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Dear friends and readers,

Another blog: on the 5th letter by Jane Austen left to us as it appears in Deirdre LeFaye's edition. For 3 &4 , for 1&2

I'm glad I waited this week as now I've the benefit of Arnie and Christy's comments (see comments] -- they close read the letter more than the others have on Janeites this week. 


Fragonard, Hot Cockles

There are but 4 days since the previous and this one.  Of the letters thus far it does seem to me the gayest or most distracted (with least evidence of a depth of feeling and undercurrents), but with much irony, wry and hard now and again (as Arnie pointed out, though I don't see anything much salacious here).  As in the opening paragraph of Letter 1, she is thickly embeds herself and Cassandra with what is going on around her.  And there are a slew of names mentioned.

The sharpest comments are reserved for Edward: given the later ones and this she is seeing him as a kind of John Dashwood yes:

    Clarinbourn died this morning, & I fancy Edward means to get some of his Farm if he can cheat Sir Brook enough in the agrement ...

The word "cheat" gives her attitude away: this was an era where the only way many people could get ahead was ruthlessly to use the law to wrest what they could.  Edward was attacked by a lawsuit -- one reason adoption couldn't get anywhere as a recognized state was the relatives who stood to gain when anyone died would attack by legal suit anyone who was not biologically an heir. 

She also feels for little Edward:  "breeched yesterday for good & all, and was whipped into the bargain."  In this line she doesn't like the humiliating rituals people subject one another too, and he was whipped on top of it.  (Here she is most unlike Lydia Bennet; more like Jane). 

In response to Fran:  yes there is a remarkable lack of false piety about death, no conventional pretenses, and when she brings one up she connects it immediately (as it is connected by others) to who's to get what financially: she records "the self-interested reactions" death provokes immediately.  Pavlovian appetites on the prowl. 

One can't do without surrounding documents for this, and I'd add to a couple adduced, Cassandra's note that in October 1796 Austen began and carried on that first draft of First Impressions. If you peek ahead, you'll see after Letters there is a 2 year and one month gap of letters.  During some of this time Cassandra and Jane were apart; but Jane is not filling paper with diurnal trivia, but rather seriously writing the first version of P&P.

So it's a leap, but perhaps she's irritated at Edward and the family at Rowling because no one is helping her to get home. Claire Harman adduces poems, bits of dialogue to suggest that some of the immediate family were anything but sympathetic to her vocation as a writer.  No one makes any effort to help her get back to where she can write for real again.

Also Henry gets to come and go as he pleases, but she does not:  "Henry went away on friday as he purposed without fayl (the latter word is some joke).


Country dancing at Godmersham as performed in Miss Austen Regrets (we see Fanny near with Mr Papillon, and Jane Austen further off)

So what were they doing, and what ironies do I see in all of it?  That she longs for a "long & minute account of very particular" of Cassandra's ball so that she "shall be tired of reading it."  She does want to know but she's irritated too.  Yes there is also a hit at those who come to a dance in "their shooting jackets" and again we see in the interstices of the tone her dislike of the bird killing. 

Then this tone "We (emphasis Austen's) were at the ball, she assures Cassandra.  Yes it's pleasant to imagine her opening the ball with Edward Bridges, and this interests me because it seems to be the man that Nokes in his biography and Gwyneth and Piccevic in their Miss Austen Regrets build up another relationship for, think there was a proposal and a continuing friendship.  I looked him up in Nokes and found a portrait of him as a younger man too:  "lively, impetuous, quite in his element" in the neighborhood. In a later year (1802) this Edward showed her around his Rowling (he was a relative for real, not an adopted one-- reminding me of Mr Collins showing Elizabeth about to make her feel bad for not having accepted his proposal.  This is the man who ordered her toasted cheese.  Austen appeared at that time amused at this man going over "poachers", but these are not (usually starving wretched people) but rather "coldstream and Grenadier guards" two day before the shooting season (Nokes 287). He is protecting the birds against people like himself; he wants to shoot them.  Apparently he couldn't get others to "support their rights" against these "evil" encroachers.

At any rate here is an early detail of them leading out the dance together.  However note in the paragraph after the next there's a Harriot: is that the Harriot he finally did marry?


