Posts Tagged ‘Marmion’

Francis Austen around 1825

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve just finished a highly informative and discreetly insightful book by Brian Southam, Jane Austen and the Navy, whose readings were they to be taken seriously, could help correct some false emphases about Jane Austen’s political and familial allegiances as well as make the nautical matter in her letters, fiction, and verse too more precisely understood. The reviews I’ve read thus far have been lazily general so the important findings of his book (just about all persuasive, nothing exaggerated or unsubstantiated) have hardly begun to penetrate Austen studies. Southam’s book is not a rehash of John H. and Edith C. Hubback’s Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers, even though the general outline of Francis and Charles’s characters remains more or less the same in both books. Southam’s depiction of later 18th century naval life and battles as prompted by what he finds of fragments of it in Austen is invaluable. What he also brings out about Austen while presented discreetly fits what I’ve found in the first half of her letters carefully studied and her novels.

However deflected and even denied at the outset (deliberately, diplomatically), what generally emerges is how much of Jane Austen’s family members, people she knew, is mirrored directly in the characters and events and scenes of her novels. Further, how especially devoted was her love for her brother closest to her in age (though not in literary interest), Francis: Persuasion emerges as a kind of love song to Francis Austen through the depiction of both Wentworth and Harville; Southam goes so far as to say (in separate places) that there is a disturbing poignant personal loss actuating this book, a craving need seeking satisfaction through an idyllic dream and it is her attempt to “repair the [thwarted] career of Francis, compensating to him for all he did not have in life.

Ciaran Hinds is indeed perfect for the role (1995 BBC Persuasion, Wentworth)

What I’ve found in the letters is that 1) obviously there were three packets of letters just to Frank, he held onto them past the day he died; a grand-niece destroyed them almost immediately. I suggest Jane loved Frank passionately, and he did at some level know it. It may have embarrassed him, but he reciprocated at least the love. As she preferred the niece who was not intellectual and was conventional (Fanny Austen Knight) to the niece genuinely gifted, like herself (Anna Austen Lefroy), so she preferred the unintellectual, more uncomplicated, straight-forward brother who was active, who did not like landscape (we see her try and try again to get him to appreciate it but he won’t), who does not lie, can’t lie (Austen just loathes lying, and her definition is as austere as any of Swift’s horses). He got that house strongly for her in Southampton; he worried intensely over the move to Chawton, going out of his way to try to intervene and stop it, but whatever he foresaw as hurting his sister did not in the end happen (whence her poem to re-assure him). His opinions of her books are set out first among the opinions.

Most of all all the books: a man with the letter “F” is the one Elinor had a necessarily hidden love for; the motive of the hidden love that must not be spoken which recurs throughout the books (even NA, Eleanor Tilney), from Jane Bennet through Fanny (who blushes crimson over Edmund who is a displaced Frank) and William to Jane [Fairfax] and Frank [Churchill’s] clandestine love and her intense emotional hurt; to Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth (F name). Frank marrying Martha late in life is a marrying of his memories of his sister, the one she originally wanted for him. Her two loves united.

What I’ve just said is supported by Southams’s detailed analyses of the brothers’ characters, careers, and Austen’s relationship to these as seen in the letters. She never wrote Charles the way she did Francis, or apparently Henry, certainly not James (most like her in literary gifts) nor Edward (the dullest of the group, most ordinary reflected in John Dashwood).

I look at her two poems to Frank as love poems transposed (one upon him coming to Godmersham married in the person of Fanny Knight; and one upon her coming to live in Chawton); her two poems to her niece, Anna (one on Anna’s depressions when young written inside a decently moralizing book by Ann Murray, and the other a self-alienated burlesque), are ambivalent intensities in comparison, and need to be contextualized with their playlet, Sir Charles Grandison, and now the two Sanditons, Jane’s unfinished and Anna’s continuation with the tale of their lives such as it was (cut off by Jane herself) in the extant 16 letters. For Frank we have but 2.

Now Southam situates Frank and Jane in the midst of a telling of the experiences as well as specific naval conditions of a career, how careers were formed and men got on, attitudes of mind toward the navy by the imperialist Tory class of landowners and place-holders (to which Jane belonged and to which she narrowly adhered) which explain so much in the books that readers might glide over without noticing they have not gotten a real specific meaning and experience or type person intended. How did Mr Price come to be a Marine on half-pay for so many years? what does that mean about what kind of person he is, how the contradictions he manifests are to be understood?

I will come back to these matters in separate blogs when I return to the letters and Austen’s biography.


Just as striking to the reader of Austen are her fiercely partisan ways of discussing books by others, other people, and all the many occasional unknown or passed over passages by Austen in prose (her letters) and verse which often offend people. What I want to spend the second half of this blog on her a series of verses which show her to have been willing to write as a dense partisan romantic reactionary. This is not the unknown Austen (read Marilyn Butler) so much as the Austen people don’t like to see. We must to understand her books’ and her limitations (in the area of literary criticism too).

So really worth calling attention to and explaining is a set of verses written in the style of Pope and/or Swift where she sneers at and dismisses a more than justifiable court martial of a man named Home Popham:

On Sir Home Popham’s Sentence

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

The gallant commander in question, the “victim” is a man court-martialed for disobeying an order to protect the colony at the Cape of Good Hope to go off on a military expedition in Buenos Aires whose purpose was to make large sums of money for himself and wrest power from the Spanish gov’t of Argentina, ostensibly to “liberate” the people, but really just to support a faction who would be favorable to increasing his personal political power.

Southam patiently explicates these lines phase by phase, performs an exemplary thorough close reading.

Jane Austen first of all hates the ministry in power at the time because to save money, Fox, Windham and Grenville tried to decrease the numbers of local militia in the English counties as basically useless in the war against Napoleon. Such groups were great for networking local gentry, their activities flattered all the people involved with vanities of outfits, training sessions, and made for festive occasions for those belonging to them, but as far as any practical effectiveness, they were nil. Now Austen’s male family members and their friends and further off clans were precisely those who personally profited from and enjoyed such volunteer activities. The ministry even wanted to allow Irish Catholics to join (if such groups were to carry on). “No Popery!” was a cry she would join in on here even if in her Juvenilia History of England a more fanatical Stuart cannot be found.

