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Chawton Cottage, Hampshire

Dear friends and readers,

Jane Austen’s first letter from Chawton. To Frank Austen. Who else? Gleeful verses reassuring him “how much we find/Already in it, to our mind.” “It will all other houses beat/That ever have been made or mended,/With rooms concise, or rooms distended …” Portrait of Frank as a boy, shared childhood. Martha now gone, a 2 year intense writing-revision. She girds her loins and makes two texts publishable (I suggest she works on Elinor and Marianne [? or S&S] and begins thinking about what to do with First Impressions), and shall pay for it herself (!). A vanity press author! this suggests how unfair such characterizations have ever been. 2 year silence in extant correspondence on her part ensues.

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This letter occupies a couple of firsts: the first extant to Frank, the first extant from Chawton; it’s the second one in verse, the other also about Frank (Frank made Austen’s heart sing) and commemorating a move (to Southampton, the first dream of a stable home since Steventon, Letter 48). We do not have a surviving letter since April (4 months) and the desolation of Crosby’s bullying intimidation and assertion of ownership of Austen’s creation (for 10 pounds); only this resurgence of “Joy.”

My dearest Frank, I wish you Joy
Of Mary’s safety with a Boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane.-
May he a growing Blessing prove,
And well deserve his Parents’ Love! –
Endow’d with Art’s & Nature’s Good,
Thy name possessing with thy Blood,
In him, in all his ways, may we
Another Francis William see!-
Thy infant days may he inherit,
Thy warmth, nay insolence of spirit;­
We would not with one fault dispense
To weaken the resemblance.
May he revive thy Nursery sin,
Peeping as daringly within,
His curley Locks but just descried,
With “Bet, my be not come to bide.” —

Fearless of danger, braving pain,
And threaten’d very oft in vain,
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul,
One needful engine of Controul
Be found in this sublime array,
A neighbouring Donkey’s aweful Bray.
So may his equal faults as Child,
Produce Maturity as mild!
His saucy words & fiery ways
In early Childhood’s pettish days,
In Manhood, shew his Father’s mind
Like him, considerate & kind;
All Gentleness to those around,
And eager only not to wound.
Then like his Father too, he must,
To his own former struggles just,
Feels [sic] his Deserts with honest Glow;
And all his self-improvement know.­
A native fault may thus give birth
To the best blessing, conscious Worth.-

As for ourselves we’re very well;
As unaffected prose will tell.
Cassandra’s pen will paint our state,
The many comforts that await
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
That ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You’ll find us very snug next year,
Perhaps with Charles & Fanny near,
For now it often does delight us
To fancy them just over-right us.-

Cape Austen RN. 26th July

Having gone through the letters we are now in a position to see ihis is a letter of reassurance. We have seen that perhaps he was against the move to Chawton (Letter 61). Now this letter is intended to tell him that Chawton is all Jane dreamed of and Frank was wrong to worry. We do not know what his objections were, but we saw they were strong enough for him to hurry out suddenly with a surprise visit to Cassandra, to catch her unawares (Letter 61). In vain, for Jane told and Cassandra would want the move: the economics of the thing decided it. We are not permitted to know what were Frank’s objections

We do know that Frank and Jane were the close ones: she waits twice a day, goes to the post office perhaps to get a letter. To him alone were left three packets of letters which he kept near him until he died. I do not mean to omit Martha (Honan called his section on the Southampton home: Frank and Martha).

Everything about the poem projects its central mood and tenet: they are there, now that it’s

Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
That ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You’ll find us very snug next year

It’s fine 8 beat couplet verse. I see running through the last paragraph imagery from writing — and for Cassandra drawing. Cassandra’s pen will paint their “many comforts.” Already “in it to our mind” they find all that they want and need. “Rooms concise or rooms extended” is language allusive of manuscripts. Before her are manuscripts with their rooms concise and extended too.

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From 2007 Granada Northanger Abbey (Andrew Davies): Catherine talks to her brothers and sisters at bedtime

This week’s letter has been written about numerous times, usually
focusing on Frank’s life: his personality, his son, his childhood. Austen even remembers a snatch of her brother’s baby talk and Hampshire accent: “Bet, my be not come to bide.” Austen hopes Frank’s son will be such another as he was and has become; she is recalling an occasion when Frank stood at the nursery door and explained himself to the nurse.

She remembers his stubbornness, determination. He was called “Fly.” At age 7 he bought his own horse (with father’s help), a pony for £1.11s.6d and after two years sold it for £2.12s.6d. A bright chestnut, he called it “Squirrel” and his brother “Scrug.”

A good deal of what we know about Frank as a boy and until the time he went into the navy, is contained in this poem. Turn to the biographers and you see they are relying on these verses. It’s also here and some hints in the earlier letters that we know Frank’s wife had an appalling time giving birth to the daughter.

It’s a lively realistic memories of a real noisy, stubborn, difficult child (“his saucy words & fiery ways”).