Austen and Edward Brydges as imagined in 1812 at Godmersham (Hugh Bonneville Edward Bridges and Olivia Williams Jane)

It was not old Lady Bridges who danced with Henry; it was Eliza.  So there's a romance going on too.

Christy quotes a letter by Eliza written about this time:

"From Eliza De Feuillide's letter of 7 November 1796 to her cousin, besides her mentioning Henry's Miss Pearson, which I've already posted, she also includes a short response to the mention of a possible consideration of marrying and living in the country....

"When I am quietly settled in that said domestic[underlined] Retreat which you have talked of, you must charitably come & prevent my spouse [underlined] and self from going to sleep or quarrelling for want of other amusement. I am enraged beyond description at the indelicacy of the Beau, Naughty Man! I conclude you talked to him very seriously on the Subject when you next saw him."

To me the tone here is so phony and coy. It's all performance.  I've been listening to Juliet Stevenson read aloud MP and she reads Mary Crawford's lines during the conversation over who is "out" and not where Mary is on the side of hypocrites; Stevenson gives the character just this arch tone. Yuk.

She does care who her brothers marry. They will be her sisters-in-law, or sisters and she have to live with them near her and cope with them, maybe end up dependent.  (If you want to interpret a silence in this letter, it's the lack of mention of Elizabeth Austen who many suggest did not like Jane nor Jane her -- one reason Chawton cottage was not offered to the three women until after Elizabeth died.)  So I do see in this second allusion to Camilla a wish that Mary Lloyd who from later letters we find was close to Austen would gain James's affections.  She hopes some Dr Marchmont will get in the way of Mary Harrison.

“Give my Love to Mary Harrison, & tell her I wish whenever she is attached to a young Man, some respectable Dr. Marchmont may keep them apart for five Volumes.”

The comment on Harvey:   that he is going to be married "it is a great secret,  & only known to half the neighborhood so you must not mention it."  This is a joke she uses repeatedly:  Mrs Norris goes about telling everyone of Maria and Mr Rushworth while saying it's a great secret; Mr Weston goes about telling of Frank and Jane's clandestine engagement while telling each person this is a great secret between you and me.

This sort of thing irritated her, and each time it's a form of showing off about some marriage -- in one case showing off (the Rushworth wealth), in another something he should have had better taste than to broadcast (that Jane was clandestinely engaged, that she was miserable escapes Mr Weston altogether).

She goes on to mention the name Musgrove. Arnie makes something of this: my reading is she is again joking in this (queasy way because it's so repeated) to make herself involved.  The music master was after her, and now she is in distress because a Miss Musgrove has Mr Harvey.

Her mockery is a wee obsessive on this point again and again.  Does she feel left out?  I don't think so, but she does find all this marrying and insistence about it irritating.  So can't help but join in with ironies.



Beyond the moment of dancing which if you imagine would produce a picture of energy  ("country dancing" is a form of square dancing"), playing "the Boulangeries", and the romances going on here a bit (Jane and Bridges, Henry and Eliza, I see two sweet scenes one could conjure up Talleyrand style in a movie:  the supping after the dancing and then walking home "at night under the shade of two umbrellas."  Also when they walk "with Frank last night to Chrixhall ruff."  A church in a landscape. She can't let herself be romantic so she immediately undercuts it:  "he appeared much edified."  Perhaps Frank was bored by the scenery and she is making fun too, but the image stays as one of a walk at night in a lovely place near an old church.

That line:   Pray remember me to Everybody who does not enquire after me:   Pray remind everyone she exists who either couldn't care less (as most people would not the line is aware) or would be irritated (she might be referring to someone in the house with Cassandra who pointedly does not enquire, so please to bother them).  Then a line of kindness to those who ask after her: no need of saying anything to those who do recall her or who are pointedly ignoring her existence at this point. Some friction here, hard to say with who, but it may relate back to her desire to get back: someone at home is not eager to have her back?


A lady seen from the back, Watteau, just asked to dance (detail from larger picture)

Ellen

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Jan. 12th, 2011 01:02 pm (UTC)
ON some of the details
Christy:

'Shades' around the business of evening balls enhances this letter's comedic tone. For me, reading these letters continually brings notice to how Jane Austen seemed to diminish the sentimental as much as she could. Whether for her choice of subjects or its receiver, her iron-hand of humour never was very far off.

