misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's letters: 3 & 4, Tues, 23 Aug and Thurs, 1 Sept 1796

Dear friends and readers,

I continue my close reading of Jane Austen's letters as found in Deirdre LeFaye's edition. (See previous letters 1 and 2). Tonight I re-found some detailed chronologies I made of Henry and Frank and Charles Austen's life.  I will put them on my website under "An Austen miscellany" soon. In the meantime you'll see me avail myself of them here.  I made them ten years ago when i was working towards a book on Austen and Bath. I never wrote more than the first two chapters because they displeased the publisher. (I put the two chapters on the Net.) Now I've noticed that my sailor brother's chronology is mostly about Frank and obviously I did not make one for Edward or James. Nowadays I own a couple of little books on Edward and that fine book of James's poems which also tells of his life.


Astleys before 1895

Eight months passed between letter 2 and these two.  What interests me are the patterns, the kind of statements and content they have that is found elsewhere in the letters.

What interests me about the jokes is their content: she makes fun of the idea that the city is a corrupt place in her first sentence; then she turns round an seems to laugh at herself in a back-handed sort of way:  alas, the journey has occurred "without suffering so much from the heat as I had hoped."  Had she complained about the trip and not wanted to come, but in the event found it not so bad? The joke reminds me of how Anne Elliot hates the "glare of Bath." 

Then we hear her two brothers have gone out "to seek their fortunes." Something to do with money and their careers?  Looking at my chronologies I find this about Henry the previous year and now this up to August:

1795, 17 April:  ugly story about how men rioted to get bread, sold it for
    reduced prices; how other troops called in, won, how ringleaders
    murdered (shot, hung, transported) and pardoned mutineers
    forced to kill them; all done before eyes of other men, surrounded
    by heavy artillery -- very like what happened at sea during
    mutinies of 1797; Henry was present at executions, he wants
    to purchase Adjutancy of Oxfordshire Regiment, wants to
    join 86th Foot

1795, 7 October: Henry takes another leave for Michaelmas Term at

1795, later autumn he proposes to Eliza de Feuillide and is rejected (if
    a letter to Philadelphia means this)

1796, 9 January:  Jane, a letter, in Le Faye:  Henry goes to Harpsden in his
    way to his Master's Degree; hankers after Regulars, scheme to
    join 86th which he fancies will go to Cape of Good Hope. 'I heartily
    hope that he will, as usual, be disappointed in this scheme'

1796, summer:  Oxfords at Yarmouth; Henry leaves Chelmsford with them
    on 15 April; from 18 July on men encamped on grounds while
    renovations go on.

1796, 19 August:  tumult breaks out, meeting led by John Thelwall broken
    up by gang of 90 sailors, magistrates would not send out militia
    to protect people as they are opponents of this 'radical'.  Henry
    misses it all as on leave from 15 August

Henry late in life

Jane (Olivia Williams) and Henry (Adrian Edmonson) discussing the negotations with Murray over Emma (Miss Austen Regrets)


Frank right around this time:

1795-96 Logs (Francis served aboard) from the Glory

1796 January:  Jane Austen writes to Cassandra that Charles and Thomas
    Williams to sail from Falmouth and head out for Barbadoes

1796, 1 September Jane Austen places Frank at Rowling, Kent with
    her; turning butter-churns for Fanny Austen (eldest daughter
    of Edward); 5 September they walk Frank to Crixhall ruff,
    a wood; 'he appeared much edified'; his Royal Highness
    Sir Thomas Williams has at length sailed ... ironic comments
    on Frank's hunting with Edward: 'What amiable men!'

1796, 18 September:   Frank receives orders from Captain John Gore,
    an appointment to Triton; goes to town 21 September (32 gun
    frigate); he stays on Triton for 6 months; then 6 months on

1796, 6 October:  a quotation from the log of Lieutenant Frank
    Austen aboard frigate, Seahorse, in Hamoaze:  'Came into harbour
    the San Josef, Salvador del Mundo, San Nicolini, and San
    Isidore, Spanish line-of-battle ships, captured by the
    fleet under Lord St Vincent on the 14th February

The letter speaks of an evening's entertainment at Astley's.  Again there is a joke about how she "hopes they are all alive after their melancholy parting."  Does this refer to some sadness at parting? more likely, I'd say they were phlegmatic or relieved. Cassandra has some plan or strategy she was busy with and Jane ironically hopes it was successful.

What no one has mentioned is how this letter has been used.  This is the letter Spence makes such a big deal about.  It's dated from Cork Street.  Spence discovered from LeFaye's book that Langlois, related to Tom Lefroy owned property there, and from this he deduced she must have stayed with Langlois.  Why?  Cork Street is big; the Austens were not related to Langlois. If you look at Lefaye's notes you see this was her idea: but her reference is to _her_ Family Record and if you look at that note, the reference is back to the letter.  On top of this Spence decided that Tom Lefroy was there and then talks of how ominous this and the next letter are because Austen doesn't mention Tom Lefroy.

Diana quotes the Jane Austen website which has turned these factoids into a story:  ""The accommodation probably came about through the Austen family's friendship with the Rev. George Lefroy in Hampshire (Benjamin Langlois's nephew and Tom Lefroy's uncle, with whom Tom was staying when he met Austen)."

There is no letter or document showing that George Lefroy maneuvred Langlois to let the Austen's stay at his house, much less invited Tom.  To me it's elementary that if a letter doesn't mention X, we have no business saying the person is avoiding X without good evidence. There is none here.

