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Dear friends and readers,

This week's letter caused a lot of controversy; I'll discuss it after the letter. In the comments are close readings and interpretations of Letter 12 by other people.

From Miss Austen Regrets  Greta Scacchi as Cassandra persuading Olivia Williams as Jane not to accept Bigg-Wither's proposal,  How much did they bleed into one another's wounds?  support one another?

When I first read this letter I find I put in the margins it exhibits enormous self-control; I felt for her.  Now that I've read the previous letters so carefully I see the context for the first time. So I see the pathos.  Cassandra wrote James because she was supposed to (see below) and then did not write Jane to to show Jane how much, she Cassandra disapproved of Jane's wit (it's apparent that in the inbetween now destroyed letters Cassandra called Jane's previous letter "malevolence"), Cassandra's withdrawal of herself has worked.  It's very like the way parents can control their children by becoming cold to them. Snubbing this used to be called when I was young -- and I've heard it called in the UK.

And it works:  we get this flat muted letter.  The only thing one can say not so much on Cassandra's behalf but to suggest she did not corrode her sister's spirits where it most counted is this: if Austen reacts so abjectly to Cassandra in her letters, had Cassandra or other of the relatives disapproved of the fictions, we would not have them at all.  It was apparently okay for Jane to find release under the disguises of fiction; it was not okay to express any protest, however indirect and through saturnine humor, on not being able to live a genuinely independent fulfilled life and watching the miseries and pretentious compensatory (to themselves doubtless) posing, the hypocrisies and triumphs of others.

Cassandra's later portrait of Jane: the original version shows an intense strain i her

 I take "My dear sister" to be an appeal.  If convention is to win the day, then as Cassandra is Jane's sister, she now owes Jane a letter.

Cassandra wrote James because she was supposed to, but as we have seen how she obeys whatever convention is expected of her -- she thinks and feels cant (as Austen says of Mrs Norris and Lady Bertram) -- we need not think she was not glad to do it. (I hope she also congratulated Mary whose life was at risk.)  Not writing Jane was to show Jane how she could withdraw her love. If Jane wants her correspondence, she had better not write such letters as the previous again.

And so Jane does not.

And now we get this drivel of conventionality where the surface is believed in and adhered to. Oh yes Mary continues well and her mother 'tolerably so."  Perhaps Jane is quoting Mrs Austen. Jane knows how to produce what's wanted;  "I was really amazed at  the improvement."

We are so glad too and amazed.

Mary is now compared to Elizabeth (that paragon of endless pregnancies and babies who can look good in bed afterward).  The child's eyes "are large, dark, and handsome."  Jane can't quite pull this piety off for when she finishes her flat praise of Mrs Debary she sums up:  "A short and compendious history of Miss Debary!"  In fact to say that Mrs Debary nets away and has a pot hat is to exhaust her as a subject.

But Jane is now in control.  Henry getting his place through the usual patronage system is reported without irony; he beat out Mr Mowell. How we are not told, only the phrase "Amusing enough" hints at the usual chicanery/bribery.

Again a slip: it seems the "family affairs are deranged just at present." I take this to be an associative leap but we cannot know the connection only that the servant is in her bed with fever and pain (and now we should remember how there is no medicine to help bring down fever or pain) and the Austens hire two charwomen.

Nanny had a hard lousy job, much exploited if it takes two charwomen to replace her. Austen says this is not very comfortable.  She would prefer not to have two unknown day (perhaps less susceptible to control and bullying than the live-in servant with something to protect) laborers.  (In this era gentry women would not do any of this hard physical labor.  Their sense of their status depended on it, their self-esteem.)

And things are worse than this.  Instead of some manner lady's maid, it's Nancy Littlewart" who does Jane's hair.  What are things coming to.  The flatness of Jane's prose her -- her submission and repression may be seen in how she writes simply that "Cassandra and Edward" will be amused to imagine this lower class women doing Jane's hair.

