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Dear friends and readers,

Another blog: on the 5th letter by Jane Austen left to us as it appears in Deirdre LeFaye's edition. For 3 &4 , for 1&2

I'm glad I waited this week as now I've the benefit of Arnie and Christy's comments (see comments] -- they close read the letter more than the others have on Janeites this week. 

Fragonard, Hot Cockles

There are but 4 days since the previous and this one.  Of the letters thus far it does seem to me the gayest or most distracted (with least evidence of a depth of feeling and undercurrents), but with much irony, wry and hard now and again (as Arnie pointed out, though I don't see anything much salacious here).  As in the opening paragraph of Letter 1, she is thickly embeds herself and Cassandra with what is going on around her.  And there are a slew of names mentioned.

The sharpest comments are reserved for Edward: given the later ones and this she is seeing him as a kind of John Dashwood yes:

    Clarinbourn died this morning, & I fancy Edward means to get some of his Farm if he can cheat Sir Brook enough in the agrement ...

The word "cheat" gives her attitude away: this was an era where the only way many people could get ahead was ruthlessly to use the law to wrest what they could.  Edward was attacked by a lawsuit -- one reason adoption couldn't get anywhere as a recognized state was the relatives who stood to gain when anyone died would attack by legal suit anyone who was not biologically an heir. 

She also feels for little Edward:  "breeched yesterday for good & all, and was whipped into the bargain."  In this line she doesn't like the humiliating rituals people subject one another too, and he was whipped on top of it.  (Here she is most unlike Lydia Bennet; more like Jane). 

In response to Fran:  yes there is a remarkable lack of false piety about death, no conventional pretenses, and when she brings one up she connects it immediately (as it is connected by others) to who's to get what financially: she records "the self-interested reactions" death provokes immediately.  Pavlovian appetites on the prowl. 

One can't do without surrounding documents for this, and I'd add to a couple adduced, Cassandra's note that in October 1796 Austen began and carried on that first draft of First Impressions. If you peek ahead, you'll see after Letters there is a 2 year and one month gap of letters.  During some of this time Cassandra and Jane were apart; but Jane is not filling paper with diurnal trivia, but rather seriously writing the first version of P&P.

So it's a leap, but perhaps she's irritated at Edward and the family at Rowling because no one is helping her to get home. Claire Harman adduces poems, bits of dialogue to suggest that some of the immediate family were anything but sympathetic to her vocation as a writer.  No one makes any effort to help her get back to where she can write for real again.

Also Henry gets to come and go as he pleases, but she does not:  "Henry went away on friday as he purposed without fayl (the latter word is some joke).

Country dancing at Godmersham as performed in Miss Austen Regrets (we see Fanny near with Mr Papillon, and Jane Austen further off)

So what were they doing, and what ironies do I see in all of it?  That she longs for a "long & minute account of very particular" of Cassandra's ball so that she "shall be tired of reading it."  She does want to know but she's irritated too.  Yes there is also a hit at those who come to a dance in "their shooting jackets" and again we see in the interstices of the tone her dislike of the bird killing. 

Then this tone "We (emphasis Austen's) were at the ball, she assures Cassandra.  Yes it's pleasant to imagine her opening the ball with Edward Bridges, and this interests me because it seems to be the man that Nokes in his biography and Gwyneth and Piccevic in their Miss Austen Regrets build up another relationship for, think there was a proposal and a continuing friendship.  I looked him up in Nokes and found a portrait of him as a younger man too:  "lively, impetuous, quite in his element" in the neighborhood. In a later year (1802) this Edward showed her around his Rowling (he was a relative for real, not an adopted one-- reminding me of Mr Collins showing Elizabeth about to make her feel bad for not having accepted his proposal.  This is the man who ordered her toasted cheese.  Austen appeared at that time amused at this man going over "poachers", but these are not (usually starving wretched people) but rather "coldstream and Grenadier guards" two day before the shooting season (Nokes 287). He is protecting the birds against people like himself; he wants to shoot them.  Apparently he couldn't get others to "support their rights" against these "evil" encroachers.

