misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 24, Sat, 1 November 1800, Steventon to Godmersham

Dear friends and readers,

Written only three days after Letter 23 and essentially on the same sort of trivia, Jane Austen's mood has nonetheless changed. She is in much better spirits, more equable, and the wit flows in a sparkling (but not light) way that seems a cross between the acid of Elinor Dashwood ("the Debaries persist in being afflicted by the death of their Uncle") and joking delight of Elizabeth Bennet (the "couple of ladies" "so amiable as ourselves"). It may be getting these lovely things in the parcel really cheered her, certainly at long last a good time at a ball didn't hurt:

Moment of intense happiness on the dance floor in 09 Emma (Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightely and Romola Garai as Emma, next couple includes Laura Pyper as Jane)

She can even suggest that Cassandra need not "feel" she is "inventing gratitude" to thank Edward. The Popian rhythms or ironic oppositions flow:  of Frank she writes "of his Promotion he knows nothing, & of Prizes he is guiltless". Even Charles's back-ditherings amuse her though her PS implies an ironic "desole" to learn she had only been writing what Cassandra knew before: "you may guess how much I feel" (perhaps this reference is to the waste of money in paper about which she does not care in the least is the irony here) .

A recent edition of Adelaide and Theodore with the 18th century translated text, a new translation of Genlis's text by Mary Trouille has recenlty been published

Perhaps her writing was going well. In the next letter we do learn she had been in the next interim reading Genlis (Tales of the Castle) and refers to the book as having "Ideas worth transmitting".  Too bad there is no way we can know what were the others.


Austen's letter again opens with a now not unfamiliar lament: she is intensely aware that she has had no letter from Cassandra since Cassandra left for Godmersham.  She blames the post office for delay.

The first section of the letter is about Frank and has a Tristram Shandy framing. Austen shows how aware she is of the form she is writing in, and its drawbacks (lack of frankness lest it be read by others):  "Your letter is come; it came twelve lines ago, but I could not stop to acknowlege it ...."  Sterne's novel opens with the sex scene that produced the hero, or nearly failed to produce him since his father nearly failed to have an ejaculation into his mother's vagina and the narrator laments all the things that got in the way (as a demand he wind the clock) Very like Sterne she makes comedy out of the interim of literal time. She's glad Cassandra's letter was delayed for she would not have written the sentence she did and it is a very good sentence.

To catch up to Frank from the last part of the chronology I made, here are his doings since spring 1800:

Frank was flag captain, 4-6 years later in the Canopus

1800, spring:  Peterel again near Marseilles;

1800, 22 March: letter written in matter-of-fact style by
    Frank to Dudley, Captain of HMS Mermaid
    capture of La Ligurienne, Sailor Brothers
    83-85:  They take all sorts of guns,
    people; and other vessels besides.
    French not getting help to army
    Napoleon left behind in Egypt.  Frigate
    Mermaid was in sight;  Peterel took
     La Ligurienne with prizes to Minorca;
    prisoners put on board Courageuse, one
    of Perrée's ships already taken in 1799,
    Sailor Brothers 86

    13 May official:  Frank raised to post rank of Captain; now
    on list which will eventually lead to
    Admiralty, Sailor Brothers, 86

1800, still spring: Peterel took from Bay of Marsa
    Sirocco, 35 of crew of Guillaume Tell,
    by orderf os Commodore Troubridge of Culloden;
    sail for Palermo, where at Port Mahon in Minorca
    French sailors put on Courageuse; Peterel
    goes to join Lord Keith's fleet, investing French General
    Massena in Genoa

1800 May: Peterel one of the boats crusing in shorre
    as near as possible to Genoa, harassing,
    attacking, capturing ships, Sailor Brothers,
    88.  Frank's ship to row guard on the harbour;
    takes part in taking a galley, Prima, succeeds
    because of 300 galley slaves who ended up
    shot as traitors in market-place by French
    themselves, Sailor Brothers, 89

    Peterel on her way south, log says transported
    32 men to HMS Guilliame Tell off Syracuse;
    calls at Malta (St Paul's Bay), blockaders
    busy with reduction of Valetta; off to Egypt to
    join Sir Sydney Smith; a Turkish fleet supposed
    to be blockading Alexandria; actually it was
    done by Peterel, Tigre, and Transfer; they
    joined forces at Jaffa, cruised Egyptian coast,
    with occasional visits to Cyprus, Sailor Brothers,   

