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Dear friends and readers,

This week's letter covers Christmas Eve, day and the day after (boxing day).   It does snow over these three days, though it's much lighter than was expected.


2008 Emma: leaving Randalls late that night with a inch or so in the ground, snowing very lightly

Last week's was 14

Speaking generally, it is another long one.  Her tone is more equable than the previous letters we've had, and not just more uniform but calmer, and until the last third of the letter more simply accepting reality. Possibly this is the result of a the opening her brother Frank getting some promotion and her brother Charles promised one, so the worry is gone (and also the shame which she would probably have felt worse had Mr Austen's letter been ignored, which it was certainly not -- but they feared it would be, that's why all the intense fuss), possibly from her getting out more: the ball. It diminished her intense tension to diffuse her energies and have a little success socially.  This acceptance can be seen even in the last part where she is forgiving of Mrs Cage who will acting like a fool Jane says "I love her however inspire of all her Nonsense."

It seems to me something has happened being registered here we are not privy too which has soothed her, comforted her, relaxed her a bit.  I am wondering in a vacuum, but wonder if it has something to do with her writing her novels -- which she has yet to mention at all :(  I do think it's the shame women were made to feel, to hide this if it is their occupation.

This is not to say it differs all that much. There are the usual passages of sudden complicated, many nuanced whiplash:  "I do not want People to be very agreable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal" -- which implies that she does like people a great deal although the surface meaning is anti-people or anti-social; she is glad to be relieved of the burden of people.  As she goes on, we get more satire on the family (last part):  "Poor Edward! It is very hard that he has everything else in the World that he could wish for, should not have good health too ... I hope with the assistance of Bowel complaints ... &c&c"  We do have sudden vignettes -- the ball and her behavior at it -- filled with intense crowded life got down so swiftly.  And she objects again to what she needs to do to get through a day given the tasks forced on her -- as a woman through the lack of technology and money:  "I wish such things were to be bought ready made."  She dislikes the endless sewing in fact; a richer woman would hire someone to make her a dress perhaps.  Still I find it a less interesting letter than the other longer and medium length ones:  probably because her tone is more equable, and not just more uniform but calmer, and until the last third of the letter more simply accepting reality.


An image of one of the manuscript sheets of Burney's journal-diaries

I notice too that these longer letters are produced by writing them journal-style. So she does keep a journal.  Fanny Burney's diary is also in effect a journal, and for long stretches is made up of letters she wrote journal style to her sister or to the imagined "nobody" (and from herself as nobody).  There is a comparison to be made between the two: Burney's are more polished, more worked up into dramatic scenes. Burney was given more time for her writing -- for these diaries are not only from when she was at court and after marriage, but they begin well before marriage and go on all her life.  She was able to control her time and space better than Austen could.

To the imagery of patronage and clothing which again shapes this letter, the entering into the world's doings (seeking patron for Cassandra -- even if in jest, going to ball, hanging herself) by going to a ball, dressing up, we can now add that of the theme of poverty, of not having enough (her charity cases is part of this skein) -- either of money or of allowed useful activity. The sudden surges into violence (hang myself) come from her frustration and sense of where she places in the scheme of things.  Kaplan thinks she places amid the gentry, the upper class to some extent and this makes her not identify with all women.  The imagery here suggests she places with the low in her society;  those hung, those who are needy of help or charity (she has no money of her own) Since paper is something she is not supposed to spend money on, it's clear that writing a novel is a form of partial transgression.  (Again I see where I identify a little: not the patronage, or clothing or need to conserve paper.)

Remember what Emma said:  Women who don't get married have a propensity to be dreadfully poor, dismissed, shafted off (words to this effect). To bring in Fanny Burney again, her family wanted her to spend her life at court; to her it was a life-in-death, to them it was a remunerative appointment respected by others. Her family respected that.  It was far far better than writing, especially novels, and worse yet plays where other people could see themselves.  Austen had no chance at such an appointment; she would not have wanted it, but her family would have leapt at it for her.


Christmas in the 1991 Metropolitan (free adaptation of Mansfield Park):  Audrey (Fanny of the movie) going to church with her mother and they meet a friend

There is something to be remarked that Austen de-emphasizes Christmas in the letter.  This reminds me that Austen usually uses Christmas satirically -- as when Miss Bingley wishes Jane Bennet the joys of the season).  The Austens celebrated Christmas and apparently do so in this letter -- in the 18th century secular dance-holiday style and going to church, but unlike later times (middle 19th century) Christmas was not this over-emphasized holiday in the way it is done today. 

