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 Dear Friends and readers,

A small group of us have just finished a reading and discussion of a centrally important book for Jane Austen studies:  the 1870 Memoir of Jane Austen written by her nephew, James-Edward Austen-Leigh. We spent 11 weeks on it, and during that time I also read and sent along  to the 3 or 4 lists we did this on (Austen--l, WomenWritersAcrosstheAges, Janeites and sometimes EighteethCenturyWorld, the last three on Yahoo) poetry by James-Edward's father, James, Jane's eldest brother.  Some of these are addressed to Edward, and most are like him in tone and stance towards the world.

James Edward Austen-Leigh later in life

It's very hard to take these 11 weeks' worth of postings, which themselves were written by more than 10 people, with two of us more faithful than the others, and put them into a single coherent blog.  It would be time-consuming and arduous, and the postings are available on the Net through Austen-l archives (which I believe are open to the public) as well as the Yahoo lists to list members.  I'd also have to ask permission of the various people.  Still I would like to record here some of what was said, so I have picked out a few of the more coherent postings I wrote plus one of James, his father's revealing personal poems.

For Week 1 and as an introduction which also went over the first chapter of the Memoir, I wrote:

I agree with Diane that this is an autobiography in disguise -- which is common. It's nostalgic and comes out of Austen-Leigh's own need to rewrite his childhood and young adulthood.  Writing from memory (so I'm not checking sources as I don't have time), I'd say he did not have such a happy childhood.  Mary Austen, his mother, was a narrow-minded unashamedly selfish and controlling woman -- in his poems her husband apologizes for reading and talking about his reading.   While we can't know the particulars, from Jane Austen's MP, James Austen's poems and all the biographers have been able to sift, ferret out, half-invent, it's probable some romance happened between Eliza Hancock de Feuillide (later Austen) and James and Eliza and Henry while they were young, perhaps while doing a play, and years later Mary is still jealous and incensed all these years later.  James's poems to his wife suggest deprecation, placating. Since in the family Eliza was known to be the biological daughter of Hastings, this could allow Mary an excuse to cut her dead. Mary was fiercely unashamed of her preference for her children over Anna. Finally another element which could have influenced Austen-Leigh's childhood adversely was the elder aunt Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot who was taken in for petty thievery:  I've read how she really used her control over her money to make his and his wife's life very difficult. They had to kowtow to her, and it was not until she finally died, they were free of her bullying. We have only some records from when he was married and there are documents in the form of letters, but we can surmize when he was a boy she could be a blight too.

From this memoir and JEAL's Memories of the Vine-Hunt (which I've read) and Mary Augusta Leigh's biography of him -- she was his daughter -- he appears to have been a (I'm just going to be plain and use plain words) a nice man, sweet, decent, literary, sensitive (he loved Scott and would have to leave the room in upset if anyone made fun of Scott), and sheltered -- for in the end they did get the money from the aunt and she did, however grudgingly, help them all along until she died.  I think he took after his father.  You can get through interlibrary loan (if you have access to one) Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh's biography; it was published in 1911 and while the copy I have (a xerox I made of the book) has no ISBN (naturally, how could it?) it does have a library of congress number:  PS1049/A58Z6.

My first view now (but it's only one and there are many ways to take this book) is that we need not be Edward Austen-Leigh's adversary. While his book has been used to create a falsely banal and conventionalized view of Austen, he also wrote it. But for him, we might not have Lady Susan; he printed The Watsons and the cancelled chapters of Persuasion too; he tells a lot we would not know otherwise.  In some of what I've read (I forget where) it's obvious he and Caroline (whose project this was equally) had to fight relatives to get them to agree to this publication, and had to struggle to get their hands on documents.  Anna cooperated too. We are in other words strongly in his debt.  This is opposed to the granddaughter who destroyed 3 packets of letters by Austen to Francis, Cassanda who Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh tells us destroyed the majority of Jane Austen's letters. It is Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh who is the source we are indebted to for knowing that we have a remnant of the letters Jane Austen left.

We also have to be grateful to Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh and Catherine Anne Austen who married John Hubback -- she's another one who wanted posterity to know about Jane Austen and her brothers. Now I'm not sure so could be corrected (I'm not checking) it was Catherine Anne who wrote a book based on The Watsons -- trying to finish the story of the younger sister (who would be by indirection Jane -- fictionalized, a fictionalized story). Now it was John Hubback and his daughter, Edith, who wrote the basis of Southam's book, JA's Sailor Brothers - the careers of Frank and Charles. As far as I can tell while Southam gives a lot more detail, the portrait of the two stays the same; not much more has been found out in the sense of changing our portrait of them as people.

There were many members of the family who were against all this. And the continual assertion "there's so little to tell" is to erase anything untoward:  families always have plenty to tell and much of the time, especially when ti comes to money, rank, marriages, it's not pretty -- these are people who were pseudo-gentry at the beginning of the 19th century and rose by marriage and business contacts.
Anyway I'm suggesting a defense of James-Edward Austen Leigh --  though I agree with Margaret Oliphant he's a "dim" one when it comes to real insight into people. He turns away and doesn't want to look.

Looking just at Chapter1 and 2 in the Oxford edition by Sutherland you can see how much it's a prettied up picture. Sutherland reprints all the original picturesque illustrations which are supposed to make us sigh in part.  I find that Sutherland's long notes in the back are very helpful - if a bit distracting since they are often longish.  Here is the picture of Steventon Manor as presented in picturesque mode by JEAL and it's typical:

Finally a few comments on the text. It seems to me a way of writing that underestimates ordinary crises in life that allows JEAL (an abbreviation for his name) to say things like "few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth tenor of its course [of her life]. We could say that of many people; it depends what you mean by crisis.  From this first page there is a continual drive to smooth over by JEAL. He leaves out the mentally retarded (or whatever was wrong) brother. He uses allusions to her books to fill out the portrait of the house (like the opening of NA)   It reminds me of how Henry says that JAne Austen never had a cruel thought or said or did a cruel thing (words to this effect in his hagiographical note, so insistent and irritated in tone, as if she had been accused of being very different and probably "satirical" -- the way Jane Austen describes Lady Middleton and Mrs Fanny Dashwood's dislike and distrust of satirical people makes me think that she was so described by such dullards as she delineates satirically ).

The 1870s and 1880s were a time of much change, distress, industrialization and this book is a reaction against that too. Ah, a handy book for looking things up as we go is Maggie Lane's JA's Family through Five Generations. I've had it on my lap as I wrote. I recommend it as a read and source too.

From our third week on Chapter 3:

Looking back now from the perspective of Chapter 1, we can see a plan or shaping idea formed the memoir.  The first chapter situates Jane Austen in her family. Stepping back a bit, I find in all the portraits a determination to make them socially exemplary in the most conventional ways Worldly success, promotion, good nature, occasional bad luck.  James (JEAL's father) directed Austen's reading (so Edmund Bertram may be a reflection of this), their father (George Austen) learned, the mother had "the germ of much of the ability which was concentrated in Jane (which seems to defined here as "common with a lively imagination", she could write with "epigrammatic force and point"); she and Cassandra were just one person altogether (and we get an Elizabethan kind of sentence about them).  And of course she was not like Marianne. She was content to stay in her family.  Again and again we get phrases like "It cannot be doubted ..."  Now and again a sentence which is not simply a fact that can be checked rings true:  "she went very little into society during the last ten years."  That was when she was producing the novels.  But generally from this chapter you would not imagine why JEAL thinks she is so important as to rate a biography when he has so few materials.

In way it's (unconsciously) funny in its contradictions. When read from this angle I admit it doesn't emerge as literature in its own right but primary materials for beginning to understand Austen.

