov 8 1814 (JA Family 173-74 — very sad wedding somehow, Caroline is not hiding a bleakness and Lane suggests that this was not an approved of marriage).

Discreetly, Austen’s comments do not approve of Ben’s stubbornness in refusing some curacy offer (that she does elsewhere and indirectly); she however suggests that Anna could not do much better anyway; Anna’s first child Anna Jemima 1815; 11 months later Sept 27, 1816 Julia Cassandra; Emma sent to Anna at time of Jemima’s birth and Austen compares them as if they were equivalent (1815, JA Family 177). When JA begins to feel the mortal illness, Anna is living at Alton, half a farmhouse, 1815, Tomalin 257). She is busy with her daughters and Austen writes in a way that assumes Anna will spend her hours disciplining and shaping her daughters’ characters to fit some preconceived self-control idea (March 1817) has miscarriages (“poor animal” Anna has not a chance of escape; her husband called here the other day, & said she was pretty well but not equal to “so long a walk; she must come in her “Donkey Carriage.”–Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty, 25 March 1817, note after Sanditon put down) and 1818 George Benjamin born (after JA’s death) and around this time Ben Lefroy accepted a curacy (Lane 190; story to the effect he got it by being Mrs Lefroy’s son and Jane’s niece’s husband — I wonder).

Fanny Caroline who had some gifts was born 1820 (lived to 1874). Georgiana Brydges (name to get connect to them), born 1822. Louise Langlois, 1824 ELizabeth Lucy, 1927.

The one piece of luck she had did not last very long. In 1823 her husband’s older brother, the heir, died, and he got the living and handsome parsonaage (Lane, 203). Lasted but 4 years; on 27 August the husband dies (a sentence which indicates by that time there was tender affection: “My irreparable loss in the death of my dear husband who died at Ashe after a slow decay — today medicine might have saved him) and of course she’s got to get out (13 November); now has a one and 6 daughters, Lane says the rest of her life a struggle against penury and ill health. First place lived with brother-in-law, Edward Lefroy near Basingstoke, village called West Ham. A chequered hard life.


Stafford’s Maritime Library, Rebecca House, 1810 (old print)

As to her extant writing: beyond her continuation of Sanditon and the destroyed Which is the Heroine, Anna Austen Lefroy wrote a novella, Mary Hamilton (appeared in Literary Souvenir 1833), apparently available only in rare book rooms; also The Winters’ Tale (1841) Springtide (1842) and Recollections of Aunt Jane (1864). I have read the Recollections and Sanditon continuation and have Mary Hamilton and The Winter’s Tale as downloaded texts on my desktop. I will be reading them later this week.

Anna’s continuation of Sanditon is very good and seems to me to show some knowledge of what her aunt meant to go and that she herself knew her aunt’s techniques so well, she uses them as well as has phrases that in a wistful kind of vein are consonant with Austen’s own. (I recommend obtaining and reading Mary Gaither Marshall’s edition and reading her introduction and notes.)

Anna Lefroy’s Sanditon follows naturally, blends into Austen’s, and while some of the sparkle, energy, and just about all the black humor is gone, the tone at times really echoes Austen’s as well as the phraseology. The methods too: from the revision slips (one sees a paper slotted in twice), to the way of inserting curves in the plot. The last section is a flashback chapter much in the manner of the way we are told of Jane Fairfax’s history, Mr Weston’s (not so much Anne Elliot’s as that is more grief-striken and woven closely in). Her way of bringing in characters as naturally there resembles Austen’s. Much of this was learnt by studying Austen.

She adds appropriate characters who suggest a sexual sophistication not permitted Ausetn as a maiden lady: for example, Mr Tracey, Sidney Parker’s friend. Clara Brereton (the flashback chapter is about this) is to be heroine and there is a remarkable chapter about her mother, the pre-history is pathetic of parents worn down: father imprudent and bad business man, dies young, mother remarries an inferior man, violent quarrels, scattered schooling of useless type; picked up by uncle, “her business in life was to take care of, & to do the best she could for herself” (p. 86) and then this humiliating interview (interviews then as peremptory, bullying as today) and she does not get the job as she is too pretty for the little boy is pleased, then Mr Brereton hears of Lady Denham come to town.

Warwick House, 1824, owned by Edward Ogle (Trafalgar House in Sanditon)

We have three houses set up: Sanditon is fleshed out and there is a visit to Lady Denham and her shabby behavior and lack of gratitude to Hollis’s; a beautiful place not filled with beautiful people; more than one visit to Trafalgar house and one to Denham Park where Sidney Parker and Mr Tracey meet Sir Edward and his sister. Anna was gradually gathering her three or four groups in this small seaside town.

The characters feel real, including Mrs (gentle) and Mr Parker (going bankrupt Sidney sees). Scenes at beach with bathing machines. Dialogues well done with sense of reality from interchange of aware consciousnesses (pp. 41-42)

Little phrases: “another week passed, bringint to Sanditon, as to other parts of the world, it’s pleasure and it’s pains” p 45.

There is a sense of outline but my feeling is if this had been completed and published, it would genuinely be a continuation

What I’ve discovered is the few online lives talk about Anna as a sentimental person who promulgated the story of the love of Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen (see this text. She may have been right. But there is no interest and no telling of her life except as it relates to Austen’s reputation, memoirs, or her writing at all.


Worthing Sea Front, 1810

As I expected, in her article on the continuation of Sanditon by Anna (Jane Austen’s Manuscript and Her Niece’s Continuation,” The Review of English Studies, New Series, 38:149 (Feb. 1987): 56-61), Deirdre LeFaye is not having any of these ideas that Anna Austen Lefroy’s continuation tells us anything about Austen’s intentions or is adequate to the case. She quotes Anna’s own self-deprecation and comments the novel was not far gone enough at all to tell anything. LeFaye is a literalist when she wants to prove something.

The fuller context is the question between JEAL and Anna whether to print Sanditon with the second edition of the memoir. In the event it was not printed until 1925. Anna lacks self-esteem, she is self-deprecating; that is one of the things that destroyed her. She has imbibed a low view of herself. Finally the text matters. The Sanditon text by Anna shows a real grasp of her aunt’s techniques, it really seems to develop out of the situation, even the one new character fits what we see in other of Austen’s novels (Mr Tracy, a mild sort of rake, shallow in the way of Frank but also bright).

The article by Anthony Edmonds on JA and Worthing (“Edward Ogle of Worth and Jane Austen’s Sanditon, JA Society Collected Reports 2010, pp. 116-48), is very much worth reading (one learns a lot about Ogle, his businesses, Worthing), but it does not go far enough. Had he included some of the details in Anna’s continuation that would help us to see that Anna had been told something of what was to come. We see another source for the title The Brothers in Ogle’s business dealings and connections. Janet Clarke, “Jane Austen and Worthing,” JA Society Collected Reports, 2008 (pp. 86-105) is too determined to present Austen has having enjoyed herself immensely.


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I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter” — (Jane Austen Letter 29, Sat-Mon, 3-5 Jan 1801)

An image of Lady Susan in Austen’s fair copy

Dear friends and readers,

In middle March I wrote a blog-essay where I tried to work out what state I thought Austen’s different ms’s were in, some chronology for them, and then tried to ascertain what might have been the divisions of her novels in manuscript before her publishers’ printers got hold of them and either followed her or changed what she had sent in order to make her writing conform to published criteria set up to make money or be conventionally attractive to a wider readership.

At that time I queried a couple of lists asking for books or essays which studied manuscripts and tried to explain underlying principles in the different types of ms’s. I got no texts that were useful, but a couple of the texts I was told of had in their bibliography lists of others texts and among these lists I found Donald Reiman’s The Study of Modern Manuscripts: Public, Confidential and Private, which was described in the body of the text as a rare study which differentiated between pre-modern (pre-1790s or pre-long 18th century) and modern (post French revolution) manuscripts. I obtained this book, have read and tonight want to recommend it and discuss Austen’s ms’s in the light of Reiman’s study.