Second she is apparently quite take by the glamor, performative socializing and basically ruthless careerism of the man. He had precisely the qualities in say Mr William Elliot that Anne Elliot deplored: insincerity, but personal interest here trumped principle. (After all as she said Anne Elliot is just this picture of perfection and in another oft-quoted line, pictures of perfection made her sick.) Southam likens his behavior to Henry Austen as banker, who equally came to grief by loaning huge sums to people (Francis Rawdon Hastings Moira in particular) whose favor he was buying. This may be.

Southam also thinks that Francis and Charles would have sided with Popham; hard to say, but from the evidence he produces, it does seem here Jane was on her own, and (as in other cases) differed at least from Francis at least as he appears in his letters when he writes about actions and unprincipled behaviors like Popham’s. Long passages by Francis and all we know about his behavior shows man who believes one must obey the orders of one’s commander. When one is ordered to stay and protect a port, one must, even if it means foregoing pots of money and the enjoyment of exhilarating bloody combats. Francis always behaved this way and he missed Trafalgar (which he regretted all his life because it meant less money and less prestige and fewer connections he could pressure) because he obeyed an order.

One of Popham’s schemes and inventions were claptrap timed bombs called “catamarans;” water-tight containers packed with explosives that would be set off by clockwork timers. We could call these primitive torpedoes, or to bring this up to date, drones. You drop them on a ship, set off quickly and they blow the ship up, killing many people, setting the ship on fire, destroying it. Happily when he tried it, he failed — well, he managed to destroy four of his own ships and kill many many men on his own side indiscriminately so the method of murdering others with impunity was given up for a time. What did Francis think of this? it’s quoting from a long passage he wrote here:

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

Francis foresees such barbarism could be used against England’s ships too and since they relied on their ships than anyone, they would be a prime target. He hoped this would not catch on.

Alas. In his journalism Samuel Johnson hoped people would never fly planes because (he said) the first thing many would do would be to kill other people from the sky. We’ve seen this from WW! on, no matter how often it’s been shown that bombing civilians does not bring an end to war because the people conducting are not the same people being killed. When people drop drones, we are often told a single “terrorist” is killed; not so; you cannot direct them that way; the drone drops the bombs on a house and destroys the house and anyone in it plus usually the whole street. Hundreds are killed and maimed and lives destroyed.

Jane Austen was taking precisely the opposite position from Francis. Throughout the books we see her usual mockery (Southam calls this joking) and often taken adverse positions to the family. One can see parallels with Henry’s banking and loan practices and who he was more than willing to be friendly with but all the evidence suggests Francis would have judged Popham fiercely and said he should be court-martialed.

Gallant commander. Right

Popham, Southam, shows was a highly controversial figure and not liked by a host of powerful people. This was not 2012 where say CEOs who sluice companies and fire workers are sustained as useful to the rest of the world as a matter of course. (When they are as Popham was one of those Thomas More labels the “pests” of the human race.) Even Nelson thought him a horror and not a desirable commander: Nelson, we have to give this to him, did not seek wealth personally except as it came as part of actions he thought genuinely for the good of the people and land of England. What he wanted to do at Trafalgar was destroy the French fleet. He broke with previous military strategies to do so.

People like to ignore or not talk about how Wentworth is presented as making money from his ships; we are not told what this actually means in reality. Bloodshed, huge numbers of wounded men, dead corpses, fire, stink.

During the 1810s Jane Austen was reading Charles Pasley’s Essay on Military Policy (you can download this as an ebook and I have) and we find in her letters one of these short phrases, but it is in full admiration. The man advocates the most ruthless of imperalist policies, the sort that leads to what Belgium did in the Congo. Southey reviewed it and said it was the most important political document of the era.

Persuasion and Mansfield Park are used as jump-off places to teach the reader a great deal about the patronage politics (all corrupt but at the time not admitted to be so, though no one advertised how anyone got ahead, and who had done what for whom) as well as real experiences at sea, which Austen only refers to in general terms: as when William Price tells his gory stories and Wentworth his fearful ones to rapt or put-off audiences (Lady Bertram decides the last place she’d want to be is at sea). Southam turns around readers’ suppositions For example, perhaps Captain Wentworth was right to tell his in-laws a ship (his ship) was no place for a woman. Southam makes the important point that it was not just one’s quarters that mattered. Brutal fighting, death, terrible wounds were the order of the day, flogging and all sorts of punitive measures continual.

Modern readers may not realize what is intended by Austen’s short but explicit statements about the navy. Maybe. Then they don’t imagine the US wars abroad either. Crabbe includes pictures of misery at sea; even Cowper shows graphic knowledge. Southey’s Life of Nelson sold widely then and very readable it is. Southam seems to assume Jane Austen expected her readers to know and that many did.

And now finally, consider Byron’s poem:

Wellington: The Best of Cut-Throats (1819)

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

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

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

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

Here we gauge Austen’s distance from Byron whose poems (Giaour, Corsair, Bridge of Abydos) she alludes to in order to frame how we are to see Wentworth. It’s not clear but Popham could fit into a “best of cut-throats” pattern as long as we included non-violent politics too.

Yes the world is often filled with people who will defend atrocious behavior on the grounds this is the way to get rich but the world (and this includes Austen’s too) also includes people who draw lines, say there are things they will not do.

Tellingly, the flogging of ordinary seaman at sea is not one torture modern day establishment film-makers are willing to film; even now the material is severely repressed

Southam though clearly conservative does call a spade a spade, and includes a long section on flogging and how one cause for Francis’s failure to move on up as quickly and fully as he expected was his flogging policies. He was apparently capable of great cruelties towards sailors who drank a lot. His rigid and impersonalizing way of getting through the world led to this. His evangelism was shared by Gambier, one of his few patrons and he too was not liked (and this didn’t help), though Southam does not say if he was particularly harsh as a flogger. I will spare my reader descriptions of the whips, with their exquisitely added torture knots, straps and the procedures by which men were forced to watch someone be whipped in one place and then another. And remember a percentage of these would be pressed man, in effect and truth, slaves (see pp. 282-83).