Finally as an opening general comment, there is an interesting difference between the novels and letters of Austen. I am close reading the letters so that I pay close attention to everything surrounding the famous supposedly offensive comments (this woman's baby was born dead so maybe that shows the woman looked at her husband) and have found that the full context is one which makes women's bodies a openly central in the letters in ways Austen did not dare in the novels.

I have been thinking of doing a paper on power and money in Austen's letters.  Izzy (my daughter) has come up with a thesis.  Now I see a way in to attach her thesis to my understanding of Austen's presentation of sex (through these endless pregnancies, deaths of women, stillborns) directly in terms of money and power. No money for Austen in these letters for post-chaises and paper; only for pushing them to take on the burden of an appropriate husband (in Austen's class, one who will accept her) who takes her body over.  Those are the selected topics for the coming 1213 AGM conference: power, money, sex.

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To the letter itself


George John Spencer, 2nd Earl and 1st Lord of the Treasury (1758-1834):  I can believe he'd be up to hanging, flogging court-martialling galore to stop mutinies: it was he the Austens applied to for promotion for their sons

The letter opens with a long account of the succees of Mr Austen's application and the coming hoped-for promotion of Frank and the possibility the same is in store for Charles. It did happen very fast. I'm sure the brothers would like to believe that their merit had something to do with this, but often in the armed forces in this period merit had nothing to do with it. It may be that Spencer was trying to make merit count over nepotism and cronyism. If so, good for him. But I can't help but at least wonder if there was some other connection or favor owed we don't know about, some other person in the background helping the Austens or the brothers.

I suggested her tone is equable in this letter: my first proof for this is the length of this opening. In most of her letters thus far she switches topics with intense quickness and doesn't devote long paragraphs to any particular topic. She is also more coherent, going slower, not writing so quickly that her prose becomes enigmatic. (This will change in the later letters to Fanny say on marriage or to Anna on writing novels; then again she does go on at length and coherently). She spends in the Lefaye edition 2 half pages on all this.

It does make the prose duller -- she is more like Mrs Lefroy here than she has been thus far.  In the first section it's not that she's saying what's expected, but just that she's copying out some one else's words. She assumes Cassandra wants the exact words. And when she's done she writes "There!"  She might as well now go hang herself for she can send nothing that Cassandra will value as much ever after.

We do see who and what is valued in this family here. Nothing Jane can ever do will be anything but "insipid" after this.

In the second section, she wishes she could tell Frank too -- a spot of her more usual humor. Alas they cannot communicate "their foreknowledge of the event, to him to whom it principally concerns."  But the father is writing to Daysh so they will exactly know when the commission comes in.  This is also a form of gentle pressure -- someone promises you a job and you write back, perhaps to someone else in personnel asking if you could just now what day to expect confirmation :)

Again she reiterates that Cassandra has all her "cheif wish" and again (as in the last letter) wishes that the the bestower here of favors could help the women; in the last letter it was Cassandra who was to be helped, now it's Martha.  Too bad Lord Spencer can't send Martha a husband. This too would make Cassandra "joyful."  I don't agree with LeFaye here.  I suggest Cassandra would be joyful at a marriage of Frank and Martha -- that's why this striking (wildish) word joy.

In the next passage Austen in effect acknowledges the brother's rivalry. That's natural.  He was designed kept in the Scorpion and this will not please him. She jokes "I will not torment myself with Conjectures & suppositions; Facts shall satisfy me."  Probably this is a mock on what she's been hearing for days and days: endless conjectureds and suppositions from the time of sending off Mr Austen's letter until now and in the future.  Maybe she is parodying someone else who said something like this or repeating herself.

And yet more on this: we hear again of the Nov 12th letter from Frank; his commission will be a government dispatch so travel much quicker than a private letter.