At any rate here is an early detail of them leading out the dance together.  However note in the paragraph after the next there's a Harriot: is that the Harriot he finally did marry?

Austen and Edward Brydges as imagined in 1812 at Godmersham (Hugh Bonneville Edward Bridges and Olivia Williams Jane)

It was not old Lady Bridges who danced with Henry; it was Eliza.  So there's a romance going on too.

Christy quotes a letter by Eliza written about this time:

"From Eliza De Feuillide's letter of 7 November 1796 to her cousin, besides her mentioning Henry's Miss Pearson, which I've already posted, she also includes a short response to the mention of a possible consideration of marrying and living in the country....

"When I am quietly settled in that said domestic[underlined] Retreat which you have talked of, you must charitably come & prevent my spouse [underlined] and self from going to sleep or quarrelling for want of other amusement. I am enraged beyond description at the indelicacy of the Beau, Naughty Man! I conclude you talked to him very seriously on the Subject when you next saw him."

To me the tone here is so phony and coy. It's all performance.  I've been listening to Juliet Stevenson read aloud MP and she reads Mary Crawford's lines during the conversation over who is "out" and not where Mary is on the side of hypocrites; Stevenson gives the character just this arch tone. Yuk.

She does care who her brothers marry. They will be her sisters-in-law, or sisters and she have to live with them near her and cope with them, maybe end up dependent.  (If you want to interpret a silence in this letter, it's the lack of mention of Elizabeth Austen who many suggest did not like Jane nor Jane her -- one reason Chawton cottage was not offered to the three women until after Elizabeth died.)  So I do see in this second allusion to Camilla a wish that Mary Lloyd who from later letters we find was close to Austen would gain James's affections.  She hopes some Dr Marchmont will get in the way of Mary Harrison.

“Give my Love to Mary Harrison, & tell her I wish whenever she is attached to a young Man, some respectable Dr. Marchmont may keep them apart for five Volumes.”

The comment on Harvey:   that he is going to be married "it is a great secret,  & only known to half the neighborhood so you must not mention it."  This is a joke she uses repeatedly:  Mrs Norris goes about telling everyone of Maria and Mr Rushworth while saying it's a great secret; Mr Weston goes about telling of Frank and Jane's clandestine engagement while telling each person this is a great secret between you and me.

This sort of thing irritated her, and each time it's a form of showing off about some marriage -- in one case showing off (the Rushworth wealth), in another something he should have had better taste than to broadcast (that Jane was clandestinely engaged, that she was miserable escapes Mr Weston altogether).

She goes on to mention the name Musgrove. Arnie makes something of this: my reading is she is again joking in this (queasy way because it's so repeated) to make herself involved.  The music master was after her, and now she is in distress because a Miss Musgrove has Mr Harvey.

Her mockery is a wee obsessive on this point again and again.  Does she feel left out?  I don't think so, but she does find all this marrying and insistence about it irritating.  So can't help but join in with ironies.

Beyond the moment of dancing which if you imagine would produce a picture of energy  ("country dancing" is a form of square dancing"), playing "the Boulangeries", and the romances going on here a bit (Jane and Bridges, Henry and Eliza, I see two sweet scenes one could conjure up Talleyrand style in a movie:  the supping after the dancing and then walking home "at night under the shade of two umbrellas."  Also when they walk "with Frank last night to Chrixhall ruff."  A church in a landscape. She can't let herself be romantic so she immediately undercuts it:  "he appeared much edified."  Perhaps Frank was bored by the scenery and she is making fun too, but the image stays as one of a walk at night in a lovely place near an old church.

That line:   Pray remember me to Everybody who does not enquire after me:   Pray remind everyone she exists who either couldn't care less (as most people would not the line is aware) or would be irritated (she might be referring to someone in the house with Cassandra who pointedly does not enquire, so please to bother them).  Then a line of kindness to those who ask after her: no need of saying anything to those who do recall her or who are pointedly ignoring her existence at this point. Some friction here, hard to say with who, but it may relate back to her desire to get back: someone at home is not eager to have her back?

