Posts Tagged ‘Mary Brunton’

Plyme estuary near Saltram House in Devon (Ang Lee filmed this in the 1995 S&S with Emma Thompson)

Dear friends and readers,

We are now into a section of Jane Austen’s letters just prior to, and directly after the publication of Emma (21, 22, 23 December 1815). These some 25 letters differ from those we’ve had before by including letters from people other than Austen, and unusual for this volume, letters by people outside Austen’s family, business associates (Murray), networking contacts (Stanier Clarke), hired professionals (Charles Haden, apothecary tending on Henry Austen), and even a fan, however in reality somewhat ambivalent: such was Francis Talbot, Countess of Morley.

Diana Birchall, one of our team-mates in this journey through the letters whose work has been appearing regularly here on the letters this week jumped ahead to the Countess because Diana found the Countess’s life dulce et utile, and she has written a pleasurable blog on Austen Authors about the Countess, based partly on a previous Dove Reader’s blog and 2 articles: William A. W. Jarvis, “Jane Austen and the Countess of Morley,” Collected Reports of the JA Society, 1986, pp 6-13; Chris Viveash, “Countess of Morley and ‘Baron so bold,’ Persuasions 14 (1992):53-56. I here fast forward too, and will then return to Jane and James Stanier Clarke who we recall simply chortled with blissful joy over Miss Austen’s first three productions. I am here heavily indebted to her, Viveash, but more especially Jarvis for the Morley-Villiers letters.

Francis Talbot, Countess of Morley, wrote to her sister-in-law and close friend, Theresa Villiers, some of the earliest detailed criticism of Emma: however much Clarke may have liked Austen’s novels, he was not able to articulate what was valuable in them and to some extent Francis Talbot can. She is also not a courtier, & is much franker: her much less compromised life allowed her outside her letters to Austen present an unhappily common reaction of ordinary readers at the time to Emma: although she was what I’d call a strong fan (as we shall see), Emma was just not exciting enough, oh yes with utterly believable characters, but too drawn out, strained.

First to Austen, who sent her one of her 12 copies of Emma, possibly urged thereto by Henry who would have found these super-rich aristocrats useful contacts, the Countess conveys only admiration and pleasure:

Letter 134(A). From the Countess of Morley, Wednesday 27 December 1815 Saltram, to Jane Austen, Chawton, Alton, Hampshire

Dear Madam —
I have been most anxiously waiting for an introduction to Emma, & am infinitely obliged to you for your kind recollection of me, which will procure me the pleasure of her acquaintance some days sooner than I should otherwise have had it — I am already become intimate m the Woodhouse family, & feel that they will not amuse & interest me less than the Bennetts, Bertrams, Norrises & all their admirable predecessors — I can give them no higher praise —
I am, Madam,
Your much obliged
Frances Morley

134(D). To the Countess of Morley, Sunday 31 December 1815

Accept my Thanks for the honour of your note & for your kind Disposition in favour of Emma. In my present State of Doubt as to her reception in the World, it is particularly gratifying to me to receive so early an assurance of your Ladyship’s approbation.-It encourages me to depend on the same share of general good opinion which Emma’s Predecessors have experienced, & to beleive that I have not yet — as almost every Writer of Fancy does sooner or later-overwritten myself. —
I am Madam, Your obliged & faithful Servant.
J. Austen

Austen confesses to this woman she fears she’s written out. Let’s pause over this. It suggests far more openness to outsiders than we usually think she had. Would you tell someone who wrote to you about your book that you feared it showed you were out of new ideas? Perhaps then when Austen told James Stanier Clarke she feared she was written out there was nothing special in her saying that. Or it could be that she felt in the Countess she had another perceptive reader? The Countess in her turn registers how Austen offers intimate experiences of characters, and her awareness here can remind us that she did write and edited novels.

Dacre: A Novel (1834), attributed to Lady Theresa Lewis (a pseudonym for a Mrs Lister, daughter of Theresa Villiers, sister-in-law and correspondent to Francis Talbot, Countess of Morley, who is said to have “edited” the book)

Nonetheless, the text of Dacre suggests that after all the Countess’s taste did not necessarily lead her to distinguish the really fine masterpiece (Emma say) from mediocre third rate, stilted pastiche. She could be witty, and it was actually rumored was the author of P&P and S&S! this despite the reality that these are typical passages from Dacre:

’tis all a cheat, Yet, fool’d with hope, men favour the deceit — Trust on, and think to-morrow will repay: To-morrow’s falser than the former day; Lies worse; and, while it says we shall be blest …

All thoughts, all passions, all delights, Whatever stirs this mortal frame, All are but ministers of Love, And feed his sacred flame. Oft in my waking dreams do I Live o’er again that happy hour, When midway on the mount I lay, Beside the ruined tower. … Choice quotations from Dacre

Diana Birchall quotes from the Countess’s acknowledged gothic and Ossian-like The Flying Burger (sic) Master: A Legend in the Black Forest (available on-line):

“In Swabia’s forest, wild and black, A weary traveller lost his track: Dark was the night — the thunder’s crash Swift followed on the lightening’s flash; And aweful as the tempest spoke, Responsive groaned the blasted oak. The way-worn man, with rueful gaze, Eyed the red lightening’s fearful blaze; And, as the rattling thunder past, Lost in the howlings of the blast …”

Who could think this woman wrote Pride and Prejudice? It probably helped that it was Mary Russell Mitford (no friend to Jane Austen) who started the rumor and that Francis Talbot did not deny it. When a Lady Lopes said

‘I have been much amused lately with reading one of y’r La’ship’s novels.’ ‘Which?’ says I. ‘Pride and Prejudice’, says she, ‘& to be sure ‘tis uncommon funny, but I found out the character directly. Lord, says I to my niece as she was reading it – why, as sure as you are alive, my dear, Mr. Darcy is L’d Boringdon. Why, he’s like him as two peas. I sh’d have known him any where, even if I had not known her Ladyship wrote it.’ I did not correct her mistake ab’t my authorship, as I saw no benefit in doing so — but I think you will agree with me that the likeness to Darcy is charming.

The Countess was so proud of her presence of mind that she repeated her quip four days later to her sister-in-law, Theresa Villiers, whom the Countess then informed that even her husband could read this book:

Milord is absolutely in the midst of Pride & Prejudice, & tho’ both those ingredients [?] operate in his nature to set him against the style exclaiming now & then, ‘that is very natural’ — & really upon the whole he tolerates it more than I expected.

Alas, though she fulfilled some of Austen’s fears when it came to Emma:

I have got only half thro’ the first Vol of Emma — therefore it is not fair to judge it — but I do not yet think it so good as the others — tho’ there is still a great deal that is good & like herself she a little draws out the conversation too long, I think … tho’ they are excellent … (29 Dec 1814)

She finds it better than Mary Brunton’s Discipline (she sees the parallel): there is “more in the character of Emma and in a Mr Knightley” than in Brunton’s Maitland, but upon finishing:

Emma does not satisfy me at all & you may imagine that it does not excite a very high interest when I tell you that I have not yet finished it. Still there are people who it is impossible not to have a taste for. (7 Jan 1816)

I did not say (I think) that I did not like Emma — I only said that I did not like it so much as Mansfield Park or Pride & Prejudice — nor more I do. Yet I think there is much of it that is admirable. Mr Woodhouse, Mrs Elton, Miss Bates & a few others are delightful; but there is such a total want of story & there is so very little to like in the heroine & so little to interest in the hero, who gives me only the idea of an elderly, sensible, good sort of man. With all due deference to your better judgement I do think that Emma’s passion for match making is by no means natural — a match-making Miss is a non-de script – that is a metier so much more confined to the matronly part of her sex. Then, surely, with all the sense & cleverness w’ch Emma is represented to possess it is not natural that she sh’d have formed such a violent friendship with such a vulgar little fool as Harriet – then, surely, her talking characters talk too much. The pages filled with Miss Bates & Mrs Elton w’d make up one of the volumes & that is more than can well be afforded. Still their conversations are certainly admirable. Mr and Mrs Elton are both charming people — I have seen fifty such people as her …

[The editor of the countess’s letters, E.J. Stevens thinks she wrote Mr and Mrs Elton for Miss and Mrs Bates, not being able to believe the countess found the Eltons “charming”.]

In her private list of “opinions,” Austen writes only that “Countess of Morley delighted with it [Emma].” The most painful (and obtuse) reading of Emma is found in Maria Edgeworth’s letters — she called it boring — I hope that did not get back to Austen who probably voluntarily did send one of her 12 to Edgeworth as an admirable author she wanted to be peers with. (How odd it is we have nothing to connect Austen directly with Frances Burney d’Arblay, only with Madame d’Arblay’s son. Austen does not appear to have sent a copy of Emma to Madame D’Arblay.)

The Countess much preferred the sensational Rhoda, praises it extravagantly, finds its characters “natural,” reads it to her (long-suffering) husband who while “not well,” was much “interested” and “amused.” And yet she was a fan or devotee, remembering Austen’s novels when she visited a family, seeing in people’s behaviors instances of how Austen’s characters behaved, and thinking of her thoughts as analogous to Austen’s heroines:

The House of Treby are delightfully in the Bennet style — all the four daughters & the mother too … I daresay ’tis a very good thing to be stowed away in a well-fortified castle (perhaps Catherine Morland thought so too — once!) but I don’t think it cheerful in these piping times of peace’

Diana Birchall mentions that later in life Henry called himself “Domestic Chaplain to the Earl of Morley.” William Jarvis tells us that Henry spent part of 1818 as Chaplain to the British Embassy in Berlin, delivered lectures on Genesis there (they were published in 1820), and on the title page of a sermon he preached at Clifton in 1829 again called himself Chaplain to the Earl of Morley. Perhaps Francis Talbot pushed her obliging husband to help Jane Austen’s brother.

