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2ndedition
2nd edition — 2011

Dear friends and readers,

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

1stedition

1st — 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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mysteriesudolpho
A recent cover illustration for Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho

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

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

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

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

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

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

Throughout her books she is mocking romance in all sorts of ways while heroine quietly long for it. In the books we do not project forward after the happy ending, and we see all the things that will be troublesome in the “union” (indeed I’d add Juliette Towhidi under the guidance of PDJames in Death comes to Pemberley who insists on Darcy as still rank obsesses insists on these until near the end). Is there real cohesion at the endings? No attention paid in NA, S&S, not much in P&P. DAMiller narrative mocks what it cannot do without. Emma though presents perfect happiness and Darcys have the Pemberley and Gardiners. He argues we transcend because it’s such hard work to get there; we enter mind of heroine throughout, closed off from hero (his idea this is radical departure is unreal and silly – very common in 17th century long haleine romances, 18th century, like Burney). Communication problem not just social but psychological. He suggests a second plot-design in the background of hero chasing a vocation, having to have independence, proper manliness (fact not unnoticed by modern parasitic sequel writers as in Mr Darcy’s Diary) his solution is we are ecstatic when these two minds come together, the utopian potential of understanding is what we are given.
95SistersLivingTogether
From Davies’s 1995 P&P: two sisters living together (Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, and Susannah Harker as Jane)

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

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

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

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MAR5Janelookingoverwater
Olivia Williams as Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets (2009, scripted Gwyneth Hughes)

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

Ellen

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cassandra-austen
Cassandra Austen — our only image of her

Dear friends and readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Reynolds led again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Diana Birchall’s reading see comments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Silverbodkin
Silver bodkin, 18th century or earlier

Dear friends and readers,

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

Monday 28 July 1817
My dear Miss Sharp

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

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

beltclasps
A pair of belt clasps

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Diana Birchall began it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Reynolds followed suit:

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

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

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

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

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

And I chimed in:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen

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Look down and see what death is doing — Paulina of the dead Hermione, Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, Act III

Jane-Austen-tomb
Jane Austen’s tomb and ledger at Winchester Cathedrale

Dear friends and readers,

Cassandra’s moving eloquent letter, what today would be called “grief-work.” Jane wrote her last work, a poem July 15th, Wednesday, and she died in the small hours between night and morning, July 18th, 1817.

whatshelivedtopublish
The four novels she managed to publish; she left behind ms’s of sufficiently finished novels for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, as well as several unfinished or first drafts of novels, her juvenilia, poems, stray satire (“Plan of a Novel”) and two-thirds as many letters as we have now.

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CassandrafacingFanny
Cassandra (Greta Scacchi) facing Fanny Knight Austen (Imogen Poots) shortly after Jane’s death (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

CEAl1. From Cassandra Austen to Fanny Knight. Sunday 20 July 1817 Winchester Sunday

From the opening we gather that Fanny has been doubting whether Aunt Jane really loved her — Fanny has picked up the distanced stance Austen shows in some of her letters to Fanny and probably has also discussed some of what happened when the Fanny and Jane were together at Godmersham and Henry’s lodgings/houses in London. Cassandra is concerned to persuade Fanny otherwise; Cassandra also asserts that Fanny’s “benevolent” purpose was useful: Aunt Jane enjoyed Fanny’s letters. I am drawn by the attempt not to say untruths: Jane Austen is described as reacting “not unchearfully.” That does not mean cheerfully.

She was fatally ill and those dying often begin to cut themselves off from life and the living, whether to preserve their strength or what nature does as the active body and mind begin to lose their energy to react and to perceive. So she did not show the interest in the final letters Cassandra claims she was roused by earlier.

Jane died Friday, the 18th and it was on Tuesday “her complaint” returned — whatever was the central core pain; she slept much of the last days. Again that is said to be common. The dying sleep more and more.

Then the famous passage — how much Jane meant to Cassandra, precisely what she meant to her. It is less often pointed out that the sentence ends with one of these comments I find outrageous if it is literally meant and I fear it is.

I have lost a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed, — She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well, not better than she deserved but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to & negligent of others, & I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the hand which has struck this blow.

Cassandra conceives there is a supernatural being who has inflicted on Jane Austen, another person from herself, an early death in hideous pain, the humiliation of her twisted and weakened body to teach Cassandra a moral lesson. Were that so, were there such a malevolent irrational unjust creature; if people could, they ought to hunt it from the universe (much as we are encouraged to envision heroes and heroines in Dracula stories hunt out the vampire). There are some ideas it is our duty not to defer to — I refer to the way such ideas function socially, they distract from action to do something about whatever it is that has killed the person if this is possible. Psychoanalytically one might understand such trains of thought as strongly narcissistic or therapeutically masochistic, the person finds comfort in imagining there is some meaning here focused on her, feels guilty she is still alive, does not want to believe the death is natural and meaningless and determines she is punished this way. That Cassandra could write such a sentence, shows the difference between her mind and her sister’s. No where in Austen’s writings does she avail herself of this kind of literal nonsense.

I find it interesting as a revelation that Cassandra says she will not suffer materially from her feelings. Is that so? She is presented as stoic by Austen much earlier too — when Tom Fowles died. Perhaps a stance of self-control, or maybe she was inclined not to give way to feelings psychosomatically. It is also said that sometimes the person deeply involved with the beloved is so stunned as to experience a kind of “novacaine” effect: they are in a state of near hysteria, PTSD, so as to be at a distance from the death, not realize it cognitively fully until weeks or months later when this first state wears off.

We then have a depiction of the dying itself — which I would be inclined to believe unqualifiedly in except that we do have that poem on Winchester races — so it was not all piety, gratitude and acceptance. The poem was apparently composed or dictated on the 15th so perhaps the writing and mood occurred before the “complaint” came back so forcefuly and Austen went into her last phase. I’m told (and have seen) that sometimes before the onset of death moves into the very worst of the ordeal, there is a suddenly very good day (insofar as strength, consciousness, being there and alive are concerned).

Over the course of this year and a half we have enough evidence to visualize a radical deterioration of Austen’s body and looks, especially towards the end. Around the time of the famous phrase about her mother having the couch and she three chairs propped with pillows (not in Cassandra’s selection but from either the Austen papers or RA Austen-Leigh’s book) we can see she is so weak she cannot sit up. Imagine what that looks like. The last half year and more there is a nephew around to carry her. She tells us she is every wrong color. Beyond the ordeal of severe intolerable pain (opium doesn’t get rid of that, and makes you drugged; it’s cocaine that does the trick and that does not come in until the later 19th century — and is today forbidden medicine, a great cruelty I’ll mention here as part of the endlessly stupid and counterproductive so-called war on drugs) – beyond that ordeal it’s humiliating to have your body look the way it does. That’s why Austen does not refer to it.

Imagine too how exhausted she would have been. Go back to the picture that Cassandra drew of her when she was in health. The dark eyes, the intensity, the lack of sleep — she suffered bad headaches and troubles with her eyes when in health.

Cassandra says she has nothing to reproach herself with insofar as these last hours are concerned, she did not willfully shirk any thing she could do for her sister. That means sometimes she too was too exhausted and had to rely on Mary Lloyd Austen and Martha Lloyd. There is no mention of Martha in this letter (ever discreet Cassandra), but in Jane’s last letters there are ambiguous references to Martha, one of which suggests she was with Jane and Cassandra in May. Whether Martha was still there the last week we cannot know. Edward visited, James, Henry was in and out and there on Friday.

Jane was begging for death just before, saying she could hardly have patience, was near beyond endurance. Had they had anesthesia she would have been begging for it — but that mercy was not available to her either. Only oblivion and in those last hours she is recorded as saying that”s what she craved — death.

On the Thursday Austen had been anxious about some errand that Cassandra did — one wonders what it was that bothered her as she lays dying. Fanny is under the impression that Cassandra wrote Charles that day, no it was Mrs Austen, the mother. After that Austen lost it altogether from pain and Lyford came with opium, enough to make her insensible. The concluding ordeal. Cassandra sat with Jane’s body and head in her lap — Jane she could not hold up her head.

Didn’t they have pillows? Could not they have made a sort of bolster? If so, if they had, apparently her head could not be stable enough to satisfy them. It rolled and so Cassandra did 6 hours, Mary Lloyd Austen 2 and Cassandra until Jane died. Cassandra was gratified to be the one who closed her eyes. There is no mention of when Austen’s heart stopped beating — that’s death.

And then we get this image of “a beautiful statue” — which is how Cassandra wants to see it and maybe did. A sweet serene air quite pleasant to contemplate. But the dead do not look like Madame Tussaud’s wax figurines. They look like corpses and it’s creepy. Remains of real people who lived and whatever happened to them. A lot of people can’t bear to see the corpse when rigor mortis sets in and it does so pretty quickly. Some people go ston-y, some look like mummies (the elderly) and some if it’s a gradual decrease of blood pressure and the body dies bit by bit (as apparently Alexandre d’Arblay did) some of the extremities can look like puffy wax. Cassandra does not want to articulate what she saw as she looked down to see what death was doing; she preferred to see in the oblivion, the absence at long last of the terrible pain — Jane knew no more — a serene look, which is often claimed as a sign the person went to heaven.

For a second time she addresses Fanny on the assumption that Fanny is feeling all she is, the first time to say she hopes she is not upsetting her, the second time with the usual Christian metaphors — she has forgotten what she said earlier when she uses the word “merciful.” The truth is she is not thinking about her words literally. Cassandra does not talk about sleeping or resting — she could not fool herself as she had been through it with her sister. She does earlier use the phrase “the poor suffering soul.” It has the ring of a priest’s rhetoric.