This is where we see her brother James, is still not engaged to Mary Lloyd and is to dance with two Mary's -Lloyd and Harrison- at the ball Cassandra will be attending. I think by this time his proposal to Eliza has been rejected -though cryptically discussed- in her letters to P. Walter.

JA and Edward Bridges did an Emma W. and Frank C. by their opening of the ball; and with the death of a farmer, she indulges in being cheeky about her brother Edward and his father-in-law.

She jokes about the scraps of venison to be left for them, and a marriage 'secret' of a Mr. Harvey to a Miss Musgrove, already known to many in the neighborhood. Again, brings to mind from Emma, Mr. Weston's sharing Frank C. and Jane F.'s 'secret' engagement news.

She uses her unsureness around tipping the maid to give compliment and ask advise to her sister.

And I suppose, the oldest boy, Edward, did not behave properly during the event of his now growing into breeches.

Her ending jest to Mary Harrison, being from a family of vicars in Overton, with the allusion to Camilla's Dr. Marchmont must be around both Mary's looking for husbands. I read in DLF's bio index that Mary Harrison, finally did marry a Philiip-Henry Poore in September 1997.

From Eliza De Feuillide's letter of 7 November 1796 to her cousin, besides her mentioning Henry's Miss Pearson, which I've already posted, she also includes a short response to the mention of a possible consideration of marrying and living in the country....

"When I am quietly settled in that said domestic[underlined] Retreat which you have talked of, you must charitably come & prevent my spouse[underlined] and self from going to sleep or quarrelling for want of other amusement. I am enraged beyond description at the indelicacy of the Beau, Naughty Man! I conclude you talked to him very seriously on the Subject when you next saw him."

DLF writes that P.Walter may actually have been teasing Eliza around James Austen's pursuing of her. This would have been while Henry was being distracted with an engagement to a Miss Pearson.

>-We walked Frank last night to Crixhall ruff, and he appeared much edified<

Since "last night" would have been Sunday nite, I think this may have been an actual church, as it is stated in parenthesis"(church at)Crixhall ruff", in "Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers", the Hubbacks 1906 book. Or....he missed church and was satisfied with the surrounding nature as the church.~~~:-)

>Pray remember me to Everybody who does not enquire after me. Those who do, remember me without bidding.<

She seems to have loved paradox...

Christy
misssylviadrake
Jan. 12th, 2011 01:04 pm (UTC)
Defensive & bored
Farmer Clarinbould could have been a tenant of Sir Brook and Edward looking for a low rent for the land.

The interpretation is bound to differ if one is to see evil in the actions of certain groups rather than to look favorably or even dispassionately on the people.

The references to Dr. marchmont had no more sinister meaning than that it was a popular book they had all been reading recently. The book was published in 1796. It was mentioned in NA, which probably weighs on the side of that novel having at least been started around this time.

I find this letter more boring than the previous. There are too many unknown people mentioned . This seems like a letter written because she had a compulsion to write-- even if it were only a letter.

Jane asks her sister how much to tip the maid. A guinea was 21 shillings so half a guinea was around 10 shillgs and some pence. She wasn't questioning whether 5 shillings or 10 shillings was the greater sum, she was asking which would be the appropriate sum to pay.

Nancy Mayer

misssylviadrake
Jan. 12th, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
On some ironies; Edward's rapacity
As usual, there are lots of ironies, including two from the first two sentences:

“I shall be extremely anxious to hear the Event of your Ball, & shall hope to receive so long & minute an account of every particular that I shall be tired of reading it. Let me know how many besides their fourteen Selves & Mr & Mrs Wright, Michael will contrive to place about
their Coach, and how many of the Gentlemen, Musicians & Waiters, he will have persuaded to come in their Shooting Jackets.”

I wonder sometimes whether the young adult JA was capable of writing a sentence in a letter to her sister that did _not_ contain some mock or absurdist hyperbole! The reference to shooting jackets reminds me of thefamous comments about Tom Lefroy’s white coat in Letters 1 and 2, and are strong evidence, I claim, that JA was horsing around in those earlier references to male attire, just as much as in this Letter 5.