No hint in tone of what the word's content imply: they can have their triumph now.

Olivia Williams as Jane worried and hurt:  Edward tells her he could lose Chawton, and she says this is where I write (Miss Austen Regrets)

Yes (in reply to something apparently) the ball on Thursday was very small. Hardly anyone. LeFaye doesn't know what an Oxford smack is and neither do I.  Again the irony and bitterness of her position is repressed but the word's content is there:  it's cost Jane Austen to buy some necessaries from a  pedlar (Overton Scotchman).  Of course she has no reason to complain -- Cassandra has sufficiently warned and now gotten back at her for complaining now. No, Jane has learnt her lesson. It is finer than what they bought last from him, not so harsh (hard, thin) a cloth. The price is stated and perhaps that at least shows by simple truth Jane was forced to spend more than she could easily afford: 3 s 6p.

Then our first long paragraph about a book, literature. Another book by a relative has been published: Egerton's Fitz-Albini. LeFaye tells us in his case the autobiographical underpinnings were so transparent no one could ignore them (as the Austen family could and did Jane's in P&P, S&S and MP).  In many cases of Jane Austen's criticism I find competition, a rejection of what in the author she is writing of is so different from her own (so Mary Brunton's novels are rejected as not sufficiently attentive to verisimilitude). But as in some of them there is a revelation of Austen's own aesthetic values too:

She does not respect the book because it too obviously and narrowly reflects the author ("every sentiment is completely Egerton's).  Egerton did not keep the story unfolding through events that do other things too.  Too many characters and not to be used as part of the story (just "delineated" for the sake of it).  The story is not connected in a normal or usual way. Individuals can be recognized easily under the characters.

All of the above Austen avoids assiduously.  She does keep sentiments in her novel sufficiently impersonal for us not to be sure where Austen stands. Story should be kept up and continually unraveling. This is Anthony Trollope's view too. All characters should be woven in, non superfluous to the story.

She returns to her sad dullness.  The sentence about her father's expenditure and wish to receive one of Edward's pigs is humorless.

And now more on favorite books, merely cited: Boswell's Tour of the Hebrides, Life of Johnson, Cowper all eagerly to be read.

Again there is a reaching out to humor but not quite making it: she's written to "Mrs Birch, among my other writings .."  We can't know if Cassandra used Jane's desire to write against her and belittled them. I'd like to think not but the tone here is so deflated: "among my other writings."  Mabye she will get an account of people "in that part of the world before long."

Again in the next sentence material she would have used for high hilarity just depresses her spirits further. She's written to Mrs E Leigh (an unmarried woman, p 548 LeFaye) and the tiresomeness of Mrs Heathcote ("Ill-natured to send me a letter of enquiry") do indeed make her "tired of letter-writing."

I suggest Cassandra had inveighed against Jane's letter writing since the last "malevolent" one and now abject she agrees.

She is tired of it.

So hurt, she's been so hurt.

She promises that unless she has nothing new to tell she will not write for many days.

Olivia Wililams as Jane Austen turning away (Miss Austen Regrets)

I imagine she needed "repose" to restore her pen (as a letter writer).

She ends on another literal detail: ask the little nephew-heir whether a man servant wears a great coat in this cold weather.


From Persuasion 2007:  Sally Hawkins as the half-mad Anne Elliot whose wishes are consulted last and who has faced the impossibility of communicating anything at all to those around her

Poor woman someone has hit at her hard. We all know Austen's sensitive heroines, how many of them ignored, the last to have their convenience or desire consulted (from Jane Bennet to Fanny to Anne Elliot), enduring much hurt silently (Elinor Dashwood, Jane Fairfax). From the letter at least it does seem to have been Cassandra. Jane feels the hopelessness of trying to reach through letters a congenial understanding spirit.

She dealt with pain through humor -- we see this in the novels. She also opens before us with close up intensity presences who despair and put a cheerful face up. She can't even make the cheerful face this time.

