misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 25, 8-9, Sat-Sun November 1800

Dear friends and readers,

Yet another letter.  This one written in journal style dated seven days later from last week's.  There appears to be one missing between these two.  Cassandra took care in her destruction, did she not? She went through deciding which to keep and what to destroy.  So this is an equable letter like the one saved previously, with much wit and much trivia. 

Austen reads Genlis; Rain & an incident parallel to P&P; neighbors shoots himself (an accident?); news of Francis's ship in battle. writing to and & reply from Mr Buller (she is the one negotiating a place to stay for holiday for family; a long passage on trees feels during storm.

It's long because there are some developed sections; that is, Austen goes on a bit about a specific piece of furniture (a table) or happening (again she is ironic and narrow minded towards Earle Harwood), or visitor (she is offended by Buller's pollyanna euphoria over his recent marriage). There is also a longish addendum on some real damage a storm did to the trees around the vicarage.


To turn to the details: Austen begins by telling us she has just finished Genlis's Les Veilles du Chateau [Tales of the Castle], and finds this is propitious moment for beginning a letter.  Why?  this is "while my mind is stored with Ideas worth transmitting.  So, if anyone is interested in reading Tales of the Castle, the Englished version of the book that Austen has just finished reading, presumably in the French (from the feel of the sentence and Cassandra's absence my guess is she read this one silently to herself), I'd be willing to share the text in the form of attachments I downloaded from ECCO.

For most literary-critical scholars, Les Veilles du Chateau smacks too much of children's books, and it's only dealt with and taken seriously as far as I know by Ellen Moers in her Literary Women. Moers says that as widely influential books (on English as well as French and European writers) after Adele et Theodore, The Tales is second in importance. (This is not the same as talking about the books as works of genius influencing other writers; for those one turns to Genlis's novels.)  George Sand in her  autobiography says she read these tales and they influenced her as a child; Sand uses the term  "veilles" in her life-writing for tales meant for children and pastoral simple fables (like Sand wrote late in life, Francois le Champi)  Thomas Holcroft translated the book and it can be read as somewhat radical in its ethical tendencies: it hits at ancien regime norms again and again. Like Little Women, the father has gone off to the wars, and the children are left in a castle with their mother. It's deep in the country and they are solitary.  The mother tells the children tales after which these are discussed. I did read one myself a while back: Delphine, which Moers rightly says anticipates all sorts of things in Emma and there are passages which could sound like French versions of some of Austen's sentences.  Like Sarah Fielding's tales in the Governess, these are not fairy stories in any tradition sense, more allegories of semi-realistic tales. The moral feel as described by Moers reminds me of Mansfield Park, the sort of outlook that Fanny Price projects. Sloth, Greed, Waste and Spite are very bad qualities; Insubordination is however worse. As a mother parsing the motives of the children as they respond to the characters, Genlis is merciless.

I don't know what the "anecdote" of Charlotte Graham and Harriot Bailey was about; neither does LeFaye. Mary is mildly made fun of for the way she apologized for not writing to Cassandra: presumably Mary didn't love writing: she "fully intended writing to you by Mr Chute's frank, & only happened intirely to forget it -- but will write soon --   We have Mr Austen worrying over a price. He is often presented as worrying over a bill (the 1995 Davies _P&P_ is the only one which shows Mr Austen more than once pouring over the bills at night).

Then the long piece about the Tables: she turns them into living breathing presences somewhat, in the manner of Dickens, just a little.  Phrases like "they send their best love ... The little Table which used to stand there, has most conveniently taken itself off into the best bed-room ...

All they want now is a chiffoniere (A tall chest of drawers, often with a mirror on top which of course is another finished or come.  There is an undercurrent of mockery in the expressions of delight which comes out most strongly in the last line on the chiffoniere.  They have all they want if only they really had it. Her mother keeps her Money and papers locked up in it ...

Drily now: "So much for that subject ...