A lady seen from the back, Watteau, just asked to dance (detail from larger picture)



Jan. 12th, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
On some ironies; Edward's rapacity
As usual, there are lots of ironies, including two from the first two sentences:

“I shall be extremely anxious to hear the Event of your Ball, & shall hope to receive so long & minute an account of every particular that I shall be tired of reading it. Let me know how many besides their fourteen Selves & Mr & Mrs Wright, Michael will contrive to place about
their Coach, and how many of the Gentlemen, Musicians & Waiters, he will have persuaded to come in their Shooting Jackets.”

I wonder sometimes whether the young adult JA was capable of writing a sentence in a letter to her sister that did _not_ contain some mock or absurdist hyperbole! The reference to shooting jackets reminds me of thefamous comments about Tom Lefroy’s white coat in Letters 1 and 2, and are strong evidence, I claim, that JA was horsing around in those earlier references to male attire, just as much as in this Letter 5.

Then JA segues to a comment which may or may not be kidding:

“I hope John Lovett's accident will not prevent his attending the Ball,as you will otherwise be obliged to dance with Mr. Tincton the whole

I wonder if Mr. Tincton actually existed, as Le Faye draws a complete blank on him, and we know that JA was capable of referring to entirely fictitious characters in her letters. If he did exist, then it sounds as if he was a kind of Mr. Collins.

But I am pretty sure the following comment is not a joke at all, despite its frivolous sounding tone:

“…which of the Marys will carry the day with my Brother James.”

Was there a competition among local single women for the hand in marriage of the recently (18 months earlier) widowed James Austen? Of course this question was of even more special interest to JA and CEA than normal, because they and their mother had been taking care of four year old Anna Austen ever since the death of James’s first wife. So James remarrying would have enormous consequences for Jane and Cassandra.

As Christy indicates, Le Faye cites Chapman to claim that there were two Marys, of course Mary Lloyd (who would in fact marry James Austen within only 4 months after Letter 5) and one Mary Harrison, who, according to Le Faye’s Bio Index, was the daughter of the vicar of Croydon, and
sister of the vicar of Overton. Mary Harrison did not let the grass grow under her feet after James married Mary Lloyd, she married in September 1797, and JA makes some joking comments in Letter 28 four years later about Mary Harrison’s being pregnant.

But back to Letter 5:

“We were at a Ball on Saturday I assure you. We dined at Goodnestone & in the Evening danced two Country Dances and the Boulangeries…..and Miss Finch played the Boulangeries”

That may sound quite innocent, but Le Faye’s footnote suggests otherwise. She cites Tomalin for the notion that “the name of the dance [actually the Boulangeres] originates in the mildly improper French popular song _La Boulangere a des ecus” . I just checked online and
found the following link for the lyrics of that song:


Then we have a few trivial paragraphs, following by another noteworthy
satirical passage:

“Farmer Clarinbould died this morning, & I fancy Edward means to get some of his Farm if he can cheat Sir Brook enough in the agrement.”

Christy notes the jibe at Edward, but it is important to note also that this is the first of nearly _twenty_ passages scattered through all of JA’s letters, in which she takes a direct potshot at brother Edward Austen Knight, usually depicting him as a kind of John Dashwood or General Tilney.

And I think JA not-so-subtly reinforces the notion of a certain economic rapacity in her brother-turned-country squire toward a poor neighbor with the following seemingly unrelated comment, which is actually, I
claim, very much related:

“We have just got some venison from Godmersham, which the two Mr. Harveys are to _devour_ to-morrow; and on friday or Saturday the Goodnestone people are to finish their _Scraps._”

Indeed, rural England in that era of rapid enclosure did seem like a kind of jungle, in which the King of Beasts took the lion’s share, and left the scraps to the poor scavengers scurrying around in his wake.


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