Colosseum, Rome, 1798 — Marmion has scenes like this
Ought I to be very much pleased with Marmion? — as yet I am not. James reads it aloud in the Evening — the short Evening — beginning at about 10 & broken by supper . . . [see my excursus in a comment]
Dear friends and readers,
This is another journal-letter, rather like the previous (52), only longer. Jane is still at Godmersham: she can enjoy summer at Godmersham, with Cassandra holding down the fort in Castle Square, with Mrs Austen and Anna Austen by Cassandra’s side. Jane Austen is intently alert to the difference between the luxurious existence of Godmersham and her own at Bath and Southampton and probable future (the Southampton menage would not keep up) and that her and Cassandra’s life tasks include taking care of and visiting old women alone and minding children.
This letter too is filled with specifics of people’s lives, some of which are not fully explained because we are expected to know the assumptions (as, for example, that Mr and Mrs Moore are watched acutely by Austen because, apparently, she and the rest of this clutch of Austen people and friends have been told that they don’t get along well, and perhaps that Mr Moore is even violent to Mrs Moore, a bully, off-stage). Sometimes statements are not fully explained because Austen does not fully explain this kind of thing, as her apparent lack of pleasure in Scott’s new wildly best-selling or at least read poem, Marmion, read aloud each night by brother James: this is indeed in character for him, and we see his wife cannot or does not stop all his reading loves. Each sentence is really loaded with this kind of thing. And just about nothing that we can see has been censored. Plus no letters are omitted.
So this is the kind of letter of which Cassandra totally approved and thought others could be allowed to see and read. No surprise really that on first blush it seems dull and certainly nothing unconventional can be seen. We have a whole series of these here, all longish.
We learn a lot about Austen from it and not superficial things either precisely because she epitomizes her life do intensely; it’s rather like reading the first couple of paragraphs of a rich novel and seeing how the passage (in an Arnoldian spirit) is the book in miniature, anticipates it. Not all learning is of her subjectivities and how she spends a social day — indeed read with care, we see that she spend 2-3 hours alone her apartment (that is her room and) each morning after breakfast — this is writing time, and given her intensity with no phones ringing, no internet, no chores, she could get quite a good deal done (written). We learn that Mrs Knight gave Austen money (the fee, the regular allowance) and this makes Austen feel better she says, pays for her pelisse.
It’s a letter of sight-seeing and visiting as a prime good thing to do for a social life. We also glimpse Austen trying again to form the small group of especially congenial women living together, one which includes Martha and Miss Sharp, the latter whom Austen manages to visit. They were even looking and found one Rose Hill Cottage, but it was beyond their means.
Christ Church, Canterbury, 1798 by Turner
As the letter opens, it’s a continuation of the previous. Jane implies she cannot imagine Mary Lloyd Austen would have written down the particulars of the visit to Canterbury for real, much less those which would be likely to interest Cassandra. So she, Jane, will first talk of it.
Harriot continues affectionate in the way she was at Goodnestone in 1805 (letter 46). They walked together to call on the matriarch elderly Mrs Brydges. Louisa and Elizabeth to Mrs Milles: these are charitable visits in effect. The younger unmarried women pay respect to and keep company the elder widows. White Friars is a mansion at Canterbury and there is Mrs Knight who is giving Jane an allowance each year; there’s no guarantee and it may be withdrawn at any time, but it does seem from previous letters and this one that Jane genuinely liked this woman, saw good qualities in her so
beyond her giving Jane money (a sign of this benevolence), Jane really had no trouble praising her, enjoying her company. “Gentle, kind and friendly” are as positive words as one gets in the Austen idiolect. Mrs Knight also asked after Cassandra and Mrs Austen.