1800 14 June:  battle of Marengo, Napoleon beats
    allies in Northern Italy

1800 August:  Frank with Sir Smith's squadron blockading
    Alexandria and he burns a 80-gun Turkish warship which
    he runs aground in Aboukir to prevent her falling
    into French hands; Turkish Capitan-Pasha presents
    Frank with sabre and pelisse, Le Faye,
    Family Record, 111. Sailor Brothers, 95

    14 August:  logs quoted in Sailor Brothers to show
    fighting, action, taking over supplies from another
    ship; then letter; Frank records that he sent men
    who succeeded in setting fire to an Arab ship,
    taking Greeks and one Arab in it prisoner & preventing
    guns and anything useful from falling to French. 99-101

1800, autumn:  Endymion returns to Gosport, and Charles
    awaits new duties; Jane is to make shirts by the
    half dozens, 1 November 1800

1800, November:  a letter from Frank to Sir Sydney
    Smith detailing actions of Peterel from Larca on the 6th;
    how he took on board bread and wine; got a gun
    for a Capitan Pacha; Hubbard says a series of
    events locates Peterel in Rhodes early October,
    and anchoring at Rhodes on October 20th;
     Sailor Brothers 106-7

1800 October  Peterel, put in at Rhodes and Frank learns
    of his promotion and hands command of sloop to
    Captain Inglis sent out to succeed him, Le Faye,
    Family Record, 111

1800 2 October:  in a letter to Jane, Frank says he is in Larnica in
    Cyprus ... came from Alexandria, to return there in 3 or 4
    days, knew nothing of his promotion, less than 20
    lines, thinks all letters opened in Vienna, may not
    reach Cassandra; wrote a few days before to Cassandra
    from Alexandria by the Mercury, sent with dispatches
    to Lord Keith; had not known of his promotion,
    Le Faye, JA Lets, p 63

1800 1 November:  Jane to Cassandra reports on Francis's
    activities as described by him in a letter:  'on the
    8th of July the Petterell with the rest of the
    Egyptian squadron was off the Isle of Cyprus,
    whither they went from Jaffa for Provisions &c.,
    whence they were to sail in a day or two for
    Alexandria, there to wait the result of the
    English proposals for the Evacuation of
    Egypt; Charles on the Endymion, 'waiting
    only for orders, but may wait for them
    perhaps a month', LeFaye, JA's Letters, 1 November 1800,
    52; Sailor Brothers, 95

Frank has written a letter which has since disappeared. Curiously (to me) Austen complains that it is filled with description. You'd think she'd love to have all he did described; conversation was not one of the strong points of navy life. I take this complaint to really be her way of attacking her rivals: she seems rarely to miss a chance to speak stridently against other novelists. It's true her novels do not abound in landscape description and so she jealously disapproves of those which do. Perhaps she is thinking of Radcliffe. The Radcliffe style is a phrase she uses.

The next section is about the parcel that arrived, and her determined liking of the things in it. Cassandra had made fun of her gown, but Austen is not discouraged; she say take hers to be made up next week.  Maybe to a steamstress?

She is very pleased with her cloak; I hope it was beautiful. Here is a fashionable expensive cloak from the later 18th century:  I half remember Norma Shearer as Marie Antoinette in a 1930s movies in just such a hood.  Angharad Rees (1977 BBC Poldark) wears a dark blue version when she goes out at night (or on a horse) but without the lace and ribbon around the neck.

My cloak came on tuesday, & tho' I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me. -- It is too handsome to be worn, almost too handsome to be looked at.

I assume the glass is a mirror, The wine glasses are smaller than Austen expected, but what does she know? these are probably the proper size.  Jane's insistence they find no fault "but if you like to think yourself remiss in any of them, pray do."  Cassandra had been berating her purchases presumably.

When all else fails, fall back on relatives. Penlington was a tallow chandler so perhaps they were disappointed Cassandra did not buy and send home candles. The mother can write. She then imitates the usual cant: Mary is of course disappointed not to get the locket but glad to get a mangle (safe at Basingstoke the way Mary Crawford's harp was safe).

The sharp comment on gratitude has to do with Edward supplying said mangle (which are awful, hard work to wring out clothes.

