misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 14, Tues-Wed, 18-19 December 1798, from Steventon

Dear friends and readers,

We continued our journey through Jane Austen's letters this week and came upon another long letter where there has been but one (obvious) cut.  I begin again with a general overview of the letter.  Then I divide into three parts: companionable opening; a long section on the networking of everyone else, and then sad (slightly desperate) close.  Then I close with comments in response to others on the letter.  The interests in this letter include Jane Austen trimming her hat (what does she live for but to ...); the agonies of getting a job or promotion (otherwise known as patronage and having to write people letters); how nasty are our neighbors; how in some parts of the world everyone is so poor and other parts they are all so rich!  She also finds it lovely to walk alone in a hard frost, and we have to figure out why she didn't get to listen to her father read Cowper

A trimmed bonnet seen in a shop window in the 1975 Poldark mini-series (based on 20th century historical novels by Winston Graham set in 18th century Cornwall and UK)

I suggest this may well well represent all the letter except the cut (see below)  because like the long letters we've had before there seems to emerge a theme or point of view or kind of trope repeatedly across it.  Also a unifying tone within which Austen deviates to undermine the value of what she is reporting.

William Price in MP (2008 MP), badly in need of patronage; Henry Crawford goes to his uncle the admiral who knows a friend who has a friend; thus Fanny owes Henry big time.

The theme or point of view is people being settled: they are through various forms of sycophancy (this is the way Austen is presenting it), patronage, networking, whatever they desperately can, getting an appointment, getting a living to marry on, experience "the Dignity of Ill-Usage" when they don't, seeking some secure hold in the community which provides an income or place (by marriage). This would include Mrs Martin seeking subscribers, Earle Harwood on a prison ship (some people are pretty desperate), the list of marriages and people making up an income (in their minds) for say Mr Lyford and Miss Lodge, as well as accidents which seem to hit hard (so will be felt afterward (James Digweed). People who are ending up (to the neighborhood's delight we are told) ill, miserable, extravagant (the Powletts again -- how people love to be spiteful against those they can, this pair from an illegitimate line of rich people is fair game to those who wish they had some claim on big property). Mother is even being settled though not entirely:  "she sometimes complains of an Asthma, a Dropsy, Water in her Chest & a Liver Disorder" (all these were serious sicknesses in the era and she had had the last three she would be goner, but of course she hasn't all these).  Martha deep into her medicine studies preparing to remove from Ibthorpe.

The contrast is of course Jane fixing her hat at the opening, using the remnants of one of Cassandra's, and then again it recurs at the end, "it makes me look more like Lady Conyngham now than it did before, which is all one lives for now."

Lady Elizabeth Conyngham, by Thomas Lawrence, dated 1821-24 -- considerably idealized -- for another one see below; both are common on the Net and show the woman without a hat

That last line is the telling one.  Lady Conyngham is apparently not to be admired (see comments for ODNB life), no better than she should be, so Austen is making a discreet comparison of herself with an ambitious woman of the world : it's another option to endless pregnancies, children, housekeeper to family. Of course we know she was writing S&S and/or NA by this time but in her world (as in ours) publication, doing things in the world others regard and admire matter, and Austen's books are not coming out.  I wonder as I read if she thought about all the sycophantic efforts at poor Gambier (I too feel for him, poor man) and asked herself why the people did not make similar efforts for her in the publishing world?

I imagine it was not thought of, so much effort for these naval, clerical, and other niches becuase they brought income and prestige. A woman was not supposed to publish under her name, not even write when supposedly she had "better" things to do.

Mr Bennet (Benjamin Whitlow) reading in the evening (from 1995 Pride and Prejudice)

We do get a glimpse of her father himself in this same world of letters: "My father reads Cowper to us in the evening, to which I listen when I can."  This was of great interest to a number of people on the list.  I at first wondered what got in the way?  Did someone talk at her and she couldn't shut them up? her mother?  did she have some kind of "duty" she was supposed to be attending to?  Chrisy suggested Austen was upstairs writing Northanger Abbey; Diane Birchall that Austen did not like the way her father read and so could not get herself to pay attention. My suggestion seemed to be taken up:

Mrs Austen felt left out.  It strikes me as not a coincidence that Mr Austen picks Jane's favorite author.  In that inn he was reading a gothic novel of just the type and specifically this one that Jane mentions in _NA_, suggesting to me he chose it because she had read it. We've seen Mr Austen making jokes that amuse Jane, that the two enter into.  Sticking up for her to find out about Tom Lefroy.  Sending messages explaining why he has not helped her travel home -- not just dismissing her desire you see or ignoring it.