Mrs Baskerville is someone who sells perfumes or does your hair; fifteen minutes into Jane and Harriot’s visit to Mrs Knight, Elizabeth and Louisa rushed (“hot”) from Mrs Baskerville and then in 5 minutes Mr Moore himself. It’s clear from Austen’s language that she has been told very adverse things about Moore; nonetheless Austen cannot pretend to dislike him after one visit, even if Mary Lloyd Austen (or Mary Gibson Austen) does. He’s a gentleman in manners but “not winning.” Not appealing, not trying to appeal. And then the sentence (brief) Arnie made a lot out of: “He made one formal inquiry after you.” That does suggest constraint on his part and signalling Cassandra should be constrained in turn.
Austen then comments on Mr and Mrs Moore’s little girl who she compares with the present “idol” of the immediate family at Southampton: Frank and Mary Gibson Austen’s child, a Mary Jane likened to Mr and Mrs Moore’s little girl: very small, very pretty, delicate, nice dark eyes, Mary Jane’s fine color
Austen does not like to hear the egregious over-the-top praise people give to infants. Harriot does not overdo the ecstasy: “Harriot’s fondness … is just what is amiable & natural & not foolish.”
There is an older girl from a previous marriage, just like in James Austen’s case, a Caroline and Austen finds her “very plain.” (Who is she to say? but never mind). Then a switch of topics: Edward is magnanimous about providing rides. He will take Jane to Southampton in order for him to visit with his mother and other sister. He offers to ferry Jane to Southampton so he can visit with his mother and Cassandra and hopes to spend “a whole day with you,” and bring his namesake son. She worries Cassandra will need more bed for the two and tells her the date to be ready by: July 8th to reach Southampton on the 9th.
Two, more significant passages:
This morning brought me a letter from Mrs Knight, containing the usual Fee, & all the usual Kindness. She asks me to spend a day or two with her this week, to meet Mrs C. Knatchbull, who with her Husband comes to the W Friars to day–& I beleive I shall go.-I have consulted Edward–& think it will be arranged for Mrs J. A.’s going with me one morning, my staying the night, & Edward’s driving me home the next Evening.-Her very agreable present will make my circumstances quite easy. I shall reserve half for my Pelisse.
White Friars, Kent, 1786
You give twice or twice as much when you give graciously and make the recipient comfortable. Nonetheless, Jane must now spend a day or two with her, and meet Mrs C. Knatchbull. The name is that of the man Fanny Austen Knight married. Mrs C K seems to be the widow of Knight II, living with and near Mrs Knight. Another older woman. Certainly plenty of models for Miss Bates.
The a reference to the Bigg sisters, usually slightly fraught these,
memories of the refused proposal coming in here.
I hope, by this early return I am sure of seeing Catherine & Alethea;& I propose that either with or without them, you & I & Martha shall have a snug fortnight while my Mother is at Steventon.
We see this dream group and life Austen wanted: the group of tightly knit relative/lover women: Jane and Cassandra, Martha –
they are missing only Miss Sharpe.
I like Jane’s truth-telling about what it feels like to adults to endure children a good deal; they have to stretch themselves. Mary does find herself independent of her children: “We go on very well here, Mary finds the Children less troublesome than she expected, & independent of them, there is certainly not much to try the patience or hurt the spirits at Godmersham.”
Then a curious passage: Austen will “initiate Mary into the “mysteries of Inmanism.” The poor old Lady is as thin & chearful as ever, and very thankful for a new acquaintance otherwise (pp 129-30) Jane had brought Elizabeth and Louisa before.
What Austen means by initiating Mary into the mysteries Inmanism. They are imitating acts of kindness practiced by the children of Godersham — in the way of children they took it into their heads to regard visiting an old poor widow allowed to live in a park-keeper’s cottage as an adventure or treat (LeFaye p 589 note 5). So it’s visiting someone who is crippled and lives alone a deprived existence. Uneducated unwanted by anyone for real poor single women are what Jane and Cassandra fill their lives with. It’s better to do this than do nothing and theirs is an analogous case.