Reiman’s book covers all authors who left work in manuscript. I would not call this blog-posting Austen’s unpublished writing in context, except that I read Reiman’s book with an eye to understanding and finding some theory to explain my instinct that the way Austen’s ms’s are presented is, even with (a hero in Reiman’s book) often fall into misrepresentation because they are not printed to enable the reader to study them as ms’s. As the reader who goes over to glance at my middle March blog will see, I began this new project when I was asked to review The Later Manuscripts in the series called The Cambridge Edition of Jane Austen, this one edited by Janet Todd and Linda Bree, and it has set me thinking, returning to my project on Austen’s calendars where I tried to reach her work in ways so fundamental that I would enter her process of writing itself.

What follows is my response to Reiman’s book: I summarize him in the light of what I know about manuscripts and Austen. I have studied early modern manuscripts: of Vittoria Colonna and Veronica Gambara’s poetry, of Anne Murray Halkett’s life-writing, of Anne Finch’s poems, and now I’m adding Jane Austen’s ms’s. I have had occasion to read about what’s left of Trollope. He did save some of his manuscripts even after they were published as book, and in particular (blest man) the complete untruncated version of The Duke’s Children, now about to be published by Stephen Amarnick. John Sutherland has studied some of these, most notably the ms for The Way We Live Now.


An image of the original ms of Canto 7 of Byron’s Don Juan

Reiman is a well-known respected Romantic scholar, his specialty is PBShelley and he has studied the manuscripts left by PBShelley, Mary Shelley, Byron and their friends and associates. His The Study of Modern Manuscripts contains about 5 pages on Austen’s ms’s in one place and a couple of references in another. Basically he discusses the difference between pre-modern ms’s — medieval and Renaissance through early modern into the 18th century; with the modern period beginning right around Austen’s time. First of all, Reiman makes the important distinction of private, confidential and public manuscripts (as his subtitle suggests): who was the audience the writer thought of for his or her writing. He looks at the state of ms’s.

Private ms: these are addressed to specific people, selected in advance, sometimes they are not intended for anyone but the writer. Marginalia. Personal communications. Diagnoses. Lawyer’s opinions to clients.

Confidential or corporate ms: addressed to specific group of individuals all of whom are known to the writer or belong to pre-defined group who share communal values. You may expect the immediate recipient to show ms to others. Memos to partners in law firms, business, departments, readers’ reports. They may be written without regard to author’s reputation.

Public ms’s: intended for dissemination among people we don’t know. (As the circulating manuscripts of poems in the Renaissance.) There seems to be a slide from confidential to public. You want a public record. I’d say anything on the Net not specifically defined as going to a single person and not to be spread further is automatically at risk of being public or simply is public upon being put into cyberspace packets (including supposedly closed listservs and webrings.)

It’s the social intentions of the writer that matter.

The important difference between pre- and post-1790s ms’s in general is that after 1790 we find many more manuscripts of books which are published. Authors and their executors begin to save their ms’s, to value them, and there is suddenly a huge expansion of private and confidential ms’s. By private and confidential Reiman means autobiographical writing: letters, memoirs, life-writing of all sorts (autobiography, travel books). Before the eighteenth century many authors we now read did not publish their work by print at all; they allowed it to circulate in public manuscripts; it was not done to attribute the work to yourself, especially for a woman and aristocrats. When a work was published that showed you were trying to make money (that would be after the early modern period when the literary marketplace started to exist and expand) or gain fame (unseemly) or produce propaganda. People just did not have a positive view of writing or writers as wise people trying to help others. In the later 18th century still, when people did publish their works, they did not value the ms’s; the ms was regarded as say one would orange peels or something to discard and even when the author made a fair copy apart from the copy sent to the publisher, most of the time the ms’s does not survive.

There are no specific pages on Austen in the section of Reiman’s book on ms’s before the later 18th century, but there are specific in the long section on confidential ms’s. Confidential ms’s are ms’s meant for a small audience, not just oneself (Boswell’s diaries and Fanny Burney’s) but much of iot not meant for a vast impersonal public.

An Image of the so-called cancelled chapter of Persuasion

Mary Shelley becomes the first of a typical kind of person familiar to us today: she saved every scrap PBS ever wrote, whether she published it or not. So too Teresa Guiccioloi, Byron’s papers. This preservation of ms’s began in the 17th century but only spreads in the 19th; at the same time starting in the later 17th century published autobiography, books of letters, the invention of modern biography begins, the popularity of travel writing.

In general Austen seems to belongs to the pre-1790s period in attitude. She often reflects the era before the romantic one; she is anti-romantic. The puzzling lack of any manuscripts of books which were published except the case of the two chapters of Persuasion is then explained by Reiman’s book. If we remember that in fact both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were not published by Austen, and may represent an un-, or hastily finished truncated works (Persuasion), and or a work she was not satisfied with (NA), both of which were as yet not even titled for sure, the left over chapters of Persuasion don’t seem such an anomaly. Especially chapter 10, the where Anna visits the Crofts, is welcomed by the Admiral and Mrs Crofts, and finds herself in a room with Wentworth who then proceeds to propose marriage, be accepted and we get a kind of enigmatic response from Wentworth’s sister and brother-in-law which could suggest they knew for some time that Anne had been engaged to Wentworth previously. It’s a draft meant to be worked into some imagined final version of Persuasion which death cut Austen off from.

An image of one of Jane Austen’s letters to Anna: it is unusually “fair:” it looks like she copied it out

So Austen is on the cusp. She was alive at the time of the the early years of the romantics and was writing personally every day it seems, and every 3-4 days sending off missives to Cassandra and others. This kind of life-writing was not done in the pre-1790s period in this way. Reiman describes the growth in interest in the personal and valuing the individual’s inner life. He says that over the course of the 18th century you get people no longer deriving their identities from their status in the community, which remained unchanged, and was the result of who their family were. Now people were creating an identity for themselves which could change depending on what they achieved in life.

Consciously Austen’s letters are of the confidential and private type but they also witness a real valuing of the individual and personal; that’s why they exist in the first place, why she wrote so copiously.

Further, she has a kind of confidential ms’s that is a substitute for public you can find by women in the early modern period; the polished fair copy. (Reiman does not think like a feminist and so doesn’t mention this at all). This is an ms by a woman of a book prepared to look like a published book, one in which the author really works hard as if she (or he) were publishing it because it will not be published, but the author does value the book and wants it to circulate. This is the state of Lady Susan and the Juvenilia. This is how I see the fair copy of Lady Susan and perhaps too the Juvenilia (less so because she carried on correcting them).

Women did this because often they were not permitted to publish this or that particular work. Their writing was not valued. One of Anne Finch’s ms’s books begins as a polished confidential book which she later starts to use just as a another copy book into which she puts more poems as if the book were not polished, were partly private partly confidential. This is the ms today known as the Folger book (because it’s owned by the Folger Shakespeare library). It’s mostly in her husband Heneage’s hand. It has a preface, table of contents, is paginated and the first part beautifully copied out.

Austen’s letters would be private and/or confidential; she did not mean them to circulate beyond her family and if she had yearnings to reach more people, this never surfaced consciously. Perhaps she was ambivalent too — and that can be seen in the way her brother, Frank, saved his 3 packets of letters, never destroyed them, kept them by him until his death and they were destroyed not by his generation or his youngest spinster daughter. Burney’s equivalent grand-niece published hers — to whom we are enormously grateful, for she also did not destroy the ms’s after she published her tiny selection of 6 volumes.

Such books when they survive are today published in corrected polished forms — Chapman and then LeFaye’s edition of the letters; before them Brabourne (Austen’s great-nephew) who still regards them as owned by the family and reflective of the family status, not just Jane Austen’s. LeFaye seems to regard them as still belonging to and reflecting on Austen’s family.