James Stanier Clarke (1766-1834)

I hope to post again on Southam’s book. I was glad to see that on the important area of Austen’s literary contacts and understanding of what she was doing that Southam does agree with me that far from simply ridiculing the librarian Stanier Clarke, though Austen does that (as well as many other people and authors), she confided in him, respected him and he was a rare literary person (no matter how minor) who she actually talked. I think she was comfortable with him because he was minor, because he was no threat to her self-esteem or status. But that’s for another evening.

To conclude there is an Austen to be discovered, we might call her the unknown Austen only she’s been there in plain sight all along. We just haven’t wanted to look.

In Miss Austen Regrets Jason Watkins as Clark genuinely congratulates Austen, is really enthused, tells her that in comparison with her, the “gentlemen” (Byron and Scott) are unreadable


Read Full Post »

Anne Grant’s Memoirs of an American Lady (1st edition), among the books Austen mentions in this letter

Dear friends and readers,

I am in the ironic position of having pictures to illustrate this letter with for everything but what is most interesting (and to some unexpected) in it: Austen’s repeated identification or at least written awareness of servants and poor frozen-to-death or crippled people. It is very cold.

An 18th century Flemish painting of a village in winter

I note also once again that letters are missing. Letter 64 is a transcription from an ms and traveled about to 6 places or people it is now in the Maine Historical Society. How many times published? 3 Looking at capitalizations, dashes; punctuation, abbreviation, spelling it seems faithful. (I will make an effort from here on in to pay more attention to the letters as ms’s or from wherever they come.)

This is a longer letter than Jane has written since the earliest phase of their coming to Southampton. Austen responds to a letter from Cassandra, and one from Bookham. (As a side issue I’ve mentioned before how puzzling it is to me that Burney never mentions Austen and how when Austen mentions the Cookes and Bookham, Burney never comes up. Here is a family and group of people whom both knew, and Burney by 1809 a famed novelist.)

The second portion (or page) of the letter concerns plans to visit Bookham and a reference that is so tantalizing: Jane speaks of her “political correspondents” who have been writing her of the Portuguese colonialist war. This conjures up a whole other correspondence beyond that to Frank where Austen discusses politics. Walpole’s correspondence is said to divide this way: with some to one interlocutor all politics and another all literature; to Madame du Deffand he is all gallantry; she (poor blind aging too woman) pours out her soul to him as she does not quite to Voltaire. Except that perhaps Jane is ironic, and referring to her frustrating lack of information in this deflective playful way she has.

Then we get detail about Godmersham, showing Jane entering minutely and empathetically into Cassandra’s troubles mothering 11 children. Here we fina a back-handed reference to Edward’s not about to give a generous present just at the time they are moving into Chawton (which Mrs Birch wishes for Cassandra). Much on life at Godmersham which anticipates evenings at Mansfield Park (playing cards)

Then back to the aunt at the Paragon with her stringent ideas that all the world should be catering to her, at Scarletts her rich country house (she found it “so dirty and so damp”); how dare John Binns engage himself elsewhere. (This is not Downton Abbey it seems, no Lord and Lady Granthams in sight. Forgive the contemporary media reference, gentle reader)

Then we hear of her and her mothers’s reading (and Martha too? perhaps Martha still there). Austen reading Anna Grant’s second book, her Memoir from her life as a girl in Albany New York. Semi-mockery of a popular gothic novel by Mrs Sykes.

She puts her pen down, and so to the next day, Wednesday: she worries Eliza’s health – she did die in a couple of years; Henry now getting wealthier which by contrast association brings to Austen’s mind his over-worked horse, and the freezing to death of a farmer’s wife and child. Here we do feel a genuine note of humanity and distress. In the letters Jane Austen repeatedly shows real identification and sympathy for servant and working class people: eating non-pretentiously with them was in a previous letter.

Charles’s rug comes to her mind: it’s to keep people warm. Then Marmion. Austen reading Scott’s poem and sending it to Charles “very generous in me I think.”

Finally no letter from Adlestrop — Cassandra’s aging godmother, Mrs Elizabeth Leigh of Adlestrop, said to have been very ill, still dying (not yet dead). No news is good news. That’s the world I live in. Does Cassandra continue well? her namesake? the ball Anna Austen makes do with would not have done for her.


The Battle of Corunna (16 January 1809): Brigadier General Craufurd with 95th Rifles, 43rd & 52nd Light infantry during the retreat to Corunna

To begin,

Austen responds to one of Cassandra, and one from Bookham.

I am not surprised my dear Cassandra, that you did not find my last Letter very full of Matter, & I wish this may not have the same deficiency; — but we are doing nothing ourselves to write about, & I am therefore quite dependant upon the Communications of our friends, or my own Wit. —

Casssandra had perhaps complained Austen was unusually contentless.

This post brought me two interesting Letters, Yours, & one from Bookham, in answer to an enquiry of mine about your good Godmother, of whom we had lately received a very alarming account from Paragon. Miss Arnold was the Informant there, & she spoke of Mrs E.L.s having been very dangerously ill, & attended by a Physician from Oxford. —

Cassandra’s godmothe’s ill health ended Jane’s previous letter (63). Cassandra’s letter to Jane said Cassandra had also sent one to Adlestrop. The whole of these lines breathes real concern and distress; I take it this is Jane identifying with Cassandra who cared about this woman. In this era godmothers could be second mothers easily — the role was taken seriously not just from religious practices and feelings, but because death was so common. if you lost your biological parents, the godparents were supposed to step in in some way.

Your Letter to Adlestrop may perhaps bring you information from the spot, but in case it should not, I must tell you that she is better, tho’ Dr Bourne cannot yet call her out of danger;­ such was the case, last Wednesday — & Mrs Cooke’s having had no later account is a favourable sign. — I am to hear again from the latter next week, but not this, if everything goes on well. — Her disorder is an Inflammation on the Lungs, arising from a severe Chill, taken in Church last Sunday three weeks; — her Mind, all pious Composure, as may be supposed. — George Cooke was there when her Illness began, his Brother has now taken his place. — Her age & feebleness considered, one’s fears cannot but preponderate-tho’ her amendment has already surpassed the expectation of the Physician, at the beginning.­I am sorry to add that Becky is laid up with a complaint of the same kind. —

Becky is the servant, presumably much younger.

