misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 18, 21-23, Mon-Wed, January 1799

Dear friends and readers,

After the initial apology at the opening, this letter turns into another in an equable tone, a sort of jog-trotting with occasional flashes of wit, very much a journalizing (diary) writing sort of letter. Perhaps it may be caught up in one of the cogent utterances: although we have to look at another disappointing dance (with apparently one occurring in the missing letter which may the "shabby" one Austen worried would not be acceptable to Cassandra), Austen. Sometimes she soars (as when she longs to go with Charles into the countryside), sometimes jokes, sometimes is stoic, occasional discomfort (in details about family vexations).

But as in just about all the letters while we can see an impression of similar imagery and concerns across a letter, there are swift changes in tone, and this one has much discomfort (when it comes to the relatives, disappointment in the ball (yes she loves to dance) though not mortification this time and no quizzing, teizing of others. The letters' imagery and tone work by association in part: so the next line after she says she does not wait for an opportunity to enjoy herself says that Mary was not "fidgetty." I take it Jane was not fidgetty as she sat down during the ball.  The tone also does not work by association or it works in reaction suddenly, so suddenly she is scathing.

I note this and the last have ceased the many references to sex through women's bodies being taken over by pregnancies, childbirths &c. Mary Austen's ordeal and agon are no longer in front of her to remind her.  And much less irritation at her mother -- she is aware of this later in the letter (as she has been asked to mention the mother) and it may be the absence of these which helps the tone along.

I'll preface this with a concession:  Of course I see the problems of trying to gain insight from a scissored remnant written to a narrow-minded woman who carps.  But I'll soldier on as long as I am gaining knowledge of Austen and her novels through the letters. An occasional un-tampered one shows her genius; I've been really surprised to find the analogies with P&P, MP, Emma (not S&S as that's crudely obvious -- though not the parallels of Edward and John Dashwood) and say the snubbing incident. I have changed my mind on the Lefroy incident: I now think it was serious if thwarted ruthlessly.

This is not as interesting a letter as some we've had.  Not that it doesn't tell us some things and adds a few:  Austen's desire to ride deep and free into the country like Charles; her bad eyes used as an excuse to urge her not to write (apparent kind motives, but implicit not valuing what she's doing, plus the cost of candles, paper), again a ball disappoints (what Austen goes for is dancing, is the sheer delight, not performatively to find a husband or be found), how the Austens are not exactly those people rush to visit, Charles's personality and at the close Jane imagining a woman threesome (who shall be as happy as we).


The Netherfield Ball as depicted in the 1979 BBC P&P

So the first section. It opens with an apology for her previous letter (not letter 17 though) in language which has *humbleness* (how painful it is to see this) inscribed into it: "I will endeavour to make this letter more worthy your acceptance than my last, which was so shabby a one that I think Mr Marshall could never charge you with postage."

There was a ball between the one where she was snubbed and this letter: not only have they been tearing, but that ball was in a dusty place and made them worse.

As I go I suddenly see something I would not have just grazingly:  this line is referring to her writing novels and it seems she has been urged to stop for the sake of her eyes:  "I use them as little as I can, but you know and Elizabeth knows, and everybody who has had weak eyes knows, how delightful it is to hurt them by employment, against the advice and entreaty of all one's friends."

So to the word "employment" comes in a sentence which has nothing to do with dancing even though we are told in the previous "the dust of the ballroom" injured them a good deal.  She is now writing again and that's why she brings up her eyes. In the previous letter her hurting eyes were to be helped by stopping activity in a sentence which referred to writing. So I take it this urging has to do with writing too -- or more with writing as writing is what she does much more.

I wonder what kind of candles her family allowed her in writing her novels. There were very cheap ones. Also how many she was allowed.  In this line we see they were urging her to stop writing. I doubt at this stage they foresaw a full decade before she could publish.  Maybe they were not keen for her to publish; like Burney's friends and relatives, they might have thought it useless -- in terms of real money or prestige.  Better to get married :)

Let us imagine her trying to write her eyes hurting, the cost of paper, the candles and being urged to stop. Why does Elizabeth Austen know particularly? Perhaps at Godmersham when others were downstairs having this so-called good time, Austen stayed upstairs and wrote?

Now we get the news that Charles did come. The last extant letter was still expecting him -- at the dance.  The portrait of Charles here coheres with the one that saw him out and out complain and write to one of the patrons when he saw Frank was getting something and he wasn't.  Rambunctious (something Austen herself is not allowed):

His "boss" clerk has told him he must go to the Tamar and accept a westward sail.  Charles does not want that:  "much grieved ... does not approve of this at all .." and the next line suggests Charles may just show up so late he won't be on the ship when it sails. We are told he did attempt to go but the coaches were so full. (Reminds me of a student glad not to come to class when he finds the traffic is too heavy). Jane doesn't mind him back; she is not one of the ambitious ones in this family (if she were she'd not be writing novels, and we see her shame at the patronage crawling.)

