Dear friends and readers,
We have had another break in time (see Letter 69, 28 July 1809), the longest since the 3 and 4 month break between May 1801 when (in Letter 38) we left an apparently more equable, somewhat less strained Jane still at Paragon Buildings; and did not have any evidence from her of her existence, what like, where, until September 1804 (Letter 39) she writes from Lyme, in a spirit of recovery.
It is of course tempting to say there were no letters because even if (the probabilities are strongly on the side of this), Cassandra kept going off to Godmersham and other relatives, Jane was just too immersed in her writing to give anything to letters. The evidence though is all along she wrote in the mornings, and often all morning long. When we pick up with her again, we see the same social life carried on as we had seen in 1809.
This is also an enormously cheerful letter; she is just super-lively and it is a long letter to keep this up. Even what she clearly dislikes is presented as well, thank the stars that’s over: “I bless my stars that I have done with tuesday” (the day of course caught my eye). She drops accurate observations: “Theo'” … came back in time to shew his usual nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless Civility.” It’s the “harmless” going with “heartless” that shows toleration today She is living with Henry just now and Eliza and a party is planned, a big one, not usually Jane’s thing. But she says here she “finds all these little parties pleasant.”
What do we see generally: Jane is again attempting to build a female community. She has a real relationship again with a woman servant, French in origin if her name means anything, Manon (but we have to note against that she calls one of the musicians a “hireling”). Jane has gained a new peer companion woman friend, Mary Cook who Jane Austen longs to take back with her to Chawton. Mary is another of these fringe women who never married. She has also successfully arranged to visit another woman friend, Catherine Bigg, now Mrs Hill and the plan is to take Mary to Catherine and perhaps the three of them proceed to Chawton. It didn’t happen. But she wants it.
She still gets so much pleasure from walking ” We are come back, after a good dose of Walking & Coaching” (her and Eliza). There is news of her sailor brothers; there is her intense pleasure in Henry’s presence, Henry who we will later learn is centrally instrumental in the coming publication of Sense and Sensibility “by a Lady.” What is not said is Jane Austen is in London because she has taken it on her own to edit and prepare for printing, and printed a third of that original set of three novels from Steventon, now called (as of the next letter) S&S, and is awaiting proofs. This it is that cheers and buoys her so strongly.
Still I think something happened which prompted — helped prompt her acting at last. It could be in the form of encouragement, but it also could be in the form of reaction to something that occurred at Chawton that told her “enough” and I must do this or just die away. This letter for all its cheer has two pieces cut out or pasted over
The letter opens with an effusiveness towards Cassandra. She has too many things to record – she seems to feel alive by recording them. So she had better get them down.
What is she doing? visited with the Cookes – their lodgings were in Bentick St. Again female single friends and not overly rich, for LeFaye describes one Cooke as someone who rented Camilla. The Arnold family are relations of the Cookes who knew the Austens in Bath too. The Cookes were connected by a previous generation having married into the Leigh family (a Cassandra Leigh – the name popular to flatter a Countess they were related to, soften her up).
I have so many little matters to tell you of, that I cannot wait any longer before I begin to put them down. — I spent tuesday in Bentinck St; the Cookes called here & took me back; & it was quite a Cooke day, for the Miss Rolles paid a visit while I was there, & Sam Arnold dropt in to tea.
She had planned to see another single woman friend but the rain stopped her. This is Maria or Mary who lives in London and earns her keep as a hostess for her widowed brother-in-law. But no matter, Mary Cooke (the woman Austen later plans/longs to bring back to Chawton with her) goes to the Liverpool Museum with Jane. Jane’s taste and interest here reminds me of Mary Crawford. The other name for the museum was Bullock’s and it appears to have been filled with stuffed birds; also reptiles, arms, some works of art. I’d like to think Austen was also turned off by the stuffed birds, and entertained (satirically) by the nonsense and indifference of those at the museum.
