misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 10, Sat-Sun, 27-28 Oct 1798, at Steventon: 1st long letter

Dear Friends and Readers,

Another in this ongoing series.  See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9.

This is a long letter, written journal style over more than 24 hours. So she sat down, wrote, got up, went about life a bit, and then sat down and wrote again.  Rather like someone at computer from time to time leaving what you are doing to chat online with a friend or write someone somewhere online. It seemed to me written in a generally more comfortable mood than any thus far.  This is not to say there is no hard irony, or irritation, or enigmatic (not fully explained) discomfort, but I just don't feel the kind of frustration or guarded sorrow that we've seen in the others across the whole letter.

I do think it's a good idea to mention what is not in the letter that has gone on around it.  Unlike fictions which are self-contained and do not refer out to the world outside the novel, non-fiction always does so refer.  This is one of the fundamental differences between non-fiction and fiction.  Other (or shadow if you want to call them that) stories are genuinely affecting what is in the text we have in front of us.

Paragon Buildings, Bath, an 18th century print: where the aunt and uncle lived so Jane and Cassandra stayed there too

So I thought it would be also well to mention what Austen refers to at the end of her letter which we've not before: Jane and Cassandra visited Bath with the Aunt Jane Perrot in November 1797. This is yet another incident that occurred between Letter 7 and 8. There is a good full account (if determinedly upbeat and so not really reflecting the full emotional atmosphere of this visit) in Maggie Lane's A Charming Place:  Bath in the Life and Novels of JA.  This small book is very useful: Lane puts together concisely and accurately enough (as to literal doings) JA's visits to Bath. Lane's book on Fanny Burney & Bath is yet better because Lane's more in tune with Burney.  Lane is on record as puzzled and disbelieving (like Nokes) that Jane did not like Bath (thus the title of the book). Lane seems to forget that Austen was not like her, a well-heeled tourist and librarian, happily enough married, and Bath a beautiful renovated time capsule ofa  city; for Austen it was a marriage market where Jane was a fringe person when her father died and they lived on less than admired streets.

Jane Williams, Jane's first cousin, died 9 August 1798.  She was thrown out of a carriage and died without regaining consciousness LeFaye says.  Jane's great later friend (and with respect to Tom Lefroy, half-enemy), Mrs Lefroy later died because she was thrown from a horse. Carriage riding was not safe -- nor riding horses if you did not know how.  This Jane (according to LeFaye) had "been in touch" with the Austens, visited Steventon more than once.  But there is no mention in the space of time between Letter 8 and 9 nor in Letter 9 itself.

We do have a missing letter too: written from Staines, 25 October 1798, close on Letter 9.  So it was removed.  What did it say that had to be removed?  We'll probably never know. My guess is partly about what was happening on the trip home which is ironically referred to in Letter 10:  "I cannot send you quite so triumphant an account of our last day's Journey as of the first and second."  The first includes the near losing of her writing desk.  Some sarcasms about her mother's behavior perhaps?  Austen is not compassionate when it comes to sick people; she often seems to disbelieve they are as sick as their demands on others would have one believe.

This is written sometime in the morning (from the remark Austen makes as she breaks off once more) upon arrival at Steventon.

So, to start, the letter begins in cheer: Cassandra has written a letter Austen finds congenial: "a most agreeable surprize" Jane calls it. So she is willing a little more to open her heart in the uplift of confidence this kind of thing can cause (a congenial letter). She is writing at length "to shew my gratitude." I agree Mrs Austen has been throwing up (bile). At Basingstoke Mrs Austen "received much comfort from a Mess of Broth, & the sight of Mr Lyford."  The 12 drops of Laudanum didn't hurt either.

People took this stuff regularly; it's an opium derivative.  Elinor Dashwood ministers some to Marianne the night and following dawn after Willoughby publicly snubbed her in London. They did have not one iota of effective direct medicine the way we have today and could only resort to pain killers which could offer forms of oblivion. People did become addicted:  Coleridge famously, Scott for a while.

Austen is very wry about her mother;  "it is by no means wonderful that her Journey would have produced some Kind of visitation; -- I hope a few Days will entirely remove it."  The meaning of the word "visitation" is not clear to me: some kind of attack.  This does recall how Mrs Bennet makes life worse for everyone play-acting her nerves, miseries frequently and then postured grief when Lydia elopes. For you see Mother was well enough to talk to James -- who was a sort of favorite.  The older son.  Clare Harman thinks that James as author was the admired one of the family, taken more seriously for a long time. Not perhaps after 1811, the publication of S&S.  Mother was "very chearfully" talking to James.  And now all Dr Lyford has to do is adjust the Dandelion tea.