Then JA segues to a comment which may or may not be kidding:



“I hope John Lovett's accident will not prevent his attending the Ball,as you will otherwise be obliged to dance with Mr. Tincton the whole
Evening.”

I wonder if Mr. Tincton actually existed, as Le Faye draws a complete blank on him, and we know that JA was capable of referring to entirely fictitious characters in her letters. If he did exist, then it sounds as if he was a kind of Mr. Collins.

But I am pretty sure the following comment is not a joke at all, despite its frivolous sounding tone:

“…which of the Marys will carry the day with my Brother James.”

Was there a competition among local single women for the hand in marriage of the recently (18 months earlier) widowed James Austen? Of course this question was of even more special interest to JA and CEA than normal, because they and their mother had been taking care of four year old Anna Austen ever since the death of James’s first wife. So James remarrying would have enormous consequences for Jane and Cassandra.

As Christy indicates, Le Faye cites Chapman to claim that there were two Marys, of course Mary Lloyd (who would in fact marry James Austen within only 4 months after Letter 5) and one Mary Harrison, who, according to Le Faye’s Bio Index, was the daughter of the vicar of Croydon, and
sister of the vicar of Overton. Mary Harrison did not let the grass grow under her feet after James married Mary Lloyd, she married in September 1797, and JA makes some joking comments in Letter 28 four years later about Mary Harrison’s being pregnant.

But back to Letter 5:

“We were at a Ball on Saturday I assure you. We dined at Goodnestone & in the Evening danced two Country Dances and the Boulangeries…..and Miss Finch played the Boulangeries”

That may sound quite innocent, but Le Faye’s footnote suggests otherwise. She cites Tomalin for the notion that “the name of the dance [actually the Boulangeres] originates in the mildly improper French popular song _La Boulangere a des ecus” . I just checked online and
found the following link for the lyrics of that song:

http://www.momes.net/comptines/metiers/la-boulangere.html

Then we have a few trivial paragraphs, following by another noteworthy
satirical passage:

“Farmer Clarinbould died this morning, & I fancy Edward means to get some of his Farm if he can cheat Sir Brook enough in the agrement.”

Christy notes the jibe at Edward, but it is important to note also that this is the first of nearly _twenty_ passages scattered through all of JA’s letters, in which she takes a direct potshot at brother Edward Austen Knight, usually depicting him as a kind of John Dashwood or General Tilney.

And I think JA not-so-subtly reinforces the notion of a certain economic rapacity in her brother-turned-country squire toward a poor neighbor with the following seemingly unrelated comment, which is actually, I
claim, very much related:

“We have just got some venison from Godmersham, which the two Mr. Harveys are to _devour_ to-morrow; and on friday or Saturday the Goodnestone people are to finish their _Scraps._”

Indeed, rural England in that era of rapid enclosure did seem like a kind of jungle, in which the King of Beasts took the lion’s share, and left the scraps to the poor scavengers scurrying around in his wake.


Arnie
misssylviadrake
Jan. 12th, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
Another joke and genuine feeling
And next we have the following passage which must leap off the page to the eye of every serious Janeite:

“Mr. Richard Harvey is going to be married; but as it is a great secret, & only known to half the Neighbourhood, you must not mention it. The Lady's name is Musgrove.-I am in great Distress. “

In this letter written 20 years before JA wrote _Persuasion_, isn’t it interesting that we have a man named Richard planning to marry a woman named Musgrove? The end of this little vignette occurs in Letter 6, so
stay tuned!;)

“Little Edward was breeched yesterday for good & all, and was whipped, into the Bargain.”

It is impossible to know whether JA is making this up or not, but my guess is that JA _was_ responding to some sort of severe punishment that was administered in her presence to the 27 month old Edward Austen,
which JA found upsetting...