The badness of the weather disconcerted an excellent plan of mine, that of calling on Miss Beckford again, but from the middle of the day it rained incessantly. Mary & I, after disposing of her Father & Mother, went to the Liverpool Museum, the British Gallery, & I had some amusement at each, tho’ my preference for Men & Women, always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight. —
Alas, the mother does not want to give Mary up to Jane. First, apologies lest Cassandra have been offended they did not open their doors to her. We have an excised strip. Austen maybe emitted a bitter comment about this snubbing. The servant blunder suggests the Austen sisters did not dress in a way or present themselves sufficiently in a way that signaled their importance; indeed far from that. They are still far from monied. We’ve seen this before – when the Austens were not let in in Southampton. So this single mature woman earns her keep by being the nurse. The mother will only concede this if a brother appears and men we know don’t have to do this. Women’s work
Mrs Cooke regrets very much that she did not see you when you called, it was oweing blunder among the servants, for she did not know of our visit till we were gone. — She seems tolerably well; but the nervous part of her Complaint I fear increases, & makes her more & more unwilling to part with Mary. — I have proposed to the latter that she should go to Chawton with me, on the supposition of my traveling the Guildford road-& she I do beleive, would be glad to do it, but perhaps it may be impossible; unless a Brother can be at home at that time, it certainly must. —
It’s here we get the sudden darker note that is undercut. It was irritating to Austen to see how these young men got away with acting indifference. She also didn’t care for Theodore’s professions of friendship. Clearly it’s all on the surface since he won’t offer to be helpful to the mother so the sister can have some life space and friendship. Now I see the origin of “heartless” is specific. (That’s why one close reads).
George comes to them to day. I did not see Theo’ till late on Tuesday; he was gone to Ilford, but he came back in time to shew his usual, nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless Civility. —
From the opening of 1981 BBC S&S: Mrs Dashwood (Diane Fairfax) and Marianne (Tracey Childs Madden), facing Elinor in the coach on their way back from having seen an acceptable too expensive place to rent
Henry picked her up on the way home from the frustrating end of her visit to the Cookes. He threw life and wit into the Cook party. So there had been none. Off they went in a hackney coach. Austen alone didn’t dare. How I wish I knew what happened on that Tuesday; not that the novel’s use of Tuesday comes from this day — as the day is already embedded in S&S, but that to Austen Tuesday was (apparently) automatically a signal to groan and/or dread something to be gotten over as an ordeal.
Henry, who had been confined the whole day to the Bank, took me in his way home; & after putting Life & Wit into the party for a quarter of an hour, put himself & his Sister into a Hackney coach. — I bless my stars that I have done with tuesday! —
Whew. It’s over. Alas Wedneday turned out also to “be a day of great doings.” Austen likes quiet (that I know from the novels as well as the letters) — except for dances; that is the one exception. Austen goes shopping with Eliza’s French maid. Crews is a loosely woven embroidered yarn.
But alas! — Wednesday was likewise a day of great doings, for Manon & I took our walk to Grafton House, & I have a good deal to say on that subject. I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too; for in a Linendraper’s shop to which I went for check’d Muslin, & for which I was obliged to give seven shillings a yard, I was tempted by a pretty coloured muslin, & bought 10 yards of it, on the chance of your liking it;-but at the same time if it should not suit you, you must not think yourself at all obliged to take it; it is only 3/6 per yard, & I should not in the least mind keeping the whole.-In texture, it is just what we prefer, but its’ resemblance to green crews I must own is not great, for the pattern is a small red spot. — ?
A briefly (?) censored passage: Austen is referring to some private mortification of Cassandra’s. Something Cassandra needed or wanted and she could not bear to read herself nor allow anyone else. Austen did not realize how sore Cassandra was here. She sounds satisfied with what’s she ‘s done and written. “now I believe I have done all my commissions. All that’s left is to buy Wedgwood china (earthenware, British made) and the tone is complacent.
–?[I took the opportunity of buying some ((two words lost here) for you], & now I beleive I have done all my commissions, except Wedgwood.
A full account of Manon and their time shopping: she loved to walk, she is comfortable with this servant. They did have to wait. They are not important people nor look it. When they were finally attended to, she was satisfied and didn’t over spend. Still a central consideration.
