misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 22, Wed, 19 June 1799: Kotzebue & Emma; derisive & compensatory tones

Dear friends and readers,

This last one from Queens Square, Bath, on this 1799 visit is as close to a simply chatty letter as we've had thus far. Perhaps this mood is a result of her opening with the Austen-Knight children near her, and her ending with taking down dictation from them. The children are either in the vicinity or her letter writing and/or on her mind -- so there is automatic inhibition.  The letter shows how inadequate is LeFaye's annotation when it comes to literary references:  she just mentions the play Austen went to was Kotzebue's Birthday and leaves it at that.  A reading of Kotzebue's play shows it's a source but has nothing to do with whatever feminism is found in and the real power of Emma. (This is supported by Margaret Doody's review of Kirkham's book -- see below)

Queens Square, Bath, about 1805

The letter is also notable for the attitude of mind -- narrow, unsympathetic (once again) towards Earle and his wife. Austen's conscious attitude towards sexual transgression, familial power to exclude members of a family and punish them reinforces the punitive harsh system of the time (and far from gone now) towards women and rebellious younger males.  She responds to the death of a Lyford with startling calculated thought about his wife's loss.  She refuses to enter into sympathy with a young widow.  At the same time, she is irritated by primogeniture as privileging her third brother egregiously and she does want to compensate Mary Pearson for the apparently unjust (perhaps derisive) treatment meted out to Pearson when she came to stay at Steventon as the result of a concluded engagement to Henry who himself was anxious to have her there and found that Eliza de Feuillide was the trophy both Austen brothers wanted. Had Mary Pearson been jilted through humiliation?

There is much in the letter on Edward, his ailments, his wealth, his worry lest he was snubbed. She is unwilling to believe in, much less empathize with social and emotional illness unless it's supported by a medical person whose mind or presence (momentarily) compels her respect.  

We see her usual grudging account of family and friend encounters -- her understandable dislike of the socially dysfunctional occasions her family are intent upon engaging with. These are slightly counterbalanced by Austen's enjoyment of the physical pleasures of Bath (e.g., walking in the landscape, see fireworks, the bodies of water).

To sum up, the letter contains her attitudes towards primogeniture, emotional or psychological illness in Edward; towards sexual transgression, a jilted young woman, a death, dysfunctional social life. She goes to the English version of Kotzebue's Birthday ...

To particulars;  First since Letter 21, Cassandra has written letters deliberately intended for the children. When Austen writes "as I fancy they will tell you before this is concluded," we know they are standing around her -- or close by in the room and she is allowing them to share her experience of writing.

I read Arnie's explanation of wafers and that's so can only what Austen could mean by "it did not lead to any suspicion of the truth."  I speculate this:  the purpose of the glue stick was to show someone that the letter had not been read by someone else.  I suspect that Austen opened Cassandra's letter, decided what she could "safely" read aloud to the children and then re-closed it. The wafer got over-wet from overuse. This "protection" of the children from untoward knowledge/remarks or knowledge/remarks they might repeat is understandable.

Jane is still running about to fulfill Cassandra and Martha's commissions. This late in her visit -- it suggests how desperate for fashions women in the country were.

"John Lyford's history is a melancholy one. I feel for his family, and when I know that his wife was really fond of him, I will feel for her too, but at present I cannot help thinking their loss the greatest." I looked up John Lyford in LeFaye, Tomalin, Nokes, Park Honan and found in LeFaye's notes at the book that this is not Austen's physician but another John Lyford who died 1799. He had just married in April 1799. So what this means is Austen finds his early death a piece with his unfortunate life. She feels for his family in losing him but does not for the wife until she may be sure she "was really fond of him" To me this suspicion the wife did not love the husband and so had no loss to grieve for such as Lyford's family feels over-disillusioned unless Austen knows that Lyford's wife didn't like him and is not admitting this information to Cassandra.  Still how cold this is.

Bath, Weston Churchyard

On Edward, Jane offers the ironic comment maybe gout will cure him of his complaint of lack of appetite and "sick and uncomfortable feelings."   This is hard irony but understandable from the next sentence: Edward was not so sick as not to be able to buy a pair of coach horses (an extravagance) at 60 guineas.

Mr Evelyn more interested in horses than his guest, Edward.  60 guineas for the 2 from Mr Evelyn. Then we get a litany of names of doctors. Dr Mapleton writes out more prescriptions than anyone else,  Her uncle and aunt look forward to meeting another niece Jane's age. A frank assessment of the real feelings shared by these people with one another and the Austens. " We are always very glad to meet, & I do not wish to wear out our satisfactions. 

