Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Hancock’

Miniatures of Philadelphia and George Austen — Jane Austen’s aunt and father

Five Dancing Positions

Dear Friends,

The second half of the Jane Austen Study DC hosted by JASNA-DC at the American University Library, as “curated” by Mary Mintz. In the morning we listened to excellent papers on some realities and perceptions of religious groups and servants in Austen’s day; the afternoon was taken up with the equivalent of photographs, miniatures, and drawn portraits, and how dance was so enjoyed and a source of female power in the era.

After lunch, Moriah Webster spoke to us about miniatures in the era; her paper’s title “Ivory and Canvas: Naval Miniatures in Portraiture [in the era] and then Austen’s Persuasion.” Moriah began by quoting Austen’s pen portraits in her letters on a visit she paid with Henry Austen to an exhibition in the Spring Gardens in London, where she glimpsed

“a small portrait of Mrs Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs Darcy; — perhaps I may find her in the great exhibition, which we shall go to if we have time. I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s paintings, which is now showing in Pall Mall, and which we are also to visit. Mrs. Bingley’s is exactly herself -— size, shaped face, features, and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite color with her. I dare say Mrs. D. will be in yellow… Letter 85, May 24, 1813, to Cassandra, from Sloane Street, Monday)

Samantha Bond as the faithful Mrs Western, next to her Mr Elton, to the back Mr Knightley (Mark Strong) and Emma and Mr Woodhouse (Bernard Hepton), trying to lead a discussion of picture looking to favor Emma’s depiction of Harriet (1996 BBC Emma)

The detail and visual acuity reminded me of many other verbal portraits in Austen’s letters and novels, which I wrote about in my paper on “ekphrastic patterns in Austen,” where I went over the attitudes of mind seen in the way she explained her own and others picturing process, both analysing and imitating the picturesque seriously, and parodying it. She asks how does the way we think about and describe, the language we use and forms we absorb enable and limit what we can see.

Moriah was not interested in the philosophical and linguistic issues (which were the subject of my paper)

“He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side-screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape (Northanger Abbey, 1:14)

One of the many effective landscapes from Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility (director and screenplay-writer and Elinor n Miramax 1995 film)

Marianne argues passionately “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Everybody pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning (S&S, 1:18)

but rather the real miniatures and drawings we know about in Austen’s life as well as how the way drawing is approached distinguishes a character’s traits of personality, and the way pictorial objects function in the plot-designs of her novels.

I offer a few examples of what interested her — though these were not delineated in her paper:

Irene Richards as Elinor Dashwood is a fairly serious artist (1981 BBC Sense and Sensibility) who can be hurt by people’s dismissal of her work

Sylvestre Le Tousel as Fanny Price dreams over her brother’s precious drawings of his ships (1983 BBC Mansfield Park)

For Kate Beckinsale as Emma drawing is a way of manipulating situations, defining her relatives, a vanity she does not work hard enough at (again the 1996 BBC Emma, with Susannah Morton as Harriet)

She did dwell on Persuasion. The novel opens with Anne cataloguing the pictures at Kellynch Hall; and has a comic moment of Admiral Croft critiquing a picture of a ship at sea in a shop window in the same literal spirit as Mr Woodhouse objects to Emma’s depiction of Harriet out of doors without a shawl.

Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat! Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that anybody would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that? And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!” (laughing heartily); “I would not venture over a horsepond in it.” (Persuasion 2:6 or 18)

John Woodvine as Crofts regaling Amanda Root as Anne and us with his reaction to a picture in a shop window (1995 BBC Persuasion)

More crucially we have a cancelled chapter and one about a miniature of someone who Captain Benwick was engaged to and died (Phoebe Harville), and is now prepared to discard and use the framing for a miniature of her substitute (Louisa Musgrove); this becomes the occasion of a melancholy and passionately argued debate over male versus female constancy and prompts Wentworth (listening) finally to write Anne Elliot a letter revealing the state of his loving mind.

What Moriah concentrated on was who had miniatures made of them, for what reasons and how much individual ones cost; how these were made, and who they functioned as social and cultural capital in these specific people’s lives. All the miniatures we have testify to the status of the person pictured, a status (I remark or add) that Austen (apparently) never achieved in the eyes of those around her.