So the little vignette might be one where father and daughter are close and the mother feels left out and her way of making them include her is these complaints.  "You have no pity on my nerves ... " "You mistake my dear they have been my friends these 20 years ... " (words to this effect open P&P).  It could be the father is using Jane against his wife. This happens frequently in families.  We have no reason to make these evening readings idyllic; the same jealousies, envies, all sorts of resentments that individuals have at other times of day are there too.  Tomalin suggest that Mr Austen impregnated Mrs Austen resolutely for the first few years to nail her down, that she was restless -- she takes this from a letter he wrote.  I'd be very much surprised if the two of them didn't have their quarrels.

Or it could be that naturally the father and daughter were congenial and the mother not with them. From the letter to Mary Lloyd we see Mrs Austen liked Mary Austen; Jane did not very much.

She asks how did Cassandra spend her evenings and imagines a parallel/contrasting scene of Elizabeth sewing (not much brain power there), Edward sleeping (ditto) and Cassandra reading aloud.  What (alas) we are not told.

I feel for her, very much, as I have across these letters.  I identify with this sense of outsider she projects, the watcher-on making her cap.  See comments for a little bit of my autobiography.

Well so much for the general feel, position of the letter  in family politics, and dominating imagery.

The tone is opens companionably; here and there we have gossip type, with most of the time the utterances leavened by grudging wit, a good deal of self-deprecating irony (aimed at herself over her hat business -- which she lives for remember, the great business of her life) and quick resentments of all sorts and sadness at the close.

I realize others reading this letter would not feel for this woman: I love her for her real gritty self on paper, a precious gift -- she's not reserved she which she repeatedly in her books has characters say they don't like (even to Persuasion Anne Elliot on Mr Elliot): she doesn't trust them; they lack sincerity, are liars or self-deluded. Not reachable. What social fabric can there be, what can it be made of?


Anna Maxwell Martin as the young Cassandra, here relaxed, enjoying herself (Becoming Jane, 2009)

The first line suggests to me she and Cassandra have made up, come closer again. She writes:  "Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters will always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them until they come, in which I think I consult the ease of us both.--

So I take it a turnaround has occurred. Cassandra is not now withholding herself (writing to James and not Jane) but has been fretting lest her letters are not arriving quick enough. She has acknowledged and responded to Jane's need of letters.  She has written worried lest there be a gap. Now Jane reciprocates with kindness:  not to worry, the letter came "quite as soon as I expected."  And then more reassurance. They always do.  "Always" is a word Austen doesn't throw out lightly and she knows it can be used for false emphasis and selfishness, turning oneself into something special (in the manner of Mary Musgrove).

Then a couple of enigmatic remarks which we have to guess at.  As Lefaye says the next sentence probably refers to Cassandra's inheritance from Tom Fowles, but as the will was proved the year before, it's an offshoot. The next sentence is really not understandable and I wonder if something has been cut here. All it takes is a snippet to make something confusing.  So my guess is Cassandra's inconvenience was removed by their father or the use of his name -- he comes through in a mild way in these letters, complicit in the larger structure of society and unable to stop people from being idiots, but softening life for his daughters where he can.  So there is a gap or cut and we get "to his Services if they are ever required in it."

We can't know what it was; perhaps it would have revealed some nastiness in the Fowles family -- trying to keep something to themselves, resentful of the legacy (very common in families).

At any rate, Jane has ten pounds herself and she will keep it "to wrap myself up in next winter." It's cold in Hampshire in winter remember.

I don't know why LeFaye thinks Mrs Knight has anything to do with this money as she's not mentioned in the printed text. Is there some other letter which talks of a present to the Austen girls from Mrs Knight -- she was a generous woman we know and we know Austen liked her.

Keira Knightley:  the hat is one she did not wear in the movie, The Duchess; it is suggestive, symbolic of costume drama, something very like it was the insignia of the mid-20th century successful costume drama-making British studio, Gainsborough

Then we get to the hat:  I agree with those who say "nidgetty" means "trifling." It's found in the OEC and I'm afraid the second of only two usages are this very letter by JA; the other the later 18th century playright John O'Keefe (Jim and I saw a play by him last year.  Trifling :))

But here's she's using it a bit ironically:  Since all others are about serious business (see next paragraph), she of course wants a hat with "dignity."  Note though that she's not much material; subsidence economy for women.  I remember in P&P Mr Bennet says Lydia costs him yearly already as much as he's made over to Wickham and one of the things we se Lydia throw out money on in P&P is hats and hat trimming.

