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Dear friends and readers,

A fourth installment of commentary on Austen's letters.  We've had 1&2, 3&4 and 5.  This letter encompasses primogeniture, the Black Hole of Calcutta, naval patronage, a barbed portrait of socializing (visiting, being visited), stage coaches, not to omit another reference to Burney's Camilla.  With what intense desire she wants her home!

Yes she's still at Rowling!  Cannot get home even now.


This is Anna Hathaway playing Jane Austen writing home from Cork (Letter 3) where she is imagined as living in the same house as Lefroy (Becoming Jane Austen)

I was mistaken: there is a reference to her sister-in-law, the lady-in-chief at the house, Elizabeth Austen: it seems that both she and "Eliz" were without hat or Bonnet. It "would" therefore not have been convenient for them to go in a chair".  She leaves it to Cassandra to surmise who got the decent seat ("how we divided").  Elizabeth of course.  Remember in Mansfield Park all the fuss about who sits where; there it was for love or attraction; in real life such things are often about prestige and comfort. So much for Eliz.

10 days have gone by since her last.  In this interval Jane Austen also wrote a message (brief letter or note) to Mr Digweed from Edward inside or with a letter to Mary Lloyd. So we are missing a letter to Mary Lloyd.  It would be salutary and instructive to see that note as well as her letter to Mary Lloyd: to compare tones of both, and in the case of Mary Lloyd to compare content.

This is another letter (like the opening of the first and part of the immediate previous, Letter 5) where she is in the thick of a social life and spills out the details of this continual socializing which by the end of the letter it's clear she's long tired of even if in the daily way she falls into it. They visit other grand and not-so-grand houses, eat dinners with people, have to look at their pictures, they have guests over.  What interests me most is the picture of how so many people might really spent their existences, wasting time in social trivia -- a point of view Austen makes clear.  She is enduring this endless socializing -- she gives us a picture of it that accords with common ideas about it:  the letter is a picture of how many people do spend their lives.  A meaninglessness comes across which comes out in some of the passing jokes.

For example:  the "Two traits in her [Miss Fletcher's] Character which are pleasing; namely she admires Camilla & drinks no cream." About as meaningful put together as the rest of what's happening about her and she must fall in with (she 'dared' not say how much she wanted Henry's scheme)

There are some casual acid-like digs about Miss Fletcher -- she is negligent about letters on Lucy's behalf (as if she cared -- she was "not able to bring her to a proper sense of Shame" is ironic solemnness). Miss Fletcher says she has nothing to write about since 'everybody" left Canterbury, by which she means "officers."  This take us to the world of P&P and Miss Fletcher is no made into a Lydia Bennet type.  But she has further digs herself in Lydia's vein:  Miss Fletcher's purple Muslim does not become her; Jane is thinner.

There are jokes about her non-existent (I begin to take it) romance life again;  "We went by Bifrons, & I contemplated with a melancholy pleasure the abode of Him on whom I once fondly doted"  The home of rhe Taylor family, demolished in 1941.  Which Taylor could it be? Edward born 1774 (p. 576).

************************************

She is pleasant about some of it, though the letter lacks the gaiety of her references to dancing and with Edward Bridges leading out the group, and there are the other barbs -- it does seem as if she sometimes can't resist this. 

For example, she's making fun of her brother, James when she says "by this time he must have collected his Ideas enough":  he makes an inordinate fuss and takes time over his writing that is not called for -- perhaps some jealousy over his poetry? or the family valuing him as a poet? or he valuing himself that way -- and no one values hers or not enough?


Contemporary silhouette of little Edward adopted by the Knights

The most striking is against an exposure of Edward's greed: 

   I told you in a former Letter that Edward had some idea of taking the name of Clarinbould; but that scheme is over. tho' it would be a very eligible as well as pleasant plan, would anyone advance him the money to begin on

It's clearly a joke as if you change your name that does not at all mean anyone will leave you their property; "it would be a very eligible as well as a very pleasant plan, would anyone advance him Money enough to begin on."  It is true that Edward will have to change his to get Godmersham and is obviously very willing.

Beyond Edward's possible shamelessness over this in his private hours at Rowling, she is understandably irritated:  after all having been adopted by the Knights, he is now a rich man and is gonig to be a much richer one -- and she is not.  It reminds me of a comment she makes when she, mother, sister, and father clear out of Steventon after her father gives his vicarage to her eldest brother, James. They leave everything and more to James. One part of the family impoverished for the other she writes.