Although she didn’t say this it’s obvious that Austen’s brothers had miniatures made of them because they rose to important positions in the navy; her father was a clergyman; her aunt became the mistress of Warren Hastings.

Francis who became an admiral and Charles in his captain’s uniform

She did imply the irony today of the plain unvarnished sketch of Austen by her sister, located in the National Gallery like a precious relic in a glass case in the National Gallery while all around her on the expensive walls are the richly and expensively painted literary males of her generation.

I regret that my stenography was not up to getting down the sums she cited accurately enough and the differing kinds of materials she said were used to transcribe them here so I have filled out the summary with lovely stills from the film adaptations — it’s easy to find many of these because pictures, landscapes and discussions of them are more frequent in the novels than readers suppose. Miniatures as a subject or topic are in fact rare.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners (1995 BBC P&P) is placed in a clearly delineated landscape (1995 A&E P&P scripted by Davies) and is reminiscent of

A William Gilpin depiction of Dovedale

There was some group discussion after this paper, and (as seems to be inevitable) someone brought up her longing for a picture of Austen. She was reminded that we have two, both by Cassandra. But undeterred she insisted these were somehow not good enough, not acceptable. Of course she wanted a picture that made Austen conventionally appealing. At this point others protested against this demand that Austen be made pretty, but she remained unimpressed by the idea that women should not be required to look attractive to be valuable.

It is such an attitude that lies behind the interest people take in Katherine Byrne’s claim a high-status miniature (the woman is very dressed up) that she found in an auction with the name “Jane Austen” written on the back is of Jane Austen. See my blog report and evaluation, “Is this the face I’ve seen seeking?”


Dancing in the 2009 BBC Emma: at long last Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley gets to express himself to Emma

The last talk was delightful: Amy Stallings on “Polite Society, Political Society: Dance and Female Power” dwelt on the dances themselves, how accessible they were, the social situations, how they are used in Austen’s books, and finally how in life they were used to project political behavior or views in assemblies and private parties and balls too. Her perspective was the political and social functioning of dancing (reminding me of Lucy Worseley), going well beyond the literary depiction of dance in Austen. She scrutinized ballroom behavior and dance to show that the ballroom floor was a kind of stage on which a woman could find paradoxical freedom to talk with a young man and older women might project political agendas and alliances (especially if she was the hostess).

If we look past the movie and see this scene as filming a group of famous admired actors and actresses we can see the same game of vanity and power played out (everyone will distinguish Colin Firth as Darcy in this still from the 1995 BBC P&P)

Her talk fell into three parts. First, she showed how dance was made accessible to everyone in the class milieu that learned and practiced such social behavior. This part of her talk was about the actual steps you learned, the longways patterning of couples, how it enabled couples to hold hands, made eye contact. Longways dancing is a social leveller, she claimed. I found it very interesting to look at the charts, and see how the couples are configured in the different squares. As today, it was common to see women dancing in the men’s line. People looked at what you were wearing and how well you danced. She quotes Edgeworth in her novel Patronage (which like Austen’s Mansfield Park has both dancing and amateur theatrics). There was pressure to perform in dancing (as well as home theater).

Dancing difficult maneuvers in the 1983 Mansfield Park: Fanny and Edmund

The second part dwelt on dancing in novels of the era. She quoted from Henry Tilney’s wit and power over Catherine in their sequences of dancing:

JJ Feilds as Tilney mesmerizing Felicity Jones as Catherine (2007 ITV Northanger Abbey)

Her partner now drew near, and said, “That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.”
“But they are such very different things!–”
” –That you think they cannot be compared together.”
“To be sure not. People that marry can never part, but must go and keep house together. People that dance only stand opposite each other in a long room for half an hour.”
“And such is your definition of matrimony and dancing. Taken in that light certainly, their resemblance is not striking; but I think I could place them in such a view. — You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with any one else. You will allow all this?”
“Yes, to be sure, as you state it, all this sounds very well; but still they are so very different. — I cannot look upon them at all in the same light, nor think the same duties belong to them (Northanger Abbey, I:10.

and alluded to (by contrast) how Darcy will not permit Elizabeth to achieve any power over him through dance or talk; in his downright refusals and more evasive withdrawals he robs her of status and any hold on him. So she becomes grated upon, frustrated. Amy discussed Scott’s Redgauntlet as containing a particularly effective pointed description of a tête-à-tête; the disruption of walking away, walking out and its potential to humiliate is drawn out in this novel.