Well I hope it was a very pretty thing by the time she finished even if she didn't follow Cassandra's advice -- that's a tender joke she has worrying lest Cassandra be offended.

Coquelicot:  that's a color I half remember we find in NA (I have to look this up): I have a memory that Catherine Morland is described in passing by Isabella Thorpe as wearing something beautiful and red.  Here's an instance by the way where Isabella is more truthful than Catherine: from Catherine's consciousness we never get the reality of how much vanity she has and how much real fuss she goes to -- our narrator mentions it gently and indirectly when she tells us how young women don't realize how little men regard it -- Isabella thinks otherwise and we know that Henry was physically as well as morally attracted to Catherine. It's Isabella who from time to time alerts us to how fashionably Catherine gets herself up, how lovely she looks.  Eleanor Tilney is alive to this aspect of Catherine too -- but more discreet about it, not sardonic in spirit in the way of Isabella.

Anyway it's poppy red:  Red Poppy, a brilliant red with an admixture of orange. And the OED again quotes Austen's letter (her letters were mined for the OED):

6 Dec. 3/1   Lady Melbourne has introduced the fashion of brown stockings with coquelicot clocks.
1798    J. Austen Let. 18 Dec. (1995) 26   Coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter.
1837    T. Hook Jack Brag vi,   Directly did there flit before his eyes coquelicot bonnets, striped parasols, buff boots.

The essay I put in Janeites on fashion and fashion magazines in this era had little on hats and colors; only on dresses.  I suggest Jane is showing herself to be part of an ephemeral woman's world.  She partly resents this or wishes she had something of dignity and use to do (like say be in the navy -- or farm if agricultural implements are to be put into the letter), but as she doesn't, she makes do -- and after all as she and Cassandra know, she has her writing, her imaginative world.  She will wear black and silver as colors of dignity, and then put in a feather of poppy red.  So she was still in fashion.
But "After the ball I will probably make it entirely Black." Does she expect to have a bad time.

And now begins the roll-call of people being put into positions, craving positions, seeking them, nagging others and the whole rigmarole of others seeking to punch tickets into life. 

Now we are come to the patronage networking part:  I find Christy continually using words like "simply" "just" "only" in an effort to try to defuse the seething ironies running through this letter. That's to lose Austen's inner self.  They are there and not to be dismissed. They give us insight into elements in her novels which make them bite at us and keep them alive, relevant to us today.

In this one I find a vein of resentment coming out continually: Austen hits out at patronage, the woman running the library, the dinner hour because of her own hurt pride and self-esteem -- she feels ashamed in the way of Anne Elliot at moments perhaps. She is also trying to throw off these false values which would stigmatize her (she has no connections, is going nowhere anyone admires, marrying no one), her values (she reads novels) and her lifestyle (they don't live according to snobbish fancy hours).  As I wrote yesterday, I do feel for her in all this and wouldn't want to dismiss her hurt, self-defensive pride and dislike of the neighborhood's spiteful hypocrisies.

I thank Derrick for telling us the connection Mr Austen was using was through his son's first wife.  Anne Matthew was first cousin to Gambier's wife.  We do see the shamelessness of how patronage went about then: perhaps nowadays too, but possibly nowadays Mr Austen would not directly apply to Gambier but a real problem here must've been that Anne was dead so there was no getting her to write a letter to Gambier's wife first. (We have had a sixty or more year period where meritocracy, going to a good school, and skills supposed to make one fit for a job (though say an exam) and certificates were sometimes by law to give someone a job. With our new desperate economy, the US has reverted to what's now called cronyism, nepotism.) It is true that the armed services (I'll call it) worked this way in the UK throughout the 19th century and it was only war that could throw up a man into promotion based on his own fitness for a position. 

Yes Austen is scathing: now Charles also can feel the "Dignity of Ill-Usage" as he is overlooked.  General Gambier "will be delighted I dare say to have another of the family introduced to him"  Surely Charles should write to Sir Thomas Williams.  (He was not only or merely Charles's captain but wow Captain the widower of Jane Cooper, another cousin.  How useful are these cousins. No wonder women were driven to have endless babies; maybe one of them would end up a cousin to a captain or an admiral's wife.