Edward as the traveling gentleman on grand tour

This certainly resonates with the opening of S&S where the Dashwood girls are thrown out and all given to the heir and his son.  She does not say specifically she's a woman but it's implicit. In both cases she is steaming over primogeniture and how unfair it is to the younger brothers and sisters. After all they then have to be dependent on the social conscience and kindness of the eldest, and people use their power. 

In the era (as perhaps today too among some) a real emphasis on names.  When people left property to someone outside their family , they would ask the new heir to change his name, and people did it.  Thomas Brodnax May was the first non-biological heir to get Godmersham in this way:  he was not heir and changed his name to Knight. Austen is speaking as if this is important -- we see it emphasized so in Cecilia.  Maybe it was to her, but I suspect it's a hammer to hit Edward with, to show him up.

She does carry on with jokes about names: Richard Harvey will not marry after all, perhaps not "till he has got a Better Christian name, which he has great Hopes of."   The Austens had some family joke about the name Richard. This also by extension refers to money: you get more money if someone leaves you property and you agree to change your name.

Now she, Jane, cannot change her name to get property -- unless by marriage and then it's the man who owns the property and she has it as his wife.  Elizabeth Austen (let's recall) was herself from a wealthy group (the Bridges) so she would not see herself as so very dependent on Edward, but him as the person who ought to be grateful more than she.


Edward Austen Knight in Miss Austen Regrets presented much more sympathetically: here it's 1814 and he is being sued, his hold on his property threatened by the biological heirs

These currents in the letter are there for the next statement is about marriage:  Mr children's two sons .. to be married. Now we move to them having "one wife between them" a "Miss Holwell, who belongs to the Black Hole of Calcutta."  In LeFaye's notes we learn that Miss Holwell's grandfather survived that terrifying experience for whites and published a work describing it (p. 537). 

So Jane Austen was alive to colonialism. The Black Hole of Calcutta functioned the way 9/11 has ever since:  it's a dread for those who live in the US because the colonized and subject (not white) who were hitherto erased, vanished, suppressed now have gotten back and the story remains to be referred to. The "Reign of Terror" as a topic functioned similarly in the Napoleonic era.

**************************************
Just on the reference to the Black Hole of Calcutta:


John Holwell

                    If others are interested, there's an article by the Royal Society of Medicine about Holwell as well as an article in wikipeda, but it should be stated Austen would have heard of Holwell from more than the one pamphlet. I just went over to ECCO and found no less than 15 different titles by Holwell on questions about India; a 16th is by a William Holwell (possibly a relative, probably). There are duplicate copies of his pamphlet; defenses by him of his pamphlet (many people will endlessly attack you if they feel you have hurt their interest somehow or other) and interestingly pamphlets on the religion, customs and native life of Bengali people by Holwell. One is on the manner of innoculating against smallpox in India.

                     I've downloaded three: the narrative, Holwell's travel book, and his defense & explanation -- to us (well me) very dull, filled with details of what happened in UK meetings, all about money and I can see how this frank open discussion of the chicaneries and greed and ruthless behavior of the British would incense others and cause Holwell to be attacked.


A contemporary print

                      It should be said that the description of the widow eager to be burnt to death in the article by the Royal Society is a common description of women at the time and since -- ultimately from the families who stood to gain her property by her death.  There is much literature which argues these are falsifying (of course texts which say they are perfectly accurate).  When the British went about to stamp out widow-burning, there arose a whole literature on this.  I did a project on Paul Scott's Raj Quartet and through my reading in post-colonialist texts nowadays and 19th century travel literature (among this is Anthony Trollope) I've only time just to vouch for it, and can if anyone likes on another day offer names of books/articles

                      I've also read an article about 19th century norms for widows comparing widowhood in the west with widow-burning: of course the latter is horrendous and the former merely repressive but there are a few thematic parallels.  There was remarriage within families; women were very much regarded as secondary creatures (as today in some countries in Africa women suffer very badly by a lack of valuing them).

                       Austen is on-record in Catherine, or The Bower (through irony) deploring the selling of oneself to British husbands in India -- that was the case with her aunt, her father's sister, Philadelphia, who went to India and married Tysoe Saul Hancock and left him when Hastings and his wife sailed to the UK -- never to return.  My guess is Austen had sympathy for her aunt and (though never broached on paper) she might have had understanding for Philadelphia having had Eliza by Hastings.