The second chapter gives us a portrait of this "earlier age," so we would say the circumstances in which she grew up.  Now the narrow outlook is from that of the upper class gentry of his own time. This is really a narrow family memoir.  When he says "we looking back" he means comfortable we in our gentry houses of today. Habits of ladies then and now can epitomize here. He does not at all think to identify Austen as unusual or original and there is this continual mild defense going on, with an implication how much better it is today (women in his time really read in big numbers?  perhaps more than then but how much of this is vacuous talk). "Some ladies liked to wash with their own hands their choice china ..."  JEAL has heard nothing of the issues of this caught up in the phrase "woman question:"  about property, work, marital rights, custody, and so on.  This is the time of Trollope's Way We Live Now, of Barbara Bodichon and others' parliamentary campaigns, of Stuart Mill, not to omit the extraordinary changes in British life from industrializatio, emigration.  (See below Oliphant's words about "dim little lantern"0.

There is a portrait of Eliza Austen as the daughter of Mrs Hancock, and we are told she was "highly accomplished, after the French rather than English mode."  Again this tiny perspective.

Here and there as in the first chapter there is a connection made between the family or events and the novels. Such as the playacting in MP was something Ausetn as "an early observer" saw: "some of the incidents and feelings which are so vividly painted in the Mansfield Park theatrical are due to her recollections of these entertainments."  He then shies away from this apparently dangerous material. What are these incidents and feelings?" we are not told.  Jumping ahead here to the play he reprints, I think it's a satire on just such silences as he practices. To me its bite is as a satire on family life and the practice of manipulating one another by "not telling" this or that as well as the way families present themselves in public.

The third chapter is disjointed in the sense that his materials are disparate but I grant a genuine attempt to present Austen to us. Consider how few letters to anyone but Cassandra have survived and of the there one is to Martha Sharpe.  And it shows Austen sincerely desiring companionship from this woman, hungry for it ("you distress me cruelly" -- lightly said, but meant). He's also showing Jane Austen's more unusual reading. He also here chooses materials which show a variety of feelings in Austen. To print the letter grieving over the death of Mrs Lefroy is wonderful of him -- remember now little is known or in print so this is a real opening to Austen's experience, what counted.  The longer letter to Cassandra shows us the gossip of the town. I too like the long description of the tree which meant a lot to Austen. Again her romantic or landscape feelingful side (we might say) is stressed here.

Yes Eliza Chandos, the aristocratic relative,  is put here to show off. Curious this, as it's also a woman's letter, showing teh world from a woman's point of view. The last two include content connected to the brothers -- again a showing off on JEAL's part. It's hard to know how much he sees with insight since he is so guarded (or dim) and here he may want to show us Austen going out and wanting to dress up or where Fanny Price's topaz cross from William Price came from.

A few of Oliphant's words from her review of this memoir (found in Southam, Critical Heritage, Vol 1:  "Mr Austen Leigh, without meaning it, throws out of his dim little lantern a passing gleam of light upon the fine vein of feminine cynicism which pervades his aunt's mind."  What she does is quote swatches from JEAL's memoir re-contextualized with an understanding of the content and satire going on. But she too does not see any larger view in Austen. Those who did so attributed an ethical view to her (G. H. Lewes). Julia Kavanagh (of whose Southam prints the whole chapter) may also be contrasted. Kavanagh compares Austen to other 18th century women, French and English and brings out the analogies in the novels  (bewteen characters, situations). Here are two snatched:  after describing a dialogue of Elinor Dashwood with her brother (about money), Kavanagh writes "she is too calm, to dispassionate, too self-possessed to be bitter or eloquent." She finds "silliness" sent up in P&P, and "keen and subtle grace. softened by much quiet tenderness" in MP.


Perhaps a poem by James Austen would be appropriate here.  It's really at its best in the long Cowperesque reflective-meditative poems.  Here is the first half of one where he talks more frankly about what Austen family life felt like.  It's part of a poem where he's justifying himself for not taking another perhaps lucrative appointment.  Some of us may be able to identify with this man apparently under considerable pressure to move to where perhaps more money and prestige might be eventually gained.

He justifies himself by his local attachment, his bonds to his imagined life, and says that despite his ability to gain comfort from his family life once they move in compensation for what he'd have lost, it's not enough, indeed far from ideal, and then he turns to what are his real resources his inner life, art, reading, and then says even with all this (as if answering someone) he would have to depend on the inner family circle and after a while it would turn to poison (making me think of Edith Wharton novels).

From Gilpin's Observations ... [in] Sussex, Hampshire and Kent

Lines written at Steventon in the Autumn of1814, after refusing to exchange that Living for Marsh Gibbon in the borders of Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire -

Ye fields & trees, amongst whose flowers & shade
Quick passed my careless childhood; scenes endeared
By many a fond remembrance; I rejoice
That duty calls me not, (as once I feared)
To bid a long adieu to all your charms;
And, like the Patriarch, to that voice divine,
Which to th' enlightened conscience clearly speaks,
Obedient, quit, not knowing where I go,
Or what may there befall of good or ill,

    My home, my kindred, & my native soil.   
For, though I doubt not, that had duty's call
Imperious, bid me for their sakes whom most
On earth I value, leave this dear abode,
And pitch my tent mids't strangers, I had found
The sacrifice less painful than I deemed;
Though an approving conscience, & the sense
Of having acted with no selfish views
Had lessened much my sorrow; & that time
Had reconciled my feelings to the change;
Yet much should I have suffered, when the morn
Arrived, on which a last & sad farewell
I must have taken to this long loved spot.
To see for the last time the morning light,
(For little sleep had visited my eyes,)
Dawn on the well known uplands, & the sun
With his pale rays obliquely slanted, tint
The tufted elm, & the low mansion's roof,
My own no longer; to have strolled once more,
(For how could I have helped it?) through the walk
Which winds, elm shaded, midst the stems antique
Of twisted thorn & maple; to have marked,
As through the village with unfeeling haste
The rapid carriage rattled, tree & mead
Receding from my sight, & to have lost,
As the lane's turning hid it from my view,
The last white cottage standing on the green,
A pang of sorrow to my sinking heart
Had given, felt deeply, & remembered long.
And little truly had I hoped to find
Ought in that country, where my future days
Seemed destined to be spent, which large amends
Might make, for what I quitted with regret.
An ampler income, & th' attendant means
Of self indulgence (to a moderate mind
And rational, at least a doubtful good,)
Were on an invalid in vain bestowed.
They cannot brace the nerve relaxed, nor give
To minds by sickness or by age unstrung,
The buoyant & elastic tone of youth.
  And such, (t'were vain to hide it) such is mine,
 By the long habits of retired life
Unfitted to give pleasure, or be pleased
In large & noisy parties; and at times
But scarcely able to maintain my share
Of conversation, in the circle small
Of long known neighbours, & long valued friends;
How lost were I midst strangers! what were life
To me, if daily forced to mix with those
Who having never known me in those days,
(If ever such there were) when I had powers
Of pleasing, know me only now, as one
 Who occupies a seat much better filled
 By others. "What a pity this poor man
Stirs from his own fireside". - Thus sure would say
My future neighbours, and I say so too.
   Yet such society, or solitude
And sad seclusion, must have been my lot.
Alternative was none; & harder still
The lot of those, whose fate is linked to mine;
That little circle, whose delight or pain
I look on as my own; anq dull indeed
It were for them, to spend day after day
Monotonous, unvaried by the call
Of friendly neighbours; never asked to mix
In sprightly dance, or dinner party gay.
Here they are known, & loved & valued much,
And I am known, & borne with; but who there
Would care for me or them? or what beyond
A formal morning visit once a year,
Done as a duty, and, as duties are,
Done most unwillingly, could we expect?
    And whatsoever fancy may suggest
Or theory may teach, there never yet
Was family so happy in itself
So centred in each other, and complete
In it's own circle, no resource to need
From social intercourse, & friendly chat
Of neighbour; & whoe' er have tried to live
Quite to themselves, & shut out all the world,
As troublesome intruders on their joys,
Have found at last that they presumed too much
On their own powers of pleasing, & had tasked
Their tempers & their manners, somewhat more
Than man's frail nature warrants; I have known
Those who have loved each other well, & yet
Have lived so much together, that they found
The only sure relief from sad ennui
Was mutual discord, & incessant strife.
    We are not of that number (Heaven be praised)
Who find domestic life a dull affair,
Unless each morning it's engagement bring:
Haply some round of visits, whose best charm
Is to find none at home; or better still,
A numerous party variously conveyed
Through dusty roads; upon barouche box high
Some mounted, & some sunk on ponies small,
 To see a house, where nothing's to be seen
Except the owner's miserable taste.
We find a pencil has a powerful charm,
Or quiet morning's walk, to cheat the day;
We do not count the evening very dull
Unless the card table its nightly stand
Take regular, and every mental power
And faculty be quite absorbed in whist.
We love, & much enjoy with ivory knife
To sever the yet damp & clinging leaves
Of some new volume; & can pleased discuss
 With critical acumen. & due skill,
An Author's merit: Authors too ourselves
Not seldom, & recite without much fear
To hearers kindly partial, verse or prose,
Song, parody, or tale, whose themes of high
But local import, well record the fate
Of cat or pony: or, from satire free
Raise against other's follies or our own
Perchance, the fair & inoffensive laugh.