Now she returns to this distasteful way she has of regaling Cassandra with news of Earle's misfortunes, but does soften into concern as she keeps the narration up. At first she means to be taken as imitating neighborhood gossip; so as the neighborhood enjoys bankruptcies so does this story provide amused non-caring "Talk." Nokes retells this story in his biography on pp. 217-18.  Cocking his gun, he shot himself in the thigh by mistake. Harwood was related to the family at Deane. There is some light mockery in the word "dreadful: it comes out on the "have of course been dreadful." It's the "of course" that gives away Austen's distance.  The two Scotch surgeons were polite enough to "propose taking off the thigh at once." James, the Austen's oldest son apparently visited (but had not time to see Charles Austen as well). She begins to take the event seriously when she says it's a "material comfort" that it was an accidental wound.

Did they think the young man suicidal? Or did they think this a mean prank of someone else? or how in war where fighting and murder are done regularly, so that he could have been killed by someone disliking him.

Duelling pistol, circa 1770-1830

Diane R suggests that Austen's obliqueness is to be attributed to rumors that there had been a duel. She's right:  Earle was adamant to say it had not been a duel, people looked at the direction of the bullet, "Such a wound could not have been received in a duel."  All the more does it seem that this is another passage in this unsympathetic accounting for this non-conformist and now non-macho male.  It doesn't take much reading against the grain to be disappointed in Austen's attitude here. The problematic nature of Bottomer's reading of Austen's novels as sympathetically presenting Aspergers people is before us: she is not intuitively sympathetic with someone clearly awkward, who doesn't fit in. I hazard the idea that only when she could see herself in the case did she identify -- and then she did.

Then John Harwood goes; there was a ball nearby and Charles was not there. Austen reveals her snobbery when she says she was glad of this, though apparently going to balls -- i.e., flirting with girls -- was to be expected of Charles. It seems the ball was "ungenteel" -- perhaps then Austen would not like the way recent movies present dances as romping and perfert home-yness and shabbiness to rich elegances in the way of the 1970s to 90s films. "Hardly a pretty girl in the room" -- was this James's phrase?  John Harwood's.

Then abruptly Austen seems to answer something Cassandra has urged on her: to wear a specific gown to the ball. Why: because paradoxically she made it up in order to wear it a great deal.

There is a reiterated joke between them in this set of letters: how Jane wants to be thwarted, deliberately so she can be miserable.  Perhaps this is a reflection of Cassandra's attempts to shame Austen from complaint. But Jane here says "she feels the less regret" because she meant to wear it a great deal -- I've done this sort of inner writhing. It's hopeless. The other person doesn't care at all. She ends with some sudden bitterness: Cassandra must wear the thing herself at Godmersham; easy to do.  She need only say it's beautiful and "you will as soon think it so."


Constable (1776-1837), A Study of Rain off the coast of Sussex

She moves on to what happened yesterday. Austen begins to detail her day on Friday, 7 November.  She was hurried about in socializing in the rain -- sometimes it rained quite hard too. They went to Basingstoke, a town where one could shop and where there was an assembly hall, but when they got home (presumably wet) they found an invitation to Ash Park and rushed out again. They were told there'd be three males there, Mr Holder, Mr Gauntlett and James Digwood but upon arriving no such thing. Just one. No Mr Gauntlett and Mr Digweed.  Austen puts it "our tete-a-tete was cruelled reduced ..."

It is probably reading too much into it to remember the invitation to Jane to dine at Netherfield where she found both young men not there at all.  Still the echo is to me memorable enough ...

Mary wanted these young men and "found it very dull, but I thought it very pleasant. To sit in idleness over a good fire in a well-proportioned room is a luxurious sensation."

(The implication is it's nowhere as comfortable as this in Steventon vicarage.)

A little vignette;   Sometimes we talked & sometimes we were quite silent; I said two or three amusing thinns, & Mr Holder made a few infamous puns.

Would these be salacious? Like rears and vices. I suspect so.