I think primarily in the comment she had better go hang herself, she is registering how valueless she is to these people and even more how valueless what she does. When she finally finishes her novels, she might as well go hang herself -- as they will not be ecstatic over that at all.  Whatever she does (not just the writing of her novels) is worth nothing to them in comparison with these men so she might as well go hang herself -- and here the implicit connection might be -- like the people on board ship who are hanged as worthless, disvalued

She does not kid about her brothers' advancement and shows no resentment or envy at all because she is aware (though says nothing beyond they hope Frank is still with them) that life at sea is hardship and danger.  Edward did nothing for his money and James gets his by being the oldest son.  The sailor brothers are working hard for theirs and at risk of violence -- she does (we see in Persuasion in spades and have in an earlier letter) buy into the violence of her males and think it's okay if they make money this way

Hanging herself subjects herself to violence -- possibly the connection comes from her knowing how the brothers on a ship flog men and see men hanged. Derrick Leigh said "Spencer dealt swiftly and effectively with the mutinies at Nore and Spithead." That means he hung men, he murdered people by court martialling them.  Life at sea for the average man could be a real horror; there were mutinies everywhere in this era (as they are in all); many of them would have been pressed -- snatched like slaves and forced by violence ot work for the state.


An image of pressing from illustration of 19th century novel

If they didn't, killed or put in prison (to make examples of them). This is your great Lord Spencer and she does know this.  I mentioned in an earlier letter how Henry was part of this in the state militia; there's evidence he was at and aided and abetted this killing of people for daring to rebel against this vicious system.


After they pressed you, the government had its official flog you; if that didn't suppress and cow you, you were hanged

 (A good novel to read on this is Gaskell's Syvia's Lovers; a number of the Poldark novels show the truth of the system too).

So more generally the world Austen lives is dependent on violence. She knows this and Diane Reynolds's connection of the hanging metaphor to the violence of the state as well as how Austen is herself involved even if indirectly, she is one of those dependent on this kind of patronage:  she does not have the right to any income or control of it so she would be subject to the man she marries and we see is subject to her brothers (they can tell her not to travel). The men are part of the social contract of this society which works almost wholly by patronage (really vile this and that she sees) and the women connect in through a sexual contract to men individually.  So the violence is at one remove unless she ends up with a violent man, but it is there.

Then again a second long paragraph on a single event. It's introduced by a more equable riff on her mother than usual:   "in no respect worse than I left her. --- She does not like the cold weather, but that we cannot help."  We cannot change it, it's not our fault so we are freed of bother and/or blame about it.

Then the adventures at Manydown and ball.  She did dance a lot as everyone has said. The famous sentence is about Miss Blachford, a new acquaintance:  as I wrote a  sudden complicated, many nuanced whiplash:  "I do not want People to be very agreable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal" -- which implies that she does like people a great deal although the surface meaning is anti-people or anti-social; she is glad to be relieved of the burden of people.


1996 A&E Meridan Emma -- dancing (we see Emma, Harriet, Frank and another [unnamed] male at the Crown Inn

Derrick Leigh has presented some details about Lady Mildmay and the Hoares.  Gentry types with money: " Lady Mildmay was painted playing a harp in 1785 by John Francis Rigaud." The Hoares like Elizabeth Conyngham's family into banking (banking has ever been the place to be if you want to get your hands on money -- joke alert -- more so today than ever was before -- not a joke)

We've seen some of these male names before: she made fun of Mr Harwood as very dull when he came to visit (ordinary shallow young man with someone else)

Further only 5 of these 11 ladies in the room were single.  How many of the men were single we are not told.  No wonder she danced all evening.

The longest part is about Mr Calland and I see from the quotations Christy provided he was regarded and mocked as "beau."  It did not do in this society (as it does not in our own in many places) to be seen as effeminiate in any way -- "beaux" had the connotations of fop, as in the fops in the popular plays and these are 18th century versions of proto-gay (in the modern sense) men (as a couple of studies of the fop recently have discussed).  As I suggested we find Austen here doing what she does not allow any of her heroines to do and presents her unfavored characters as doing: teasing someone continually until you get them to do something they are reluctant for whatever reason to do.  She softens this because she knows that she has made him uncomfortable (we don't know exactly how this teasing was done or what was said) so she adds "I was really glad to see him again after a long separation," and assures Cassandra either that he didn't mind or that he liked the attention after all: "Genius and Flirt of the Evening."  She tries to include Cassandra in this:  "He enquired after you.

A good example of LeFaye's method may be found in her "explanation" of why Austen didn't enjoy herself at the Ashford ball. She tells you on p 99 that it was very crowded and very hot weather, and offers a note. Where does the note take you; why back to Letter 15. it does not provide a letter where she says it was hot and crowded. That is what LeFaye wants to think.  She often does this: she quotes herself as a source of what she is saying or sends you to a letter whose note is the note that tells you the letter explains it all.  Meanwhile she has inserted her own view.  I suggest Austen didn't enjoy the Ashford ball because it took place in 1796 when Jane was still getting over Lefroy; Ashford is the central place for the Lefroys.