Yet with all these resources in our power,
Free am I to confess, the time might come
When we too should grow weary of ourselves;
Tire e'en of those delights we most affect,
And gladly, to diversify the scene,
Exchange our quiet for the noisy mirth
Of larger circles - find the merest chat
And gossip of the country, often deem'd
Irrational and mean, a kind relief
And needful to beguile the tedious hours
 Of many a slow and lagging winter's eve.
I would not answer for myself, or those
With whom I live, that we should always keep
 Our tempers in due order, and escape
That foe to mutual love, a habit vile
Of petty contradiction, & dissent
In trifles, did we live so much alone ...

From The Complete Poems of James Austen, Jane Austen's Eldest brother, ed, intro, notes David Selwyn.

This Gilpin watercolor of Lake Ilwara in South Wales is a visual equivalent of James Austen's poetry -- and it was Gilpin Jane loved too.


The fifth week and Chapter 5:  the description of Austen's person and character.

Here is Cassandra's portriat of Jane as redone by JEAL for the book. The most striking thing is how the "improvement" uncrosses Jane's arms and made them far too big. It removed the strain from Austen's eyes too. The new portrait is an unreal doll; Cassandra's is a real person who looks frazzled, and unhappy.

One of my first responses when I finished was to remember that Jane Austen did write that "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked" (or words to this effect in one of her letters).  Apparently JEAL never read that line. "Benevolent fairy" grates. I believe the description of her is somewhat validated by other relatives but there are others I've read that make her hair darker. All agree on the round cheeks -- and that and the straight sharp nose is a family trait (you can see it in the miniature of Frank Austen).  In a chapter purported to give us insight into the character of the woman who wrote the novels he offers almost no depths of the woman at all. He says in his closing lines: "some little insights into the deeper recesses of the heart must be given."  This suggests to me he does know how superficial and conventional he has been but cannot get himself to tell more -- lest perhaps the family attack him.  Not an iota of anger in this woman or spite or revenge; no disappointments, no disillusion, have a look at Cassandra's picture of her face once again; it tells far more than this chapters. 

Jane's joke about feeling she was a wife to Crabbe, means she has a deep affinity with his poems. I've read a number of them over this and last year and her liking for his candour, strong irony, egalitarianism make Austen go up in my estimation and remind me of how the movie makes glamorous and far far richer the circumstances Austen means to portray in her books.

Her music books: she got up early to practice so as not to bother the others. This means someone hurt her feelings and pressured her not to play

Chapter 6: the publications of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice:

This old photo (1920s) will give a truer idea of Chawton cottage; whatever its lacks, it gave Austen space, time, peace, stability enough to rewrite and begin full versions of her novels and publish them (with Henry's help)

In a way we ought to see this chapter as thrilling. It was certainly a thrilling moment for Austen -- at long last in print, and success:  one of sucess d'estime for S&S and genuine popularity and real respect greeting P&P. And so she moves in rapidly to work MP up (I believe this is one that was pre-written in different drafts and bits) to a coherent magnificent whole, this time with a sense of confidence and belief that others who count will read it. That made a big difference for her. Alas, the public is fickle and she could not command high fees (like Radcliffe did for example) nor knew enough people to make money through subscriptions (like Burney)

I think JEAL hedges on what happened during the Bath.  He says "certainly nothing whch the publc have seen, was completed in either of those places ..."  This is a different statement from saying she wrote nothing. He did not like The Watsons (as about people on the edge of the gentry which is what his family was until they got the aunt's legacy, and also probably as depressed). I remember reading other relatives' memories of Austen in these wandering years with a desk filled with manuscripts which she carried round with her (and almost lost at one point).  She didn't have the time and space to finish a text and carry through to publication after her second attempt at NA got nowhere.

Cassandra's few notes are priceless for understanding stages of composition.

He pictures the life at Chawton as a writing life very well, and then we get three more letters. Again they are bright and cheerful ones with her joking about P&P too (or half-joking "too light bright and sparkling"). She is so cheered to be in print and see her books reaching people at last.  I liked the second half of the second letter: her resume of her reading, and joking "the first soldier that ever I sighed for." I've read Anne Grant's poetry and written foremother poet postings on her for Wompo and will send along one here shortly. Her liking for Grant's letter fits my sense of her love of women's memoirs.

I have a copy of Easton Stannard Barret's The Heroine (introduction by Michael Sadleir) and suggest (though this may not be a popular view) her connection of it to Radcliffe goes along with her usual urge to denigrate her rivals/predecessors.  It's a crude book the second half of which is incoherent. It mocks Pamela which it takes to be gothic -- it shows the writer did not read novels very much and he dislikes them.  This is Sadleir's view too: crude parody of Pamela.  I'll add it's very much by a man and he is attacking silly women's books as he sees them.  An intelligent critique is found in Lennox's Female Quixote, not this. I don't wonder James Austen didn't like it.  But then he had no rivals to fleer at.

I found this line deeply felt in the third letter:  "The quietness of it does me good." Also the picture of herself snug in her study writing with the snow outside: " ... and am now writing by myself at the new table in the front room. It is snowing. We had some snowstorms  yeserday, and a smart frost at ngiht, whcih gave us a hard road from cobham to Kingston ..  And then the depiction of them riding along and her looking out for veils. Using but a few words she is effecively suggestive and rich with details.

We do see family gossip and individuals brought up here and there but I've not got time to comment on them. I also find Austen's criticism of her books not that useful -- she didn't get to read enough of this kind of thing, didn't have the language or people to talk to; this was the beginning of literary criticism for the novel and the only person doing it splendidly at this point was Anna Barbauld.

An 1870 illustration for Emma;  it reveals an attitude of mind towards the books the year JEAL publishes his memoir

The Memoir, Chapter 7:  Emma

This is an interesting chapter and rich if you think about its various angles.  First it's a clear mirror of the later Victorian period where Austen is no longer being categorized as one of three leading 18th century writers, but rather placed alongside the major women of her era:  why else quote Charlotte Bronte? JEAL also does not know about how Bronte is so hostile to Austen for he quotes two paragraphs that are rarely quoted and even less when it's time to describe Bronte's attitude towards Austen. While he paraphrases Bronte's discomfort with the genteel world of Austen's novels (JEAL is not uncomfortable), instead of the endlessly reprinted complaint about Austen's lack of passsion, we have Bronte offering Austen as an example of how to interest without being melodramatic.