Charles Austen, 1809, made captain by this time

We can stop to look at Charles's career thus far:

1794 Charles goes to sea; served first in Daedalus, first as Volunteer (?), then as midshipman (he is there as midshipman while Francis is on Glory); then on Unicorn, both ships under Captain Thomas Williams, at time of capture of La Tribune; June 8, 1796.  Now Captain Thomas Williams was husband to Jane Cooper, an Austen cousin.  Last in the Endymion

1794, 8 November, Steventon, letter from George Austen to Warren Hastings, thanking him for procuring for his son a friend in Admiral Affleck; he is not 'sanguine, convinced as I am that all Patronage in the Navy rests with Lord Chatham.  Son wants to be removed to a 'Flat ship on a more probable station ...'  He has obtained 'another Lord of the Admiralty, Mr Pybus, in our interest ...', Austen Papers 227 1796 January:  Jane Austen writes to Cassandra that Charles and Thomas Williams to sail from Falmouth and head out for Barbadoes

1797 December Charles promoted to be a Lieutenant, serving in the Scorpion, under command of Captain John Tremayne
Rodd; chief event the capture of the Courier, a Dutch brig carrying 6 guns.  He gets restless, agitates for removal.

Combining Charles and Frank:

1798 December: Letters from Jane to Cassandra, 1 December, Frank writes from Cadiz, alive and well, on October 19th; had lately received letter from Cassandra written as long ago when London at St Helen's; letter dated November 12th also mentioned 18 December, George Austen to write to Admiral Gambier, on behalf of Charles; 26 December Jane quotes Gambier in response, one son in Scorpion where he is, but promotion will soon come, as Lord Spencer says he will include other son in London in an arrangement he proposes making relative to promotions in that quarter; letter quoted by Hubback has details not in LeFaye:  Charles; George  Austen writes to Daysh to desire Daysh inform him when Commission is sent (pushing it); Charles writes to Lord Spencer himself
28 Jane announces Frank is made, rank of Commander for Peterel sloop, now at Gibraltar; letter from Daysh announces, confirmed by friendly one from Mr Matthew transcribing one from Gambier to General; India House taken Charles's petition
into consideration (says Daysh), Lieutenant Charles to be removed to Tamar frigate

1798 December Francis made Commander of Peterol sloop; Charles still as Lieutenant moved from Scorpion to frigate Tamar, and eventually to Endymion, under old friend, Sir Thomas Williams, Sailor Brothers and LeFaye, Family Record 111

Charles's dignity of ill-usage might also come from jealousy of his brother's promotion. One problem with a promotion based on one's supposed skills in the military (Charles has shown himself eager too) is if you goof you are never forgiven.  A large element of chance goes on in these so-called heroisms.  So if luck is on your side, great; if not, tough luck for life.  That's what happened later to Charles

Well surely now Cassandra should write too -- to Thomas?  or Charles? to request them to ferry Cassandra home. Here again is another instance of a woman not able to move without some male helping her.

It's equivalent today might be Saudi Arabia where women have to be driven by male relatives to go anywhere.

Apparently Austen and little George carried on their special relationship. It is a little bothering that in her letters to Cassandra Austen has made fun of this.  I've an idea if the boy could have seen these mockeries he would have been (rightly?) hurt.  I suppose Austen is making light of the boy's affection for her to please Cassandra who I suppose disapproving. You are not to side with a boy against his parents (if the breeching whipping is the origin of this) no matter what.

So now Jane makes herself a patroness.  The reason little George likes her is she will do something for him:  "his _Duty_ I suppose was only in consequence of some hint of my favorable intentions towards him from his father and mother."  She puts herself in a position of power over Elizabeth and Edward."

She is sincerely rejoiced she lives since it procures the boy a dish of tea.

This is bitter.  But then she relents a little: "Give my best love to him."

A piece of either flat gossip or irony: the morning has been made gay by two visits from lively young men:  Mr Holder and Mr John Harwood.  If the two are lively types, it's just a comment, but if they were not, it's ironical.  And if we look at the biography of one it seems it's ironical:

Christy writes:  Mr. Holder, probably Mr. Joseph Holder of Deane, and John Harwood, the Revd. John Harwood I believe, who seems to have always loved Elizabeth Bigg Heathcote, but was so burdened by family debt that even after she became a widow in 1802,  he could never afford to marry her. He lived a long and difficult life struggling to keep the family holdings while also supporting the rest of the family.