We can categorize this letter then -- both in its text and why it was saved -- as an example of how cruel love (Cassandra's in this case) can be:  Kathleen McCormack wrote:  "Cassandra saved this letter, especially because it showed Jane's love and need of her. So much so that JA exposed her need for comfort ....  Kathleen"  I didn't have the nerve to say it myself.

General comments:  first as to content:  Jane Austen's problem was that given her background, circumstances (by which I mean lack of resources, money, property, connections she could herself call on, her utter dependence on her family members), and what is common in her period, set-up incapacity to get beyond these, she had no wherewithal to invent an alternative vision for herself for her life's choices.  If you read some of the writers she did like, Genlis and (later in life she mentions) Stael (Corinne is mentioned but Austen also read Delphine because Lady Susan has the same name as a major character there), these women imagined another kind of alternative for satisfaction and fulfillment beyond marriage, endless babies, idealized (unreal as Austen's letters have already shown us) domesticity.  That's central to the personal tragedy of Austen's own life as well as the problems of her novels' endings.  Cassandra repressing her so ruthlessly was a factor in her not being able to see for herself a different role than those around her for women (marriage, endless babies) which she didn't want.

The 1995 S&S:  Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood writing home to her mother

As to art, these are fascinating the more I get into them.  Austen was a letter-writer: from the outset she wrote her fiction in letters, the earliest versions of the novels are said to be in letters: I've argued for S&S, others for P&P and still others for MP.  She has Henry Tilney articulate a commonplace of the period that women are more prone to and better at writing epistolary and diary art. I feel that she is writing her letters with art in mind:  from mid-century on letters were published and she loved reading memoirs.  The Hebrides diairies she mentions are journals.  There's a good book on this I'm going to return to: Elizabeth Goldsmith's Writing the Female Pen, one of whose essays by Patricia Meyer Spaces is on Austen and Lady Susan  Austen's letters are not turned to (as in the case of the rest of the collection non-fiction letters are discussed) because Austen's letters are not sufficiently respected:  half-destroyed remnants. it's understandable. Spacks does place Austen in the world of female letters as art and she is wonderfully bitterly amoral in this novellas.  So happily this loss of nerve at the end of this letter and Austen's momentary despair did not last.


From Lost in Austen (2009): Mr Bennet trying to ignore Mrs Bennet

On just a few of the many subjects that people began to discuss:  the complicit father leads to the complicit Mr Bennet.   The portrait of Mr Austen being willing to speak and ask a question on his daughter's behalf but not really act to help her effectively do something (he doesn't even provide a carriage) is of a piece with Mr Bennet having the ability to see and do better than his wife but not doing it.

Austen is passionate. Reread the Fanny chapters at Portsmouth and feel the  vibrations. In the letters she is guarded and puts a carapace on -- as much  for Cassandra as herself. I can't see anyone imagining her running off: she is shy and not inclined to go out on her own at all. 18th century women did.

I did not know there was a memoir about Lefroy nor that the memoir suggested he liked someone else and was involved with her. Thank you for citing the Joan Klingel Ray essay. It would be instructive to read the memoir.  We live and learn. Now that I know about this I'll try to get  and read it.

Yes I do suspect that Lefroy himself might not have been (was not) someone who Austen would have enjoyed spending the rest of her life with.  We have no evidence his character was such that she would have really been comfortable with him. She was in her twenties when this flirtation and romance occurred, the kind of age when girls tell themselves they are in love (and thus are as far as any definition can go) but if they marry, live to rue it very much indeed.  And it's not repenting at leisure for a woman once she has many children and a household to be bothered with.