The sum Edward spent is telling too  It's an absolute contrast to Austen's spending not just for the hat, but her paper.  I taught Graham's historical novel, Ross Poldark, this term and a couple of students were very alive to the sums spent as a index of class and privilege. Charles Poldark bets 100 guineas on a single cock-fight; Demelza makes a guinea a year, "all found" (plus her food and clothes).

Scene from 2008 BBC S&S: the Dashwoods and Robert Ferrars dine very well indeed

On last Sunday they "all drank tea at the Paragon".

In the middle part of this letter -- say until Austen introduces the subject of Edward Austen again, all his ailments, and what seems to me a narrow cruel bigoted (I'm not mincing words) attitude towards Earle's wife (one we saw in an earlier letter), the content falls into three topics or types.


A mixture of probably justified acidity on the pettinesses and manipulations of social life Austen finds herself endlessly having to endure and some pleasure in the physical plant and art pleasures of Bath, viz.,

She is glad to meet the Miss Mapletons as long as it's not often.  "We are always very glad to meet, & I do not wish to wear out our satisfaction."

The Evelyns whom the Austen suspected of snubbing them in a previous letter were finally well enough to see them at tea "the visit was very quiet & uneventful; pleasant enough."  What's interesting here is how suspicious the Austens were. Very sensitive to slight - that comes of being snubbed and being fringe people.

Then what she does enjoy (I copy and paste from Lord Brabourne's corrected version)

Gravel Walk, Bath

Last night we were in Sydney Gardens again, as there was a repetition of the gala which went off so ill on the 4th. We did not go till nine, and then were in very good time for the fireworks, which were really beautiful, and surpassing my expectation; the illuminations, too, were very, pretty. The weather was as favorable as it was otherwise a fortnight ago. The play on Saturday is, I hope, to conclude our gaieties here, for nothing but a lengthened stay will make it otherwise. We go with Mrs. Fellowes.


The above sentence contains the second:  we know that the play Austen saw was Kotzebue's The Birthday  This play has another title in the English translation: The Reconciliation.  Though in ECCO (where I found the text that was enacted in the theater) the text is not called The Birthday at all, in the headers it's referred to as The Reconciliation; or The Birthday.  If anyone wants a copy of this text I can sen it on as an attachment (ECCO had a number of Kotzebue's plays available in the popular English translations that were read and stage -- The False Shame is another). As Arnie says, Margaret Kirkham has argued it's a source for Austen's Emma; more that we can see from the Emma text and this play that Emma is, like all but Austen's last almost finished or truncated novel, Persuasion, the product of gradual rewriting over a long period of time.

It's not among the plays by Kotzebue that people single out as worth reading, and it has not been reprinted. The play that was liked and re-dramatized througout the 19th century was The Stranger -- still alluded to in Thackeray's Pendennis. The characters go to see it. The Stranger is about the break-up of a family, a woman who has a child out of wedlock and is ostracized for the rest of her life, an alienated male in this family (the stranger) and really deals centrally with painful issues then and now in family life.  The Robbers is a second important play dealing with social issues. A third I've not read but is reprinted is The Comedy, the Man which seems to share the equivocating moods of  Goldsmith; perhaps Goldsmith's The Good-natured Man partakes in ultimately same benign mood as Emma.   Lovers Vows is known only because Austen used it in Mansfield Park and Thompson's translation from the German shows it to be a much subtler better play than Inchbald's which is a dumbing down, popularization and partly censored variant. 

The one decent book on Kotzebue I know about is in French:  Charles Rabany.  

Kotzebue despite his sentimentalization is like Beaumarchais a partly subversive playwright; he was picked up by the 1790s in England as part of the birth of romanticism through German texts. Unfortunately English-American studies today still have big gaps when it comes to studying German and that's why this is a black hole of non-knowledge.

