misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 20, Sun, 2 June 1799, Queens Sq: a site de memoire for Cassandra

Dear friends and readers,

The letter reveals its remnant nature and how it's one saved from a long packet of several a week at the time; it tells of shopping (for herself and others, including for shoes, and much a joking delight on the artifice of natural elements in hats), walking, a time at a concert, of Edward's use of medical electricity and Austen's ironical attitude towards him (once again); the intriguing and enigmatic (because all the context is now missing) element as far as the content goes is her strong inability as recorded by her in the letter to enjoy what were considered the pleasures of such a visit (scenery, walks, music at the concert).


This is one of those letters that are self-evidently a remnant.  Austen's letter announcing Frank's promotion (16) was saved because she pleased her sister by celebrating this promotion with relatively little irony. It's followed by two (17 and 18) where she writes about how much she is trying to please Cassandra.  Thus the set (all 3) bring home to us how what we have mirrors Cassandra's will as well as shaped to Cassandra's mindset (insofar as Austen can without losing her casual but stubborn integrity).

Milsom Street, Bath

This one is stark in its gaps.  Two weeks have gone by and we've no letter about the time. The letters show that Austen kept a journal (in effect), despite all ironic disclaimers in the book she was working on at the time (Susan, later called Northanger Abbey).  (Davies has a visual joke undercutting Catherine's denial to Henry Tilney, again showing how deeply he has read Austen.)  We hear nothing of the delayed trunk any more, but we do have a worry over her packing, which she suggests is somehow different from that of the others. So I assume she is referring to her writing or books:  "We shall have many more things to take back, & I must allow besides for my packing."  The italics are Jane's.

This would otherwise feel like a similarly ambivalent letter to 19 -- but as we all know passages cut -- 6 to 7 lines -- can change the tone of a text utterly, and here we have two such snippets. The first comes after a comment on Elizabeth Austen and hats, but it is more nearly allied/aligned with Austen's irritation at the games of silence and refusal of explanation her family would play: "Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to Explanation, so as to give a clear one on any occasion myself -- but I must write no more of ...

There is a sharp playlet in the juvenilia where Austen sends up just this kind of insidious power game, "The Mystery" (Oxford, JA, Catherine and Other Writings, pp 53-54). I've wondered if this playet is a satiric sketch; the knowing nods there show Austen understood the use of exclusion to control those not in the know and how much this exacerbated bad feeling.  Come to think of it, there's a passage in NA written just about this time where John Thorpe's one sister plays on not telling the other sister and triumphs over her.  I suggest what's left out here is the familial origin of these records of grating morally stupid behavior.

The second comes after Austen describes a Concert (and reveals her dislike of what she saw as hypocritical pretended liking of music -- because it was much admired socially -- which she found dull and showed everyone she did). Then a passage which suggests -- reminding me of Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot -- that another of the Austen family's connections through Anne Matthew, Lady Willoughby is going to participate in some ceremony which will flatter her and make much of her rank (she is "to present the Colours to some Corps ...) and the Austen family is now eager to participate in this "proper Commencement ..." Here there's the same use of the "we" as in Letter 19, Austen is referring to the way the family as a whole sweeps on, assuming she is of course with them in their feelings.  And then cut away, top of the page.  I assume some acid kind of reflection where she names the relatives especially concerned.

How Austen seems to loathe the ceremonies of lies; we see she dislikes rituals which are cruel -- at least feels for the person put in the center at them. (So did Trollope).

For the rest the letter has the same mix as Letter 19: she is amused at women wearing flowers and fruits, and "submits to be pleased [over a walk] despite my inclinations," actually enjoys a walk! (Village of Charlcombe).  When I read this sentence with its embedded ironies against herself I thought of Mrs Dashwood's dry response to Elinor Dashwood's pessimism and disillusionments.  This is, as Austen herself knows, Austen allowing herself a form of cheer :). ON the other hand, she is not enjoying Edward's posturing over his health, and looking forward to returning home, except a nagging worry over her packing.  She is anxious lest she again not be given space and time for her things, what matters to her in this packing.

One different element is the doodle where Austen is evoking the pattern of some lace.