It’s apparently self-effacing until the last paragraph. It is by Jane, her throughout, her love for Frank, her voice, her stance, her place in his life and hope for one of her own now that she can control.

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This is said to be the desk Austen wrote upon in the Chawton parlour

We are at a turning point: there will be no more letters for 21 months, at which time we will hear of proofs of Sense and Sensibilityy (her own “suckling child”). The letter to Crosby is our evidence that as she thought about Chawton and moving there became close she saw an opportunity at long last to sit quietly, revise and make a hard effort to publish. It was in his biographical notice to her two posthumous novels, Northanger and Persuasion, Henry told that story, and I’ll save it for next time as the next letter is closer to the outward negotiating events of what she did; this time we are to think of the plunge into writing.

Now in July 1809 Martha has vanished, gone. She left now and again in the years from the time she moved in until Chawton, but not for good. When they went on holiday (Worthing) she was there. Visiting she was there. It may go against the grain in our sentimental times but I wonder how much Martha’s leaving had to do with Jane’s ability and determination to do as little as possible in the social world to enable herself to write intensely – which she had to do for these coming years. She was perhaps also more efficient as it was a matter of revision not creation of narratives and fair copies in the first place.

Lots of people like — whether it be a heterosexual relationship or a homoerotic/lesbian one — to insist that the human relationship counts more and trumps the person’s relationship with their art. So we get how Miss Austen Regrets is shaped to flatter the view Austen was so ambivalent and torn and nagged by her family not to give her life up to writing. But in fact maybe it was a good thing Martha deserted. It freed Jane — the way when a marriage breaks up a person can be freed. Austen’s letter to the Bullers (for one example, Letter 25) says she prefers the sea to friends or relatives; she didn’t prefer her fictional world to Martha. A good deal of the vexed tones of the last Southampton letters come from Martha’s behavior and plans to go; but as Martha was off, and Frank gone too, she had herself and her fictional world to invest emotionally in. Cassandra stands by as the person who lives with one so closely (or often afar as she is ever visiting and getting away) that we can ignore them.

See Jane Austen’s Letters archive

Ellen

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Photo of ms autograph copy of Crosby’s letter

Dear friends and readers,

This is an astonishing pair of letters. Think a bit about what we’ve seen in these letters acknowledged of Austen’s writing thus far. There are but 2 firm references to Austen’s written novels thus far: to Cassandra and about Martha having read an apparently fair copy of First Impressions so many times she must have it by heart; but even here Austen does not make it explicit the book is hers (Letters 17 & 21).

There has now been a gap of 4 months (see letter 67) and after this pair 3 months (letter 70). There is no reason to believe Jane went silent. She and Cassandra were apart and writing every 3-4 days. I suggest she was hatching this and other plans to write and wrote in reaction to Crosby’s ugly reply. These letters have been destroyed: both whatever were her words of plans and whatever her words of dismay and rage. I suggest she had finally seen at Chawton they would have so few visitors she need worry about, have so little status and means to entertain you see; and that she would at long last have space, stability (this was going to be it, Edward meant it and the house was theirs for as long as they wanted and needed it — and Jane had no intention of marrying, or seeking a spouse, Hannah More’s novel in search of a spouse notwithstanding), time.

So we get this sudden bold thrust into a public arena. Alas, this letter also shows Austen’s utter powerlessness, lack of any connection to anyone in publishing, any handle of any kind. She had not had the boldness or nerve herself to negotiate with the publisher and perhaps now she is thinking the better of that. If you want your your business done, do it yourself as you are really the only one who really cares in the least.

Wednesday 5 April 1809 68(D). To B. Crosby &.. Co.

Gentlemen

In the Spring of the year 1803 a MS. Novel in 2 vol. entitled Susan
was sold to you by a Gentleman of the name of Seymour, 1 & the
purchase money £10. reed at the same time. Six years have since
passed, & this work of which I avow myself the Authoress, has never to the best of my knowledge, appeared in print, tho’ an early publication was stipulated for at the time of Sale. I can only account for such an extraordinary circumstance by supposing the MS by some carelessness to have been lost; & if that was the case, am willing to supply You with another Copy if you are disposed to avail Yourselves of it, & will engage for no farther delay when it comes into Your hands. — It will not be in my power from particular circumstances to command this Copy before the Month of August, but then, if you accept my proposal, you may depend on receiving it. Be so good as to send me a Line in answer, as soon as possible, as my stay in this place will not exceed a few days. Should no notice be taken of this Address, I shall feel myself at liberty to secure the publication of my work, by applying elsewhere. I am Gentlemen &c &c
MAD–

Two days later (prompt enough):

Direct to Mrs Ashton Dennis Post office, Southampton
[Messrs. Crosbie [sic] & Co., Stationers’ Hall Court London]

Madam

We have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 5th inst.
It is true that at the time mentioned we purchased of Mr Seymour a MS. novel entitled Susan and paid him for it the sum of 10£ for which we have his stamped receipt as a full consideration, but there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it, Should you or anyone else [sic] we shall take proceedings to stop the sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it.