(Lyford will be Jane's doctor during her dying.)

Steventon, an old print of the parsonage

James's old trick. He is up to his old tricks of sneaking off to his parents and sisters and escaping Mary's reproaches.  How anyone can think he lived comfortably with Mary is beyond me. He's been to them twice before they've been home a day. Home not a fun place.  On her behalf, we can say this much the woman is enormously pregnant and facing a childbed ordeal which would be painful and could kill her.

Little JEAL was born from this.  Well to remember his Memoir now: his nostalgia and idealization of his aunt's has for part of its context his awareness of the emotional atmosphere at home. He never mentions it of course. But his friendship with Anna in later life suggests whose side he was on and who he partly blamed; also his father's love for him and depiction of his father's relationship with him. I surmize the problem was that Mary was no where as intelligent as her husband (or Jane and her parents) and resented these Austens. A not uncommon reaction. 

Merton Chapel where James had gone to college -- I will make a blog on James's poetry

I can't connect Mary to any of Austen's characters. While much is said about her, usually adversarially or critically (and to my mind rightly) about how she so favored her two children, Anna had to stay with her aunts and grandmother upon occasion (possibly she really punished the girl meanly), the jealous hatred of Eliza, in this letter reproaching her husband for visiting his parents and sister, we never _hear_ Mary's voice. She is hardly ever or never quoted.  Most of the relatives and friends in other documents are quoted -- and it's such quoted utterances that enable us to connect aspects of the characters to the people.  I wonder if what Mary said was just so mean or needling or it was put down and then destroyed.  At any rate, there's a blank here, a sort of silence I can't get beyond.  Like other novelists Austen took her material from around her, and probably from Mary but it's very hard to see any parallels in the books with what's been left on the records for us.  And for the record of these lists I very much like JEAL, his sister, Caroline and also (very much), Anna; I sympathize with the father though do understand that Jane Austen could be rightly very resentful about how everything went to him and he thought it was only his due and acted accordingly.  He was encouraged to do this by the culture which didn't value women and disinherited younger sons -- something the early French assemblies did away with, and primogeniture never came back for the Napoleonic civil code set up as law and custom that all the children should be equally recipients of family legacies.

Not Austen's experience of Mary Austen, James's wife is not there.  I'd put it this is part of Austen's memories of abuse, corrosive ugly conduct that poisons the existence of others, especially when justified by norms of the era. Think of Lady Susan's banal forms of cruelty to her daughter, Fredericka.

Well back to 27 October, Saturday:  Martha Lloyd is there with her, perhaps because Mary is so near her time, there to help.  As I said, not a fun place to be right now.  Martha Lloyd was the unmarried woman friend who came to live with them; wasn't it she who in the end Frank married?  No one else left?  It's odd how hard it was to get a married partner in this era: being an Admiral was not enough to get him connections out of his family circle.  It reminds me of how difficult it can be today for someone to get a decent job who in another area of life (say writing novels or scholarship) is much admired.  What people are respected for in one area of life often does not turn into money and connections and ability to reach desired people in another.

Jane's mind reverts to the trip for a minute and again we have that ironic retelling of mishaps we saw in Letter 9  "no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk once nearly slipt off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartly to have our wheals greazed." My sense of the meaning here is not the mockery of Mrs Allen in NA where nothing dangerous at all happens, but just the opposite: Austen is pointing out again how trips are a travail (travel is connected to the world travail). I'm not sure she liked travelling about. I see no evidence for it in the letters as yet -- there is much in the novels (Elizabeth looking forward to the Lakes or Derbyshire).  But then she wants to be writing her novels

      From a note in Cassandra's hand: Sense and Sensibility begun Nov 1797/I am sure that something of this/same story & characters had been/ written earlier & called Elinor and Marianne; 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

Now November 1797 was when Mr Austen sent out First Impressions and it was rejected by return of post.  Brave lady!  she resolutely returned to her epistolary draft of Elinor and Marianne. But we are told it was finished sometime in 1798. So we must add another event happening at this time: the writing of S&S

I do agree the flannel is for menstruation. Perhaps it's occurring to Austen's thoughts is an association with the coming childbirth.  Childbirth could be very bloody.