I am very glad to have the time of your return at all fixed, we all rejoice in it, & it will not be later than I had expected. I dare not hope that Mary & Miss Curling may be detained at Portsmouth so long, or half so long — but it would be worth twopence to have it so. —

Mary is Francis’s, Austen’s older sailor brother’s wife and Miss Curling Mary’s aunt (her father’s sister). It would be worth twopence to have them stay at Portsmouth? that’s the price of the stamp so despite the plangent tone of Austen’s longing to have Cassandra home, it’s abruptly cut off with this dry surmise. She does not herself miss Mary. Jane Austen would have had to be superhuman not to resent Mary’s rejection of the Southampton household and refusal to return. She probably had done all she could (reading to her) to make Mary comfortable and had not realized how all her efforts just made the women even less comfortable. I suggest Francis’s wife was like Edward’s Elizabeth: of a very ordinary intellect, didn’t find her sister-in-law (or mother-in-law) comfortable to be around.

Then the very interesting bitten off bit about politics:

The St Albans perhaps may soon be off to help bring home what may remain by this time of our poor Army, whose state seems dreadfully critical.­ The Regency seems to have been heard of only here, my most political Correspondants make no mention of it. Unlucky, that I should have wasted so much reflection on the subject! —

Now I wonder if she is kidding. Are her “political Correspondants are an ironic invention; in fact Jane Austen has no source of special information and wishes she did. Since the St Albans is Francis’s ship and she means that he will soon be off to bring home what remains of the slaughtered suffering men, she could be that Francis does not speak of it in any detail. Not surprising. Either of these possibilities could be what she means rather than she writes to political people.

This is the story of John Moore at Corunna — part of the Portuguese colonialist war. (See Charles Esdaile’s The Peninsular War) the retreat occurred in dreadful conditions. The story is also told (briefly) in Park Honan’s biography of JA and her times (p. 243). Frank is now a captain sailing to China and India and he was paid handsomely for doing the East India’s company’s bidding — Honan offers a good deal of special pleading to make us sympathize with the man’s hard work despite the ignoble sordid goal (opium trading). Honan thinks Jane Austen was reasonably well informed with what the nature of the business was and the battle of Corunna. He suggests that Mansfield Park could be meant implicitly to function as Jane’s quiet critique of distant wealth gotten this ways.

(In later letter Jane’s honest relief she knew no one has been criticized as heartless; it’s tactless to us but not Cassandra.)


The old rectory at Bookham, a 1961 photo

They (Jane and mother) are to leave their Southampton home for good on
April 3rd. Apparently Cassandra did not like Bookham or she would feel
the lack of Austen so strongly that the day spent at Bookham needs to
be made amends for. Why the knowledge does Edward no good I don’t know
since a little later we are told Jane is not holding her breath for the Mrs Birch’s expected present:

— I can now answer your question to my Mother more at large, & likewise more at small­ with equal perspicuity & minuteness, for the very day of our leaving Southampton is fixed — & if the knowledge is of no use to Edward, I am sure it will give him pleasure. Easter Monday, April 3d is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, & be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home;-there we remain till the following Monday, & on Tuesday April 11th, hope to be at Godmersham. If the Cookes are absent, we shall finish our Journey on y” 5th These plans depend of course upon the weather, but I hope there will be no settled Cold to delay us materially. .- To make you amends =for being at Bookham, it is in contemplation to spend a few days at Barton Lodge in our way out of Kent. —

Now Barton Lodge was the home of Cassandra’s friend, Mrs Birch. It’s
not clear whether Cassandra would be there or not (I’m not sure the
arrangement is that Cassandra will set forth and visit Mrs Birch with
Jane and then Jane and she return to Godmersham), but Jane I suppose
would be a substitute and she could convey news of Mrs Birch to
Cassandra. She has already written to Mrs Birch who has written back
teasingly hoping that Edward would fork across with something when it
is so obviously needed. “Odd’ is the polite word for someone breaking
a polite barrier. Edward would not permit his daughter, Fanny, to come; she has become another substitute for his wife. Jane says anyway we have no bed for her. Since all will come to Godmersham afterward, the loss is small

— The hint of such a visit is most affectionately welcomed by Mrs Birch, in one of her odd, pleasant Letters lately, in which she speaks of us with the usual distinguished kindness; declaring that she shall not be at all satisfied unless a very handsome present is made us immediately, from one Quarter. Fanny’s not coming with you, is no more than we expected, & as we have not the hope of a Bed for her, & shall see her so soon afterwards at Gm — we cannot wish it otherwise. —


18th century playing cards

Austen now turns her attention to imagining life at Godmersham. We have breezy irony about William and his cross-stitch. What was in Uncle Deedes’s packet. He is a relative of the dead Elizabeth. Uncle John is a Bridges relation to Marianne. While speculation is a bridge type game and said to be simple, brag is yet simpler, it’s mostly luck and no thinking. That Speculation was under Aunt Jane’s “patronage” testifies to everyone’s sense of her relative wittiness. There is an insightful disquisition on this passage in David Selwyn’s JA and Leisure (271-72) and it is the game played in Mansfield Park; it is an older game and had lost popularity by the 18th century, the more complicated gambling game was preferred. this is a cheerful passage, spirited

William will be quite recovered I trust by the time you receive this. — What a comfort his Cross-stitch must have been! Pray tell him that I should like to see his Work very much. — I hope our answers this morng have given satisfaction; we had great pleasure in Uncle Deedes’ packet — & pray let Marianne know, in private, that I think she is quite right to work a rug for Uncle John’s Coffee urn, & that I am sure it must give great pleasure to herself now, & to him when he receives it. — The preference of Brag over Speculation does not greatly surprise me I beleive, because I feel the same myself; but it mortifies me deeply, because Speculation was under my patronage; — & after all, what is there so delightful in a pair-royal of Braggers? it is but three nines, or three Knaves, or a mixture of them.-When one comes to reason upon it, it cannot stand its’ ground against Speculation-of which I hope Edward is now convinced. Give my Love to him, if he is.-

But then leaves the gaiety and drops down to more grimness because she must consider the aunt. Now our reading of the letters helps us out here. We know that Jane Austen indeed loathed Bath and what she feels about this aunt’s niggardliness, egoism: Mrs Norris is a portait of Aunt Jane. We have seen the legacy the uncle got and their behavior over Stoneleigh; not one dime for the Austens once of Steventon. So we can rejoice Robert and Martha have escaped her. Of course a carriage. Holders are people now in Bath (See LeFaye’s index) and the marriage is explained there. Miss Irvine. Remember her? a maiden lady who missed Jane Austen and regretted not getting letters, how Jane felt guilty not to have responded. But she did value Miss Irvine and of course the aunt would not mention her.