He knows he cannot escape easily and if he sees his delay tactics have no effect he will go on a night coach.

I like Austen for this: she longs to go with him -- for the relief, the escape, the exercise, to see the countryside for after all (now we have our first joke) she is an expert at the countryside (Gilpin?)

1995 S&S:  Willoughby's curricle

"I want to go with him, that I may explain the country to him properly between Canterbury and Rowling, but the unpleasantness of returning by myself deters me."

Also the cost.

Still she dreams of this and "suprising them at Godmersham."  This reminds me of how little escape or freedom she can dream of, for where could she end up, but Godmersham.  A girl character in Last Orders tries to escape, gets on the road, and finds she does get rid of teh abuse of one family, but only ends up in another for safety -- luckily a better set of people.

Still on Charles: much admired at Kintbury -- so Jane did not go with him then or see him then. Mrs Lefroy "never saw anyone so improved in her life" even "handsomer than Henry" (one of the miniatures does show Henry to have a pleasant look.  (Reminder though from her letters one sees she is a flatterer and will say what pleases others, but there is no irony here as in Emma about compliments.) 

Jane concedes he must appear to more advantage in Godmersham where he "is neither oppressed by a pain in his face or powder in his hair."  Lots of people think nuclear families provide a license to complain and Charles did.  At Godmersham apparently the new fashion of no powder was in.

Topic change: now we hear about these children.  A Christening and then everyone deserts. Plus ca change, moins ca change ... This thought prompts her associative comment on an analogous event: the birth of a living. Someone got a niche: Edward Cooper. A letter to Mrs Austen; a family connection of hers pushed for that (for it's a Mrs Leigh who writes). Jane's comment is now since Hamstall-Rider is a good way off

"we shall see nothing more of them, till some 15 years from hence. the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine jolly handsome ignorant girls."

Her characterization of these mythical grown children reminds me of her characterization of George grown up. She has a penchant for dismissal.  But we may pardon this by seeing the full context:  it's the one assumed when we are told Lady Catherine has the Collinses over since she has no one better; when it's implied the Elliots at Bath need more company as they've nothing to offer anyone any more. 

The next sentence reminds me that Isabella Thorpe's hard point of view didn't come from nowhere.  140 a year is not much, it's very little. So "how will they be able to convey the furniture" in safety? 

Then a joke (again like the one hoping for banruptcy in someone's career, this has not been noticed; only the jokes about dead babies -- but this is an analogous way of thought:

"Our first cousins are all dropping off very fast." (As in my analogy of Lady Catherine's behavior, the thought here is no one will visit the George Austens as there is nothing to gain much. Plus ca change ... )

Mrs Ferrars (S&S) not the only one to have her family grown and decrease with rapidity.

Then the literal explanation: one to Staffordshire, one dead, one incorporated.

As with her comments on Frank's being made, she does not leave out the big boss who engineered all this: Lord Craven. The man holding it had been Rev Charles Jonson who is now dead. The interest here is partly for Cassandra: this was the income she and Tom Fowles were to have existed upon.  Cassandra has hoped for Fulwar but Jane says she is dreaming for Craven has closer people he will favor ("more intimate ones").

Welcome to Jane Austen's world.

Then another unsatisfactory ball.  The illness of a Mr Wither was partly responsible. Some alarming complaint (there was no scientific medicine and people could just up and die) and his relatives and friends (Catherine hoping to marry him?) kept away; so too Heathcotes; all went to Winchester.

Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth Bennet in the first unsatisfactory assembly dance (1979 BBC P&P)

Darcy is not alone in not wanting or being good at going outside of his set.

This illness was great "for conversation" but not so good for dancing (at least 4 men gone and one older [lively?] woman, a Mrs Russell).

Then the half-ironical supposition: while for the most part she assumes all this pious concern and running about hypocritical, perhaps not in his case, but the opening of the sentence is charged with her irony: that is her deeply rooted stance; "poor man! ... so useful .. his character so worthy" is the sort of thing that introduces a sting. Here she does say she really thinks there is actually some sincerity here.

Then who was there, how noisy, and the odd set of men who asked her.  Then the aphorism I quoted yesterday: writes:  "I had a very pleasant evening, however, though you will probably find out that there was no particular reason for it; but I do not think it worth while to wait for enjoyment until there is some real opportunity for it" (p. 38).

If we did [wait], we'd be waiting for a long time indeed is the wry idea.

She was not a wallflower at least, no useless manipulation.

We might ask why she has a hard time getting partners. It's not hard to see why. in the earlier letters (3-4 years) she's younger. These dances are courtship rituals and they are performed under the eyes of chaperons. They are really done to find marriageable presentable partners. Jane may enjoy them -- in the way she would love to go with Charles out into the countryside, but for many people (performative in their behavior) this was a place to find a partner. She had no money; she was known to be smart (and satirical) and now getting on.