It's two lines later that she is on to another idea (no longer talking about why she didn't enjoy Ashford) and is now explaining why she could dance so much.  20 is a lot. I"ve done some of these dances and know after 5 one can have had it.  She offers the idea she is equal to all this dancing because the weather is now cold and there are few couples.  Also that her hat was admired by Mrs Lefroy openly -- let's recall it's that silver and black one with the poppy red feather.
This made her feel good too, and she tells Cassandra that she thinks her hat was admired "by everybody else in the room." I surmise that she was also gratified that her dress was okay -- she was worried or uncomfortable about it as old -- the famous line about how rich everyone is at Kent as opposed to where they are follows her ironic assertions about her hat, her worries about how her re-done gown will look and then half-fearing and even wishing for a "stupid ball" that her friends will not be there &c&c

She has here taken on the values of the people she's surrounded by, something social life often prompts us to.  As she put down her quill until the next day, so'll I'll make the second subdivision of this blog here.

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From Bridget Jones's Diary (overvoice, we hear Bridget as she writes and the image dissolves into Christmas, and she's going to her parents' Christmas party for another year)


On Tuesday, there is a reference to Christmas.  On Christmas day Austen does wish her sister a merry Christmas but she refuses to send her the compliments of the season. She won't repeat pious cant.  I remember that she gave the phrase to Miss Bingley: after trying to destroy Jane Bennet's hope for a happy life, Miss Bingley sends here the compliments of the season.  Maybe this is why we hear nothing of Xmas.  Austen will not pretend and repeat the usual cant we hear today everywhere so loud about how happy the time is, happy all with one another. Far from it as we see in this irritated paragraph where she acknowledges that Edward is such another as the mother: complaining about his health because he's not got enough troubles or enough to do.

Between Monday and Tuesday a long letter from Cassandra arrived, and Jane is genuinely grateful for it:  "... which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible."

We should remember that she is poor when it comes to paper.  Or maybe we should say the priorities of the Austen family did not include spending money for paper.  James and Miss Debary take two sheets from her; she looks and sees she has 3 ot 4 cheap ones and 1 of a richer sort (p. 28).  This kind of valuing of a sheet of paper makes her writing these letters something she really wants and needs to do.  A genuine felt need is in her to write this letter -- which cannot itself make any money as she did hope her books would, and which would not be valued by her family, far from it (before she grew up to adulthood Burney was hounded to stop writing her diary by her stepmother).

One of her problems is nothing much happens to her that others respect -- or even she does. This is one of the reasons she fills her pages with these ironic jokes on the daily irritating trivia of her life.  In a way it's pathetic.

But Cassandra has been kind so she begins with a kind irony: she's just full of joy that Cassandra went to a ball and danced and ate where there was a prince. Whoopee. This was Wm-Frederick, 2nd Duke of Gloucester, the note says. 


1996 A&E/Median Emma, ball at Crown Inn

And on top of that the delightful circumstance of a new muslin gown. She lets Cassandra know she is not ironic in this line by concluding her half-joking "I am determined to buy a handsome one whenever I can" with the clause:  "I am so tired & ashamed of half my present stock" that she blushes at the furniture that contains them.

I take it Jane Austen really was not rich in clothes.  She was working hard to fix her dress for that ball I recall.   Someone must have made a crack or comment about some garment she has been wearing for she says she will turn it into a petticoat -- an undergarment no one will see.

Then the comment wishing Cassandra a "merry Christmas" and the refusal to repeat hypocritical cant:  "_no_ compliments of the season". I really do love Austen for this, for I really loathe the phoniness and meretricious claims of happiness that make telling what Christmas is like for real taboo.  Perhaps the following irritated comments -- satire and irony aimed (yet again) at Edward  -- come from Jane disliking phony pretenses of Christmas. The comment on her mother's usual hypochondria ("usual complication of disorders") allows that there is something real.