For my part I don’t find the Countess that individually interesting a woman in her own right, though she has an appeal.

Have a look at the cleverness in Frances’s eyes as painted in her middle-aged years by James Stant:

National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

She is here showing us her talents: a reader, writer, she sews beautifully, she paints:

National Trust; (c) Saltram; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
River Landscape with Fight into Eygpt (a wholly conventional subject)

Francis Talbot was the daughter of a surgeon who made a solid marriage, and kept her side of a bargain by maintaining a beautiful house, Saltram, and cultured social life.

Yes it was in front of Saltram House that Emma Thompson Hugh Grant walked in the 1995 S&S

As Countess, she could enter into a world which indulged itself in sexual promiscuity, yet kept herself safely apart. Let us recall that by contrast Austen professed herself aggressively narrow-minded: “What can be expected from a Paget, born & brought up in the centre of conjugal Infidelity & Divorces? – I will not be interested about Lady Caroline. I abhor all the race of Pagets” (to Fanny Austen Knight, 13 March 1817).

Reading Diana’s account of who married and left whom, who had children by whom in the Boringdon-Paget circles, I am struck by how once the Countess became John Parker, Count Morley or 2nd Lord Boringdon’s second wife, he had two children and settled down with her for 31 years, reading with and allowing himself to be read to. Chris Viveash claims that even at 27 (that was the age Francis was when John Parker courted her) the Countess had refused to have a sexual liaison with him before marriage; if so, she became pregnant on the honeymoon. Her stable attitude of mind here suggests how she could come to like Austen’s books and their outlook, including that of Mansfield Park; her conventionality how she could gush in Ossianisms, and her participation in the regency world why she could revel in Rhoda.


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Sackree does not at all approve of Mary Doe and her nuts — on the score of propriety rather than health — She saw some signs of going after her [Mary, a servant] in George & Henry, & thinks if you could give the girl a check, by rather reproving her for taking anything seriously about nuts which they said to her, it might be of use. — This of course between our three discreet selves … Mon, the 11th

Edward Bridges’s friend is a Mr Hawker I find, not Harpur. I would not have you sleep in such an Error for the World … Everything of Love & Kindness — proper & improper must now suffice … Tues, the 12th

Stephen Rumboldt-Lushington, who appears in Austen’s letters during this visit to Godmersham

As played by Olivia Williams and Tom Goodman-Hill, Jane meets the literary Lushington who quotes Crabbe at her (Miss Austen Regrets 2009)

Dear friends and readers,

Two long letters, a journal really sent Cassandra, just stuffed with diurnal detail and (today) obscure people from the Austen milieu, about whom Austen seems to say the least “alienated” (on Austen-l, the words were “sour,” “sniping, “resentful” that they were there) caused a large number of postings, debate over whether Austen had Aspergers traits, and much half-puzzled deciphering. We spent three weeks (four if you include the week break for New Year’s). She had been at Godmersham since September 24th (see letter 90) and would stay at least until November 3rd, after which he returned to Henry’s home in Henrietta Street, for another stay.

As they are very long and so replete I will treat them in two blogs as one long journal piece. The next 4 differ in tone as half of 93 is a letter by Lizzy, or Elizabeth, one of Edward’s daughters, the niece who writes the PS to letter 91 because she wanted to write a letter of her own inside Aunt Jane’s letter and is finally permitted to. All three (93, 94 and 95) are addressed to Cassandra at Henrietta Street, not Chawton and there is a corresponding change of subject matter and tone.

As in the case of Letters 87, 88, and 89, Gwyneth Hughes dramatized scenes from the two letters, especially the Edward Bridges’ thwarted romance, and Jane’s enjoyment and irritation at the county house socializing expected (demanded) of her. I surmise that beyond being kept from her writing and expected to pretend to enjoy wasting time with the dull and petty, something is grating on Austen’s nerves, but what it is we cannot know. Many of the sharper detached comments are well-known, minus their context:

Only think of Mrs Holder’s being dead! — Poor woman, she has done the only thing in the World she could possibly do, to make one cease to abuse her. — Now if you please, Hooper must have it in his power to do more by his Uncle. — Lucky for the little girl! — An Anne Elkins can hardly be so unfit for the care of a Child as Mrs Holder

The context is Phillipa Holder (the dead woman) had been the widow of William-Thorpe Holder. Anne Elkins had just married Philippa’s oldest son so she would take over the care of Philippa’s grand-daughter. A hard comment to say the little girl was lucky, but Austen did not flinch from truths. The heir to the property, James Thorpe Holder (brother to William-Thorpe) could now help these people (with Philippa out of the way?)

But the revelations about treatment of servants are not well known — such as Edward’s sacking a long-term servant and Jane saying “good riddance” (in effect) or that when two of Edward’s sons had been harassing (testing they might call it) a young maid with salacious double entendres (nuts = testicles), Austen’s agrees that the way to deal with it is to scold the already anxious vulnerable frightened maid that she is not to take such joking seriously.

Nor Austen’s apparent attraction to yet another young man: Stephen-Rumboldt Lushington:

Mr Lushington goes tomorrow. — Now I must speak of him — & I like him very much. I am sure he is clever & a Man of Taste. He got a vol. of Milton last night & spoke of it with Warmth. — He is quite an M.P. — very smiling, with an exceeding good address, & readiness of Language. — I am rather in love with him. –I dare say he is ambitious & Insincere.– He puts me in mind of Mr Dundas. He has a wide smiling mouth & very good teeth, & something the same complexion & nose. — He is a much shorter Man, with Martha’s Leave.

The running joke of this letter is that Austen is looking forward to, enduring Mr Lushington because he can frank this letter, but it’s clear a flirtation between this literary man and woman has been going on once again (see letter 90): the letter’s first sentence says this and the last two words declare it has gone for free, signed by Lushington. She’s still taken by George Hatton and insists “there is no truth in the report of G. Hatton being to marry Miss Wemyss. He desires it may be contradicted.” The only male who she is flirting with and does not look over her shoulder is Edward Bridges, perhaps because he is busy with his friend, Robert Wigram, about which Jane is continually complaining, viz.,

I wish there were no Wigrams & Lushingtons in the way to fill up the Table & make us such a motley set. — I cannot spare Mr Lushington either because of his frank, but Mr Wigram does no good to anybody. — I cannot imagine how a Man can have the impudence to come into a Family party for three days, where he is quite a stranger, unless he knows himself to be agreable on undoubted authority. — He & Edward Brydges are going to ride to Eastwell

Edward only brought this son of

a great rich mercantile Sir Robert Wigram with him so he could ride free in Wigram’s gig and not be alone and Godmersham would be the cheapest and pleasantest way of entertaining himself and his friend … Mr W is about 5 or 6 & 20, not ill-looking, & not agreable. — He is certainly no addition. — A sort of cool, gentleman-like manner, but very silent.

Anyone would think Jane was jealous or spent the time having semi-antagonistic lover’s quarrels with Bridges, though she may be acting this out for Martha and Cassandra’s benefit at whom some of these remarks are aimed. Throughout the letter there is flirting,
gibes, a kind of antagonistic coquetry at Lushington and Bridges (with a moment taken out for George Hatton too).

The thorny Austen of these letters is not unknown, but not the coquet. In recent years John Halperin’s biography and some scenes in Gwyneth Hughes’s Miss Austen Regrets feature Austen mocking and needling others (e.g., Rev Mr Papillon) and terribly earnest with Bridges. No one captures this vividly acidular improper woman, the one who wrote the Juvenilia, Lady Susan and Sanditon.

An advertisement for the Basingstoke races

91, Mon-Tues, 11-12 Oct 1813

She begins:

You will have Edward’s Letter tomorrow. He tells me that he did not send you any news to interfere with mine, but I do not think there is much for anybody to send at present. We had our dinner party on Wednesday with the addition of Mrs & Miss Milles who were under a promise of dining here in their return from Eastwell whenever they paid their visit of duty there, & it happened to be paid on that day. – -Both Mother & Daughter are much as I have always found them. — I like the Mother, 1st because she reminds me of Mrs Birch & 2dly because she is chearful & grateful for what she is at the age of 90 & upwards. — The day was pleasant enough. I sat by Mr Chisholme & we talked away at a great rate about nothing worth hearing. — It was a mistake as to the day of the Sherers going being fixed; they are ready but are waiting for Mr Paget’s answer. — I enquired of Mrs Milles after Jemima Brydges & was quite greived to hear that she was obliged to leave Cantr some months ago on account of her debts & is nobody knows where.-What an unprosperous Family! – –

She opens with Edward; they read one another’s letters, and Austen has become closer to Edward and likes him better since Elizabeth’s death — remember the comments (more than one) how a spouse affects another spouse adversely or favorably. The details are all about single women one of whose company reminded Jane of a woman she liked: Mrs Birch because she is chearful though old and not rich (anticipating the fictional Mrs Smith). Austen is on the side of self-control and acceptance as wisdom.

Jemima Brydges. We don’t know why she went broke and disappeared, but a good guess is that she was unmarried; one sentence gives enough to see the personal catastrophe of yet another single woman. Perhaps Edward Bridges is on Austen’s mind. Diana Birchall commented:

The Jemima Brydges of LeFaye’s notes, this girl’s mother, died 1809 … the Jemima Austen refers to, died unmarried in 1818. Deirdre does not give her birth date, but as her brothers and sisters were born in the 1840s she must have been in her late 60s when she died … it is four years after her mother’s death … Jemima’s older sister was Anne Lefroy, Jane’s friend who died in a horseback accident in 1804, so perhaps the “unprosperous” comment relates to Anne.

