July 31st, 2011

Harriet Vane

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 35, Tues-Wed, 5-6 May 1801, from the Paragon

Dear friends and readers,

Jane and her mother are now in Bath (see letter 34) and living with Mr and Mrs Perrot at the Paragon.

Paragon, the view towards Walcot (1940s photo)

We see Jane accepting the situation, even at moments enthusiastic.  She has been allotted her own room, up two flights of stairs, so private -- so this is helping. She does go out and about which is another sign of entering into the life.  There are jokes about food, and some aesthetic irony: "The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see moe distinctly thro' the Rain ..." Her uncle mentioned twice and a kindly presence felt, but nothing of the aunt.   We must remember the strains between Mrs Austen and Aunt Jane Perrot had not been resolved. Cassandra at the kindly Mrs Lloyd's in Hampshire.

Three and one half months are missing. We are giving nothing about Mr, Mrs and Jane's last months or weeks at Steventon, nothing about the exact leave-taking. The clear bitterness Jane felt towards Mary and James suggests a hard scene; Mrs Austen had not forgiven the aunt in the last letter we had for the aunt's attempt to leave Jane behind and inflict austerity measures (so to speak) on her and her family; and of course we have no idea how Mr Austen felt only that he had had a very hard time getting those he left in his place to treat decently the people who had served him. When they come they still have not taken a place but are contemplating Green Park buildings.

Green Park Bulldings, the surviving block, 1940s

They did move there: these are south of the main center and low -- so at the time damp -- but they were near a park and the river (so perhaps prettily situated). They are staying with the aunt and uncle. Mr Austen though is not with them, it's just Jane and Mrs Austen -- maybe he couldn't face the aunt and uncle quite yet. He and Cassandra are apparently delaying coming. Who wouldn't -- the aunt was not reassuring, only yielded when the Austens would not give in.


The London Road, from London to Bath, 1823 print -- this is not the road the Austens took but it gives an idea of what was experienced, at least a quarter century later (before the railways)

The letter begins cheerfully as she is in a room of her own, with "own" italicized. She is glad to control her own space (at last?). She seems not to mind the two pairs of stairs 4 flights) Everything is comfortable about her in the room.

Then a paragraph about the trip. Free from accident or event (untoward is what she means), horses changed at every stage. They went in style. She uses the word "magnificent" for this support.  As usual she is glad of her meal: "we made our Grand Meal."

But despite this posing or presentation of themselves, the atmosphere between them left a great deal to be desired:  they "were exceedingly agreeable, as we did not speak above once in three miles." Had they spoken more than they would not have kept up this "exceeding agreeableness." They didn't talk; perhaps that leave-taking scene had turned ugly and they were doing their best to forget and/or pretend in front of one another it didn't happen.  I must have happened between Letters 33 and 34.

The next line reminds me of Charlotte Luttrell (Lesley Castle): told that her sister's coming marriage “is broke off” because the groom “had fractured his Scull, and was pronounced by his Surgeon to be” near death, “'Good God! . . . you don't say so?  Why what in the name of Heaven will become of all the Victuals?” Charlotte is in a fever of anxiety and works very hard and plans for each to eat this or that lest anything be not eaten (spoilt), and it's partly money. So we have the two Austens trying to consume their food, working at it. "We could not with the utmost exertion consume above the twentieth part of the beef." In this context, it may be the meaning is also that the Austens bought such a big amount. This is a form of showing off. See what big portions they gave us.

That money is on her mind comes out in the next sentence where she worries the price of a cucumber. The uncle had been told the price of one (you'd think they were talking of valuables) and it was shilling. Thus Cassandra's plan to bring or send a cucumber as a present will be very acceptable.

I've come to think the economizing we see in the 1995 and 2008 S&S's is not exaggerated.

1995 S&S: economizing, Emma Thompson as Elinor goes over food budget with Gemma Jones as Mrs Dashwood

Meanwhile she and Mrs Austen do all they can to appear richer than they are, of a high class:  So they hire a "very neat Chaise" from Devizes (a place) and "it looked almost as well as a Gentleman's" (that means not quite) and then she drops down to a lesser criteria: "at least a very shabby Gentleman's.

Now she is sarcastic: "in spite of this advantage however We were above three hours coming from thence to Paragon." And it was "half after seven by Your [italicized] hours before we entered the house.