From Austen’s time we get many books by women intended for publication, half-written with the larger audience in mind: Anne Grant, Madame du Deffand, Graffigny, Lespinasse (so too the men like Pope’s letters). Yes they are doctored with the public in mind but then so are their fictional works or poems when they write them.

Reiman thinks the way we should talk of the life-writing private and confidential works that we now publish is as as works reflective of the individual in his or her circle. We must take into account what they were meant to be, who for, what state they are in.

What I like about all Reiman’s distinctions here, is he shows where Todd and Bree went wrong in their edition. The letters they present as being a theory of Austen’s writing are confidential writing meant for Anna’s eyes or private writing just meant for Anna (see letter 76, a parody of a novel by Rachel Hunter, one of the authors published by Minerva Press, among whom Austen could not count herself). Thus whatever Austen said about Anna’s novel is shaped by Austen’s relationship with Anna and might not be what she would say about Anna’s novel were she to discuss it with a larger public or even the other relatives. She might not have thought as highly of it as she appears to. She is not on oath and we have the case of a letter to Anna where she appears to think so well of Anna just around Anna’s marriage, and Anna’s early housekeeping and in the next letter to Fanny we see this is not so; she does not want to visit Anna for real, she thinks Anna’s desires to fulfill herself in owning a playing a piano absurd or is out of sympathy with the very impulses that when she, Austen, had them she approved of.

They do not separate the fair copy of Lady Susan from the worked upon papers of The Watsons & Sanditon; the three sets of ms’s are presented as a coherent group as if they amount to the same sort of thing. They do not. The two chapters of Persuasion are not included in the Later ms’s — as they should have been — and with the ms’s of The Watsons and Sanditon. Lady Susan should have been published with the Juvenilia not as Juvenili, but as a book Jane Austen valued and prepared for a version of public dissemination. She half-wished she could publish them more widely but knew no one would(and her relatives would be horrified by any publication of the amoral witty monster-mother Lady Susan).

The attitude towards the Juvenilia which publishes them as Jane Austen’s “handbasket” is wrong; she did value them but knew no one in her time would publish them so she did in this fair copy form. Right the paper and books are cheap stuff, but she was poor herself and it was all she had to put them in. Her relatives would not spend money for her to keep her books as fair copies as they had limited value for them. But the first work after James Edward Austen-Leigh published his memoir that he published was the untitled Lady Susan because instinctively he (and his sisters) recognized it as a ripe and ready work all set to show to others — I’d call it privately published, Jane Austen her own Vanity Press.

An image of a gothic-historical novel published by the Minerva press, a press that would not have accepted Northanger Abbey


I strongly recommend Reiman’s book. His final chapter is an angry one in a way: he inveighs against editors who do not at all think about what the ms’s they are publishing represents. Some become doctors of the works and try to improve them; others decide which version of a work they think is the best and publish that as the only or final one, sometimes an early ms. I am “guilty” of this in the case of Anne Finch for, like others, I think her earlier versions of her poems better than the later ones where she began to censor and modify what she wrote in terms of conventional ideas; in my section on her poems where I publish texts I consistently prefer the earlier text.

Lord Brabourne’s edition of his great-aunt’s letters is an openly family edition

Or editors become family friends — Deirdre LeFaye exemplifies this. The editor conceives of his or herself as an advocate of the family and produces an edition of the poetry which presents the family’s view of the poet. This is just how LeFaye sees herself, down to the notes she provides for the letters. Mary Shelley broke with this entirely in her edition of Shelley; if she had not, she would have destroyed many of his poems, censored others, and presented those that survived with very different prefaces.

Reiman’s book would cover all authors and his opening section on pre-modern, pre-18th century is valuable even if short. If it’s added to Margaret Ezell’s Social Authorship and the Advent of print, it becomes an important brief primer on ms’s in the early period of European writing. Ezell brings the woman’s perspective I have in on this. Women’s ms’s differ from men’s as generally they were not allowed to publish at all and have been published by later generations with different perspectives than the individual’s, often in pathetically truncated forms.

Another useful and informative book, an anthology on the early modern into 17th century world of ms’s: Arthur E. Marotti and Michael D. Bristol, Print, Manuscript, Performance: The changing relations of the media in early modern England. This last one is wonderful for bringing in the perspective of the net, and publication on websites, listservs and (dare I say?) blogs. I know about it because there’s an essay on Anne Murray Halket’s autobiography, a fragment of which survives and I made an etext of and have written two papers about which I published on the Net. Halkett represents a highly ambivalent woman: she writes a memoir in vindication of herself which she really wants to reach many people, but consciously it’s somewhere between private and confidential for she knows if it reached others it would be regarded as scandalous and all we now have is a fragment because some relative did find and destroy most of what she wrote.

See Jane Austen letters archive; also my study of the timelines in Austen and chronology of the novels: Time in Jane Austen.


P.S. Some people online regard writing to small listservs as confidential communication. As a list-moderator I’ve been asked more than once to make sure the listserv postings are kept closed except to members. I do not think this is useful. Anyone can join the listserv at any time. I regard blogs as a form of listserv where I put postings I mean as confidential as well as public.

Often people look at me as strange because I just put my polished work I could try to publish in conventional books on the Net; I must have some ultimate motive beyond trying to reach people. I suppose I do but it’s not money or promotion. I did hope at one time someone might be attracted to the Colonna poetry and want to publish it in a book, but I’ve learnt that that was very naive of me, showing that I had no idea why and how most books are published, usually the result of social relationships combining with desire for money or prestige of some sort when not promotion and advancement.

My putting my writing on the Net the way I do, on my website particularly is the equivalent of Austen’s writing out a fair copy of Lady Susan and letting it circulate that way as far as she was allowed. I am circulating my work as far as I am able and putting into print (as in facebook where friends of friends read one another’s writing) the context too.

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Anna Austen, later Lefroy (1793-1872)

John Glover ( (1767-1849) ( (one of the two artists who popular engraved prints Austen was familiar with, possibly one like this of local English countryside is intended)

Dear friends and readers,

I’m breaking strict chronology at this point (see letter 70) because I’ve been asked to review The Later Manuscripts, ed. Janet Todd and Linda Bree, a final volume of Austen’s texts in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, gen. ed. Janet Todd, and have come to that part of the volume where the editors print five and the postscript to a sixth letter (Letter 103) from Jane Austen to one of her two closest nieces, Anna Austen Lefroy (oldest daughter of Austen’s older brother, James, by his first wife, Anne Matthew [died 1795]). There are altogether sixteen extant letters from Austen to Anna, and of the five “whole” selections Todd and Bree make (where they take the complete text as far as we can guess), one is a letter cut off after an initial single paragraph (Letter 113).

This is, in other words, a series of scraps taken from a remnant of censored letters, on the supposition they give Jane Austen’s “theory of fiction.” They do not because 1) Jane Austen had no consistent worked-out theory of fiction: she talks only of her attitudes towards her heroines (usually some version of qualified fondness), strict literal verisimilitude and the actual literal situations she likes to delve (“3 or 4 Families in a Country Village”); and 2) if you want to argue she did have one, no matter how unconscious, what you need to do is bring all her letters together which bring up or discuss fiction, especially her own; these are many and must include the one to her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh (Letter 142).

This section of their book may best be read as a half-hearted attempt to present Jane Austen’s relationship with her niece who was possibly potentially as gifted as she but never developed these gifts. Letter 76, which I begin with here, is a parody ridiculing a minor novel Austen, her sister, and Anna, had been reading aloud to one another, Rachel Hunter’s Margiana; or, Widdrington Tower (1808, Minerva Head Press). See later correction and blog: the novel in question was Lady Maclairn, or The Victim of Villany.