Or it could be that coming home from the ball and having to sit down and listen to the usual complaints was a real letdown: 

"-Poor Edward! It is very hard that he, who has everything else in the World that he can wish for, should not have good health too. But I hope with the assistance of stomach complaints, faintnesses, and sicknesses, he will soon be restored to that blessing likewise. If his nervous complaint proceeded from a suppression of something that ought to be thrown out, which does not seem unlikely*, the first of these disorders may really be a remedy, and I sincerely wish it may, for I know no one more deserving of happiness without alloy than Edward is. -My Mother's spirits are not affected by her complications of disorders; on the contrary they are altogether as good as ever; nor are you to suppose that these maladies are often thought of.* -She has at times had a tendency towards another which always relieves her, & that is, a gouty swelling & sensation about the ancles."

Paraphrase:  Well we should be glad that Edward is so miserable (as he pretends) and sincerely wish it, for then it may turn out to be a remedy (like an antidote) and then he will be happy "without alloy." Her mother is not affect any more than usual ("as good as ever") by her maladies nor does she think of them "often."  That is, she forgets them when she is really ill (the gouty swelling and sensation aobut the ancles -- phrases which ring true which they are supposed to)


18th century sewing kit

Then her mind returns to her sad clothes and she wishes she could buy a dress ready made. What a relief that was for women in the 1880s when department stores opened and the first cheap dresses were available generally.  She stays with this train of thought: maybe she'll meet Martha at Deane and Martha will do something for her (sew a dress or fix it for her?. She wants Martha to suggest something that takes little time and trouble.

Jane Austen, a woman after my own heart.

She is here trying to create content so returns to her joy over Cassandra's dancing at Ashford and supping with the Prince.  She is repeating herself.

Fanny Cage was related to Austen's brother by marriage.  "I can perfectly comprehend Mrs. Cage's distress & perplexity. She has all those kind of foolish & incomprehensible feelings which would make her fancy herself uncomfortable in such a party. I love her, however, in spite of all her Nonsense. Pray give "t' other Miss Austen's" compliments to Edward Bridges when you see him again. "

This is where she relents and is much kinder than in some of the other letters: equable, keeping an equilibrium Diane Reynolds called this drawing back.  I find LeFaye's notes on these people muddled -- as are many of her notes.  (Very irritating.)  Unless I'm mistaken (which I may be) Fanny was sister to Edward Bridges who seems to have asked Jane Austen to marry him In an earlier letter (one of the first) she danced with Edward, they leading the dance, and now there is this reference to Edward following hard upon Fanny. So I suggest the connection here is that she likes Edward and is thinking Fanny could be an amusing harmless sister-in-law.


Miss Austen Regrets (Hugh Bonneton as Edward Brydges, much later in life, 1813, POV Jane Austen's)

[We have three real -- not jokes, seriously taken -- candidates for marriage in these letters thus far -- real possibilities Austen either considered, Tom Lefroy and Edward Bridges, and a third she was willing for Mrs Lefroy to sound out, Blackall, who however turned out to be disdainful fool]


From Becoming Jane:   Jane and Tom Lefroy dancing (supposed when they are young, 1996)

Back to gowns:  I imagine Cassandra's long letter where she meditated buying a muslin gown was about her trying to make up her mind to spend the money and now Jane tells her she, Jane, insists that Cassanda go ahead. She can afford it.

Again there is this note of poverty -- for it would feel poor (even if so many around them were so much worse off).  Jane offers to give Cassandra "body lining" - some clothe for the inside part of the gown.

This train of thought about their lack of funds leads her to think of those much worse off even and we get an account of things she gives to the women genuinely desperate near by.  Her gifts amount to half a guinea in value.

I don't know who the Battys are and neither does Lefaye  I gather Cassandra had urged Jane to offer them some charity.  They were perhaps a little better off than the pathetic Mary Hutchings and company so would be too proud to take presents.

Back to silly people:  "< -I am glad to hear such a good account of Harriet Bridges ; she goes on now as young Ladies of 17 ought to do; admired & admiring; in a much more rational way than her three elder Sisters, who had so little of that kind of Youth -I dare say she fancies Major Elkington as agreeable as Warren, & if she can think so, it is very well. >

I hear and see in this the stuff of her juvenilia. Again this is not unkind: Harriet is said to be at least more rational than her sisters; Austen seems glad that Harriet is enjoying herself (the older ones did not get a chance to, were married off young so never had this enjoyment at all).  The mindset implied is someone who would not have any depths so it matters not to her for real whether she marries one man (Elkington) or another (Warren).  (I've seen this a lot in my life; the reality is a lot of peopel don't care that much about the inmost character of the person they marry; they never reach it).

Then some plans which did not come off: it interests me that she is glad the snow kept her in

"I was to have dined at Deane to-day, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of Snow."

