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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.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2011 01:05 pm (UTC)
Lack of any sense of political world
< I think this lacunae suggests Austen's lack of interest in politics. She'd rather talk of dresses.

But that is hardly fair, Ellen! She'd rather talk of dresses in her letters *to Cassandra*! Very few letters to her brothers survive but there's no talk of dresses in them.

I can't make much of an argument for her being interested in politics, though. We might say she lived at a time when it wasn't accepted for women to talk politics, but London aristocratic ladies certainly did, and in fact one of the few "political" mentions in the novels is Mary Crawford writing to
Fanny and saying, "You have politics..." (so she need not tell them). Mary Crawford is a London lady, of course. I don't take Catherine Morland's "from politics it was an easy step to silence" as evidence, because Catherine is seventeen and ignorant; though Henry Tilney does *try* to introduce
the subject, which shows he doesn't think it improper to discuss politics with ladies.

However, Jane Austen's own reading gives another clue. Her fulsome adoration for such books as Captain Pasley's on military policy or Clarkson's History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade does not sound like the reading matter of one who is as frivolous as you imply. Her letters do show what she
thinks what would interest and amuse her sister, that's all. I think it would have been more accurate to say, "Cassandra would rather talk of dresses."


We agree on the main point: this is not a woman who seems interested in politics. Look at the chronology: it's not just riots, executions, mutinies, and very hard times going on around her (and ferocious repression) but her own brother right there and not a word.

I would like to agree we are seeing the reflection of Cassandra's interests, and know she read serious books, but we cannot know what she read them for or how she thought about them from this letter -- or most of them. And I do think it's her here too.

Mid-century it would have been dangerous to write of such things, but by this point the mails had grown enormously and only letters by important people searched by government spies.

Jan. 4th, 2011 01:20 pm (UTC)
Mrs Knight
Nancy M (a summary on Janeites) included details I omitted: the joke about Mrs Knight going to be married is one. Another part of this (to me) queasy pattern. She's an elderly woman. E.M.
Jan. 5th, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC)
IN response to the various defensive replies on Janeties, Austen-l
When I read Austen's letters I do not try to defend her or make out a case for making her obey any supposed norms. Diana's opening in her first letter suggests she does this. I agree with Arnie that we should indeed remember we are reading a remnant -- and specifically there is recorded that three packets of letters from her to Frank were destroyed immediately after his death. He kept them but did not have the kind of mind or experience or norms to publish. Alas, one of his daughters (or maybe it was a granddaughter) destroyed these. And yes we find she liked to read travel books and history -- that's seen in the letters too.

Why shouldn't she discuss politics with her relatives?. I do. Lots of people I know do. ON face book I find just as some people talk politics in physical space so they do in virtual, and vice versa. I've read lots of letters and memoirs of earlier women and sometimes am surprised not that they talk politics so much (and an incident like an execution nearly would not be ignored) but how much they know of details. There were few newspapers in the pre18th century period and yet women who could write (genteel of course and therefore upper class) have so much knowledge of details of various sorts. The grapevine seems to have been very strong in conveying information within coterie circles.

The one thing that stopped talk was fear of spies and your letters being opened. So women really high hint at things -- if their families or men are targeted they fall silent.

She also never discusses her writing. It's clear she wants to go home, she's bored or irritated at Rowling -- why the allusion to the unpleasant Lionel dragging his ladder off. She wasn't liked by Elizabeth Austen -- my guess is Lady Bertram is a partial portrait of Elizabeth Austen. But really my guess is she wanted to return home to write. She doesn't talk of this perhaps because Cassandra would not approve.

Cassandra scolds and chides. And Jane avoids confrontations. We've seen this in the four letters.

I don't look to try to justify Jane's joking or not justify it. When it seems cruel I say so. Austen's jokes sometimes b other me not so much because most of them are not aimed at herself and when she aims them at her culture (the rebarbative jokes about men in love with her), but that I discern no conscious critique of her culture -- except when it comes to having endless babies and endless pregnancies, but then she's writing to Cassandra. Still there she comes out with great compassion at one point. She also does not speak of books in an objective way and that's one of the reasons her comments on books are narrow, subjective, often wrong. She speaks as a writer who herself has not gotten published or made money and out of envy in part. It's natural but I don't avoid saying this. I want to get at the truth of her experience. I feel for her she spent 30 years writing and had to publish on her own and set aside money. That MP apparently bored fools as apparently Emma did. She heard about this in the case of MP and worried over Emma

Nor do I seek a positive (or negative) view of Cassandra. I do not write as fan or supporter of either woman. The case of Cassandra is especially a faultline for it's taboo to criticize her I find. We can see this in the movies for very sympathetic actresses are chosen to play her. I find absurd Austen's opening extravagant praise which has become famous because it's so unlikely. Maybe she enjoyed some particularly biting sarcasm at someone but she does not repeat it.