As to why people persist in finding or looking for romance, it's the letters themselves. It does seem that at this age (1790s is where we are, JA's mid- to later 20s) JA did buy into the necessity to love and be married.  It's in all the jokes about her being courted by this one and that and is presented in a reactive way in the sickening feeling she has when regarding pregnant women and the ordeal of childbirth to say nothing of coping afterward with the mess and time of a baby. Mary had Miss Debary but Miss Debary was only a help.  As I was inclined to disbelieve in some of the parallels made between Austen's life and P&P before reading these letters this way, so I was inclined to disbelieve in these early romances. Now I think they were there because Austen partly thought she should feel these ways.

1995 S&S:  Hugh Grant as Edward Ferrars and Emma Thompson as Elinor, kissing at last

Austen was no immediate victim. Having just read a fine book by Mary Trouille, Wife Abuse in 18th century France, I can tell the difference. Jane Austen was lucky she never married really - and perhaps as she grew older and saw the dead sisters-in-law buried she knew it as she went off with a brother to a play.  But she was deprived of a meaningful life by the system -- whether because she lacked dowry or the kind of personality men marry.  It is then painful to be rejected and given nothing to do worthwhile when you know you are so gifted.  I agree with Harman that Jane's writing was not respected by anyone until she began to publish it.  It's an eternal story though: Trollope talks of this in his case. He suffered bad depression in his later teens and 20s. All around him mediocre and inferior people "getting ahead," doing well -- why because the world is mediocre and liked these inferior talents as money-making. He got his job by his mother knowing and shamelessly nagging, pressuring someone to give him a niche in the post office.  His first three novels were utter flops financially and were it not for his mother and who she knew he would not have been able to continue until he finally hit what the public wanted or would buy and praise in big numbers: The Warden.

From Miss Austen Regrets:  Cassandra burning Jane's letters: how much had the sister wanted to possess Jane? gievn up her life to Jane to get her to turn her life over in turn? towards the end Jane had begun to slip out of her grasp, and then Jane sickened

As to Austen and her sister, Austen couldn't get beyond her. She was given no chance for other women friendships -- did not go to a school, no outside job, no travel. Who was she to turn to? later in life given a little chance to meet with people of her caliber, she punted.  I can understand why. It might not have been too late had she lived and carried on writing. Eventually she might have brought herself to go to one of these parties in London where she would have met people whose minds she met in books, but she died too soon.  Really it takes a long life to grow up and adjust to other worlds, and her adjustment was to a country kind of life inside a family; to make the transition is hard and she never was able to do it.  Unlucky to have died in the midst of her success, height of her powers. NA and Persuasion do show this even in their apparently unfinished/dissatisfying states).

I see Diane Reynolds read the letter the way I did, only she felt the anger much stronger. I was impressed by self-control, hurt, dismay, and some anger underlying this (as depression is anger turned against itself), but did not feel the letter as a whole to be angry, but rather that Austen was controlling herself against her reaction to whatever hard criticism Cassandra had sent to the previous and took in that Cassandra did not write back in order to withhold love and approval.

To Diane's question: the evidence that Cassandra repressed Austen is in the letters. The first two show her repressing and scolding over Lefroy Or she doesn't respond or she responds in antithetical ways.  The same is found in the other correspondents. Much later we find Austen anxious lest Frank get angry that she used the names of his ships. If he had, she would have removed the names. 

A page from the cancelled draft of Persuasion

Our problem is so much was destroyed. We lack manuscripts of the novels, but where we do have some commentary we see repression.  In Persuasion: apparently Mrs Austen complained about the ending. To many readers today Austen has gone too far in exonerating Lady Russell. To Austen's mother Austen had not gone far enough. We see Austen had this critic in mind because she writes in the fragment we have;  "there I thought I was safe" -- she worried other things would be censored.

Miss Austen Regrets: the way Jane vents is to undermine and tease others, sometimes very meanly

Remember she was utterly dependent on these people for everything. Roof, allowance. And she seems sensitive -- I cannot agree with Aneilka.  These letters are filled with feeling; the way the feeling is expressed is indirect and rebarbative, but feeling is there.