So the traffic was heavy or there was some kind of rigmarole of social life between arriving in Bath and reaching and entering and taking their stuff into the Paragon.

Thus did they enter Bath.


From Amazing Grace, (Youssou N’Dour as Olaudah Equiano)

But then a note of cheer, and I'm really glad to see again that Austen has feelings for the servants.  This is an aspect of her in these letters I had not expected. I wonder if Frank is a dark man or was African, an ex-slave (I assume ex). LeFaye only offers the obvious non-information Frank was the uncle's manservant. Well, duh. He received them kindly.

So someone was glad to see Mrs Austen and Jane. I like this.  What a human reality. I'm reading a book called The Servants Hand: English fiction from Below and Robbins opens with a scene described by a Victorian diarist where the diarist gives us a rare sense of the servant's presence near the carriage such that the servant seems the more deep presence than the mistress described in the usual fatuous cliches. Well here is Austen doing the same thing. Franks' subjectivity is registered.

And Mr and Mrs Perrot were not less cordial. So there we are.

She goes on to say they look well, all drank tea immediately (refreshment) and "so ends the account of our Journey."   A reference to Mrs Austen's belief she is fragile (maybe she was not in great health); to Jane's eyes she bore the trip "without any fatigue". Since it was long and arduous we see that Jane does not think her mother at all really ill.

(Remember her sitting on 3 chairs when she in her decline and in pain and leaving the sofa to Mrs Austen. Maybe by that time Jane had given up, learnt it was better to pretend to believe and acquiesce in whatever her mother wanted -- to have a quiet life.

The dash has the effect of time passing.  My sense is Austen does not go to sleep at this point and then upon getting up write "How do you do today?"  It could be that. But it seems more likely from the next sentence it's rather that she rose very early that first day in Bath. Under considerable strain and over-excited: "I have been awake ever since 5."

She couldn't sleep is the idea for in the next sentence she hopes "you improve in sleeping." The utterance comes out of Jane not improving in sleeping at all. Indeed she's dog tired - the trip and the struggling to get into the Paragon. She hopes that Cassandra "must" be a good sleeper "because I fall off."  I in italics. Cassandra must sleep for them both. As she writes, Austen feels herself nodding off.

Then a couple of lines which suggest that again 1995 and 2008 S&S films do not exaggerate so much when they show the Dashwood girls cold in bed and trying to cope.

Here Emma Thompson as Elinor gets out some socks for her feet before retiring with Marianne for warmth (1995 S&S)

It seems that Austen went to bed with "too much cloathes on my stomach".  She thought she had too much is the meaning of the next line, but she had not the courage to take the stuff off. She thought she'd need it in the night. So she sweated? anyway she was uncomfortable and maybe that got her up. The sentence next testifies to Bath being warmer than Steventon -- than Hampshire where they lived, or at least this area of the paragon. "I am warmer here without any fire than I have been lately with an excellent one."

Then a mysterious line.  LeFaye guesses a legal fight for Martha which she won. "Good news is confirmed & Martha triumphs."  I incline to think it's something to do with money at any rate.

Now the line how the uncle and aunt appeared quite surprised Cassandra and Mr Austen have further delayed coming. Mrs Austen and Jane gave them a soap and a basket, and "each have been kindly received."

Subsidence people.  I can imagine they'd have a yard sale and not miss selling a towel.

I do not exaggerate for the next line Austen records as a serious think ("I beg pardon" is not ironic) that Cassandra's "drawing ruler" "was broke in two."  It's spoken of as of moment, a loss, "just at the Top where the crosspeice is fastened on."

I'd like to believe this is an incidence of over-concern for small items one ought to be able to cope and values (something to sew with) with when one is upset about the larger ones that one can't do much about. I do this, get all excited or upset about some smaller item because I'm really upset by something larger I can't do  anything about. But I fear it more coming from their really limited funds.


The upper Assembly Room today: it's a costume museum

And since now she turns from the trip and their installing themselves however temporarily to Bath news, what's to come, Bath people, Bath weather, and again where to live in Bath.