She has not sold where she could and she is not for most markets. Myself I love her for this and of course it provided the novels but because she does not herself write with the implicit reason for these dances made plain (exploitative) we should not forget it.

As she changes her topic here, we can have a picture and new turn

From the 1995 P&P:  Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet parodying Mr Darcy rejecting her haughtily

Monday's journal entry for this letter is frustrating for Austen refers Cassandra to "Anna's letter" for Mary's behavior. What were the "history of her adventures" at the ball will remain forever unknown. We can only say (perhaps ironically) she "behaved very well and was not at all fidgetty."

Charles is again on her mind.  He may not have wanted to join his ship going in the direction it was, but he has been made anxious ("frightened") into complying to the point of getting himself some material for a shirt. And he cannot escape Mr Daysh who has supposed to the family what Charles now has his commission, but he was again lucky: according to Southam, he rejoined his patron, Sir Thomas Williams as Second Lieutenant on the Endymion, which Southam takes from the last part of this letter (see Wednesday 23rd part) -- Southam says he wanted action (there would be more prize money possibly); we can see he also wanted to be near a patron.

Guess who has to create, sew, make it.  Cassandra. No trivial task by the way.  Hours and hours.  She's paid by being given the place in her family to live.

These glimpses of Charles are repeated in Southam's book and I agree with Southam we have twigs towards William Price here.

So now we are come to Tuesday. Jane again begins with compliments. She is glad to receive letters from Cassandra and says one is like an essay and "ingenious" and funny. The topic was happy fortnights. It seems to have been satiric for Jane then says "whenever I fall into misfortune" so Cassandra's fortnight was not happy.  We get this girlish kind of talk she occasionally uses to Cassandra, a left-over from schooldays:  the letter will "furnish jokes" for her acquaintance or "I shall die dreadfully in their debt."   "Talobert skin" has defied all the people making notes.

Whatever were the misfortunes they were probably wound up with the Austen family at Godmersham for this brings to mind Austen's mother about whom she's been silent. She excuses herself for not teling but "I thought you would have no difficulty in divining its exact state, you who have divined far greater things."

The tone here is that of Harriet Smith talking to Emma, congratulating Emma on her great insights in the conference where Emma had been clueless that the man Harriet loved was Mr Knightley.

And now we get a straight explanation:  yes it's that Austen sees her mother as complaining unnecessarily: the mother is "tolerably well," but she "would tell you herself that she has a very dreadful cold in her head at present .."

Jane has little compassion for people with such bad colds when they are not accompanied by fever or sorer throat.

They are an invention.

We now move into a whole series of particulars on the family members. Cassandra saved all this so one must suppose it gave her a kick too and release to read wry comments on the relatives; the tone is not aggressive ends on hoping to see Cassandra so I assume these were the sort of particulars that in this case Cassandra wanted to be told.

2007 MP: Fanny Price delighting in William's presence (William a composite portrait)

The line which describes Charles as "our own particular brother" is often used

A joke about Edward's hypochondria:  Jane did not tell of Charles's short cut hair lest it trouble Edward and "retard his recovery."

All these perfectly well sick people.

But Edward need never fear for Mr Austen has sent him a pig. Alas it is "not to weigh more than nine stone"  The joke is again on Edward's greed for unless it's a huge sow pigs usually don't weigh that much.  Imagine it sent by a cart.  Apparently Jane is not the only one irritated by Edward's tenacity for having as much as he can of whatever it is: Mrs Austen will compensate herself for the salt she supplied and the trouble she took in ordering other stuff.  It's yet another joke linking her father to a pig; he's stretching his tithes; here sending something to Edward (who will carp at it because it's not big enough and so jokes flow again.)  

Now they have had one dead lamb.  (It's the contrast again; as the brothers have so much, she might as well go hang herself, as they send Edward a big pig, so they leave themselves one dead lamb?)

Two people at Godmersham getting married. I do have a family tree in my house of the Finches form my work on Anne Finch; suffice to say they were all rich enough.

Jane would like to see Cassandra at home -- but they have to wait two more months and she is tiring of assuring others.  People have been asking why she stays?  (to be a housekeeper and maid and child-carer that's why).

Jane will be very happy if Cassandra can return, they have Martha and they are able to shirk .. "who shall be as happy as we"

Who? Alas, there's a snip  and if the previous many letters are any prediction we might have another twig which went into a satized character in the novels.,. (the snip could be Lord Brabourne who had a go at the remnant he acquired)

She does like Martha and in two weeks hoped to go to Ibthorpe, and now ends on her eyes which "are pretty well, I thank you,if you please."

She had better not complain for unlike the mother and brother if she does she is then nagged not to write. Her lifeline.