Arnie
misssylviadrake
Jan. 12th, 2011 01:14 pm (UTC)
No conventional feelings about death, no pieties
Fran:

'>-We walked Frank last night to Crixhall ruff, and he appeared much edified<

Since "last night" would have been Sunday nite, I think this may have been an actual church, as it is stated in parenthesis"(church at)Crixhall ruff", in "Jane Austen's Sailor Brothers", the Hubbacks 1906 book. Or....he missed church and was satisfied with the surrounding nature as the church.~~~:-)'

Le Faye has it that by 'Crixhall ruff' she was referring to a wood, a still existent stand of oak trees.

In this letter I was struck how a death was again mentioned without any expression of conventional regret, but instead with an almost reflex satirical comment on the self-interested reactions it provokes.

Fran
misssylviadrake
Jan. 13th, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
Breeching and whipping
Nancy is again defending something "society does" so it's just fine. Now it's ritual practice which did include whipping. It doesn't matter what Nancy ever heard or not from others -- what matters is *Austen's tone, Austen's attitude*. I noticed Chrisy all day long worrying this, trying to explain away the feeling sorry for the little boy implied in Austen's line. Determined to make something pleasant which Austen crispy indicates was a double whammy.

The word "Little" starts off a sense of pity: the little boy. For "good & all" means they really did it up full force. And "into the Bargain:" on top of that, as if it wasn't enough, he was whipped. For nothing. That's part of these rituals. You punish as a joke, supposedly to exorcize the badness to come. The child knows nothing of this.

It's a good example of how society imposes on children. Most of these rituals are mild by the time we see them, but their origin is in violence of some sort, often associated with gender.

I like Austen for feeling for him. I've seen many of these rituals of children's lives and if a child is sensitive they can be easily upset and unnerved. The line reminds me of a paragraph much later when she is writing of her niece Caroline's first introduction into the Austen-Knight household. She there too feels sorry for the little girl. She draws back (lest she offend Cassandra) but in that line I see the genesis of Fanny Price -- and I've come across others who've said there is one of the original core perceptions of the character.

As I'm not a boy I was never breeched -- though when I was young I was hit enough -- but I did get my menstruation and was subjected to one practice which I've not forgotten and which upset me at the time. I was 11 and it was over quickly but it was in the worst of taste as many of these rituals for chlidren are. The adults are amused but not the child.

But I'm not sure about how deeply heartfelt this is. I didn't say it was. It's part of a paragraph where she characterizes Edward as reacting to a death by seeing if he can get some of the dead man (and that means his family's) farm and "cheat Sir Brook enough into the contract." She makes fun of the fuss made about Harvey's engagement -- one of these sources of mild irritation which cause her to involved herself (I am in great distress). She went for a walk and saw something lovely and Frank was not impressed: thus the irony about how 'edified" he was. He may have bored by the countryside and church. And then after her remembering the unpleasant moment for the little boy we get "Pray remember me to" those who never speak of me (where at home I suppose) and those who do not enquire after her (are glad she's not there?), be sure and remind them.

She is in this paragraph eager to get away: thinking about what to tip the servant.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 13th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
Reading Austen's letters
Catriona's posting gives the game away: she reveals she is "in two minds" about reading "letters" and seems to regard them as sacred objects. This is not the later 18th century where private letters were often destroyed, not so we should not "pry" so much but that people wanted to protect their family's reputation to keep them in the networking system and respectable. Today letters are regarded as all life writing which is put in public: something to be read in the same spirit (once all the people in them are dead) as you read a novel by someone: novels are often autobiographical and people regularly contextualize the author's novel by his or her life.

The people in the letters we are readnig have all been dead for well over 120 years.

The answer to her blanket use of the term "respect" is provided by Samuel Johnson:

"If we owe regard to the memory of the dead, there is yet more respect to be paid to knowledge, to virtue, and to truth>"

I used it as the epitaph for my chapter on the history of Austen's biography:

http://www.jimandellen.org/austen/BiographyImpossible.html

He defended biography and what life-writing there was at the time with great passion as telling us important truths, adding to our knowledge for real, and thus perhaps to being more virtuous (the idea is we can be gradually educated into being more humane and better by not hiding cruelties under the rug).