I offer Shakespeare’s tough line, who if you read him is ever accurate: In Winter’s Tale Paulina looking down at the dead Hermione: Look down and see what death is doing — in this case “and what the ravages of disease have done.”

The following Thursday would be the funeral — Maggie Lane describes it in her Jane Austen’s Family through Five Generations; she quotes part of letter by Edward, Jane’s brother, to his son, several days before where Edward reports that Jane knew her situation, that Mrs Austen was intensely grieved but nothing compares to Cassandra’s affliction; he says Jane is much altered since James-Edward has seen her last — Caroline’s Reminiscences suggests that this was so by the spring: she was allowed to come upstairs briefly and registers a shock. (The scene is the one where Jane offers a chair to the married woman as opposed to herself, unmarried.) Edward too denies there was “very severe pain.” It does seem as if Jane Austen was one who lost blood pressure gradually: “Lyford said he saw no signs of immediate dissolution but added that with such a pulse — 120 — it was impossible for any person to last long.”

The casket seems to have been carried by Edward, Henry and Frank and James-Edward. Charles not there. He is often not there, the one further away in all Jane’s letters. James was too ill to come again, but wrote a poem entitled “Venta! within thy sacred fane” (which suggests he had read his sister’s last poem); he does convey awareness and envy that his sister’s gifts were fulfilled (a woman’s) and not his (as others have said), but also love and appreciation of her, a deep sense that to have had her around was a kind of gift. Like Henry, he is also concerned that everyone should know her satiric bent (which people must have known about) never “hurt the feelings of a friend:”

In her (rare union) were combined
A fair form and a fairer mind
Hers, Fancy quick, and clear good sense
And wit which never gave offence:
A Heart as warm as ever beat,
A Temper even calm and sweet:
Though quick and keen her mental eye
Poor natures foibles to descry
And seemed for ever on the watch
Some traits of ridicule to catch.
Yet not a word she ever pen’d
Which hurt the feelings of a friend
And not a line she ever wrote
“Which dying she would wish to blot,”
But to her family alone
Her real & genuine worth was known:
Yes! They whose lot it was to prove
Her Sisterly, her Filial love,
They saw her ready still to share
The labours of domestic care
As if their prejudice to shame;
Who jealous of fair female fame
Maintain, that literary taste
In womans mind is much displaced;
Inflames their vanity and pride,
And draws from useful work aside.

Such wert Thou, Sister! whilst below
In this mixt scene of joy and woe,
To have thee with us it was given
A special kind behest of Heaven …

The usual custom was followed and only the men were at the burial. Perhaps Mary Lloyd and Cassandra washed the corpse and dressed it, covered it with sheets.

To us it may seem somehow unusual that someone should be buried in the cathedral (we think how crowded it could get) but apparently in this era not so. Austen was related to clergy, her mother had relatives in academia and the aristocracy, Henry was now a curate. He was back and forth, had been there by the Friday. Henry is still there, will go to Chawton Monday and be back with Cassandra on Tuesday.

She says she didn’t mean to write at length but the subject compelled her. I am mot sure which Mrs Bridges (Fanny’s mother’s family) is to be “remembered kindly to Cassandra,” who is with Fanny. As usual LeFaye does not tell us. One has to wade through a family history in the appendix and guess the woman as Jane Hales from the J.

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Again Diane Reynolds was the only person on the list to write about the letter as a whole: I thank her for keeping up the reading and discussion with me until the end.

JA has died two days before, on a Friday. Cassandra is still in the first shock after the death, what we might call a liminal state, and means only to write a short note amid all the business at hand. However, she ends up writing a longer epistle, one that she says gives her comfort or “draws her on” — the words will pour out.

Ellen has covered this quite well. I can’t, however, help but repeat a few points and perhaps add a bit, for this is a long letter. I canthink of few more sincere — or better — expressions of a lifetime of a loving relationship than this: “I have lost a treasure, a Sister, a friend such as never can be surpassed,–She was the sun of my life, the gilder of any pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part ofmyself.” If Jane Austen had never written a word, such an ability to enter into a long-lasting loving relationship with another gave her life dignity and worth. Any one who has lost a dearly loved other — or who dearly loves another — can only respond with a yes to Cassandra’s words. We see too that the sisters found in each other the kind of relationship one usually finds in a spouse — and we see in this the kind of emotional support, the buttress against loneliness, that allowed each to stay single, especially Jane when faced with Bigg Wither.

Yet we see too CA’s sang froid – -or at least stoicism — or attempt at it: “You know me too well to be at all afraid I should suffer materially from my feelings …I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time with rest and change of air will remove.” I cannot but think of Elinor Dashwood and to think that the genesis of her character (and Marianne’s) came from the discussions CA and JA must have had about histrionic people. Of course, CA will suffer deeply — how could she not — but it is true often in the first relief of a loved one in pain dying and amid all the immediate concerns, we think we will get over it easily. It is impossible to feel a loss until the person has been really gone for a time. Or perhaps CA knows all this and simply wants to comfort Fanny.I also read in this C’s desire not to be pitied, certainly not by this niece.

As is so often the case in death, it is the living who must be attended to and comforted, including Fanny, who must be reassured that Jane did love her. That reassurance is first and foremost on Cassandra’s mind and she addresses it in detail, going over the pleasure FK’s letters brought JA, and I note, along with Ellen, the
moments of faint praise–JA responded “not unchearfully” to Fanny’s last letter and was in a “languor” that dampened her enthusiasm. Fanny was not stupid, and she noted JA’s irritation with her. I can’t help but wonder if a worried letter from FK had recently arrived that C here addresses and later burnt.

As she goes on to write, Cassandra says she hopes her recounting of JA’s last moments don’t “break your heart my dearest Fanny.” In some ways, Fanny is an intimate Cassandra can confide in — but in some ways a person who perhaps can be dumped on–perhaps Cassandra feels a bit of guilt that might indeed be saying what could break Fanny’s heart — or perhaps the hearts of people FK might share the letter with. Perhaps, however, she wants others beyond FK to read all this.

I am surprised that the funeral/burial will not be held until six days after the death — the body will be decomposing and smelling unpleasant unless some sort of embalming has been done. Were people embalmed at that time? We get the image of JA in her coffin with ” a sweet serene air over her countenance” — I can only imagine the open coffin in the rooms where they were/are staying. I know for a long time it was considered important that people die with a serene expression rather than in struggle — as people did and do — as it gave reassurance that the person had gone to heaven and was not fighting demons dragging them to hell. Cassandra repeats those conventionalized hopes, and with a note of sincerity, hopes to meet with Jane in the afterlife. She really can’t bear the thought of never seeing her again. I agree with Ellen that Cassandra must not be thinking entirely straight when she opines that JA’s death is a punishment or correction to CA for loving her too much and at the expense of others. She is distracted, trying to cope with her grief. Today, she might write in Buddhist terms of letting go of attachment — in either case, we can hardly in our better moments regret having loved deeply or feel that a loving God would punish that.

I thought that beyond Austen’s head moving back and forth, that the caretakers, especially Cassandra, took some comfort in being able to lay Jane’s head on their laps, though I also think it means Jane was tossing about a bit more than C lets on. To me, it bespeaks some struggle — I imagine it was more than “a slight motion,” but that she possibly was struggling through the opium to say something or struggling against death–that it was not an entirely serene passage. Anyway, it is impossible to know. Even if it gave them some comfort, I don’t think they would have rested her head on their laps for so long without some feeling of need. But again, this is speculation.

I too wonder what errand Jane was so anxious about on her deathbed that C had to run out and do it. I would love to know.

CA comes across to me as intelligent and canny, her chief conventionalities written to forestall any trouble from Fanny, as in, don’t worry if I have given you too many details, for “you will apply to the fountainhead for consolation … our merciful God is never deaf to such prayers as you will offer.” (Is this a bit of acid flattery, worthy of her sister–or is it sincere? There’s certainly a bit of flattery in assuring Fanny she is the first to be written to after Mrs. Austen.) I do read a bit of defiance in the assertion that Jane’s soul lies “in a far superior mansion” to Winchester Cathedral, and find it telling that her burial there “satisfies” because JA admired the building so much rather than out of religious sentiment about being closer to God in a sanctuary. I also read a bit of acid in her hopes that none of her brothers “suffer lastingly from their pious exertions” in attending the funeral. It would, at the very least, be human to wonder why Jane and not them?

The funeral will be early, so as not to interfere with church services, and CA will head back to Chawton right afterwards, having no reason to stay in Winchester. Henry will soon be at Chawton — CA thinks that will help. I am imagining the mother at Chawton. It seems as if she is not to attend the funeral? That seems hard to believe but perhaps it was too much for her.

I am glad we have this letter.

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Extract from the diary of Mary Austen, nee Lloyd, (1771-1843)

diaryentry

17 July 1817 “Jane Austen was taken for death about ½ past 5 in the Evening”
18 July 1817 Jane breathed her last ½ after four in the morn; only Cass[andra] and I were with her. Henry came, Austen & Ed came, the latter returned home”
Hampshire Record Office ref 23M93/62/1/8

jane-austen-obit

I too am glad we have this letter. Sex is apparently no longer a forbidden subject — I say apparently because much about sex is still not truly discussed at all or distorted. But we still have a number of verboten ones: money, especially among friends and at work (that helps the employer enormously); particulars about religions and death — these two are everywhere in Cassandra’s letter and the whole text becomes a source of anxiety as well as controversy if we deconstruct its layers.

