January 25th, 2011

Harriet Vane

Jane Austen's letters: Letter 7, 18 Sept 1796, Sunday, stranded, even mortified at Rowling

Dear friends and readers,

How I feel for her.  Two days later.  Her problem is not simply no one, not a soul provides enough money for a fare for her to go home (not a dime), no one will take the full time or effort to accompany her. We remember that she has been forbidden the coach. Her letters trying to arrange something for herself are ignored, not answered, not care enough about. She has written to two people who do not answer. She has no phone: there's nothing like a peremptory voice to get someone to respond. She has only letters and these do not arrive with the immediately of an email. She is stranded.

Her reference to her father coming until "he wishes me to walk the Hospitals, Enter at the Temple, or mount guard at St James" shows how she is remembering how her brothers all have places in the world and she none.

I have been listening to MP, the part where Edmund has arranged that Fanny is to go to Sotherton, and Mrs Norris (as ever poisonous) says she is not up to taking Fanny as Mrs Rushworth has now not invited her.  Edmund counters that he talked to Mrs Rushworth and go an invitation.  The feeling though of this passage shows how Austen remembers the mortification and dread of going somewhere anyway where you have not had an invitation.

Of course the others are not thinking. Who does think of others?

I looked at a couple of the biographies I have in the house.  Frank, Nokes says (who is more detailed about the letters than most) was to join his ship immediately. Jane is actually thinking of setting off without knowing whether Miss Pearson is there.  One has to say, Why? Austen kids using novel (meaning the form) situations:  "I should inevitably fall a sacrifice to the arts of some fat woman who would make me drunk with small beer." It's an allusion to the Harlot's Progress.

Nokes thinks the family feared Jane would end up with Eliza who was in town. Mr Austen would stir himself to prevent that. Why?  The letter does not mention Eliza so this is a surmize, but suppose Miss Pearson wasn't there, and (as was not uncommon) Jane was refused entrance or told no one home.

Who wants her out so badly?  Elizabeth? I know she wants to get back.

It seems that Austen conceives of the idea of leaving with Frank ('returning with Frank") and then taking her chances as far as going with him gets her.  To wait for Henry is to wait for Deadman's Shoes.  (I remember in Victorian times many people walked long distances -- sometimes I am astonished by how long but this genteel family while not prepared to get her home, care about her chastity and reputation.  Gee thanks.

Probably I surmize it was not Elizabeth wanted her out but no one but her cared _enough_ where she was.  She does hint in 5 Sept 1796 that there is someone at home who would be glad not to be reminded of her.

Now this does make me speculate.  She was sent to London in August; it was 6 months after the Lefroy disappointment. We should remember here that Austen never saw Lefroy again after the Xmas visit of 1795.  Could she still have been showing behaviors that irritated others? Not knowing no one would allow or help towards a second chance.  My instinct is to say Probably not Lefroy, rather it's a more general desire to have her out of sight out of mind.  Her mother could it be? someone who did not know what would become of Jane she wrote.

The Mary of letter 4 has now given birth.  I sense a relief in Austen's words. The woman could have died, instead she had this "best' outcome: the boy.

Cassandra is told not to let the Lloyds go until she arrives, unless Miss P is there. Miss P is the person who did not answer her letter to help her out.

Frank will have Captain Gore under his command; Jane cannot even take a coach to get home.

We may be consoled by reading Cassandra's note that as of October 1796 Jane Austen started First Impressions, and that Mr Austen wrote a letter on November 1, 1798:

                I have in my possession a manuscript novel, comprised in three vols about the length of Miss Burney's Evelina. As I am well aware of what consequence it is that a work of this sort should make its first appearance under a respectable name, I apply to you. Shall be much obliged therefore if you will inform me whether you chuse to be concerned in it. What will be the expense of publishing at the author's risk; & what will you venture to advance for the property of it, if on a perusal, it is approved of? Should your answer give me encouragement I will send you the work.

To no avail. They couldn't be bothered. The ancien regime society with its total reliance on connections is before us. George Austen knew no one in publishing.  I don't mean to say it's much different today: you must cultivate, go to the right conferences, somehow meet an editor, get into debt over an MFA (a cash cow of colleges) &c&c

Still she did get home and spent the next two years writing the first version of P&P.  Writing over a long time like this is a profoundly transformative experience, even if you don't have anyone much to talk to who understands and can't articulate (because you've not got the vocabulary or listener) what you've learnt and felt.

I'm struck by how the movie, Becoming Jane makes Jane of importance and central; Nokes mentions how much money Radcliffe got for The italian in 179Y (800 pounds); Becoming Jane provides us with the fantasy that Jane lived in the same house in Cork Street with Tom and he took her to meet Anne Radcliffe while he visited William, the journalist.  It's just the opposite of what happened in real life where Jane's are the last wishes to be followed -- like Anne Elliot

I know Radcliffe became a total recluse after the publication of The Italian but it's such a pleasant dream I reprint the stills.
I'm pleased to see the film-makers know about Radcliffe and Austen's love of her work.

Ellen Moody