Posts Tagged ‘sibling love’

Marine Pavilion, Brighton, with 1801-2 ground plan

Dear friends and readers,

We can understand these two letters most clearly by reading them as a pair, utterance and answer, antiphony. We are in danger of accepting and then justifying the lack of any sense of what makes for honest art in Clarke’s previous and this letter as “what everyone does,” unless we have before Austen’s direct rebuttal. So let’s start with the two texts in tandem and then read them as a conversation inside the conversation on Janeites about them:

138(A). From James Stanier Clarke, Wednesday 27 March 1816, Pavilion

Dear Miss Austen,

I have to return you the Thanks of His Royal Highness the Prince Regent for the handsome Copy you sent him of your last excellent Novel — pray dear Madam soon write again and again. Lord St. Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid you the just tribute of their Praise.

The Prince Regent has just left us for London; and having been pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg, I remain here with His Serene Highness & a select Party until the Marriage.’ Perhaps when you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.

Believe me at all times
Dear Miss Austen
Your obliged friend
J. S. Clarke.
Miss Jane Austen
at Mr Murrays
Albemarle Street

38(D). To James Stanier Clarke, Monday 1 April 1816

My dear Sir

I am honoured by the Prince’s thanks, & very much obliged to yourself for the kind manner in which You mention the Work. I have also to acknowledge a former Letter, forwarded to me from Hans Place. I assure You I felt very grateful for the friendly Tenor of it,
& hope my silence will have been considered as it was truely meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your Time with idle Thanks. —

Under every interesting circumstance which your own Talents & literary Labours have placed you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed, you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are a step to something still better. In my opinion, The service of a Court can hardly be too well paid, for immense must be the sacrifice of Time & Feeling required by it.

You are very, very kind in your hints as to the sort of Composition which might recommend me at present, & I am fully sensible that an Historical Romance, founded on the House” of Saxe Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in — but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. — I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. — No — I must keep to my own style & go on in my own Way; And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.-

I remain my dear Sir,
Your very much obliged & very sincere friend
J. Austen
Chawton near Alto,” April 1 st – 1816-
[No addressJ

Diana Birchall chose to deal with each letter separately; here she is informative about the first:

It’s a little confusing to deal with Deirdre’s numbering of the letters.  Letter 138A is Rev. Clarke to Jane Austen, written on 27 March 1816, and  Letter 138D is her reply, written on  1 April. Where are B and C I don’t  know. But let’s look at this exchange.

James Stanier Clarke writes from the Pavilion at Brighton. Remember that the domes we associate with the Pavilion had not yet been erected at that date. The structure was still a rather grand farmhouse, with huge stables and some Eastern art, but the work of turning it into a palace was barely begun. Still, it’s where the Prince Regent’s court was at the moment.  Clarke wrote to convey the Prince’s thanks for the handsome presentation volume.  “Lord St Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid  you the just tribute of their Praise.” Actually the Prince had just left for London, and perhaps the real purpose of the letter was for Clarke to announce to his friend his new appointment as Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Cobourg. This of course was Prince Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg, about to come to England to marry Princess Charlotte, the Prince  Regent’s daughter, which happened on  5 May  at Carlton House. Here Clarke  makes his famously absurd suggestion, “Perhaps when you again appear in  print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold; any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting.” Finishing with an effusive flourish, he directed the letter to Jane Austen c/o Murray, and it had to be forwarded to Henrietta Street, and then Chawton.

Will look at Jane Austen’s reply later –


Then my commentary: Austen’s response to Stanier Clarke’s letter shows that if his suggestion is not to the ambitious author who can churn out what’s wanted for money and fame “what everyone would do if they could,” it is wholly intolerable to Austen — which he should know. He has spent time with her, she has said in a previous letter and perhaps face-to-face, my dear Sir, these themes are not themes I can write on nor am I comfortable with, he has presumably read the passages on how justifying the church as a career requires real work awakening moral and social consciences alike.

Imagine your self with a friend and a friend makes plain some attitude she has: do you blithely ignore it and repeat your urgent suggestion as if she had never spoke.

I hope not. If you do, you in effect (unless you’re a parent and moralizing or think you have the authority to urge something which goes against your child’s character because the child cannot break off relations, is younger, possibly dependent) are careless of your friend’s feelings or whether you irritate him or her. It does not make me doubt the sincerity of Clarke’s friendship in the sense that he really thinks one can churn out novels: it makes me wonder if he paid any attention to Emma , which it is right to point out he does not even name. In his previous he admitted he had not begun to read it or read very little thus far. His descriptions of her novels show some understanding of their value: he anticipates Scott’s main praise — “there is so much Nature — and excellent Description of character in everything you describe.” But his likening MP to slightly idiotic or vacuous descriptions of his own of clergyman makes one wonder if he really thought these were serious books — or just woman’s romances. 

So to his suggestion:

Perhaps when  you again appear in print you may chuse to dedicate your Volumes to Prince Leopold: any  Historical Romance illustrative of  the History of the august house of 
Cobourg,  would just now be very interesting.

Austen replies (and the honesty plainness and fullness of the reply is poignant since she so rarely does give herself away like this: she has it seems given him the respect of a friend:

You are very, very  kind in  your  hints as to the sort of Composition which might recommend me at present,  & I am fully sensible that an Historical  Romance,  founded on the House  of Saxe- Cobourg might be much more to the purpose of Profit  or Popularity, than  such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as  I deal in – -but  I could no more  write  a  Romance  than an Epic Poem. — I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, &  if it  were indispensable for me to keep it up  & never relax  into laughing at myself or other people, I am  sure  I  should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter. –No — I must  keep to my  own style & go on in my  own Way;5  And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in  any other.- 

Austen is not treating him the way she does the Countess of Morley; in her “your Ladiship’s,” she shows she regards herself as of a much lower rank and does not expect the countess really to regard her as an equal. She apparently did expect Stanier Clarke to listen to her. She here gives one of the most valuable of all her statements about her fiction.

Why doesn’t he? I suggested to a man like him the life of sincerity and integrity is unreal; he can’t conceive of it. I now suggest on top of his maybe finally he didn’t respect her art. We must return to his first paragraph: He may have been the kind of person who respond intensely to his surroundings so we have to remember (as we shall see Jane does) he is in this courtier like place where for a person like himself (in effect a sort of upper servant, equivalent of a governess), who has just achieved a post and salary and place with Leopold of Cobourg, the man who was to be married to Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, the girl who it was thought would be queen, and so father of the next royal set. In the event she died from a horrible childbed experience. He is just full of pride, and has been puffed up as he has puffed others up for several days. I’ve no doubt one of his purposes was to boast about his new place – which as we shall see she tells him point blank she regards as one demanding such a sacrifice of thought and feelings that (it’s implied) barely worth it.

Here again is his boasting intended to make Austen feel all is not over with the list-servs (though a friend of hers has just died):

Lord St. Helens and many of the Nobility who have been staying here, paid  you the just  tribute of their Praise. The Prince Regent has just left us for London;  and having been  pleased to appoint me Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the  Prince of Cobourg.

Her reply was originally from a religious perspective much harsher than the one she sent.

She sent this:

Under every  interesting  circumstance which  your  own Talents & literary Labours have  placed  you in, or the favour of the Regent bestowed,  you have my best wishes. Your recent appointments I hope are  a step to  something  still  better.  In my opinion, The service  of  a  Court can hardly  be  too  well paid,  for immense must be  the  sacrifice  of  Time  &  Feeling  required by  it. 

Given that Clarke’s a literary man (who wants to be published) to get the favor of such a person is a guarantee of it, so good. She hopes he will get something better — which if he read her words carefully (which I doubt he did) would seem strange to him. How could he get anything better than the prospective husband of a queen. Maybe she thinks chaplain is not that respected an office really (remember how Mary Crawford looks at it and says others do), but also it’s not likely to further a writing career. Finally that last line – I take it to mean that like Fanny Burney she regarded time at court as a death in life, preventing her from doing what makes life worth while

The original version points to the continual hypocrisy   these positions required: For once LeFaye tells us something to the point:

In my opinion not more surely should They who preach Gospel, live by the Gospel, than they who live by a Court, live by it – & live well by it too; for the sacrifices of Time & Feeling they must be immense.

In other words, at a court the central of religion to be truthful and moral is not possible because you must continually be lying in some way or other so outside the court they had better live by the gospel for real to make up for the Immense sacrifices of time and feeling.

Time shows this is a literary thought for the Bible emphasizes truthful feeling not time. Austen would hate to give up her writing time to be living at that Pavilion. 

Austen is aware of how much she disliked his letter and how hers contradicts his at every point and sometimes deeply so her opening is very courteous, courtier-like one might say, but not untruthful. In her opening she excuses herself for putting off writing back — she thinks that to him this several month interval between his letter of December (still unanswered) would be slightly insulting: after all is he not chaplain to … living with these big shots, did he not tell these great people paid tribute to her book. (I am not so convinced as others appear to be that the court group liked Emma — would they really? come now, a book where nothing happens but an old man eats his gruel and his daughter copes with him — would they even grasp the satire on her snobbery? her use of Harriet would seem to them nothing wrong at all. So what does she say? does she believe it. Not quite. She thanks him “for the kind manner in which you mention the Work.” She is aware she never answered his previous much more decent letter where he offered her a place to visit at the library; now 5-6 days have gone by since this last one and she just forces herself.