Then this sudden resentment against the woman running the circulating library:

<I have received a very civil note from Mrs. Martin requesting my name as a Subscriber to her Library which opens the 14th** of January, & my name, or rather Yours is accordingly given. My Mother finds the Money.-Mary subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected.-As an inducement to subscribe Mrs. Martin tells us that her Collection is not to consist only of novels, but of every kind of Literature, & c. & c-She might have spared this pretension to our family; who are great Novel-readers & not ashamed of being so;-but it was necessary I suppose to the self-consequence of half her Subscribers.>

It's true that it shows how the Austen were novel readers and we may guess read frequently at night to one another.  But why she should react so strongly to the woman's sales pitch is another thing. I am with her in my detestation of patronage (probably I admit because I never know anyone who has power who will do anything for me, not being related to anyone who is connected and being abysmal at manipulation aka networking) but not so much this. That she is as scathing over Mrs Martin's anxiety to flatter her patrons' identities and self-images shows a lot of the letter comes out of her own hurt pride, ego, and self-esteem.

She loathes the point of view that despises novels too.

Back to people being nailed and settled in life, grabbing niches, properties; the irony is is Austen couldn't care less and she is presenting herself as rejoicing for "Edward Taylor" who is "to inherit all of Sir Edw Derings' fortune as well as his own father's." Here she is also hitting at primogeniture and the line makes me suspect she had already thought about how James was to take all when her father died.  She did not foresee her father would remove himself from Steventon several years before death in order to give the vicarage to James -- possibly to make sure James would get it and no one sluice it out from the Austen family.

Dog eat dog this patronage world of the ancien regime.

Two pleasant lines suddenly, and attached to Mrs Lefroy and the landscape:

Winter scene, a hard frost in front of Donwell Abbey (from 2009 Emma, Mr Knightley looking out)

<-I took care to tell Mrs. Lefroy of your calling on her Mother, & she seemed pleased with it.-I enjoyed the hard black Frosts of last week very much, & one day while they lasted walked to Deane by myself.-I do not know that I ever did such a thing in my life before.>

I admit this is the pleasantest part of the letter -- except its opening.  We see that Austen loved to walk, and is learning that includes to be in the landscape by herself.

Elizabeth and Mrs Gardiner: the idealized maternal friend, herself not married to Elizabeth's father, so at a distance (1995 P&P)

Back to the viciousness of the impulses of those around them -- this could be La Rochefoucauld.

<-Charles Powlett has been very ill, but is getting well again;-his wife is discovered to be everything that the Neighbourhood could wish her, silly & cross as well as extravagant. Earle Harwood & his friend Mr. Bailey came to Deane yesterday, but are not to stay above a day or two.-Earle has got the appointment to a Prison ship at Portsmouth, which he has been for some time desirous of having; & he & his wife are to live on board for the future.>

Can't have these illegitimate people growing rich so we may rejoice when they get sick.  The neighborhood or parents of Harwood despised his wife so now the neighborhood and parents are rid of her. On board for the future.

This is again a piece of resentment:  I'd link it to her irritation at Mrs Martin: Austen does not like to be despised and so she hurries up to hit at those who she knows will.  As the century wore on and people were ever trying to triumph over one another in yet a new snobbery, the dinner hour grew later and later.  We see this irrrationality in our own time too:  I remember when I lived in NYC I had friends who'd boast they ate their dinner after 9. This showed how important one of them was at his or her job.

<-We dine now at half after Three, & have done dinner I suppose before you begin-We drink tea at half after six.-I am afraid you will despise us.>

Christy has two interesting suggestions here:  is this also a resentment at Godmersham?  Maybe.
Also that Austen could not hear her father reading since she was upstairs writing NA.  If so, well then nothing lost. I had not thought of that. 

The reason I had not thought of it --  and then it would be like the pleasantry about Mrs Lefroy and walking in the frost by herself -- is it is followed by series of mockeries against the family members again.  Elizabeth and Edward are dull bores who don't listen to Cassandra read, her mother fancies herself dying and bothers everyone else about this by telling her symptoms.

Women can't get ahead by sycophancy indirect, they must marry.

<The third Miss Irish Lefroy is going to be married to a Mr. Courteney, but whether James or Charles I do not know.-Miss Lyford is gone into Suffolk with her Brother & Miss Lodge-. Everybody is now very busy in making up an income for the two latter. Miss Lodge has only 800\ of her own, & it is not supposed that her Father can give her much, therefore the good offices of the Neighbourhood will be highly acceptable. -John Lyford means to take pupils.>

Gossips are making an income for one pair but the neighborhood also takes satisfaction in the idea they will not have enough money and thus have to apply -- defer to, fawn on - the neighborhood.  When Austen adds that Lyford means to take pupils, we are to remember what Austen thought of teaching. She'd rather do anything than teach she tells us through a character in The Watsons (there is a similar intense dislike of teaching in Jane Eyre;  in that case coming out of the average stupidity and thus indifference to studies that Bronte had found common in classrooms.)