The others are about the first novel Anna attempted, which she first called Enthusiasm, but changed to Which is the Heroine, and destroyed one night by casting it into the fire on her hearth in the later 1820s. In their notes they include (as LeFaye does not) all the comments of Anna’s third daughter, Fanny Caroline Lefroy about how much the novel meant to her mother, how she tried to finish Sanditon, Anna’s intense depression in the her later 20s and her destruction of her this item she had been so proud of, cherished. Proud because Jane Austen had taken it seriously, liked it. As her daughter, Fanny Caroline Lefroy laments, if her mother had not destroyed what she had written in a moment of self-rejecting despair (and loneliness for her aunt too), Jane Austen’s letters would mean more and we would have a much better understanding of Anna’s talents (perhaps a novel worth reading). The section is followed by the playlet, Sir Charles Grandison, which was probably written by Anna in her girlhood and corrected (polished, improved) by her aunt.

Since their book includes both a modern printing of Sanditon, and a diplomatic transcript of the manuscript, all one needs to do is read the other 9 letters, Mary Gaither Marshall’s edition of Anna’s continuation of Sanditon, which includes Anna’s Reminiscences of her aunt, and Anna’s three extant novellas, Mary Hamilton (1833), The Winter’s Tale (1841) and Springtide (1842), and cobble together from the various Jane Austen biographical books what is known of Anna’s life and documents by and about her (including her sister, Caroline’s truthful account of Anna’s bleak sad wedding to Benjamin Lefroy), and a relevant life and person to Jane Austen’s oeuvre is before you. I am not in a position to reach the three novellas (though I will try what I can do in my local Library Of Congress and Folger Library and through interlibrary loan), but I will here in the next few blogs present the rest.

This first blog is presents and reads first of the letters as printed by LeFaye, the ridiculing “fun” of Rachel Hunter’s historical fiction, apparently a cross between a gothic and sentimental text. I’ll then go on to offer a brief life of Anna, and then the five other texts in Todd and Bree, with an account of the nine further texts in LeFaye’s fourth edition of the letters. These can form a preface to the second half of the remnant of Jane Austen’s letter that is left to us, those which contain what is left of her explicit comments on her novels while preparing them for publication, writing and revising the best known six.


Francis Nicolson (1753-1844) (the other painter whose popular more feeble work is alluded to)

76(C). To Anna Austen. ?Between Thursday 29 and Saturday 31 October 1812

Miss Jane Austen begs her best thanks may be conveyed to Mrs Hunter of Norwich for the Threadpaper which she has been so kind as to send her by Mr Austen, & which will be always very valuable on account of the spirited sketches (made it is supposed by Nicholson or Glover) of the most interesting spots, Tarefield Hall, the Mill, & above all the Tomb of Howard’s wife, of the faithful representation of which Miss Jane Austen is undoubtedly a good judge having spent so many summers at Tarefield Abbei the delighted guest of the worthy Mrs Wilson. [It is impossible for any likeness to be more complete. Miss Jane Austen’s tears have flowed over each sweet sketch in such a way as would do Mrs Hunter’s heart good to see; if Mrs Hunter could understand all Miss Jane Austen’s interest in the subject she would certainly have the kindness to publish at least 4 vols more about the Flint family, & especially would give many fresh particulars on that part of it which Mr, H. has hitherto handled too briefly; viz, the history of Mary Flint’s marriage with Howard.

Miss Jane Austen cannot close this small epitome of the miniature abridgment of her thanks & admiration without expressing her sincere hope that Mrs Hunter is provided at Norwich with a more safe conveyance to London than Alton can now boast, as the Car of Frankenstein which was the pride of that Town was overturned in the last 10 days.

Miss Austen


John Glover ( (1767-1849), Rhiadr Ddu, North Wales (this is more like the paintings Glover is famous for today)

There is a brief but descriptive enough account of either this novel or one very like it in M. H. Dobbs, “Margian: Name of Author Wanted,” Notes and Queries, 7, Series 11 (1913):233-34. A brief account of the major characters, plot-turns and quality — it’s a historical novel which grounds history in Shakespeare, with gothic motifs and a sentimental courtship plot. Dobbs is someone who appears prima facie to think little of women’s novels; he (or she writing from a man’s point of view which she’s imbibed) he opens by assuming this one is by a woman and yet Dobbs grants the novel is a semi-serious attempt to write historical fiction and says there is genuine feeling in it. In her account of this novel in her Reminiscences, Anna says Hunter repeated the same story of the character several times: perhaps this was done from the different characters’ point of view.

Anna also tells Edward that the letter shows their aunt’s tendency to “ridicule:” thus she alludes two landscape artists in ways meant to stigmatize Hunter’s Abbey pictures: they are, Jane implies, verbal recreations of images such as Mrs Hunter might have seen in local books or places she visited. Austen is not only up on what is popular; she here distinguishes between what’s high status, prestigious (say an original oil or watercolor by a famous name you’d have to pay a good deal of money to if you wanted one of his or her pictures) and what’s popular, readily available to anyone who can get to the circulating library. In an earlier letter (55, 30 Jun-1 July 1808) we saw her half-mock William Hodges’s painting of Hasting’s second wife (only half, because it was Hastings, Eliza’s biological father, an important possible dispenser of patronage to the Austen family). Hodges are similar works: very pleasing Anglo-picturesque landscapes.

William Hodges (1744-97), A View of Matavai Bay in the Island of Otaheite (1776)


Fanny Austen Knight, later Knatchbull (1793-1882) writing a letter when young (watercolor by Cassandra Austen)

The letter is undated but after a careful study of the group of letters to Anna, especially those just before and around Anna’s wedding, LeFaye concluded these are the closest dates we have. Anna’s letters are in a parlous state, in versions she herself may have censored, I suggest because it was too painful to her later in life to realize her aunt had sometimes made fun of her or talked of her desires for say a pianoforte just after she married in hostile terms to her cousin, Fanny, very different from the way Austen had talked to her. (See LeFaye, “Jane Austen: Some Letters Redated,” Notes and Queries, 34:4 n.s. (1987):478-81.

It’s significant this is the first letter to Anna that has survived. Anna was someone with brains enough if not quite to understand explicitly the basis of the ridicule, at least someone who would sympathize with the desire to take the fiction sufficiently seriously to write up a parody. She opens with a mild sneer: Rachel Hunter’s book is so much threadpaper. The literal definition is a strip of folded paper serving to hold skeins of thread in its divisions. But the use is continually pejorative once that meaning is extrapolated out from, e.g., “No matter — as an appendage to a seamstress, the thread-paper might be of some consequence to my mother — of none to my father, as a mark in Slawkenbergius. (Tristram Shandy, Sterne). Again: “Sedley said he feared poor Desdemona had lost the thread-paper from which she was to mend her gown, and recommended to the two young ladies to have the charity to go and assist her” (Camilla, Burney). Also metonymic use it’s equivalent is a a woman: someone who uses this sort of thing: “A thread-paper, a doll, a toy – a girl, in short. ” (Bronte, Shirley)

Jane Austen’s most common reaction to most of those novels she mentions in her letters is hostile ridicule: to put the matter plainly. In part all these inferior texts get into print and hers has not, or in this case, gotten into print after ceaseless revision and paying for it. The exceptions are writers with strong prestige (Scott), who write didactically (Edgeworth, Genlis most of the time) or whose fictions resemble hers (but only if they have a name, so Burney is respected even if mocked, but Mary Brunton is not).

Still since the letter is dated dated October 1812, after the publication of Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen has had a real success d’estime — though the transcendent success of her archetypal romance (as it emerged from her cutting), Pride and Prejudice was not to come until after Jan 1813 (date of publication).

Austen specifically mocks the sentimental presentation of the servants in the novel, Mr and Mrs Wilson. I note that she had a hero named Howard who was a relatively poor tutor and we are told managed to escape the pursuit of Lady Osborne (suggesting a kind of Joseph Andrews plot unless a mistake was made in transmission and Jane told Cassandra Miss Osborne was to pursue Mr Howard). The connection of the names, Hunter having used the same one, may suggest why Miss Austen has this special interest in Mr Howard. Proprietary. The interest here is this suggests that Austen had not given up on The Watsons; she still considered the characters in that novel living creations that were hers and she intended to return to.