JEAL is thinking in terms of contexts in a rather modern way.  He feels -- and he is right insofar as the milieu he is talking about -- Austen never intermingled with and lost the profit of such intermingling with geniuses of her own calibre.  She didn't write in isolation (like Dickinson) and we can see she has her eye on what she thinks the public wants or likes, but she was not in the literary world nor even its attached varying cliques, salons, interior knowing buzz and hum.

I am glad to see that Diane agrees with me: while there is mockery of the Regent's librarian, Clarke, there is sympathy even if he can't see it (about how a life in court is a death-in-life, preventing what makes it worth living to a thinking genuinely feeling person), and she does confide in him as she does not elsewhere about her worries over her art.  I think obtuse as he could be, he took her seriously as an author, did not write the kind of trivial gossip about the characters she records of those around her.

Diane asks me, Do I think Austen was right to worry about Emma?  In a word, yes.  She sent Maria Edgeworth a copy and to a friend Edgeworth pronounced it boring, nothing is happening she said.  You could say Austen was up against the same sort of problem women writers before they began to be "in" in the world professionally and could display sexual and other tabooed knowledge had: they have limited materials.  Q.D. Leavis was right when she says the same paradigms, character types, and storylines repeat. Her solution was to go deeper, to make her art virtuouso by point of view, irony, subtle realities (which only the astute reader of the time, Scott, picked up on) so it is endlessly rich. But what were the popular books for the next century and one half? P&P and S&S.  The first read as archetypal popular romance, and the second her most overtly melodramatic work.  An elite read her and loved the others, and critical discussion has favored Emma over MP, and we can see in the film adaptations that Persuasion (the first mini-series) has been a favorite; but not until this last quarter century of strong cult cultivation by heritage, society, academic, publishing groups has Emma really come into its own as a liked Austen book.

If Aneilka has real proof the Prince Regent read Austen's novels, I'd be willing to believe he went through four of them once; if not, I don't believe it because of the generality of the cliched praise, carefully couched so the Prince will not be able to be asked anything (to see if he remembers the book). That he keeps them in his homes is a way of showing off he belongs to the literary elite of his time; they are (as Scott's books became) marks of social cachey.  Austen didn't like the Prince let us recall; he was not known for his intellectual appreciations.  We are led to believe by later critics she was strongly reluctant to dedicate Emma to the regent, and one letter can be read that way.

JEAL's urge to disseminate more of Austen's fictions is here too in his reprinting of "Plan of a Novel" which is also a close parody of Sophie Cottin's popular romance Elizabeth, or the Exiles of Siberia. This interests me for I believe Austen was influenced by the French as well as English women novelists. The one to read here is Julia Kavanagh's two books on French and English women novelists of the era (one book on each set).

Yes again JEAL wants to show us the aristocracy paid attention to Austen.

This is chapter filled with things to think about: Austen's reaction to Scott's review shows how strong was her self-esteem and sense of herself: she does not feel ga-ga this big man understood her books but asks why he ignored MP?  The answer is he probably didn't read it. Nowadays reviewers sometimes don't even read the works under consideration and Scott felt he had done his homework by reading the success d'estime (S&S) and d'argent (P&P). He may not have heard of MP; it's possible, though he is aware of the underlying moral feel of all three works and (interestingly) objects to the prudential strain of her books as complicit in some of the individual life-destroying norms of their society. Surely people don't really need encouragement to be selfish he says; this is to look at how conventional moralizing is used or functions in real social circles.

An 1892 illustration for an edition of MP: Mr Yates rehearsing his bombastic part

Chapters 8, 9 and 10:  her reputation and early critics, her comments on her novels and characters

I agree that Austen cared about money far more than JEAL is willing to confess. One of the passages in the memoir I underlined as "not so" was JEAL's sentence: "I do not think she was herself much mortified by the want of early success."  She did not think S&S cost her nothing and neither did Henry who tells us of the sacrifices she made out of her small allowance (saving for a while) to publish her book.  It took blood from her heart -- her suckling child she called the manuscript.

He's right on the slow growth of her reputation; by mid-century an elite group of readers valued her. Partly this was because she adhered to a more 18th century view of character development too.  Scott had intervened decisively, followed by Hugo and then a large number of Victorian novelist who showed human nature is not universal, but individual and the product of a specific milieu and historical circumstance.  So beyond her narrow range, she also did not present the kind of social developments that Victorians prized as knowledge.  MP comes closest to this.  But it too adheres to "la belle nature" in its divvying up for poetic justice. Again the mid-19th century novel began to abjure this kind of thing.  

I did like how JEAL defended his aunt against the older reviewers. He did feel that her comic characters were underrated - and again this is not something that could be appreciated as much in the era he was writing for again it's a universal caricature she gives us.  He's pleased to compare her to Shakespeare ...

JEAL has a sense of these novels as important and he's trying to indicate what is good about them.  He uses the phrase "true to nature" (from Brydges) -- he does like to have authorities. He's not sure of himself.  But like you I'm not all that impressed by the idea that these novels are more "realistic" than those which came before -- whatever that means and I don't think they are realistic except within a limited set of conventions of what can be shown, decorum, what a lady (unmarried) can write, what readers want to read (love stories and adventures).

I can see he's trying for some definition, and it seems to me not so much realism as connected to what his aunt is doing that's not "bow-wow," and as I see it from the quotations, he means a woman's novel. Look at the language and who he quotes (Guizot), and the books Austen's are set among: women's, and the language used is French "c'est toute une ecole de morale."  It's the theory of the book as done on tiny ivory pieces and being exquisite portraits of inner life that are womanly. This is not wrong; indeed there is a school of thought which agrees.  Do you know the essay in Janeites, ed. Deirdre Lycnh called "Virago Jane" by Katie Trumpeter?  excellent, it shows the early 20th century women's novels so favored in this series are heavily indebted to Austen's books (we've talked here about how E. H. Young's Jenny Wren is a rewrite of S&S).

But are we here looking hard to find this?. I'm not sure as the language remains vague, and if he thought it why not bring up the women's novels of his period. He has brought up Charlotte Bronte but not really to set Austen's novels alongside hers tightly.  How much of women's novesl did he read? Eliot? Gaskell?  Why is there no mention of Gaskell. If he thought these are subtle pictures of life woman'centered she should be there, no?

He seems himself to be feeling his way towards something, but not quite beyond beyond setting down these opinions to make us respect his aunt. He is sure she is doing something quite different from Scott but how to put it in words he doesn't know and where to situate her either, he doesn't. That's why I instance the Victorian reviewers like Lewes -- I must assume JEAL didn't get Blackwood's (not really a superintellectual periodical of the day) or any of the others.  Keepsake (I have to say) shows he is in a backwater and himself doesn't make up for it.  In a way this is true of Austen herself: she too never developed a vocabulary to describe what she was doing -- she needed to have conversations with people like herself, and (I do think this) had she done this and lived her art could have deepened and gone further.  why make her different from other people. It's what happens to writers today: not only did she die too soon, as she felt, had limited experience (and was censored as a spinster who was beholden to other to support her and she had to live where this was provided), but she could have profited from rich talk on her art ...

The tenth chapter is a valuable one: it is the one people often quote from. It's here JEAL gives us a few precious comments by Austen on her characters in the last paragraph, but they are enigmatic in part or have been so differently read.  Often he seems to see-saw between two points of view (which is typical of his gentle defensiveness throughout this book): "She was very fond of Emma, but did not reckon on her being a general favourite, for, when commencing that work, she said, 'I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.'" Does this mean JEAL thought that among the people he knew the character Emma had become a general favorite? What does that mean?  does it mean she was a character people liked (sympathized with) or just a favorite character who amused and entertained them. It's not clear.