I found this of interest: "Mr Buller writes a letter to Austen. I thought only engaged couples and relatives, or woman-to-woman or man-to-man wrote letters.  The whole passage is intriguing. Austen dreaded hearing euphoria about his marriage and over praise of the wife. Instead he goes on about the Austen family -- 'whch You know cannot give any one disgust. -- He is very pressing in his invitation to us all to come & see him at Colyton, & my father is very much influenced to go there next summer. -- It is a circumstance that may assist the Dawlish scheme."

I can see perhaps that Buller may not have married for love and companionship or only mildly so and would really like intelligent companionship. He's willing to achieve this by offering up his house as a place the Austens can stay to do a cheap summer traveling holiday.

A form of sponging would be an unkind way to put it.  When Austen writes it cannot give disgust that he praises the family so tirelessly, I hope she is also referring to the reaction of her mother, father &c, not just herself. If so, then why not endure some over praise of the wife.

And he wants another letter from Austen:  "Buller has desired me to write again, to give him more particulars."

We are missing this interesting correspondence altogether.  There are no jokes here about putative lovers, but there could be.   I'd add Mr Buller to men who found Austen appealing in these letters.  There are not many so we might as well count what we can, a friend and mentor?  Maggie Lane has a couple of pages on Austen's family's trips to Devon, and one contemporary illustration:

See Jane Austen's England (pp. 88-91).

Then a bunch of local news:  Mr Heathcote during a hunt got off his horse and his ankle was troden up. Ouch. And these bones are so small and hard to set today. The Heathcotes were big people in the area with a fancy house -- it costs to go hunting, to have horses, stables (remember S&S). Harris doesn't rate a mention by LeFaye. Perhaps a servant?

Now news of Martha who has accepted an invitation to Lord Portsmouth's ball. Austen is more alert to the possibility of visiting Martha back than the ball Martha is longing for but fears it will not be tactful apparently. From the line I gather the mother of Martha was glad to see the back of her and didn't want her back early, much less with another friend.

Then vexed bickerings over lines of property: Edward again asserting his rights, this time to space:  it was made too narrow and Wm Portal now is forced to agree and alter it. It appears that Portal was trying to protect his own plantation but Edward could not care in the least.  The Portals are a Huguenot family. It's very common for people to get into disputes whose land abuts on one another, but we can see how once again Edward is tenacious of his rights. Now here Austen is not critical of her brother, merely reporting it.

It took Austen all day Saturday on and off and Sunday morning just to write these little bits -- so much was she interrupted. Maybe she did allow people to stop her from writing and hid her writing under a blotter. If so, this is as bad as Stael standing up to write because her father didn't approve of women writing so wouldn't let her have a proper desk and she was less an irritant to his eyes that way.


John Constable (1776-1837), Vale of Dedham, a landscape similar to Austen's.

The last two parts of this long letter.   These are written upside down at the top of the page so are afterthoughts:  Austen thought Edward Taylor handsome with "beautiful Dark eyes."  She does go in for this convention: Elizabeth Bennet's fine eyes, and has mentioned beautiful eyes in these letters before

Mrs Holder's letter (yet a third mentioned just in this letter which we don't have) refers to an incident in Frank's life that LeFaye says is covered in JA's Sailor Brothers (98-101).

English man of war in a rough sea, circa 1680-1700

You find a depiction of a naval battle where Francis's men attacked and set on fire a Turkish ship described by Francis as a wreck a "line of battle" ship taken from the French." They forceably took prisoner a bunch of men trying to save the guns for the French; instead they fell to the English. I do not know what the word "germes" means in Francis's letter -- it seems to be a phrase for Arab men.  They did this during a high wind; I am struck by how in Francis's letter there is no description of killing and/or death and destruction.  Surely that's what happened to take this set of guns back, to capture these men. Southam in his account also omits the deaths, destruction and misery of these encounters, pp 58-59.  This helps support these military actions, to omit this kind of stuff (it's done on TV all the time nowadays). The Holders were neighbors at Ashe park.