Not everyone is as lucky that the Lyford (I'm being ironic now):

<-James Digweed has had a very ugly cut-how could it happen? It happened by a young horse which he had lately purchased, & which he was trying to back into its stable; -the animal kicked him down with his forefeet, & kicked a great hole in his head;-he scrambled away as soon as he could, but was stunned for a time, & suffered a good deal of pain afterwards. Yesterday he got up the Horse again, & for fear of something worse, was forced to throw himself off.>

As Christy says, this shows us how horse-power could be dangerous in different but very real ways cars are today.

We are come to a break until Wednesday -- and the close of the letter.


Lady Elizabeth Conyngham by Thomas Lawrence (undated, I prefer this to the more common one)

Jane begins on Wednesday with her hat again, this time following Cassandra's instructions and saying it's all one lives for now to look like Lady Conyngham. Diana finds the reference strange because what could Jane Austen know of Lady Conyngham. Diana points out she became involved with George IV many years later, but if it is that she is just referring (snobbishly) to Lady Congyngham's vulgarity and saying she will look like Lady Conyngham that's inexplicable too since how could Jane know what Lady Conyngham looked like.

My most immediate spontaneous response is to say, yes, the mistress idea must go, and then to remember how often I've been surprised at the amount of gossipy knowledge of upper class people early modern to later 18th century women have.  I've been startled at Anne Finch's knowledge of individuals and of recent larger political events again and again:  she lived from 1660 to 1720 or so, and while she lived at court in th e1680s (as Mary Modena's maid of honor) and was a member of two different clans and married into the Winchilsea one, there were long periods in Kent; more to the point she suffered from depression, and stayed alone a lot. Yet she will in her verse or a letter show she knows what's going on among the notorious. A similar (to me) odd knowledge is found in Vittoria Colonna (also reclusive at times even if tied to famous clans); the third earlier women whom I know well, Veronica Gambara is easier to account for as she was the Lady of Brescia (wife of the Big Man).

No newspapers, TV, radio, internet: yet I've seen the grapevine was somehow there and active.

The mystery is somewhat solved by the ONDB (which life I send on separately):  it seems that Elizabeth Conyngham was brought up in Surrey. Surrey is not so far from Hampshire or Kent.  There were few of these rich families remember and they did know one another.  It was no big coincidence when Darcy sees and recognizes Wickham.  Then the "life" tells us that Elizabeth decided she wanted to be George IV's mistress by 1806.  That leaves a lot of years in-between and I offer the idea that all along Elizabeth was nervy, pushy, dressed sexy and worked hard at her social contacts so that she would come under the eyes of George IV; notice that her father made a fortune in banking and her brother went into it.  Henry Austen became a banker. Now he is also not yet a banker, but the contacts that enabled him to change from soldier to banker were there.

So I make this little narrative:  women did know about one another and they did keep up with politics (however difficult this may have been to us).  Elizabeth C lives in Surrey, not so far off. She is nervy and vulgar and is heard about and her ruthless amoral goals in life showed up early on in her personality and was talked about.  Her father and brother knew people who knew Henry Austen and Henry told Jane -- or Jane visited or saw people at assemblies who knew what Elizabeth Conyngham looked like.

Austen was -- we some of us agree -- very perceptive and on a few straws of experience could see far, so I conclude she concluded from what little she saw this was a woman who was a demi-monde type and thus as she trimmed her hat laughed at herself, not a little bitterly to some extent, as finding a meaning in life (she lives for this) by herself having this wonderful goal in mind -- not exactly knowing she's going to be a mistress of a king, but making a splash somehow, impressing the fools who admire such sordid goings on.

Then we hear she shall make her gown like her new robe (pelisse?).  I guess that Cassandra had asked for news of Mary Austen -- recently having given birth. She went to church we are told and had the weather been better she'd have been at Steventon by now.

Reminds me of Mary Musgrove, how restless she is and endlessly visiting family members she dislikes because she too has nothing better to do with herself and has no "inner resources" (Mrs Elton's word).

Manydown is where the assemblies were held for these dances -- I've put one of the contemporary illustrations of it on one of my blogs.

Why Jane should have imagined Martha deep in the study of Medicine preparatory to going to Ibthorpe I don't know but half-remember that like Jane, Martha too had these relatives (older) she'd have to contend with and maybe as Jane Austen wishes she had an imaginary medicine cabinet to heal the imaginary complaints (again Mrs Austen is in mind), so she thinks Martha would want one.  But Cassandra's letters -- which we do not have -- has put her right.  Martha is not deep in any such study.  (There's an obscure joke here we probably can't reach.)