I assure You I felt very grateful for the friendly Tenor of it, & hope my  silence will have been considered as it was truely meant, to proceed only from an unwillingness to tax your Time with idle Thanks. —

She is not lying in the sense that he did praise her and repeat praise of her. She was grateful for his stance of friendliness but knows better than to listen to him literally.   He meant well, he means well by his materialistic point of view to her. But all she can offer are “idle Thanks” of a woman who can do nothing for him (that’s why her thanks are idle).

It matters not if the average ambitious person would understand Stanier Clarke’s offer, Jane Austen is not such a person, her books do not come out of such outlooks and she realizes he can’t get that. Yet she does forgive him as she knows there are far worse fools and meaner people. He has after all paid her the compliment of using her to flatter the Prince Regent by connecting him to an author who was being recognized however slowly as having something fine in her books – that’s why Murray took her and keep the relationship up as best a busy publisher could.

From Diane Reynolds’s reading of the first and second letter:

The ostensible reason for this letter is to thank JA for the advance copy of Emma sent to the PR. Oddly, he refers to it not by name, but with the generic boilerplate, “your last excellent novel.” Does he even remember it’s called Emma?

All through the letter, Clarke’s worldview shines through, leading to the question: how sincere is he in his “friendship" towards Austen? Does he really admire her works or does he sense, with the instinct or calibration of a professional courtier (or in our world, marketer) that the wind is blowing in her favor, and he wants to be on board  with a rising star? Or is it both admiration and calculation? … Clarke does sound uncomfortably like Mr. Collins in this letter in his language towards higher-ups …

I couldn’t agree more with what Ellen’s interpretation says, which certainly echoes my own: that regarding her vocation (what she was supposed to do with her life) Austen had a rare integrity, a singleness of purpose. She knew what she was meant to be–a writer– and what kind of writer she was meant to be … When she says she could only begin such a romance if her life depended on it and even then probably not get beyond the first chapter, she is not joking.

Another voice in this conversation (written earlier) appeared on WWTTA: Fran to whom we may give almost the last word:

I can’t help feeling the fact that she wrote this letter on All Fools’ Day may have been an example of her warped sense of humour as well. She’d gone as far as dedicating Emma to the Prince that year, but I’m rather glad she finished Persuasion before her untimely death, rather than attempting the kind of sycophantic potboiler Clarke suggested.

To be fair, Austen did write a parody version of the sycophantic potboiler, which has been typed out on Republic of Pemberley and includes a father modeled on Stanier Clarke whose adventures

comprehend his going to sea as Chaplain to a distinguished naval character about the Court, his going afterwards to Court himself, which introduced him to a great variety of Characters and involved him in many interesting situations, concluding with his opinions on the Benefits to result from Tithes being done away, and his having buried his own Mother (Heroine’s lamented Grandmother) in consequence of the High Priest of the Parish in which she died refusing to pay her Remains the respect due to them. The Father to be of a very literary turn, an Enthusiast in Literature, nobody’s Enemy but his own …


As Chapman’s notes show (interestingly, from Austen’s own marginalia), Stanier Clarke is not the only acquaintance and friend Austen burlesques in this parody


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Jane Austen fragment

‘Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning’

Dear friends and readers,

You may recall two years ago now I worked on a review of one of the new Cambridge volumes of Jane Austen texts: The Later Manuscripts. What I did was study the state and circumstances surrounding those manuscripts of Jane Austen that have survived. Manuscripts can tell us much, and few of them are on the Internet. Last week I read Darnton’s review of Arlette Farge’s The Allure of the Archives and this week the first chapter of Suzanne Keen’s Romances of the Archives in Contemporary British Fiction. The Net does not replace archival research — well, duh … Farge’s Fragile Lives comes from her archival research; Keen writes about the historical turn which good contemporary novels have taken in our time, how researching based on a belief in the truthfulness of what’s found in the archives becomes part of a plot-design which recreates an earlier time in history to parallel the modern story.

This week Sam Marsden in The Telegraph and Alison Flood in The Guardian reported that a brief manuscript scrap in Jane Austen’s handwriting where she copies out a line from one of her brother’s sermons written in 1814 has been found:

‘Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning’

It was glued onto a first edition of James-Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir, attached to a letter to his friend; the people investigating the paper are looking at the as yet unfree reverse side of the page to try to decipher the lines discerned there: did she copy out any further passages from this sermon (if it is a sermon by James), or from another text, or her own comment.

Several thoughts come to mind:  how desperate we are for some new material from Austen that we latch onto the smallest copying out of a text. We have to guess what she thought of it — what she meant by it. It does not read like a text that would be parodied. From her letters it seems to me in character that she not expatiate — she often does not, she seems not to want to, or not be critically reflective in a calm reasoned way unless she’s writing her novels and then another Jane Austen, another deeper quieter contemplative writing self emerges.

But the passage is one which invites this kind of contemplation. 

So second, people looking to see what she read and bringing that to bear have now to realize she read her brothers sermons. (Moan groan … now we will have to read them …) And she took them seriously. Hawthorne says (half-ironically) that people read this “soporific” literature in the 18th and early 19th century until novel reading completely superseded sermon reading. We know she read Sherlock upon Death; so now we can look to South, Tillotson and some other readable divines for context too. She did not stop respecting her brothers. I am one who thinks there is more than the letter by “Sophia Sentiment” by Jane in the Loiterers and we can see that the family kept up a shared literary culture they created together.

Third, is an interpretation possible. Marsden and Flood are right: Austen is articulating a theme we see in MP: when Fanny is down in the Mansfield Park chapel and clearly for spending time in church, praying, and thus implied thinking about God, religion, morality, she is one of those who thinks about the words of a sermon. Mary Crawford suggests most people don’t even listen, much less think about what’s said.  Mary may be right — George Eliot (who I have been reading about this morning) seems to have agreed with Mary.  MP dramatizes a series of religious themes: one is, Oought one to join the church for a career; and if so, and one makes a living, one ought to be an active clergyman, living there and trying to do good, caring for parishioners. or let someone else do the job genuinely.

Not very controversial to us, but maybe an irritant to all those who used it as a career, as sinecures, who wanted to be hunting, drinking, socializing parsons. Jane Austen is evincing the serious mid-Victorian attitudes towards clergymen and the church — Stanier Clarke must have seemed sincere at least in his religion to her. Her brother had been a hunting kind of parson when he was young; her father, Henry eventually and several males in the next generation were clergymen (“all clergymen together” is how Mary Crawford describes the many young men in MP headed for the clergy for a career).

More generally she might be thinking she wants the readers she cares about to thoroughly understand her words, to think about them, to feel their full force and meaning. The words and their tone suggest she regarded her six later novels, and perhaps her mid- and late career fragments (e.g. The Watsons, Sanditon) as serious reading. I like to believe she does not regard her books as “light reading” herself — that she could apologize for sending a copy of her Emma as “light reading” to Catherine Prowting shows how she was forced to pretend not to respect them, and sometimes by the people around her — she was forced sometimes to make little of what was her life’s work: who could it have been in the house? we hope not Cassandra who gave her time and space. Perhaps as Gwyneth Hughes in Miss Austen Regrets has it, Mrs Austen. We know there was tension. Claire Harman quotes some verses by James which shows his jealousy and how he would want to be dismissive of women’s writing (his sisters): James’s poem about S&S suggests the book is to him autobiographical with Marianne and Elinor being aspects of his sister.

If we needed it, this brief passage can justify give close and serious reading of S&S, P&P, MP, and Emma. There is much literary talk in the draft of Sanditon (one sign it’s an early draft) Charlotte divides texts between the “very striking and very amusing” (say the Juvenilia or Northanger Abbey) or “very melancholy” (S&S, MP, The Watsons) “just as satire or morality might prevail.”

On the other hand, she might have no such general meaning in her mind, but just mean the literal criticism of those who don’t attend in church. Doesn’t seem all that likely.

We may also guess Austen kept common place books; she copied out favorite lines and these are lost. Now imagine if we had a book full of lines she copied out — oh then we might just have something to go on to see her views of issues — taken together the choices would add up.

But we don’t.


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Star-gazing Fanny (Sylvestre Le Tousel) and Edmund (Nicholas Farrell) (1983 Mansfield Park)

Star-gazing Fanny (Billie Piper) and Edmund (Blake Ritson) (2007 Mansfield Park)

I think [Trilling’s] very strange. He says ‘nobody’ could like the heroine of Mansfield Park. I like her. Then he goes on and on about how modern people today, with ‘our’ modern attitudes ‘bitterly resent’ Mansfield Park because its heroine is virtuous. What’s wrong with a novel having a virtuous heroine?” (Audrey Rouget, Whit Stillman’s 1990 Metropolitan)

that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society, Elizabeth, who, murderess and wicked queen that she was confined her cousin, the lovely Mary Queen of Scots for NINETEEN YEARS and then brought her to an untimely, unmerited and scandalous death. Much to the eternal shame of the monarchy and the entire kingdom (Fanny Price, 1999 Mansfield Park)

Dear friends and readers,

Yesterday I sent off a proposal to give a talk on “What the four film adaptations have to tell us about Austen’s Mansfield Park and one another” at the JASNA in Montreal, 2014. I’ve been reading Austen’s strong novel, and re-watching all four films for the last several days, and found I like them all.