Christy has understood what I wrote yesterday: yes "her writing might have taken off into greater directions, maturity, and mastery, if she had only lived longer; and where her fame would have been more within her own private dominion." It takes such time to feel confidence after (remember) some 24 plus years of writing novels with none published and those sent out rejected or just held onto. 

I never meant the Austen family or Mrs Lefroy thought Jane Austen unworthy or not good enough for Tom. She had not the money the Lefroy family wanted him to have, and Austen's family did not bring connections (patronage) the Lefroys wanted for him and themselves.

As to the comments by the relatives, we have to take them with many grains of salt especially in the later generation (later 19th century).  They seem to me to be competing with one another more than anything (Brabourne boasts he had letters never published before), they are defending their branch of the family against another branch.  The volumes The Austen papers have the closest to contemporary documents (including the judge on the stealing aunt, JEAL on Hunting at the Vine). I have yet to read Constance Hill I admit. I have to get to it.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10 and 11



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2011 04:22 am (UTC)
An Angry Letter
From Diane Reynolds:

"JA opens the letter expressing pique and dismay at Cassandra's foot -- dragging on corresponding with her --and for writing to James instead. But the opening of the second paragraph reveals that she is more that lightly piqued -- she is angry: "Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence ..." Is this light self-irony? She may mean it to be read that way, but the end of the letter, which is retaliatory -- "I am tolerably tired of letter-writing, and, unless I have anything new to tell you of my mother or Mary, I shall not write again for many days," reveals she is still angry. As my children would say: "Burn."

She ends with, what to her I imagine, is the worst of parting shots -- I'm withholding my writing (myself) from you. Two can play this game. See how you like it. Or in Ja's words--and in the raggedness of her expression--"I am tired of letter writing ...I shall not write again for many days" she loses some of her usual elegant artisty, in my opinion. For all the pleasantries in between, she's jealous (she should come first with Cassandra), she's annoyed, she's hurt. And she wants to end on that note. She wants Cassandra to know.

I have to say, I was a bit shocked at that opening to paragraph 2: "Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence ..." It made me go back and reread the first paragraph in a new light, to really feel her anger. Again, though I think she is making an attempt here to distance herself from herself (discussing her heart in a detached way rather saying "myself"), she's not successful ... the
hurt comes through. Cassandra's letters matter. It stings JA, who puts effort into writing amusingly to her sister (and of course is her bf), doesn't get the prompt response she expects: nobody "deserves" the letters as much as JA.

I think the news about Nanny keeping to her bed with a fever -- "our family affairs are rather deranged at present" is both news and part of the reproach: Here we are, without the comfort of our usual routines. And you, Cassandra, are not even writing. (Of course, I supply a sledgehammer where JA applies a scalpel.)

We see too that books are important and that, as others have pointed out, JA and her father have a warm relationship over books and reading.

I agree that the letters we've been reading lately reveal the humiliations JA has undergone. I do think the women who defied convention and went off and did their own thing must have been the exception, and perhaps in situations much more dire than JAs. At 23, she is still marriageable, but must already be seeing it slipping away for reasons, apparently mostly financial, beyond her control. She must realize, especially given the fluctuations in her father's income, that she can't expect her situation to change. As Diana notes and I agree, her books do a show a longing for a happy marriage, but I
also agree with Ellen that in the end she was probably happier that she didn't settle. However, it must have been hard not to have been able to 'make it' in the one career path open to women, marriage, and worse, not to be able to tell people what she truly thought. She had to suck up a lot. The writing, as we see in this letter, be it letters or novels, is a lifeline for her.

One question I have: Although we do truly hate what Cassandra did to the letters, what evidence do we have the she repressed or controlled JA? I'm not arguing that she didn't, but I am interested in what we know of this."