While Mrs Austen and Dr Lyford conferred so beautifully, Jane went off to shop: suspenders, netting silk, Japan ink for a hat, and a return of gay sharp ironies;  "on which You know my principle hopes of happiness depend."  I love these sudden wry moments.  I wrote the other day that we should not count on the family appreciating her letters :)

What's this wryness about:  Jane Austen is saying she couldn't care less about fashion but she is suppose to care, supposed to care about her appearance to impress others and allure a suitor. The idea of prestige here then associates or morphs into her great prestige, "dignity of dropping out my mother's Laudanum last night" and her getting the keys to be housekeeper now they are come home.

The letter now takes a turn to cover time at home, cooking, unpacking, the news fo a cousin's book published (conveying Mrs Cooke's irritation) and the famous comment about Mrs Sherbourne's dead baby, the result it was said of "a fright": "I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband."

Mrs Hall was wife of a reverend.  Remember all the ironies Austen uses about how she's continually courted (why should women have to marry, have to get husbands, especially ugly and dull ones), and the remark about a dead child in the first letters. A thought I've not had before;  it's absurd that the dead baby was the result of a fright. Probably it was 1) the result of something going very wrong during the pregnancy so the woman had a dead fetus or baby in her for some time; and 2) something going very wrong during the childbirth (say cords around its neck and imagine the misery of the hours of labor).  This kind of explanation was not uncommon though: Voltaire's brilliant mistress, Madame de Chatelet died of miscarriage/childbirth (the baby another man's -- Voltaire was unusually broad minded in the area of sexual relationships too) and it too was blamed on nonsensical things, and she was even blamed for dying as if it were her fault.  Yes, very bad taste, Jane, a failure of the imagination though which strikes me as significant in the light of all the talk we continually have about her having pregnant heroines.

As the letter carries on, Austen tells us she is in charge of the servants and had to overlook them. This takes time and was one of the tasks gentry level women were expected to do. Cassandra is away so Jane must do it.

This lets us know Mrs Austen didn't. Again I see a direct connection to Mrs Austen who presumably does run the household but we see turns it over to Jane when she feels melodramatic about herself.

I imagine it did hurt to see the cousin's novel, Battleridge,  published and not her First Impressions. But her father's letter had been a first effort, and it takes a while before a person begins to be disappointed bitterly.  Austen was that by 1809, not as yet (I allude to her letter signed MAD over the non-publication of Susan, now known as Northanger Abbey.)

Jane brings up Martha Lloyd again. Perhaps she has now seen her.  It seems Martha has been hurt because she lost some suitor named Mr W.  Jane doesn't write about it sadly, but we can see Martha has been depressed.  It cannot be fun to be with Mary either -- but maybe it lifted her spirits to be useful to this woman in her time of trauma (the coming and actual childbirth).

Cassandra has been sending pious upbeat accounts of the people at Godmersham.  It is (to me) sweet to see how Jane remarks that the boy, George (Dordy) remembers his aunt with gratitude and affection.  So this can confirm that Austen's pity for the boy was real, was perhaps unusual at the moment of this breeching and whipping and shown.  Yet Austen is caustic about this.  To please Cassandra who would not appreciate her criticisms of the family?  So Jane says she doesn't think it will last on his side much longer.  She says hers will last until he reaches what we might call early adolescence and in the way she describes how he probably will behave we see a critique of the macho male culture we still have to endure: boys can be encouraged to be rowdy and difficult or at least not stopped, often it's said on the fear of the relatives this might make him effeminate (one can read into this fear of homosexuality):  "till a few years have turned him into an ungovernable, ungracious fellow."

Gilpin, River Wye: Henry said Austen loved Gilpin's books all her life

We see they brought books home and they are in the bookcase.  I wish Austen had cited some titles :)

The servants had been lonely without the family; dull, Nanny said.

And trivial news. Rain rotting the grapes.  I note that Austen keeps noting these childbirths:   Dame Tillbury's daughter "has lain-in."

I may over-read here but feel Austen keeps up this kind of record partly because she does identify as a woman and feels sorry for the women. Her remark on Mrs Hall comes out of her irritation that a woman must marry and then gets pregnant and what comes of it ....