A great fuss has certainly been made about the letter to Gambier.  They all care so; that Austen mentions it to be posted suggests it has been discussed and canvassed and every little detail worried over -- we could today identify. Today in the US no one gets a job without knowing someone and these kinds of approaches to people are as distasteful and difficult today as they were then. One difference might be that they were more desperate yet then.

Back to the ball and here my supposition that in fact Jane is not looking forward to the ball is borne out:  "I expect a very stupid Ball, there will be nobody worth dancing with, & nobody worth talking to ... " Mrs Lefroy will not be there; there will be only Catherine; another friend, Lucy, is to go with Mrs Russell.  These are women friends.  Austen may find herself bored and irritated by shallow young man by this time -- she'd have been so much more intelligent. They'd have looked at her as getting on and she has no dowry.  Maybe she was not as sexy as other women in company either. 

And now she breaks down.  How she wishes she had something else to do than go to this wretched party where she will be dressed in remnants she has got together.

Godmersham today, From Jane Austen and the English Landscape, Mavis Batey

<-People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them.-Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there;-I must do similar justice however to the Windsor neighbourhood.->

Christy, the reason they chose Chawton was that was where Edward offered them a house for free or dead cheap.  No one offered them anything in Kent.

Contemporary illustrations do show Windsor to be pretty.  In Defoe's Tour around Great Britain a 100 years before he says there are a large number of great families and scattered beautiful estates. Time and change were not as quick in the 18th century 

Godinton Park:  a mansion in Kent, one Austen could have gone to as Edward's sister, from The World of Jane Austen by Nigel Nicolson

At any rate this is Jane wishing she had some money and something else to do, somewhere she'd really like to go where (she imagines for the moment) people are happy.

She forgets that when she was at Godmersham she noticed that people were not terribly happy there either.

But maybe they were at least comfortable and not ashamed of their get-up.  Part of this is the desperation of the family over Gambier's letter. As many have said these movies give us a completely skewed idea of Austen's world.  It was much closer to the Watsons than is realized.  Her father's young growing up world was that of the Watsons.  Steventon had a skewed roof, probably the arrangements for excretion left a great deal to be desired.  A farm was just outside, pigs, the father trying to stretch his tithes.

The business of poverty brings to mind the price of paper. She has been forced to give two sheets to James and Miss Debary (remember she's the one who was hired or brought in to help Mary Austen.)

Three or four sheets left and one of the richer sort. Imagine someone sitting there counting sheets of paper and looking at one as richer than the others.  We don't live like this in the US; even people on welfare -- well there is no welfare so people starving with food stamps and near homeless but for relatives -- probably such people wouldn't think to count how many sheets of paper they have.

Maybe Cassandra will buy some as she returns from Godmersham.

Nothing new from Martha, & Frank. The names are coupled in Austen's mind because Martha liked Frank -- but not Frank Martha. He married finally only very late in life.

And so it ends: "all well, & nothing particular" from Frank as of Nov 12th.  That letter is of course gone.

Comments in response to others: 

I also agree with Christy that while mocking and irritated, Austen cares intensely that her brothers should get ahead.  People are complex bundles of contradictions.  My feeling here is some of her hits come from her not being part of this world, being herself individually and as a woman left out -- unless she marries which she (it seems to me by this time) is not at all eager to do. And it's not just the pregnancies and babies, but she wants her own life apart.   Notice that more space is given over to the lines over the circulating library than anything else.  It matters to her that books come and it matters to her what others think of reading and books. Her liking for her father comes out in her picturing him reading.

And (as I just wrote) one of the pleasant lines of the letter show Austen walking alone in the frost, another her telling Mrs Lefroy something Mrs Lefroy would like to hear (she is pious like Cassandra -- that Cassandra called on Mrs Lefroy's mother).  Christy and I have found common ground in a number of ways now -- we both value the letters for a start, agree that Austen seems so different in temperament and outlook from Mrs Lefroy (more like Cassandra) but nonethless it's clear Austen does value Mrs Lefroy whatever the place of Jane Austen in Mrs Lefroy's mind. I think it's from Mrs Lefroy being an intelligent woman who reads -- and writes letters however they are not genius level like these.

I did forget to mention the tea-drinking on little George's part was on behalf of Jane's birthday.  This letter is written a few days after Jane's birthday. She has just turned 23. 