The best known is Patricia Rozema’s 1999 Mansfield Park, famously controversial, yet in many ways just another fusion of heritage, popular, romance, and Austen tropes:

Fanny (Francis O’Connor) and Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller) spend just as much time walking and talking in this film as any of the others or the novel

The least known is Stillman’s Metropolitan whose apparently elite cast has roused intense class antagonisms and prevented some of the actors from developing a career out of a movie that at the time was much admired by high culture critics (Vincent Canby) and at the Cannes Film Festival. I have written briefly on Stillman’s in-depth exploration of the complex characters, their relationships (especially the love of Fanny-Audrey for Edmund-Tom, evocation of the worlds of young adults,

Outside the Plaza Hotel, 59th, we get our first glimpse of our Fanny-Audrey (dark-haired Carolyn Farina), Tom-Edmund (ginger-hair, trenchcoat, alone, Edward Clements) Nick (Christopher Eigemann) and his girlfriend, Jane (Alison Rutledge-Parisi), Audrey’s best friend

the theme of parental misconduct (abandonment and hurt of their adult children), the difficulty of launching a career in this apparently well-connected world and succeeding at it; its exploration of what is ethical behavior, to say little of its many allusions to Austen’s MP, also Persuasion and Emma (there is a game played where losers have to tell candid truths inside their minds and as Mr Knightley says we find such truths can be searing, destructive) and that it’s a melancholy New York Christmas movie,

Audrey at St Patricks while Tom tunes into Channel 11 for the Yule Log & Carols …

I’ve defended the ceaselessly abused Maggie Wadey’s (the screenplay writer)’s 2007 abbreviated (93 minute) Mansfield Park at least 3 times, for its defense of the natural world as opposed to falsifying artifice, its hatred of bullying and stifling social conformity, and its addressing British issues of the 21st century.

And written now and again on the epistolarity, female narrator (3 of the films have this), Chekhovian feel, wonderful poetry of the 1983 film — ignored as uninventive (! — it’s ceaselessly semi-original). Ken Taylor’s screenplays, tone and pace and similar choice of plain actors (e.g., 1984 The Jewel in the Crown) has been admired again and again, while David Giles’s direction are deemed a saturnine delight (e.g., 1982 Barchester Chronicles).


Fanny and Edmund intertwined (1983)

Well over the week I read reviews of all the films: a wonderful defense of the 1983 film: Jan Fergus’s “Two Mansfield Parks: Purist and postmodern (Jane Austen on Screen, ed. G. and A. MacDonald); a full book on Stillman’s films with several essays on their relationship to Austen’s novels (Doomed Bourgeois in Love, ed. Mark C. Henrie), lively defenses of Rozema that I agree with (Linda Troost and Sayre Greenfield in their Jane Austen in Hollywood, Alistair Duckworth in Eighteenth Century Fiction (2:4 [2000]:565-72): I really newly admired the Rozema film. It’s so interesting the many different kind of filmic techniques she employs to make humor, sexiness, pleasure-filled moments, some of the wit (though words are not her strength).

Writing out of spirit of gaiety (1999 writer of Juvenilia, Fanny)

And she does continually choose women’s icons, women’s figures in the talk (Joan of Arc), brings out the feminist talk of the book (Fanny: why should I jump when any man asks me to marry him). I like the way Lindsay Duncan acted the much-put upon controlled Mrs Price this time round — her pain very real (though Lady Bertram as drug addict was overdone).

Stoic endurance of painful goodbye (Lindsay Duncan as Mrs Price), selfless

I listened to the over-voice commentaries of Stillman, his film editor, and two of the actors; of Rozema on her film, and was able to read the screenplays for Metropolitan and Rozema’s MP.

As the not-asked pair, Tom-Edmund requests the pleasure of this dance with Audrey-Fanny (1990)

I made some discoveries.

All of them react to the movie (or movies) that came before (except of course the 1983 as it is the first film adaptation of MP to have been made), and there is an increase in intensification over areas of Mansfield Park which many readers apparently do not like: either what’s there is eliminated, or inverted, or (in the case of Stillman) defended vigorously. I discovered that the 2007 Mansfield Park does not depart any more radically from the book than Rozema’s 1999: both skip Sotherton (rather like the 1940 P&P skipped the visit to Pemberley). They are a body of films, apart from the films adapted from her other books. They are all literary: in her commentary Rozema reveals she thinks Mansfield Park was originally an epistolary novel, and all but Metropolitan have deeply subjective complicated sequences of over-voice, montage, blurring. They all have beautiful dance sequences, moments with stars.

Odd angle puts Henry (Alessandro Nivola) dancing with his sister, Mary; and Edmund, dancing with Fanny, just out of sight (1999)

What is the true sublime?

Mary’s harp arrives in an Bergman-like scene (1999)

They all have strong heroines — Sylvestre le Tousel is internal strength itself and quiet narrator again and again. Wadey uses deep-musing subjectivity to make her narrator over-voice as a young woman remembering her childhood. Rozema makes a sort of show of her author, Fanny. Stillman does eschew his sort of thing, but in his commentary he made some sharp observations that apply to Austen’s novel as well as his film: the subject matter is embarrassing and automatically controversial because the area dramatized is social class, exclusion, he called it social pornography with its talk so explicitly about the pain of existence in an elite milieu where individuals can fall away, fall out.

Mr and Mrs Bertram, imitating the close of the 2005 Joe Wright P&P: they are Mr and Mrs Bertram

Home without his daughter as in the 1979 and 1995 P&Ps

Which leads me to concentrate on an aspect of the 2007 Mansfield Park which was wholly unexpected: the regulation humiliation scene found in most Austen movies, nay frequently in all sorts of movies, but paradoxically especially in costume drama (supposed meant for women viewers), this scene for the central female in ordinary movie after ordinary movie is not there!

The rationale in Austen’s case is that indeed in her novels her heroines are taught rough lessons, and older essays about her books had titles like “The humiliation of Emma Woodhouse,” and “The humiliation of Elizabeth Bennett,” but it is arguable that the scene of confession, repentance, avowal to change one’s ways, is made more central in numbers of the films.

Doran Goodwin as Emma after Mr Knightley has left her scorched (1972 Emma)

Not all: it’s muted in Fay Weldon’s 1979 P&P, Davies just about omits it in his 1995 P&P by making Darcy’s ordeal the center of the story (he also makes Henry and Eleanor Tilney’s stories far more poignant, deflecting attention from the misogynistic anti-romance motif), but recently I’ve noticed it’s back in full force, as much in the free adaptations (Aisha and From Prada to Nada) as in some of the older ones (the S&S films all have it). Rozema’s Fanny is taught grim lessons by her biological mother to marry up (for money, Henry Crawford) which are reminiscent of the mother in Lost in Austen (you must marry is Amanda Price’s mother’s refrain).


Darcy (Elliot Cowan) reacting with great ferocity as Amanda (Jemima Rooper) in the wrong again – she is blamed for exposing everyone in P&P (Lost in Austen, 2009)

Well almost to my surprise, Maggie Wadey changes this. She uses the theme of the education of Sir Thomas to make the confession, repentance, avowal you were all wrong and at fault, Sir Thomas’s. The climactic moment is Douglas Hodge’s when he comes home (in a scene reminiscent of the scenes of Mr Bennett come home having failed to retrieve Lydia in the 79 and 95 P&P films) without Maria. He pretty well indicts himself thoroughly and we begin to see him unbend and change his ways.

Douglas Hodge as Sir Thomas telling what he has seen of himself

As if that was not enough, the scene (again justified by the book in part) where Edmund tells Fanny about his disillusion with Mary Crawford is turned into another self-reformation scene where Edmund asks Fanny to forgive him for being so blind. Lady Bertram is presented as knowing all along that Fanny loved Edmund (the “incest” motive is twice denied by having characters state strongly that Edmund is not Fanny’s brother and presenting Fanny’s love for William as part of her Cinderella story), Mrs Norris does really care for Maria (though she is corrosive in personality).

Wadey’s 1987 NA has not been liked, but it too eschews the girl done in by her reading by making the gothic far more real and changing language to make the famous speeches more pro-Catherine. I suggest this refreshing pattern has not been noticed because the movie has been so damned that people have not paid attention to its motives: I don’t say it’s a good movie — the loss of Sotherton and Portsmouth push it back to the one-hour TV versions of Austen which would omit visits to Pemberley (as did the 1940 movie), the Grants are dropped, and Mary Crawford made hard and mercenary,and at moments its pace and epitomizing scenes make it feel like dramatized cliff notes, so the critique of marriage is lost (but then it’s ignored by most movie-makers) and Henry Crawford oddly muddled. At least in 1999 he read Sterne’s passage about the starling who couldn’t get out, gives Fanny a wagon filled with these exhilarating birds, and is made (with Fanny) to enact the Harris Bigg-Wither proposal and morning-after rejection by Austen.

But Wadey’s script and this movie made from it breaks code in who gets humiliated, confesses, vows to do otherwise, is taught a lesson.


Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford “reasoning” with everyone

Having noticed this I began to see that Rozema’s also makes Sir Thomas’s conversion and remorse central, Edmund’s blindness and request for forgiveness explicit at the close of the movie. As a woman movie-maker determined to adhere to conventional notions of strength (and thus embarrassed by Fanny’s abjectness), she anticipates the 2007 movie. Not that there is no humiliation scene: there is, and it’s in Edmund’s scornful response to Mary’s long winded amoral suggestions about how to think about, what noit to do about Henry and Maria’s elopement and what they may hope for from Tom’s death, in a scene which gathers all the characters together as if this were a murder mystery. This is paradoxical and shows a lack of clarity in Rozema’s mind since Mary Crawford is a favorite character for her.


