Posts Tagged ‘Persuasion’

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

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

Dear friends and readers,

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

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


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

My dearest Cassandra

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

Broadstairs, contemporary advertising photograph: August 2008

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

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


A walk by moonlight

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The first page of Sanditon manuscript

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


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