Isabella and Catherine at circulating library in Bath, both behatted (NA, 2007)

I do know people did care about hats -- they were first of all a symbol of your class full stop. A gentleman and lady always wore a hat when they went outside; they covered their heads and showed status this way. This is even stronger in the later 19th century.  Wigs were worked to dignify people and they cost money.  Do others remember the story told of Fanny Burney when young: some member of her family had had his wig ruined and was lamenting and lamenting and apparently Fanny turned round and said in a sort of adult way, to stop crying over split hats.  During the 1790s in Paris intense (life-threatening really) adherences to this or that kind of costume identifies your party line and often this centered on what you did with your hat.  The wrap-around effect one finds in poets is a sign of their egalitarianism; Diderot liked to walk about in an old robe to make a kind of point (drove his daughter wild).

Back to hats:  we still do care too.   I suggest the abandonment of hats is part of an abandonment of visible snobbery - John F. Kennedy was embarrassed to wear at top hat to his (in effect) coronation and ever since on the day the president of the US takes his oaths no one wears these top hats.  Manufacturers were desolee!  But note how the Queen of England wears a kerchief when she's not got a hat on; Camille loves big hats. And big fancy hats are used in costume dramas as intensely alluring. Myself I love some of the bonnets in the Austen movies:   Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth had a number I just loved (one was precisely like one worn in 1983 by Jackie Smith-Wood as Mary Crawford); so too Kate Winslett. The recent spate of Austen (and some other costume) movies dressing the young heroines down and not putting hats on them (look at the 07 movies again and you will see an absence of hats on the young heroines as well as the hairdoes being no hairdoes at all) are losing something alluring.  We might notice too that wigs are on the older men only and the "eligible" ones are in their natural hair (look at the 08 S&S to see this).

Although I read too hastily yesterday for my second email still would say that Jane trimming her hat is showing herself part of the fashionable *immanent* world of women and to try to find in the hat some element of the masculine world (plow implement, something militarist) is to lose the point and masculinize her - the way sexing up the texts through finding genital sex omnipresent does.  Austen is left out of the transcendent world of patronage and finding niches and places and "getting ahead".  Transcendent may seem an awfully positive word with lots of plus connotations here. I bring it in as it's a famous part of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.  de Beauvoir said women are forced to live in an immanent world and men allowed to transcend -- for her these words reflected how the social world regarded say cooking, cleaning, being lost in daily rounds and cycles of life women were forced into and how the world of promotion and being put into histories were respected and made the male province.  Austen would have understood the feelings behind de Beauvoir's distinctions and she is hitting out against them throughout the letter -- except when she does take a little pleasure in the enjoyment of trimming a hat.

The pleasures of costume drama lie in the costumes.

Elizabeth and Mrs Gardiner stroll in Longbourne garden (1979 P&P)

I'm thinking readers tend to misunderstand the relationship of Austen to the parents this way; first we see her in relation with the mother; then we see her in relation with the father. Funny they don't do that with the siblings, but see them interacting with one another, in a multi-relationship with the parents.

So my suggestion goes further: that Austen naturally became involved in her mother and father's personal politics.  Tomalin suggests that Mr Austen foisted more pregnancies on Mrs than he wanted, or did it more quickly.  Pregnancies (as we've said) are no fun, and childbirth caused damages of all sorts.  It could be -- probably was in part -- Mrs Austen's complaints were aimed at her husband.  He is not paying attention to her sufficiently; that's what Mrs Bennet is ever caterwauling about.  Austen listens when she can because she tries not to get too involved.

The letters suggest she took sides and did not see she was used by the father -- if she was. In the novel P&P Austen sides with the father strongly most of the time: it's Mr Bennet's values that are the decent ones, he who has humane understanding to be endorsed. Austen critiques Mr Austen as Mr Bennet as complicit, and implies the Bennet father could have done something to stop the worst things from happening: no to Brighton for example. And she shows him to be unkind in his humor (to Jane say), getting his release and kicks that way. Mr Bennet is getting back at his wife:  when he says to Jane her mother will take advantage of this to have something to complain about.

Mr Austen did not have to be endlessly pregnant; he was the one holding the income; he was the male in charge.   We might think how that may well have irritated Mrs Austen -- she was a clever one and she worked hard in that school.  What did she get for it?  Nothing much but carrying on. No remuneration she could call her own.  So look at him sitting there and reading read Cowper or Midnight Bell.  She might very well not appreciate this.


See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112 and 13
Tags: jane austen criticism, jane austens letters, literary biography, women's art, women's memoirs

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