Fanny a renter and chuser of books (for Susan) — making me think of Jane Austen on Trim Street in Bath, coming home with her books

I recommend as deeply pleasurable and instructive watching in tandem all the movies coming out of a particular Austen novel. It can be another way into the nature of Austen’s text and themes to see the them transferred into different filmic conventions. The way in is to use film adaptations: when you have a group of them from one book you can examine the different kinds of relations between the successive films and the novel and the cultural and entertainment work they all perform.

Jane Austen left three thick packets of letters to Francis (whose daughter destroyed them after his death) (1983 Fanny, Wm and Edmund’s sister-bride)


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Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

It’s all I have to bring today –
This, and my heart beside –
This, and my heart, and all the fields –
And all the meadows wide –
Be sure you count – should I forget
Some one the sum could tell –
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.
(a wedding poem?)


A slash of blue —
A sweep of Gray —
Some scarlet patches on the way,
Compose an evening sky.

Dear friends,

I’ve been wanting to write a foremother poet blog on Emily Dickinson for quite some time now. I love so many of her poems: There’s a certain slant of light/on winter afternoons; snow: It sifts from leaden leaves. I used to repeat her opening lines over and over: Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed/To comprehend a nectar/Requires sorest need … ending on she defeated. I’ve not written about Dickinson for the reasons I’ve not written on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rosetti, or Sylvia Plath: the body of poetry and critical study is so large, so much sensible has been said (Poetry Foundation).

But now galvanized by my blog on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, and rereading her poetry today, I’ve made this attempt:

In Dickenson’s case the controversies that result from her withdrawal while in her 20s from society are utterly intertwined with our readings and understanding of her poems. The life cannot be separated and since she was unconventional in ways not unacceptable today, not admired, the life cannot be ignored nor the implied attacks. You can quote her joking poem about being nobody and imply you identify, but you don’t want anyone thinking you don’t mind. It’s irritating to realize her other women poets of the 19th century who were socially active are forgotten or made to appear the oddities when Dickinson was.

Well, did she have a shattering nervous breakdown?

The first Day’s night had come–
And grateful that a thing
So terrible–had been endured–
I told my Soul to sing–

She said her Strings were snapt–
Her Bow–to Atoms blown–
And so to mend her–gave me work
Until another Morn–

And then–a Day as huge–
As Yesterday in pairs,
Unrolled its horror in my face–
Until it blacked my eyes–

My Brain–began to laugh–
I mumbled–like a fool–
And tho’ ’tis Years ago–that Day–
My Brain keeps giggling–still.

And Something’s odd-within–
That person that I was–
And this one–do not feel the same–
Could it be Madness–this?

Lines like these testify to a breakdown:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –

Or this poem:

It was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead, lie down.
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues for noon.

It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.

And yet it tasted like them all,
The figures I have seen
Set orderly for burial
Reminded me of mine,

As if my life were shaven
And fitted to a frame
And could not breathe without a key,
And ‘twas like midnight, some,

When everything that ticked has stopped
And space stares all around,
Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns,
Repeal the beating ground;

But most like chaos, stopless, cool,
Without a chance, or spar,
Or even a report of land
To justify despair.

And –I love the third and fourth stanzas: “I heard them lift a Box … Wrecked, solitary here:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

The nature of her sexuality is fiercely contended over: was she lesbian, loving her sister-in-law, Susan, who lived next door and with whom Emily corresponded and discussed her poetry. In Open Me Carefully, a collection of Emily’s letters (printed in the often child-like form they were sent) to this sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Dickinson, edited by Ellen Louise Hart and Martha Nell Smith, stress the personal and literary importance of this exchange and relationship for both women and its influence on Dickinson’s production.

Or was it a heterosexual romance, one intense experience with William Smith Clark, a botanist and geologist far more famous in his day than Dickinson; he was the first Ph.D. scientist with a European doctorate to teach at Amherst College, and he lived on a hill behind the Dickinson Homestead, now a museum and historical site of the poet’s life. (See also Ruth Owen Jones, “Neighbor — and friend — and Bridegroom —‘: William Smith Clark as Emily Dickinson’s Master figure,” Emily Dickinson Journal, 11:2 [2002:2]: 48-85).

These are autobiographical — or feel so:

“I got so I could hear his name
Without — tremendous gain —
That stop-sensation on my Soul,
And thunder in the room …

In it she talks of a box “In which his letters grew,” so I say ah ha, he wrote her letters! It is a very strained poem and ends in great misery. There’s another about letters, No 636:

The way I read a letter’s this:
‘Tis first I lock the door,
And push it wit my fingers next,
My transport to make sure
Then draw my little letter forth
And slowly pick the lock ..

Or did she have no lovers and her master was Thomas Higginson, the only person to have published her poetry: the letters are (again) strange because abject and yet so vitally alive.

Did she live in dreams:

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

If so, can we empathize because she was a victim of incest? destroyed by her father, Edward Dickinson? There’s a long article by Martha Nell Smith over at the Dickinson Electronic Archive, dealing with other complex personal relationships that have shaped the editions and receptions of Emily’s person and poetry. Smith argues for the importance of Emily’s mother, Susan Huntington Dickinson (her role suppressed or marginalized).


Lavinia Dickinson (1833-99):

Emily’s sister: they lived together all their lives and the relationship resembles that of Jane and Cassandra Austen (or Gaspara and Cassandra Stampa). There is also a dearth of photos of Lavinia (as there is of the two Cassandras).

Maybe like Austen she didn’t marry because she didn’t want to be suppressed the way women are.

She writes of love this way generally:

‘Why do I love’ You, Sir?
Because —
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer — Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows — and
Do not You —
And We know not —
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so —

The Lightning — never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut — when He was by —
Because He knows it cannot speak —
And reasons not contained —
— Of Talk —
There be — preferred by Daintier Folk —

The Sunrise — Sir — compelleth Me —
Because He’s Sunrise — and I see —
Therefore — Then —
I love Thee —

But this is marriage:

She rose to His Requirement — dropt
The Playthings of Her Life
To take the honorable Work
Of Woman, and of Wife —

If ought She missed in Her new Day,
Of Amplitude, or Awe —
Or first Prospective — Or the Gold
In using, wear away,

It lay unmentioned — as the Sea
Develops Pearl, and Weed,
But only to Himself — be known
The Fathoms they abide —

Reminding me of the films, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise, and Before Midnight.


Emily Dickinson, place setting at Chicago’s Dinner Party

May be none of the above biographical speculations matter. What matters are these extraordinary poems. Emily Dickinson may be said to have had the great fortune to have no opportunity to publish her poems as really written by her (the one attempt showed her how her poetry would be immediately censored, changed, altered by conventional ideas at the time). They are sincere, from the heart, not thinking about pleasing a particular set of people who have control of press or book:

Publication — is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man —
Poverty — be justifying
For so foul a thing

Possibly — but We — would rather

From Our Garret go
White — Unto the White Creator —
Than invest — Our Snow —

Thought belong to Him who gave it —
Then — to Him Who bear
Its Corporeal illustration — Sell
The Royal Air —

In the Parcel — Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace —
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price —

Just to have these favorite poems is enough:

On books:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul.

Old books:

A precious — mouldering pleasure — ’tis —
To meet an Antique Book —
In just the Dress his Century wore —
A privilege — I think —

His venerable Hand to take —
And warming in our own —
A passage back — or two — to make —
To Times when he — was young —

His quaint opinions — to inspect —
His thought to ascertain
On Themes concern our mutual mind —
The Literature of Man —

What interested Scholars — most —
What Competitions ran —
When Plato — was a Certainty —
And Sophocles — a Man —

When Sappho — was a living Girl —
And Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante — deified —
Facts Centuries before

He traverses — familiar —
As One should come to Town —
And tell you all your Dreams — were true —
He lived — where Dreams were born —

His presence is Enchantment —
You beg him not to go —
Old Volumes shake their Vellum Heads
And tantalize — just so —

No 561, back to grief, not as evidence of a breakdown, but of her humanity shared with others: this one much stronger at the opening than the ending though (as are many of her poems):

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes —
I wonder if It weighs like Mine —
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long —
Or did it just begin —
I could not tell the Date of Mine —
It feels so old a pain —

I wonder if it hurts to live
And if They have to try —
And whether — could They choose between —
It would not be — to die —

I note that Some — gone patient long —
At length, renew their smile —
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil —

I wonder if when Years have piled
Some Thousands — on the Harm —
That hurt them early — such a lapse
Could give them any Balm —

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve —
Enlightened to a larger Pain —
In Contrast with the Love —

The Grieved – are many – I am told
There is the various Cause —
Death — is but one — and comes but once
And only nails the eyes —

There’s Grief of Want — and Grief of Cold
A sort they call “Despair” —
There’s Banishment from native Eyes
In sight of Native Air —

And though I may not guess the kind
Correctly — yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary —

To note the fashions — of the Cross
And how they’re mostly worn —
Still fascinated to presume
That Some — are like My Own —

How we cannot divest ourselves of ourselves:

Me from Myself — to banish —
Had I Art —
Impregnable my Fortress
Unto All Heart —

But since myself — assault Me —
How have I peace
Except by subjugating

And since We’re mutual Monarch
How this be
Except by Abdication —
Me — of Me?

#520: is this famous one about a sexual or other kind of human relationship disillusion?