Ellen

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MrsAustenrealizing
Miss Austen Regrets (20008): Mrs Austen Phyllida Law) realizing how ill her daughter Jane (Olivia Williams) is

Galigai de Concini for ever & ever — Jane Austen

Dear friends and readers,

We draw near the fearful close; the third from the last letter by Jane Austen, to a dear friend, once governess at Godmersham, and since a paid companion, Anne Sharp. It’s the only one Between Anne Sharp and Jane Austen that we have; from this and others to Cassandra we can tell Anne and Jane wrote to one another and since they were often apart, this one letter may stand for thick packet of lost or destroyed letters.

In this wrecked correspondence nearly a month has passed since Jane dictated her will, thinking the end was upon her, but here she is, not dead yet, feels some recovery, but has (as she tells her friend) “been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days afterwards” after Anne Sharpe’s “kind letter” arrived (missing) — the most severe I ever had … ” After the longish opening detailing her sickness, the news of her going to Dr Lyford at Winchester and how fills the middle third of the text; then the last third: Anne has been ill herself, and has catered to those who thought themselves ill, and Jane’s reversion to comments on illness close the missive.

This is a precious text so I bring it into the blog:

159. To Anne Sharp
Thursday 22 May 1817
Chawton May 22d.

Your kind Letter my dearest Anne found me in bed, for in spite of my hopes & promises when I wrote to you I have since been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days afterwards — the most severe I ever had — & coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since the 13. of April, with only removals to a Sopha. Now, I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho’ slowly recovering my strength for the last three weeks. I can sit up in my bed & employ myself, as I am proving to you at this present moment, & really am equal to being out of bed, but that the posture is thought good for me. — How to do justice to the kindness of all my family during this illness, is quite beyond me! — Every dear Brother so affectionate & so anxious! — And as for my Sister! — Words must fail me in any attempt to describe what a Nurse she has been to me. Thank God! she does not seem the worse for it, & as there was never any Sitting-up necessary, I am willing to hope she has no after-fatigues to suffer from. I have so many alleviations & comforts to bless the Almighty for — My head was always clear, & I had scarcely any pain; my cheif sufferings were from feverish nights, weakness & Languor.- This Discharge was on me for above a week, & as our Alton Apothecary did not pretend to be able to cope with it, better advice was called in. Our nearest very good, is at Winchester, where there is a Hospital & capital Surgeons, & one of them attended me, & his applications gradually removed the Evil. — The consequence is, that instead of going to Town to put myself into the hands of some Physician as I should otherwise have done, I am going to Winchester instead, for some weeks to see what Mr Lyford can do farther towards re-establishing me in tolerable health. — On Saturday next, I am actually going thither — My dearest Cassandra with me I need hardly say — And as this is only two days off you will be convinced that I am now really a very genteel, portable sort of an Invalid. — The Journey is only 16 miles, we have comfortable Lodgings engaged for us by our kind friend Mrs Heathcote who resides in Winchester & are to have the accomodation of my elder Brother’s Carriage which will be sent over from Steventon on purpose. Now, that’s a sort of thing which Mrs James Austen does in the kindest manner! — But still she is in the main not a liberal-minded Woman, & as to this reversionary Property’s amending that part of her Character, expect it not my dear Anne; — too late, too late in the day; — & besides, the Property may not be theirs these ten years. My Aunt is very stout — Mrs F.A. has had a much shorter confinement than I have — with a Baby to produce into the bargain. We were put to bed nearly at the same time, & she has been quite recovered this great while. — I hope you have not been visited with more illness my dear Anne, either in your own person or your Eliza’s. — I must not attempt the pleasure of addressing her again, till my hand is stronger, but I prize her invitation to do so. — Beleive me, I was interested in all you wrote, though with all the Egotism of an Invalid I write only of myself. — Your Charity to the poor Woman I trust fails no more in effect, than I am sure it does in exertion. What an interest it must be to you all! & how gladly should I contribute more than my good wishes, were it possible! — But how you are worried! Wherever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort. Lady Pilkington writing to you even from Paris for advice! — It is the Influence of Strength over Weakness indeed.-Galigai de Concini for ever & ever. — Adeiu. — Continue to direct to Chawton, the communication between the two places will be frequent. — I have not mentioned my dear Mother; she suffered much for me when I was at the worst, but is tolerably well. — Miss Lloyd too has been all kindness. In short, if I live to be an old Woman I must expect to wish I had died now, blessed in the tenderness of such a Family, & before I had survived either them or their affection. — You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. — But the Providence of God has restored me — & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh” have been now! — Sick or Well, beleive me ever yr attached friend

J. Austen

Mrs Heathcote will be a great comfort, but we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half England, into Switzerland.
Miss Sharp
South Parade
Doncaster

This seems to be the one of the lesser guarded texts we have in the collection, and singularly free of barbed undercurrents and hedgings, no exaggeration, no hypocrisy: Mary Lloyd Austen is “not a liberal minded woman” and Anne is not to expect (as apparently Anna has hinted) that the expectation of eventually getting the Leigh-Perrot fortune as James’s wife will “amend that part of her character.” It’s said quietly, justly, nothing hidden but not overstated either. The letter is not a projection of love and friendship as intense exhilaration such as she wrote Martha Lloyd just before visiting her and just before Austen’s parents made their fateful decision to give up Mr Austen’s position as Vicar and thus the vicarage; it’s the loving friendship of an older woman. The way Jane addresses her friend as “my dear Anne” throughout captures a quiet affection an expectation that she will be understood. I know we’ve seen unkind remarks by Jane Austen about Anne Sharpe in letters to Cassandra, but none of the kinds of sarcasms she indulged in felt here.

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CollegeStreetWinchester
8 College Street, Winchester where Austen spent the last weeks of her life

The first third of the letter. Jane tells her friend Anne she, Jane, has been very very sick indeed, but (and here we can see this is a sincerely held posture) has had some recovery and feels some hope again. For three weeks not out of bed except when somehow or other gotten onto a sofa. Did someone carry her downstairs? She can employ herself (is she referring to sewing?) and is equal to getting out of bed. Her mind is steady enough that she can write and write coherently. Then lines of gratitude really felt; some people when helped this way feel anger — not at the person who is helping as long as the person is kind as well as physically helpful for real; others take over their death, control it but from this letter (and others), it does not appear that Austen was took herself over. Her whole life had taught her to give in to others. She expresses gratitude to God (not exactly something I am comfortable with but this is what she expresses) for leaving her clear intellects. She had had high fever nights but no pain (well let’s take that with a grain of salt); one of her worst symptoms is “the discharge.” I’m not sure what fatal illness this symptom can be linked to but half-remember lymphoma has what could be called “a discharge.” These are intimate details to write.

The Alton apothecary, Mr Curtis, has been honest: her condition is beyond him. Lyford was a respected physician in the era; I remember he was called for the king (who wasn’t?) and his practice is in Winchester so they will not be going to London (where other famous physicians resided) but the closer Winchester. She does not mention that it’s also closer. When someone is so mortally ill moving them causes them great pain and can damage them further. She makes a joke of it: “I am now really a very genteel portable sort of an Invalid.” The phrase makes what has happened to her body feel less serious. Another friend, Mrs Heathcote (Althea Bigg’s widowed sister), has found comfortable accommodation and (will miracles never cease – -unexpected) James lends his carriage.

But notice that Austen herself seems to have wanted to go to London: “The consequence is instead of going to Town to put myself in the hands of some Physician as I should otherwise have done …” And she is not aware how close she is to death. For she talks of going to Winchester for “some weeks” to see what Dr Lyford can do further to “re-establish” her “in tolerable health.” This implies going somewhere else afterward.

Mrs Heathcote, an old friend with enough money and connections, has supplied a place for them to come to where they can be comfortable; Mary Lloyd Austen the carriage. This is the sort of thing she does well says Jane: implication she enjoys showing her relative power and wealth but we must not expect (as Anne has implied) that she will change at all because she and James have the reversionary legacy; that is, if and when Jane Leigh-Perrot predeceases James, he will inherit the whole. Besides which the property may not be theirs for 10 years.

This is a bit reminiscent of Fanny Dashwood’s way of summing up Mrs Dashwood’s life expectatany; she may well live for more than 15 and then an annuity will cost Fanny and John so much more; who knows how long she may live. Ditto Jane L-P who in the event easily outlived James. “My aunt is very stout” says Jane.

Stoutness brings to mind poor Mary Gibson Austen having given birth and survived — as she was to die not far off from these traumas (medically speaking childbirth is danger and trauma). Jane jokes Frank’s wife has suffered in bed a far shorter time and now has a baby as her reward. Jane cannot say the same: “we were nearly put to bed at the same time” is revealing. Jane Austen was surrounded by women continually impregnated and aware she was not — we’ve seen how she regards her books as her babies, S&S was her “suckling child.” We could say while Mrs F. A. was breeding, Miss Austen produced a final enough version of Persuasion and NA and brilliant white-hot first draft of Sanditon — but as they were not published Austen could not know if they’d ever see the light of day and be read and knew the 2 apparently finished were not quite finished. They were not yet born and must be brought forth by others.

Then Anne’s burdens of people. Austen (as one will who writes a letter) remembers she has been speaking of herself all this while. She describes Anne as charitable to her employer (kinder than under human ways she need have been). An irony: this provides such an interest to you all (the employer’s illness). This is Anne’s job, incessantly to supply comfort whatever distress she feels too. Austen gave this role to Elinor Dashwood early on (emphasized in Emma Thompson’s script). People write to her friend even from Paris, and the place brings up an old association.