The reference to the Car of Frankenstein and number of miles between Alton and Norwich is not entirely nonsense — as the family liked to call much that Austen kidded about. In fact in one of Austen’s letters to Anna Austen (as we shall see) reveals an important part of her conscious method was to make sure she stayed within calendar and time and space limitations that exist in real life.

From Dobbs’s account and Austen’s reaction, it’s plain Hunter does not go carefully into such minutiae; Hunter does not care if she actually saw something happen or was in a place: one cannot be after all in a historical novel. Nor does she realize how important such control of time (slowing down) and felt space are in creating subjective time that draws the reader in — and thus instinctively, intuitively important to Austen. Austen herself thinks of this only as probability, a guard to make sure novels are not made fun of; we must turn to Anna Barbauld for a realization of a novel’s creation of a subjective consciousness.

Austen had been regaling her sister and Anna with stories she invented for the Car of Frankenstein. It had been overturned 10 days ago. Now this anticipates Sanditon which begins with an overturned carriage — so perhaps it already existed in some draft form. In Arthur Axelrod’s Jane Austen Caught in the Act of Greatness, a thorough careful diplomatic display of the manuscripts of the cancelled chapters of Persuasion and Sanditon, he notes hat on October 11/12, 1813, Jane wrote Cassandra:

I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those dark eyes always judge well. — I will compliment her, by naming a heroine after her.

It’s interesting that the name Frankenstein was perhaps already a stereotypoc name for gothic well before Mary Shelley’s book — or is this name prophetic?

Francis Nicolson, Pont Aberlaslyn, Wales (1809) — like Glover Nicolson did some fine painting (we need not adopt Austen’s attitudes here at all)


Catherine Anne Hubback, nee Austen (1818-77), Frank Austen’s 5th daughter by his first wife

The tendency is to think of Austen has having two nieces, and to put all the emphasis and interest on Fanny Austen Knight. It does seem as if for a time Jane Austen much preferred Fanny to Anna; but the letters to Fanny about marriage (often discussed and reprinted) show Jane at a distance looking at Fanny clinically (as we shall see when we get there). Alas, the movie Gweneth Hughes and Anne Pivcevic’s Miss Austen Regrets will solidify this erasure. Anna it was who grew up with the aunts when her father remarried, Anna was there to witness the first writing of Pride and Prejudice, Anna again lived near Austen at Chawton: Unlike Fanny, Anna had the brains, sensitivity, interest in her aunt’s fiction; she and her half-brother and half-sister, Caroline, inherited much from James the father and were responnsible for the important (even if wrong-headed) indispensable first memoir.

Not only that but there were three nieces and one who really did have career: Catherine Anne Hubback. Arguably it was Anna’s jealousy of her younger cousin, Catherine, and desire to forestall any publications by Catherine about their aunt, that led Anna to encourage and help James Edward Austen-Leigh in his biography of their aunt — Anna mentions more than once in irritated resentful terms that Catherine wrote The Younger Sister from a manuscript (it’s actually rather from memory). Catherine Anne Hubback helped support herself and family by writing (Victorian) novels when her husband had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized; she published nine more novels after The Younger Sister (important for what it reveals about Austen’s The Watsons), among them the readable The Wife’s Sister, The Rival Suitors, and Agnes Milbourne, a story dealing with a young girl’s dilemma over the conflicting claims of the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian church and her most popular work of fiction. I hope to write blogs on Catherine Hubback’s Younger Sister as well as Fanny Austen Knight when the appropriate time in the letters provides.

Next up, the second letter to Anna printed in Todd and Bree’s Later Manuscripts.

See Jane Austen’s Letters


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Sense and Sensibility, the first edition (1811)

Dear friends and readers,

We have had another break in time (see Letter 69, 28 July 1809), the longest since the 3 and 4 month break between May 1801 when (in Letter 38) we left an apparently more equable, somewhat less strained Jane still at Paragon Buildings; and did not have any evidence from her of her existence, what like, where, until September 1804 (Letter 39) she writes from Lyme, in a spirit of recovery.

21 months.

It is of course tempting to say there were no letters because even if (the probabilities are strongly on the side of this), Cassandra kept going off to Godmersham and other relatives, Jane was just too immersed in her writing to give anything to letters. The evidence though is all along she wrote in the mornings, and often all morning long. When we pick up with her again, we see the same social life carried on as we had seen in 1809.

This is also an enormously cheerful letter; she is just super-lively and it is a long letter to keep this up. Even what she clearly dislikes is presented as well, thank the stars that’s over: “I bless my stars that I have done with tuesday” (the day of course caught my eye). She drops accurate observations: “Theo'” … came back in time to shew his usual nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless Civility.” It’s the “harmless” going with “heartless” that shows toleration today She is living with Henry just now and Eliza and a party is planned, a big one, not usually Jane’s thing. But she says here she “finds all these little parties pleasant.”

What do we see generally: Jane is again attempting to build a female community. She has a real relationship again with a woman servant, French in origin if her name means anything, Manon (but we have to note against that she calls one of the musicians a “hireling”). Jane has gained a new peer companion woman friend, Mary Cook who Jane Austen longs to take back with her to Chawton. Mary is another of these fringe women who never married. She has also successfully arranged to visit another woman friend, Catherine Bigg, now Mrs Hill and the plan is to take Mary to Catherine and perhaps the three of them proceed to Chawton. It didn’t happen. But she wants it.

She still gets so much pleasure from walking ” We are come back, after a good dose of Walking & Coaching” (her and Eliza). There is news of her sailor brothers; there is her intense pleasure in Henry’s presence, Henry who we will later learn is centrally instrumental in the coming publication of Sense and Sensibility “by a Lady.” What is not said is Jane Austen is in London because she has taken it on her own to edit and prepare for printing, and printed a third of that original set of three novels from Steventon, now called (as of the next letter) S&S, and is awaiting proofs. This it is that cheers and buoys her so strongly.

Still I think something happened which prompted — helped prompt her acting at last. It could be in the form of encouragement, but it also could be in the form of reaction to something that occurred at Chawton that told her “enough” and I must do this or just die away. This letter for all its cheer has two pieces cut out or pasted over


From the opening of 1971 BBC S&S: Marianne (Ciaran Madden), Mrs (Isabel Dean) and Elinor (Joanna David) Dashwood must leave Norland

The letter opens with an effusiveness towards Cassandra. She has too many things to record – she seems to feel alive by recording them. So she had better get them down.

What is she doing? visited with the Cookes – their lodgings were in Bentick St. Again female single friends and not overly rich, for LeFaye describes one Cooke as someone who rented Camilla. The Arnold family are relations of the Cookes who knew the Austens in Bath too. The Cookes were connected by a previous generation having married into the Leigh family (a Cassandra Leigh – the name popular to flatter a Countess they were related to, soften her up).

I have so many little matters to tell you of, that I cannot wait any longer before I begin to put them down. — I spent tuesday in Bentinck St; the Cookes called here & took me back; & it was quite a Cooke day, for the Miss Rolles paid a visit while I was there, & Sam Arnold dropt in to tea.

She had planned to see another single woman friend but the rain stopped her. This is Maria or Mary who lives in London and earns her keep as a hostess for her widowed brother-in-law. But no matter, Mary Cooke (the woman Austen later plans/longs to bring back to Chawton with her) goes to the Liverpool Museum with Jane. Jane’s taste and interest here reminds me of Mary Crawford. The other name for the museum was Bullock’s and it appears to have been filled with stuffed birds; also reptiles, arms, some works of art. I’d like to think Austen was also turned off by the stuffed birds, and entertained (satirically) by the nonsense and indifference of those at the museum.