I started Early — Took my Dog —
And visited the Sea —
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me —

And Frigates — in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands —
Presuming Me to be a Mouse —
Aground–upon the Sands —

But no Man moved Me — till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe —
And past my Apron — and my Belt
And past my Bodice — too —

And made as He would eat me up–
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve–
And then–I started–too–

And He — He followed — close behind —
I felt his Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle — Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl —

Until We met the Solid Town —
No One He seemed to know —
And bowing–with a Mighty look —
At me–The Sea withdrew —

She wrote ostensibly about the seasons (No 812):

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

I don’t like religious doctrinal poetry, and was taught in high school to read her poetry as just that — so didn’t like it! I was not told that Dickinson was at one time excluded from partaking of the Eucharist in her church (Sarah Klein,
“adjusting the Symbols — /”: Emily Dickinson & Her Sacraments”)


Kate Hayllar, Sunflowers and Hollyhocks

The book I recommend which I learned most from (there are so many essays too), was most moved by was Paul Ferlazzo’s Emily Dickinson (published by Twayne in 1976). Here’s a brief review:

In brief he confronts the problem or oddity of Dickinson’s life by talking about the poetry first and in terms of its themes and then in terms of what it shows of her as a writing presence and what we can infer from her life. The first chapter does go over all the myths of lovers (impossibly sentimental books, memoirs, novels, plays) and shows their absurdity.

Then he moves on to the poems. A section shows how deeply engaged she was with Calvinistic or Evangelical Christianity; how could she not be (asks Ferlazzo), and that from her poems he finds she was not converted and remained a strong sceptic. This is one reason she could have secluded herself from her community. Then he close-reads the poems on death which are so prevalent in her oeuvre, and also poems about dreams of erotic love. He does not flinch himself from suggesting men she loved and his candidates make sense: they are all strong highly intelligent men she met in her father’s house: the first we don’t know his name; the second was married, and the last did become a widow and apparently she could have married him but chose to stay in her isolated life. It was isolated: she often did not speak to most of her family members either.

It does appear her father was a super-dominating presence not only on her but her brother and her mother too. Her brother ended living next door and following his father’s footsteps into Amherst. Her younger sister never married, burnt all or most of Emily’s letters but allowed the poems to survive.

Two more buiographical-poetic chapters follow: one on her struggle for sanity. He suggests people have been chary to say she had a bad breakdown and became perhaps catatonic or nearly insane for a period, and her struggle to contain and control this, to write what she experienced down provides some of the most powerful of her poems. The last I read was on her response to the natural world from which I picked my opening three lines.

Throughout he really brings you close to the poems and woman in them. I felt why she has this hold on us today, contemporaries leading different kinds of lives often (outwardly anyway) and with different struggles on the surface. I think it’s the lack of cant and how direct she is; you may feel she writes aslant (using metaphors too) but there is little convention between you and her. At the same time I saw (as I think many would) how distant I am from her; we are not to normalize and make her us (I have no religious beliefs and am not troubled about conversions as she was apparently a lot, no super-dominating males about me, not in a small tight community).

Here and there the stories of her and her family members (like her sister-in-law) reminds me of what I read about her earlier. He does this deftly.

When I returned to bed (for I read a bout in the wee hours of the morning today) I was greatly comforted and felt strengthened and sustained by some of Dickinson’s poems as well as Ferlazzo’s tone and comments. I see my favorites are precisely those where she struggles for sanity (“After great pain …”) and engages deeply with the natural world (pictorial) as well as shows her vulnerability to love and sense of isolation and beautiful humility (“I’m nobody …”).

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me, — Emily Dickinson


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Henry Robert Morland, late 18th century, a laundress

Dear friends and readers,

Again Diana Birchall and I in tandem. This time the best way to convey the outline and pith of this letter is to provide the text, Diana’s walk though the content more or less step-by-step and then my contextualized approach of its themes seen in terms of its individuals who matter to Austen.

The letter is cheerful. This is what Cassandra has demanded all along and Jane has acceded to since she was able to, which is around the time they arrive at Southampton — and especially since she begins to write for publication. She has MP out in print and is working on Emma.

What strikes me are the paradigms — or repeating patterns — we’ve seen from just before Austen was ejected from Steventon and forced to go to Bath (as we saw something she intensely did not want); a desire to develop a woman’s community, a time together with beloved women friends is thwarted. Martha and Anne can’t make it; they lack free time altogether. Her recognition of marginalized women and their problems. In this letter there are so many mentions of servants, and predominantly women servants, including the girl who will go do very hard work for Frank and Mary.

Although Austen doesn’t seem to recognize its importance, she does record how two women whom she is pushed into visiting are identifying with another woman, the fictional heroine, Fanny Price. I say she doesn’t recognize its importance, since this is not included in the folder of comments on her novels that she gathered. It’s not conventional: not overt I like this or disdain that in the way the other exclamations or occasionally more thoughtful general judgements she copied out are.

That much more than what is usually paid attention to (“oh what a Henry!”) out of context or with no context. One good reason for him to be there as we’ve seen him emerge, especially since Eliza’s death when he begins to turn up regularly in Austen’s letters (as she is one of those who come to visit and to help) is to network for business. His business was dependent on the rich and well-heeled investing in his firm as well as borrowing from it. And so goes even if (as we’ve seen) he himself when asked about these parties says he would prefer not to; we may assume he liked the theater but can’t say for sure. It seems to be Edward who has gone this trip; the women need a male with them as escort and the younger girls get a great kick out of the popular trash of the theaters of the day.

This letter also makes it clear beyond the complicated family trees, we want specific information about individuals; it’s hard but not impossible. I note each of the Burney Journals and Letters do just this: entries are about individuals. LeFaye also provides no meaningful information on the ball at White’s — that it was, for exampple, more than a bit premature, because (as we all instantly recall) Napoleon escaped from Elba, came back and there was another long bout of war as the Allied powers regrouped determined to stamp him out and put a Bourbon back on the throne. We need to know something about the UK economy at this point too. Henry’s there to help his banking business.


GMT 14
Burlington House, today the home of the Royal Academy

Diana’s paraphrase:

A week later, another letter to Cassandra, who is still at Henrietta Street.

Jane calls Cassandra’s a “pretty letter,” brought by Mr. Louch, one of Henry’s banking partners. She has heard also from Frank, whose visit is delayed by a Naval Review, and Portsmouth being in a bustle. This must have to do with the visit of the Emperor, whom she hopes Fanny has seen, “& then I may fairly wish them all away.” She goes tomorrow (where?) “& hope for some
delays & adventures.” A mention of her mother’s wood, and “Bavins,” which I’ve never heard of, but the dictionary calls it “a fagot of brushwood or other light combustible matter, for kindling fires,” though apparently you bought it.

Then a famous line: “Henry at White’s! – Oh! what a Henry.” This of course refers to Henry’s excursion into high social public life, being at the fabulous ball sponsored by White’s Club at Burlington House, lent by the Duke of Devonshire, to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. Beau Brummell was one of the organizers, and there were 4,000 attendees, including the Tsar of Russia, King of Prussia, Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb, and all the ton, at a cost of £10,000. Whatever you may think of Henry, it would be impossible to think of any other of Jane Austen’s brothers at White’s – or at least, he was the most likely!

I don’t know what to make of the “Miss B” reference – Deirdre thinks it was Miss Burdett. A possible match for Henry? Mention of Sackree and the children, and a gift of a ham and “4 Leeches” from Godmersham. Leeches seem an odd gift, did you keep them in water or something until somebody needed to be bled? [see just below]

Now here comes mention of how they have “called upon Miss Dusautoy & Miss Papillon & been very pretty.” Deirdre has long footnotes on the Dusautoy, Papillion, and Hinton families, who seem complicatedly interrelated. I suppose we ought to research it, and there’s an article on the Dusautoys in the Collected Reports, but as usual she sites the volume not the year of the journal. What’s amusing is that she says, “Miss D. has a great idea of being Fanny Price, she & her youngest sister together, who is named Fanny.” You can read the touch of subacid mixed amusement and horror. Little did she know that it was only the beginning of thousands of people thinking they “are” one or another of her characters – another was Princess Charlotte, who thought herself like Marianne.

A bit about Miss Benn and her infected finger – a much more serious matter then, before antibiotics. Oh! (slaps forehead) Arnie will say I am having a Breakthrough Moment. Perhaps this is what the Leeches are for! Or not.

“The Clements are gone to Petersfield, to look.” An innocuous statement enough. Notes tell us that the Henry Clement was Henry Austen’s banking partner in Petersfield, and a member of this Alton family, who were connected to the Prowtings, whom Miss Benn has just visited. One of the major obstacles to understanding these letters is the heavy interconnectedness of these families, all of the permutations of which would have been known to Jane Austen, but which are murky to us.

“Only think of the Marquis of Granby being dead,” she comments. “I hope, if it please Heaven there should be another Son, they will have better Sponsors, & less Parade.” The sponsors of the Duke of Rutland’s child were the Prince Regent and the Duke of York. Jane Austen often mentions matters concerning noble personages, almost as if she knew them; she certainly took an interest in them, but I suppose these things were made much of in the newspapers, so she’s commenting on what she reads.