Galigai de Concini for ever & ever. I used to think this a reference to a witty French philosophe’s letters (Ferdinando Galiani, very popular) suggesting a world of Enlightenment Jane and Anne had shared together as young women, but Chapman says it’s a reference to a devastating story of a woman burned to death who asked what she had used on her mistress to “charm” her (the mistress was getting back at this poor woman), answered the power of strong souls over weak. I wish I knew the Voltairian context: he would be telling the story with sardonic irony perhaps. The full context is court intrigue and a woman sacrificed as a scapegoat (see Marie de Medici, wikipedia). This was their shared motto: the source is as revealing as the surface content. A servant women (maid of honor at court) burnt to death as a witch. Strength may influences weakness, but with such strength you may garner envy and blame and be at high risk of destruction you are powerless to avoid or escape from. We must not press this dark conclusion too literally or far: remember Austen is dying.

Then the close of the letter: although Jane is headed for Winchester, Anne should continue to send her letters to Chawton as the communications between the two households “will be frequent.” That Austen’s mother suffered much as she watched Austen suffer “but is tolerably well.” She would survive a long time…. Anne has asked after Martha who here appears as “Miss Lloyd too has been all kindness.” From the next letter it appears that Martha came to the house once more.

Austen ends with ironical barbed gratitude — and a still living hope she may survive yet because she says “If I should live to be an old woman” she would never again now the tenderness she has in these last weeks. She must expect towish she had died now rather than have to remember back from some much less kind time in the future. And then the sweet line: “You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure” — were she
to have died now.

She becomes religious in her sentiment and wording: she says that God restored her (writing this letter you see) so she’s more fit to appear before him than she would have been before this new (partial) recovery.

Sick or well she is ever Anne Sharpe’s attached friend.

And then a line which shows life also goes on as it did: yet another plan for a small community of women Austen has been dreaming up thwarted. Mrs. Heathcote will be at Winchester, but Miss Althea Big is being frisked off to Switzerland “like half England.” I imagine Austen would have liked to see the continent; as far as we can tell she never left the the part of the British isles which includes England and Wales, was never to Scotland.

Two more readings:

Diane Reynolds:

In this letter, we see flashes of Austen’s lively humor — “I am now a very genteel, portable sort of an invalid”–and “we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half of England, into Switzerland” — but she is very ill, ill enough to have alarmed and caught the attention of her extended family. She mentions their great kindness and especially that James’s wife Mary is sending over the carriage from Steventon to transport her and Cassandra to Winchester so that Jane can be treated by a Mr. Lyford. Before that, she was treated by the Alton doctor or apothecary, Mr. Curtis, a Quaker, but he no longer knows what to do for her — and, not being a quack, has told her so.

She mentions that if she had not had good results from the Winchester doctor, she would have gone to London — one wonders if she would have sought out Hadon — was he even in London or was he by this time in Malta? – -and one wonders how much of the decision making about her medical care was done by the family, on whom she was still dependent, and how much by Jane herself? No doctor at this time could have done her much good, though it would be interesting to know more about her symptoms than the conventionalized language Austen uses can tell us. My sense is that she wanted to go to London and was overruled.

Austen is acerbic about her sister-in-law: of sending over the carriage: “Now, that’s the sort of thing which Mrs. J Austen does in the kindest manner!” This “sort of thing” is the small charity of consumption, the gesture that changes nothing materially for her poorer relations, for JA hastens to write that Anne should not see the loan of the carriage as any sign of a larger generosity on Mary’s part: “she is in the main NOT a liberal-minded woman” and as to the will–the expectation of a fortune when Aunt LP dies–“amending that part of her Character [her cheapness], expect it not my dear Anne;– too late in the day, too late in the day.” (One wonders too, if the too late in the day, repeated twice, isn’t also a passing allusion to Austen’s own state.) As Austen notes, Mrs. LP is “very stout”–and it is JEAL who inherits.

The letter is full of the kindnesses her family bestows on her, the best indication we have that she is demonstrably dying. The kindnesses withheld during life, such as the loan of the carriage — and we think of her having to beg and arrange her life around other people’s travel plans– are now pouring out. That she is being treated with more regard than she is used to comes clear in the letter and to my ears, while conventional in language, strains beyond conventional sentiments to a genuine awareness of the kindness: “Every dear Brother so affectionate and so anxious!” Or it is just conventional language, what she is expected to say? She does say it. Later, too, conventional language contains a touch of typical, clear-eyed sardonic humor: “if I live to be an old woman I must expect to wish I had died now, blessed in the tenderness of such a family”–“before I had survived …their affection.”

JA compares her “confinement” to that of Frank’s wife, who has just had a baby, noting hers has been much shorter than JA’s–“with a Baby to produce in the bargain. We were put to bed at nearly the same time, and she has been quite recovered this great while.” It’s interesting that Austen draws this parallel. Is she suggesting that she, who chose
the path that would avoid all the “confinements,” is now wondering why this has happened to HER? This was not how it was supposed to be.

The letter is double edged — implicit throughout it is Austen’s contrast between how she has typically been treated–a throwaway younger daughter/sister who never married and thus became a burden — and the kindness with which is now treated. Often I have wondered too, why it is only on the point of death that dependent people, like children, are given favors? The family is both kind and concerned — and one imagines, controlling how and where she is being treated. She expects the kindness will not last should she recover — and she expects, still, to recover: “But the Providence of God has restored me.”

Austen is able to poke fun at herself still: “I was interested in all you wrote, though with all the Egotism of an Invalid I write only of myself.” She will move to talking about Anne, but I also sense that Austen wrote this letter to send a record, a diary account of sorts, to someone close to, but not part of, the family. Between the lines
she has recorded that she wished to go to London — “as I should otherwise have done–” and that she knows Mary’s unusual burst of generosity is not a reformation. Tensions still exist. The family is kind now … but permanent change has not happened.

In speaking to Anne of Anne, the “Fanny Knight” tone reappears — Austen is distancing herself, perhaps lightly mocking Anne’s angelic — or heroic–charity with an edge of hyperbole. “But how you are worried! Whenever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort. Lady Pilkington writing to you even from Paris for advice! It is the Influence of Strength over Weakness indeed.”

Austen still has some humor to bestow, she is still herself — but sadly, she is dying, a fact her family is more aware of than she is, unless she is doing her best to hide it from Anne.

Diana Birchall:

Nearly a month after writing her Will. She is in bed, having been very ill indeed. “An attack of my sad complaint” seized her, “the most severe I ever had – & coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since the 13 of April, with only removals to a Sopha.” Still not having given up hope, she assures her friend, “Now I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho’ slowly recovering my strength these last three weeks. I can sit up in bed and employ myself, as I am proving to you at this present moment, & really am equal to being out of bed, but that the posture is thought good for me.” But there is no point in simply repeating this letter fully, for sentence upon sentence in it is heartfelt, poignant, the dying woman opening her heart to her friend, sincere and with every word given weight. From this letter comes much of what we know about her last illness; of her deep gratitude to her family, all of whom were attending her anxiously, we have no difficulty in believing; and of her intimate friendship with Miss Sharp, to whom she writes as openly of Mrs. James Austen’s character and expectations (“But still she is in the main not a liberal-minded Woman, & as to this reversionary Property’s amending that part of her Character, expect it not my dear Anne; – too late, too late in the day.” Too late for Jane too, with a little bitterness evident in her saying, “& besides, the Property may not be theirs these ten years. My Aunt is very stout.” Another touch of bitterness, softened by whimsicality: “Mrs. F.A. has had a much shorter confinement than I have – with a Baby to produce into the bargain.” She realizes how much of this letter is about her own condition (with all the Egotism of the Invalid I write only of myself”), but she notices how everyone consults Anne and asks her for advice (“Wherever Distress falls, you are expected to supply Comfort”).

The “Galigai de Concini for ever & ever” reference is fascinating, and I will indeed turn to the lists to see what everyone makes of it! On the face of it, she is referring to the way Lady Pilkington, writes “even from Paris” for advice – “It is the influence of Strength over Weakness indeed,” meaning the governess’s strength, the lady’s weakness. Darn Deirdre anyway for giving the French of what “the sorceress” answered when asked what charm she had put on her mistress, but not translating it. I must go to the Digests and see if some sharp elf has done that.

The letter nearly finishes with the famous and touching thought, “In short, if I live to be an old Woman I must expect to wish I had died now; blessed in the tenderness of such a Family, & before I had survived either them or their affection. – You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure.” She still flatters herself with slight hopes of recovery. “But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I shd have been now! – Sick or well, believe me ever yr attached friend, J. Austen.” She does not stop with the heartfelt sentiment, but tacks on a gay riposte instead, surely to send off her no doubt sad correspondent with a smile: “Mrs. Heathcote will be a great comfort, but we shall not have Miss Bigg, she being frisked off like half England, into Switzerland.” She can still write of frisks…

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RuthWilsonasagoverness
Ruth Wilson as the quintessential governess in Sandy Welch’s Jane Eyre

The Eleanore Galigai Concini reference is tantalizing. Christy Somers provided us with a text showing Maria Edgeworth used the reference in her Absentee (1812) to make the same kind of meaning:

….to the effect of Mrs. Dareville’s mimicry, was almost too much for Lady Langdale; she could not possibly have stood it, but for the appearance of Miss Nugent at this instant behind Lady Clonbrony. Grace gave one glance of indignation which seemed suddenly to strike Mrs. Dareville. Silence for a moment ensued, and afterwards the tone of the conversation was changed.
‘Salisbury!—explain this to me,’ said a lady, drawing Mr. Salisbury aside. ‘If you are in the secret, do explain this to me; for unless I had seen it, I could not have believed it.
    Nay, though I have seen it, I do not believe it. How was that
daring spirit laid? By what spell?’
    ‘By the spell which superior minds always cast on inferior spirits.’
    ‘Very fine,’ said the lady, laughing, ‘but as old as the days of Leonora de Galigai, quoted a million times. Now tell me something new and to the purpose, and better suited to modern days.’
    ‘Well, then, since you will not allow me to talk of superior minds in the present days, let me ask you if you have never observed that a wit, once conquered in company by a wit of a higher order, is thenceforward in complete subjection to the conqueror, whenever and wherever they meet.’
    ‘You would not persuade me that yonder gentle-looking girl could ever be a match for the veteran Mrs. Dareville? She may have the wit, but has she the courage?’
    ‘Yes; no one has more courage, more civil courage, where her own dignity, or the interests of her friends are concerned…..