A poem by Charlotte Smith whose imagery and mood are consonant with Cowper's and whose stance helps explain Austen's own like Crabbe's does:

Ode to the Missed Thrush

Charlotte Smith

The Winter Soistice scarce is past,
Loud is the wind, and hoarsely sound
The mill-streams in the swelling blast,
And cold and humid is the ground[;]
When, to the ivy, that embowers
Some pollard tree, or sheltering rock,
The troop of timid warblers flock,
And shuddering wait for milder hours.

While thou! the leader of their band,
Fearless salut'st the opening year;
Nor stay'st, till blow the breeze bland
That bid the tender leaves appear:
But, on some towering elm or pine,
Waving elate thy dauntless wing,
Thou joy'st thy love notes wild to sing,
Impatient of St. Valentine!

Oh, herald of the Spring! while yet
No harebell scents the woodland lane,
Nor starwort fair, nor violet,
Braves the bleak gust and driving rain,
'Tis thine, as thro' the copses rude
Some pensive wanderer sighs along,
To soothe him with thy cheerful song,
And tell of Hope and Fortitude!

For thee then, may the hawthorn bush,
The elder, and the spindle tree,
With all their various berries blush,
And the blue sloe abound for thee!
For thee, the coral holly glow
Its arm'd and glossy leaves among,
And many a branched oak be hung
With thy pellucid missletoe.
Still may thy nest, with lichen lin'd,
Be hidden from the invading jay,
Nor truant boy its covert find,
To bear thy callow young away;
So thou, precursor still of good,
0, herald of approaching Spring,
Shalt to the pensive wanderer sing
Thy song of Hope and Fortitude.


Said to be a Pre-1946 photo of College Street front room where Jane Austen died (from British Jane Austen society publications)
Chapter 11, the last and last week:

I found this chapter the most moving one of the memoir.  If only in the other chapters, he had had equivalent letters. Letters are the lifeblood of biography and autobiography. Even doctored and abbreviated on top of Austen's own collusion with her family in putting on a bright face when she wrote, a deep sense of plangent loss pervades these texts.  There's a deeply felt heart beat in these sentence: "Oh it rains again.  It beats against the window."  Just as she like a bird beats against the windows and doors: she has had to leave London, leave where her career was just getting started, desert her apothecary (whom she had been flirting about and spending enough time with) -- all subject to her brother's finances, no independence of her own.   She is kicking against her destiny here.

Austen's letters as presented in this chapter are filled with a depth of feeling from her knowledge she was dying.  This last chapter is valuable for displaying what are the riches of the letters and thus perhaps alerting people like Chapman

Yes her illness influenced Persuasion's tone and themes and Sanditon's too strongly, the one more for a dream fullfillment and poignant, the other as she got closer to death, more half-hysterical as she jokes and jokes to calm or reason herself into acceptance.

As to what she had:  Hodgson's disease combined with the shock of not getting the legacy when they needed it after all and the shock of the bankruptcy.  Enough to lay anyone low. Even today Hodgson's disease is very serious and its treatments not much fun.  On the way he presents the legacy going ot the family harridan (who made JEAL's life as a young man miserable and tyrannized over until she finally died), and the disappointment at the uncle's uxoriousness (he probably hid from the others how much he did like this controlling wife of his), the banktrupcy and how much this contributed to Austen's illness, it's understandable. It reminds me of obituary writing. I don't envy anyone who has to write one of these. The relatives scour it with a fine tooth comb of their own egos and pride.  The early Austens were fringe gentry and even in this later period they are ever closing ranks.  His values seem to me better than those who would have destroyed all and published nothing --  and his branch of the family won. HIs daughter, Mary Augusta, it is who told us the majority of Austen's letters were destroyed by Cassandra.

I suggest that from the second postscript where JEAL is suddenly unusually acrimonious and overtly defensive, we see peeping out one of the motivations for this book. It is similar to Henry Austen's hagiographical account of his sister.  Jane Austen was unconventional: never married, never had children, kept herself apart (as both say and defend); she was therefore attacked, and some of her behavior was probably un or anti-social, and this was blown up out of proportion by envy. It's interesting to me that Caroline (the third biographer of the first generation) is not that defensive but at the same time insists on this life of solitude quietly. This is vastly preferable to Fanny Knight who bad-mouthed her aunt -- joining in mindlessly I think to the average scuttlebutt which tried to cut Austen down.

I think JEAL also he meant very well by his publication; that he, Caroline and Anna, were bucking the other relatives a lot -- as well as in rivalry with Brabourne a little later who when he saw the positive results of the memoir (fame, respect, sentiment) brought out the letters he had control of.  JEAL's values are not ours, but note how he published Lady Susan, The Watsons and the cancelled chapters of Persuasion-- which are interesting.  We had to wait until the 20th century to get Sanditon because (as Chapter 11 shows) it is basically a first rough draft -- a revealing document in itself but to the family too unfinished to show.

A 20th century (Joan Hassall) illustration of the Price family enjoying the fresh air of spring on Portsmouth harbour -- a release and interlude from a hard life



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 26th, 2010 12:51 pm (UTC)
Comments by others on Memoir, Chapter 1
On JEAL's "few changes and no great crisis ever broke the
smooth tenor of its course [of her life].:"

I'd nominate for a start the sudden removal from her long-time home to Bath (remember the tradition that JS fainted on hearing of it)
-- the lawsuit that threatened Edward's inheritance of the Knight estate, which come to think of it might have threatened the women's final homestead at Chawton (or did that come earlier?)
-- the early death of the Unknown Clergyman whom two different family members said JA was in love with (again see my publication of Fanny Caroline Austen's manuscript in Persuasions Online 29),
-- the decision to abort her engagement to Harris Bigg-Wither (we have a description of the desperation she and Cassandra felt immediately following that)
-- the failure of Henry's bank -- Edward alone lost 10,000 pounds, and JA evidently felt it so strongly that in her will she left 50 pounds to Henry's housekeeper, who had lost that much.
Then there's the shock of Uncle Leigh-Perrot's will, which ignores his sister Mrs. Austen entirely, and which JA herself says accounts for a relapse
of her own illness.
Jan. 26th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
Opener and comments on illustrations to Chapter 1:
Diane Reynolds:

"Hello everybody. Today I hope we will begin a discussion of James Edward Austen-Leigh's 1870 memoir of his aunt, Jane Austen. If you would like to read along, I am using an e-text available at www.gutenberg.org/files/17797/17797-h/17797-h.htm.

Austen-Leigh writes with some of the charm and talent of his aunt as he approaches what to him is a daunting task--telling the story of a life that--to him--"is singularly barren." (1) He makes a valiant effort nonetheless, and we are to this day influenced by his portrait of she who is named from the first sentence of the book not as herself, but as a relationship and a possession: "my dear Aunt Jane." That the subject of the book is as much him as her--his impressions of her, his desire to fashion her, his frame of her--is clear from this first sentence, in which "my .. Aunt Jane" is bracketed between "I, the youngest of mourners" and "[I] in my old age ..." (1) We thus are alerted from the start that the Jane constructed will be a "dear Jane" amenable to the writer.

Austen-Leigh weaves into his early part of the narrative details of daily life in the late 18th century that evoke a simpler, more pastoral world that is help to persuade us to accept his idealized Austen: the whitewashed but exposed beams of the Steveton Rectory, where she grew up, the women of the house "concocting" their own wines and medicines, the dangerously rutted dirt roads that were the only means of travel in the days before railroads.

Amid these homey details, he describes the Aunt Jane he remembered: "I can indeed bear witness that there was scarcely a charm in her most delightful characters that was not a true reflection of her own sweet temper and loving heart. I was young when we lost her [note that she did not die, but that the family "lost" her as one might a possession]; but the impressions made on the young are deep, and though in the course of fifty years I have forgotten much, I have not forgotten that ‘Aunt Jane’ was the delight of all her nephews and nieces. We did not think of her as being clever, still less as being famous; but we valued her as one always kind, sympathising, and amusing. (3)
p. 3c

He goes on to say: "The family talk had abundance of spirit and vivacity, and was never troubled by disagreements even in little matters, for it was not their habit to dispute or argue with each other ..." (18).