The badness of the weather disconcerted an excellent plan of mine, that of calling on Miss Beckford again, but from the middle of the day it rained incessantly. Mary & I, after disposing of her Father & Mother, went to the Liverpool Museum, the British Gallery, & I had some amusement at each, tho’ my preference for Men & Women, always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight. —

Alas, the mother does not want to give Mary up to Jane. First, apologies lest Cassandra have been offended they did not open their doors to her. We have an excised strip. Austen maybe emitted a bitter comment about this snubbing. The servant blunder suggests the Austen sisters did not dress in a way or present themselves sufficiently in a way that signaled their importance; indeed far from that. They are still far from monied. We’ve seen this before – when the Austens were not let in in Southampton. So this single mature woman earns her keep by being the nurse. The mother will only concede this if a brother appears and men we know don’t have to do this. Women’s work

Mrs Cooke regrets very much that she did not see you when you called, it was oweing blunder among the servants, for she did not know of our visit till we were gone. — She seems tolerably well; but the nervous part of her Complaint I fear increases, & makes her more & more unwilling to part with Mary. — I have proposed to the latter that she should go to Chawton with me, on the supposition of my traveling the Guildford road-& she I do beleive, would be glad to do it, but perhaps it may be impossible; unless a Brother can be at home at that time, it certainly must. —

It’s here we get the sudden darker note that is undercut. It was irritating to Austen to see how these young men got away with acting indifference. She also didn’t care for Theodore’s professions of friendship. Clearly it’s all on the surface since he won’t offer to be helpful to the mother so the sister can have some life space and friendship. Now I see the origin of “heartless” is specific. (That’s why one close reads).

George comes to them to day. I did not see Theo’ till late on Tuesday; he was gone to Ilford, but he came back in time to shew his usual, nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless Civility. —


From the opening of 1981 BBC S&S: Mrs Dashwood (Diane Fairfax) and Marianne (Tracey Childs Madden), facing Elinor in the coach on their way back from having seen an acceptable too expensive place to rent

Henry picked her up on the way home from the frustrating end of her visit to the Cookes. He threw life and wit into the Cook party. So there had been none. Off they went in a hackney coach. Austen alone didn’t dare. How I wish I knew what happened on that Tuesday; not that the novel’s use of Tuesday comes from this day — as the day is already embedded in S&S, but that to Austen Tuesday was (apparently) automatically a signal to groan and/or dread something to be gotten over as an ordeal.

Henry, who had been confined the whole day to the Bank, took me in his way home; & after putting Life & Wit into the party for a quarter of an hour, put himself & his Sister into a Hackney coach. — I bless my stars that I have done with tuesday! —

Whew. It’s over. Alas Wedneday turned out also to “be a day of great doings.” Austen likes quiet (that I know from the novels as well as the letters) — except for dances; that is the one exception. Austen goes shopping with Eliza’s French maid. Crews is a loosely woven embroidered yarn.

But alas! — Wednesday was likewise a day of great doings, for Manon & I took our walk to Grafton House, & I have a good deal to say on that subject. I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too; for in a Linendraper’s shop to which I went for check’d Muslin, & for which I was obliged to give seven shillings a yard, I was tempted by a pretty coloured muslin, & bought 10 yards of it, on the chance of your liking it;-but at the same time if it should not suit you, you must not think yourself at all obliged to take it; it is only 3/6 per yard, & I should not in the least mind keeping the whole.-In texture, it is just what we prefer, but its’ resemblance to green crews I must own is not great, for the pattern is a small red spot. — ?

A briefly (?) censored passage: Austen is referring to some private mortification of Cassandra’s. Something Cassandra needed or wanted and she could not bear to read herself nor allow anyone else. Austen did not realize how sore Cassandra was here. She sounds satisfied with what’s she ‘s done and written. “now I believe I have done all my commissions. All that’s left is to buy Wedgwood china (earthenware, British made) and the tone is complacent.

–?[I took the opportunity of buying some ((two words lost here) for you], & now I beleive I have done all my commissions, except Wedgwood.

A full account of Manon and their time shopping: she loved to walk, she is comfortable with this servant. They did have to wait. They are not important people nor look it. When they were finally attended to, she was satisfied and didn’t over spend. Still a central consideration.

I liked my walk very much; it was shorter than I had expected, & the weather was delightful. We set off immediately after breakfast & must have reached Grafton House by 1/2 past 11 –, but when we entered the Shop, the whole Counter was thronged, & we waited full half an hour before we could be attended to. When we were served however, I was very well satisfied with my purchases, my Bugle Trimming at 2/4ds & 3 pt silk Stockings for a little less than 12.1/S. a pt

Another turn. The way back:. This is a different Mr Moore from the novelist or the general: Mr Moore of Wrotham. She likes him and their mutual acquaintance, the Bridges. LeFaye quotes Halsted (a historian of Kent) to the effect that this Mr Moore “was universally hated” but does suggest why. Austen is just chortling with happiness: the milliner (daughter of a haberdasher) who makes her a new pretty bonnet must make her a straw one.

Probably not precisely the kind of straw hat Jane had made for her

Nothing less will do for the published novelist. She confesses she is “shocking” but delighting in this small affordable extravagance and anyway backtracks to say it was “not dear at a Guinea.” Still the buttons are high:

— In my way back, who should I meet but Mr Moore, just come from Beckenham. I beleive he would have passed me, if I had not made him stop-but we were delighted to meet. I soon found however that he had nothing new to tell me, & then I let him go.-Miss Burton has made me a very pretty little Bonnet — & now nothing can satisfy me but I must have a straw hat, of the riding hat shape, like Mrs Tilson’s; & a young woman in this Neighbourhood is actually making me one. I am really very shocking; but it will not be dear at a Guinea. — Our Pelisses are 17/S. each — she charges only 81 for the making, but the Buttons seem expensive; — are expensive, I might have said — for the fact is plain enough. —

Then who they drank tea with when they got back to Sloane Street, and how they will see these people tomorrow at another small social party (not devoted to cards you see): Henry would have taken her to the play at the Lyceum to crown the day but she has a cold. The Tilsons’ connection is to Henry as militia people (Henry had been in the local militia). Smiths are friends of Tilsons. (How circles widen in this way.) Austen uses a joke name for Mrs Smith who sings well and may sing tomorrow night. We are not told which play but Lyceum was an opera house, not one of the two patented theaters. Perhaps they did plays there too, sung ones.

We drank tea again yesterday with the Tilsons, & met the Smiths. — I find all these little parties very pleasant. I like Mr S. Miss Beaty is good humour itself, & does not seem much besides. We spend tomorrow even with them, & are to meet the Coln & Mrs Cantelo Smith, you have been used to hear of; & if she is in good humour, are likely to have excellent singing. — To night I might have been at the Play, Henry had kindly planned our going together to the Lyceum, but I have a cold which I should not like to make worse before Saturday; — so, I stay within, all this day. —

And that’s why she’s in right now writing all this up.


From opening scene of 1995 Miramax S&S: the death of Mr Henry Dashwood (Tim Wilkinson): he tells his son that the son must help them

On Friday the note is short: A party in the works, just the sort of thing to associate with Eliza Austen. We can see Jane imagining Cassandra reading aloud the letter to Fanny and what is implied is that sometimes Fanny grows restless and doesn’t listen. (From her diary entries it’s clear she wasn’t inward or thoughtful at all, no indication of anything about the people’s she’s with either.)