And she got up and the last paragraph was scratched out quickly with Charles's luck and Fanny Austen Knight's birthday ...

Benjamin Whitlow as Mr Austen after the dance at Lucas Lodge (he seems to me the closest to the role as Austen conceived it, 1995 BBC P&P)


Imogen Poots as the young Fanny Austen Knight (2008 Miss Austen Regrets)

On Wednesday Jane wishes Fanny a happy birthday and that she may each time get as much pleasure from the day as she does now from her dolls.  Charles's triumph at being the Second Lieutenant on the Endymion (so going in the direction he wants, with is patron too)  The Tamar was never refitted.  All this "pleases him".  I am not sure what match Austen's mother and father made for Cassandra, but this has some interest as showing the family did not give up on Cassandra marrying; apparently the candidate was thought "beautiful" by Austen's mother.

2007 MP: again William enacted as nervy and please (that's Aunt Norris being pushed back, hitherto a termagent, but not quite in this movie)


An image of one of Jane's letters to Godmersham (enough to strain anyone's eyes)
General comment:

The letters' imagery and tone work by association in part: so the next line after she says she does not wait for an opportunity to enjoy herself says that Mary was not "fidgetty." I take it Jane was not fidgetty as she sat down during the ball.  The tone also does not work by association or it works in reaction suddenly, so suddenly she is scathing.  Now there I thought she saw in Mr Withers someone whom people were sincere about when they said they missed him and after the initial mockery, right to miss. 

Diane says she likes Austen as she sees her in these letters.  Partly I do: we see in this letter a refusal to be coopted which becomes explicit and thematic in the novels. It's implicit because not only does she not argue against any values she sees around her, it's more than she simply herself does not take them aboard. She does not talk vulgarly about the dance as who is getting what man or how much he's worth while she's there.  She feels shame at her relatives' sycophancy and by bringing up the contact does not buy into the idea many today also subscribe to that the person getting the promotion did it because they earned it out of skill or some feat: no, it's Gambier or Lord Craven's doing (and because of some relative connection).

But it would be with the proviso that one could get her to be friends.  These are guarded letters, strongly and if she's guarded with this sister, what would be her stance to the outside world so to speak. You get very different descriptions of her by outsiders, and Henry in his hagiographical biography says "her real" character in a tone which suggests most misunderstood her. She was not performative in public in order to manipulate people (that I like) nor was she a liar (truth telling is what we see in these letters too) but also she didn't perform to strangers -- no networker would be the modern phrase, no smooching. Here's another element in her character I like.

And partly not: she has a strong tendency to take an unsympathetic view in an immediate way. If she sees someone and they are susceptible to physical mockery, she will say so immediately and describe them mockingly.  Little slack given others, her impulses are not kind. She has a way of using people: that's part of her impulse as a novelist: they are figures to be worked with as a writer, to make fun of/with.

We do continually come up against the remnant nature of these documents -- in a way they are documents left over as one can't really finally argue for them as Jane Austen's letters as she left them and they appeared before the several destructions and censorships.  I wanted to suggest that while one could read the tone of Letter 17 as light despite the obvious remembered mortification, the next letter suggests that Austen saw what she had written as bleak -- or it was complained about by Cassandra:

"I will endeavour to make this letter more worthy your acceptance than my last ..."  Jane now agrees with Cassanera:  "which was so shabby a one that I think Mr Marshall could never charge you with the postage."  Marshall was the innkeeper and postmaster where Cassandra lived. I know a little about the post office since Trollope worked there for 37 years full-time, and among other things not until the mid-19th century was most of the corruption rooted out, so it might be that Mr Marshall charged a bit more than he should have.

Clearly an irritant to Cassandra when she picks up this letter not worthy her acceptance.

Except that Letter 17 did not come just before Letter 18; Letter 18 is not referring to Letter 17, but to missing one.

We can see only that this experience sunk into her memory and emerged as the gold of the humiliation at the Crown Inn and can be said to form part of the background of the exultant rejection of Darcy we may assume was part of _First Impressions_ (already written).

Yes the object is to study the letters themselves, not to read secondary studies or other letters by her relatives or friends who have already put so many barriers up and framed her as they wanted us to see them.

2009 Emma:  Harriet hurrying to Miss Woodhouse with Mr Martin's proposal (as in the 1995 Emma by Davies, she's played with sensitivity and naivete)

To me the line to Cassandra sounded more Harriet-like than Lydia: Lydia is not sensitive enough to respond to anyone's tone of mind; Harriet is as clueless but she is willing to overpraise Miss Woodhouse (as Jane does Cassandra).  Light bright and sparking is an exaggeration and the phrase taken from a letter which burlesques other novels as well as mis-characterizes her own

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17

Tags: jane austen criticism, jane austen novels, jane austens letters, women's art, women's memoirs

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