Tom Hiddleston played John Plumptee, earnest suitor for Fanny Austen’s hand in Miss Austen Regrets

On Saturday soon after breakfast Mr John Plumptree left us for Norton Court. — I like him very much.– He gives me the idea of a very amiable young Man, only too diffident to be so agreable as he might be. — He was out the cheif of each morning with the other two-shooting & getting wet through. — Tomorrow we are to know whether he & a hundred young Ladies will come here for the Ball. — I do not much expect any. — The Deedes cannot meet us, they have Engagements at home. I will finish the Deedes by saying that they are not likely to come here till quite late in my stay — the very last week perhaps — & I do not expect to see the Moores at all. — They are not solicited till after Edward’s return from Hampshire. Monday, Nov: 15th is the day now fixed for our setting out. — Poor Basingstoke Races! — there seem to have been two particularly wretched days on purpose for them; — Weyhill week does not begin much happier. —

Plumptre: Jane really likes him and it’s clear Fanny really doesn’t. He’s a kind of Edward Ferrars, Edmund Bertram, Colonel Brandon: Austen likes his seriousness, his intelligence, his sensitivity his high ethics. In the later letters we will see these characteristics bored Fanny and she was willing to countenance him because he was a good match and as religious her relatives approved of him. A ball at Godmersham (so in Miss Austen Regrets showing everyone dancing upon first night’s meeting is accurate as far as it goes)

Who came and who went and we see that the Basingstoke races bore Jane. Two days before she died she wrote a poem mocking people who go to such things. She knew she’d be bored at that fair in a previous letter and got out of it. IN the poem she wishes bad weather on them and here she is ;half-glad they had bad weather: “Poor Basingstoke races! — there seem to have been two particularly wretched days on purpose for them … ” Nature on purpose thwarting them.

We were quite surprised by a Letter from Anna [Austen soon to be Lefroy] at Tollard Royal last Saturday — but perfectly approve her going & only regret they should all go so far, to stay so few days. We had Thunder & Lightens here on Thursday morns between 5 & 7 — no very bad Thunder, but a great deal of Lightning –It has given the commencement of a Season of wind & rain; & perhaps for the next 6 weeks we shall not have two dry days together. — Lizzy is very much obliged to you for your Letter & will answer it soon, but has so many things to do that it may be four or five days before she can. This is quite her own message, spoken in rather a desponding tone. —

Then Anna — now visiting in-laws and of course the relatives approve. They only regret she and Ben have to go so far and plan only to stay briefly. Jane so obtuse sometimes when she is not sympathetic. I see a girl glad to get away from home and glad for a longer trip with her boyfriend. An effective bit of description, showing how alive Austen was to natural world and appreciated hard winter too. Diana “And for a moment Lizzy, overwhelmed and guilty at not being better organized, rises before us, so very human.”

The next section of Monday’s journal I’ve gone over. The story of the maid servant harassed by Edward’s sons. George, born 1795, and Henry, born 1797, just the right age to go over a maid born in 1796 (LeFaye’s note). Austen’s rush ahead then divides into topics: First Austen as a snobbish Emma enduring a Mrs Elton:

Mrs Britton called here on Saturday. I never saw her before. She is a large, ungenteel Woman, with self-satisfied & would-be elegant manners.

Then more passages about Edward Bridges, this time reported coming with a Mr Harpur a neighboring clergyman, and Mr R. Marshall to go shooting, Mr Lushington too and another ball, the Ashford to come, the ball makes her think of the nephews, George and Edward again:

As I wrote of my nephews with a little bitterness in my last, I think it particularly incumbent on me to do them justice now, & I have great pleasure in saying that they were both at the Sacrament yesterday. After having much praised or much blamed anybody, one is generally sensible of something just the reverse soon afterwards. Now, these two Boys who are out with the Foxhounds will come home & disgust me again’ by some habit of Luxury or some proof of sporting Mania — unless I keep it off by this prediction. — They amuse themselves very comfortably in the Evens=-by netting; they are each about a rabbit net, & sit as deedily to it, side by side, as any two Uncle Franks could do …

IN the notes LeFaye seems to miss that two of Edward’s sons have been harassing the maids: The equivalent in US life in the 20th century is boys in high school handing girls photos of girls naked with the absurd egoistic expectation the girl will be aroused; at any rate signalling to her somehow and watching to see “how far she’ll go.” Yuk. But Cassandra did not and has destroyed a letter inbetween 90 and 91 where Austen blamed these young men sharply. This is a good example of where Cassandra saves what makes Jane dislikable and destroys what might have mitigated this letter or made her decent to the maid. The letter where Jane let her nephews have it (apparently) for their reprehensible behavior can be atoned for only by saying they went to church to the sacrament. To Cassandra all that counts are these selfish, lazy stupid young men. The maid doesn’t matter. The result: the only passage that has survived clearly is where Austen looks like she’s condoning exploitation and has no feeling for the maid.

Austen’s note on Brunton’s Self-Control I covered in an earlier letter when Austen showed that she saw she had a rival in Brunton who as aiming at some of the same kinds of writing and audience that Austen had in mind. Here we can remember she is just now also writing Mansfield Park (not mentioned at all) and may have begun Emma and may have been comparing her own art with Brunton’s and seen that Brunton does not have this original grasp of realism she is working so hard to get. She finds it nowhere in the novel and maybe it’s not..

I am looking over Self Control again, & my opinion is confirmed of its being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible,every-day thing she ever does.

Olivia Williams as Austen passing the night walking in the grounds of Godmersham; the next morning she is writing again (Miss Austen Regrets)

The second part of the letter was written Tuesday, and perhaps in response to a long letter from Cassandra (42 lines in one page though LeFaye has it as 36), Jane’s is thick with references to people and events, reading, all crowded together. Here is the whole text and I will summarize only a few, the most salient elements:

Dear me! What is to become of me! Such a long Letter — Two & forty Lines in the 2n Page. — Like Harriot Byron I ask, what am I to do with my Gratitude? — I can do nothing but thank you & go on. — A few of your enquiries I think, are replied to en avance. The name of F. Cage’s Draws Master is O’Neil. — We are exceedingly amused with your Shalden news — & your self reproach on the subject of Mrs Stockwell, made me laugh heartily. I rather wondered that Johncock [the butler] the only person in the room, could help laughing too. — I had not heard before of her having the Measles. Nrs Heathcote & Alethea’s [sisters] staying till Friday was quite new to me; a good plan however — I oould not have settled it better myself, & am glad they found so much in the house to approve — and I hope they will ask Martha to visit them. — I admire the Sagacity & Taste of Charlotte Williams. Those large dark eyes always judge well. — I will compliment her, by naming a Heroine after her. — Edward has had all the particulars of the Building & can read to him twice over & seems very well satisfied; — a narrow door to the Pantry is the only subject of solicitude — it is certainly just the door which should not be narrow, on account of the Trays — but if a case of necessity, it must be borne. –I knew there was Sugar in the Tin, but had no idea of there being enough to last through your Company. All the better. — You ought not to think. This new Loaf better than the other, because that was the first of 5 which all came together. Something of fancy perhaps, & something of Imagination. – Dear Mrs Digweed! — I cannot bear that she should not be foolishly happy after a Ball. — I hope Miss Yates & her companions were all well the day after their arrival. — I am thoroughly rejoiced that Miss Benn has placed herself in Lodgings — tho’ I hope they may not be long necessary. — No Letter from Charles yet. — Southey’s Life of Nelson. — I am tired of Lives of Nelson, being that I never read any. I will read this however, if Frank is mentioned in it. – -Here am I in Kent, with one Brother in the same County & another Brother’s Wife, & see nothing of them — which seems unnatural — It will not last so for ever I trust. — I should like to have Mrs F.A. & her Children here for a week — but not a syllable of at nature is ever breathed. — I wish her last visit had not been so long one. — I wonder whether Mrs Tilson has ever lain-in. Mention it, if ever comes to your Knowledge, & we shall hear of it by the same post from Henry. Mr Rob. Mascall breakfasted here; he eats a great deal of Butter. — I dined upon Goose yesterday — which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2d Edition [of S&S]. — Have you any Tomatas? — Fanny & I regale on them every day. — Disastrous Letters from the Plumptres & Oxendens. — Refusals everywhere — a Blank partout — & it is not quite certain whether we go or not; — something may depend upon the disposition of Uncle Edward when he comes — & upon what we hear at Chilham Castle this morning — for we are going to pay a visit

Much that is here is a continuation of what we’ve seen elsewhere of

1) the very down-to-earth indeed hard scrabble existence in some ways of the Austen’s;

2) the in-jokes: isn’t it amusing the butler laughed too. Normally invisible you see. And Austen’s unusual detachment: she mentions measles after a joke when it was a a virulent killer disease in this era

3) the marginalized women alone: Miss Benn is not after all be to be homeless; Austen hopes her friends, the Biggs will remember Martha (this is a hint to Cassandra to remind them if they do

4) her reading and interest in literature kept to the margins. She makes a joke of her narrow partisanship: she will read Southey’s life of Nelson only if her brother is mentioned in it. He’s not. Nelson himself (of course Deirdre would tell us this) praised FWA. Everyone was reading Southey and the life is very readable. Frank of course all to her.

She mentions the then growing common opposition of fancy and imagination. Until later in the century people, writers, philosophers opposed reason and judgement to fancy and the imagination and on either side of the equation the terms were interchangeable. Among those who began to distinguish these faculties of the mind: Reid, Kames, Hartley. Johnson is among those who still see in imagination much danger: delusion, that way madness, egoism, and Austen reflects this in her portrait of Marianne Dashwood. The phrase suggests she has been reading about poetry but who is not clear.

5) The jokes about lying in: Mrs Tilson is Henry’s business partner and as Henry goes to their parties even when he doesn’t want to (as we saw in one letter), he makes it his business to be seen to know when new babies arrive.

6) family troubles: that after the Southampton debacle and Mary Gibson Austen decamped, she kept away from Austen and her husband’s female relatives

7) Austen’s unwillingness to waste time in dull social life so that when she’s forced she mocks it.