What do we think of these characterizations of Jane and the Austen circle? Sentimentalized Victorianisms? The idealized childhood memories of an old man? At least in part the true story? What do we have that can flesh out this narrative? Are there other parts of these first two chapters that jump out as worth commenting on?...

Jan. 26th, 2010 12:58 pm (UTC)
On the juvenilia play in Chapter 3
In chapter 3 of his Memoir, James Edward Austen-Leigh offers us a wealth of primary source material in Austen's writing: a juvenile play, a poem, and two letters. He rightly points to JA's sense of fun and playfulness, evident in both the letters and the play, if not so
readily in the poem, an elegy to Mrs. Lefroy, who died on Jane's birthday. He apologizes for the domestic nature of the letters; today, we might be as happy to get the details of everyday life as opinions on the great events of the times.

Of her juvenilia, JEAL writes: "It would seem as if she were first taking note of all the faults to be avoided, and curiously considering how she ought not to write before she attempted to put forth her strength in the right direction." I would argue that her direction did
not change, but instead grew more finessed and that in an early work like her play we see themes and techniques that will be repeated throughout the novels.

JA's short play, The Mystery, An Unfinished Comedy" is of most interest to me. Had it been written a 150 years later, I imagine it would be considered absurdist literature. It's a play in which nothing happens--except that secrets are shared that we, the audience, are not
privy to. First, a character named Cordyon is "interrupted.". Interrupted in what? We never find out. Second, Old Humbug and his son enter a room in the midst of a conversation. Old Humbug asks his son if his advice is good and the son says yes and that he will follow it.
What advice? We never find out. In the second scene, Mrs. Humbug and her daughter, Fanny, are working in the parlor. She asks her daughter: "Do you understand, my love?" The daughter says, yes, perfectly, and bids her mother continue her narration, to which her mother responds
that she has nothing more to say. What did the daughter understand? What was the narration? We never find out. Daphne comes in to announce "it' is "all settled." This "it" is whispered to Fanny and Mrs. Humbug, but the audience never hears the information. The scene ends
with Fanny saying: "Well, now I know everything about it, I'll go away." In scene 3, Colonel Elliot enters a room, sees Sir Spangle asleep and decides to whisper the secret to him, as being asleep, he won't "blab" it. Again, the audience never discovers the secret. This ends Act I, and as "finis" is added, I assume the play is over.

Of interest about this play: It shows that from an early age Austen was connecting mystery to comedy, a marriage she brings to perfection in Emma. We also see a mind fascinated by what's left unsaid. Austen clearly enjoyed teasing and withholding information from her audience.
What do you think of this play? Can it be one possible blueprint for interpreting her later works?

JEAL frames this play with Austen's advice to a niece to read more and write less before the age of 16, and the framing suggests the Austen herself is critical of--and perhaps regrets-- her own juvenilia, such as this play. How true do you think this is?

One odd note--which JEAL implicitly acknowledges by explaining that any letter from the 17th century must be of interest--is his inclusion of a letter written by Mary Bridges, wife of the British ambassador to
Turkey. Mary's connection to Jane Austen is tenuous at best--she was apparently a distance relative of Jane's mother. What do you make of the insertion of this letter into the text and of JEAL's comments that the morality advocated in the letter--to save money and not live to
ostentatiously--still hold true? Why this sort of aside? My sense is that when JEAL starts veering too close to the sharp edge of Aunt Jane, he pulls away and tries to soften her.

What of her letters? What stands out for you in them? What sticks most in my mind is JA's upset over the loss of the trees to the storm, a sentiment which seems sincere and foreshadows her interest in trees and nature in Mansfield Park ...

Diane Reynolds
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:01 pm (UTC)
Chapter 5: Her reading
Diane Reynolds:

"In Chapter 5 of James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen, we see the Austen he remembers, the lively but settled Aunt Jane of Chawton Cottage. For all the important information JEAL provides here, the chapter is fascinating for what he misses, for what's hidden, as
it were, in plain sight. It's also notable that this section is devoid of genealogies, as he now is focusing entirely on Jane Austen.

The chapter opens with a charming description of his aunt: "In person she was very attractive; her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour;
she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face. If not so regularly handsome as her sister, yet her countenance had a peculiar charm of its own to the eyes of most beholders." He goes on to talk about her remarkable neatness in dress
and "all her ways," her love of her music, her facility at the pianoforte, her fluency in French and knowledge of Italian, all the while apologizing that she was not highly accomplished vis-a-vis a ladies of his day.

He offers valuable knowledge about her reading tastes: how she enjoyed Richardson, how his Sir Charles Grandison was alive to her, how she favored Johnson, Crabbe and Cowper. Then a curious aside. Threaded through the chapter, almost until the very end, are examples of JA's sense of fun: children loved her and felt she loved them. She loved
games and stories and wordplay. She was sparkling and witty and always ready for action, full of cleverness and playful talk. One example he offers is her comment, made "in jest," that she "could fancy being Mrs. Crabbe." JEAL then quite solemnly comments (compelled to provide
this framework!) that she looked on "the author quite as an abstract idea, and ignorant and regardless of what kind of man he might be."

this point, I wanted to scream. Just scream. The portrait he himself-- he JEAL!!!--paints of JA caused her PUN to jump right (or write ) off the page at me: Of course she "could fancy being Mrs. Crabbe!" Mrs. Crab!!! That's so entirely a Jane Austen a comment! How could he miss
it? Then I thought, OK, maybe crab and crabby didn't have the same meaning then as now, so perhaps I am being unfair. I looked up the history of word and found the following: From www.takeourword.com: "crabbed ... means, etymologically, "crooked or wayward gait of a crab" and the several figurative senses that follow from that
(disagreeable, contrary, ill-tempered, or crooked). Crabbed dates from about 1300. Feeling crabby now? That dates from the late 18th century. Thomas Paine used it in his Common Sense: "The narrow and crabby spirit of a despairing political party." And from worddetective.com: "Our modern “crabby,” meaning “cross, irritable,
cranky” is fairly recent (as such things are measured), dating to the late 18th century. “Crabby,” however, was a derivative of an earlier term, “crabbed,” which appeared with the same meaning back in the 14th
century. ... In both “crabby” and “crabbed,” the analogy is to a crab’s tendency to painfully nip with its claws and tenaciously hold on, as well as its tendency to walk backwards and sideways, making it an excellent metaphor for a difficult, uncooperative person. ...The peculiar locomotion of a crab actually contributed to another sense of “crabbed,” that of “crooked, knotted, complex, twisted,” which today is found mostly in descriptions of indecipherable handwriting, awkward or overly-complex prose ..."
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
On the piano playing

"About Jane's pianoforte, JEAL writes "at Chawton she practised daily, chiefly before breakfast. I
believe she did so partly that she might not disturb the rest of the party who were less fond of music."

In years not so distant, I too had to limit my piano practice to those times when I was sure not to bother anyone. Indeed it disturbed other members of the
household, though my house was then larger than Chawton Cottage. Not that I play particularly poorly, but my musical tastes (19th century) were not shared by
"the rest of the party". Also, piano practice is inherently repetitive and, I guess, jarring to the ears of listeners.

In JA's case, we can guess as to who had complained (or would have complained) about her practicing? Mrs. Austen mere? Cassandra? Martha?

This also puts me in mind of Lady Catherine in P&P: "she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the piano forte
in Mrs. Jenkinson's room. She would be in nobody's way, you know, in that part of the house."