Trip planning – she hopes Henry doesn’t want her in town again; she’s planning to go to Bookham, and wants to go straight home afterward. Then something about the movements of Martha, and the Deans Dundases, who have taken a house at Clifton. More interesting is that she has received a letter from Miss Sharpe, who has been suffering (we don’t know with what), but is now
more comfortable. She is at the house of Sir William Pilkington, in Yorkshire. Austen writes, “She writes highly of Sir Wm – I do so want him to marry her! – There is a Dow: Lady P. presiding there, to make it all right.” Sir William, born 1775, didn’t marry until 1825. Mysteriously, she writes, “The Man is the same; but she does not mention what he is by Profession or Trade. – She does not think Lady P. was privy to his Scheme on her; but on being in his power, yielded.” Yielded to what? What scheme on her? Has Miss Sharp been telling Austen hopefully about advances from her employer? Not very decorous, but Austen writes in a sort of odd glee, “Oh! Sir Wm – Sir Wm – how I will love you, if you will love Miss Sharp!”

We commonly write about the situation of spinsters forced into governess work, as serious and pitiable (as it is treated in the novels), but here it seems to be a matter for pleasantry. Yet Miss Sharp was her good friend, and she certainly sympathized with her. Perhaps this girlish sort of levity was how they joked together.

Some domestic material about Mrs. Driver (housekeeper at Godmersham) being off by Collier (coachman), and not having time to leave the keys. “The Coach was stopt at the Blacksmith’s, & they came running down, with Triggs, & Browning, & Trunks & Bird cages. Quite amusing!” A farcical scene, one presumes.


A Marengo c.1903-4 by Walter Richard Sickert 1860-1942
Walter Richard Sicket (1860-1942): A Marengo, an imitation conversation piece

My exegeses from the point of view of the individuals on Austen’s mind. The paragraphs arise associatively as themes runs through Austen’s mind.

So, to Frank (first Frank):

She has had a letter from Frank; apparently he hoped to come to Chawton to see Jane and mother but has been delayed:

— I heard yesterday from Frank; when he began his Letter he hoped to be here on Monday, but before it was ended he had been told that the Naval Review will not take place till Friday, which will probably occasion him some delay, as he cannot get some necessary business of his own attended to, while Portsmouth is in such a bustle

At the close in a postscript: Frank and his wife Mary have hired Mary Goodchild to be an undermaid. She’s just delighted …

Then Henry:

The famous way over-quoted exclamation about Henry. Diana provides some context by seeing the juxtaposition might have meaning. I agree. It sounds like the two sisters have been wishing for a possible new sister-in-law. Certainly he wants women around. About the individual LeFaye says nothing, but the family was politically radical and rich. That’s interesting that he was drawn to a rich and radical woman — he wants interesting people I see. He likes to travel into the country, of course was married to Eliza:

Henry at Whites! — Oh! what a Henry.-I do not know what to wish as to Miss B, so I will hold my tongue & my wishes …

But there is more on Henry. Jane is reluctant to come back: Henry wants her in town perhaps when Cassandra leaves, but this is not what Jane wants; however, she feels she can’t say no since it was “kindly intended:” he takes her places and also helps her with her publishing. MP has just come out and Emma is going strong. Still she doesn’t want it. I think that’s significant.

I certainly do not wish that Henry should think again of getting me to Town. I would rather return straight from Bookham; but if he really does propose it, I cannot say No, to what will be so kindly intended. It could be but for a few days however, as my Mother would be quite disappointed by my exceeding the fortnight which I now talk of as the outside;-at least we could not both remain longer away comfortably. —

Now for Martha Lloyd:

This is as and more significant than the passages about her brothers or Anne Sharpe (to follow). There are as many lines about Martha as Frank, more than about Henry, and as many as about Anne Sharp. Jane does not want to return to Henry because Martha is coming. This was to be Martha’s time and it appears that Cassandra wants to be there too. The friendship has stayed strong — more than friendship it was at one time.

The details (not looked into by LeFaye at all) are about Martha’s constraints and lack of money. Martha is a paid companion (toady was the ugly sneering term): Mrs Craven we are told by Caroline was a harridan of a woman (that’s backed up by others). And notice she’s not been paid. The tiny sum not given her. Would she quit? not likely. We are not reminded in modern serials that often it was hard to get the money owed, as servants were used by fringe people. Martha needs this money to to come: “I fear her going at all, depends on that.” She also worked for the Dundases – remember that old lady’s death. Well this group is going to Clifton instead of Bath; Martha would not prefer this (she prefers seeing Jane and Cassandra) but it would make a change (away from the lady she works for and Mrs Craven). It’s very hot at that time of year (to the English at any rate): I find poignant: “as far as she has any time …”

— The middle of July is Martha’s time, as far as she has any time. She has left it to M” Craven to fix the day.-I wish she could get her Money paid, for I fear her going at ail, depends upon that. — Instead of Bath, the Deans Dundases have taken a House at Clifton, — Richmond Terrace — & she is as glad of the change as even You & I should be-or almost. — She will now be able to go on from Berks & visit them, without any fears from Heat. —

By association and because the plan (thwarted again) was for the four friends Austen turns to write of Ann Sharpe. People quote the joke about Mr Pilkington marrying Ann as evidence of how Austen is partly desperately mercenary and because the line is half-jokey. But coming up after Martha’s problems it’s not all that funny nor is it quite intended to be. First she has been suffering but we don’t know why; anyhow now she’s better comparatively. Perhaps just being a governess to this man and some children? but it does read like a physical ailment. Worse yet: another planned happy time for the women crushed here too. “There is no appearance of her quitting them.” A real pleasure lost. What kind of man was Pilkington? LeFaye tells us what sister married who. Useless. So it could be that Austen is half-mocking that Anne writes so highly of the very man whose family keeps her from coming. He is her boss, one of her bosses. Perhaps she was excusing him for not giving her this time. “The man is the same” suggests they have met him and he’s the same sort of man still, not changed. There have been love passages is hinted too: Lady P privy and the need of another woman, the dowager.

— This Post has brought me a Letter from Miss Sharpe. Poor thing! she has been suffering indeed! but is now in a comparative state of comfort. She is at Sir WP’s, in Yorkshire, with the Children, & there is no appearance of her quitting them. — Of course, we lose the pleasure of seeing her here. She writes highly of Sir Wm — I do so want him to marry her! –There is a Dowager Lady P presiding there, to make it all right.- The Man is the same; but she does not mention what he is by Profession or Trade. — She does not think Lady P was privy to his Scheme on her; but on being in his power, yielded. — Oh! Sir Wm — Sir Wm — how I will love you, if you will love Miss Sharp!

Miss Benn:

Might as well bring in Miss Benn (reflected in Miss Bates) here and while not too many words, she has been in these letters for years now and occurs in two separates places. Her finger not yet good, but she is in good spirits – as Miss Bates often was and she too was glad to “accept any invitation:”

— Miss Benn has drunk tea with the Prowtings, & I beleive comes to us this evens, She has still a swelling about the fore-finger, & a little discharge, & does not seem to be on the point of a perfect cure; but her Spirits are good-& she will be most happy I beleive to accept any Invitation. —

I will agree that the leeches are perhaps for Miss Benn. Indeed I think it’s probable from what I’ve read about leeches, and actually I’ve read some genuinely medically informed papers on this. They used leeches for digits (fingers, extremities). It’s good to see that the Austens are taking care for Miss Benn to help her, and they are enlisting the woman servant, Sackree to help too. That’s picture of decent caring for someone who is a nobody.

Mansfield Park as subject, aka Fanny Price:

Fewer lines. These have escaped critics as remarks on MP Austen gathered, probably because she didn’t single them out in the folder she kept. She did not see this identification as important as it is for readers reading her (and other books like hers:

— We have called upon Miss Dusautoy & Miss Papillon & been very pretty.-Miss D. has a great idea of being Fanny Price, she & her youngest sister together, who is named Fanny. —

This could mean they want to be Fanny, they see she’s the heroine, or Miss Dusautoy fears that Austen herself has her in mind or if not her, someone like her. That would imply trepidation when the lines suggest they are delighted to be Fanny together. They recognize traits and are not at all put off. Miss Papillon is part of a family Austen saw often and makes fun of so it’s not improbable the people in the neighborhood did fear they’d find themselves in these books (another reason for anonymity in the era).

A dead baby joke. We haven’t had one of these in a while. The irritant here is her revulsion against the phoniness of the people’s professions (the sponsors) and the overt displays:

Only think of the Marquis of Granby being dead. I hope, if it please Heaven there should be another Son, they will have better Sponsors & less Parade.

For the rest we have household news. Of this we can say Austen is paying attention Sackree, a woman servant and conveys her anxieties the work she did will get there:

Sackree & the Children set off yesterday & have not been returned back upon us. They were all very well the Evening before. — We had handsome presents from the Gt House yesterday, a Ham & the 4 Leeches. — Sackree has left some shirts of her Master’s at the School, which finished or unfinished she begs to have sent by Henry & Wm. — Mr Hinton is expected home soon, which is a good thing for the Shirts

After all Sackree’s efforts Jane would not want them to get lost. Jane is described in another letter as making shirts for men. An arduous task, time-consuming, difficult. Remember how she said she wished she could buy dresses ready-made at one point. That awareness plus the servant wanting her work to acknowledged (and thus herself feel more secure).

Mrs Austen’s doings

It may be hot, but it’s going to be cold and Mrs Austen thinking ahead (a long life of required thrift here) is getting her wood in, and a wood that provides heat quickly and light (you save on candles)

— -I go tomorrow, & hope for some delays & adventures.-My Mother’s Wood is brought in — but by some mistake, no Bavins.’ She must therefore buy some. —

At the very close, her mother wants a letter from Cassandra.

And just before the very end: Triggs, the gamekeeper: a comical scene of the gamekeeper trying to cope with the birds that have been brought from elsewhere, making sure they don’t get loose, Triggs who supplied a chair to get to Bookham — did he not? Austen knows him too:

The Coach was stopt at the Blacksmith’s, & they came running down, with Triggs, & Browning, & Trunks & Bird cages. Quite amusing!