I liked my walk very much; it was shorter than I had expected, & the weather was delightful. We set off immediately after breakfast & must have reached Grafton House by 1/2 past 11 –, but when we entered the Shop, the whole Counter was thronged, & we waited full half an hour before we could be attended to. When we were served however, I was very well satisfied with my purchases, my Bugle Trimming at 2/4ds & 3 pt silk Stockings for a little less than 12.1/S. a pt
Another turn. The way back:. This is a different Mr Moore from the novelist or the general: Mr Moore of Wrotham. She likes him and their mutual acquaintance, the Bridges. LeFaye quotes Halsted (a historian of Kent) to the effect that this Mr Moore “was universally hated” but does suggest why. Austen is just chortling with happiness: the milliner (daughter of a haberdasher) who makes her a new pretty bonnet must make her a straw one.
Nothing less will do for the published novelist. She confesses she is “shocking” but delighting in this small affordable extravagance and anyway backtracks to say it was “not dear at a Guinea.” Still the buttons are high:
— In my way back, who should I meet but Mr Moore, just come from Beckenham. I beleive he would have passed me, if I had not made him stop-but we were delighted to meet. I soon found however that he had nothing new to tell me, & then I let him go.-Miss Burton has made me a very pretty little Bonnet — & now nothing can satisfy me but I must have a straw hat, of the riding hat shape, like Mrs Tilson’s; & a young woman in this Neighbourhood is actually making me one. I am really very shocking; but it will not be dear at a Guinea. — Our Pelisses are 17/S. each — she charges only 81 for the making, but the Buttons seem expensive; — are expensive, I might have said — for the fact is plain enough. —
Then who they drank tea with when they got back to Sloane Street, and how they will see these people tomorrow at another small social party (not devoted to cards you see): Henry would have taken her to the play at the Lyceum to crown the day but she has a cold. The Tilsons’ connection is to Henry as militia people (Henry had been in the local militia). Smiths are friends of Tilsons. (How circles widen in this way.) Austen uses a joke name for Mrs Smith who sings well and may sing tomorrow night. We are not told which play but Lyceum was an opera house, not one of the two patented theaters. Perhaps they did plays there too, sung ones.
We drank tea again yesterday with the Tilsons, & met the Smiths. — I find all these little parties very pleasant. I like Mr S. Miss Beaty is good humour itself, & does not seem much besides. We spend tomorrow even with them, & are to meet the Coln & Mrs Cantelo Smith, you have been used to hear of; & if she is in good humour, are likely to have excellent singing. — To night I might have been at the Play, Henry had kindly planned our going together to the Lyceum, but I have a cold which I should not like to make worse before Saturday; — so, I stay within, all this day. —
And that’s why she’s in right now writing all this up.
On Friday the note is short: A party in the works, just the sort of thing to associate with Eliza Austen. We can see Jane imagining Cassandra reading aloud the letter to Fanny and what is implied is that sometimes Fanny grows restless and doesn’t listen. (From her diary entries it’s clear she wasn’t inward or thoughtful at all, no indication of anything about the people’s she’s with either.)
In the notes LeFaye tells us a married couple named Egerton were friends of Eliza and surmises that Henry was their son. The Walter family are descendents of George Austen (Henry and Jane’s father)’s mother, Rebecca Hampson who in her first married married a George Walter. William Hampson Walter was half-brother to George and these are their descendents (how clannish patronage and the need to curry favor for everything made everyone). Henry the eldest son of the Rev James Walter. I wonder who “her” prejudice refers to, and see in the pointed reference an allusion to Austen’s novel, First Impressions — by that time perhaps it was called Pride and Prejudice, but in any case, the theme of Elizabeth’s prejudice was in it without the change of title. There’s a been a softening as Jane earlier refused to admit to any pleasure since she had so little knowledge of high cultured music. I feel what she disliked was hypocritical effusions of pleasure.