Miniature of Eliza, very poor

                       The outside "colonial" world was not outside to Austen: her brothers were to make money by becoming police and agents of the British state, companies; her aunt, her cousin (whom Henry married), the Hastings' first son who died while in George and Cassandra's care (Jane's parents were desolated and probably worried lest they be blamed)

The men have power in this society of patronage too. Sir Thomas Williams is referred to as "high royal highness." I assume Jane's brothers and her parents and deferred so flatteringly to this man it irritated Jane sometimes.  This makes me remember Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot -- who are caricatures.  This is rather an instance of how this system of currying favor (dependence) as the only way you can get ahead feels to an outsider.  Austen's statement is of interest because she's not identifying; she's like an outsider in this sentence.  Not that she pretends to the "innate integrity" in another instance Henry Tilney praises Catherine for having.  This reference again brings in the wider world outside the small world of Hampshire and Kent to which she is literally/physically confined.


A cartoon after Gilray: a press gang

*****************************************
Back to her letter:  She does long to go home:  with what intense desire she wants her home is a line she gives Fanny Price, out of Cowper's poem): a letter from Cassandra and Henry seems to be about Henry;'s "scheme" "more than I had dared expect.'  Notice that "dared."   It seems to be bold for her to say aloud she wants to go home. What is the particular in Henry's Scheme she wishes were otherwise?  The next sentence tells us: 

                  "You must not expect us quite so early however as wednesday the 20th -- ...  &c"  She then says Frank "never had any idea of going way before Monday the 26th." 

This is a response to Cassandra's letter (now missing) probably where Cassandra may have lamented that Frank was supposed to go earlier and now is not. Apparently Frank wants to stay for Miss Pearson.  Henry got a dig in there during conversation too:  "which Henry thinks very likely & particularly eligible."

This kind of subrisive ridicule probably made Frank very uncomfortable -- he seems to have been a densely determined kind of person though so it's hard to say. For all we know Henry and Jane are both "quizzing" Frank without sufficient cause -- just getting a kick out of making him uncomfortable the way say Mrs Jennings and Sir John do over the "letter F" towards Elinor Dashwood.  These letters show Austen herself being unkind in ways she stigmatizes others for doing in her novels.

The letter ends on the longing for home and we see her father's kindness to her in a suddenly decently pleasant sentence (not a barb here):  we can't reply to to take up the father's kind offer (of a better coach, of way to return quicker and surer) until they whether she (Miss Pearson?) will accompany them home. It seems the father will not (it's assumed) pay for Miss Pearson as well as his daughter and son for whatever he's offering (quicker or better accommodation)

Anyone who wants anything must send to Frank.   Yes she has no mobility it's clear.

Why would Austen want to go home by Stage coach? Is it quicker? more comfortable? more interesting? why is Frank forbidding her? Snobbery, that's what.  And who the hell is he to forbid her I want to say but I know she's subject to these brothers and her older sister too.


From the 2007 Northanger Abbey (the stage coach Catherine Morland takes home in the dead of night -- in the book she goes in the early morning

To Cassandra go ahead and buy Mary Harrison's gown; she can have Jane's for 'ever so much money" too.  Jane will charge high is the implication: how she longs for some money herself.  Though if (mysteriously) she should arrive home "rich" she'll keep her gown for herself as she likes it.

I again feel for her. I should probably watch Becoming Jane Austen to see if there are images which show understanding and empathy.  She was willing to take a stage coach -- even if in today's movies it's still presented as something she's above



Ellen

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Jan. 19th, 2011 12:35 pm (UTC)
"What Amiable Young Men!"
Diana B writes:

< She again hits out (I like her for this again) at this murdering of birds. "What amiable Young Men!"

I'm interested that people seem to see this comment as being sarcastic, against her bird-murdering brothers. But I read it differently. I don't think it ever entered into Jane Austen's head to be against bird killing; it was too much a part of country life, and she ate those birds and knew where
they came from. Nobody thought shooting birds was a bad thing then - that's a much later invention. In her books she paints most attractive and natural pictures of hunting (Charles Musgrove is certainly an amiable young man), and I think she literally *did* think Edward and Frank were out having a
good time and *were* "amiable young men." Her "Delightful sport!" is sarcastic about the full day they spent catching nothing. I think that when they did come home with their two braces, they were in happy spirits, and that's what struck Jane Austen about their cheerfulness and amiability. We
can differ, it's not important. It's just another thing to show that Jane Austen can be interpreted in different ways in even the slightest of matters.