The Letter from Paragon, before mentioned, was much like those which had preceded it, as to the felicity of its Writer. — They found their House so dirty & so damp, that they were obliged to be a week at an Inn. — John Binns had behaved most unhandsomely & engaged himself elsewhere. — They have a Man however, on the same footing, which my Aunt does not like, & she finds both him & the new Maidservant very, very inferior to Robert & Martha. — Whether they mean to have any other Domestics does not appear, nor whether they are to have a Carriage while they are in Bath. — The Holders are as usual, tho’ I beleive it is not very usual for them to be happy, which they now are at a great rate, in Hooper’s Marriage. The Irvines are not mentioned.-

On Anne Grant’s letters see my foremother poet blog. This is not Jane’s first reference: she looked for and enjoyed Grant’s Letters from the Mountains, but not enough to hold onto them. Austen’s reference to or way of referring to Grant does show a certain sophistication. Ausetn realizes this is not the real woman we are encountering, but her persona through a book showing a specific kind of face. It’s very frustrating the way Austen does not explain what are these faults. Sufficient for her not to want to hold onto Grant’s book. I’d like to think Austen tired of the sentimental effusions, did not go for the romantic nature of the text, but then she does value travel and descriptive writing.

The American Lady improved as we went on — but still the same faults in part recurred. —

Now the tone of this next passage does not give much comfort to those who want to see Austen reading Gothic with intense seriousness. It’s apparently a gothic novel very recently published, 5 volumes. They read the latest thing. I don’t have the resume to hand (it’s an older Notes & Queries article) but have sent for it through interlibrary loan. As it’s publication date was 1808 one can’t get it out of ECCO either. (I will note separately that LeFaye’s literary entries under “subject” are good; she has read a lot of the works and her references are thorough)

— We are now in Margiana & like it very well indeed. ­We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain. —

Jane put her pen down until the next day


A later illustration for Marmion by John Edmund Buckley

A new day brings an asperity of tone (slight mockery) in the reference to Henry’s great business success (Austen never forgets it’s not she who is making this money) but the tone of her hoping Eliza’s health is
better is simple and sincere. Austen then speaks not of Henry but Henry’s horse. Here Austen shows an attitude like that
of Southey: genuine awareness of the horse who is overworked hard.

Wednesday. — Your report of Eliza’s health gives me great pleasure — & the progress of the Bank is a constant source of satisfaction. With such increasing profits, tell Henry, that I hope he will not work poor High-diddle so hard as he used to do. —

She turns to newsprint. The sentiment reminds us how she was glad they didn’t know anyone dead in Corunna but it is not meant to be read so harshly. Austen is again registering her awareness of the ordinary and servant lives around her. Frozen almost to death. It is January in Southampton and it did snow and ice over. Miss Wood — another maiden lady, another one on the edge unmarried. The Middletons had no home or estate, the sister is the wife’s sister, another maiden woman. Austen’s world was made up of maiden women far more than we realize. It was to them she was acceptable. She does feel for the dead child. The maiden sister may end up a cripple. So on the edge, unmarried, a cripple>. This is matter for a poem by one of Austen’s favorite poets, Crabbe:

Has your Newspaper given a sad story of a Mrs Middleton, wife of a Farmer in Yorkshire, her sister & servant being almost frozen to death in the late weather — her little Child quite so?-I hope this sister is not our friend Miss Wood — & I rather think her Brotherinlaw had moved into Lincolnshire, but their name & station accord too well. Mrs M. & the Maid are said to be tolerably recovered, but the Sister is likely to lose the use of her Limbs. —

A rug is used for warmth – the association is clear. And at last a reference to a literary work of value again: Marmion, and Austen knows it is because she says it is generous of her to send it. Scott by the way did not undervalue his work. Only later reprints were cheap. I’ve never read all of Marmion, only started it. Its content is wholly out of what she usually tells of — or is allowed to have told of to us — ballad violence, heavy rhythmic stuff, Scottish history. She does not mention Scott’s name here:

Charles’s rug will be finished today, & sent tomorrow to Frank, to be consigned by him to Mr Turner’s care — & I am going to send Marmion with it; — very generous in me I think —

Cassandra’s god-mother is dying and Cassandra not getting any younger

As we have no letter from Adlestrop, we may suppose the good Woman was alive on Monday, but I cannot help expecting bad news from thence or Bookham, in a few days. — Do you continue quite well? —

Cassandra not sentimental. She also now has 11 children to care for
and the birthday of one might not loom large in her mind when she sits
down to write to Jane

In the postscript I detect a real sniff. In my time I was better served, had a better time. Slightly priggish in feel and puffing herself up, but from other comments she has made about Anna, and from our knowledge of Anna’s situation (kept at home, kept down, has a hard time getting shoes for a ball), I still surmise that Jane is aware of the impoverished youth the stepmother and environs are delivering Anna. Jane had it better than this. Nevertheless, it’s not just ungracious or clunky; it’s show-offy.

The Manydown Ball was a smaller thing than I expected, but it seems to have made Anna very happy. At her age it would not have done for me.-

Poor Anna, married off soon and then many pregnancies and genteel poverty as a widow. She burnt her attempt at a novel she began in Austen’s lifetime but did publish three other books.

Anna later in life

See JALetters; Jane Austen Letters


Read Full Post »

Colosseum, Rome, 1798 — Marmion has scenes like this

Ought I to be very much pleased with Marmion? — as yet I am not. James reads it aloud in the Evening — the short Evening — beginning at about 10 & broken by supper . . . [see my excursus in a comment]

Dear friends and readers,

This is another journal-letter, rather like the previous (52), only longer. Jane is still at Godmersham: she can enjoy summer at Godmersham, with Cassandra holding down the fort in Castle Square, with Mrs Austen and Anna Austen by Cassandra’s side. Jane Austen is intently alert to the difference between the luxurious existence of Godmersham and her own at Bath and Southampton and probable future (the Southampton menage would not keep up) and that her and Cassandra’s life tasks include taking care of and visiting old women alone and minding children.