so, I stay within, all this day.– Eliza is walking out by herself. She has plenty of business on her hands just now — for the day of the Parry is settled, & drawing near; — above 80 people are invited for next tuesday Evening & there is to be some very good Music, 5 professionals, 3 of them Glee-singers, besides Amateurs. — Fanny will listen to this. One of the Hirelings, is a Capital on the Harp, from which I expect great pleasure.– The foundation of the party was a dinner to Henry Egerton & Henry Walter” — but the latter leaves Town the day before. I am sorry — as I wished her prejudice to be done away — but she have been more sorry if there had been no invitation. —
She does know all this is shallow superficial she says; but perhaps she also worried about Cassandra’s response, felt Cassandra would expect more interest in family matters (naturally) as well as her own longed-for visit to Mrs Knight, whom they both like and was so generous to them both. The idea is one we see in Austen’s Persuasion — we care about the worlds we are in and forget those away from us:
I am a wretch to be so occupied with all these Things, as to seem to have no Thought to give to people & circumstances which really supply a far more lasting interest — the Society in which You are — but I do think of you all I assure you, & want to know all about everybody, & especially about your visit to the W Friars; “mais le moyen” not to be occupied with one’s own concerns?-
Saturday also brings unhappy naval politics. Henry’s connections brought the news from a clerk in the ticket office. So Henry had been sniffing around.
Let us recall that Gambier was the Admiral that George Austen applied to; he was the patron who got Frank and Charles on, and now he’s gone & another man brings his flunkies in. In such a world, it does not matter what your merit is; without law and rule and precedents (held to say by unions or some other mechanism) patronage trumps all. This is worrying. Not only the problem of where to live but what to live in if he does descend into half pay. Deborah Kaplan has a striking article about how Charles had his family in the ship; the realities that caused this (lack of money for a separate establishment) are slid over in the conversation in Persuasion.
Frank is superseded in the Caledonia. Henry brought us this news yesterday from Mr Daysh & he heard at the same time that Charles may be in England in the course of a month. — Sir Edwd Pellew succeeds Lord Gambier in his command, & some Captain of his, succeeds Frank; & I beleive the order is already gone out. Henry means to enquire farther to day; — he wrote to Mary on the occasion. — This is something to think of. — Henry is convinced that he will have the offer of something else, but does not think it will be at all incumbent on him to accept it; & then follows, what will he do? & where will he live? —
Again Jane thinks to herself she must mention Cassandra — this awareness of her interlocutor is keen and controlling. She wants to hear about Cassandra’s health — holding up against strain of mothering Edward’s younger children still. Mrs Austen is doing fine.
— I hope to hear from you today. How are you, as to Health, strength, Looks, stomach &c? — I had a very comfortable account from Chawton yesterday —
Then Eliza remembered and the plans for the day and evening ahead this Saturday: Austen gets a much much less expensive item. Again the play will be missed. It was a bother to go to plays; you had to send a servant early to hold your seat for you; a crowd, and not at all exclusive:
— If the Weather permits, Eliza & I walk into London this morning — she is in want of chimney lights for Tuesday; — & I, of an ounce of darning cotton. — She has resolved not to venture to the Play tonight.
Two of the people who did not come to the party, friends from France who were interesting people; D’Entraigues a scholar, forger, double agent married to an opera singer so they’d like a musical party. (We are told by LeFaye they were murdered in their house in 1812, a high price is paid for this kind of “high” stakes life style.) Instead they will visit this group the following evening. Jane’s words suggests she finds this preferable. It would be. The people might actually get to talk to one another for real.
The D’Entraigues & Comte Julien cannot come to the Party — which was at first a greif, but she has since supplied herself so well with Performers that it is of no consequence; their not coming has produced our going to them tomorrow Even! which I like the idea of. It will be amusing to see the ways of a French circle.
Much is made by David Nokes and other biographies of this party, but Jane Austen says it is not what she cares deeply about at all; it’s an “amusing” interest to see ways of other cultures. It’s the next few lines that show something she cares about.
Another woman friend. What she looks forward to is visiting Catherine Bigg (now Mrs Hill), and note the words used here. She had had to explain herself to make this smooth. I think her penchant for these women friends aroused distrust; it was different and it was noticed. It’s not clear if it was Henry to whom she originally applied to live that way of life with Martha and Cassandra in 1809; at the time it was Frank who was pointed to and we heard nothing of it. Jane was turned down. In any case Eliza has now replaced Martha.