Diana"


I reply:

The diametrically opposed readings and the enigmatic nature of Austen's tone here and there have (I think) interesting causes. in some cases it's that the passages are de-contextualized -- this is where the letter has been cut and we don't have enough information about her interlocutor. In others she does not provide enough direction herself. Here I see instances which shore up the claim made by numerous critics over the years her novels are the product of endless careful revisions. I'm convinced of this and from Kathryn Sutherland's book on what is found in the manuscripts (no matter that she is now exploiting her own book in a different direction).

This last about birds I think comes from different attitudes of the people (us) reading the letters. "They killed nothing at all." 'Delightful sport!" "What Amiable Young Men!" She used the word killed each time rather than shooting and killed is not used by those who approve the sport. The Shooting Party" is the name of Colegate's novel, not "The Killing Party." In all the instance thus far there is also a feel (my grounds here depend on what she juxtaposes these comments with) of meaninglessness and absurdity. The shooting jackets worn to the dance.

We don't know what "nobody" or everybody thought. In fact this is an era where concern for animals begins to grow. you see this in Cowper. Yes. He loathes hunting -- a dislike of hunting as cruel can be found in poems of the 1680s, Margaret Cavendish's Hunting the Hare is just a famous instance. I distrust such a vast generalization.

I also (in general and for other instances where the sense of enigmatic) wonder to myself how much the sensed vacuity of the language -- for that is there too - comes from her feeling that if she came out too strong in one direction or another she'd have Cassandra down on her scolding her again.

The younger sister who dared not expect aloud that Henry's scheme for going home would get her there earlier.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 19th, 2011 04:15 pm (UTC)
Austen's jaundiced perspective: she was sure he would kill more birds on the first of September ...
I submit we can get at something of Austen's jaundiced perspective on this killing/shooting of birds by looking at the novels. What one finds there are characters who are not sympathetic eager to "kill more birds." Lydia in the above line is not admirable, certainly Wickham has not been. There's a line about Tom Bertram in MP: he who used up so much money that Edmund's niche had to be sold to Dr Grant and his real reply is Dr Grant would pop off at any time. I can't remember the exact words of the passage. Some vague memory too of a minor character in Sandition, someone we were not to admire (a rake type) as also eager to spend time doing this kind of thing.

What unites all three is carelessness, selfishness, and especially wasting time. All three behave in ways that hurt others and couldn't care less; all three have no regard for anything really meaningful they want to do with their lives. They are time-wasters and can't think of anything better to do with themselves than kill birds. It's not so much that Austen is sentimental over the birds as such (though it's part of that), but that this should be the way you entertain yourself -- to destroy others in a sense coheres with what we see Lydia, Wickham and Tom do in the human social world.

This coheres with the perspective on the socializing of the letter too.

Yes the perspective in the letter and books is anti-macho male but it's more that these people can think of nothing better to do with themselves.

I am myself reading the letters to ascertain carefully some real perspective on experience that makes up Austen's mindset.

Ellen

Edited at 2011-01-19 10:47 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 19th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
The Black Hole of Calcutta
Arnie, if you are genuinely interested in the question of widow-burning and attitudes towards women in India v Britain, I'll try to find the articles I have someone on my computer. They are directed to a slightly later period because it's later the English got involved directly. Two books which have much information are Nancy Paxton's Writing Under the Raj_ and Pat Barr, the Memsahibs. These two focus on women -- and also on British women of the type Austen's aunt represents. Paxton's book has in fact a book by an author Austen read, Syney Owensen. The one usually cited is The Wild Irish Girl, but she also wrote the very interesting _Missionary_.

This list includes books with travel letters of 18th century English women:

http://www.librarything.com/catalog/ellenandjim&tag=india

But the politics of Holwell's is much larger and if Austen read the book (which I incline to think she did), it's also about the exploitation that led to the two mutinies (one in 1857 too). For that a great novel: Farrell's The Seige of Krishapur; novels really lead you in as well as histories (Wolpert's is a good history of India)

If you were trying to suggest that anal intercourse is punned on in Austen's words, I don't think so. The two uses of "hole" are natural (it was a black hole, the man's name is Holwell) and there is nothing uncomfortable (my pun is intended) in the lines to suggest anything sexual of that nature.


Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 19th, 2011 11:08 pm (UTC)
Mrs Bennet
Jim Morgan writes:

"That reminds me of the famous section where Mrs Bennet invites Bingley to come kill all Mr. Bennet's birds once he's done with his own. There's another careless selfish character. Jim Morgan

Oh very good, Jim. This is what I like: I want to use the letters to understand how we are to view the characters. It's my feeling that Mrs Bennet is often treated by modern readers far too sympathetically than was intended. If you look you discover that Bingley has not said a word about killing birds. All he has said he means to make a stay in the country (III:337, Chapman's edition)

Thank you for this extrapolation.

Ellen

Edited at 2011-01-19 11:14 pm (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 21st, 2011 04:21 am (UTC)
Artful; quiet desperation
I keep looking at letter six and keep stopping, stunned at the first line: "We have been very gay since I wrote last; dining at Nackington, returning by moonlight, and everything quite in style, not to mention Mr. Claringbould's funeral which we saw go by on Sunday." As early as 20, JA has mastered the art of savage wit and shows an amazing control, starting the letter with a sentence that sets the tone for everything to follow by juxtaposing being "very gay" with "Mr. Claringbould's funeral" without a stopping for a breath. She was already a master of irony. I see this a huge continuity between this and the novels. She is laughing her way through this letter while at the same time communicating a certain despair and knowing Cassandra will pick up on all the nuances.

My strong hunch is that JA is parodying a vacuous upper class voice in these letters. This is not her voice, but the voice of the village chorus, just as the narrative voice in her novels, I argue, is not a reliable narrative voice but the deliberately misleading din of the village chorus, a compendium of inaccurate gossip and half-fabricated chatter meant to deceive the reader.

Does anyone who is more familiar with letter writing in the late 18th century see JA parodying the "typical" upper middle class letter?

I too read a "quiet desperation" in Austen's letter 6, a sense of boredom with the inanities of the society in which she is visiting-- and yes, as Ellen mentions, a desire to be home. I imagine it was strain for her to be visiting--certainly borne out by her lack of literary output when she was "homeless" during the years between Steventon and Chawton. Getting back to letter 6, we see her stabs at social pretension in mentioning being greeted by the portraits of her hosts --and perhaps also an oblique way of saying she was kept waiting. This makes me wonder if there is some irony in the portraits atPemberley too.) We also see her refusal to be romantic in her juxtaposition of a moonlit evening and a funeral procession. She could paint a lovely portrait of her visits -- but she puts in enough barbs to make us uncomfortable. Her life is not a romance novel.

Diane

Edited at 2011-01-21 04:24 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 21st, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
Jane as containing Lydia Bennet too
I wrote:

We've discussed before (and I've agreed or also argued) that in MP Austen projects herself and her experiences through both Fanny Price and Mary Crawford. But as with Maria Bertram, where the language surrounding her is
so withering (vanity, pride, venom, are the motives typically attributed to her) so in P&P while I have thought both Elinor and Marianne as aspects of Austen (with Lucy sometimes too), and Jane and Elizabeth are aspects of Austen, not Lydia. Lydia's sneering, spite, "perfect unconcern" and lots of withering remarks not to omit her behavior has made me think of her as someone projected as something outside Austen, Not Her, even if Austen can understand why she might be driven to marry wildly and even pity her with her ring finger pushed out a carriage.

But in these letters I have seen aspects of Lydia, yes.

Also that Austen herself is capable of unkind teasing (of Frank say with Henry quizzing along too) in just the way she blames Mrs Jennings and Sir John Middleton for -- and uses very harsh words about in Marianna's mouth, showing Elinor pained and so on.

I had not expected to find these, and think I will be surprised again.

Ellen

Diane Reynolds replied:

Ellen,

Where do you see Jane as Lydia in the letters? I tend to think of Lydia as totally outside Jane too. Certainly the image I have of a Lydia wholly absorbed in playing Lottery seems completely unlike Austen. But given what I suspect is JA's penchant for self parody ... I don't know.

To which I said:

I know I felt the lines sounded like Lydia and showed the same flippant- tone in the first couple of letters where I close read them. I went back to my blog (I've been putting my close readings each week on my blog -- it's a place to keep them as a record so I can find them easily [one use of a blog] -- and couldn't find where I had written this but at any rate remember that I did.

The first couple of letters have the references to Tom Lefroy and in general I felt for the first time that the reiterated idea people repeat that P&P has parallels in Austen's life holds true. Not in Darcy but in the Jane Bennet situation where the young man is chased away because the girl's family and connections are not good enough. Jane=Jane.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 21st, 2011 04:56 am (UTC)
Sudden rigidities
Nancy quotes a severaly condemnatory statement of a recently married young girl in a later letter, and I replied:

The line Nancy quotes does ask to be read as severely condemnatory. I see in such lines (there are other utterances of this type in the letters as well as the novels) sudden rigidities in Austen. She can suddenly be very inflexible and narrow minded -- often it is about sex, but not always.