Jan. 5th, 2011 01:44 pm (UTC)
The letter from Rowling
I find Austen is implicitly good humored in this; I see her as half-raging within (the allusion to Camilla suggests this) at having to spend her time sewing shirts, watching the men move about and to do what (kill birds) and be free to do what they want, here she is asked about trivia when she could be writing. My guess is Cassandra visited Godmersham much more often because she liked to go (had nothing else to do, had no ambition to do anything else) while Jane had writing she wanted to do.

Jan. 5th, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
I believe that Jane had to take up the housekeeping duties in Cassandra's absence, but also that the reason Cassandra was gone so often was that the presence was often requested. She often acted as a nanny or a companion when family members died. When the wife of one of the Austen brothers died, he seemed at a loss and had young children. Cassandra was asked to go there to watch the children for her brother while he was in mourning and trying to adjust to life without his wife.

As to ambition, that was never stated. It would be interesting to know if she had some and what she wished to do...

I wish to state that I am in agreement with Nancy that Cassandra is not above criticism. It also irks me that she burned as many letters as she did as well as had a hand in the packaging of Jane as a benign creature after she died (including the story of that mysterious man Jane supposedly met while at the shore and about whom no one else seem to have met).

Jan. 6th, 2011 01:16 pm (UTC)
IN ersponse to many points on Janeites and Austen-l
So many points. Just one to Diana: I didn't focus on the joke about the dead little girl who resembles Jane Austen. If you look at what I've written, I've not gone on about it at all. It is part of a pattern of such jokes at dead babies; the only interest it particularly holds for me is that she likens herself to it. That rings of what I'd call a dark moment but one turned round to be rebarbative. The larger interest is her attitude towards having babies, pregnancies, marriage -- and Cassandra's too. Remember Cassandra chose not to marry. She need not have buried herself the way she did.

I find some of the jokes just dull -- as I've said there is not sufficient content to interest one (we weren't there, we can't know what was the wonderful sarcasm Cassandra came up with about the group at Rowling and if told wouldn't get it as we were not there to see the absurdities of the people there) except in the tone and when they hit out at some set of values. And _in general_, as about the whole group make me wonder about what was precisely the chords between the two sisters and precisely what were their conflicts.

The third letter said to be comic is interesting really because, taken with the fourtth, the wrong-headed (mad) use made of it by Spence, really out of LeFay's speculations. It's said to be "evidence" of her continuing love for Lefroy and meeting him precisely because he's never mentioned. If people wants jokes, there's one: it's funny to see LeFaye reference her book for her milder view (Austen must have stayed with Langlois family) and then in her book reference the letter. Round and round we go.

Jan. 6th, 2011 01:17 pm (UTC)
Austen's writing life under way
Quite a number of critics and scholars have argued that Austen began to write seriously,maturely by 1794.

Austen has a couple of the long Juvenilia at 19790-92. Mr Austen's letter about a long novel (length of Evelina) and Cassandra's note leads us to see that Austen had written if not all a great deal of a first draft of First Impressions by 1796, finished 1797. She then went on to write Elinor and Marianne.

Writing a book is a huge task. It requires much revision as you go and much revision once you've finished. By the middle of 1796 Jane Austen was in the thick of First Impressions or she had it in hand and she had ideas for Elinor and Marianne.

From Austen's dating:

Love and Friendship ("Finis June 13th 1790")

Thorough longish work
"The History of England" ("Finis Saturday Nov: 26th 1791")
"A Collection of Letters" "Lesley Castle" (epistolary, calendar from 3rd Jan - 13 April, 1792)
"The Three Sisters" (appears near end of Vol 1 in small mature hand)
"Evelyn" (in Vol 3 which is dated "May 6th 1792")

Catherine or the Bower
Dedication dated "August 1792."

First mature fiction where we hear the voice that we know from the six famous novels and read some of the patterns.

It's 1794-5/6 that we lack dates for. I think she was writing then -- developing further. My daughter Isabel writes novels and I've known others. The first one was begun more than 3 years ago even if the first full draft was last year. Here JEAL helps us:

from James-Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir: "'Sense and Sensibility' was begun, in its present form, immediately after the completion of [First Impressions], in November 1797; but something similar in story and character had been written earlier under the title of 'Elinor and Marianne;' and, if as probable, a good deal of this earlier production was retained, it must form the earliest specimen of her writing that has been given to the world."