Note too at long last Jane has made her own travel plans. If brother James cannot be bothered, “I can take care of myself” A new good note to hear but notice that all are conceding this to her; they are being kind. It’s not a right quite, but something they could have resented and she had to fight for and achieve (and thus is fragile).
In the early part of the letter she has had to give Mary Cooke up. She wanted to take Mary Cooke to Mrs Hill, spend time there and then with Mary on to Chawton. This sort of thing is what I am reading these letters so carefully to pick up.
I wrote to Mrs Hill a few days ago, & have received a most kind & satisfactory answer; my time, the first week in May, exactly suits her; & therefore I consider my Goings as tolerably fixed. I shall leave Sloane Street on the 1 st or 2& be ready for James on ye 9th;& if his plan alters, I can take care of myself. — I have explained my veiws here, & everything is smooth & pleasant; & Eliza talks kindly of conveying me to Streatham. —
And a final detail before going out with Eliza for these purchases: if you look at the Tilson family, you see again a number of unmarried females. The rest of the sentence is half-ironic: some pair of women who sing as part of their social act and some one related to them irritated because she could not show off about it.
We met the Tilsons yesterday Evening but the Singing Smiths sent an excuse-which put our Mrs Smith out of humour.
It’s still Saturday and Jane has returned to her writing desk. Whatever the family might like to claim, this was not hidden writing. It could not have been. The few instances we have of (nearly or at least covertly) uncensored sets with none missing show a rhythm of diary-letters every 3-4 days and these are diary. Rather like someone with a blog at hand.
Her great pleasure at walking. It’s a form of salutary medicine, a good dose. It seems that her eldest James Austen has written some new verses that Mrs Knight wants to see and Cassandra has written for them to be copied out. Jane does not have them; they were left at Chawton. We have to realize both sisters are from home, and that Chawton is not far from where Steventon still stood. Note the politeness of the deferrent society: the woman may have given them enough money to live on now and again, but Jane needs leave to write directly.
We are come back, after a good dose of Walking & Coaching, & I have the pleasure of your letter. — I wish I had James’s verses, but they were left at Chawton. When I return thither, if Mrs K, will give me :leave, I will send them to her.
Where did they walk and ride to? We are not told all of it, only the most important. It seems they would have preferred Shakespeare’s King John to his Hamlet. I know King John was liked in the 18th century: the story of internecine monarchical politics, and the emotional and tragic mother, with the famous speech of “convenience,” commodity in the play. Commodity rules the world. So they won’t go. If LeFaye had done her homework since the 3rd edition, she would have found out who was playing that night (but she has not — she consistently will research the tiniest point about an acquaintance of Austen’s especially when related to someone “important” but not research literary or art or musical works) because I’ve a hunch it does have to do with the cast.
Instead they will go to Macbeth Monday evening. Tomorrow they have their smaller friendly circle of French friends, and next Tuesday (which might mean this Tuesday in modern language) the party of 80 (or so), the musicians coming. On Jane’s mind though is this disappointment which Eliza shares. Even the few letters we’ve had about theater (like in Southampton when she worried Martha had not been enough) show she went to the theater much more than we realize and cared about it.
— Our first object to day was Henrietta Street to consult with Henry, in consequence of a very unlucky change of the day for this very night — Hamlet instead of King John — & we are to go on Monday to Macbeth, instead, but it is a disappointment to us both.
Love to all. Yours affectionately Jane.
Godmersham Park Faversham Kent
From first episode of 2008 BBC S&S: one of our first clear views of the whole Dashwood family (Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, Janet McTeer, Lucy Boynton) in mourning for the death of their father
By going slow over these details we not only see the plan to take Mary Cooke back to Chawton as a substitute for Martha, but another part of this plan: Jane intended to and was still going early from Sloane street for a visit to Catherine Bigg; what she really had in mind was all three women together, and then she and Mary carrying on alone to Chawton. I had not seen that until looking carefully.
In this case also a rare instance of her saying she will make her own travel arrangements; I’m struck by how she had to smooth things over to be allowed to leave early and fulfill this desire for a congenial time just as much as the relatives finally giving in. Perhaps seeing her pro-active on behalf of S&S has worked in her favor. People have a way of giving to someone they regard as strong what they want and not to someone they had not had to respect.