There you have it: you need a house the size of Rosings to indulge in your piano practice without bothering anyone."
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
Chapter 7: the author and the librarian
Diane again:

"In this very interesting chapter we see JA both as the assured author at the height of her powers, knowing very clearly what kind of book she is willing to write, and JA the author nervous about the reception of her latest darling child, Emma. She fears that people will find it—
her masterpiece!—wanting in comparison to Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. Interestingly, Sense and Sensibility apparently doesn’t enter into her thinking at this point.

The chapter opens with JEAL”S discussion of JA’s “entire seclusion” from the literary world. In this, JEAL contrasts her with Fanny Burney, who was “at an early age petted by Dr. Johnson” and socialized with top figures in the arts world. Even the very secluded Charlotte Bronte, JEAL notes, was introduced (trembling, of course) to the
lions of the London literary scene.

JEAL then writes about “the only mark of distinction ever bestowed on her [JA]” while she was alive: the Prince Regent, noted as an admirer of her work, has Mr. Clarke, the librarian at Carlton House, invite her to Carlton House, where she is shown "every attention." While there, she is told she is “at liberty” to dedicate any forthcoming
novel to the Prince. Emma, then in the press, was immediately dedicated to him.

We have a brief letter in which Austen writes to make certain she is truly meant to affix the dedication to the Prince Regent to her novel. I imagine she wisely sought to get the permission in writing to forestall any sort of problem or possible “mortification” at being told that no, she had overstepped her bounds or misunderstood Mr. Clarke.

Mr. Clarke writes back to her, in part: “Your late works, Madam, and in particular “Mansfield Park,” reflect the highest honour on your genius and your principles. In every new work your mind seems to increase its energy and power of discrimination. The Regent has read and admired all your publications.” In the same letter, he also makes
what we can see from a distance of 200 years is an absurd suggestion that she write a novel about an idealized English clergyman who divides his time between the country and the city.

In her response, she tells Clarke she is sending the Prince Regent copies of Emma, also, interestingly, worrying that the novel will appear “inferior in” wit to P&P and “inferior in good sense” to MP. She deftly sidesteps the possible novel about the clergyman by
protesting her (stereotypical) female limitations, such as her lack of education in science, philosophy and the classics. When she calls herself “the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress,” we must think she protests too much –and is perhaps having fun at his expense.

Undeterred, Clarke, remarkably tone deaf to the kind of writer Austen is, asks for a historical romance about the House of Cobourg, and she responds by saying “I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were
indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.”

In so knowing her own mind and her own craft, she’s likened to Charlotte Bronte, who equally grasped what kind of writer she was. I find it fascinating that Asuten writes of “laughing at myself” as well as others. It’s clear that her interest in health and hypochondria in
the later novels must, in part, reflect her own concern with and attempt to laugh at, her own failing health, but I wonder in what other ways she might have laughed at herself. I find this letter in general a great gift because we see here JA dropping her light-hearted self-effacement and really trying, clearly and sincerely, to communicate with Clarke something of her own craft and her writer’s heart. She KNEW Jane Austen the writer. There’s power and assurance in these lines ...
Jan. 26th, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
His limitations

"his way of categorizing people struck me as hilarious. "Eminent persons." What is an eminent person? and then lest he offend someone the back-handed descent; "others of less eminence." It reminds me of a NY Times article in the later 1970s which described the Ayatollah Khomeini's flat in Paris as the time as "painfully modest." Was he sitting about in the freezing cold/burning heat with no furniture or what?

Then the choice of quotation. They are not revealing, they are not wellchosen because JEAL does not know the peopel who have written insightfully on Austen: G. H. Lewes for one. I have a fat volume of Victorian reviews and there were a few people by mid-century who had written insightfully: Margaret Oliphant is another. He knew Miss Mitford and J. Mackintosh; Southey through family connections, and had read Scott's review -- probably shown it by his aunt. These are such a higgledy-piggedly, which together with the Keepsake (that's like quoting TV Guide today or some low to middle brow nonsense magazine), show JEAL was not reading what counted in his era, was outside the real circles of his time -- as his aunt had not been herself. While Austen didn't visit the central voices, she read them and knew which ones they were.

J.Mackintosh's phrase is not precise or specific enough: he could mean many different things and we can't start talking about a vague phrase.

Then we go through famous public men before turning to JEAL's visit to Scott. JEAL was a lover of Scott -- and he preferred Scott's fiction to his aunts. I doubt for the large political picture; I suspect for Scott's valuation of sensitive heroes and his picturesqueness and strong Tory point of view finally.

Then ending where he began: a local family. This could be a blog today where a person tells of the people he or she knows, the most famous thing someone point out to him (Scott), then famous opinions picked up in widely-distributed publications and finall back to people he knows.

In a way it's a sad text -- from what it implies about the different intellectual worlds of JEAL's own and our own era. I time and again find in students they are on radar that misses what matters and instead quote dull turgid (solemn) books that are thick and seem to me to be the sort of thing that is intelligent or informed and which they don't read -- like Collins's bringing forth that moral book for the Bennet sisters. Fordyce's sermons has its equivalent in National Geographic and book of the month club history type books today. The Net has helped enormously to cross these kinds of boundaries but you have to have a mind like Austen's which seeks to cross them and understands.

Jan. 26th, 2010 01:11 pm (UTC)
Chapters 10 and 11: why did he write it? atmosphere in family
Ron and Edith's comments:

"the family became concerned that an outsider or another branch of the family
would produce a biography. James Edward Austen-Leigh, as the son of the eldest branch ..

It was JEAL's book, I suspect that led to Lord Brabourne's publication a few years later of his own lengthy discursions on family history and the letters JA had written to his mother Fanny Knight. I have the impression there was some -- I'm searching fo the right word -- rivalry, resentment, something -- between the families of JA's brothers, the Austen-Leighs and the
Knights ..."

I missed Ron's comment, and want to change my emphasis. While I am persuaded JEAL's motive or self-justification was what he said it was: he had materials he could share no one else had, memories that were unique, a personal closeness, and I agree with those scholars who feel (in a perhaps chicken-egg argument) that JEAL's book jump-started the Austen cult and first wide-spread dissemination of her books and thus interest in her, it is (as I said) true that in 1870 the selling of literary biographies had begun. The literary marketplace supported the modern commercial Christmas (with texts written for it) and it had been found many readers will read biography who won't read the person's works. Not that they care for the literary criticism, but there is this drive for personal gossip and over-insistence on novels as autobiographical in common readers. Beyond Trollope, Oliphant wrote her autobiography (irritatedly and for money too), and the treatment of Dickens stirred fears.

Edith also wrote:

"Somewhere, and only once, I read something about a son of one branch seducing (marrying?) a governess of the other, among other problems. Perhaps one of you knows what that was all about? -- I read it a long time ago, when I wasn't as interested in family gossip as I am now."

This is interesting. The rivalry Edith speaks of is felt in JEAL's remarks on getting the materials together (as well as Caroline's) and Anna's in her continuation of Sanditon, but the governess story. It's an Ibsen one rather than the fairy tales of _Pamela_. Just to say: one of Scott's (Walter) brothers fell in love with a governess in the family, and married her; Scott'sr reaction was vindictive: he separated them and basically destroyed his brother, getting back at this lowering of the family. One reason governesses were so stigmatized was to discourage such love affairs (as in Jane Eyre, hated by one of the female reviewers of the time who identified with the families or Blanche types). I've sometimes longed to have the letter of Anne Sharpe and know she was a governess briefly and how close she and Austen were from what we have. What insight we might have into Edward's family (I think Fanny Price is partly modelled on a vist to the Edward Knights where Caroline was badly teased and at a loss in front of her rich cousins). Also that they were not saved and never published is perhaps snobbery. The family would not like this association.