This reminds me of John Knightley.  I know that Austen is critical of John Knightley's irritation, but she also gives him solid truths:  the Knightleys and Woodhouses will hear nothnig more or different than they have for days on end and why they need to come out in cold that night is beyond him.


1972 Emma (John Knightley warns Emma that she has been encouraging Mr Elton and he is taking this encouragement seriously -- they are out riding together the day of the Christmas party at Randalls)

I now suggest that the comment the scissors cut was about James.  She has begun to live at a distance from her older brother as he increasingly falls under the influence of Mary Austen.  They will be a silent party was perhaps followed by some comment explaining why.

We shall be a nice silent party, I suppose. -Seize upon the scissors as soon as you possibly can on the receipt of this.

We are missing an intervening sentence which came before "I only fear your being too late to secure the prize."

The way this reads reminds me of students who retype their work without proofreading. They omit sentences.

"I only fear your being too late to secure the prize. The Lords of the Admiralty will have enough of our applications at present, for I hear from Charles that he has written to Lord Spencer himself to be removed. I am afraid his Serene Highness will be in a passion, & order some of our heads to be cut off. -"

But the general thrust is there:  having begun the letter taking seriously all this networking sycophancy because it ended in her brother Frank being about to get a promotion and Charles int the future, she is now mockig the process and expressing her sense of embarrassment.

They have so shamelessly bothered these powerful people (including Charles to complain further -- he being jealous of Frank as we saw) the people will cut their heads off if they now bother them about Cassandra's needs.

She's really digging around at the bottom of a barrell to find something to say here:

My mother wants to know whether Edward has ever made the hen-house which they planned together.

She is however genuinely glad her friend is not going to get kicked out of her home:


Ibthorpe house, home of the Lloyd women as long as the men they were attached to had the position that came with the house, or access to an income which could afford it.

"I am rejoiced to hear from Martha that they certainly continue at Ibthorp, & I have just heard that I am sure of meeting Martha at the Christening."

Eventually Jane will get kicked out of Steventon to make James all comfortable and then she and Cassandra in yet later years take Martha in.

We are then told one motive for some of these comments:

"You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve"

She is not permitted a life where she has interesting things happen to her. Her "unhappy fate". But then so is this fate Cassandra's:  so she ends with equable kindness again, yours in shared subordination:

"God bless you!
Yours affectionately,
Jane Austen

How much more time Burney then had to write letters and her novels too; and (as we can see from her hat): money. Her family as musicians probably understood the value of time alone to fulfill a talent.  It was how they got money

And of course they lasted (when the edition is finished it will be over 20 volumes probably) since she died very old and way past the second generation of relatives so they feel into the hands of great-great-nieces and thus survived.  The way to keep your papers from being destroyed is to live a long time, well past your own and the following generation.



Fanny Burney (1785 by her cousin, like the other Burneys an artist, also partly supporting himself that way)

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The postscript written the next day:


1972 Emma:  Mr Elton's hand grasping Emma's in the carriage on the way home from Randall's (a world of light snow outside)

Wednesday.-The Snow came to nothing yesterday, so I did go to Deane, & returned home at 9 o'clock at night in the little carriage, -& without being very cold.-Miss Debary dines with us on friday as well as the Gentlemen.>

I saved it to note that it's written journal style and suggest we can also read these letters as entries in a diary -- addressed to a close sister, as Burney's diary is often a letter addressed to Susan. In both Burney and Jane Austen's mind they are also partly talking to themselves, they address their sister as ideal self or imagined audience who they hope will be understanding.

And second to say that here is a typical kind of "twig" that went into the books.  "The Snow came to nothing yesterday."  So it seems that a big storm, lots of snow was expected, but after all it was nothing much.  Here is a kernel for what happened the night before Christmas in Emma

From my calendar for Emma (on the Net):

From the 1813 almanac:

Sat, Dec 18th - then indeterminate time::
    the first of the 10 day visit of Knightleys; that evening Mr Knightley comes to dine; next morning John K to come to the Abbey; court plaister incident; there are visits, morning and evenings, evenings are quieter ...