Then she can turn round and seem to mock and laugh casually, not take all that seriously adultery (for example). She's not consistent. She has not thought out her stance on life -- just as her art leads her to when in imaginative mode to see much deeper, farther into characters than any of her conscious critical statements allow for.

Ellen

Edited at 2011-01-21 04:57 am (UTC)
misssylviadrake
Jan. 21st, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
The nature of Austen's letters
I cannot agree with Diane that Austen's letters are controlled parodies either of letters of the time or of any specific point of view or stance. They are just as she said more or less spontaneous (insofar as she can be -- limited to being guarded against any readers at home, by Cassandra's less than sympathetic or supportive attitudes). They reveal her -- as do letters in the era reveal others.

This is the first era of many letters (literacy growing plus the post office working in the UK to some extent regularly and without the kind of corruption that prevents letters from reaching others undisturbed). You quickly find a wide variety of types as people themselves are quite different at this level of their being; also some writers meant their letters to be published (Pope doctored his). Johnson writes insightful criticism on the new life-writing.

I can recommend two titles to give a sense of this terrain. The first is enormously readable and contains a long exegesis of two of Austen's letters: Sent as a Gift, ed. Alan T McKenzie. The letters are reprinted: 2 long ones from Godmersham Park in 1813, letters that were used in Miss Austen Regrets. I have to reread the article by Susan Wheeler: her themes include "power" (Austen doesn't have much at all) and "prose" (the style and tone of the letters).

The other is a reading of a a group of letters from 1799: "Bonnets and Balls: Reading Jane Austen's Letters," Suzanne Juhasz, Centennial review, 31:1 (1987):84-104.

I'd be grateful if someone else knows of other essays on Austen's letters -- say in Persuasions -- and would return the favor (or gift to use McKenzie's metaphor) in turn.

I do have other books about letters in the century if anyone is interested. Nowadays more studies are done of epistolary narrative in novels but there are some good older books.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 22nd, 2011 12:43 pm (UTC)
The nature of Austen's letters
I was quite serious in asking for any articles on Austen's letters beyond the two I cited. If anyone knows of any, I'd be grateful.

Now there may not be any more. If so, that tells us something. As is the fact that LeFaye's edition has not come out in an inexpensive paperback. There is no general audience for these letters.

Aneilka has argued that Austen's letters do not reveal her, in their present state they are near useless for determining her attitudes. I think that's too strong. Try to imagine if we didn't have any at all. And the letters of her family at the time and the immediate biographies of her by those who _knew_ her intimately which do include the nephew's. We can value the letters as documents of the time too: they do show the life of a woman of this era and there are numerous editions of letters like these in print which are valued for that. I have some. But it is true that in and of themselves were it not for Austen's novels, they would be known only by 18th century specialists or people interested in women's memoirs or women's history (or whatever speciality these letters do indeed shed light on).

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Jan. 24th, 2011 12:46 pm (UTC)
Secondary readings
Many thanks to Christy especially but also all those offering comments on the nature of Austen's letters. I decided after all I would begin earlier than intended to do some secondary reading on the letters: I had meant to
hold off until much later, but all the talk inspires and encourages. I now strongly recommend McKenzie's Sent as a Gift for all its essays on letters in the era, but especially Whealer on Austen's letters. She does defend
their content as works of art from a woman's life; she goes over the history of the scholarship and literary commentary (meagre alas) and then goes on to analyse two chosen letters by Austen written in 1813, part of whose content is (she cheats here by her choice) especially dramatic and of wider application. They are long letters and (telling this), were used in one of the long sequences in Miss Austen Regrets.

Two themes she pulls from these and all Austen's letters: travel and power. Briefly put the letters are about a woman who has traveled from home, does travel about, but has herself no power to get back or even get there, is so subject to others. This fits them in with Ellen Moers's chapter on travelling heroines (Radcliffe was an early one) only Austen sees the limitations of the heroinism. The second connects: her private power as a
writer but how it's stifled because of the social power of all that goes round her, impinges on her and she must allow herself be engulfed by.

Thought about this beautifully encompasses many of the topics we've discussed.

There are more and different ones in 1813 as the particulars differ; I chose just these two as they connect these 1813 letters to these of 1796.

Ellen
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