And then on a ball. She had no less than three different ways to get there (with Mary and Harwoods, with the lady of the transparencies, Mrs Bramston, and Mrs Lefroy offered too. That she slept at Deane, that she did her hair with Charlotte. who wa there, the scarcity of men for dancing. As to her hair-dressing, since "no one abused" the style, she rests content (delighted) She can ask for no more.  She tells Cassandra that Cassandra was asked after "very prettily" and the next sentences suggest to me Austen felt all the requests after her were ways of mollifying Jane, interesting her. Lord Peterson went farther than anyone else and had a mass of "attentive recollections" 

She danced 9 dances out of ten and then supplies Cassandra with a list of her partners (quite out of temperament with Mr Bennet here):   Stephen Terry, T Chute, James Digwood and four with Catherine.

Like many dances the women out number the pain and are willing to dance as pure amateurs on first sight. So Austen dianced four times with Catherine and doesn't mind. (In I have Found It the Edward Manohar character does mind.)   So while there were girls standing around with no partners, there were "not often any as amiable as ourselves." (p. 53). Austen is taking credit to herself for being sought.

A kind statement about one of the Terries:  "I hope the poor girl had not set her heart on her appearance" as she Jane once did.   She said civil things for Edward about borrowing for the hunt; Mr Chute would have thanked  Charles for his civility for the hunt. She has heard from Charles (a missing letter). We all now remember Charles's fine behavior to slaves and decency.  Deborah Kaplain has two articles on his life with his wife at sea (later on); Harville may reflect Charles

And now 15 lines dedicated to Charles.  Here's some chronology for him:

English frigate Unicorn where Charles experienced war, June 1796

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

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

Endymion waiting orders and Jane has to send the six shirts. (They must have been quite a labor and are precious.)  The Coulthards appear to have been a family trying to rise in the world from a servant and lowly status to buying land and being respectable (from LeFaye's note) Coulthard therefore wanted Charles as a visitor but missed him as distance was so great; Austen suggests she would regret this loss more if Charles's friend has been with him -- in other words it's just as well all missed one another, for if  only one person came Coulthard might not have been pleased.

These few sentences show us how social life really operates: jockeying performances to place oneself in this or that status.

Yet more news: Miss Harwood at Bath and reports herself "never in better health or more happy."

A view of teh Royal Crescent, from Avon, early 19th century idealized landscape

Against that Jos Wakeford died and to be buried. A deaf visitor at Ashe prevents Mrs Lefroy going to Worting (as Mr Lefroy is not there either). Women dressed dolls for more than testing fashions; it was a sort of extension of juvenile behavior - and we see it today too. Mother happy with this doll Molly gave Anna -- Mary's step-daughter. But Mr Austen not happy for the farm only made 300 in tithes. The thought of Anna leads to associations with the other Austens of the nuclear group:  James and Mary to the Ibthorpes. The older woman not in good looks; Martha's maid has gotten another job.  Then the joke about the Debaries persisting in displaying grief. Did one of Edward's children miss Jane?  -- she is glad he remembers her

Then two PS: she wore Cassandra's favorite Muslin to the ball, a band around her head, with the cousin Cooper's hair ornament (band). This cousin now dead, but in a subsidence family hand-me-downs are not regarded sentimentally.  You re-use them.

The joke that she is "desole" to learn she had only been writing what Cassandra knew before: "you may guess how much I feel". I thought before that perhaps this is a reference is to the waste of money in paper about which she does not care in the least is the irony here; now I see that it's about Cassandra's letter which had come in to say they knew all Austen had written, as usual not really grasping how Austen likes to write for itself, to make her worlds and companions that truly suit her inward self.

General comment: Footnotes to Letter 24. I note that Austen takes a non-performative, non-manipulative approach towards dancing. She loves to go to a dance simply because she loves to dance. If she's continually asked to dance, she has a splendid time; when she's snubbed or no one can get anyone to dance with her, she's miserable. From my reading of the era, these assembly room experiences were intended to couple women up with presentable acceptable men. That's why the register of names, that's why the introductions. The point was the marriage market.

Not to Austen. Her accounts are naive in this respect. Now she knows better so she is deliberately ignoring the pressure. I ilke her for her simple delight in the immanent transient time and not trying to wrest anything for herself out of it beyond that.  Later on as she grows older, she will become more jaundiced at these assemblies (and describe other women in animal imagery), but then maybe it was really because she'd rather be dancing.

More on the cloak:  Angharad Rees wears a dark blue version when she goes out at night (or on a horse) but without the lace and ribbon around the neck (Poldark  BBC 1977); here it is from the back:

They also came with buttons when they were less fancy: for warmth:


See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22 and 23.
Tags: jane austens letters, women's art, women's memoirs

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