This letter too is filled with specifics of people’s lives, some of which are not fully explained because we are expected to know the assumptions (as, for example, that Mr and Mrs Moore are watched acutely by Austen because, apparently, she and the rest of this clutch of Austen people and friends have been told that they don’t get along well, and perhaps that Mr Moore is even violent to Mrs Moore, a bully, off-stage). Sometimes statements are not fully explained because Austen does not fully explain this kind of thing, as her apparent lack of pleasure in Scott’s new wildly best-selling or at least read poem, Marmion, read aloud each night by brother James: this is indeed in character for him, and we see his wife cannot or does not stop all his reading loves. Each sentence is really loaded with this kind of thing. And just about nothing that we can see has been censored. Plus no letters are omitted.

So this is the kind of letter of which Cassandra totally approved and thought others could be allowed to see and read. No surprise really that on first blush it seems dull and certainly nothing unconventional can be seen. We have a whole series of these here, all longish.

We learn a lot about Austen from it and not superficial things either precisely because she epitomizes her life do intensely; it’s rather like reading the first couple of paragraphs of a rich novel and seeing how the passage (in an Arnoldian spirit) is the book in miniature, anticipates it. Not all learning is of her subjectivities and how she spends a social day — indeed read with care, we see that she spend 2-3 hours alone her apartment (that is her room and) each morning after breakfast — this is writing time, and given her intensity with no phones ringing, no internet, no chores, she could get quite a good deal done (written). We learn that Mrs Knight gave Austen money (the fee, the regular allowance) and this makes Austen feel better she says, pays for her pelisse.

It’s a letter of sight-seeing and visiting as a prime good thing to do for a social life. We also glimpse Austen trying again to form the small group of especially congenial women living together, one which includes Martha and Miss Sharp, the latter whom Austen manages to visit. They were even looking and found one Rose Hill Cottage, but it was beyond their means.


Christ Church, Canterbury, 1798 by Turner

As the letter opens, it’s a continuation of the previous. Jane implies she cannot imagine Mary Lloyd Austen would have written down the particulars of the visit to Canterbury for real, much less those which would be likely to interest Cassandra. So she, Jane, will first talk of it.

Harriot continues affectionate in the way she was at Goodnestone in 1805 (letter 46). They walked together to call on the matriarch elderly Mrs Brydges. Louisa and Elizabeth to Mrs Milles: these are charitable visits in effect. The younger unmarried women pay respect to and keep company the elder widows. White Friars is a mansion at Canterbury and there is Mrs Knight who is giving Jane an allowance each year; there’s no guarantee and it may be withdrawn at any time, but it does seem from previous letters and this one that Jane genuinely liked this woman, saw good qualities in her so
beyond her giving Jane money (a sign of this benevolence), Jane really had no trouble praising her, enjoying her company. “Gentle, kind and friendly” are as positive words as one gets in the Austen idiolect. Mrs Knight also asked after Cassandra and Mrs Austen.

Mrs Baskerville is someone who sells perfumes or does your hair; fifteen minutes into Jane and Harriot’s visit to Mrs Knight, Elizabeth and Louisa rushed (“hot”) from Mrs Baskerville and then in 5 minutes Mr Moore himself. It’s clear from Austen’s language that she has been told very adverse things about Moore; nonetheless Austen cannot pretend to dislike him after one visit, even if Mary Lloyd Austen (or Mary Gibson Austen) does. He’s a gentleman in manners but “not winning.” Not appealing, not trying to appeal. And then the sentence (brief) Arnie made a lot out of: “He made one formal inquiry after you.” That does suggest constraint on his part and signalling Cassandra should be constrained in turn.

Austen then comments on Mr and Mrs Moore’s little girl who she compares with the present “idol” of the immediate family at Southampton: Frank and Mary Gibson Austen’s child, a Mary Jane likened to Mr and Mrs Moore’s little girl: very small, very pretty, delicate, nice dark eyes, Mary Jane’s fine color

Austen does not like to hear the egregious over-the-top praise people give to infants. Harriot does not overdo the ecstasy: “Harriot’s fondness … is just what is amiable & natural & not foolish.”

There is an older girl from a previous marriage, just like in James Austen’s case, a Caroline and Austen finds her “very plain.” (Who is she to say? but never mind). Then a switch of topics: Edward is magnanimous about providing rides. He will take Jane to Southampton in order for him to visit with his mother and other sister. He offers to ferry Jane to Southampton so he can visit with his mother and Cassandra and hopes to spend “a whole day with you,” and bring his namesake son. She worries Cassandra will need more bed for the two and tells her the date to be ready by: July 8th to reach Southampton on the 9th.

Two, more significant passages:

This morning brought me a letter from Mrs Knight, containing the usual Fee, & all the usual Kindness. She asks me to spend a day or two with her this week, to meet Mrs C. Knatchbull, who with her Husband comes to the W Friars to day–& I beleive I shall go.-I have consulted Edward–& think it will be arranged for Mrs J. A.’s going with me one morning, my staying the night, & Edward’s driving me home the next Evening.-Her very agreable present will make my circumstances quite easy. I shall reserve half for my Pelisse.

White Friars, Kent, 1786

You give twice or twice as much when you give graciously and make the recipient comfortable. Nonetheless, Jane must now spend a day or two with her, and meet Mrs C. Knatchbull. The name is that of the man Fanny Austen Knight married. Mrs C K seems to be the widow of Knight II, living with and near Mrs Knight. Another older woman. Certainly plenty of models for Miss Bates.

The a reference to the Bigg sisters, usually slightly fraught these,
memories of the refused proposal coming in here.

I hope, by this early return I am sure of seeing Catherine & Alethea;­& I propose that either with or without them, you & I & Martha shall have a snug fortnight while my Mother is at Steventon.

We see this dream group and life Austen wanted: the group of tightly knit relative/lover women: Jane and Cassandra, Martha –
they are missing only Miss Sharpe.

I like Jane’s truth-telling about what it feels like to adults to endure children a good deal; they have to stretch themselves. Mary does find herself independent of her children: “We go on very well here, Mary finds the Children less troublesome than she ex­pected, & independent of them, there is certainly not much to try the patience or hurt the spirits at Godmersham.”