 I agree with Diane that this is a letter which feels cheerful or at least equable. Austen is lending herself to life in Bath, getting into it. She has no power to stop this and now she's there she's making the best of it. If she has no power to decide which building or where they'll live, perhaps that on this first week or so she finds she has been given her own room, quiet, apart, she takes as a sign that her comfort and needs will be addressed too -- if if she's the youngest sister -- so the lowest on the totem pole, girls' needs coming after boy, and the eldest coming first.

When Nokes argued that perhaps Jane was delighted to go to Bath, he used parts of this letter.

The Chamberlaynes. Although the biographers don't say much about this family and Lefaye very very little, I've noticed Jane Austen has brought them up twice since the Bath move was contemplated (as offering their experiences in an effort to reassure was one) and remember late in the letters Austen walked a marathon walk with Mrs C. I get the feeling they were friends, Jane and Mrs C.  Goucestershire was where Thomas Leigh lived in Adlestrop and Jane and Cassandra seem to have visited in 1794 (LeFaye FR, 81), Mrs C was a neighbor then.

Adlestrop Park where Thomas Leigh lived before he tried to take over Stoneleigh Abbey

So if Austen is being catty about Mrs C's "long chin" and doesn't like to be reminded of having been "very charming young Women,' they were perhaps congenial. Austen writes: "I begin to think better of. ..." Her dislike of the phrase "very charming young women" may also again be her disliking cant hypocrisies.  We see this in Emma where such language grates on Emma and the narrator.

I too took the line about Bath seen through the rain as aesthetic and lightly ironic: "The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; I think I see more distinctly through rain. The sun was got behind everything, and the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion"-- Compare it to Anne Elliot's tone upon coming into or remembering Bath and in the character you see writhing dislike and depression. Not here in this letter.  So Anne's tone comes from later experience and memories (recorded in the missing 5 years of letters).

Where are they to live? Seymour? King? You can look up these places in various older guidebooks.None is as nice as Sydney which they eventually took nor as bad as Trim where (after Mr Austen's death) they eventally were reduced to. Jane doesn't want a King -- she is relieved they take the same view as her.

Still it's a measure of her powerlessness that an aunt and uncle who are not going to live there can choose what house or their opinions count, when Austen who is, is not going to be listened to.

I didn't feel that Austen was reacting to the Uncle's eagerness for news about the brothers with a sense of showing no interest in her and do agree that there is an implication he wants to know something about money.  The uncle questions to know "their views and intentions."  This language is that of a parent asking a young man what he intends to do for a daughter. I suggest the uncle is asking what Frank and Charles intend to do for Mrs and Mrs Austen and their sisters. Do they have any "intentions" to help them, do they have any views on what they or others should do. In this remark Austen should have heard a warning bell that the uncle had no intention himself of leaving his fortune to these relatives - he left it all to his wife  and it was bitterly disappointing the Austens at the time. They should not have been surprised.

Mrs Lloyd was much liked by Cassandra and Jane and I take the next paragraph to be jokes about food, also registering intense awareness of their price (as fringe people) at the same time teasing that they can get Mrs Lloyd to come if they hide the prices.  Cassandra must have said how she wishes they could have this congenial soul with them (instead say of Mrs Perrot).  The Duchess of York was part of the "ton" and such people drove prices up:

Meat is only 8d per pound, butter 2d & cheese 9 1/2.”  But Cassandra must “carefully conceal” from Mrs Lloyd “the exhorbitant price of Fish; – a salmon has just been sold at 2s 9d pr pound the whole fish” lest it scare Mrs Lloyd away from Bath

As Austen put down her pen here until Tuesday night.


From 2007 Northanger Abbey: they filmed someone getting himself a glass of water at the Pump Room
Tuesday: when Uncle Perrot took his 'second glass of water" -- this refers to the pump room. People walked over and drank glasses of this stuff. (Personal note: I did it the week i was in Bath and thought the stuff dreadful. I didn't finish my glass. I was told it would -- excuse the expression -- my bowels."  Then they walked down from the pump room (under the arcade that would be) to green Park buildings.  She is pleased; it is low -- down further than the parades, and near the river. That's probably why it's damp - the offices would be a basement or first floor.

two houses in Green Park Buildings, one of which pleased me very well. --. We walked all over it except into the Garrets; -- the dining-room is of a comfortable size, just as large as you like to fancy it; the 2nd room about 14 ft. square; -- The apartment over the Drawing-room pleased me particularly, because it is divided into two, the smaller one a very nice-sized Dressing-room, which upon occasion might admit a bed. The aspect is south-east. The only doubt is about the Dampness of the Offices, of which there were symptoms ...