Edited at 2011-02-25 04:23 am (UTC)
Feb. 25th, 2011 04:28 am (UTC)
On Lefroy
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<The stuff about the families respectively feeling either Tom Lefroy or Jane Austen were not good enough for one another simply cannot be true. Not only did Jane Austen's niece Jane Anna Austen marry Mrs. Lefroy's son Benjamin Langlois Lefroy but in the next generation, their daughter, Anna Jemima Lefroy married Tom Lefroy's nephew (scond cousin), Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy so the families were obviously on good terms and intermarried at least twice and kept in contact after Mrs. Lefroy, Jane Austen's "good friend" died on December 16th 1804.>



Well, if these are the facts then here is even more reason why I would never believe that the Austen's thought their daughter would not have been good enough for Thomas Lefroy.

So maybe the families were not really involved, and Tom Lefroy was already almost betrothed to this Miss Mary Paul:

<And what of Tom's personal life, beyond his academics? Based on the Memoir, it is likely that Tom had already met and seriously thought about the woman he would marry, Miss Mary Paul, while at Trinity and at least two years before he
met Jane Austen. As I observe in the 2006 NQ essay, Tom developed a warm friendship with a fellow student, Mr. Thomas Paul, during their College course (Memoir 14): between November 1790 and April 1795 (12).11 The Memoir
likewise states that “during their [the two Toms College course, Lefroy visited the Paul family who were still in Ireland then, “and, very soon, an attachment sprung up between him and Mr. and Mrs. Paul's only daughter
[Mary], to whom he became engaged in 1797.> [from Joan Klingel Ray's essay, http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol28no1/ray.htm]

However, it is funny that Mrs. Austen, writing to Mary Lloyd, would say "I look forward to you as a real comfort to me in my old age, when Cassandra is gone into Shropshire, & Jane -the Lord knows where."

I can still imagine that a possible marriage to Thomas Lefroy must have been played with in some manner. And perhaps the same with regards to the Reverend Samuel Blackhall around those Christmas Holidays of 1797. I can imagine this
matter of Mr. Blackhall hoping for this anticipated good living opportunity which he ultimately expected to receive from Great Cadbury in Somersetshire, being yet another place to which Mrs. Austen's youngest daughter might be taken
off to. When she wrote this letter, Cassandra and Mary were engaged to be married. I can also just imagine that in the privacy of her home, JA might have occasionally made some hyperbolic declarations around all of this. I would think
that her extreme critical-ness on all matters matrimonial, and its various attaching realities was a subject brought up often enough to make the parents think that this all did not bode well for any reasonable marriage prospects for their Jane.


Feb. 25th, 2011 04:39 am (UTC)
To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 -- my Birthday.
People were arguing Jane Austen's poem to Mrs Lefroy is a parody, and salacious at that!

The day returns again, my natal day;
What mix'd emotions with the Thought arise!
Beloved friend, four years have pass'd away
Since thou wert snatch'd forever from our eyes.--
The day, commemorative of my birth
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me,
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth.
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!--

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!--
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!--

At Johnson's death by Hamilton t'was said,
'Seek we a substitute--Ah! vain the plan,
No second best remains to Johnson dead--
None can remind us even of the Man.'

So we of thee--unequall'd in thy race
Unequall'd thou, as he the first of Men.
Vainly we search around the vacant place,
We ne'er may look upon thy like again.

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgent Power,--
--Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!--
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour,
Let me behold her as she used to be.

I see her here, with all her smiles benign,
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet.
That voice and Countenance almost divine!--
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.--

I listen--'tis not sound alone--'tis sense,
'Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul.
'Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole.

She speaks; 'tis Eloquence--that grace of Tongue
So rare, so lovely!--Never misapplied
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong,
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue's side.

Hers is the Energy of Soul sincere.
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign,
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, cheer,
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.--

Can ought enhance such Goodness?--Yes, to me,
Her partial favour from my earliest years
Consummates all.--Ah! Give me yet to see
Her smile of Love.--the Vision disappears.