Then a barbed remark about John Steevens's wife who has been cleaning their house ("purification"):  "She does not look as if anything she touched would ever be clean."  The first names are in the biography index. Here I feel the way I do in Dickens's novels when he inveighs against some female character for not keeping the house orderly or children behaved.  Jane herself is not being asked to do the cleaning so who is she to mock someone else.  Anachronistic?  not so much as Jane was not that far above these people as she well knew; the remark partly functions to make her separate from them, above them.

In the same spirit I read the remark about the "girl from Ashe" who will do Mary's scrubbing. Jane says she's not strong enough.  We've had a long thread on Victoria about how servants and working people in the 18th through to the mid-1920s were demonstrably smaller, thinner, frailer than their "betters" (gentry) because of their meagre inadequate diet.  We see in the US people who come from poor families the earlier generations are smaller than the later because more recent people have had more to eat. (Maybe this will now come to an end as more and more US people sink into desperate povery reliant on limited food stamps -- Wal-mart records huge crowds at midnight at the beginning of each new month.)

Dean House, the Harwoods' residence

Again there is snobbery recorded and disdain, looking down on someone which Austen seems at first to endorse and then turn round and identify with the girl. It seems Earle Harwood's wife is not socially acceptable to his family. We are not told what her unacceptable behavior has been or if it's been the result of unfair ugly gossip or what.  Austen remarks that Earle is "very grateful, as well he might; their behavior throughout the whole affair has been particularly kind."  Not kind enough not to make the young couple crawl to them.  But then the final line turns in the opposite direction:  "what a prodigious love of virtue she must have, to marry under such circumstances." This could be ironic and mean that the girl married to protect her reputation and is pretending virtue or it could mean that Austen does feel for her.  Who would want to crawl.

This reminds me of Lucy Steele and how she's not above crawling at all. In the novel Austen is acid over such behavior, not in this life-writing.  One of the moral lessons Austen adduces in S&S is (as we all doubtless recall):

The whole of Lucy's behavior in the affair, and the prosperity which crowned it, therefore, may be held forth as a most encouraging instance of what an earnest, an unceasing attention to self-interest, however its progress may be apparently obstructed, will do in securing every advantage of fortune, with no other sacrifice than that of time and conscience (S&S, ch 50).

I wonder what their kindness consisted of? Not money I'll bet or even somewhere to live. Perhaps though a connection to some place?  Or could it be (like John Dashwood) baskets of produce?  Again we don't know.  The "particularly kind" does not feel ironic so I don't think it's condescending assurances that they will eventually be received.

I also liked -- profited from -- the parallel Arnie found between the Bennet family's varied reactions to Lydia's homecoming and the attitude of the Harwoods to Earle and his new bride, Sarah Scott.  So I see a parallel here: Mrs Dashwood's resentment that Elinor will never "look forward' to anything, look on the bright side: in this equation Mrs Dashwood presents qualities Jane Austen finds in her Cassandra, and Jane's attitude is found in Elinor.

As Jane left off here and did not return until the evening.

And so she sits down again:  Saturday still. A sentence which is neutral in tone, no irony: her mother upstairs all day (knocked out by opium derivative), the sleep has made her better. She hopes to be more positive tomorrow: it seems that as Cassandra writes upbeat letters (Austen gently mocked this in the early part of this letter), so Cassandra asks for upbeat news.

Contemporary print of George Austen: he is said to have been handsome and proud of his looks (Sir Walter Elliot may contain a little of Mr Austen)

Austen then registers how "strange" it is for her and her father to dine alone. Also that her father likes and gets along with a working man:  he "& John Bond are now very happy togther."  She does like this in her father, but we see that she herself stands off from the working man: he has a "heavy step in the passage."

[Not a gentleman's walk?  So here we can see that when she made Emma despise Mr Martin for his coarseness, unmodulated tones, clownishness, she may have been putting qualities in her into Emma. How conscious she is of this I don't know. I doubt she's fully aware of revealing aspects of herself when she writes her novels. But maybe not.  Maybe she uses herself and sees her own faults clearly later on.  Her father is being the better person here, the larger one.]

More neighborhood news. Another Harwood Charles has been conveying Miss Garrett from Drummer to her former residence, Kent.

Again she "will leave off," having no more room.