It is probably unfair that those who do remember Mascall, remember him as a man who ate “a great deal of butter.” There are again more sharp mentions of Bridges (I don’t quote them all), and then this passage where we see Edward working away at maintaining his properties:

My Brother desires his best Love & Thanks for all your Information. He hopes the roots of the Beach [sic] have been dug away enough to allow a proper covering of Mould & Turf. — He is sorry for the necessity of building the new Coin [corner] — but hopes they will contrive that the Doorway should be of usual width; — if it must be contracted on one side, by widening the other.- The appearance need not signify. — And he desires me to say that your being at Chawton when he is, will be quite necessary. You cannot think. it more indispensable than he does. He is very obliged to you for your attention to everything.-Have You any idea of returning with him to Henrietta Street & finishing your visit then? —

Hundreds of fragments of pottery and crockery found at rectory site

This close and Edward’s attention to the particulars of the building, doors, and places for sugar and bread at Chawton can allow me to refer the reader to an excavation going on at Steventon as a way of learning about the Austen family. Continued in the comments.


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Fireplace in room at 10 Henrietta Place, shared by Jane Austen and Fanny Knight when they stayed with Henry Austen in 1814

Dear friends and readers,

I left off my journey through Jane Austen’s letters, an attempt to delve beyond the barriers her family set up by destroying most of them, by close reading, at Letter 71, Thurs 25 April 1811). Jane Austen was then living at Chawton, but at Sloane Street with Henry and Eliza Austen while working on the proofs of Sense and Sensibility. I did so after I had broken with chronology to study the extant letters from Jane to her niece Anna Austen Lefroy (76, Thurs-Sat, 29-31 Oct 1812; 103, ?mid-July 1814; 104; Wed-Thurs, 10-18 Aug 1814; 107, Fri-Sun, 9-18 Sept 1814); 113, Wed, 30 Nov 1814). This was a subsection of my study of the Cambridge editions of Austen’s manuscripts. I’d concluded perhaps one could understand some important letters better if one read these, those to specific correspondents apart from Cassandra, separately and placed them against a reading of biographical and life-writing material relating to that person.

I also was beginning to realize Austen herself simply did not discuss her fiction in any sufficiently detailed or articulate way in her letters, and that she was more unconscious of what she ended up with than I had supposed before I also studied the later manuscripts).

I simply didn’t have the time to keep it up anymore when I was no longer sure of the value of what I had proposed.

Recently on Austen-l, Diana Birchalls has proposed to take over leading those who want to continue going through Austen’s letters chronologically one-at-a-time, and I’ve decided to join in and write more briefly on each, and every few weeks write a blog going over a few letters at a time. Before suspending my project I had written singly on Letter 72 (but not blogged), so this blog has more on Letter 72 than 73-75, but after this all will be much shorter, concise, and occasionally — on those rare instances where a letter by Austen to someone other than Cassandra has survived — set that one against a context of other letters to that person (if we have them) or what can be usefully added about Austen’s relationship to that person (usually a brother or relative).


Map: Lower Sloane Street, Sloane Square, Sloane Terrace (1827)

Letter 72, Tues, 30 April 1811, Sloane St, Jane to Cassandra, no address.

This is very much a medias res letter, 5 days after the last.

I had sent off my Letter yesterday before Yours came, which I was sorry for; but as Eliza has been so good as to get me a frank, your questions shall be answered without much further expense to you. — The best direction to Henry at Oxford will be, The Blue Boar, Cornmarket. — I do not mean to provide another trimming for my Pelisse, for I am determined to spend no more money, so I shall wear it as it is, longer than I ought, & then — I do not know. — My head dress was a Bugle band like the border to my gown, & a flower of Mrs Tilson’s. — I depended upon hearing something of the Evens from Mr W.K.2-& am very well satisfied with his notice of me. ‘A pleasing looking young woman’; — that must do; — one cannot pretend to anything better now — thankful to have it continued a few years longer — It gives me sincere pleasure to hear of M” Knight’s having had a tolerable night at last – -but upon this occasion I wish she had another name, for the two Nights jingle very much. — We have tried to get Self-controul but in vain. –I should like to know what her Estimate is but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever — & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled. Eliza has just rec” a few lines from Henry to assure her of the good conduct of his Mare. He slept at Uxbridge on Sunday, & wrote from Wheatfield. — We were not claimed by Hans place yesterday, but are to dine there today- — Mr Tilson called in the event — but otherwise we were quite alone all day, & after having been out a good deal, the change was very pleasant

LeFaye says a letter is missing. So even here there is something to hide. We are to remember that Eliza was not well and Austen says how pleased she is to be “quite alone all day, & after having been out a good deal, the change was very pleasant.” The same Jane: concerns with money, even tiny sums: Eliza got Jane a frank that is why she is writing to answer Cassandra so quickly. She shall spend no more on her pelisse. She returns to contrivances over fashion in the close. Where is Henry going? There appears to be real worry about him – from Eliza. His horse. Where he stayed and slept. There was an evening (part of what was destroyed) where she was complimented as “a pleasing looking young woman.” She says she must be content with that. She is past 35 — her Marianne would think that very old indeed (Mrs Dashwood not much older).

There are four parts of this letter that merit attention: Austen’s remark she regards Brunton as a peer-rival. First, for those who’d like to read Self-Control, it’s printed in the Jane Austen Library Series; as for its quality and relationship to Austen’s fiction and that of her contemporaries & later 19th century women authors, I’ve written a separate blog (“Somewhere between Jane Austen and Anne Bronte”)

Second, Austen’s attitude towards governesses and the disciplining of children. The letter continues:

I like your opinion of Miss Allen much better than I expected, & have now hopes of her staying a whole twelvemonth. — By this time I suppose she is hard at it, governing away-poor creature! I pity her, tho’ they are my neices. Oh! yes, I remember Miss Emma Plumbtree’s Local consequence perfectly.-“I am in a Dilemma, for want of an Emma,” “Escaped from the Lips, Of Henry Gipps.”

She again (as in The Watsons and Emma) feels for a woman who has a mean rough lousy job — “governing away.” In other words, these people forced the poor governess to be the tyrant to work away at the necessary repression. The whole thing chilling in every way from the poor pay and treatment a governess would get to what she was expected to do. Austen’s awareness in her “hopes of her staying a whole twelvemonth.” She expected Cassandra not to like this put upon young woman (!). How ironic the poor oppressed despised expected to train children in submission.

I don’t under two lines: “I am in a dilemma” are not encouraging. It
seems that the meanness wanted is from an “Emma” — who or what character or incident this refers to may be impossible to get it if it’s a life story (LeFaye offers no help).

The passage connects to the latter reference to visiting Mrs Dundas for Martha’s way of separating herself from these Austen was to become a paid companion to Mrs Dundas (who, to look ahead) dies the day after letter 77, 29-30 Nov 1811).

A third part is the local politics. Again the letter continues:

But really, I was never much more put to it, than in contriving an answer to Fanny’s former message. What is there to be said on the subject?- Pery pell — or pare pey? or po.– or at the most, Pi pope pey pike pit. I congratulate Edward on the Weald of Kent Canal — Bill being put off 7 till another Session, as I have just had the pleasure of reading. — There is always something to be hoped from Delay. —

“Between Session & Session”
“The first Prepossession”
“May rouse up the Nation”
‘And the Villainous Bill”
“May be forced to lie Still”
‘Against Wicked Men’s will.”

There is poetry for Edward & his Daughter.

After the nonsense words between Fanny and Jane (they put “p’s” before each word but it is not possible to decipher this). LeFaye’s note leads us to an informative cited in the Cranbrook Journal. A local issue where Edward was one of those who had been misled (Edward, partly drawn in John Dashwood never was more than dim) to conclude it was not in their individual interest to pay for any improvement for someone else’s land that might not immediately give profit. A narrow and ultimately destructive attitude (that is exploited today). Austen is empathetic with the self-centered politics of the landowner eager to stop a canal. The verses are Jane’s. Yes a little later in the letter she is ironic over Edward’s good day and is “very glad to hear of his kind promise of bringing you to Town.” But note she does not quite believe it. “I hope everything will arrange itself favourably. Edward has agreed to provide transportation for Cassandra:

I forgot to tell you in my last, that our cousin Miss Payne called in on Saturday & was persuaded to stay dinner. — She told us a great deal about her friend Lady Cath. Brecknell, who is most happily married – -& Mr Brecknell is very religious, & has got black Whiskers. — I am glad to think that Edward has a tolerable day for his drive to Goodnestone, & very glad to hear of his kind promise of bringing you to Town. I hope every thing will arrange itself favour ably. The 16th is now to be M” Dundas’s day [for Martha].

To me it’s ludicrous that this is a favor: his “kind promise.” He’s got resources, money, freedom as a man and she’s spending her life caring for his children but it’s a big favor if he offers to drive her. Having returned to Martha, and remembered a fringe woman cousin, she returns to Eliza and Anna:

I mean, if I can, to wait for your return, before I have my new Gown made up-from a notion of their making up to more advantage together — & as I find the Muslin is not so wide as it used to be, some contrivance may be necessary. — I expect the Skirt to require one half breadth cut in gores, besides two whole Breadths. — Eliza has not yet quite resolved on inviting Anna – but I think she will. — Yours very affectionately, Jane.

At the close of the letter another marginalized ummarried woman persuaded to stay to dinner. Miss Payne, a cousin. Her intelligence indicated by the sketched in conversation which Austen captures. Mrs Dundas (as I said above) is the woman Martha is hired to be companion to. That’s why a day must be carved out.

I am glad to see that Austen shows a sign that Anna ought to come to London too. She is working on it: “Eliza not quite resolved on inviting Anna … but I think she will.” Eliza would not forget the mother’s hatred and resentment nor perhaps her old flirtation with James: Anna cannot escape a past that is not hers because she cannot get outside this family group. And then letters missing again.