Was this where Jane Austen came across the reference? it is also referred to by Lord Chesterfield. So it may at once time been a familiar story among readers. Nonetheless, I’m with Diana in preferring the general sense of an apparently incorrect explanation:

I’m not satisfied that “Galigai de Concini for ever and ever” only refers to Anne Sharp’s mental ascendancy over Lady Pilkington. “For ever and ever” has a poignancy in this context that seems to be Jane referring to her long friendship with Anne. I like Ellen’s initial thought that it refers to something Jane and Anne shared together when younger. It has the sound of a rallying cry, a heartfelt farewell: a Long Live Us, us being two strong minded women in inferior, and similar, positions, who have always confided the slurs and stings they’ve received, to one another. (Another set of letters the family would have destroyed.)

girl-reading-by-William-Morris-Hunt
William Morris Hunt, Girl Reading (1853)

Ellen

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MillaisIrishMelodiesAnExcludedWoman
John Everett Millais, Irish Melodies

Westron winde, when will thou blow,
The smalle raine downe can raine.
Christ if my love were in my armes,
And I in my bed againe.
    Medieval English Lyric

Dear friends and readers,

I expect it will come as no surprise to my readers I’ve been thinking about, reading and making notes about, and have written a panel and paper proposal for the coming EC/ASECS in Delaware (now accepted) about the above linked topics. What I wrote comes out of years’ of reading Austen and 18th century texts and pictures, my recent experience and a few books and articles recently read. This blog is about this recent reading and two proposals.

I would have preferred to begin with the book I took most extensive notes on — though it was a disappointment because it relied heavily on documentary evidence, and as B-B says, until recently the history of widowhood has been badly served, distorted by what has been written down: Être Veuve sous l’ancien régime [To be a widow in the ancien regime] by Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie. But before that I feel I have to suggest why the documentary record ignores dominant realities: it’s heavily due to the intense hostility on the part of the majority of people towards a woman living alone independently, having power and (until recently) usually old. So instead I’ll present my panel proposal which partly explicates this hostility.

KateWinslett
Kate Winslett as Mildred Pierce (one phase of her life as widow)

The Anomaly: the single unmarried adult woman living alone, spinsters, divorced and widowed women

According to Mrs. Peachum, “The comfortable estate of widowhood, is the only hope that keeps up a wife’s spirits.” According to Chudleigh’s “To the Ladies,” the most frequently reprinted poem of the period, the only way to know any pleasure or liberty is to “Shun that wretched state,” i.e., marriage. But notwithstanding the misogynistic infamous type of the frustrated unhappy lascivious or power-hungry widow and a real woman’s in ability to own property until she is widowed (though her jointure), and some well-known examples of (usually independently) wealthy women who throve (Mary Delany, Lady Granville; Hester Thrale Piozzi); like other women of the era who might end up or try living on their own without a man of their class and type (when respectable kin), modern studies suggest spinsters (lesbian or not), separated and divorced and widowed women had a hard time of it financially, socially and psychologically. I call for papers exploring and discussing depictions in art and literature and/or the realities of life for a women from the long 18th and into the early 19th century (if that’s of interest) who lived on her own or with another woman or women. Salonnières, bluestockings, businesswomen, the down and out and vengeful (as seen from the fictional Moll Flanders and Roxana, “’Tis better to whore than to starve,” to Mrs Dashwood’s lack of adequate resources to Madame de Merteuil’s rage), women who never quite recovered and made the experience of marriage central to their writing (i.e., Francoise de Graffigny, a victim of legal violent abuse when a wife), women without families to take them in, governesses, companions without vows, housekeepers, agricultural and city- and sex-workers – how were they depicted and how did they depict themselves, how did they survive, create viable existences for themselves, find pleasure, when they chose not to re-marry or marry in the first place.

Here then Être Veuve sous l’ancien regime by Scarlett Beauvalet-Boutouyrie. The fundamental assumption of many of the quotable quotes famous still is that marriage is an unhappy business and when expressed from the male point of view (as it usually is) is that a second marriage is (Johnson’s famous quip) “the triumph of hope over experience.”

18th Century Fashion Plate
Fashion plate for supposed wealthy widow

Preface – Jean Pierre Bardet

B-B asks if this sizable group of women constitutes a coherent social group with determined shared traits – they are mentioned as widows and orphans with connotations of vulnerability and poverty but do not they have diverse circumstances? BB analyses the literary representations as reflecting views of the era (problem of numbers, problem of subjectivity) and finds a mostly unacknowledged distinct group.

she suggests there are three ways of seeing this group of widows: 1) that of the clerics: a dangerous state, risks of sinking into sensuality (!), rumor hurting her and greed attacking her or her being caught up by. So she is pressured to become chaste, devoted to charity, submitting to religious order. At bottom this is hostile to the widow, to her remarrying; 2) that of secular literature: does not contradict the above, just another direction with the same “risks” in mind demands that she act with dignity, fear of her frivolousness, her duty to remarry dramatized; 3) that of her memoirs – there must be a time of affliction, but readers dreads the inconsolable widow; they must put themselves in agreeable circles; they are heavily closely controlled: think of the effect of the demand for mourning clothes. (I add that poetry is one place where some liberty can be found and the greatest poetry by women in the Renaissance is often that of the grieving widow or woman living alone).

These groupings importantly, do not include some realities at all: the education of the children she was typically left with – so we see immediately how the published typology presents a false sociology, a sociology badly served and predetermined by the documents which erase central realities.

In 20th century living longer has produced more widows; in the past marriage did not last that long (mortality heavy; fragility of coupling real and for women without social protections. Yes she did have legal rights, more autonomous than other married women; she had arrangements over her dowry and portion (jointure) – but very often the family did not permit her to dispose of these things freely at all – (as I recall even get her hands on the money); but some Parisian contracts show widow’s social and customary positions improved in the long 18th century – when they were rentiers; they carried on the husband’s economic activity – the choice of a religious life was rare (8). Widows with means in minority.

Most poor but hard to delimit- problem of survival crucial – taken into Parisian alms-houses but they were not old all the time, didn’t say, so what became of them and their children?

B-B did not investigate the remarriage state, a great number did not remarry (as opposed to widowers), what they say of themselves now confirms but then contests usual characterizations: in another book will be history of poor widows, remarriage, and solitude.

BB: her Introduction

Recent studies want to escape masculine lens, the axis of domination or subordination/oppression; Ida Blom little done on widows because women researched in roles as mothers; they also are often inactive and feminists don’t want that annihilation – old women past menopause so no one interested – she says first widowhood not synonymous with older years as it is today; women have numerous family, money of some kind to handle or wholly w/o resources – why have historians ignored it when he shows changes in laws over time – is she always pathetic, alone, in black, isolated; or someone whose very existence disquiets, at risk – a woman living alone outside of marriage and religion (15). So you get these codes of comportment to deal with these myths – she proposes to see what is common in these ideas and the realities.

She needs numbers: when on average was a woman widowed, how many children did she have, what strategies did she use against the rupture the death caused – early death so common, unions brief often – much prepared in law and custom for this expectation of death; upon widowhood women became responsible for their actions
How to organize a life alone. First there is no wandering widow – she does use documents she has from Paris, contracts of marriage – favorable cases and isolated widows; some way of navigating between widows with children, affairs, and the one struggling to survive – there were some institutions which provided a little assistance – history of widowhood is a social history – how death leads to solitude and mobilizes energies of widows confronted with their future

The Mythic Figure

Chapter 1. Women written about as such by men, a being who fascinates and frightens; aim to establish norms of conduct and confine her in them (21); she’s given virtues like sweetness, pity, docility; others around her role as mother. They want to contain the widow who has autonomy (and has had sex), put her back under “tutelle”

1. Make them choose the church and charity; comes as part of advice to married women; the work of Francois de Sales who gives a whole chapter to this; God must have wanted this; at risk of seduction when alone: she is to consecrate life to family and children; pray, practice good works

2. Second marriage tolerated but not wished for (p 38) – solitude again a danger, 39; you are told to refind your husband in God

Chapter 2: she writes a series of biographies of holy women; quite a number (56) – but these represent a small minority but one there are many documents on. (To me this was a waste of paper.)

Chapter 3: we meet the independent woman: through the lens of different sources we may decode a system of values and representations (p 101): beyond arranged marriages and validation or condemnation of love romance, stories tell of intrigue, how marriages happen, a multiplication of obstacles – all witness the desire for liberty of choice; intrigues and rebounds. It’s elite texts addressing elite people – what function and what category does someone belong to. Widowhood presented as temporary; will remarry.