One of Jane Austen’s most memorable masterly depictions of social humiliation and kindness is in the scene where Mr Elton deliberately sets up Harriet to expect him to ask her to dance, and then when Mrs Weston takes the bait, and asks him to ask Harriet to dance, he can publicly refuse her. I thought of a similarly crestfallen hurt in the dancing scene in the unfinished Watsons where a young boy is carelessly emotionally pained and (as Mr Knightley does here), so Emma Watson there comes in to rescue him at the risk of herself losing social status by dancing in the lead position with a boy.

Mark Strong as Mr Knightley observing what the Eltons are doing

The expression on Samantha Morton’s face as she is drawn up to dance by the most eligible man in the room is invaluably poignant (once again the 1996 BBC Emma)

Amy’s third part was about the politics of the dance floor and particular assemblies in particular localities. First she did insist that Austen’s novels are explicitly political in various places (including Fanny Price’s question on slavery, Eleanor Tilney’s interpretation of Catherine Morland’s description of a gothic novel as about the Gordon riots &c). She then went on to particular periods where politics was especially heated and cared about, often because a war is going on, either nearby or involving the men in the neighborhood. She described assemblies and dances, how people dressed, what songs and dances were chosen, who was invited and who not and how they were alluded to or described in local papers in Scotland and England in the middle 17th century (the civil war, religious conflicts and Jacobitism as subjects), France in the 1790s (the guillotine could be used as an object in a not-so-funny “debate”), and in the American colonies in the 1770s.

Amy went on at length about particular balls given in 1768, December 1769, May 1775, where allusions were made to loyalist or American allegiances, to specific battles and generals. One anecdote was about a refrain “British go home!” While all this might seem petty, in fact loyalists were badly treated after the American colonists won their revolution, and many died or were maimed or lost all in the war. Her argument is that women have involved themselves in higher politics (than personal coterie interactions, which I suppose has been the case since people danced) through dance from the time such social interactions occurred in upper class circles and became formal enough “to be read.” We were way over time by her ending (nearly 4:30 pm) so no questions could be asked, but there was a hearty applause.

Again I wish I could’ve conveyed more particulars here but I don’t want to write down something actually incorrect. I refer the interested reader to Cheryl A Wilson’s Literature and Dance in 19th century Britain: Jane Austen to the New Woman. The early chapters tell of the many dances known at the time, the culture of dance, and what went on as far as we can tell from newspapers and letters at assemblies, with a long chapter on doings at Almack’s, where Jane Austen just about whistles over Henry her brother’s presence. Frances Burney’s Cecilia, George Eliot’s Adam Bede, and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair are among the novels mined for understanding. Wilson goes over the quadrille (squares) and how this configuration changed the experience of hierarchy and then wild pleasures of the waltz. Here Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her? and The Way We Live Now are brought in. Lady Glencora Palliser and Burgo Fitzgerald almost use an evening of reckless dancing as a prologue to elopement and adultery. I imagine it was fun to write this book.

At Lady Monk’s ball Susan Hampshire as Lady Glencora and Barry Justice as Burgo Fitzgerald dance their way into semi-escape

He begs her to go off with him as the true husband of her heart and body

It was certainly good fun to go to the Jane Austen Study Day and be entertained with such well thought out, informative and perceptive papers very well delivered. I wish more Austen events were like this one.