In the notes LeFaye tells us a married couple named Egerton were friends of Eliza and surmises that Henry was their son. The Walter family are descendents of George Austen (Henry and Jane’s father)’s mother, Rebecca Hampson who in her first married married a George Walter. William Hampson Walter was half-brother to George and these are their descendents (how clannish patronage and the need to curry favor for everything made everyone). Henry the eldest son of the Rev James Walter. I wonder who “her” prejudice refers to, and see in the pointed reference an allusion to Austen’s novel, First Impressions — by that time perhaps it was called Pride and Prejudice, but in any case, the theme of Elizabeth’s prejudice was in it without the change of title. There’s a been a softening as Jane earlier refused to admit to any pleasure since she had so little knowledge of high cultured music. I feel what she disliked was hypocritical effusions of pleasure.

so, I stay within, all this day.– Eliza is walking out by herself. She has plenty of business on her hands just now — for the day of the Parry is settled, & drawing near; — above 80 people are invited for next tuesday Evening & there is to be some very good Music, 5 professionals, 3 of them Glee-singers, besides Amateurs. — Fanny will listen to this. One of the Hirelings, is a Capital on the Harp, from which I expect great pleasure.– The foundation of the party was a dinner to Henry Egerton & Henry Walter” — but the latter leaves Town the day before. I am sorry — as I wished her prejudice to be done away — but she have been more sorry if there had been no invitation. —

She does know all this is shallow superficial she says; but perhaps she also worried about Cassandra’s response, felt Cassandra would expect more interest in family matters (naturally) as well as her own longed-for visit to Mrs Knight, whom they both like and was so generous to them both. The idea is one we see in Austen’s Persuasion — we care about the worlds we are in and forget those away from us:

I am a wretch to be so occupied with all these Things, as to seem to have no Thought to give to people & circumstances which really supply a far more lasting interest — the Society in which You are — but I do think of you all I assure you, & want to know all about everybody, & especially about your visit to the W Friars; “mais le moyen” not to be occupied with one’s own concerns?-


From opening scene of 2000 Sri Surya I have found it a helicopter in war lands Captain Bala [Colonal Brandon character] (Mammootty)

Saturday also brings unhappy naval politics. Henry’s connections brought the news from a clerk in the ticket office. So Henry had been sniffing around.

Let us recall that Gambier was the Admiral that George Austen applied to; he was the patron who got Frank and Charles on, and now he’s gone & another man brings his flunkies in. In such a world, it does not matter what your merit is; without law and rule and precedents (held to say by unions or some other mechanism) patronage trumps all. This is worrying. Not only the problem of where to live but what to live in if he does descend into half pay. Deborah Kaplan has a striking article about how Charles had his family in the ship; the realities that caused this (lack of money for a separate establishment) are slid over in the conversation in Persuasion.

Frank is superseded in the Caledonia. Henry brought us this news yesterday from Mr Daysh & he heard at ­the same time that Charles may be in England in the course of a month. — Sir Edwd Pellew succeeds Lord Gambier in his command, & some Captain of his, succeeds Frank; & I beleive the order is already gone out. Henry means to enquire farther to day; — he wrote to Mary on the occasion. — This is something to think of. — Henry is convinced that he will have the offer of something else, but does not think it will be at all incumbent on him to accept it; & then follows, what will he do? & where will he live? —

Again Jane thinks to herself she must mention Cassandra — this awareness of her interlocutor is keen and controlling. She wants to hear about Cassandra’s health — holding up against strain of mothering Edward’s younger children still. Mrs Austen is doing fine.

— I hope to hear from you today. How are you, as to Health, strength, Looks, stomach &c? — I had a very comfortable account from Chawton yesterday —

Then Eliza remembered and the plans for the day and evening ahead this Saturday: Austen gets a much much less expensive item. Again the play will be missed. It was a bother to go to plays; you had to send a servant early to hold your seat for you; a crowd, and not at all exclusive:

— If the Weather permits, Eliza & I walk into London this morning — she is in want of chimney lights for Tuesday; — & I, of an ounce of darning cotton. — She has resolved not to venture to the Play tonight.

Two of the people who did not come to the party, friends from France who were interesting people; D’Entraigues a scholar, forger, double agent married to an opera singer so they’d like a musical party. (We are told by LeFaye they were murdered in their house in 1812, a high price is paid for this kind of “high” stakes life style.) Instead they will visit this group the following evening. Jane’s words suggests she finds this preferable. It would be. The people might actually get to talk to one another for real.

The D’Entraigues & Comte Julien cannot come to the Party — which was at first a greif, but she has since supplied herself so well with Performers that it is of no consequence;­ their not coming has produced our going to them tomorrow Even! ­which I like the idea of. It will be amusing to see the ways of a French circle.

Much is made by David Nokes and other biographies of this party, but Jane Austen says it is not what she cares deeply about at all; it’s an “amusing” interest to see ways of other cultures. It’s the next few lines that show something she cares about.

Another woman friend. What she looks forward to is visiting Catherine Bigg (now Mrs Hill), and note the words used here. She had had to explain herself to make this smooth. I think her penchant for these women friends aroused distrust; it was different and it was noticed. It’s not clear if it was Henry to whom she originally applied to live that way of life with Martha and Cassandra in 1809; at the time it was Frank who was pointed to and we heard nothing of it. Jane was turned down. In any case Eliza has now replaced Martha.

Note too at long last Jane has made her own travel plans. If brother James cannot be bothered, “I can take care of myself” A new good note to hear but notice that all are conceding this to her; they are being kind. It’s not a right quite, but something they could have resented and she had to fight for and achieve (and thus is fragile).

In the early part of the letter she has had to give Mary Cooke up. She wanted to take Mary Cooke to Mrs Hill, spend time there and then with Mary on to Chawton. This sort of thing is what I am reading these letters so carefully to pick up.

I wrote to Mrs Hill a few days ago, & have received a most kind & satisfactory answer; my time, the first week in May, exactly suits her; & therefore I consider my Goings as tolerably fixed. I shall leave Sloane Street on the 1 st or 2& be ready for James on ye 9th;& if his plan alters, I can take care of myself. — I have explained my veiws here, & everything is smooth & pleasant; & Eliza talks kindly of conveying me to Streatham. —

And a final detail before going out with Eliza for these purchases: if you look at the Tilson family, you see again a number of unmarried females. The rest of the sentence is half-ironic: some pair of women who sing as part of their social act and some one related to them irritated because she could not show off about it.

We met the Tilsons yesterday Evening but the Singing Smiths sent an excuse-which put our Mrs Smith out of humour.


From opening scene of 2008 BBC S&S: Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza Williams: we see his hand approaching her breast

It’s still Saturday and Jane has returned to her writing desk. Whatever the family might like to claim, this was not hidden writing. It could not have been. The few instances we have of (nearly or at least covertly) uncensored sets with none missing show a rhythm of diary-letters every 3-4 days and these are diary. Rather like someone with a blog at hand.

Her great pleasure at walking. It’s a form of salutary medicine, a good dose. It seems that her eldest James Austen has written some new verses that Mrs Knight wants to see and Cassandra has written for them to be copied out. Jane does not have them; they were left at Chawton. We have to realize both sisters are from home, and that Chawton is not far from where Steventon still stood. Note the politeness of the deferrent society: the woman may have given them enough money to live on now and again, but Jane needs leave to write directly.

We are come back, after a good dose of Walking & Coaching, & I have the pleasure of your letter. — I wish I had James’s verses, but they were left at Chawton. When I return thither, if Mrs K, will give me :leave, I will send them to her.

Where did they walk and ride to? We are not told all of it, only the most important. It seems they would have preferred Shakespeare’s King John to his Hamlet. I know King John was liked in the 18th century: the story of internecine monarchical politics, and the emotional and tragic mother, with the famous speech of “convenience,” commodity in the play. Commodity rules the world. So they won’t go. If LeFaye had done her homework since the 3rd edition, she would have found out who was playing that night (but she has not — she consistently will research the tiniest point about an acquaintance of Austen’s especially when related to someone “important” but not research literary or art or musical works) because I’ve a hunch it does have to do with the cast.

Instead they will go to Macbeth Monday evening. Tomorrow they have their smaller friendly circle of French friends, and next Tuesday (which might mean this Tuesday in modern language) the party of 80 (or so), the musicians coming. On Jane’s mind though is this disappointment which Eliza shares. Even the few letters we’ve had about theater (like in Southampton when she worried Martha had not been enough) show she went to the theater much more than we realize and cared about it.

— Our first object to day was Henrietta Street to consult with Henry, in consequence of a very unlucky change of the day for this very night — Hamlet instead of King John — & we are to go on Monday to Macbeth, instead, but it is a disappointment to us both.