What are the dominant traits we find in stage comedy? — most often presented as young, w/o children, with money – little consideration given to older woman.

First she must dress as a widow (for prescribed time); the widow a la mode (La Veuve a la mode), Duneau de Visee uncovers hypocrisies to show us what is funny and what pathetic. Other women characters in arranged marriage glad the man is dead and want to seize money and papers – so we get a theme of false affliction – the mourning a short moment, sometimes just the result of convention (107). Women who sacrifice happiness for children regarded as rare (107). In Le Paysan parvenu, the widow does not know how to take care of her money and she ends having to retire to a convent, p 108. Voltaire’s tale insists women are consolable.

For women, widowhood is a means of acquiring liberty (109): “Vous etes veuve et vous ne dependez que de vous:” Celimene in Le Misanthrope by Moliere – another theme now she can choose someone she likes: La Mere coquette (110): Madame de Merteuil quoted, p 111 as not wanting anyone over her actions. Those presented as greedy and ambitious are not pardoned (p. 117) (She has done a survey of French plays.)

In the novel we find widows who love and want to find happiness ( p 121); she does not marry for money now, she seeks sincere love and “le bonheur”. Diderot writes a novel where a widow genuinely longs for sincere love but is betrayed after her marriage (p 122). In a book of 18th century novels a number of stories of widows remarrying who seek sincere love and are betrayed, hurt in various ways, one dies. Madame Riccoboni, Juliette Catesby: arranged marriage, widowed at 18, now at 20, determined to marry for love but he leaves her to marry another, when he is widowed at first she will not forgive and then she does: lesson, women must accept men are unfaithful

Diderot: “Cette femme avoit ete si malheureuse avec un premier mari, qu’elle aurait mieux aime s’exposer a toutes sorts de malheurs qu’au danger d’un second mariage” (p 124) (from Jacques le fataliste)

Some of these stories are quite poignant: one woman surmonts all the mockery preferring to have a lover to a husband – a lover no one knows of – he wearies of her and she wants revenge but he is pardoned by his wife so she is left “seule et trahie” (p 124)

Is love in remarriage impossible? Colle, La Veuve, a Madame Durval was miserable in forced marriage, cannot get herself to remarry even if she loves man; she cannot believe love can survive a union in which she becomes a servant once again; she does marry him when he loses all his money p 125; another story a woman who had suffered much in insists on marrying someone who is a misalliance; it turns out terribly.

“La veuve, rarement decrite common une victime, attire peu la commiseration” (p 126). In literature presented in marriage plot (because anything else disquiets), it’s acceptable to be young in love not old and greedy, p 127. Sources cannot conceive of a woman who prefers to be alone. Neither comedy nor novels show a woman alone and independent; only a conditional liberty and she is presented as feeble and dependent. No matter what she does she’s criticized: stay home alone, morbid and risks losing her goods. They want the widow self-contained, p 128.

Madame de Sevigne does not approve but describes Mme de Vaubrun’s grief, p 128-29; some go into convulsions, p 130; a century before Madame Campan suspects falseness when dauphine grieves too much; there are some rituals especially in rural areas allowing for strong grief expression p 132

That ritual mourning clothes a social convention, not always black; tells about rank; idea of black, no jewels is to symbolize chastity, purity, modesty; time requires varies with who you are, who died … said to turn into a fashionable habit, p 138.

Again BB comes back to how Sevigne does not credit excessive grief; that she had opportunities but choose not to remarry, p 139; sexuality a weakness; widows obtain their liberty, long ; long marriage and love are incompatible; how a niece longed to be a widow and rejoices at how much she now has, p 140; she writes of a group of widows: her social life with other widows essential part of her life; none of her friends remarried. Many axioms in period follow suit: St Evremond: “La plus grande douceur qu’on trouve au mariage/Ne vient que de l’espoir qu’on concoit du veuvage” (a Mrs Peachum sentiment, p 141)

B-B reprints a typical poem of the era, one which shows women get over it; and how they are to put themselves at the service of God & families.

Chapter 4: widowhood, the demographic reality

Death omnipresent so unions brief – yet more than 1/3 of couples in 18th century France were married for more than 30 years; people moved about so hard to get firm statistics –in Normandy 18.7 years a mean (1650-79), 23.3 (1700-49) – a gradual increase over the long century; to marry early or to marry late ends up similar statistics; more men die even with mortality of women in childbirth; younger women have more young children (well duh). Moving about again gets in way of figures for women remarrying or remaining widows, p 164; older widow less likely to remarry

How do they organize their household? – she discusses them these ways: do they live in solitude or with amiable families and friends. There is some information: we can now where heads of households are widows, 17 to 15% – living with them how old are they? Who are servants? Who relatives or friends? Pp 168-72 – in one place less than 10% of places have 5 people – not common to live all alone, p 173; sometimes it’s women with children. Towards end of period structures of families evolving more to modern individualist model – -and it remains hard to generalize if widows are a solitary species or living in midst of others

Chapter 5: About Laws seen as protecting and constraining women; the way married women are treated influences the way widows are in custom. Whole idea is women are not capable of fending for themselves in areas like law; woman considered a person incapable; while married, all laws give husband control over everything.

Now widows do get a re-found capacity: but laws and customs at the same time set up so that her inheritance does not leave the family she married into or was from; problem if you marry a widow. You marry the debts from the previous marriage; she is supposed to be accorded a dowry which enables her to carry on with the status of her husband. And the widow and family went to court over these things.

Chapter 6: the woman in black gets a conditional liberty? Rules and customs about how long she must wear mourning, she must be provided with money for it – all modes of control; she could lose her dowry if she did not behave according to codes of respectabilty; punishment often inflexible; for some conditons for remarriage

Chapters 7 and 8: ways they were allowed to exercise responsibility, places the state or societies tried to help indigent. Full of numbers.

Conclusion: the favorite image of a woman without children is unreal, nor are they sad religious women or frivolous salacious fools, but caught up in milieu of family life (this is what we see in Austen except for Mrs Smith).

So why did these hostile or repressive images emerge? There are societies where they don’t. – she puts it down to fear of the autonomous woman – in societies where some autonomy is allowed such images emerge.

A further worthwhile essay: Lionel Kesztenbaum on The Decline of Life. Old Age in Eighteenth-Century England by Susannah Ottaway, in Population (French Edition), Vol. 60, No. 5/6 (Sep. – Dec., 2005), pp. 858-862. 10 superb pages in French. He says that the aging poor older couple where both lived did do better, but when the man died especially the widow was in great trouble. Contrary to what might be thought, being old was not thought an excuse for giving someone help or alms until the later 19th century. It’s not true that the aged were more respected in the century previous to ours. If you were rich and if your children were good to you you would fare well — but class, status, money trumped all and the old were really left to starve or die if they had not “earned” some right to a pittance say as a servant. Kesztenbaum says evidence shows that even in the 18th century all these elder people insofar as they left records desperately tried to maintain their independence.

There are many many more images of widows in 19th century illustration and painting than in the 18th or 20th century, and a sizable percentage contain children. A sentimental type:

Widow_Kennington
Benjamin Kennington, The Widow

Here we have the woman embedded in her family, but she is clearly well-to-do, James-Jacques Tissot images are today often used as cover illustrations for Trollope novels:

james-jacques-joseph-tissot-a-widow

And how do Austen’s writings fit in here: I’ve blogged most recently about widows and widowers in Austen; on “previously married woman”,, how the treatment of widows today resembles the treatment of the disabled, but not on how women living alone in many modern communities (let alone traditional ones) are still treated as an oddity, an anomaly, there she is with her cat. See Jenny Diski (“However I smell”), LRB, 8 May 2014:

there is a special dungeon for women alone, mad old bats, pathetic creatures talking to themselves and their cats, waiting out their lives …

With Être Veuve, and the other scholarly texts I cited elsewhere, I have now looked enough in the English texts to say that Austen is unusual for the variety and lack of stereotyping found. Vastly superior to the era’s drama in English — which by the way whose misogynistic and snarky strains I don’t like at all at all. But I don’t know enough about the French — the French have deep psychological and philosophical currents, especially the memoirs — which Austen apparently read.

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Jemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood, pushed out of her house (1995 S&S)

Widowed worlds in Austen’s fiction and letters

Jane Austen’s writing is replete in widows, and not a few widowers too. This demographic in the semi-realistic fiction of the 18th century is not uncommon; what is uncommon is she presents widows and widowers in all their economic, social, and even psychological variety. In most fiction of the long 18th century the author presents only a few narrow stereotypes whose characteristics work to stigmatize the character hostilely, and, except when seen from afar, the author imagines these within a narrow band of the gentry class. Austen’s widows cover a spectrum from the wealthiest and highest status to impoverishment and near unacceptability. We will see how aware she is of central aspects of widowhood, sees widowed people as part of a distinct group, uses aspects of the condition in her stories, and without writing sentimentally, delves into their inner lives of memory. In all this she
anticipates developments in 19th century fiction and 20th and 21st century costume dramas.

In the texts I’ve read thus far (and that includes women playwrights, like Elizabeth Cooper in her The Rival Widows; or the Fair Libertine) and the texts about texts, there are usually only a couple of stereotypes and very often the development of the character has little to do with her or him being a widow per se — the being the widow is just part of what helps stigmatize the person. If you think about all Austen’s widows she does continually taken into account a full economic status and an attitude of mind as part of the condition. Indeed if you include her letters one could argue that she certainly singles out women living alone, then older women and widows as a group.