It reminds me of a visit in Brideshead Revisited to a nanny, very old lady allowed to live in an attic in the house. Maybe because the old woman seems to live this innocent life to those not identifying with her. Maybe such women were kept innocent by the culture, simpletons.
I take it there is a real deeply gratification to serving others, including very elderly single ladies. There but for the grace of luck and time and place go I (Austen identifies with Miss Smith.)
Austen then remarks on the friends & acquaintances (and she is also even handed towards servants who are people too) she saw while at Canterbury whom she assumes will please Cassandra.
I find John Bridges grown very old & black, but his manners are not altered; he is very pleasing, & talks of Hampshire with great admiration.-Pray let Anna have the pleasure of knowing that she is remembered with kindness both by Mrs Cooke & Miss Sharpe. Her manners must be very much worsted by your description of them, but I hope they will improve by this visit. Mrs Knight finishes her letter with “Give my best love to Cassandra when you write to her.”-I shall like spending a day at the White Friars very much.-
So Austen visited her long time close friend, now a paid companion, Miss Sharpe. She wants Anna to know they remember her with kindness — so we see in an earlier visit how Anna had become part of this circle. Apparently Cassandra was complaining of Anna’s manners and Austen again quietly taking Anna’s side: Anna will get better; in the meantime with Mrs Knight sending love in a postscript.
Anna Austen Lefroy, early young womanhood
The last part tells of the breakfast before in the library), of how the others were hot and complained, but that she and Louisa can feel “alike as to the weather, & are cool & comfortable.
1996 Emma: Mrs Elton picking Strawberries at Donwell
What we are seeing here is a group of people who have little work to do; they are people of leisure looking for how to fill their days. The rest of the party stay pleasantly at home and are “quiet and comfortable” – that’s how Jane sees it. She speaks of “merriment” at dinner between Edward Louisa, Harriot and herself.
Wednesday– The Moores came yesterday in their Curricle between one & two o’clock, & immediately after the noonshine which succeeded their arrival, a party set off for Buckwell to see the Pond dragged.
Five of the males (Edward & James Edward, James, John Bridge driving Mary go with the Moore to see the pond dragged.
Here is this odd passage about Mr Moore: Austen watches him and Mrs Moore intently; Arnie might be right in this: he was seen as an eligible match. Maybe the stories about him that are apparently so negative are the way the women around reconciled themselves to his having married someone else. Mr Moore was expected to talk more; Fanny told her Mr Moore did not act like his usual self “our being strangers made him so much more silent and quiet”. She would not have watched but that she was given a reason. All she can see is Mr Moore’s “manners want Tenderness — & he was a little violent at last about the impossibility of her going to Eastwell.” That is he won’t let his wife go to Eastwell (a lovely house and landscape owned by the Finches). They are all intently watching this couple” Mary is “disappointed in her beauty,” James “admires her and finds him conversable.”
My guess is they have been told he is a cruel man to his wife and there has been evidence of this in public — bullying and controlling where she goes to in front of the others.
It was the Moores who took her answer to Mrs Knight: yes to the money she’s to get and yes she’ll come and visit. Jane says she has no trouble in answering – pretending now that she is rich:
I wrote without much effort; for I was rich — & the Rich are always respectable, whatever be their stile of writing.”
Then a plan for the next day and the following Tuesday — more of the same. Says Jane summing up “These are our engagements; make the most of them.” Think of the life of Emma Woodhouse, and we see a resonating line (this is June too): “I want to hear of your gathering Strawberries, we have had them three times here.”
Jane imagines Cassandra fills up with this kind of thing despite her refusal to pretend to feelings she doesn’t have and determination to remember Goodneston is a foarm.
