misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 26, 12-13, Wed-Thurs, Nov 1800 -- to Martha Lloyd

Dear friends and readers,

Our first letter to someone other than Cassandra Austen! and it's at once downright cheerful and a passionate letter of friendship to Jane's life-long beloved friend, Martha Lloyd.  It was written 4 days after Letter 25

We've seen Austen teasing Frank and conspiring to promote a marriage; Frank was having none of this, possibly because like Mary Lloyd, whom Jane's older brother, James, married Martha was home-y and had had the small pox. But late in life he changed his mind; a widower, he married Martha when she was a 63 year old spinster. There is a photo of her afterward with a dog. She has a tired kind face:

Next week's letter (27) is also cheerful; to Cassandra, it shows Jane with Martha at Ibhorpe.  Letter 27 has the common nasty cracks ("I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me") and some imagery showing striking alienation from those around her ("a queer animal with a white neck ..."), but Letter 26 is unusually free of semi-vexed guarded utterances, and has a clear strong thrust again and again ("our desire is mutually strong").  The one unhappy moment of letter 26 occurs when Jane says she does not want to bring books; she is coming to be with Martha; she reads her life away at home.

I suggest the cheer of these two letters derives from Jane really liking Martha, experiencing in her a congenial soul: wanting to visit her, looking forward to it, and (next week's letter) enjoying her time with her friend.

For a brief life of Martha, and summary of the extant letters to Martha (4), see Jane Austen's WorldJane Austen's friend, Martha Lloyd.
Among the details, it's well to take note that Martha's mother was a mean, indeed it seems half-insane with anger woman so Austen's comments about wanting to be with Martha apart from this mother make sense. I have wondered how much of Austen's Lady Susan's cavalier and superfluous cruelties to her Fredericka owe to Jane's memories of Martha's mother.

For a general prologue this time:  Women's poetry as numerous critics have argued have sub-genres characteristic of women (as men's poetry does). One of the sub-genres is the intensely eager friendship poem where the woman poet conjures her friend to come to her; this differs from men's because men's friendship poems are often also public (about shared public political visions) and not about how the friendship is a support to them.  Books on the psychology and upbringing of women emphasize the importance of girls's friendships, saying some of the intense intra-sex antagonism later in life comes from having been betrayed or dropped when the other young woman turned to prefer a man or husband or somehow double-crossed her friend over a man.

Although the poem is much stronger, more open in tone than Austen's, not like hers undercut, Austen's letter to Martha put me in mind of Elizabeth Bishop's beautiful poem to Marianne Moore, conjuring her to come to her.

Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore
                             by Elizabeth Bishop

 From Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge, on this fine morning
    please come flying.
In a cloud of fiery pale chemicals,
    please come flying,
to the rapid rolling of thousands of small blue drums
descending out of the mackerel sky
over the glittering grandstand of harbor-water,
    please come flying.

Whistles, pennants and smoke are blowing.  The ships
are signaling cordially with multitudes of flags
rising and falling like birds all over the harbor.
Enter:  two rivers, gracefully bearing
countless little pellucid jellies
in cut-glass epergnes dragging with silver chains.
The flight is safe; the weather is all arranged.
The waves are running in verses this fine morning.
    please come flying.

Come with the pointed toe of each black shoe
trailing a sapphire highlight,
with a black capefu of butterfly wings and bon-mots,
with heaven knows how many angels all riding
on the broad black brim of your hat,
    please come flying.

Bearing a musical inaudible abacus,
a slight censorious frown, and blue ribbons,
    please come flying.
Facts and skyscrapers glint in the tide; Manhattan
is all awash with morals this fine morning,
    so please come flying.

Mounting the sky with natural heroism,
above the accidents, above the malignant movies,
the taxicabs and injustices at large,
while horns are resounding in your beautiful ears
that simultaneously listen to
a soft uninvented music, fit for the musk deer,
    please come flying.

For whom the grim museums will behave
like courteous male bower-birds,
for whom the agreeable lions lie in wait
on the steps of the Public Library,
eager to rise and follow through the doors
up into the reading rooms,
    please come flying.
We can sit down and weep; we can go shopping,
or play at a game of constantly being wrong
with a priceless set of vocabularies,
or we can bravely deplore, but please
    please come flying.

With dynasties of negative constructions
darkening and dying around you,
with grammar that suddenly turns and shines
like flocks of sandpipers flying,
    please come flying.

Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long un-nebulous train of words,
from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bride, on this fine morning,
    please come flying.

Like Moore, Martha did not live that far from Bishop but it's an altogether different thing to be under one roof together with no one else to interrupt your flow of conversation and soul (I paraphrase Pope).