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Matavai Bay (1773-74) by William Hodges (at times in the entourage of Hastings)

Dear friends and readers,

In my previous, a preliminary portrait sketch of Philadelphia Austen Hancock, known to “history” as Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza’s mother and Warren Hastings’s mistress for a brief time, I spoke of a single letter by her to Hastings somewhere in Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh’s invaluable Austen Papers. I have since discovered it appears in the section immediately after that made up of Saul Tysoe Hancock, Phila’s husband’s letters, mostly to her: Chapter 4: Eliza in France, 1777-78. Written four years after Hancock’s death, and sent by Hastings’s brother-in-law and man of business in England, Woodman, who controlled and conducted all the Hancock affairs, it confirms all I suggested was true of her character and circumstances.

Although Ronald Dunning has placed on line copies of the texts from this edition, for the convenience of the reader I replicate the text here: its poignancy speaks for itself:

Philadelphia Hancock to Warren Hastings, Paris, 3rd March 1780

After a silence of so many years on your part, nothing shd have prevailed on me to have troubled you with another Letter but my earnest desire to have some information concerning Mr. Hancock’s affairs, and and to whom can I apply but you? Let me conjure you by your Friendship for his memory and by those uncommon marks you have given of it to his Family not to refuse me this request last perhaps I shall ever make you & by the very opportunity let me know how far Mr. Hancock’s have been collected in and how far his Creditors satisfied or likely to be so. Mrs. Forde continues to write e and distresses me beyond measure on account Louisa’s Fortune which was in Mr. Hancock’s Hands. I know not what answer to make her & have vainly waited to receive some Account from you. I shall be happy to hear it will not be all lost. Mrs. Davis is returned from America a Widdow with two Children in great Distress. Is there anything for her? Has my Uncle given you any Account of the Money in his Hands? — about two thousand pounds, I imagine, besides my Brother Hancock’s Bond which I fear we shall see but little of. I have met with many mortifying and disagreeable Events in my Life, but none that has given such lasting Affliction as the reflection that many worthy Persons may be sufferers by the confidence they have unfortunately placed in person whose name I bear, not from any fault of his I will be bold to say for never was there a Man of better principles than Mr. Hancock but from a concurrence of unlucky events — I know not what — some people are born to be unfortunate — I wish also much to know if anything is secured for Clarinda whose demand I enclose to you, be t ht as it may I take it on myself that she shall not be a sufferer in her little Fortune. Alas! She has but too severely suffered in her Health and perhaps may not live to to want it — it is now more than five months that she has been quite helpless and that from so small a beginning as a whitlow on her left thumb which notithstanding all possible assistance and after six operations performed threatened the loss of her Hand & even her life & before those wounds were healed the humour conveyed itself to her right shoulder where she has already had three severe operations performed and threatened with a fourth without some extraordinary change in her favor. She has been attended by three Surgeons, one of them the first in Paris, and a Physician; the latter still attends her and one of the Surgeons Dresses her Arm twice a Day — God knows how it will end, though I am assured her life and the use of her Hands are at present in no danger. — This has been a most unfortunate affair on all accounts & has cost me more anxiety than I can describe; the expence too has been and is still very heavy, it could not have happened at a worse time, but of that I shan’t complain if the poor faithful creature can be restored to me.

I once thought to have confined this Letter to Business but knowing your Heart as I know it and convinced that in spite of appearances it is not changed for your Friends, I cannot refuse you the satisfaction of knowing my Daughter, the only thing I take Comfort in, is in perfect Health, and joins me in every good wish for your Happiness — you may be surrounded by those who are happy in frequent opportunities of shewing their attachment to you, but I will venture to say not one among them who can boast a more disinterested steady and unshaken friendship for you tnan that which for so many years animmated and will ever continue to animate the Breast of

        Dear Sir, your obliged Friend, Phila: Hancock

It is with pleasure I can add here that Clarinda is much better and altho still quite helpless is thought to be out of danger & in about a fortnight may be able to quit her Chamber.

In a letter I some time ago troubled you with, I requested you would send me a collection of Coins &c. I now request you will not think about it as the person I designed them for I shall probably never see again.