Mr Waller is dead, I see, — I cannot grieve about it, nore perhaps can his Widow very much — Edward began cutting Stfoin on saturday and I hope is likely to have favourable weather;-the crop is good.- There has been a cold & sore throat prevailing very much in this House lately, the Children have almost all been ill with it, & we were afraid Lizzy was going to be very ill one day; she had specks & a great deal of fever.-It went off however, & they are all pretty well now.-I want to hear of your gathering Strawberries, we have had them three times here.-I suppose you have been obliged to have in some white wine, & must visit the Store Closet a little oftener than when you were quite by yourselves.-
There’s a little teasing here: she means that Cassandra will present herself as self-sacrificing, forced to gather strawberries and eat them and have wine with it. But really she is delighted to do it with the excuse of a guest beyond her mother (Anna):
One begins really to expect the St Albans now, & I wish she may come before Henry goes to Cheltenham, it will be so much more convenient to him. He will be very glad if Frank can come to him in London, as his own Time is likely to be very precious, but does not depend on it.-I shall not forget Charles next week.-
A sudden rush together of details about the brothers.
Netley Abbey, Hampshire, old photo
Then Austen has a letter from Cassandra and we get the usual repeat of extravagant praise — couched in quieter language It may be half-mocking as Diane says and Austen notes Cassandra’s very long sentences critically.
& now to my agreable surprise I have to acknowledge another Letter from you.-I had not the least notion of hearing before tomorrow, & heard of Russell’s being about to pass the Windows without any anxiety. You are very amiable & very clever to write such long Letters; every page of yours has more lines than this, & every line more words than the average of mine. I am quite ashamed-but you have certainly more little events than we have.
Have they agreed to fill their letters with this kind of trivia? I am not the only one to come to the conclusion that the swapping back and forth was their way of making themselves useful, one to sit with the mother and the other to help Elizabeth with her children.
Its a joke that one can hear of someone walking by a window without anxiety as if it were an earth-shaking event. The nothingness of their lives is felt here. And now Jane does break down for a bit:
Mr Lyford supplies you with a great deal of interesting Matter (Matter Intellectual, not physical)-but I have 1 nothing to say of Mr Scudamore. And now, that is such a sad~ stupid attempt at Wit, about Matter, that nobody can smile at it, & I am quite out of heart. I am sick of myself, & my bad pens.-I have no other complaint however, my languor is entirely removed
Something is driving her to pretend to accept all this. An agreement with Cassandra?
Now something that might have mattered does come to mind: Scott’s Marmion, but Austen does not like it. It’s James who reads it aloud, the family poet. I’ve tried Marmion and find it dull myself. It’s in ballad stanza, very conventional martial kind of story. I’m not surprised Austen doesn’t like it. Diane talks of how different a writer Austen is from Scott; she did like the novels but the poetry was and is poor and Austen see through the fashion for it here. The cant. She might do also because she’s jealous. And yes we see here how Austen feels these long long days — exquisite wastes of time as she wades through and then the evening when they read too short, and then she is frustrated to listen to Marmion. Scott is published and she not and she does _know herself his equal_ even if no one else does.
Then Austen turns half-mockingly to Cassandra’s letter for her to have matter. (This does remind me of myself sometimes). Again one of these distant Austens was visited. “I am glad of your various civilities have turned out so well & most heartily wish you Success & Pleasure in your present engagement.” Jane says she will think of Cassandra at Netley tonight and tomorrow too.
Maybe it was this kind of validation of Cassandra’s existence that made Jane mean so much to her. Who else would do this? Profess even half-mockingly to care?
Netley is a picturesque ruin people in Southampton went for visits to (LeFaye p 613). Again how people of leisure and taste spend their days.
If the stawberries remind us of Emma, so the news of Mrs Powlett anticipates Mansfield Park. It’s a newspaper item about a woman eloping from her husband with another man. The news story as quoted by LeFaye shows the leering language of a nasty shallow mind being fed. Jane Austen calls it “a sad story” That she takes the sex outside marriage seriously as a transgression is suggested by her association: she saw this woman taking the Sacrament “the last time that you and I did …”
Everyone gossiping about it; it was in the Courier, Austen says (but LeFaye can’t find it there) and Mr Moore guesses who is the man.