One problem in 18th century for widowed people, especially women (who fare badly as most were poor) is to be recognized as a legitimate group with group needs. Austen is coming near that almost explicitly in Persuasion. she will not give us the grief-striken interior life — she has Mrs Norris mouth that as cant but I think there is room enough to feel it — in Mrs Dashwood, Mrs Smith, probably Mrs Blake from The Watsons.

the-widows-tale-jacket
21st century image, but not by a woman

Ellen

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cassandra-austen
Cassandra Austen — as close as we come to an image of her made during her lifetime

Do pray meet with somebody belonging to yourself. — I am quite weary of your knowing nobody. — Jane

Dear friends and readers,

This very long letter may be the last Jane wrote to Cassandra: our documents begin on 10 January 1796 and end 20 years later. It is a very long one, such as we’ve not had since Southampton, perhaps wholly saved and unmutilated because it is the last one saved. No 158 in LeFaye’s edition is Jane’s will addressed to Cassandra in the form of a letter, and reminds me of the few 17th and 18th century wills by women I’ve read: similarly leaving a very few personal belongings and small sum of money.

As last week’s penultimate letter come down to us in fragments may have faced up to the reality of whatever this grave illness was doing and going to do to her; this whole one is written in an implicit denial and pretense that all is fundamentally (approved by Cassandra — ever keeping the conventional front from 1796 on). When we come upon letters like these, in effect journal-entries, we realize, Austen’s letters resemble Frances Burney D’Arblay’s, at least in their first versions, written to a beloved or trusted person recording her life as it unfolded.

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145. To Cassandra Austen
Sunday 8-Monday 9 September 1816
Chawton, Sunday Sept: 8.

My dearest Cassandra

I have borne the arrival of your Letter today extremely well; anybody might have thought it was giving me pleasure. –I am very glad you find so much to be satisfied with at Cheltenham. While the Waters agree, every thing else is trifling. — A Letter arrived for you from Charles last Thursday. They are all safe, & pretty well in Keppel Street, the Children decidedly better for Broadstairs, & he writes principally to ask when it will be convenient to us to receive Miss Palmer, the little girls & himself. — They will be ready to set off in ten days from the time of his writing, to pay their visits in Hampshire & Berkshire — & he would prefer coming to Chawton first. I have answered him & said, that we hoped it might suit them to wait till the last week in September, as we could not ask them sooner, either on your account, or the want of room. I mentioned the 23d, as the probable day of your return. — When you have once left Cheltenham, I shall grudge every half day wasted on the road. If there were but a coach from Hungerford to Chawton! — I have desired him to let me hear again soon. — He does not include a Maid in the list to be accomodated [sic], but if they bring one, as I suppose they will, we shall have no bed in the house even then for Charles himself — let alone Henry. But what can we do? — We shall have the Great House [Chawton mansion] quite at our command; — it is to be cleared of the Papillons Servants in a day or two; — they themselves have been hurried off into Essex to take possession — not of a large Estate left them by an Uncle — but to scrape together all they can I suppose of the effects of a Mrs Rawstorn a rich old friend & cousin, suddenly deceased, to whom they are joint Executors. So, there is a happy end of the Kentish Papillons coming here.

800px-Joss_Bay,_Broadstairs,_England_-_Aug_2008
Broadstairs, contemporary advertising photograph: August 2008

She begins sometime Saturday. The opening paragraph is about Charles and his family. Charles is said to have been strained and depressed after the shipwreck and court martial so a trip to the seacoast was tried: Broadstairs is a coastal town on the Isle of Thanet in the Thanet district of east Kent, England, about 80 miles (130 km) east of London. but it’s embedded in her missing Cassandra badly and not hiding that at all: she shows the difficulties they have accommodating people in their small cottage (recalling the Dashwood’s Barton cottage in Sense and Sensibility). Note how Charles taking responsibility for his sister-in-law — eventually his second wife. Austen grudges days lost from Cassandra — she knows her time is limited? where shall they put him, let alone Henry. The big house will come in usefully, and then Charles and family are off to pay visits — almost like a couple introducing themselves I’d say …

Then an anecdote which shows the desperate behavior of these people when it comes to money. The Papillons have rushed off the way we saw some of Mrs Austen’s relatives do some years before. Not a large estate either, but scraping together what may be grabbed by sheer possession. Jane is not sorry the Papillons will not be in Kent any more. There is a good deal of her old hardness here. Maybe we have not seen it because the letters containing it were destroyed. We have always to remember there are no job ads to get a job in this world, only the beginning of employment bureaus in London, and the way to climb is inherit, marry or patronage (which often comes down to bribes). No meritocracy (not that ours exists any more either — or only a remnant).

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walkbymoonlight
A walk by moonlight

The paper shows her writing on the next page so perhaps she broke off that Saturday and is continuing noon Sunday and she explains why:

No morning service to day, wherefore I am writing between 12 & 1 o’clock — Mr Benn in the afternoon — & likewise more rain again, by the look & the sound of things, You left us in doubt of Mrs Benn’s situation, but she has bespoke her Nurse. — Mrs. F.A. [Frank’s wife] seldom either looks or appears quite well. — Little Embryo is troublesome I suppose. — They dined with us yesterday, & had fine weather both for coming & going home, which has hardly ever happened to them before. — She is still unprovided with a Housemaid. — Our day at Alton was very pleasant — Venison quite right — Children well-behaved — & Mr and Mrs Digweed taking kindly to our Charades, & other Games. — I must also observe, for his Mother’s satisfaction, that Edward at my suggestion, devoted himself very properly to the entertainment of Miss S. Gibson. — Nothing was wanting except Mr Sweney; but he alas! had been ordered away to London the day before. — We had a beautiful walk home by Moonlight. — Thank you, my Back has given me scarcely any pain for many days. — I have an idea that agitation does it as much harm as fatigue, & that I was ill at the time of your going, from the very circumstance of your going. — I am nursing myself up now into as beautiful a state as I can, because I hear that Dr White means to call on me before he leave the Country. —

She writes between 12 and 1 because there is no morning service. The nearly destitute Miss Benn died some time back, so the reference to the Mr and Mrs Benn are to other members of the family. As we saw Anna so troubled with endless pregancies so Frank’s wife continues to be, the famous sharp line: “Little Embryo is troublesome I suppose.” No housemaid. But a pleasant afternoon was had. She remembers to write for Mary Lloyd Austen’s satisfaction that JEAL did devote himself to the entertainment of one Miss Gibson — a relative of Mary’s (Frank’s wife). So Mary is trying to engineer her son’s marital fate. Jane does seem to have enjoyed the games, charades (word games after all), and then this. After writing “We had a beautiful walk home by Moonlight” the association of walking causes her to offer a diagnosis which seems sound: emotional distress does her back as much harm as physical fatigue, and she was ill because Cassandra had been leaving her. This is unusually frank.

Austen may be joking still — again about a supposed suitor, John White (1759-1821), who had been a chaplain and physician to the Gibraltar garrison, practiced as a surgeon in Alton and Salisbury (LeFaye’s biographical notes). She writes as she does as a way of denying how bad she is beginning to or does look at this point. From her earliest years when she registered three marriages for herself in her father’s parish register to this point (see Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen, “The Marriage Banns”) to when she’s gravely ill and moving into dying, she makes fun of courtship and marriage — and also in Sanditon grave illness and death itself. It was her way of dealing with pressure and trauma.

Perhaps it is not amiss to point out here as we come to the end of her life that Austen’s gay flirtations and (more probably) conversations about books with Haden were great fun and a solace for her (and a bit of rivalry she didn’t mind pretending to), and that she did experience pressure to marry in Bath, but once she did become the respected author among them (after the publication of Sense and Sensibility), that and her age, and the lack of full pressure before, ended all serious thought of any marriage. She was never much pressured by them — or the letters that recorded this have been destroyed. Ditto on teaching or, say, becoming someone’s companion which both Martha Lloyd and Anne Sharpe did for money. There are no letters remaining to suggest she was ever so pressured — but perhaps she was implicitly or explicitly — giving rise to some of the bitterness about teaching in The Watsons and Emma, and some of the sudden outcries in the novels and letters to never marry without affection and respect for your partner.

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MadamePerigord
From Miss Austen Regrets 2008: Sylvie Herbert as Madame Bigeon (Madame Pericord was Madame Bigeon’s daughter)

Evening. — Frank & Mary & the Children visited us this morning. — Mr & Mrs Gibson are to come on the 23d — & there is too much reason to fear they will stay above a week. — Little George could tell me where you were gone to, as well as what you were to bring him, when I asked him the other day. — Sir Thomas Miller is dead. I treat you with a dead Baronet in almost every Letter. — So, you have Charlotte Craven among you, as well as the Duke of Orleans & Mr Pococke. But it mortifies me that you have not added one to the stock of common acquaintance. Do pray meet with somebody belonging to yourself. — I am quite weary of your knowing nobody. —

It’s now evening that Sunday and Austen reports further that she did have a pleasant morning with her brother, Mary and their children. But she is not similarly keen on Mary’s relatives. Bad news they will stay for “above a week.” Little George knows about Cassandra but not Austen — why is that,Austen asks teasingly. Something is being kept from her, and then her old self steps forth for a moment: “Sir Thomas Miller is dead, I treat you with a dead baronet in almost every letter.” Like LeFaye (who characteristically offers a longer note on the aristocracy) Cassandra offers news of the upper class in Cheltenham, but Jane sees through this or comments, who cares? These are not people you or I know and she would rather hear of Cassandra gaining one acquaintance or friend. The ironic tone registers her awareness of how hard this is in an exclusive society.