Then a curious passage: Austen will “initiate Mary into the “mysteries of Inmanism.” The poor old Lady is as thin & chearful as ever, and very thankful for a new acquaintance otherwise (pp 129-30) Jane had brought Elizabeth and Louisa before.

What Austen means by initiating Mary into the mysteries Inmanism. They are imitating acts of kindness practiced by the children of Godersham — in the way of children they took it into their heads to regard visiting an old poor widow allowed to live in a park-keeper’s cottage as an adventure or treat (LeFaye p 589 note 5). So it’s visiting someone who is crippled and lives alone a deprived existence. Uneducated unwanted by anyone for real poor single women are what Jane and Cassandra fill their lives with. It’s better to do this than do nothing and theirs is an analogous case.

It reminds me of a visit in Brideshead Revisited to a nanny, very old lady allowed to live in an attic in the house. Maybe because the old woman seems to live this innocent life to those not identifying with her. Maybe such women were kept innocent by the culture, simpletons.

I take it there is a real deeply gratification to serving others, including very elderly single ladies. There but for the grace of luck and time and place go I (Austen identifies with Miss Smith.)

Austen then remarks on the friends & acquaintances (and she is also even handed towards servants who are people too) she saw while at Canterbury whom she assumes will please Cassandra.

I find John Bridges grown very old & black, but his manners are not altered; he is very pleasing, & talks of Hampshire with great admiration.-Pray let Anna have the pleasure of knowing that she is remembered with kindness both by Mrs Cooke & Miss Sharpe. Her manners must be very much worsted by your description of them, but I hope they will improve by this visit.­ Mrs Knight finishes her letter with “Give my best love to Cassandra when you write to her.”-I shall like spending a day at the White Friars very much.-

So Austen visited her long time close friend, now a paid companion, Miss Sharpe. She wants Anna to know they remember her with kindness — so we see in an earlier visit how Anna had become part of this circle. Apparently Cassandra was complaining of Anna’s manners and Austen again quietly taking Anna’s side: Anna will get better; in the meantime with Mrs Knight sending love in a postscript.

Anna Austen Lefroy, early young womanhood

The last part tells of the breakfast before in the library), of how the others were hot and complained, but that she and Louisa can feel “alike as to the weather, & are cool & comfortable.


1996 Emma: Mrs Elton picking Strawberries at Donwell

What we are seeing here is a group of people who have little work to do; they are people of leisure looking for how to fill their days. The rest of the party stay pleasantly at home and are “quiet and comfortable” – that’s how Jane sees it. She speaks of “merriment” at dinner between Edward Louisa, Harriot and herself.

Wednes­day– The Moores came yesterday in their Curricle between one & two o’clock, & immediately after the noonshine which succeeded their arrival, a party set off for Buckwell to see the Pond dragged.

Five of the males (Edward & James Edward, James, John Bridge driving Mary go with the Moore to see the pond dragged.

Here is this odd passage about Mr Moore: Austen watches him and Mrs Moore intently; Arnie might be right in this: he was seen as an eligible match. Maybe the stories about him that are apparently so negative are the way the women around reconciled themselves to his having married someone else. Mr Moore was expected to talk more; Fanny told her Mr Moore did not act like his usual self “our being strangers made him so much more silent and quiet”. She would not have watched but that she was given a reason. All she can see is Mr Moore’s “manners want Tenderness — & he was a little violent at last about the impossibility of her going to Eastwell.” That is he won’t let his wife go to Eastwell (a lovely house and landscape owned by the Finches). They are all intently watching this couple” Mary is “disappointed in her beauty,” James “admires her and finds him conversable.”

My guess is they have been told he is a cruel man to his wife and there has been evidence of this in public — bullying and controlling where she goes to in front of the others.

It was the Moores who took her answer to Mrs Knight: yes to the money she’s to get and yes she’ll come and visit. Jane says she has no trouble in answering – pretending now that she is rich:

I wrote without much effort; for I was rich — & the Rich are always respectable, whatever be their stile of writing.”

Then a plan for the next day and the following Tuesday — more of the same. Says Jane summing up “These are our engagements; make the most of them.” Think of the life of Emma Woodhouse, and we see a resonating line (this is June too): “I want to hear of your gathering Strawberries, we have had them three times here.”

Jane imagines Cassandra fills up with this kind of thing despite her refusal to pretend to feelings she doesn’t have and determination to remember Goodneston is a foarm.

Mr Waller is dead, I see, — I cannot grieve about it, nore perhaps can his Widow very much — Edward began cutting Stfoin on saturday and I hope is likely to have favourable weather;-the crop is good.- There has been a cold & sore throat prevailing very much in this House lately, the Children have almost all been ill with it, & we were afraid Lizzy was going to be very ill one day; she had specks & a great deal of fever.-It went off how­ever, & they are all pretty well now.-I want to hear of your gathering Strawberries, we have had them three times here.-I suppose you have been obliged to have in some white wine, & must visit the Store Closet a little oftener than when you were quite by yourselves.-

There’s a little teasing here: she means that Cassandra will present herself as self-sacrificing, forced to gather strawberries and eat them and have wine with it. But really she is delighted to do it with the excuse of a guest beyond her mother (Anna):

One begins really to expect the St Albans now, & I wish she may come before Henry goes to Cheltenham, it will be so much more convenient to him. He will be very glad if Frank can come to him in London, as his own Time is likely to be very precious, but does not depend on it.-I shall not forget Charles next week.-

A sudden rush together of details about the brothers.


Netley Abbey, Hampshire, old photo

Then Austen has a letter from Cassandra and we get the usual repeat of extravagant praise — couched in quieter language It may be half-mocking as Diane says and Austen notes Cassandra’s very long sentences critically.

& now to my agreable surprise I have to acknowledge another Letter from you.-I had not the least notion of hearing before tomorrow, & heard of Russell’s being about to pass the Windows without any anxi­ety. You are very amiable & very clever to write such long Letters; every page of yours has more lines than this, & every line more words than the average of mine. I am quite ashamed-but you have certainly more little events than we have.

Have they agreed to fill their letters with this kind of trivia? I am not the only one to come to the conclusion that the swapping back and forth was their way of making themselves useful, one to sit with the mother and the other to help Elizabeth with her children.