For Christy’s helpful addition on Mary Lloyd’s shameless selfish unreasoning attitude towards Eliza (and Anna too), and how it affected Anna’s chances at London, see her comment.



Letters 73-74, Wed, Fri 29, 31 May 1811, Chawton, to Cassandra at Godmersham

We can see from Letters 73 and 74 Austen just does not discuss in her letters what she is now spending most of her time doing — correcting the proofs of S&S about to come out, and a whole-scale (no trivial task) thorough revamping of First Impressions into P&P to try to get it published. We hear nothing whatever of this in these heroic efforts in these two letters.

It’s not probable Cassandra would have so assiduously eliminated these details as in the later letters in this second half o the set (looking at the letters as being 151, letter 74 is about half-way) do contain details. Censored — as in the reference to ordination in MP which no longer makes sense, but there.

73: Yes there’s a lot about flowers and growing things, the heat (“excessively hot” — oh that she had lived in summer of 2012 in Virginia), but then a little later a fire is wanted. She suggests how hard it is to keep count of these people dropping babies: “It was a mistake of mine, dear Cassandra, to talk of a 10th Child at Hamstall: I had forgot there but but 8 already.”

Some of the Flower seeds are coming up very well — but your Mignionette makes a wretched appearance. – -Miss Benn has been
equally unlucky as to hers; She had seed from 4 different people, & none of it comes up. Our young Piony at the foot of the Fir tree has just blown & looks very handsome; & the whole of the Shrubbery Border will soon be very gay with Pinks & Sweet Williams, in addition to the Columbines already in bloom. The Syringas too are coming out. — We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plumbs — but not many greengages-on the standard scarcely any-three or four dozen perhaps against the wall. I beleive I told you differently when I first came home, but I can now judge better than I could then

There is a continuation of the unsympathetic attitude towards Anna:

Anna is nursing a cold caught in the Arbour at Faringdon, that she may be able to keep her engagement to Maria M.6 this evening, when I suppose she will make it worse.

I am interested by her worry lest Martha if she be “home” might be discommoded by Frank, his wife and growing progeny. Austen is hoping for Martha to come here. Let Frank, Mary &c go to Steventon, and Martha please to come here. In this letter she says she must not press Miss Sharpe to come, but two days letter in the next letter she is pressing Anne to come:

I have had a medley & satisfactory Letter this morns from the Husband & Wife at Cowes; in consequence of what is related of their plans, we have been talking over the possibility of inviting them here, in their way from Steventon — which is what one should wish to do, & is I daresay what they expect; but supposing Martha to be at home, it does not seem a very easy thing to accomodate [sic] so large a party. –My Mother offers to give up her room to Frank & Mary-but there will then be only the Best, for two Maids & three Children. — They go to Steventon about the 22nd — & I guess(for it is quite a guess) will stay there from a (fortnight to three weeks. — I must not venture to press Miss Sharpe’s ~ coming at present; — we may hardly be at liberty before August

74: She is so eager for Anne Sharpe’s acquiescence and after all (she says, pathetically if we are paying attention), Cassandra and Martha do not dislike the plan. She persists on and off with this and speaks of Mary Cooke jokingly (another thwarted female partnership), she is sorry for her as only 2 curates around for possible husbands. (Curates Mary Crawford would have pointed out are usually nearly broke).

There’s a long paragraph on her maneuverings to get Martha’s agreement and Miss Sharpe to come, and this morphs and ends Austen’s attempt to fend off any spinning wheels from Mrs Knight. The last thing she wants or needs. She’d spin a rope to hang herself.

This circumstance has made me think the present time would be favourable for Miss Sharp’s coming to us; it seems a more disengaged period with us, than we are likely to have later in the Summer; if Frank & Mary do come, it can hardly be before the middle of July, which will be allowing a reasonable length of visit for Miss Sharpe supposing she begins it when you return; & if You & Martha do not dislike the plan, & she can avail herself of it, the opportunity of her being conveyed hither will be excellent. — I shall write to Martha by this post, & if neither You nor she make any objection to my proposal, I shall make the invitation directly-& as there is no time to lose, you must write by return of post if you have any reason for not wishing it done. — It was her intention I beleive to go first to Mrs Lloyd — but such a means of getting here may influence her otherwise.

How eager she is. How pathetic. Then:

I cannot endure the idea of her [Mrs Knight] giving away her own wheel, & have told her no more than is the truth, in saying I could never use it with comfort; — I had a great mind to add that if she persisted in giving it, I would spin nothing with it but a Rope to hang myself – but was afraid of making it appear a less serious matter of feeling than it really was.

An 18th century spinning wheel

She finally bends and enters into Anna’s enjoyable evening at Farringdon wholeheartedly. Not threatened here:

From Monday to Wednesday Anna is to be engaged at Farringdon, in order that she may come in for the Gaieties of Tuesday’ (1′ 4th), on Selbourne Common, where there are to be Volunteers & Felicities of all kinds … . — Poor Anna is also suffering from her cold which is worse today, but as she has no sore throat I hope it may spend itself by Tuesday She had a delightful Evens with the Miss Middletons — Syllabub, Tea, Coffee, Singing, Dancing, a Hot Supper, eleven o’clock, everything that can be imagined agreable [sic]. — She desires her best Love to Fanny, & will answer her letter before she leaves Chawton, & engages to send her a particular account of the Selbourn day.

This is followed by the famous comic heartlessness – she knows she should not quite say this — the passage does reflect an awareness of the Peninsular war once again — and how important and bloody the fighting there really was.

How horrible it is to have so many people killed — and what a blessing that one cares for none of them!

As letter 73, so 73 is involved in gardening: quick set hedges are cheap you see. They began their china tea too

You cannot imagine – -it is not in Human Nature to imagine what a nice walk we have round the Orchard. — The row of Beech look very well indeed, & so does the young Quickset hedge in the Garden. — I hear today that an Apricot has been detected on one of t1i.e Trees. — My Mother is perfectly convinced now that she shall not be overpower’d by her Cleft Wood — & I beleive would rather have more than less.

And a Tuesday!

I bless my stars that I have done with Tuesday

She hopes that Anna’s sore throat may be over by Tuesday. Tuesday not lucky. I did not read the first 70 or so letters looking out for bad Tuesdays, and only begin as of now.


Letter 75, Thurs, 6 June 1811, Jane, at Chawton, to Cassandra, at Godmersham

“I have a magnificent project — which was immediately thwarted, to bring together herself, Martha, Anne Sharpe, and Cassandra. It’s yet another and continual disappointment that her new plan for their community, for Anne Sharpe, for Martha to be with her is thwarted. She opens, returns, comes back to it, and at one point comes close to pointing out how she realizes they are all putting her off, in plain truth pretending, lying:

I have given up all idea of Miss Sharpe’s travelling with You & Martha, for tho’ you are both all compliance with my scheme, yet as you knock off a week from the end of her visit, and & Martha rather more from the beginning, the thing is out of the question [italics Austen’s].

And still she leans on Martha, still cherishes a service as if it were a gift:

I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way, for she is just now sending my Mother a Breakfast set, from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow; it is certainly what we want, & I long to know what it is like; & as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present, I will not have any regret.

On Jane’s behalf let me say I wish Martha had gotten one of the men she was said to be oogling after at the close of the previous letter.

Like Diane Reynolds, I note note that here again we have Austen at a height of her powers, working away, 6 days between this letter and the last, no acknowledgement anywhere she’s hard at work on S&S proofs, or the revised P&P.

My favorite line to Cassandra:

I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.

Letter 75 continued in the comments.


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Caspar D. Friedrich (1774-184), Chalk Cliffs on Rugen (1818-22)

Dear friends and readers,

Paradoxically I’ve not had any books to blog about since I’ve been reading so diligently towards one perhaps two conferences. Tonight I looked and saw that the proposal I was aiming at — for a Chawton conference in summer 1213 — is not due until January 1213. I had thought it was November 1212. From a brief conversation I had with Gillian Dow at the JASNA in Portland, more than two years ago now, I had the impression she’d welcome papers on the French background of 18tn century women writers and as I love reading French novels and am interested in the issues that crop up when one reads translations as well as the interaction of French and English texts, the one I thought I’d try for is for Dow’s panel whose topic is to be women writers and translation.

This blog is about the novels I’m going to deal with (and maybe a memoir) — which cannot be said to anticipate the Brontes so much as be like them fundamentally; the ultimate precursor is Prevost. Another problem with Lucasta Miller’s The Bronte Myth is she apparently does not know of these novels, still very much part of the reading of Victorian women of the first half of the 19th century. I call specific attention to Sophia Lee’s The Recess (which Austen probably had in mind in her NA parody), and Charlotte Smith’s The Young Philosopher. Great and powerful novels — if with the usual flaws of wild romantic novels of the era.


Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), ‘Woman Wearing a Mantle over her Head and Shoulders’ (detail), c.1718-19.

Starting late last week, I’ve now read Prevost’s Manon Lescaut (1734, revised 1753), a novel that deeply engages me), Charlotte Smith’s translation, Manon Lescaut, or The Fatal Attraction (1786), and am now into her Romance of Real Life (1787), a set of stories she has made out of published long legal cases originally in French, and at the same time reading her very great and last long partly-gothic, Scots novel, The Young Philosopher (1798). Ive not got a specific thesis yet; I seem not to come up with anything precise until I actually sit down and write.

A second novel I’m persuaded is strongly influenced by Prevost is Sophia Lee’s The Recess; Or, A Tale of Other Times (1783), which like Smith’s book is also influenced by Prevost’s Le Philosophe anglais, ou Histoire de Monsieur Cleveland, fils naturel de Cromwell, écrite par lui-même, et traduite de l’anglais (1731-39). I once read half way through it in French and now have it from ECCO in both the French and contemporary English translation. The Recess was almost immediately translated into French as was The Young Philosopher. For The Recess I have very good notes which I’ll share here one night later this week.