Appropriate Austen then turns to the real people she and Cassandra do know: servants, ordinary folk around them, relatives, including Edward’s son, and Anna (who we see Austen again put off visiting); servant-friends in distress (the Perigords) and the perpetually unlucky Anna Sharpe, the people Miss Sharpe works for and lives with, a doctor and his wife at the seaside resort who took pity on her (like Martha often unwell) hand finally Mrs Jane West whom Austen earlier spoke of in just this tone of semi-amazement not at what she wrote but that she wrote it at all.

Mrs Digweed parts with both Hannah & old Cook, the former will [po 3] not give up her Lover, who is a Man of bad Character, the Latter is guilty only of being unequal to anything. — Miss Terry was to have spent this week with her Sister, but as usual it is put off. My amiable friend knows the value of her company. — I have not seen Anna since the day you left us, her Father & Brother visited her most days. — Edward & Ben called here on Thursday. Edward was in his way to Selborne. We found him very agreable. He is come back from France, thinking of the French as one could wish, disappointed in every thing. He did not go beyond Paris.-I have a letter from Madame Perigord, she & her Mother are in London again; — she speaks of France as a scene of general Poverty & Misery, — no Money, no Trade — nothing to be got but by the Innkeepers — & as to her own present prospects, she is not much less melancholy than before. — I have also a letter from Miss Sharp, quite one of her Letters; — she has been again obliged to exert herself more than ever — in a more distressing, more harrassed state — & has met with another excellent old Physician & his Wife, with every virtue under Heaven, who takes to her & cures her from pure Love & Benevolence. — Dr & Mrs Storer are their [her?] Mr & Miss Palmer — for they are at Bridlington. I am happy to say however that the sum of the account is better than usual. Sir William is returned; from Bridlington they go to Chevet, & she is to have a Young Governess under her. — I enjoyed Edward’s company very much, as I said before, & yet I was not sorry when friday came. It had been a busy week, & I wanted a few days quiet, & exemption from the Thought & contrivances which any sort of company gives. — I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the House; — And how good Mrs West could have written such Books & collected so many hard words, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition
seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Joints of Mutton & doses of rhubarb. —

Mrs Digwood fires Hannah and an old cook because the cook (!) will not give up her lover said to have a bad character, but Austen thinks he is guilty only of “being unequal to anything.” In other words he wouldn’t be a servant himself. Austen tells truths about servants when she knows it. Mrs Digweed emerges as a kind of Fanny Dashwood here.

A sharp observation about how Miss Mary Terry (a contemporary living in the village — her family described in LeFaye’s notes) is not coming again “as usual” and “my amiable friend”, Miss Terry’s sister, knows the value of her company. The sarcasm works several ways: the friend is also not so amiable, Miss Terry’s company is not of much value. Anyway she doesn’t want to come but is unwilling to say so and so they play a fake social game. Austen does not like this sort of thing.

Poor Anna: reduced to visits by father and brother – she can’t go out, too weak and ill. Her second baby, Julia Cassandra, was born at Wyards on 27 September, only eleven months after Jemima’s birth. She, her father and brother do appear to have been a congenial trio. Then prejudice against the French as a group. Things were not going well just after the Napolenic wars collapsed – Henry not the only one to go bankrupt. She’s glad Edward (brother to Ben, Anna’s husband) was disappointed in everything.

Three of Austen’s friends — all single women — in distress. Mrs Perigord and mother, Madame Bigeon, Henry’s servants in London – Madame Perigord’s husband early on deserted. Austen left Madame Bigeon a small sum in her will. General poverty misery no trade no money nothing to be got but by the innkeepers (who get from tourism and people moving about). Henry had to let them go … Miss Sharp has sent one of her letters: it’s typical and Jane likes it: “quite one of her letters.” Miss Sharp, we recall, had been a governess at Godmersham where she and Austen became good friends. Suffering yet again, more distressed, more harassed, has been taken in by a decent couple who Austen likens to Mr and Mrs Palmer – so we now have some agreeable words about those Palmers at last. I do not know the details about the people Miss Sharp is involved with and this is just the sort of thing an edition of letters is supposed to do. LeFaye is supposed to tell us who Sir William is in relation to Miss Sharp, how he’s returned, why from Bridlington to Chevet and suggest (you are allowed to do this) why the “sum total” is on the whole Miss Sharp has weathered some more miseries of her existence as a governess. She is to haved a young governess under her

Finally, Austen glad of JEAL’s company and yet relieved when he went. People are a burden to one another – “a busy week, & I wanted a few days quiet & exemption from Thought & Contrivances, which any sort of company gives.” This does suggest her health was better since she was entertaining these people. How does Cassandnra find time to cater to people this way and keep a house. Paula Byrne states unequivocally how Austen disliked Jane West’s fiction but the next comment is the third in the letters where she speaks affectionately and fondly of the author as someone she identifies with – West had children so Austen sees her as having to cook and provide “Composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Joints of Mutton & doses of rhubarb. Rhubarb is given to regulate one’s digestive and execretory systems. This does tell us she was trying to write her novels still.

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caughtinrain
1983 Mansfield Park: Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) caught in the rain

Only this last part is Monday and the weather has gone bad again – Austen knows she is not far away from Cassandra and judges Cheltenham weather by their own (They did not have a weather channel.)

Monday. Here is a sad morning — I fear you may not have been able to get to the Pump. The two last days were very pleasant. — I enjoyed them the more for your sake. — But today, it is really bad enough to make you all cross. — I hope Mary will change her Lodgings at the fortnight’s end; I am sure, if you looked about well, you would find others in some odd corner, to suit you better. Mrs Potter charges for the name of the High Street — Success to the Pianoforte! I trust it will drive you away. — We hear now that there is to be no Honey this year. Bad news for us. — We must husband our present stock of Mead; & I am sorry to perceive that our 20 Galloons is very nearly out. — I cannot comprehend how the 14 Gallons could last so long. —

We do not much like Mr [Edward] Cooper’s new Sermons — they are fuller of Regeneration & Conversion than ever –with the addition of his zeal in the cause of the Bible Society. – -Martha’s love to Mary & Caroline, & she is extremely glad to find they like the Pelisse. — The Debarys are indeed odious! – -We are to see my Brother tomorrow, but for only one night. — I had no idea that he would care for the Races, without Edward. — Remember me to all. Yours very affectionately J. Austen
Miss Austen
Post Office
Cheltenham

Sad morning. The last two Jane says she enjoyed for Cassandra’s sake. I’ve come across this idea: we are supposed to enjoy ourselves for someone else’s sake – because they would want us to (we may be told). This a reference to her illness. But today bad enough to make you all cross. Now a reference to Mary Lloyd Austen as a difficult personality I suggest. Apparently Cassandra subject to Mary Lloyd Austen and Jane hopes Mary will change the lodging at the end of the next two weeks. Cassandra and Mary’s visit is made to feel interminable. So Mary has been cross; Mrs Potter over-charging for name of street anyway. A pianoforte has been bothering them – imagine a boarding house. Jane wishes it success in driving them away and finding some odd corner or other (I like her tone here) that is much cheaper. Another reading: Cassandra does not like the lodging and Jane hopes for her it will “drive” Mary and by extension, Cassandra, her forced companion, away.

That there is no honey means less homemade wine. Jane liked to drink wine we know, enjoyed it – home-made wine is heavy and sweet, probably nournishing. Austen surprised by how fats the 20 gallons went when 14 before lasted so long. This is indeed life’s trivia.

The statement about Edward Cooper, Austen’s cousin, shows the limits of Austen’s sympathies with evangelicals. His is one of the few letters to her that has survived (in The Austen Papers): it suggests a dull mind, someone without any sense of insight into the person he is writing to. As with More, Austen did not like the insistent didacticism and pomposity. She earlier mentioned Cooper when after Elizabeth Austen’s death she hoped one of Cooper’s letters of “cruel comfort” would not be sent. The book in question is Two Sermons Preached in the Old and New Churches at Wolverhampton, preparatory to the Establishment of a Bible-Institution, published in 1816. The “zeal” Austen refers to is everywhere: it is that of a man who has had a conversion experience and expects others to have had the same. He had earlier written tirades: Sermons of 1809, according to Paula Byrne, is one of these nagging books: it insists on the necessity that the reader experience conversion. Richard Wright in his Native Son explains how such attitudes permeating a particular church and environment can literally terrorize and shame a person not susceptible and force that person into faking a conversion experience.

In closing Martha there – always there it seems, now in Jane’s decline — sends love to Mary and Caroline. So Caroline with Cassandra and her mother. Glad they like the pelisse – made by Martha? Austen validates whatever Cassandra said about the Debarrys: “The Debarys are indeed odious. The brother coming – is it Edward himself or Henry? Austen did not think he would enjoy the races without Edward’s son. And a brief cordial close.

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Sanditonfirstpage
The first page of Sanditon manuscript

And so ends the letters that we have to Cassandra. When Cassandra came home, and took one look at Jane, she did not travel away again except the one last visit to Winchester. She may have written others and these were destroyed. Notes while home say or short stays elsewhere we don’t know about. But we do not have them. Austen is still working on Catherine and the novel that Austen does not give any title to: Persuasion. There will be one more intensely forced attempt: the draft of Sanditon written in a height of Intensity: it’s dated as begun 17 January 1817, and put down 18 March 1817.

Ellen

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