London Ap 81809
~ Dennis Post Office Southampton.
For B. Crosby & Co I am yours etc.
Richard Crosby

Diane R says the publisher went down in history in infamy. I wish this were so. I’m not sure anyone really remembers Cosby’s name. All the more reason to put this pair of letters complete into my blog.

I don’t agree with that Jane Austen’s letter is stiff and formal. It is quivering with emotion, electric with desire. The language is plain and direct, simple. I’m reminded of Catherine Morland’s common on how she’s not clever enough to be unintelligible — write mandarin prose. Stiff and formal for the era is “Miss Austen asks that … ” No “I”, complex passive constructions. There’s nothing like that here. In comparison one should read some of the letters the women playwrights wrote to the managers who rejected them in Ellen Donkins’s Getting into the Act (women playwrights of the 18th century). Muted complex sentences, back treading, distant qualifications, covering themselves. Nothing like that here. The closest thing is Charlotte Smith who was hand-in-glove with her publishers while she fought, and the acid Inchbald who nonetheless offers linguistical complexity as her guard.

I agree to obtuse ears it might seem even unemotional, but we don’t have to be very subtle elves to see the need crackling beneath the surface, and the anger in the first two sentences and again in the signature.

The lines of argument is nervously bold: “I will feel myself at liberty to secure the publication of my work, by applying elsewhere …”

Note too most of the sentences are her offering to produce a new ms in 4 months. Note the urgency of “Be so good as to send me a Line in answer, as soon as possible, as my stay in this place will not exceed a few days …. ” Dear good sir, please.

From Austen’s words I take it she did send fair copies to the publishers; not working drafts: “It will not be in my power from particular circumstances to command this Copy before the Month of August, but then, if you accept my proposal, you may depend on receiving it….”

How and what did she got, one of these polite controlled snarls. The bully saw through her. I’ve had such myself, what a kick people get out of this kind of thing when they do it in interviews or if you are so hardy or foolish to phone afterward. But most of us are not MAD enough. Remember she’s been seriously writing since around 1791 – the time of Love and Freindship which is no short inconsequential work.

But MAD also means mad-woman; she is so acutely aware of how
mortifying this is, how she will be seen as crazy. No one in her circle really respected a woman who wanted to publish. She is suddenly determined to try to publish one of her books, the second one she had prepared for publication — the first had been First Impressions in November 1796, rejected by return of post. Perhaps the Bath setting, the gothic element she thought would draw people, and it was shorter than First Impressions (said by Mr Austen to be about the length of Burney’s Evelina). It is hers (oh boy is it hers), and what does she get in return: a brutal arrogant cold threat.

Now think about how she must have felt getting this. Consider for
example that it wasn’t until the end of 1815 that she applied again,
this time not herself (too painful) but again through Henry and Frank. They went together as I recall.

It took another 6 years and four novel successes before she dared try to wrest her treasure from this (stupid) man who had all the laws of private property and masculinist convention on his side. He bought it, he paid for it, it’s his. In November 1815 she applied again, this time not herself (too painful and/or grating) but through Henry. James-Edward Austen-Leigh tells us it was only after Henry bought the rights to the book back he told Crosby its so “lightly esteemed” author was the author of Pride and Prejudice.” It took another 6 years and four novel successes before she dared try to wrest her treasure from this (stupid) man who had all the laws of private property and masculinist convention on his side. He bought it, he paid for it, it’s his.

What circle of Dante’s hell should one put him in. The book to consult is La Comedia. I contend the quivering feeling is out there for us to see — that style of hers is why she is a great novelist. She writes directly. I agree with Diane R that this is a kind of Kafka world – it has ever been a Kafka world – but Austen has no Kafka to spell it out, unless we were to consider some of the gothic situations in novels and memoirs.

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Recent Oxford edition printed Northanger Abbey with three other of Austen’s posthumously published novels

I found a two page article on this exchange by Arthur M Axelrod, Persuasions, 16 (1994):36-38. Axelrod considers Austen’s tone “uncharacteristically blunt and humorless.” He describes Crosy’s reply as “arrogant” and written with “intimidating forcefulness” as he has the law on his side. He was ready for threat for threat. (Curious, why did he give a shit? had he hated this book? resented it?)

It’s a palimpsest; there’s a draft underneath the copy which is in print. He has seen a written out under-version using fibre-optic light cable and ultra violet light (abetted by leaps of faith — I did this for my Anne Finch studies). It seems the one underneath is the same except the phrases are scattered … she’s testing them.

This first version is not signed “MAD” which Axelrod finds silly. I suppose a business letter to his mind is solemn all the time. However, to sign it “J. Austen” is actually better. The earlier version has an open statement of true identity.

There have been arguments whether this is autograph. The technology study has made it firm it is in Austen’s handwriting.


Catherine’s first sight of the Abbey (2007 BBC Northanger Abbey)

See archive for Jane Austen’s Letters.

Ellen

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