Phila’s tone is that of a woman who has had an intimate (using the world in its moral and emotional sense more than the physical, though the physical was there originally) with Hastings. She opens with his silence of so many years. After that letter of 31 January 1772 which I summarized in my previous, whose text begins on p 58 of the Austen Papers, which Hastings wrote to Philadelphia as he was landing in India, he did not write again — as we recall it was one which let her know he was dismissing her. She is hurt and knows he does not want any letters from her. In her Postscript she refers to a letter which she did “send some time ago,” disobeying his implied orders not to bother him ever again, and which he never answered. But, asks she, “to whom can I apply but you?” She conjures him by all their ties to tell her what he knows of Hancock’s financial affairs.

So Woodman has not been forthcoming — for he would know and had not told her. And her brother, George Austen has been cautious and either not told what he was not sure Hastings would approve of or was not fully apprized of what Philadelphia needed to know. I fear that Philadelphia wanted to know about her money and get it at to pay either Lambert or de Feuillide and surmize both Woodman and George Austen were holding out in order to stop this relationship from going further. It could have stopped Feuillide marrying Eliza. We do not know if in response Hastings directed Woodman to be more forthcoming.

And as I surmised, we have evidence at last — testimony — to how much these unpaid bills and all this borrowing Hancock insisted she keep up from her uncle (Francis), from others (anyone who would give her money that Hancock thought ought to), distressed her and continues to aggravate her as people as desperately genteel as herself try to collect from her all the more persistently now that he’s dead. Hancock mentioned his guilt over Louisa (as I wrote these are relatives by second marriages: Mrs Davis may be another. We confront the problem that when women married we get only their married names so we lose where the connection is: we just have it Mrs Davis is widowed and broke.

Philadelphia feels an intense mortification at bearing the name of this man who died owing so much money and having failed to live up to the confidence others had in his abilities. This sense of the man’s name who shames you because it is yours is found repeatedly in women’s correspondence where there is debt: Charlotte Smith voices it over her extravagant husband. These debts are the result of his persistently buying into the values of high status as we shall see in his letters in my next installment on Chapter 3: Hancock and India. When Philadelphia says Hancock had “high principles” but she is referring to morals outside social status, probably to his not having deserted her and having taken on the role of legitimate father to Betsy.

Clarinda is the servant Hancock kept mentioning: I assumed she was young, perhaps a sort of playmate for Eliza, but now it emerges she is old, and has endured the misery of surgery in this era (no anesthetic). Philadelphia seems to have has this woman with her (though she may be staying at an infirmary run by the Surgeon). She clearly sees herself as obliged to care for her. When she says “the poor creature” needs to be “restored” to her perhaps it’s a way of saying Philadelphia wants her health restored so she can be a servant again. Servants did lend masters on the economic edge money (we see how Thackeray’s Crawleys fleece and bankrupt Rawdon’s aunt’s servants and their landlord in Vanity Fair this way)

But Philadelphia cannot resist moving out from “business” to speak of the “heart.” Despite all appearances she must believe “Knowing your heart as I know it” he still wants to hear of “my Daughter.” Eliza in “perfect health”: and “joins in every good wish” for his “happiness.” He may be surrounded by people now with frequent opportunities of showing their attachment but hers and Eliza remains “disinterested” “steady” over “many years.” Such feelings continue to “animate the breast” of Phila Hancock.

A PS tells of how Clarinda is better, and “although helpless” she will be “out of danger” in about a fortnight.” Able to “quite her chamber.” It ends on a note of despairing pathos: he should ignore the letter she troubled him with “some time ago” (he did, not to worry) to ask for “a collection of Coins” but now she says he should “not think about it” (no evidence he did anyway) “as the person I designed them for I shall probably never see again.” She plangently tries to reach him emotionally but and expresses how the social arrangements she must endure have repeatedly cut her off from others whose friendship she valued and thought valued hers.

A (not very accurate) image of a “white Persian cat” (angora), for a time a popular and prestigious cat to own in the 18th century (by Jean-Jacques Bachelier, 1724-1806): in Hancock’s letters he mentions in passing the murder of one Hastings bought for Eliza by someone angry possibly at Hastings or Hancock

My next two blogs from the Austen Papers will be on Hancock’s letters to Philadelphia from India. Before that though I will be posting about the papers I heard at the October 2014 Burney and JASNA conferences in Montreal.


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