In all these

the world is filled with people who are having a long and
painful journey, who are exhausted by affliction, who have lost all the ties that meant anything to them, and who have not deserved this! I have thought the central motive for the gothic is a knot of grief: it is a genre compounded of mourning and rage, one in which people are allowed to express what cries out for expression but which they silence — for many reasons. The book is a memoir written in the first-person, sometimes in the present tense and sometimes in the historical present (the past). It is intended to vindicate the writer, to record the unknown truth and is written to pass and to solace the time.

I have two critical books I want to read through or dip into J. R. Foster’s older The Pre-romantic Novel in England which is really a study of Prevost’s influence on the English novel, and April Alliston’s Virtue’s Faults: Correspondences in 18th century French and British Women Writers. I own a copy of Smith’s Etherlinde, or the Recluse of the Lake (1786) in both the Elibron reprint of the English text (5 vols!) and my home-made xerox of the contemporary French translation.

Later this week I will write a blog on The Recess (which I have ample notes about from the time I read it on ECW with a friend) by way of re-familiarizing myself and on the weekend The Young Philosopher, in order to come to some conclusions about it.

For now what the English women took from Prevost seems to be his use of wild remote places in which the protagonist is driven to a nadir of loss, grief, despair, madness, suicide; intense sympathy with a younger generation’s rebellion and reactive defiance against the mercenary ambitious on their own and previous generation. Prevost expressed an enduring psychic condition of neurotic passion, he expresses a cri de coeur about the nature of life and both Lee and Smith took these over. With this mood they can take whatever conventions they are using to an extreme and alter our perspective on life.


Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night o’er the ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch reliev’d; or one deep voice alone
Singing the hour, and bidding “strike the bell.”
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Mark’d by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar, the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim; such the dubious ray
The wavering reason lends, in life’s long darkling way.
— Charlotte Smith as Elisabeth Lisburne


Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), Blindman’s Bluff (1728)

The other conference paper I’m not much more precise on. I began by proposing a panel on actresses which I did not plan to contribute to, but when it seemed only one person was interested in actresses (at least for a panel of mine), I changed its focus to R-e-s-p-e-c-t: For actresses, women playwrights, working women, fictional heroines and even aristocrats respect and favorable reputation matter. In other words, I included all sorts of women and the dangers of their various occupations to their reputations.

Then because I didn’t know what to do (meaning if I should or could just withdraw the sugggestion), and did want to contribute something, I decided I would present a paper at it too, to be titled: Ellen Moody, George Mason University, “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me!” paranoia and shame in the writings of George Anne Bellamy, Charlotte Smith, Sophie Cottin and Mary Brunton. The conference program is now up and my panel is Saturday early afternoon.

Looking at it, I begin to worry less about trying to do two things since I’ve read the works of two I mean to cover, am now reading Smith (and have read her before) and have certainly worked on Bellamy. I also see where the topics criss-cross. Brunton and Cottin also use wild remote places, have a knot of grief at the core of their work; the difference is the accent: in the first I want to see how the French work enables this, in the other the effect of it on the writer’s reputation and way we regard the work.

A key link between the two sets of books and emphases or themes could be the fictional poet, Elisabeth Lisburne whom George Delmont hears of in The Young Philosopher. In Delmont’s wanderings in Wales (supposedly after his brother to give up yet more money to him) he comes across wild landscape, remote, rocky, where he is told of a young gentlewoman who drowned herself; she had been intently waiting for letters that never came and we are given a moving poem of lyric despair. My guess is there will be more poetry from her. She is a surrogate for Smith. I’m drawn to the first set of lyrical stanzas that Smith puts in the book as by Elisabeth Lisburne because it reminds me of a translation I did of Veronica Gambara’s similar poem where a refrain deepens into a bleak lack of hope.

When the two heroines, twin-daughters of Mary Queen of Scots by Bothwell wake in the morning in their subterranean cavern their source of light the sun is seen through the glazed thick windows: “The rising of the sun, whose first beams gilt our windows, rouzed us entirely. Methinks, while I expatiate on these trifles, times seems suspended, and the scene still living before me …” Once when they left, they found themselves in a park “with a playful group of fawns and deer, with whom [they] long to frolic.” But another time it was a ruined cloister:

For a long way beyond, the prospect was wild and awful to excess; sometimes vast heaps of stone were fallen from the building, aong which, trees and bushes had sprung up, and half involved the dropping pillars. Tall fragments of it sometimes remained, which seemed to sway about with every blast, and from whose mouldering top hung clusters and spires of of ivy. In other parts, ruined cloisters yet lent a refuge from the weather, and sullenly shut out the day while long echoes wandered through the whole at the touch of the lightest foot; the intricacies of the wood beyond, added to the magnificence of art the variety of nature. We quitted, with regret, our new empire, when the sun left his last rays on the tops of trees.

I think of Manon and know how lack of money drives our hero and heroine into crime, self-degradation, and realize that money too is key to these romances, to Brunton and Smith’s heroines, Bellamy, even Sophie Cottin. Each novelists traces female sexuality as experienced by many women (sometimes disturbingly silenced as someone who has had a child out of wedlock). Each “traces [her] heroine[‘s] incessantly renewed struggle to keep from being swamped in the tempest of men’s emotional needs. (Manon may be said to have been swamped in the tempest of Des Grieux’s emotional needs.) Most of her sympathetic heroines, central or not, have a “tenuous hold” on “their social position” and we repeatedly see them “displaced” (“common theme” across the novels) “so that women already existing legally as possessions within male-controlled economy, find themselves alienated from its provisions …” They resemble figures from French, “exiles” (Prevost called himself “d’Exiles”) defined by what they cannot have. Nancy Miller makes Prevost’s heroine one of her key heroines’ texts — of the tragic terrain instead of euphoric.

I figure I’ll find enough to make an elegant argument for a proposal and a paper before November with sufficient content to back it up. But to anyone reading this, have you have articles or books on Prevost (beyond Sgard whose work I know well) or Sophia Lee. I know all Labbe’s books on Smith.


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I am no prisoner now in a vile house. I am not now in the power of that man’s devices. I am not now obliged to hide myself in corners for fear of him — Clarissa, Thursday, June 20th

Clarissa accosted, arrested, shamed in the public streets for debt (1991 BBC Clarissa, scripted David Nokes)

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve moved into a new phase of the summer. I’m now engaged in study of Austen’s text from the point of view of my calendars drawn from her novels. My aim is at long last to write a publishable paper whose working title is now “Tick Tock: the important Tuesday, or Austen’s obsessive time-keeping.” I must do it from the perspective of her obsessive keeping of time in her novels. I began by reading one of the best biographies thus far: Claire Tomalin’s Jane Austen: A Life. I’ll write a blog-review on Tomalin’s biography tomorrow evening or the following night.

For now, or just before this plunge, I wrote and sent off my preliminary proposal for a paper to be given at the November EC/ASECS conference whose topic is: “”What does Infamy Matter?” for a friend’s panel, “The Secret and the Celebrated: Life-Writing by and about Notorious Figures.”

Here is the proposal: Infamy, infamy they’ve all got it in for me: paranoia and shame in the writings of Charlotte Smith, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Brunton, and Sophie Cottin. The title comes from the British movie comedy, Carry On, Cleo, Kenneth Williams as Caesar says it. The illustration below does not come from the novel I most want to present positively (so as to call attention to it), Amelie Mansfield, but from another where the heroine similarly abandons herself to sexual experience, Clare d’Albe

While I was writing the proposal, I was very pleased to discover that my etext edition of Amelia Mansfield has been linked into two central French sites for later 18th/early 19th century novels and was commended in a review-article in Eighteenth-Century Fiction by Alison Finch, Review of: Sophie Cottin, Claire d’Albe, ed. Margaret Cohen (and an English translated text) and Michael J. Call, Infertility and the Novels of Sophie Cottin, ECF, 17:1 (2004):134-37. It has not had the attention (two articles commending my edition and accompanying material) nor links (several) nor use that I know of (read by equivalent freshman college classes) that Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield has; thus my efforts to bring it to the attention of a few people at the conference and then put the paper on the Net.

My text will (for once) not include Clarissa though Clarissa fits my trajectory; I want to deal with heroines who have to endure infamy the way she does, but who openly want and even chose to have sexual experience outside marriage for the sake of the sex. Novelists who are courageous enough to have such heroines are uncommon, and there are many more French writers than English: three I know I want to write about are include Charlotte Smith (heavily under the influence of French texts), Mary Brunton, and Sophie Cottin. As a sort of control — to have a gothic novel where the material is repressed and transformed into overt gothic conventions — I may include Radcliffe.

As you know, I also think Caroline de Lichfield an important source for Austen’s Sense and Sensibility; well I argued for the importance of Mary Brunton to Austen in a blog last month; everyone who studies Austen minimally knows the importance of Charlotte Smith; what I want to do in part is suggest the parallels or context for her work in that of Cottin and her indebtedness as signaled in her peculiar unconscious way through parody: her “Plan of a Novel” is a re-play of Cottin’s Elisabeth, ou les Exiles de Siberie.

I am a little worried because the day and time my panel for papers on actresses and infamy, “R-e-s-p-e-c-t: For actresses and women playwrights respect and favorable reputation matter” is set for is the same as the day of this panel for secret and notorious lives. I chose the panel because I prefer strongly being on panels where I know the people; it’s just so much more comfortable, satisfying and the response from the audience and talk afterward so much better. But as I’ve gotten not one proposal (only one person expressing interest), even though I have a respondent, it may be my panel will be cancelled. I did contact the person organizing the conference schedule and she assured me that something would be done to avoid the conflict if one did arise. The schedule is not engraved in cement, not anywhere near final as yet.