The details, from Ibthorpe

To begin:  Jane Austen began this letter Wednesday evening. She received Martha's note after Martha's maidservant, Charlotte, left Deane; otherwise she would have answered and sent a reply by her. Now Jane is stuck causing Martha the expense of thruppence. So we begin with a tiny amount of money that even if half comically is imagined to matter.  The amount will cut into how much Martha will spend on a coming ball, Hurstbourne. Hurstbourne is the home of the Earls of Portsmouth -- so Austen is still thinking about Lord Portsmouth ball from the last letter.  LeFaye's reference to her pages in Family Record is again an instance of tautology; we are given no explanation of her assertion Portsmouth was insane; nothing about why or what was the cause

Then Jane reacts to Martha's compliment to her: very good to wish Jane at Ibthorpe, so Jane equally wishes herself there; their "Merit" in this wishing is equally strong and "Self-denial mutually strong."  A joke, a bit hard-worked here but I wonder where the "self-denial" comes in. That they are enduring not yet being together?

She comes down from this elegantly allusive language. She hopes to come inside 2 weeks;she 's putting it off to be able to be with Martha without Martha's mother there while still seeing this woman; to wait is to have even a better chance of having Martha back with her.

The world of women that Deborah Kaplan evokes in her JA Among Women is evoked here.

Since Martha didn't promise to come back to Steventon with Jane as long as Martha is not downright "perverse" Jane will do all she can to over come Martha's scruples.  What scruples? Does Martha feel she must be by her mother every waking moment? Or would her mother punish her severely by making her life a misery.

Austen knows she is overdoing this topic (milking it) but it seems can't help but talk all this over and tire themselves of the said visit by over-anticipating and discussing it.  This is a woman frustrated by being kept from having enough to do that matters in the world.

Their invitations to this ball were curiously worded.

The rest of the paragraph is on John Harwood's accident. In this tiny neighborhood there's not much to talk about or attend to immediately. Catherine is Catherine Bigg-Wither born 1775, just Austen's age. John Harwood's relatives are worried about his bone; so too about Mr Heathcote his relatives. Two people are more than enough to care for says Jane.

Then that Mary Austen (remember Martha's sister) has heard from Cassandra who went with Elizabeth and Edward to visit the Cages, a family the Austen-Knights married into.

And then the touching utterance that she comes to Martha for company, talk, to be with her, not to read next to her. 

You distress me cruelly by your request about Books; I cannot thnk of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of our wanting them.  I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading.  I can do that at home;  indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out on you as my share of the Conversation.

She reads at home all the time this way. But she does assure Martha that she is laying in a "stock of conversation" to amuse Martha with.  This is like Jane's statement about Genlis: one reads to increase a stock of ideas (and images). So she reads history, an autobiographical travel book, a novel designed to teach the readers patterns useful for teaching. Jane is reading a semi-popular series and she assures Martha she will be able to repeat the book's parts and/or chapters. Henry's History of England is Robert Henry; history was favored reading among those who read in the era.

Henry's history was a good one; he was a Scots clergyman and one can read Hume's review of it in MP 39:4 (1942) by Ernest Mossner.  Readers read history and we can see Austen was a great reader of history from her apt mockery as well as the discussion by Eleanor Tilney during the country walk of NA.

The whole passage is replete with Austen's eagerness to be with her friend and willingness to make sure she will not bore her friend by not having enough to say. The heads of topics of the book are cited; there is also (as in her comment that P&P needed more substance) a light tone of self-deprecation here and self-laughter in which Cassandra is included: Martha need only do her part by repeating French grammar. Or she can vary and entertainment by repeating the way old Mrs Stent (a companion to the Austen Knight in old age very poor) goes on naively, wonders about cocks and hens. This would fit a number of older female characters who are caricatured, e.g. Mrs Jenkins, but especially Miss Bates.

Jane says farewell but can't resist throwing out out yet more temptation to make Martha come:  James Digweed will be here and Martha can see him before he goes into Kent (local militia). The Williams whose marriage was 20 times foreseen and is now married at last (for real) is Charles' officer (p. 588). Jane says he looks like a lover. Again she is playing the role of wanting to attract Martha.

A second brief postscript assures Martha that Harwood's wound is in as favourable state as can be. Apparently than Martha cared about this man -- for a whole paragraph is on him in this letter too. Jane is saying what she thinks will interest Martha.

Martha I take it was not to be send the double-edged and subrisive mockery Cassandra at least tolerated.  Perhaps Martha would not have understood and as not a sister, would not have to take it.  Neither did Francis (as we see in the one letter to him we have).

A photograph of Francis late in life; he lived untl 1865, age 91. When he died, he left a carefully preserved set of letters from Jane; they were promptly burned by his daughter, Fanny, an irreparable loss. One must wonder what they contained to elicit such a murderous immediate reaction.

On Austen-l,  Derrick Leigh asked me if " Is it Austen's or LeFaye's assertion that Portsmouth was insane? He clearly was, and was even listed on the 1851 census as "EArly and lunatic,"  Here's a blog about him entitled "The Strange Case of the Vampyre Lord of Hurstbourne Priors, with details of his erratic behaviour.It notes that he was educated  by George Austen, and is an example of "downward social mobility. Born in 176, he inherited the title on the death of his father in 1797. 

I read the life and find Portsmouth a pathetic character in need of psychological care -- perhaps medication. I would hope we would do better by such a young boy and man than his associates and society at large did. The writer of the biography is obtuse; he (or she) has no understanding of what it means to be a disabled person.

ee 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25.

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

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