Ellen

Edited at 2011-01-13 12:53 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 13th, 2011 01:01 pm (UTC)
Finding out what Austen's brothers were
We can get into contact with the brothers because all of them left texts too. For Henry there are the two articles I used for my chronology, his biographical notice of Austen (bitter tone, intensely engaged with his sister), what he contributed to the Loiterer, his late (very dull) religious writings, his letters. For Frank and Charles the book by the great niece (JA's sailor brothers) which portrait is qualified and filled out by Southam. Deborah Kaplan also has an insightful article about Charles and his family at sea. Much real hardship for that wife and the endless pregnancies and then children. For James, his poems --- very precious book. And for Edward Spence did an edition of his memoir: JA's Brother Abroad. They are dull (utterly conventional) but do reveal how he saw himself, the kinds of things he did and thought valuable, his attitudes to various things.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 14th, 2011 01:35 pm (UTC)
Breeching & whipping; the absence of Elizabeth Austen
Arnie has asserted (suddenly) that Austen is lying about the young boy being whipped! I wondered why

Whipping is a strong word. I wondered if the boy had done something to irritate his father -- or mother.

Nancy allowed that Austen here does feel for the boy -- perhaps he cried -- there is a sense of a double whammy hitting the child.

We haven't been indulging much in talking about the silences of these letters. I have a little -- about how she's writing and wants to return home to write. Well one silence that leaps out at me and continues (I noticed) in the next letter: not one, not one mention of Elizabeth. She is the reigning woman in the house Jane is staying at. We hear of Edward, and there are remarks (playful mostly) about the mother, Lady Bridges (again these same jokes about marriage). I do guess Austen may be following Brer Rabbit's advice in the famous fable: if you can't say something good, don't say anything at all. These letters to Cassandra could be read by others and it could get back to Elizabeth.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 14th, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC)
Breeching and whipping
From Fran:

"On the literal side of things, since the breeching and the whipping were mentioned almost in the same breath, I thought Edward might have baulked and wriggled at being put into the new and unaccustomed clothes and then been punished for his lack of cooperation. On the symbolic side, Austen seemed to be associating physical brutality with an early masculine rite of passage - not an auspicious start to a new phase in the boy's development.

Fran"

I like this. It makes good sense. Yes. My experience of children is they often strongly prefer routine, the same thing should happen over and over again; they can get upset at over-excitement or being a sudden center of attraction. And it fits Austen's other comments thus far: she's not keen on this killing of birds for example.

E.M.

Edited at 2011-01-14 05:46 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 15th, 2011 12:38 pm (UTC)
It's revealing what the group obsesss about
This time it's been Austen's observation of indifferent to cruel behavior to a child, Edward. A couple of people were determined to deny anything really unpleasant had happened -- as if pain and ambivalent are not part of life as well as good things

Since they went on about this single detail (again as in previous letters only one of many that could have been discussed and not the most interesting) Austen not only thought something unpleasant had happened to that child and felt for him; that's what counts here. -- but she wrote it down. She didn't mind that her view might get back to Edward and Elizabeth.

Austen not only thought something unpleasant had happened to that child and felt for him; that's what counts here. -- but she wrote it down. She didn't mind that her view might get back to Edward and Elizabeth.

Unpleasant things happen all the time -- Austen danced in that letter, led out the group with Edward Bridges - and she saw that the reaction to a death was immediately to grab the man's property and cheat another. She went for a walk that was lovely and saw it bored Frank. She remmbers some of the very ambivalent reactions to her existence at home.

This letter in this sense is typical of her novels - so we might consider it a literary part of her oeuvre.

Ellen

Edited at 2011-01-15 12:46 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 15th, 2011 12:46 pm (UTC)
Janeism
On Janeites, they're still going on not about the letter as a whole or other details (like Bridges). This time it's been Austen's observation of indifferent to cruel behavior to a child, Edward. A couple of people were determined to deny anything really unpleasant had happened -- as if pain and ambivalent are not part of life as well as good things

This is revealing in the way the defensive protective comments about Cassandra are: we see what's called Janeism at work here and its sources come out plainly. It has seemed more important to deny anything unpleasant happened than to take in what Austen thought it was unpleasant and said so, and if one could get the people to pay attention to that remark, they'd twist and nullify Feminism has to fight this too -- or any social movement for reform and progress.

E.M.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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