But heigh no, Carry on Cleo (Amanda Barrie)


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an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura’s passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she does — Letter 91, Mon-Tues, 11-12 Oct 1813

Simon Brett’s 20th century illustration of Richardson’s Clarissa — harassed from within and without

Dear friends and readers,

As I remarked, I have not given up on my project of reading Austen’s letters, but rather mean to go about it differently. First, I decided before trying to ascertain what (if any) general value Austen’s highly partisan comments on her rival novelists might have, I should be sure and read the specific works she condemns. While working on the proofs of Sense and Sensibility, she writes (Letter 72, Tues, 30 April 1811), Austen comments on Brunton’s novel in a less abruptly vehement & partisan manner, with more frankness than usual:

We have tried to get Self-contoul, but in vain. — I should like to know what her Estimate is but am always half afraid of finding a clever novel too clever — & of finding my own story & my own people all forestalled

H. J. Jackson begins a Times Literary Supplement article (April 5, 2006) by telling us:

Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, was a serious collector of books and prints in her own right. Surely the only British queen ever to have learnt how to set type, she also set an intellectual example to the ladies of the kingdom. The sale catalogue of her library, auctioned by Christie’s in June and July 1819, included over 500 lots of prints and drawings and almost 5,000 of books, organized by subject; theology alone took three-and-a-half days to clear. While it is interesting to see just what the Queen and her daughters might have been reading (in English, French, Italian and of course German) on sundry topics in religion, law and history, the student of literature is naturally drawn to the pages that list plays, poetry and novels, and in this last category it is surprising to find two titles most of us have never heard of listed under the name of Jane Austen.

They were Self-Control and Discipline, both by Mary Brunton. Discipline has been repeatedly compared to Emma whose story line is close; Self-Control is strongly like Sense and Sensibility but has plot-designs like parts of Mansfield Park and Emma.

Well, Brunton is very like and very different from Austen. The central drive of the book is to tell the story of Laura Montreville, a young woman, heroine, erotically drawn to an immoral, cruel, and often stupid and distasteful man, Villiers Hargrave. Laura is physically so drawn to him that she bonds intensely and only when she discovers that he impregnated a married woman, dueled with that woman’s husband, and has no remorse and taken no responsibility for the woman whatsoever does she throw off her deep emotional engagement with him, and not even then. The plot-design is also structured on his male possessiveness; Hargrave wants her and if he cannot have her, no one else will. She becomes as a symbol the repository of his respect and pride, and by the end of the novel he is stalking her, ready to murder her and her alternative partner, Montague de Courcy, a Mr Knightley type, rather than give her up. Her sexual state of intense hidden longing is not so different from several Austen heroines (Marianne Dashwood, Jane Fairfax, Fanny Price); what is different is the frankness with which the themes are treated, the conscious and articulate language used to characterize Laura and the others characters nuance and by nuance. It is an original book insofar as the reflections are concerned. Freud before the imposition of moral readings and intense religious judgements are thrown off. Like Austen Brunton uses the ordinary language of everyday life, and for the most part tries to stay within the boundaries of common sense happenings, however dire the economic situation of her heroines becomes. (Her second novel, Discipline, also brings her heroine near destitution.)

It’s somehow indicative to me that the two long academic style essays that analyze Brunton’s novels both look at them from the point of view of business and the city (Sharon Alker on Brunton and “commerce”; Martha Musgrove, Brunton and the cityh); come up with the idea that the heroines show themselves to be assertive and coping very well insofar as they can. It’s an early 21st century form of avoiding the central subject which is tabooed even today and where the heroine’s behavior is not easily exemplary at all. It is true that Scot novels show this kind of exploration of city versus townL You find it on Oliphant and Ferrier. But for Oliphant at least the erotic story is much sidelined; the central story is the loss of a business in Hester (Oliphant’s most read English novel). She did see herself as writing in a Scots milieu. She apparently compared her depiction of Edinburgh to Walter Scott’s, wrote Joanna Baillie she was exploring the passions as Baillie had only in a different genre.

The short essay published in the Times Literary Supplement by H.J. Jackson cited above is closer to the mark: Self-control is heavily indebted to Richardson’s Clarissa and Burney’s Cecilia and the two further novels delve this erotic and intensely psychological examination of sexuality further. In McKerrow’s biography, she says Brunton lost her nerve momentarily but it was too late to recall Self-Control and so Brunton defended it to friend: what does she defend: the heroine’s continued intense attachment to Hargrave. She says it’s not unnatural at all. In the era the way moralists repressed such topic and frank treatment of them is to insists on an ideal of decorum which would prevent talking of such subjects, and a norm of plausibility which would deny that people feel or act these ways.

Self-Control does reveal why so many say of Austen’s novels they are gentle and retreating and light. There is no scene in anywhere of all Austen where we see someone try to seduce a girl directly, come at her physically and pressure her. There is no scene of abrasive encounter in the streets (Davies adds this in 2007 NA in Bath). All sorts of hard everyday occurrences are described or dramatized in Brunton. Real desperate poverty or cheating: Laura’s father, naive fool, has bought he thought an annuity for his daughter; he has yet to face up to the reality the man took the money and never bought any stock and he is being put off like the characters are in Dickens Circumlocution office (or we would be today).
In all sorts of incidents this is a realer novel, Miss Austen. Including the cruelty of the mother to the daughter before she died that is not ogre like: Laura’s mother was a dense materialist, bully, who saw in her daughter the sensitive type and took it out on her in chastisement and outright hitting. Thank Lady Luck she dies — after making her husband’s life a misery too and overspending (a realer Mrs Churchill here).

Hargrave actually directly tries to push Laura into having sex with him. Her horror and fear and repulsion is not unreal given her background and what she would pay were she to have given in (the “infamy” she speaks of would destroy her life as she is now living it), but her reaction is over-the-top. She so rejects Hargrave that it becomes unreal, ludicrous. I speculate this is the kind of improbability Austen saw “everywhere.” Especially when she’s broke, her father near death and then dead. Austen’s non-heroines cave in everywhere for financial need but they do it off-stage, we are told about it from afar: from Charlotte to Mrs Clay. Or they are foolish and don’t see what’s in front of them, or are amoral, from Lydia to Maria Crawford (who Austen writes a venomous paragraph about when she marries Rushworth). Brunton’s characters who are virtuous behave with improbable idealisms. But then Austen does not try her heroines so explicitly and hard.

These kinds of scenes are not what is original in the fiction, not making us see what was not dramatized by women of this class before. What Brunton has in mind is a Clarissa-Lovelace scenario (Christy you must put everything down and read Clary next): basically in stilted and uncomfortable language but yet there fully Brunton shows us that Laura is intensely erotically attracted to Hargrave and afraid that if she marries him, she will become abject to him because of the sexual possession he will exert over her, and her sexual needs. This is why Clarissa refuses to marry Lovelace: marriage will be the seal of corruption, the coffin top locking her into abjection to an immoral cruel man. Clarissa foresees she would allow Lovelace even to beat her rather than lose him. Brunton does not want her heroine raped, indeed she cannot bear to have her lose any virginity at all, even of the vague type of sexual experience we are to imagine Marianne and Willoughby, Jane Fairfax and Frank or even that paragon Anne Elliot with Frank Wentworth may have known as engaged or semi-engaged couples (touching, kissing). So like Burney (the same kind of inhibition) she brings her heroine to the brink and improbably calls the man off. He does not proceed. At the same time she wants to show the Knightley figure, Montague de Courcy, is not attractive to Laura. I have to admit this falls into the idea women like to be with mean rough men, like rough sex, but that’s not fair to the speifics. It’s that Laura has genuine erotic feelings and longings for both men, but more for Hargrave, partly because he came on the scene first.

The passionate but good man: Gilbert Markham (Toby Stevens, 1996 BBC Tenant of Wildfell Hall)

His rival, Arthur Huntington (Rupert Graves) whom Helen (Tara Fitzgerald) has married out of erotic enthrallment

Brunton shows what Austen keeps off-stage again and again and it’s riveting and yet presented in these old-fashioned terms. Religion is specifically woven in; it’s made part of the heroine’s moral motivations and thinking only much less skillfully and tactfully than say Anne Bronte. (The insight behind this book is the same as in Tenant of Wildfell Hall — why the heroine is allured by the “bad” man.) She explores the same areas as Austen, her paradigms are even at times literally close, but she then goes on to really penetrate the territory. Poverty, the complexity of psychological motivations. She also has ironic undercutting of literary formula.

One improbability is Laura’s rejecting marriage to Hargrave. Even if he tried to seduce her, and mortified and humiliated by such conduct, and would be an immoral husband, would she in her desperate state, with her father needing money refuse to marry him and make the kind of speeches she does. She’d cave – the way Mrs Clay does to Mr Elliot and so many of the non-virgin non-heroine Austen characters do.

There is a kind of closeness in theme and intimacy. Laura is a kind of Marianne Dashwood very much sympathized with: she’s got to learn self-control. There are incidents which are closely parallel to incidents in other of the Austen books beyond S&S: a saving from drowning like that of Jane Fairfax. It anticipates Anna Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall in the heroine’s trying to make money by painting and selling her paintings. The psychological astuteness is very good — much better in its nuances and language than say Radcliffe. I do think Austen would have seen these as her rival. Nothing gothic about them. The characters really pass days visiting and walking and talking.

The difference is a matter of tact. Austen knows how to hide improbabilities and hers may be said to be the large ones — like Darcy turning up to a country assembly in the way he does, marrying someone like Elizabeth, being quite as grave and apparently sexually reticent and contained (the apparently virginal Mr Knightley is a character taken further in this direction since we see him more intimately.

The religious talk is explicit and interwoven. Byron had read enough of the novel (in 1810 he was still very much a part of the Scottish world) to term it filled with “religious cant.” Brunton is really driven to make sure her heroine makes no overt sexual gesture, not even to Montague de Courcy. There is no religious talk in Austen’s novels (as there is no spiritual sublime as in Radcliffe). It is however not nagging, not pompous and not directed at the reader Elizabeth (Hamilton scolds and Hannah More threatens the reader), rather another mode of explanation justifying Laura the heroine’s conduct at moments and that of the good virtuous characters. It is striking how secular Austen is in comparison (the same holds true for Charlotte Smith, Fanny Burney, Inchbald, and most of the male writers of this era of novels).