Old Theater Royal, Bath

I have read the play as translated by Dibdin, and Kotzebue's play has a number of idiosyncratic resemblances to Austen's Emma sufficient to make one feel, yes, this is remembered by Austen in her book; it is, however, by no means feminist, even as feminist as Emma (if you think Austen's book is feminist).  Like The Stranger and to some extent Lovers Vows (in the manner of Beaumarchais's Marriage of Figaro), there is an exposure of general social injustice, the ruthlessness and venality of the upper classes as such, but much less than these two plays.  The woman who are treated badly are part of this vein of social critique, but they are themselves stigmatized more than the women in Lovers Vows. There are two brothers linked by a shared property over which they have quarrelled (so there is a contrast rather than parallel with Austen's brothers Knightley), and one has a housekeeper, Mrs Grim, who is his mistress. She is not abused -- except if you think insults are abuse, which they may be, only she insults back. Nothing like the bad treatment of Agatha by Baron Wildenhaim. In fact the truth is the parallels are general: one of the brothers is old, sick, perhaps dying and he has a daughter, name of Emma, who is utterly loyal to him and says she will not marry as long as her father is alive.  The happy ending is the reconciliation of the brothers. This is really the extent of the allusoin and the power of Austen's text does not at all derive from anything she got from Kotzebue's play. Kotzebue's play has power: it has two disabled figures, a deaf shoemaker and one of the characters is blind. One of the elderly servants, Ann, is a pathetic wreck.  There is real sympathy for the lower characters in the comedy -- it's supposed to be poignant. There's a doctor, a soldier returned from the war.  Kirkham has not represented the real mood of this play which in the translation has a curious coarse pathos.  There is very little erotic romance, and Frank Blum consoling the old woman Ann is much more typical of the heterosexual interaction which is familial -- rather like Wordsworth's poetry.

There is no equivalent for Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax -- who I suggest carry the strongly feminist exposure of the play: what happens to a woman who does not marry or who has to work as a governess. The Emma in the play does not reject marriage as such in the way of Austen's Emma, nor is she frigid. In fact this is a de-sexualized play in comparison with Lovers Vows and Austen's MP.

A review of Kirkham's book by Margaret Doody in Nineteenth-Century Fiction,  39:4 (1985): 465-471 supports my analysis. While Doody is willing to agree that The Birthday could be a remembered source for Emma, Doody says Kirkham's whole discussion overeliant on this parallel, a distortion caused by Kirkham's desire to say something new. Many of Kirkham's ogres (Richardson, Johnson) are not ogres at all; to defeat Marilyn Butler's reading of Austen as reactionary you need to close read the novels.

Contemporary print of Augustus Kotzebue

They also saw a romance of Bluebeard that night: an experience that may have gone into Austen's NA - which Cassandra tells us Jane was writing at the time.


The third topic is Miss Pearson and here it's worth going into also.  It appears from Nokes's account -- the fullest -- that Miss Mary Pearson, eldest daughter of a captain was badly enough treated by Henry (and perhaps other members of the Austen family) that Jane herself did what she could to make up to the young woman her loss.  LeFaye's reference to her pages are disingenuous. She says nothing but repeats the surface comments in the letters, managing also to avoid what on the surface we see shows something ugly happened.

Interestingly I can't quote the passage from Brabourne because he cuts most of it.

"The Post has been friendly to me, it has brought me a letter from Miss Pearson. You may remember I wrote to her above two months ago about the parcel under my care, & as I had heard nothing from her since, I thought myself obliged to write again two or three days ago, for after all that had passed I was determined that the Correspondence should never cease thro' my means. -- The second Letter has produced an apology for her silence, founded on the Illness of several of her family. -- The exchange of packets is to take place through the medium of Mr Nutt, probably one of the sons belonging to the Woolwich Academy, who comes to Overton in the beginning of July. -- I am tempted to suspect from some parts of her Letter that she has a matrimonial project in view -- I shall question her about it when I answer her Letter; but all this you know is en Mystere between ourselves."

All the letters here are destroyed. Miss Pearson's, Jane's, all of it. On pp. 162-64 in Nokes we learn that Henry had gotten himself engaged to Miss Pearson (we had hints of this in one of Jane's letters - remember they are cut and censored in ways we don't know) during the time Eliza de Feuillide was angling for, flirting with both Henry and James.  Henry thought that Eliza was to marry James and that's why he engaged himself to Mary Pearson. Description by Eliza has Mary Pearson as a "pretty wicked looking girl with bright black eyes which pierce through & through."  In letter 12 while in Kent Jane warns Cassandra that Miss Pearson is no beauty, that Mrs Austen will be disappointed (Letter 12) and that Miss Pearson does not resemble her picture.

Maria Bertram as Agatha, Henry Crawford as Frederick, her incestuously loving son (2007 ITV MP)

On route from London to Rowling Jane met her sister-in-law at Henry's request and Henry wanted Jane to bring Miss Pearson back to Steventon with her. This was when she was again stuck for transport: Jane couldn't tell who would take her back to Steventon: Frank in a week, Henry and Miss Pearson in a month, or Edward when he goddam well felt like it.  It's an unkind passage but then Austen is in a state of understandable irritation, once again dependent on people who take her desires in last.