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Dear friends and readers,

So 200 years ago today precisely Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was finally published. This 17 years after her father first sent it out for publication when it was an epistolary novel called First Impressions; this after probably at least 2 wholescale revisions and one “lopp’d and chopp’d.” On the 29th she wrote to her sister: “I have got my own darling child from London,” and asks whether there are hedgerows in Northamptonshire because she was ever anxious about the literal verisimilitude of her portraits of settings and was writing Mansfield Park.

It really is not clear that the text had been improved. But it was given to the public in its truncated state. Since others are celebrating this day by imitating Bloomsday: where Joyceans read aloud as much of Ulysses over the course of a day as anyone could stand, so people were reading P&P today, perhaps with greater ease.

I’m thinking its wide dissemination, its licensing other texts by women might serve as an aspect of why we remember this day. Austen’s texts provides sociological events — on TV starting with the 1995 BBC/WBGH Pride and Prejudice. This Sunday, Downton Abbey (built partly out of the initial situation of P&P, a man with too many daughters and not enough money to support his estate) dramatized the centuries-old profound pain and death of women of women in childbirth in the story of the third daughter, Sybil (Deborah Findlay-Brown). Not very shocking any more, but once upon a time showing parturition in this way was taboo.

Well the first text to depict the realities of an abortion may also be said to have been authorized by Austen’s P&P. Rosamund Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets. The careless hero, married, indifferent to a coming child of his mistress (a term Olivia cringes at), Olivia ends up having her abortion alone. She must not have a child or she’ll be out of a job forever, “ruined” if found out. (Like Ethel in DA.) We are spared none of the banal sordid details, including her time in the bathroom when she returns to the flat afterwards.

To support herself or just by chance during her ordeal Olivia reads Pride and Prejudice while recuperating from her abortion. We as readers are left to take this as ironic or read it as straight (she really takes comfort in the romance figure of Mr Darcy, all teh while knowing better). In Pilgrimage, another courageous novel, Dorothy Richardson’s powerful cyclical novel no one reads aloud over the course of a day dares to hint at an abortion by its heroine, Miriam, who also favors Austen’s novel. And Miriam, like Elizabeth Bennet, is visited by an older authority female figure, the cad married lover’s mother, who comes to persuade her to give him up, only to have Miriam not only refuse but give away she’s pregnant, upon which the cad married lover’s mother breaks down and flees. This is replicated in The Weather in the Streets, and of course it all descends from Elizabeth standing up to Lady Catherine de Bourgh, though Austen probably read such scenes in Smith and Radcliffe (more explicit and radical) earlier. In Invitation to a Waltz, Lehman’s heroine declares Austen is one of her favorite authors.


Lehmann wrote one of the great novels of this century by any gendered-person and by women: The Echoing Grove (badly titled, the title chosen by her publisher). The story is of two sisters, both aging: Madeleine, now a widow who lives alone, and Dinah, also a woman whose husband is dead (he died in WW2 fighting in the International Brigade in Spain). Dinah has come to visit Madeleine, an attempt at a reconciliation after an estrangement of perhaps many years. Madeleine has a grown daughter, one Clarissa, who loves cooking and has not yet appeared. There is a dog, Gwilyn. So another of these novels centered in women’s lives.

Early in the story we discover that the two heroines who are sisters were rivals for the love — or perhaps lust is the better word — of the husband of one of them. Madeleine’s husband, Rickie Masters, became the lover of her sister, Dinah, and Dinah became pregnant by Rickie and gave birth to a stillborn infant. This paradigm is suggested in the first chapter (why they became estranged) and the still birth is recounted early in the second.

Two women closely vying, rivals, for the love of a man: sometimes wife and mistress, sometimes two girlfriends, sometimes mother and daughter; in non-western cultures, two wives, and sister non-married and wife. As I recall Penny Richards (the moderator of WWTTA at the time) suggested this paradigm was central to women’s novels frequently and came out of the structure of our male hegemonic societies.

Lehmann treats this woman-on-woman relationship with great and intense power. We see how central is who or what a woman’s mother is and how she treated her daughter is central to the daughter’s personality and outlook and expectations and goals, for Madeleine and Dinah’s mother has recently died (as well as Madeleine’s husband, Rickie) and this brings the two women together — to divide the inheritance or at least discuss their futures. They visit the room of Madeleine’s grown unmarried daughter, Clarissa, a place which shows Clarissa gathering her history out of artefacts and sites of memory. Clarissa does not want to create a home apart from the house her mother lives in or the things she’s taken from her mother’s history, her two brothers, and her grandmother. An allusion to Richardson’s heroine? probably. And Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway.

The inward style allows Lehmann to move back and forth in time swiftly and the use of nuance and subtleties bringing out a depth of passion to the surface as what is there if only we will look reminds me of Elizabeth Bowen and (more recently) Elizabeth Jane Howard (The Long View anyone?). “The lineaments of ungratified desire.”

I could cite women writes endlessly here. Annie Ernaux reading Lehmann’s Dusty Answer is my most recent. A friend reading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend discovered the book that counted for that pair of women was Alcott’s Little Women.


Unfortunately the film adaptation, The Heart of Me, turns the story into something misogynist with the wife (Olivia Williams as a sterile witch-like frustrated women) and her sister (Helene Bonham Carter) a self-indulgent mindless Marianne. But it’s telling that Carter played the Marianne role in E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, where we find Emma Thompson in the Elinor role.

Olivia Williams

It’s not a coincidence that Williams also played Austen in Miss Austen Regrets. The general culture at large has a strongly ambivalent attitude towards the intellectual self-sufficient self-controlled woman. All these part of the general legacy of Austen and the specific trajectory inherited through her novels.

200 hundred years ago today,


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In her, rare union, were combined a fair form, and a fairer         mind;
Hers fancy quick, and clear good sense,
And wit which never gave offence;
A heart as warm as ever beat,
A temper even; calm & sweet.
Though quick & keen her mental eye
Poor nature’s foibles to espy,
And seemed for [ever?] on the watch,
Some trails of ridicule to catch
Yet not a word she ever penned
Which hurt the feelings of a friend.
— James Austen, “Lines to the memory of … Jane Austen, who died at Winchester July 18th 1817, & was buried in that Cathedral.”

Death often meant displacement for all but the heir to a property in Austen’s world: Austen’s first published novels begins with just this, Joanne David as Elinor with the family leaving Norland mansion for a cottage in Devonshire (1971 S&S)

Dear friends and readers,

Today was the DC area JASNA’s fall get-together, and it was, I’m glad to say, as usual pleasant and entertaining. We met at Brio, an Italian restaurant in Tysons Corner Mall (1) , so the food was yummy. Many people came so we had lots of friendly talk at the crowded tables. The usual questions: when did you first read Jane Austen? how did you learn of this society? where do you live? what have you read of Jane Austen lately. This is an important part of the experience, renewing your sense of belonging to different Jane Austen worlds.

And belying the apparent grimness and melancholy of the topics, the talks were amusing and stimulating. Obituaries, remembrance and death? Yes, Tim Bullamore, editor and publisher of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, is himself a writer of hundreds (we were told) obituaries (classical music and operas) for the London Times was witty and Amy Patterson, the present owner of the Jane Austen Bookstore in Cleveland, brought home to us the variety of death and memory of the dead in Austen (even if no deaths occur in front of us).

Mr Bullamore first outlined what obituaries generally are: portraits which mirror how the deceased was regarded by others at the time of death, a status snapshot. They dwell on life: what was the person’s life like; a few essential facts, a character sketch and who (is presumed) mourning. Who gets an obituary, how long, where published depends on the person’s rank, sex, connections, money. The wit or fun of his speech came from his reading aloud to us, some sharply critical obituaries (to the prince regent of Austen’s day), and he made his matter piquant by following the fortunes of the Princess Charlotte’s appearances in the press as she first lay giving birth, and then dying herself and the British hoped-for heir. The fuss seemed equivalent to hat meted out to the memory of Princess Diana in 1998.

What he wanted to suggest was slight unusualness of the obituary entries for Jane Austen in the local newspapers where they appeared, and the memorial for Jane on the floor of the Winchester cathedral. The memorial tells us first of all who was her father, his rank, what world he belonged to. Then we get a series of idealizing exemplary utterances some of which have a singular ring: “the extraordinary endowments of her mind.” None of her novels, nothing of her what we consider her accomplishments as a unique individual comes through. Not so in the few written notices which all seems to follow this few line pattern:

At Winchester, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of Rev. George Austen, Rector of Steventon, Hants, authoress of “Emma”, “Mansfield Park”, “Pride and Prejudice”, and “Sense and Sensibility.”

His topic and stance prompted some replies and questions. One woman who had heard a talk on just the memorial recently suggested Jane got into the church because her father and brother and other relatives were members of the local church hierarchy and as gentry had the money to pay for it. Another suggested women were not usually commemorated on stones: she cited one she saw that had lots of information about a husband on one side of the stone, and “and his wife” on the other. I asked if he knew if the size of the monument and/or obituary were typical for gentlewomen of the era, and putting aside famous writers of the time who would get obituaries (and Austen was not famous at all), were other minor novelists remembered in a few lines (say Mary Brunton). He couldn’t answer the latter question, but did say that in the page we were looking at Jane Austen was the only woman recorded. He seems to consider the size of the memorial out of the ordinary.