Love to all. Yours affectionately Jane.
Godmersham Park Faversham Kent


From first episode of 2008 BBC S&S: one of our first clear views of the whole Dashwood family (Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Janet McTeer, Lucy Boynton) in mourning for the death of their father

By going slow over these details we not only see the plan to take Mary Cooke back to Chawton as a substitute for Martha, but another part of this plan: Jane intended to and was still going early from Sloane street for a visit to Catherine Bigg; what she really had in mind was all three women together, and then she and Mary carrying on alone to Chawton. I had not seen that until looking carefully.

In this case also a rare instance of her saying she will make her own travel arrangements; I’m struck by how she had to smooth things over to be allowed to leave early and fulfill this desire for a congenial time just as much as the relatives finally giving in. Perhaps seeing her pro-active on behalf of S&S has worked in her favor. People have a way of giving to someone they regard as strong what they want and not to someone they had not had to respect.


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Chawton Cottage, Hampshire

Dear friends and readers,

Jane Austen’s first letter from Chawton. To Frank Austen. Who else? Gleeful verses reassuring him “how much we find/Already in it, to our mind.” “It will all other houses beat/That ever have been made or mended,/With rooms concise, or rooms distended …” Portrait of Frank as a boy, shared childhood. Martha now gone, a 2 year intense writing-revision. She girds her loins and makes two texts publishable (I suggest she works on Elinor and Marianne [? or S&S] and begins thinking about what to do with First Impressions), and shall pay for it herself (!). A vanity press author! this suggests how unfair such characterizations have ever been. 2 year silence in extant correspondence on her part ensues.


This letter occupies a couple of firsts: the first extant to Frank, the first extant from Chawton; it’s the second one in verse, the other also about Frank (Frank made Austen’s heart sing) and commemorating a move (to Southampton, the first dream of a stable home since Steventon, Letter 48). We do not have a surviving letter since April (4 months) and the desolation of Crosby’s bullying intimidation and assertion of ownership of Austen’s creation (for 10 pounds); only this resurgence of “Joy.”

My dearest Frank, I wish you Joy
Of Mary’s safety with a Boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane.-
May he a growing Blessing prove,
And well deserve his Parents’ Love! –
Endow’d with Art’s & Nature’s Good,
Thy name possessing with thy Blood,
In him, in all his ways, may we
Another Francis William see!-
Thy infant days may he inherit,
Thy warmth, nay insolence of spirit;­
We would not with one fault dispense
To weaken the resemblance.
May he revive thy Nursery sin,
Peeping as daringly within,
His curley Locks but just descried,
With “Bet, my be not come to bide.” —

Fearless of danger, braving pain,
And threaten’d very oft in vain,
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul,
One needful engine of Controul
Be found in this sublime array,
A neighbouring Donkey’s aweful Bray.
So may his equal faults as Child,
Produce Maturity as mild!
His saucy words & fiery ways
In early Childhood’s pettish days,
In Manhood, shew his Father’s mind
Like him, considerate & kind;
All Gentleness to those around,
And eager only not to wound.
Then like his Father too, he must,
To his own former struggles just,
Feels [sic] his Deserts with honest Glow;
And all his self-improvement know.­
A native fault may thus give birth
To the best blessing, conscious Worth.-

As for ourselves we’re very well;
As unaffected prose will tell.
Cassandra’s pen will paint our state,
The many comforts that await
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
That ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You’ll find us very snug next year,
Perhaps with Charles & Fanny near,
For now it often does delight us
To fancy them just over-right us.-

Cape Austen RN. 26th July

Having gone through the letters we are now in a position to see ihis is a letter of reassurance. We have seen that perhaps he was against the move to Chawton (Letter 61). Now this letter is intended to tell him that Chawton is all Jane dreamed of and Frank was wrong to worry. We do not know what his objections were, but we saw they were strong enough for him to hurry out suddenly with a surprise visit to Cassandra, to catch her unawares (Letter 61). In vain, for Jane told and Cassandra would want the move: the economics of the thing decided it. We are not permitted to know what were Frank’s objections

We do know that Frank and Jane were the close ones: she waits twice a day, goes to the post office perhaps to get a letter. To him alone were left three packets of letters which he kept near him until he died. I do not mean to omit Martha (Honan called his section on the Southampton home: Frank and Martha).

Everything about the poem projects its central mood and tenet: they are there, now that it’s

Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
That ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You’ll find us very snug next year

It’s fine 8 beat couplet verse. I see running through the last paragraph imagery from writing — and for Cassandra drawing. Cassandra’s pen will paint their “many comforts.” Already “in it to our mind” they find all that they want and need. “Rooms concise or rooms extended” is language allusive of manuscripts. Before her are manuscripts with their rooms concise and extended too.


From 2007 Granada Northanger Abbey (Andrew Davies): Catherine talks to her brothers and sisters at bedtime

This week’s letter has been written about numerous times, usually
focusing on Frank’s life: his personality, his son, his childhood. Austen even remembers a snatch of her brother’s baby talk and Hampshire accent: “Bet, my be not come to bide.” Austen hopes Frank’s son will be such another as he was and has become; she is recalling an occasion when Frank stood at the nursery door and explained himself to the nurse.

She remembers his stubbornness, determination. He was called “Fly.” At age 7 he bought his own horse (with father’s help), a pony for £1.11s.6d and after two years sold it for £2.12s.6d. A bright chestnut, he called it “Squirrel” and his brother “Scrug.”

A good deal of what we know about Frank as a boy and until the time he went into the navy, is contained in this poem. Turn to the biographers and you see they are relying on these verses. It’s also here and some hints in the earlier letters that we know Frank’s wife had an appalling time giving birth to the daughter.

It’s a lively realistic memories of a real noisy, stubborn, difficult child (“his saucy words & fiery ways”).

It’s apparently self-effacing until the last paragraph. It is by Jane, her throughout, her love for Frank, her voice, her stance, her place in his life and hope for one of her own now that she can control.


This is said to be the desk Austen wrote upon in the Chawton parlour

We are at a turning point: there will be no more letters for 21 months, at which time we will hear of proofs of Sense and Sensibilityy (her own “suckling child”). The letter to Crosby is our evidence that as she thought about Chawton and moving there became close she saw an opportunity at long last to sit quietly, revise and make a hard effort to publish. It was in his biographical notice to her two posthumous novels, Northanger and Persuasion, Henry told that story, and I’ll save it for next time as the next letter is closer to the outward negotiating events of what she did; this time we are to think of the plunge into writing.

Now in July 1809 Martha has vanished, gone. She left now and again in the years from the time she moved in until Chawton, but not for good. When they went on holiday (Worthing) she was there. Visiting she was there. It may go against the grain in our sentimental times but I wonder how much Martha’s leaving had to do with Jane’s ability and determination to do as little as possible in the social world to enable herself to write intensely – which she had to do for these coming years. She was perhaps also more efficient as it was a matter of revision not creation of narratives and fair copies in the first place.

Lots of people like — whether it be a heterosexual relationship or a homoerotic/lesbian one — to insist that the human relationship counts more and trumps the person’s relationship with their art. So we get how Miss Austen Regrets is shaped to flatter the view Austen was so ambivalent and torn and nagged by her family not to give her life up to writing. But in fact maybe it was a good thing Martha deserted. It freed Jane — the way when a marriage breaks up a person can be freed. Austen’s letter to the Bullers (for one example, Letter 25) says she prefers the sea to friends or relatives; she didn’t prefer her fictional world to Martha. A good deal of the vexed tones of the last Southampton letters come from Martha’s behavior and plans to go; but as Martha was off, and Frank gone too, she had herself and her fictional world to invest emotionally in. Cassandra stands by as the person who lives with one so closely (or often afar as she is ever visiting and getting away) that we can ignore them.

See Jane Austen’s Letters archive


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