Thurs, 23rd Dec:
   
Harriet spends day at Randalls, and gets a cold; she returns to Mrs Goddard because she wants to be nursed by her
Fri, 24th Dec:
   
Early in the day Emma visits Harriet, sits as long as she can, Mrs Perry spoken of; for dinner a Christmas visit to Randalls; that morning letter from Frank saying he means to come in a fortnight; the return drive in which Elton proposes


1972 Emma:  Emma having escaped Elton (Doran Goodwin, now arrived safely upstairs by her room in Hartfield) 

Sat, 25th Dec:
   
Emma awakens refreshed from sleep; snow on ground, though Christmas day, she cannot go to church

How little Christmas really figures as an important holiday in Austen's mind. She is wholly unemphatic that the incident with Elton occurs on Christmas Eve.  A modern US novel of a common type probably would never let us forget it.  (I like this in Austen so much.) Except as social occasions which bring people together, the way any shared interest might, Jane Austen ignores any sense that the days are at all numinous. 

Friday (which would be December 28th) they will have Miss Debary and the men from James Austen's house with them.  I see from this and another reference -- she gave Miss Debary a sheet of paper -- she is becoming friends with the woman hired to help Mary Austen.  She became friends with Anne Sharpe, hired as a governess but left pretty quickly. I imagine it was no fun to be governess for the passel of children Elizabeth Austen had, plus in a later letter we see that they could be bullies (when Caroline Austen visited them).  Later on we have the probably friendship with Mme Bigeon.  (I do like this in Austen too: here we see that like her father she crosses class boundaries.)

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Closing general comment on the letters thus far and their relationship to the novels:


From the 1995 P&P:  Lydia making a spectacle of herself. lolling. flirting, intoxicated (Julia Sawaltha plays the part)

While I would maintain that the letters show that Austen like most novelists takes her matter for her writing from the life about her and we can links the letters to the novels by the presence we find her, this letter also reminded me of how surprised I was when I read them as a group for the first time. Like many people, I don't know what I expected, but somehow not this, and it is the frequent tone and sometimes what her mind dwells on that surprises.  I remembered how when first reading these I often didn't like her.  I've mentioned my surprised upon now carefully reading them for the first time that she sounds like Lydia Bennet and sometimes acts so (now I dislike Lydia Bennet and think the novel means us to disapprove strongly of her for her unkindness and indifference, her materialism, a chip off Mrs Bennet's block, and her stupidity yes, her obtuseness); in this letter among the things that keep her equable or having a fun time (as people say) is the behavior at the ball:  "We teized him however into it at last." 

I thought this social behavior precisely the awful kind of thing she hits hard at in the novels. (I think we've had an instance of this before in one of the letters we've already read. I'm making blogs because this way I will be able to find all the comments as I begin to forget details from the earlier ones).  This is not unequable; it fits with the rest of the first half of the letter, the woman in the social world, not just comfortable in it but thriving on its terms to the extent that she can triumph over someone else.  So something comes out in this one and the others that is estranging to me and not what seems to me the predominant indwelling spirit of the novels which would preclude this kind of social cruelty.


1979 P&P  Home and married (Darcy paid for it), Lydia sneers at Jane and displaces her (look at Mrs Bennet approving ... )

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112 and 13

Ellen

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Mar. 20th, 2011 09:07 am (UTC)
Diane Reynolds's reading
I too sense Austen having regained an equilibrium of sorts in this letter, though I read discordant notes--the same sentences/phrases jumped out at me as at others. Wishing she could buy a dress ready made indicates her dissatisfaction with domestic concerns, a desire of distancing herself from the very things that are the "stuff" of her life, the stuff that is supposed to satisfy a young gentry woman.

The letter reveals a certain preoccupation, though not a necessarily satisfied one, with clothing, gowns, bonnets, appearances. I very much intuit, though I'm "reading in" that she is writing novels, and the clothes are the surface distractions, the life she is dressing herself in that masks the interior life. She conforms ... and yet ...

She consciously flattens her sister's "supping" with the prince and "meditating"on buying a new muslin gown, as if the one is as important as the other: "I am full of joy at much of your information; that you should have been to a ball, and have danced at it, and supped with the Prince, and that you should meditate the purchase of a new muslin gown, are delightful circumstances." This leveling is subversive. She knows exactly what she is doing as she writes. All of
this--princes and polka-dots--are equally important--and unimportant.