Cassandra did not eliminate the PS: this tells us that their correspondence was so frequent as to "quite surprise" the Uncle Perrot.  Now it may be this man is not at all inward and would not begin to appreciate an inward life -- after all he liked that harridan of a wife of his which argues some obtuseness. I take it that Austen needed to let off steam, or she really enjoyed writing letters about the experience of Bath more than Bath itself -- perhaps that book on autistic characters in Austen should have been about autistic characteristics in Austen herself.  The relatives may not have liked her recusing herself away from the others (the way people don't like friends and family leaving a main room and going off to write on the Net).  What interests me here is Cassandra did not think to hide that this is just a tiny remnant of these weeks.  She wanted to remember that they had had this frequent correspondence and so saved the one letter she felt was less critical (?) or unacceptable as a "site de memoire" (the French phrase signals how then one uses such a site to sit and meditate) for herself of all that had been written.

Then for the next 9 days there were more letter-journals but all gone.

To the particulars: Austen says she had two letters from Cassandra, one from herself and the other Mary (I assume Lloyd). There is a "pigeon basket" in which the letters are put and from that Austen was given her letters.

It does seem as if she has to get them through her relatives. I doubt any would be held back, especially Cassandra's. Still they do not come directly to her hand.

We learn of another letter beyond those to Cassandra in the interval now gone missing: to Mary Lloyd; their letters crossed as we would say.

She has been given some shopping to do: self-deprecation begins the utterance:  "I will lay out all the little Judgement I have ..."  For little Anna (the niece) stockings, for Martha shoes even if Austen is "not fond of ordering shoes."  I wonder what shoe stores were like suddenly. Did one have to bargain?  how would one order a shoe for someone who was not there? Did some general form come and then the customer have to refit it?

And now the association with Edward? What shall Austen say of him?  Truth or falsehood.  How much irritation with to downright alienation from Edward Austen we've seen in these letters. No he was no favorite. and now we get an account of his hypochrondriac activities; people did come to Bath for their health (or it was an excuse).  Then the mock "we:"

I fancy  we are all unanimous in expecting no advantage from it.

ON the use of electricity for symptoms we might today call nervous (because we don't know the etiology of them and they are mental troubles of various sorts which often aren't easily treatable by medication, there are numerous articles.

Whether Edward was having recourse to the machine described in Paolo Bertucci's articles I don't know but it seems to me possible. It would have cost him a pretty penny probably.

This is of interest for itself, for, despite Austen's disdain, pain which can't be explained, other disorders are not the less real because they have a social or psychological origin.  (See Atul Gawandes "Pain Perplex" in his inimitable Complications).

There is a worthwhile historical novel set in Bath about doctoring: Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller.

Then the family news set out with milder ironies: "My mother seems remarkably well ..."  Less irony aimed at the uncle who "overwalked himself at first" but now on the mend.

A letter from Charles -- another letter gone missing. How many can we count by this time were we just counting those mentioned?

Then a long section about fashions which ends in the first cut away of six to seven lines.

From a film adaptation set in the 18th century: a millinery shop

My cloak is come home. I like it very much, and can now exclaim with delight, like J. Bond at hay-harvest, "This is what I have been looking for these three years." I saw some gauzes in a shop in Bath Street yesterday at only 4d. a yard, but they were not so good or so pretty as mine. Flowers are very much worn, and fruit is still more the thing. Elizabeth has a bunch of strawberries, and I have seen grapes, cherries, plums, and apricots. There are likewise almonds and raisins, French plums, and tamarinds at the grocers', but I have never seen any of them in hats. A plum or greengage would cost three shillings; cherries and grapes about five, I believe, but this is at some of the dearest shops. My aunt has told me of a very cheap one, near Walcot Church, to which I shall go in guest of something for you. I have never seen an old woman at the pump-room.

Elizabeth has given me a hat, and it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty style of hat too. It is something like Eliza's, only, instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon. I flatter myself, however, that you can understand very little of it from this description. Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to explanations as to give a clear one on any occasion myself! But I must write no more of this. .