Its a joke that one can hear of someone walking by a window without anxiety as if it were an earth-shaking event. The nothingness of their lives is felt here. And now Jane does break down for a bit:

Mr Lyford supplies you with a great deal of interesting Matter (Matter Intellectual, not physical)-but I have 1 nothing to say of Mr Scudamore. And now, that is such a sad~ stupid attempt at Wit, about Matter, that nobody can smile at it, & I am quite out of heart. I am sick of myself, & my bad pens.-I have no other complaint however, my languor is entirely removed

Something is driving her to pretend to accept all this. An agreement with Cassandra?

Now something that might have mattered does come to mind: Scott’s Marmion, but Austen does not like it. It’s James who reads it aloud, the family poet. I’ve tried Marmion and find it dull myself. It’s in ballad stanza, very conventional martial kind of story. I’m not surprised Austen doesn’t like it. Diane talks of how different a writer Austen is from Scott; she did like the novels but the poetry was and is poor and Austen see through the fashion for it here. The cant. She might do also because she’s jealous. And yes we see here how Austen feels these long long days — exquisite wastes of time as she wades through and then the evening when they read too short, and then she is frustrated to listen to Marmion. Scott is published and she not and she does _know herself his equal_ even if no one else does.

Then Austen turns half-mockingly to Cassandra’s letter for her to have matter. (This does remind me of myself sometimes). Again one of these distant Austens was visited. “I am glad of your various civilities have turned out so well & most heartily wish you Success & Pleasure in your present engagement.” Jane says she will think of Cassandra at Netley tonight and tomorrow too.

Maybe it was this kind of validation of Cassandra’s existence that made Jane mean so much to her. Who else would do this? Profess even half-mockingly to care?

Netley is a picturesque ruin people in Southampton went for visits to (LeFaye p 613). Again how people of leisure and taste spend their days.

If the stawberries remind us of Emma, so the news of Mrs Powlett anticipates Mansfield Park. It’s a newspaper item about a woman eloping from her husband with another man. The news story as quoted by LeFaye shows the leering language of a nasty shallow mind being fed. Jane Austen calls it “a sad story” That she takes the sex outside marriage seriously as a transgression is suggested by her association: she saw this woman taking the Sacrament “the last time that you and I did …”

Everyone gossiping about it; it was in the Courier, Austen says (but LeFaye can’t find it there) and Mr Moore guesses who is the man.


Jane Austen (Olivia Williams) writing at Godmersham

“Yes, I enjoy my apartment very much, & always spend tow or three hours in it after breakfast — the change from Brompton quarters to these is masterful as to Space”

Here’s where we may glimpse her writing: at last. I admit to me some of these letters are a kind of wasteland and I think to give it up, and then I come across a detail here or there which gives insight into the core matter of the novels (where the stories and characters come from) or Austen’s attitude towards her fiction or some serious comment about life. Here is when she writes. We learn at some point Jane stayed in Brompton and it was very cramped and she did not forget it; the experience makes her appreciate Godmersham’s easily available amenities even for her.

Then the line which shows her awareness of Caroline and anticipates Fanny Price. I still think that the line disparaging Caroline is for Cassandra’s benefit, no Jane denies Cassandra’s imputation that Jane finds Caroline more engaging precisely because Caroline doesn’t fit in and is “more plain” than her cousins: and “not so headstrong or humoursome” as they are.

Here are the Bertrams too. Cassandra was right even if her teasing and very different attitudes (thick skinned) leads Austen to deny her own as we see them in MP.

A kind of strained existence going on underneath here.


The Godmersham children, Fanny Austen Knight (Imogen Poots) at center (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

Her brother [James Edward] is to go with us to Canterbury tomorrow, & Fanny completes the party. I fancy Mrs K. feels less interest in that branch of the family than any other.

Mrs Knight doesn’t care for James and Mary’s children, but then underneath she may not care for them (selfish) , but Jane says “I dare say she will do her duty however, by the Boy.” Jane means that Mrs Knight will still leave James-Edward money. Note nothing for Caroline.

His Uncle Edward talks nonsense to him delightfully-more than he can always understand. The two Morrises are come to dine & spend the day with him. Mary wishes my Mother to buy whatever she thinks necessary for Anna’s Shifts;-& hopes to see her at Steventon soon after ye 9th of July, if that time is as convenient to my Mother as any other.-I have hardly done justice to what she means on the subject, as her intention is that my Mother shd come at whatever time She likes best.-They will be at home on ye 9th

How good of Mary to allow Mrs Austen to buy clothes for Anna. We see how Anna is under the thumb of this stepmother. The others are afraid to buy needed things for her.

I always come in for a morning visit from Crondale, & Mr & Mrs Filmer have just given me my due. He & I talked away gaily of Southampton, the Harrisons Wallers &c. – Fanny sends her best Love to You all, & will write to Anna very soon.-

Crondale is another village close to Godmersham and the Filmers had a seventeenth century house there. Again the picturesque poetic place is one Jane’s relatives think she will like to go to and the Filmers speak of Austen’s taste for this with respect. People try not to insult her. And we have another male talking gaily with Austen of the place and doings at Southampton — teasing and gossiping.

The privileged oldest girl at Godmersham Fanny sends love to Cassandra and promises to write to the very unprivileged girl at Steventon and Southampton — Anna. What a sad life Anna did live. How glad she must have been to marry — only to find endless babies, and genteel poverty and its frustrations and enclosure as a married woman her lot.

Austen has a PS in which she teases: Oh she longs for news from Bath and the Perrots. Right.

But she is also serious, a final detail that matters: Rose Hill cottage. Cassandra has found a place she and Austen and maybe Martha could live together. They have not given the dream up. “I am almost sorry that Rose Hill Cottage should be so near suiting us, as it does not quite.” Almost doesn’t win the race. She is almost sorry it doesn’t suit because it’s doesn’t quite. She does not put statements in positive form does she? The meaning is it hurts to know of the place because it almost would have done.

Chawton is a year away. We see Edward growing older and being more decent in this letter let us remark too

There is no Rose Hill Cottage anymore, but here is an 18th century cottage (said to be used by smugglers), renovated and for rent, Hampshire (modern photo)

Letters 43, 44; 45, 46, 47, and 48, 49, 50, 51, and 52.


Read Full Post »