The letter does not seem to me gay or excited in any particular way.  She has one cheerful sentence: that they "had a very pleasant drive" and apparently she enjoyed going over the bridge.  Henry goes out with Miss Pearson.  You will note from the chronology I made out Henry missed some riots going on among the militia he was part of but did see executions. Austen does not mention either event.  To us I think this would be important.  We can learn nothing of Henry's attitudes towards these either. I know Frank was great flogger of others, but not from Austen's letters.  So much for her interest in politics I think.  Then that Frank sailed off right around then.  This explains the (supposed a joke?) line about how she may never see Frank again.  There is a sudden warmth towards Cassandra in the last line: "God bless you."

That Henry's experiences are nowhere noted might be the result of censorship (cutting) but I think this lacunae suggests Austen's lack of interest in politics.  She'd rather talk of dresses.

Then we are told there are missing letters. I don't see any reference to missing letters in letter 4 (as I did see a reference to a letter between 1 and 2, which oddly Cassandra praised so strongly -- all the while getting rid of it later one.)


Godmersham, Kent 1795 engraving
Now in Letter 4 she is in Kent, staying in Rowling with Edward and his wife, immersed in the Bridges clan probably -- they lived all about Godmersham.

It begins with extravagant praise: how Cassandra is the "finest comic writer" of the age.  Really?
Austen uses a phrase from their time in school together:  "I could die of laughter from it."  But we are not told what was funny.

The next paragraph begins a kind of complaint and frustration we're going to see often.  She would like to leave (go home?) and can't. Henry has his plans, Frank his, and Austen is not permitted to travel on her own.

Apparently again there has been friction or complaint in Cassandra: she found fault with the shortness of the previous letter.  (This reference is why I don't see why LeFaye thinks there are intervening letters unless it's from another source.)  Jane makes a joke of this, not really placating Cassandra here, and moves on to her clothes.

Apparently Cassandra told her her dress was washed out. Well she hopes Cassandra's is washed out too.  She had "charged everyone to take care of" it. So much for that charge.

IN this one the "men" went to Godmersham.  For the shooting? this is another motif; she records when the men in the family go shooting. They are murdering birds. I find in the novels there a strong wry irony towards this activity and in another letter Austen calls them "amiable men" when it's a case of shooting. Of course they might not be shooting; they could fish, ride &c.  She talks of the bad weather which makes me think they did something outside in the vast landscape fo that rich estate. Later in the letter she returns to this talking of the "prodigious number of birds," maybe even she will kill a few.

Again she complains about being stuck; I looked at the reference in _Camilla_ (which Austen refers to elsewhere in similar detail -- she knew it well). If you look at the chapters you find that Lionel "demanded" (pressured) Camilla to go to Mr Dubster's house. Lionel misbehaves badly in Chapter 2, is uncooperative, mocking. Mr Dubster unkindly describes the crippled Eugenia to her face and the whole incident is very unpleasant.  Then Lionel drags the ladder away leaving them stuck there (in the Oxford it's pp 269, 276-82)

Then Charles comes in for a hit. I did not gather as much information about Charles as Frank; Frank was easier to make a chronology for as Frank apparently "did" better (he impressed people) and was promoted and noticed much more. The sarcasm seems to be making fun of Cassandra's complaint which when parsed by an intelligent mind seemed silly.  Charles apparently was not at Cork (see LeFaye's note) and maybe Cassandra wrote him two letters to Cork street.  The sarcasm is "see what a great gainer he was."  This makes me wonder about that opening extravagant praise. So not all Cassandra's letters were so valuable.

Fanny Austen Knight

Then there is a mention of Fanny, the eldest daughter who we are told "seemed as glad to see me as anybody."  Was there some strain in an earlier visit where she wasn't?  We hear of Fanny inquiring after Cassandra's wedding clothes.  Maybe this detail formed the portrait of Fanny in Miss Austen Regrets: caring so much about marriage.   I think "fatter" means fatter but notice it's linked to "handsome."  Nancy mentioned our present anorexic norm for actresses:  the actress who played Fanny in Miss Austen Regrets was painfully thin (Imogen Poots?)

Imogen Poots as Fanny (note her neck bones); since Olivia Williams (here Jane) has also gone very thin, it's hard to gather how bon-y is Imogen (Miss Austen Regrets, at Godmesham)

Then we get description of some of the Bridges family: Louisa stout (means robust -- so she would probably not be hired for a central part in a modern movie).

Mr Charde was an organist at Winchester and taught Austen music (see LeFaye's notes).  I take the line here to refer to a fictional (not for real) flirtation Cassandra and Jane made up about him:  Jane worries her long absence may occasion the poor man's collapse (for love of her?). I find this interesting because it's part of a pattern or a kind of statement repeated a lot in Austen's letters; she pretends a man is madly in love with her or she is altogether willing to marry him to please others. Here it seems to me she's obviously ironic. Nonetheless it's a kind of self-congratulation that feels coy.

Then a serious line: "I practise every day as much as I can" which is undercut by the silly talk she does not mean (she wishes it were for his sake).

Why does she add this kind of thing?  Maybe it's a way of talking with Cassandra she has like a husband and wife indulging in baby talk as a form of comfort, a way of covering the gaps between people. But she does chose for her pretenses these self-flatterings and calling attention to herself.  (In Miss Austen Regrets Austen is shown as really mocking Mr Papillon -- who is treated with similar "jokes").

Then a bunch of trivia Austen knows is trivia: these great "valuables" the party has left behind; Anna's gloves treated as of importance.  Perhaps Cassandra was a literal person worried about expensive items and possessions. "I know nothing of my mother's handkerchief."  These have odd tone, rebarbative.

Among this is the reference to making Edward's shirts. What fun. She may be writing straight (not ironic) when she says she is proud to be the neatest worker, but I recall there's a letter later in the collection about how she wishes she could get clothes ready made and finds spending such amounts of time sewing frustrating.

Tags: jane austens letters, literary biography, women's memoirs

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