Caroline Austen, daughter of Jane's oldest brother, born 1805, a memory written down in 1869: "Memory is treacherous, but I cannot be mistaken in saying that Sense and Sensibility was first written in letters, and so read to her famil

From Cassandra's note:

From a note in Jane's sister, Cassandra's hand: First Impressions begun in Oct 1796/Finished in Augt 1797

I take it by August she longed to get back to home and do the draft. She mocks going to London too, does not seem all that eager, though when she gets there accepts and has a decent time to some extent.

In a letter dated 1 November 1797, her father, George Austen sent an as yet unidentified novel to Cadell & Davies in London: "I have in my possession ... , 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 appearance under a respectable name . . . . where you chuse to be concerned . . . what will be the expense of publishing at the Author's risk & what you will advance for the Property of it." It was rejected by return of post. This novel was probably a first and considerably longer version of the novel now called Pride and Prejudice

1797 - 1798
Sense and Sensibility
A conventional-size epistolary novel (three volumes),

1798 - 1799
It now contains Chapters 21-24, a mature inward reponse to
Radcliffe (The Italian, 1797) and Charlotte Smith (now from Emmeline (1788) through to Marchmont)
Development of heroine as a naif in satire;

From Cassandra's note: North-hanger Abbey was written/about the years 98 & 99./C. E. A.

1801 - 1807
The Watsons
First draft which opens on Tuesday, October 13, 1801

I omit her reading: tons, including Charlotte Smith, Anne Radcliffe

These were tremendously creative years. Myself I think a draft (small) for MP was begun. Only nothing for Emma and Persuasions. Everything else in some adumbration.

I could make out a similar pattern of achievement, stop and start, and deep disappointment (I assume) when she sends out a book and it's rejected or else she gets 10 pounds and it doesn't appear.

Jan. 6th, 2011 01:38 pm (UTC)
Holding little George
">I have taken little George once in my arms since I have been here, which
I thought very kind.<

< I suppose she means her being able to hold her almost-a-year- I suppose she means her being able to" (Christy called it a "controlled privilege"!)

Christy, I read that as meaning that she thought it very kind *of herself* to pick up the baby!


Yes to Diana. The sentence put me in mind of Miss Austen Regrets where someone hands Olivia Williams Anna's baby and Williams as Jane struggles with the baby -- wrapped up, uncomfortable, and she is supposed at that point not very well. Who wants it? Then the Phyllida Law as the (vicious
but saying values that make women feel they must have a baby) grandmother sneering at Jane as useless, taking it, go write your ridiculous books &c&c. Then the ever good Cassandra saying she didn't mean it.

Oh yes she did.

I realize this connection shows where and how my mind runs. Maybe because I've had the experience of being handed babies and them beginning to fall or being awkward. Like holding a young kitten -- only the kitten's neck is strong and so it's less problematical.

It's a flat sentence, but I feel no awe at this object.

Jan. 7th, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)
Writing away, finding herself and her voice
I'll correct and amend what I wrote: the last sentence was meant to say, If you look at the pattern of the next ten years, you see the same starts, stops, sudden forges ahead (Lady Susan for example). Less documentation but here I agree with Arnie (and we have lots of critics with us) Jane was writing away but no place to put it altogether, not even Southampton gave her the privacy and peace she required.

So much for the correction. Now the amendation. It's so easy to overspeak when an author is the center of hagiography. I delete that word tremendously (I remember Pope making fun of Dennis for using it) and also creatively as too much an empty honorific in our culture. Rather Austen was writing away, finding herself and making a voice for the first time (we hear it first in Catherine, or The Bower) and eager to get back to it.

We read her letters (and many other sets) to learn of the lived life behind or to the side of the writing. With her we are not going to get much insight into the writing itself nor how other writing taught her.

Jan. 9th, 2011 01:23 pm (UTC)
A typical kind fo response
Lots of emails on Janeites about how these were private letters and how dare we "criticize." Within "the bosom of one's family" &&

My reply: the argument is at once irrelevant to what I'm seeking to do and defensive/protective (it goes beyond the apologetic). Let us protect her by erecting a wall. The "bosom of one's family." The implication is we ought not to be reading them at all. The implication is, it'd be better if they had been destroyed.

Who or (better yet) what is being protected here? I say what because Austen and her near and a few generations of Austen-Knights are long dead.

Against what? what is the threat?

Second, I'm close-reading the letters to learn all I can about the author for real to understand the autobiographical basis (which is but one) from which the writing derives.

Ellen Moody
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