'Tis past and gone--We meet no more below.
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o'er the Tomb.
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go!
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!--

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate,
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair
From this connection in our Earthly date.
Indulge the harmless weakness--Reason, spare.--

FWIW: the poem is earnest, sad, and towards the end suggests a deeply felt falling away of energy which the end of Letter 12, slighter though it be (in comparison), anticipates. Jane is really grieving and her grief goes beyond just the loss of her friend: "'Tis past and gone--We meet no more below." She ends almost voicing the idea she and her friend will not meet. She asks her reason to spare her, reason which fights against faith.

Feb. 25th, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)
Cassandra -- Revisited
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Ellen] <To Diane's question: the evidence that Cassandra repressed Austen is in the letters. The first two show her repressing and scolding over Lefroy Or she doesn't respond or she responds in antithetical ways. The same is found in the
other correspondents. Much later we find Austen anxious lest Frank get angry that she used the names of his ships. If he had, she would have removed the names. --Remember she was utterly dependent on these people for everything. Roof, allowance. And she seems sensitive -- I cannot agree with Aneilka. These letters are filled with feeling; the way the feeling is expressed is indirect and rebarbartive, but feeling is there. --It takes such time to feel confidence
after (remember) some 24 plus years of writing novels with none published and those sent out rejected or just held onto.>

Ellen and All,

After some cumulative re-reading on these letters and the comments thus far written, as the above, I suddenly feel this very recognizable sense of possessiveness. Perhaps this is coming from some personal recognition and understanding; and where I've somewhat resisted viewing this possible dynamic
as coming conscientiously and decidedly from Cassandra towards her little sister.

So was Cassandra's power consciously possessive and controlling within its love of Jane Austen?

Of course, the society they lived in supported this. And it does seem to me that it was approved of by the entire family - even JA , seemingly, and in most instances. Cassandra's letter to Fanny after JA's death touches on this, and the awareness she seems to have had around all of it. The nieces and nephew
attest to this. However, even within this innate tendency for surrendering to these expectations where the "older and wiser" sister has the right to enjoy a kind of dominion over the younger, there would have been, naturally, some resistance existing; and with the occasional frustration and irritation
expressed in a letter. Yes, I can see and feel this as being so.

I'd read those two letters to Fanny when I had read the letters about two years ago and though there were moments when I thought Cassandra might have been possessive and controlling with JA, I would not trust my senses around it and just inevitably accepted it as appropriate to the social class and historical time-line they lived their lives in. Perhaps I was not ready to really study the letters, until now.

Cassandra seems to have been the more stoic and controlled of the two:

"Cassandra's was the colder and calmer disposition; she was always prudent and well judging, but with less outward demonstration of feeling and less sunniness of temper than Jane possessed. It was remarked in her family that `Cassandra had the merit of having her temper always under command, but that Jane had the happiness of a temper that never required to be commanded." [JEAL's Memoir]

As they were each others primary intimacy, the complexities and subtleties of power must have been a very delicate business, indeed. And when it came to the
rhythms of give-and-take, I can accept that JA would have capitulated more often than not, because she had been doing this for most of her life. The love, attention, and protection she received back from Cassandra must have provided a
comfortable and nurturing enough place for her to live and write in.

So if there was this possessive dynamic between them both; and with Cassandra wielding the greater power most of the time, how would this have affected JA's artistic potential?

Ellen, I think this is what you are often focused on. It seems JA was strong when it came to the outcomes of her stories, as we read that she did not acquiesce to Cassandra's request to let Henry and Mary Crawford exonerate and
elevate themselves by allowing them to marry the heroine and hero of MP. Yet, there may have been other areas of writing where Cassandra did have successful influence.

Feb. 25th, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)
Cassandra -- Revisited (2)
This realization of possessiveness also causes me to wonder how this might have affected and influenced JA's ability to truly and freely even have a marriageable future when the death of Thomas Fowle changed everything around Cassandra`s future. .