Then when Miss Pearson came to Steventon, Nokes says the disappointment was mutual and the engagement broken off (p. 166). Henry, Nokes says, sought sympathy from Eliza who wrote Phylly "He looks thin & ill."  Then we get a snide comment by Eliza: Henry's "late intended" was well-known as "a most intolerable flight, & reckoned to give herself great airs."  This is November when James is pressing Eliza for a yes -- before he turned to Mary Lloyd.

In 1815 Miss Pearson comes up again in Austen's letters and there she has returned to cold treatment of Miss Pearson as an object not subject, as a means of amusement: "what a contretemps" (Nokes, p 315)

We see here a young woman desperate to marry. She apparently hasn't got great connections, little dowry and not much beauty. Her portrait is an exaggeration.  If she gave herself airs, according to Eliza, maybe she was protecting herself from this internecine kind of seething emotion she found herself caught up with.

Jane rightly feels guilty about whatever happened but also see the determination of the woman to find a husband anywhere it seems. I feel for Miss Pearson and have spent this amount of time on this to show the case of another young woman like the Austens (little money, few connections, no prestige, not beauties) and also the atmosphere in Steventon in the 1790s when they put on plays which went into the playacting of Mansfield Park.

The group of young people play-acting, rehearsing, in costumes (2007 ITV MP)


After the passage about Mary Pearson, Austen returns to her brother's ailments.  The apothecary came and left over the duration it took Austen to write this letter -- suggesting a journalizing rhythm and pace.  In this section there is no irony directed towards Edward; Austen was impressed by the apothecary who appears to have taken Edward's symptoms seriously.

"Edward has seen the apothecary to whom Dr. Millman recommended him, a sensible, intelligent man, since I began this, and he attributes his present little feverish indisposition to his having ate something unsuited to his stomach. I do not understand that Mr. Anderton suspects the gout at all; the occasional particular glow in the hands and feet, which we considered as a symptom of that disorder, he only calls the effect of the water in promoting a better circulation of the blood" (Lord Brabourne's corrected text)

I'd like to qualify what I said about Austen's narrow-minded lack of sympathy in this third reference to Earle and his wife. It's still caustic - though perhaps a true account of man's motives in attempting to silence nasty gossip over his wife's sexual past. Austen does not look at pride, a desire to protect his wife's pride as motives but rather it's vanity and a stupid kind of male boasting: that is, he triumphs in front of others by gaining this sexualized woman. (This kind of 9th grade or bar-room boasting does not strike me as a probable motive for speaking out against neighborhood venom. Where we can qualify Austen's unsympathetic attitude towards another woman is her statement:  "I daresay she was nothing but a Country girl."  I bet she was. I wish though that the statement was made to rebute the kind of lurid imaginings that fuel such gossip, not made to bring Earle down a rung.

Weston Church, Bath -- it is lovely and unpretentious

More generally, I went back to Letter 10 and 14 where she mentions Earle and his wife. It does seem this is a sort of obsession with her.  I grant that we are missing a majority of the letters, so many to other people so that she returns to make snide or semi-snide remarks on Earle and his (they ought to be grateful others are accepting her, they take a job on a prison ship; it's sexual boasting, vanity which makes him try to make stories to protect his wife) can be Cassandra who saved these parts of these letters.  Diane sees irritated resentment at a woman made out to be more than she is by Earle and sees Mrs Elton coming out of the same complex of emotional response; we can then make the parallel as Emma to Mrs Elton so Jane to Mrs Earle.  Perhaps she was jealous; in yet another letter she mentions a Mr Harwood again as one of two shallow young man.

Then we get the children's writing. We see what the children were taught was acceptable to say in a letter.  They echo what they hear the adults say:  "I am afraid Papa is not much better for drinking the waters." They are in the immanent realm of children: so what we hear of what they like to eat, what Grandmama thinks about turkey's laying eggs, pious hopes of wellness. Like children do they fasten on inconsequential diurnal details and when one says a detail, the second then parrots it:  I refer to the chaffinch's nest.  Children also identify with small creatures.

Finally they are coming home, Thursday the next day? they will arrive. It does seem as if Mr Austen is eager to have Jane and her party back again -- shades of Mr Bennet there.  Austen's mind does not forget the economical ways of Steventon (as opposed to Edward and Elizabeth's) so she warns Cassandra to have something fine to eat -- shades of General Tilney without the sharp tyrannies. Fanny and John Dashwood would certainly expect good food on the table.

Moray Watson as Mr Bennet glad to have Elizabeth Garvey as Elizabeth Bennet back again (1979 BBC P&P)

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20 and 21.

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

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