But Austen herself did, and she left 50 pounds (in a pathetic inheritance she had to convey) to her French woman servant-companion whose money Henry had lost -- she supplying what Henry lost. I've been touched by her friendship with Sharpe and this legacy.

Jan. 26th, 2010 04:41 pm (UTC)
Editions of biographies
From Trollope19thCStudies:

"Thanks, Ellen. I just started reading Jane Aiken Hodge's "Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen" where she mentions this memoir a lot and its faults since it was written so late after Austen's passing as well as how so much was omitted.


To which I replied:


On C18-l someone asked which biographies of Austen one ought to read and after the obligatory Tomalin v Nokes (against one another), I sugggested Double Life as encompassing both approaches."


"Good. I was afraid it would be considered "too old" but I am enjoying it. I read the Park Honan one many years ago but I did not find it as readable as "Double Life."

Thanks again,

My original email to C18-l:

"Jane Austen biographies are an extremely problematic genre. If you could put two on reserve, I'd suggest having them read Claire Tomalin's _against_ David Nokes. An older biography I rarely hear mentioned is very good for encompassing Tomalin and Nokes's different takes: Jane Aiken Hodge's Only a Novel: The double life of Jane Austen. And then there's Jane Austen, the businesswoman: Jan Fergus's study.

As a study of her milieu, Irene Collins's Jane Austen and the Clergy is unbeatable. It really gives you a feel for the kind of existence she had as a rector's daughter.

Deirdre LeFaye's is often mentioned as a genre "record" and objective: in fact, it's more slanted than man

For what it's worth I don't care for the Honan's on the ground Jim mentioned about Tomalin: it's life and times of Austen and we learn more about her brother's careers than her life and writing.

I agree on the letters, Nancy, but the edition is so confusing and hard to use. Believe this or not, people, we need a good usable edition of Jane Austen's letters and in paperback.


Jan. 26th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post, Ellen, and for the beautiful illustrations. I linked to it.

Catherine Delors
Jan. 27th, 2010 04:04 am (UTC)
From Penny:

"Thank you Ellen, I enjoyed it and now I have to figure out if I should finish reading it or go on to a lit crit book such as the Irene Collins or Emily Auerbach or Janet Todd. I also have a copy of the Heydt-Stevenson either here in my bedroom or in my living room. I leave my books all over. but I enjoy your blog and liked the photos."
Jan. 27th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
A gendered account
An off-blog comment has reminded me that I omitted to talk of how strongly this memoir is gendered. JEAL cannot see how crippling was her gender and his is very much a male's take on his "sheltered aunt." She did want and need money and was not sheltered from the hard realities of life from the time her father died.

Diane Reynolds touched on this:

"On the one hand, I am horrified at the treatment of Jane, Cassandra and their mother. It's practically Old Testament in that they are handled virtually as property by the males in the family--and in that they are handled as assets that have gone "underwater"--they're clearly not going to produce any alliances that will bring money or prestige to the family. Of course, none of the males can know that JA will eventually become the family superstar ... or sustained supernova, the most brilliant star ever in the family constellation. On the other hand, financial matters do in the end right themselves for the three women, and they work in JA's favor. While we can deplore the three's dependency and lack of ability to earn money or pursue any kind of reasonable career, at the same time, the extreme social censure around gentlewomen working and the need for the family to keep face meant that JA didn't have to slog to a job every day, as she undoubtedly would have to do today. Many of us would not mind being given a six-bedroom furnished cottage with utilities rent free, about 40K a year in income and a flow of food gifts--and not have to work. Of course, the women were often pressed into service to babysit, nurse, etc. but women today are also impressed into those services--often on top of working full time. The point is, JA was afforded the leisure time and stability she needed to write great novels"

I replied:

"An important inspiration for Austen's books was her life and the first book she chose finally to publish show us the three women dependents -- having to be grateful for a distant relative helping out. Diana show the "upside" of this for Austen: she had leisure time because she did not have to go into service -- her family did have enough. But we underestimate the pressure she was under to marry. Maybe despite its maudlin atmosphere and reification of grief that she didn't marry for Austen that's what Miss Austen Regrets has to show us that is valuable: the pressure to marry ...

For me it is dismaying how the women identify where their individual interests lie, so you get Fanny Knight complicit with and supporting the hierarchy and thus trying to erase her aunt. In a discreet way that's what Deborah Kaplan's book shows: Among Women is about how the women supported one another but only in limited inter-milieu ways.

Jan. 28th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
Last thoughts -- from a 12th week
Diane Reynolds:

I have enjoyed our reading of the Memoir together and am grateful for the provocative questions that were raised about the “coloring” of JA’s life story. In two weeks, we are scheduled to begin Jill Heydt-Stevenson's Unbecoming Conjunctions.

As we end our reading of the Memoir, does anything stand out to you as particularly true or untrue in JEAL's account? What fictions are established and why? Is the cup of the Memoir half empty or half full? Where does it point us to/from the "real" story of JA's life?

In other words, if the memoir was written in the spirit of
censorship as well as communication, where is censorship and where
communication? For example, according to Wikipedia “the first edition of the Memoir states ‘I have no reason to think that she ever felt any attachment by which the happiness of her life was at all affected.’ This sentence was removed from the second edition and two romantic attachments are hinted at, with the conclusion ‘I am unable to say whether her feelings were of such a nature as to affect her happiness.’” If the writers were willing to mislead here, where else do they mislead? Can we trust this work?

The Memoir had an “immediate” and “incalculable” effect on the
public’s perception of JA, according to Wikipedia. It also spurred
popular interest in her works.

According to Ellen, the period in which the Memoir was written was
one in which literary memoirs were popular. Why do you think this
particular Memoir so appealed to people? Why has its portrait of JA
been so persistent?

I also wanted to point out—or re-emphasize, that JEAL’s half-sister
Jane Anna Elizabeth Austen Lefroy and, his younger sister Caroline
Mary Craven Austen, and their cousin Cassy Esten also collaborated in producing this work.

Jan. 28th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Last thoughts -- from a 12th week
Does anything stand out? How chary he is, how (in a way) unwilling to discuss the details of the books. He says at one point he will attempt no literary criticism. I think he saw more in the content of the books than he let on, though whether the disquiet was in autobiography he saw in them or their themes. For all his emphasis on her comic characters, from his liking for Scott (and not the action adventure but the sensibility-melancholy parts and the heroes he identified with), my feeling is his heart moved with her more emotional side.

I did read once that the love stories were inserted in afterwards. This makes me believe them and shows another element that stands out: this book is by a man, a man determined not to allow his aunt to be perceived as in any way sexually susceptible to criticism. Note that the one concrete instance of Biggs-Wither which he knew about he omitted.

We can trust this work no more nor less than others. All biographies are partial, most works have agendas, and this one no less than others. It's autobiography in disguise, and the yearning and recreation of idyll in the harshness of later Victorian times fits with his father's poetry.

I am sometimes dumbfounded by what is popular. One has to be an anthropologist and they get much wrong too.

Let us give it this: he means us to take his aunt's work and life seriously. Among the more grating features of the most recent spate of ruthless money-making is the trivialization: the very word twitter trivializes Austen. (I sympathize here with Diana's comments on what a waste of time.) He may de-sex her, but it's better than this sexing up from the fundamentally macho-male perspective of our media -- and the value of the new movie is Welch is attempting to bring us back to a woman-centered perspective.

Yes there is a man's name at the head of this but it is a production of four people, three women. Caroline has a moving line registering how when jane Austen died something left the family that has not been recreated and by this point (as she's writing) the thread has been lost, the presence that lifted them to something better to feel and see has altogether vanished. And Anna, just think of those endless pregnancies and her sitting by the fire burning the manuscript that was doubtless the result of her aunt-mother's influence.

Feb. 3rd, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
A fellow-Austenite:

"Your summation post of JEAL is superb and beautifully illustrated."
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