Was JA naturally in some kind of empathetic harmony with her sister, and almost always talking herself out of these marriage possibilities? Was she always influenced by this overpowering energy of not ever wanting to upset the primacy
of this relationship they had between them?

I will also have to re-consider the dynamics around the Harris Bigg-Wither's proposal. After all, she was already 27 when this happened. She knew him for years and must have known well enough how he was in person and manner. I'm now thinking that whatever happened that night, Cassandra's influence must have been the greatest.


Did Jane Austen have regrets around this, like the film, "Miss Austen Regrets"

I will be approaching this idea very carefully as we progress with the letters.


Feb. 26th, 2011 11:49 am (UTC)
Diane writes:

"-my reason for seeing anger is that JA can't resist the last shot at the end of the letter about not writing ..." Seeing this as anger depends on the assumption that JA thought Cassandra would be hurt/angry/upset if Jane never wrote again. Why should Cassandra care whether Jane ever wrote another word of a novel or letter. She clearly disliked Letter 11: like many here, she didn't appreciate Jane's subversive humor. It's Jane who wants to write novels.

Nancy writes:

"She does believe that no one deserves Cassandra's letters more than she."

In this sentence is contained Nancy's siding with Cassandra. How dare Jane ask for a letter from Cassandra? Nancy grows angry with Jane. Similarly Nancy identifies with the mother, imagining the mother's case not Jane's. That's why I suggested Nancy might like novels by Cassandra and the mother (were they to have been able to write any) better than Jane's.

On Arnie and Aneilka's idea the poem is a mocking burlesque: 18th century writers were not shy when it comes to parody or burlesque. When they send someone up, they do it in spades and hard. Open anywhere in Love and Friendship and you immediately come upon exaggeration, burlesque, crude language (the stinking fish of Southampton). There is nothing nothing of that in this poem. All is decorum for an elegy.

Feb. 27th, 2011 04:01 am (UTC)
Jane Austen as emetteur/receptor
Another good essay on Austen's letters: Joseph Kestner, "The Letters of Jane Austen: the writer as Emetteur," Papers on Language and Literature, 14:3 (1978):249-68.

The word comes from Genette in an essay on Narcisse where the self is confirmed by having an other. Very abstractly we could say in the world of words that letters create, Austen needs Cassandra to write to her or she no longer counts or exists, has someone to be with. Many letter writers need interlocutors and invent a personality for that interlocutor which is not so: Madame de Sevigne's daughter was not this gifted wonderful person she
projects :)

It's an argument for the art of the letters. He acknowledges the lack of broad or general scope, the narrow subjects (but then so too is Dante's commedia filled with narrow specifics of people he knew). She has no politics in any general sense or philosophy (but about marriage), but talks of the things of daily life (of a woman is what he omits) and then goes on to say that in them we find moods, depictions of Jane Austen that remind us (him) of Fanny Price, Anne Elliot and other heroines (here we are not far enough along so the immediate one I can think of is how Anne's desires are consulted last, Anne has no
importance, she must go along even to places she doesn't like, supposed to be "glad" to be of use) and that this can be seen as Austen looking at herself from a distance, a kind of alienation. The mockery we feel is caught up in this.

Our task is one of archaeology so drastic has been the lost and censorship, but he then goes on to find Austen's genius and outlook in the novels in these. After this that letters were central to her art: her letters fulfill criteria that when met show the writer is particularly drawn to letter writing (she is so aware of herself as writing letters, loves writing them, longs for answers -- here is one reason for her overpraise of her correspondents -- it's to get them to write back); her earliest writing is in epistolary narrative, S&S was originally a novel, we see how central are letters in P&P and MP (Portsmouth). She writes to the minute and tells us what has just happened and is happening (very Richardsonian this I'd say); she's a Narcissa.

I particularly like the last part of his essay: he enjoys her wit and quotes many passages to show their suggestive richness about art, letter writing, novel-writing.


Edited at 2011-02-27 04:03 am (UTC)
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