Jane Austen (Olivia Williams) writing at Godmersham
“Yes, I enjoy my apartment very much, & always spend tow or three hours in it after breakfast — the change from Brompton quarters to these is masterful as to Space”
Here’s where we may glimpse her writing: at last. I admit to me some of these letters are a kind of wasteland and I think to give it up, and then I come across a detail here or there which gives insight into the core matter of the novels (where the stories and characters come from) or Austen’s attitude towards her fiction or some serious comment about life. Here is when she writes. We learn at some point Jane stayed in Brompton and it was very cramped and she did not forget it; the experience makes her appreciate Godmersham’s easily available amenities even for her.
Then the line which shows her awareness of Caroline and anticipates Fanny Price. I still think that the line disparaging Caroline is for Cassandra’s benefit, no Jane denies Cassandra’s imputation that Jane finds Caroline more engaging precisely because Caroline doesn’t fit in and is “more plain” than her cousins: and “not so headstrong or humoursome” as they are.
Here are the Bertrams too. Cassandra was right even if her teasing and very different attitudes (thick skinned) leads Austen to deny her own as we see them in MP.
A kind of strained existence going on underneath here.
The Godmersham children, Fanny Austen Knight (Imogen Poots) at center (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)
Her brother [James Edward] is to go with us to Canterbury tomorrow, & Fanny completes the party. I fancy Mrs K. feels less interest in that branch of the family than any other.
Mrs Knight doesn’t care for James and Mary’s children, but then underneath she may not care for them (selfish) , but Jane says “I dare say she will do her duty however, by the Boy.” Jane means that Mrs Knight will still leave James-Edward money. Note nothing for Caroline.
His Uncle Edward talks nonsense to him delightfully-more than he can always understand. The two Morrises are come to dine & spend the day with him. Mary wishes my Mother to buy whatever she thinks necessary for Anna’s Shifts;-& hopes to see her at Steventon soon after ye 9th of July, if that time is as convenient to my Mother as any other.-I have hardly done justice to what she means on the subject, as her intention is that my Mother shd come at whatever time She likes best.-They will be at home on ye 9th
How good of Mary to allow Mrs Austen to buy clothes for Anna. We see how Anna is under the thumb of this stepmother. The others are afraid to buy needed things for her.
I always come in for a morning visit from Crondale, & Mr & Mrs Filmer have just given me my due. He & I talked away gaily of Southampton, the Harrisons Wallers &c. – Fanny sends her best Love to You all, & will write to Anna very soon.-
Crondale is another village close to Godmersham and the Filmers had a seventeenth century house there. Again the picturesque poetic place is one Jane’s relatives think she will like to go to and the Filmers speak of Austen’s taste for this with respect. People try not to insult her. And we have another male talking gaily with Austen of the place and doings at Southampton — teasing and gossiping.
The privileged oldest girl at Godmersham Fanny sends love to Cassandra and promises to write to the very unprivileged girl at Steventon and Southampton — Anna. What a sad life Anna did live. How glad she must have been to marry — only to find endless babies, and genteel poverty and its frustrations and enclosure as a married woman her lot.
Austen has a PS in which she teases: Oh she longs for news from Bath and the Perrots. Right.
But she is also serious, a final detail that matters: Rose Hill cottage. Cassandra has found a place she and Austen and maybe Martha could live together. They have not given the dream up. “I am almost sorry that Rose Hill Cottage should be so near suiting us, as it does not quite.” Almost doesn’t win the race. She is almost sorry it doesn’t suit because it’s doesn’t quite. She does not put statements in positive form does she? The meaning is it hurts to know of the place because it almost would have done.
Chawton is a year away. We see Edward growing older and being more decent in this letter let us remark too
There is no Rose Hill Cottage anymore, but here is an 18th century cottage (said to be used by smugglers), renovated and for rent, Hampshire (modern photo)
Letters 43, 44; 45, 46, 47, and 48, 49, 50, 51, and 52.
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