When around 7 o’clock over dinner (much later), Jim, I and Izzy talked about Mr Bullamore’s presentation, Jim suggested the comparison should be with say the other women of the Austen family. First who paid for it? If it were Frank, maybe my thesis that that Frank reciprocated Jane’s strong attachment to him would have more support. I thought about how Jane wrote Frank two separate versions of condoling letters on their father’s death, while we find none by her to her other brothers or any other relative or friend. We agreed probably though it was Edward who paid. Jon Spence has edited Edward’s journal of his trip and other papers and might include that information in the books. If it was Edward, how big was his monument to his wife, Elizabeth? Was it as large? similar? I remembered that we are told General Tilney builds a large monument to his wife where he has carved a long saying about his grief and the value he placed on her. LeFaye’s book on Eliza Austen ends with Henry’s published obituary for Eliza: it too situates Eliza as the (putative) daughter of someone, his career, and creates an exemplary portrait which yet rings somewhat true.

Photograph of Eliza de Feuillide Austen’s gravestone: it reads Philadelphia Hancock 26.2.1792, age 61 Her grandson Hastings Capot de Feuillide 25.6.1786. 9.10.1801 His mother. Elizabeth Austen 25.4.113. Aged 50.

After a raffle (which included a free subscription to the Jane Austen Regency World magazine), a basket of books from Jane Austen Books, and Austen paraphernalia to be sold at the coming JASNA (this week) in NYC, and coffee and desert for all, Amy Patterson gave a personally felt talk how we find death and the how the dead are remembered in Jane Austen’s novels. The personal feeling came out of her bringing in the recent death of her grandmother and how she had felt about this, how her grandmother’s dying and death had been coped with, what was said at her funeral. This encouraged people in the audience to remember and compare their experiences of the deaths of friends and family members. My mother died recently and I thought about what I had written.

“Help them?!” exclaims Fanny objecting to John Dashwood’s plan to give his step-sisters money to accomplish his promise to his father (from the 1995 S&S)

I had just written to Austen-l the other day about how there are no death scenes in Austen’s fiction; while it’s true no one dies on stage, Ms Patterson brought home how death is central to the stories, how the way the characters left respond to death reveals their moral natures, and how Austen makes critical social commentary through these responses. Ms Patterson began by acknowledging that in Austen’s letters she is far from pious and sentimental over deaths, but waxes a combination of brutal, sarcastic, mocking, judgmental (except for her father), non-caring (except for the uncle’s death where the family found they had been manipulatively led to have false expectations of legacies). We all know the familiar quotations.

Mrs. Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband. (October 27, 1798)

As is so common, she tried to downplay these by citing Jane’s letters on her father’s death, her genuinely moving poem on her friend. Mrs Lefroy’s sudden death, and of course saying how these were meant for private letters (though this does not change the essential stance and nature Austen evinces). They don’t altogether contrast with what’s found in books as part of Austen’s distaste for the way death is treated by people comes from her rejection of hypocrisy and hypocrisy is one of the targets of the novels — as well as betrayal, such as opens Sense and Sensibility at the death of Mr Dashwood.

Ms Patterson was able to bring in an array of scenes from all six published mature novels, from Mrs Norris’s actual indifference to her husband’s fate; Mary Crawford’s disrespect for her uncle, the Admiral (not, I think, that Jane Austen feels he deserved much respect, especially from the niece he forced out of his house by taking in his mistress); Lady Catherine’s pride in Sir Lewis de Bourgh’s expensive windows, and on the depiction of loss and grief in Eleanor Tilney’s continual presence in her dead mother’s favorite walks, Lady Russell finding Anne Elliot alone brought to her mind the image of her mother (as for Colonel Brandon Marianne was a revenant of Eliza Brandon)

Eleanor is admitting to Catherine that she was not there when her mother died, and it would have been a comfort to have been there (2008 BBC NA)

In fact, death is a cause of much of the action and turns of the narratives of the novels, as in the above scene where Catherine is first alerted to the possibiliy that Mrs Tilney might not be dead after all, but (like Genlis’s Countess de C***) knowing a life-in-death and tortured existence somewhere in the abbey. In a way there’s just too much to say about death in Austen’s novels and letters for one talk. Austen’s narrator’s dismissal of the worthless, useless Dick Musgrove (whom everyone but himself is much before off without) is part of a satire on people’s unawareness of their real feelings (Mrs Musgrove did not appear to have mourned Dick until the chance mention, partly because she does not miss the real person that was). Who did write the prayer in which Austen seems to register some guilt for “having willingly given pain” to other “human beings.” It’s now thought to be by Charles but there is something about the thought that brings to mind Austen’s uses of ridicule.

I know what I enjoy best about conferences are the good talks as well as when people are friendly and share experiences of reading Austen and this afternoon made me regret that I am not going to the coming JASNA AGM in NYC — though I will be at the day long Burney society meeting. Izzy enjoyed the time as much as I. She had wanted to go. When I became nervous about finding the right mall (there are two Tyson Corner malls) and hedged on going, she was eager to over-ride all objections, and when I said we would be sure to go to the JASNA meeting in Montreal two years from now, she really agreed.

When the luncheon was done, I bought an old issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World — it’s a light but informative magazine, filled with appropriate pictures, including the weather at the time: the copy I picked up had articles on childbirth, P. D. James’s latest sequel and on how snow was experienced at the time.

A comic snowscene — and it was not easy to walk in the streets or keep warm in this era

I also brought home a brochure of books from the bookshop and talked with Amy Patterson and said how much I enjoyed her presentation and she agreed with me that many of the rough comments in Austen’s letters about dead babies were not so much about the death of babies as the endless pregnancies of women, their deaths, physical ruin, exhaustion, as

I believe I never told you that Mrs Coulthard and Anne, late of Mandown, are both dead, and both died in childbed. We have not regaled Mary [James’s wife, then due to give birth) with this news (Letter 11 in LeFaye’s edition)

My old stubborn love of Austen was renewed today,

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One of several scenes from the Austen movies where her letters or a favorite book of a heroine (Radcliffe’s Udolpho) is burned (from Miss Austen Regrets, 2009)

Dear friends and readers,

Reading Catherine Hubback’s letters (An Englishwoman in California, ed., introd. Zoe Klippert) has given me some sense of the personality and motives for the destruction of Jane’s 3 packets to Frank (as it’s said it was) and letters (not specified further except that it was a full correspondence) to Martha Lloyd. The letters of Hubback are accompanied by a short biography and character sketches of some of Hubback’s siblings. An important one is for Frances Sophia Austen called Fanny (1821-1904). She destroyed both sets of letters without consulting anyone else. She never married; she was the youngest of Frank’s children, and, as presented, she ended up the daughter under pressure to take care of her father after Martha Lloyd died (Martha predeceased Frank as she was at least 11 years younger than him, the same distance Eliza de Feuillide was from Henry Austen).

Upon the father dying, she apparently rushed to destroy his and Jane’s letters. She really left not a moment and consulted no one. Frank had kept these letters near him all his life (Southam, JA and the Navy).

Upon being told that James Edward austen-Leigh was writing a biography of the aunt and looking for letters to Martha, she destroyed those (this is from Villasenor, Women Readers and the Victorian Jane Austen) too and Catherine Hubback comments on her youngest sister). They therefore had lasted years longer.

There is something peculiar here, not necessarily that the woman saw clearly any incestuous or lesbian feelings but that she was in her fathe’s case jealous and suspicious. It reminds me of when people die where I’ve seen some close relative or friend destroy something very quickly that they have resented for years. Edward Austen (not given to writing about texts) said of Jane’s letters to Frank (in Southam, p 66) that they were “such thinking, clear, considerate Letters as Frank might have written”. The two were congenial — remember Frank’s letters on the horribleness of dropping bombs on others (like Popham tried to).

With Martha there does seem in this woman’s mind to have been something to hide.

My regret on the letters to Frank is I assume she discussed naval realities and politics; to Martha I assume discussion of her novels. Remember how Martha was said to have First Impressions nearly by heart. (Catherine Hubback working from memory of The Watsons certainly had some of it by heart and some nearly.) In those few letters before the blow about leaving Steventon fell, Austen talks of how she loves to talk with Martha; she does not come to read but talk and walk with her. She is ecstatic with her (letter 28, Sun, 30 Nov, Mon 1 Dec, 1800, from Ibthorpe, and letter 26, 12-23, Wed-Thurs, Nov 180).

Fanny Austen. She got back? Catherine Hubback suggests to Frank’s children Martha LLoyd appeared a rigid disciplinarian, and an old and ugly woman; they resented her taking their mother’s place. As children they could not see he was marrying his beloved sister’s best friend too. Later one they probably did see it (Catherine Hubback certainly did) and this new insight may not have helped matters.


A kind friend of mine has written to me about her work on a love relationship forbidden by social conventions of an era (this one homosexual) and I use some of her word. Since the letters of Jane Austen’s visit to Martha addressed to Cassandra, just before Jane came home to be told Steventon was to be turned over to her oldest brother, James, and I saw the ecstasy of the woman with her friend, “the vital question there too, I would think, is not a vacuous id they sleep together? but how did Martha sustain and nurture and inspire Austen’s work.”

We can never know this, never know for example, the relationship of Martha Lloyd to Charlotte Lucas (see “Some Thoughts on Charlotte Lucas …”), and never see the wider genuinely political Jane Austen, perhaps reactionary in comparison to her brother, but we would at least know it.


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