She writes, jokingly, of needing to hang herself for having nothing interesting to say after her news of her brother, and then mentions, again joking, that Lord Spencer will want to behead some of them for pestering him. Given how fluidly Austen moves from her reading to the real world, I imagine her reading history at the time she is writing this letter. Hangings and beheadings are on her mind, possibly making
her anxious and she is perhaps spewing some of this anxiety on to the page. (Now don't accuse me of cheap psychologizing.) The imagery of hanging and beheading is a discordant note in a letter full of domestic news and details, a juxtaposition I would imagine Austen was aware of and somewhat amused by. Is she consciously connecting the violence of the state--the violence that maintains order in a state (and as someone noted, we are still here in the age of public hangings) and a family--and her material goods? Whether or not, the connection, though tenuous, is there. The family is dependent on patronage, the whim of the powerful, part of a hierarchy based on violence, and JA accepts this, but not without an undercurrent. She is bright; she "gets" things. Does the navy make her think of hangings? Would it? Patronage apparently makes her think of beheadings, of the shadow side of coming to attention of the powerful. Is this connected to her hiding her novel writing? Her father--thank the heavens!!!-- thinks her writing good enough to be published and applies himself to
the task--but he could as easily have thrown her work into the fire. I see her thinking, weighing, judicious, carefully navigating the world she finds herself in.

As I read this letter, I remember a tour I took of Lancaster Castle, still a working prison, several years ago. Upstairs, the high-ceilinged, light-filled, elegantly appointed and meticulously maintained rooms, below the dark dungeons, and the two connected, literally, by staircases that could be reached through trap doors. The rich and powerful literally walked over the people imprisoned in the cells below (of course, these barbaric cells are no longer in use). The powerless were thus both invisible and ever present. Power was
nakedly on display, literally connected to and yet divorced from the misery it perpetrated below.

(Cont'd)
misssylviadrake
Mar. 20th, 2011 09:08 am (UTC)
Diane Reynolds's reading (2)
I see hints of Emma in the Christmas snow, the cold, her mother's dislike of the cold. The ball must have been a Christmas celebration. She sounds as if she genuinely enjoyed herself and is glad of it--balls are as likely as not to disappoint her. Dancing 20 dances without flagging, unless the dance were especially staid, reveals energy, good health. Her charities to the poor, I assume, are also connected with Christmas. She shows affection for people she likes. Is
her "Lydia mode" an affectation, a front? I sense her engaged in a certain amount of self-parody of her public self, the self that fits the approved mold. Even while enjoying herself, that edge is there. She is watching herself--watching or fancying people people watching her bonnet. She is conscious. She does know she will sound "insipid," even if only to herself, if only in what she chooses to write in this letter.

Diane Reynolds
misssylviadrake
Mar. 20th, 2011 09:09 am (UTC)
In reply to Diane
I want to respond to Diane Reynolds's true close reading -- and also of course thank her. I've not been extrapolating into themes beyond the obvious connections to the novels and what's more explicitly stated or "joked" about. I'm impressed by how Diane has seen a theme and set of imagery running through this letter. Yes her making dresses again and again the theme of patronage.

Ellen
misssylviadrake
Mar. 20th, 2011 01:18 pm (UTC)
On Deirdre LeFaye's edition
On Janeites one of the member issued a pious worship of thanks to LeFaye. She worked hard, added a few letters and her edition has come out in paperback.

But like the recent Cambridge, her edition is based on Chapman's editing; she went over his and added letters but he did much of the original work as he did for the novels. Her biography is no more authoritative than that of Jenkins, Fergus, Tomalin, Nokes. She just as often (more than some) offers interpretation; you have to, and lots of hers are tendentious.

This note on how the Austen sisters wanted Frank to marry Martha is a mild case in point: she wants to erase this lest we glimpse family pressure (Frank was not a man who could garner a big prize in the marriage market and would be subject to taking a woman he did not like)

As to her notes in this edition generally, they are hard to use; she often doesn't tell you what you want to know (sometimes she doesn't know) and tells you lots of things you don't need to. The indexes are hard to use, not cross referenced and there is no literary index.

The values here are those of Lord Bradborne. She is Lord Bradbourne updated using Chapman's texts.

Further, her review of others are sometimes venomous; she castigates and wrongly accuses what she doesn't approve of. Her favorite tactic is to declare something has so many hundred errors or tens of errors. when you look it up you discover her errors are her differing interpretations -- so she bad-mouthed the ODNB because she didn't approve of it, agree with it by declaring it had all these errors. She is ferociously against the idea that Eliza was Hasting's biological daughter and will misrepresent one of Henry's letters to make her case, and ferociously on the side that the aunt did not steal the lace. Slightly crazy over these two things.

E.M.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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