Since I have no religious beliefs whatsoever (thorough atheist), I probably dismiss much of the religious talk. I can take it with better equanimity than the intrusions of didacticism in Hamilton and More because they are woven into the psychological moments and are part of the spirit in distress; as someone might make a character project a terror or ghost. Clarissa is another matter; I’ve studied it and am with those who take Richardson’s belief system to be (like Prevost’s tellingly) fideist. That’s quite different from evangelical Christianity of the later 18th century type which I take Brunton to be — anticipating the Brontes here too.

But it’s understandable for the author cannot quite face what she is doing the way Richardson or more secular novelists can. One of the reasons it reminds me of the Brontes is this religious Protestant strain combined with this intense exploration of the erotic. She’s earlier than the Brontes and more evangelical. Her books were likened to More’s as well as Austen’s.

At the same time there’s this paradox: Brunton really clearly articulates say the complex motives, or really shows us explicitly she is making fun and why, really brings home the mechanisms of capitalism. Now Austen rarely does this and we are left to attribute to her this complex of understanding. But we do not know it’s there and when we come to read her letters her way of talking about people can be embarrassing, narrow, unfair, very very rarely does she at all bring out a complexity of views and then only at a distance. Austen thus remains readable and can be read in modern terms because she just suggests and does not treat directly. We can assume what we would like because there is a genuine humanity and decency at the core of Austen’s ethics and we extrapolate out from that but we do not know at all that she applies it.

I’m not sure why Austen excluded so much experience that even belonged to her stories: that is to say, are part of female everyday experience. Bronte called her passionless for doing this; my view is 1) she intuitively or instinctively didn’t bring up or marginalized central aspects of women’s life at home, courtship because she was brought up that way, and she did steer clear of violence and open sex; 2) she was an unmarried woman and knew it’d hurt her reputation, and 3) her relatives would have stopped her from publishing (as perhaps they did Lady Susan). I suspect most of the time it was the first, but also the 3rd played into it.We have so few manuscripts and yet among them a long paragraph about how her mother was offended by Persuasion because the authority figure Lady Russell was questioned. A second piece of evidence is that beautiful fair copy of Lady Susan. I’ve seen that sort of thing before — many times in the Renaissance. Women longed to reach people with their writing and you find them literally imitating books. I continue to read her. But it is a paradox and shows us why in her era people like Smith, Radcliffe and the others were more valued.

Her fame and reputation and cult begin with the James-Edward Austen-Leigh


Harassed hounded by her landlady, Clary (Saskia Wickham), attempting to flee, is arrested on the street for debt (1991 BBC Clarissa)

The last third of the book continues to hold me, but not quite as well in the first two-thirds. What happens is Brunton continually rehearses the Lovelace-typology in Hargrave and has him again and again assail Mary oops! — Laura, this time through her aunt. What interests Brunton is not so much Hargrave versus Laura, but Laura versus Lady Pelham and unlike Clarissa, where the interest is in the general family aggrandizement perspective versus marriage for love/affection/companionship and a woman’s right to say no to a corrupt man who will corrupt her (the perspective of Mansfield Park), but the two women, with the powerful one tormenting (Brunton’s word) and harassing the woman in her power. Laura does have an allowance now but she has spent it partly on Lady Pelham’s disiherited hated daughter and must wait to save and then flee to Scotland.

For women of the era this powerful woman who preys on the powerless sensitive one is a burning trope — it’s how they experienced violation, misery, and society’s inflictions. Austen has not just her Mrs Norris, but Lady Susan who terrorizes Fredericka for a time. Elizabeth’s defiance of Lady Catherine is after all easy since Lady Catherine has no authority over her — or Darcy for that matter

To her credit, Brunton carries on explicit analysis of nuances in ways Austen does not go near, and this does question authority figures and expose them. She revels in landscape and we have visits to houses very like the one to Pemberly. De Courcy is about to marry his dependent sister off, and we see her compromise in marrying a man she only likes somewhat, who is older than she but is a good man and will care for her. The sub-story reminds me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s sub-stories in Wives and Daughters as the whole trajectory of the book and mood seems half-way between Austen and Ann Bronte.

Hargrave has a gambling friend who means to live off Hargrave and the idea that once Hargrave marries Laura (if he can manage it), Hargrave will tire of her and go back to gaming. Shades of Henry Crawford who we are to feel would have tired of Fanny once he had her. Gambling is an bad vice in Tenant of Wildfell Hall. So too drink — but Brunton will not go that far and Austen drops that reality after the Juvenilia.

I do like these moral fictions. For that’s what this is — women’s issues and experiences. I was reminded of Jane Collier and Sarah Fielding’s The art of Ingeniously Tormenting, one of these books whose genre is hard to classify. Women read it it droves (as they did in our time GWTW and recently Byatt’s Possession and some of Margaret Atwood and Drabble’s novels: Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, Surfacing; Needle’s Eye, Waterfall, Seven Sisters, the Jigsaw Puzzle memoir).

Brunton’s may fall off for others for other reasons, but for me this last part of the novel is less original. I realize it’s a burning issue for women of this era but it is not for me. I am not subject to an older woman in this way. For women today there is an escape from mothers, mother-in-laws, aunts, women you work for as companions. The first part of the book was highly original not just in its realistic kind of slant (Austen’s) and going farther than this but in its daring and penetration. Here we are back with the paradigm of Clary, anticipating the last part of MP where Austen also falls back on it.

It is a story of self-control and denial; they retain control over that much desired “rose” (their virginity; they don’t go all the way).

The very last part of the book shows her re-working conventoinal paradigms showing her heroine rising above these — when she is not drawn into debt I don’t think it’s a matter of probability but showing heroine’s strength; ditto when she is not drawn off to a lone place to be harassed.

We are given a series of rounds of Hargrave’s harassments and Laura’s inability to push him away partly because her aunt is on his side shows him stalking her. He is willing to murder her rather than she be the wife of de Courcy. He hates her at some level is made explicit. Austen called it improbable; this is the weapon used against this kind of story and Brunton’s problem is she does not resort to the Clarissa like gothic. When the aunt tries to trick Laura away, Laura finds out. When the aunt colludes in trying to put Laura into debtor’s prison, Laura is not out of her wits and remembers to call a lawyer and insists on her rights and escapes this. When they try to trick her into playing cars and getting into debt, her principles are against it. In each instance in a gothic novel we’d be whisked into another realm, not here. It does make the paradigm obsession transparent. The fights over money are kept quite specific, with specific sums and Laura reminds me of Elinor Dashwood at the close when she decides (despite the advice of Montague that they don’t need any of her aunt’s money) to keep 2000 pounds and give the rest to the proper heir (a daughter Lady Pelham hated and wants to disinherit). She has worked earlier to make ends meet in London.

I have no easy demonstration of this but I suggest that last one half-wild phase (which Austen lights upon to ridicule) where Laura escapes Hargrave by getting into a boat and risking her life over a fall is an religious allegory; God or providence is on Laura’s side. The whole of that last sequence is half-mad and reminds me of Cecilia. The heroine tells us under the harassment of her aunt (she does not use that word but it’s what she means) she blanks out, she has these periods of just sitting there and doesn’t remember what is happening, has nightmares and that is just before this final sequence.

Infamy and shame are central too. At the close where she feels her reputation is in shreds, Hargrave finally dies and writes a letter vindicating her innocence and so the last page and one half, she marries de Courcy and lives with him in retired contentment ever after. But to describe the novel (the way many do) as about this without making it clear how tacked on that is, is to misrepresent it. Brunton’s last novel, Emmeline, is apparently about a young couple who have undergone a divorce (the woman) and now marry. They have defied the taboo and now tried to live unto themselves. They find they are miserable; they cannot take the loss of respect everywhere and cannot find enough in one another without preying on one another.


The intensely in love Anne Elliot (Sally Hawkins) writing, thinking, looking at the audience (2007 ITV Persuasion)

To conclude by situating Self-Control generally: it exists somewhere between Austen and the Brontes. Brunton is developing the English tradition and keeping away from the subversive of the gothic and away from the Catholic (French) or radical Enlightenment and yet her interest or subject is the same. Without meaning to she makes a telling contrast to the French novels of the period, far more than the decorous Austen. Brunton makes an instructive comparison with the English novel in general by other women (Smith, Edgeworth, Austen) and the French novels of this era (Genlis, Cottin). Brunton’s book is quite a ride though. Beyond novels, she also has some plays: Moore’s Gamester and depictions of older women in plays of the era.

Brunton herself seems to have no knowledge of the French novels in Self-Control, no references to Rousseau which is telling. Austen did have that knowledge, did know the French, was herself a far more secular writer as was Smith, Edgeworth, Inchbald (a Catholic), Burney. For me the closest in tone and effect to Austen’s quiet is Charriere’s brief novella; the closest in character types and stories are found in Burney. The subjectivity is yet another version of the kind of thing one finds in Inchbald and Radclfffe — they either do not or cannot see as readily clearly what they are showing as Brunton can. And all these women were either French or influenced by the French.

I can see that Austen would see this as her rival and wants to dismiss it. It’s not the closest thing to her type texts that exists in this era; but I can see why Self-Control might be attributed to Austen (which it was).

Finally, as I read I compared it to Trollope’s powerful Clarissa-type tragic novella, Linda Tressel. Linda is destroyed by the hounding of her aunt, which feels truer in many ways. The harassments are not tricks, but incessant berating, and it makes more sense of it. Trollope’s mother/aunt is someone drives the girl this way because she hates her to have sexual fulfillment or any measure of power or control. Resents it deeply.


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