We can see how much she enjoys writing.  If Cassandra would only write her in the "agreeable" [congenial] vein she did, Jane would write much more and more comfortably.   But alas: The following morning Mras Austen had a "very good night" and although not coming down, is "much better." She received Aunt Jane Perrot's letter and "is grateful for your Scrap."

By using this abrupt language, "Scrap," (reminds me of Arnold's touchstone for snobbery and social control, the type of name, "Wragg")  Jane is pointing out to Cassandrra how short Cassandra's letter is. Cassandra has disappointed again.  Not scolding, but only a "Scrap." Austen feels she is getting very little in return here to all she's giving out.  She's hurt. I assume Cassandra either didn't have the time, or in fact didn't like this letter, didn't "approve."  Well, often "famous" correspondences are one sided. Mme de Sevigne and her daughter -- scholars of Sevigne say the letters we do have from the daughter are dismaying so it's just as well we don't see how little the daughter really understood the mother or liked her letters as we do.  So too life on the Net and in listservs and blogs -- people hardly ever get the response they might yearn for.

Gretta Scacchi as Cassandra late in life from Miss Austen Regrets

Then the concluding salutations, with a last burst of affection (kisses) -- this is sweet.  A prosaic question but part of her quest for music to play ("ask George if he has got a new song ..."). I don't think she meant her brother, and a barb at her miserly aunt. The kindness Aunt Perrot will appreciate is not to make her spend money on others.  I suppose the 1797 trip included the Aunt letting them know continually how indebted they were to her -- makes me remember how Mrs Norris poisoned Fanny's night out to Mrs Grant by pointing out to Fanny how Fanny was indebted to Mrs Norris and Aunt Bertram for letting her go and for the invitation in the first place.


General overview of letter;  it has a sort of consistent perspective and echoing imagery across it -- like a poem, or better yet, like the letters by Austen that two scholarly essays have been written on thus far.  The first of those is much about fashion - the imagery is that of a young woman's interest in fashion.  Here the consistent imagery is rooted in a woman's ordinary daily domestic world, cooking preparing food, cleaning, coping with illnesses, from her mother's, to the use of laudanum, to three childbirths mentioned: Mary enormous, Mrs Hall with her stillborn, Dame Tilney's daughter, what and how to cook what and what to serve up; clothes are there, sewing. The flannel for menstruation. I omitted some edg-y jokes:  now that Dame Tilney's daughter has a baby, will Cassandra give up hers? there is irony laced into her sentence about the Lace Man  How unfortunate they missed him (perhaps in her mind is that they might have overspent.

On The Loiterer:

While I liked A. Walton Litz's essay on The Loiterer -- pleasant tone, informative and giving us a real feel of the tones of the The Loiterer, I felt it was 1) partly outdated as it was put into a kind of ivory tower of universal morality; 2) not necessarily accurate in the attributions.  While we can't know for sure, more has been found out since. So I'd just like to say Alfred Post's JA and the Loiterer: A Study of JA's Literary Heritage (a 1972 dissertation I own a blue paperback copy of) gives a different attribution range with James the dominant figure, Henry doing much less, and Jane writing Sophia Sentiment.

The interest here is biographical -- which neither Litz nor Post makes much of. The early James Austen while he preferred tragedy to comedy and wrote melancholy prologues even when younger, was a much brighter happier man when he was young than when we meet him in later life, chained (I would put it) to Mary. I see him as marrying on the serious re-bound from his disappointment in not getting Eliza.  In later life in one of the letters Jane Austen says what a disappointment he has become: the family did believe in his gifts, which (like many people) he not only never developed but it seems from his life's choices as well as chances that did and did not befall him, he regressed from.

He died not long after Austen.  JEAL in his book and his daughter in hers had the courage to talk openly about the horrors of the harridan aunt with the legacy they longed for until her death (and which she continually held over their heads), but he never did justice to his father.  Too painful.  Again I see this as the true context for his emotionalism in his biography of his aunt.

And letters are missing LeFaye says. So these weren't liked by Cassandra at all.  And about a half month later Jane writes a longish letter (not as long as this) from Godmersham.  She has returned there in the next month.  How these trips must've gotten in the way of her rewriting her S&S) One of the nieces (Edward's daughter) has a memory in one document of Aunt Jane carrying her writing desk about.

Tags: female archetypes, jane austen criticism, jane austens letters, literary biography, women's memoirs

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