Here we do have some real cheer and delight. Early on I put into Janeites an excellent article about how much fashion meant to women of this era.(

Jennifer M. Jones, Rousseau: Femininity and Fashion in Old Regime France," French Historical Studies, 18: 4 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 939-967)

Fashion meant to women in this era is a way of self-assertion, a valuing of the self and its paraphernalia. Austen can enter into a wider public world this way; she mocks it but she gets a great kick out of this marketing of artifice as nature. Alas Austen herself was not valued enough nor did she think perhaps to have herself drawn in her new hat. It resembled the sister-in-law who is associated with French fashions (Parisian) in Austen's mind, but then by association she becomes irritated with remembering some other aspect of (I assume) Elizabeth's exclusionary practices and behavior through the weapon of silence and pretended mystery and so turned angry and Cassandra snipped all away.

The last part of the letter finds Jane talking about coming home, though there were another 18 days to go. Most of the visit.

She is 'obliged to submit to being pleased inspite of my inclination" and we get a record of a lovely walk. Lane's book includes picturesque drawings of Bath which evoke what she experienced. She went during the later part of the day when in the US it would be near evening, but in England is still light (6 to 8). It seems to have been a whole group walking together: a Marianne (sensible and intelligent), Jane "considering how fair she is, is not unpleasant.'  She is indeed strongly reluctant to be pleased.

A Rev John Gould (19) is the "Very Young Man, just entered of Oxford" who is so ludicrously misinformed about who wrote _Evelina_.  Here I feel we see Austen triumphing over a male who went to university. He 'has heard" suggests he was insinuating his special knowledge.

Austen does not come across as very nice to be around :)

Back to the issue of shoes: now she cannot bring back Martha's shoes, "many more things to take back, & I must allow besides for my packing."


Canal at Sydney Gardens

There is to be a grand gala on tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens; -- a concert, with Illuminations & fireworks.

I see that Brabourne repunctuated, losing much of the quality of the prose, viz.,

To the latter Elizabeth and I look forward with pleasure, and even the concert will have more than its usual charm for me, as the gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound. In the morning Lady Willoughby is to present the colours to some corps, or Yeomanry, or other, in the Crescent, and that such festivities may have a proper commencement, we think of going to . . .

This too like the one above begins in a sort of cheer, here grudging, and then turns into something acid; it's the passage which is omitted and might just be an expression of irritated frustration.

Quite what is bothering her more deeply we cannot know, only guess (it might have been stated in the missing letters) for she's not having the good time she (so to speak) was probably meant to have.

She says she's quite pleased with Martha and Mrs Lefroy for wanting the pattern of their caps (the reference is to the enjoyment of fashion she must've talked about also in the missing letters and does in this one), "but am not so well pleased with your giving it to them."

Her excuse is it's good to have wishes unfulfilled for that "animates" "everybody's mind" and if you gratify all wishes, then people will "form some other which will not probably be half so innocent."

Perhaps she is talking indirectly of herself here.  My guess is if it's not that she grudges the cap patterns (and other having as pretty and fashionable a hat as she) that's it.  She is the one who has wishes unfulfilled and is saying ironically that's good because had she had them, she would have wanted some desires not so innocent as those which her family could fulfill.

She is on holiday with her family and meets friends.  She goes to pretty places, buys pretty things, has a pretty view.  But she does not do or get what she really wants and there are strong alloys in what she does get. Partly this is the disillusionment of many holidays, I just wish I knew what were the real alloys, what she told her family she'd like and they didn't or couldn't provide. I suppose we might guess what are these desires not so innocent, but they are not necessarily sexual. Cravings of ambition?  and thoughts about what she'd be willing to do (dream of doing) which would take from her her innocence. This does cohere with Johnson's language about not wanting things out of your power to get (he means riches, position, things, admiration, anything the deepest soul longs for out of sight of our power or money) as it's not good for your peace, tranquillity or innocence.

Then she will not forget to write to Frank. Another letter that is destroyed.

And the postscript about the uncle's surprise about the time she spends writing and the amount she gets from Cassandra.

She might have said to us had she known readers a couple of hundred years later would read this,

enigmatically yours,

ee 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19

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

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