If she thought of having the room above the drawing-room for her bedroom with Cassandra, the second room could provide a space where one could read or write while the other slept. The extra bed would admit a friend visiting (say Martha Lloyd).

Wednesday: a new gown. They do dress up for Bath -- as they did on their previous visit. Mrs Mussell is a milliner and dressmaker. I've just been watching the 2007 Northanger Abbey and a number of Felicity Jones as Catherie Morland's outfits correspond to this: the jacket efect is found in the 2007 Persuasion on Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot.  The 1996 Amanda Root had such an outfit only in Bath, towards the end of the movie. When you took the jacket piece off, it would be low in the back, with a belt. Apparently Martha favored this fashion -- it's sort of mannish and goes along with the empire line dresses whch are not filled with furbelows but plainer and simpler (Revolutionary tastes from Paris in middle 1790s).

It's obvious that flounces, furbelows have been dropped and Catherine through lies and pressure is constrained to go riding with the Thorpes and her obtuse brother, James. I am calling attention to the two girls' outfits.

              "Mrs. Mussell has got my gown, and I will endeavour to explain what her intentions are. It is to be a round gown, with a jacket and a frock front, like Cath. Bigg's, to open at the side. The jacket is all in one with the body, and comes as far as the pocket-holes -- about half a quarter of a yard deep, I suppose, all the way round, cut off straight at the corners with a broad hem. No fulness appears either in the body or the flap; the back is quite plain in this form [hourglass shape], and the sides equally so. The front is sloped round to the bosom and drawn in, and there is to be a frill of the same to put on occasionally when all one's handkerchiefs are dirty -- which frill must fall back. She is to put two breadths and a-half in the tail, and no gores -- gores not being so much worn as they were. There is nothing new in the sleeves: they are to be plain, with a fulness of the same falling down and gathered up underneath, just like some of Martha's, or perhaps a little longer. Low in the back behind, and a belt of the same. I can think of nothing more, though I am afraid of not being particular enough."

(The punctuation is Brabournes and also the normalization of the sentences.  Some thing is lost; the original argument of Sutherland''s book was that Chapman over did this sort of thing.  She was I think wrong; he was very careful, but the idea you should leave Austen's punctuation the way she did it (the semi-colon and dash where we put a period, the Caps) is right.

New bonnets for Jane and Mrs Austen.

Kate Winslett in a straw version of the chip bonnet (1995 S&S)

A chip bonnet used willow and again we see them (Catherine wears one at Northanger while walkig with Eleanor; Kate Winslet has one late in the 1995 S&S (when she sits out in the garden and Alan Rickman as Brandon reads to her. There are reproductions of images on line in google reprints of Godey's fashion book but I've not got the patience to try to catch the image. When I put all this on my blog I'll illustrate some of it through the costumes from the film adaptations.

They'll buy white ribbon too, but note that Austen is not extravagant. She says that Bath is getting so empty it won't matter. "I am not afraid of doing too little" to hold up her head (pun intended) with self-respect. Her old straw one will pass muster and chip bonnets do look like straw ones only they're tighter.  (I presume Ly Bridges is someone in the fashion world.)  It's May and prices go up and many of the renters go to the shore and sublet their flats.

Black gauze cloaks are seen in 18th century film adaptation costumes. They are economic and light.

Then below a PS: Chamberlaynes again to visit them and a Mrs Lillingstone. What is odd is not said. But if it's that they are not conventional or conformist in dress that might be a detail that added to Austen's attachment. She and Cassandra early on started to dress older and didn't care. Freed from the need  A Mrs Sarah Busby will be their visitor to tea and cribbage,Friday the Chamberlaynes (despite their "odd" looks).

The canal as seen in Sydney Gardens, modern illustration re-imagining the experience

That night a walk by the canal. Who with she doesn't say.  Maggie Lane has a description of this -- long and intended to be utilitarian (for pragmatic economic reasons) it was also pretty, a nice long walk.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 , 26 , 27, 28 29, 3031, 3233 and 34.