Austen knows this kind of round-about information that she has is not to be trusted.

The last PS is another upside down paragraph, this one intertwined with other lines. Austen does care about the loss of these trees  I copy the passage from Hill's book -- she too like Brabourne cannot resist correcting and regularly Austen's prose:

We have had a dreadful storm of wind in the fore part of this day, which has done a great deal of mischief among our trees. I was sitting alone in the dining-room  when an odd kind of crash startled me; in a moment afterwards it was repeated. I then went to the window, which I reached just in time to see the last of our two highly-valued elms descend into the Sweep!!!! The other, which had fallen, I suppose, in the first crash, and which was the nearest to the pond, taking a more easterly direction, sank among our screen of chestnuts and firs, knocking down one spruce fir, beating off the head of another, and stripping the two corner chestnuts of several branches in its fall. This is not all. One large elm, out of the two on the left-hand side as you enter what I call the elm walk, was likewise blown down; the maple bearing the weathercock was broke in two, and what I regret more than all the rest is, that all the three elms which grew in Hall's meadow, and gave such ornament to it, are gone; two were blown down, and the other so much injured that it cannot stand. I am happy to add," she continues, "that no greater evil than the loss of trees has been the consequence of the storm in this place, or in our immediate neighbourhood. We grieve therefore in some comfort."

It ends in her usual irony. "We grieve" in some comfort that no other evil has occurred, but it's clear this seems to her bad enough.  I can see here why Austen would grieve when this house was taken from her.  She was a rooted person, someone into routs too.  We see why she would like the descriptive poetry of a Cowper and others. Note the detail of a maypole, once and perhaps still used.  During the year it held up the weathercock.

A traditional Maypole

Maypole dancing, New York  City, May 2011

Of course Cassandra has been quiet and complacent. Another slight mockery-imitation: how they "admired Fanny's letter to her aunt." So Cassandra sent a letter to Jane to show off what Fanny wrote -- clearly knowing that her family would read it.  This kind of encouragement of a child's coy showoffy impulses did indeed produce a self-righteous woman later in her life.

Then the Endymion detail shows her remembering Charles.

General: as I wrote in my last blog, the strongly alienated attitude towards social experience in these letters has made me again remember (as I have done before) Bottomer's book claiming autism for at least several major and 12 (I think that's the number she comes up with) minor characters in Austen.

The whole letter shows a single woman dependent on parents who are themselves fringe people -- the longing for the vacation through Mr Buller comes in here.  She does not own any right to be near those trees she will find -- she knows it already. She felt inwardly most vindicated by Genlis's book is also a something salient to notice: it's a book which exemplifies psychological manipulation as a way of controlling, educating people.  The Duchess of Devonshire does not write upside and intertwine her letters with other lines in the page :)

The way to understand Jane Austen is to read those of her contemporaries she thought so well of and compare what is found in their books to hers. This is not easy as most of her letters were destroyed. She is not a unbiased literary critic when she writes of books at all -- interestingly Burney can be. So she will have these abrupt outbursts against authors she reads a lot of and was influenced by. Her relatives are determined to cite books which position her as moral (Grandison). Still we do have the 6 novels, fragments, juvenilia and what letters are left and comparison and citations show a lot.  Little negative tidbits too: such as she did not see herself as a Scheherazade as did a number of women in her era and afterward (Gaskell, Dinesen recently).

Genlis is one where she does praise the author in the letters and alludes in the novels and we can find close analogies.  Into this type fall Smith's novels, Stael's (brief though the praise is).  There are the authors she praises strongly and if in a different genre are clearly in her world: Crabbe, Cowper, Johnson.

Intelligent informative books on her milieu, the good literary critic on the novels and/or letters and works of her contemporaries.  Now on ECW some of our books do illuminate Austen. Smith's Celestina did and that's why I was sorry I didn't finish it. Sarah Fielding's almost by what Fielding needed to do and didn't.

We need to put her back into her era and made her one among many, see her against the others's perspectives, not them against hers.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24.

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

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