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Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote last week (letter 26), this is a second letter written in the high spirits of expecting her friend, Martha Lloyd.  I was struck by how strong Austen's tone of flow and sweep : she may produce of imagery showing alienation and nastily debunking but she is by and large wholly throwing herself into what's happening all around her (in this instance a ball).  Two people alternatively read Jenner's pamphlet on cow pox (She is present at a sort of group reading of Jenner on cow pox inoculation), while Jane bestows her attention on all around her; a little later she exults:  "I say nothing, & am ready to agree with anybody."  There's Frank's promotion and her real eagerness for letters. She loves to write and read them -- it makes me remember Johnson on dreaming company when we others and in solitude.

Jane begins with saying that Cassandra's letter has taken her by surprise.  When Jane says, "you are very welcome" I take it that Jane has done something for Cassandra which Cassandra thanked her for, and partly paid back in the form of a letter.  Jane also says she is obliged to Cassandra. I don't think this is about the letter specifically but something Cassandra did too.  Only 8 days have gone by since the last letter but still there are missing letters.

So Cassandra didn't want anyone to know what Jane did for Cassandra and how she Cassandra reciprocated.

Jane (Olivia Williams) and Fanny (Imogen Poots), enjoy themselves drinking wandering in the grass, mocking the men through the window at Godmersham

Unfairly scolded like a child by a rigid Edward Brydges (Hugh Bonneville)

The real problem is the next morning's hangover (as she tries to take some elegant breakfast)

I suggest Jane literally means what she says that her hand is shaking because she drank too much wine the night before.  (This detail is taken into Miss Austen Regrets where during a visit to Godmersham Jane drinks far too much and the next morning appears to have a hang-over when she goes to pick up her breakfast, and her hands tremble then too.) It's a "venial error" and Cassandra will "kindly make allowance" for the indistinctness of Jane's hand.

I'm glad to see Jane does not make the kind of great fuss over drinking so common today -- partly today it's a result of how dangerous it is to be drunk when driving and how much we drive in cars.

Yes the brother Charles is "naughty" because he did not come home on Tuesday but delayed one more day (Wednesday, yesterday).  Austen just loved to go dancing and she says that Charles "being equal to such a fatigue" as coming home "is a good sign"  (appreciated by her)  "& his finding it no fatigue still better."  She wants him to accompany her and dance away.  And so he did.

"We walked down to the Deane to dinner, he danced the whole Evening, & to-day is no more tired than a gentleman should be."

Emma's sheer delight (Romola Garai) at finding herself at a ball (2009 Welch Emma)

Dancing wtih Frank (Rupert Evans), as yet unaware that Harriet (looking on) is become a wallflower

Then the next 40 of the around 50 more lines she wrote on Thursday are devoted to this ball.  She appears to have had "a pleasant Evening," though it did not exactly awaken any kindness in her towards the people she met.  She guesses Charles found it pleasant because a young woman, Miss Terry, whom he apparently mistreated in some way was not there.  Did he snub her at the previous dance? Jane danced 9 out of 12 dances and she gives a full enough account to merit the famous reproach of Mr Bennet to Mrs Bennet. They started at 10 in the evening and got back to Dean at 5 in the morning. Quite a night's outing.  She names 3 partners ("very prodigous") and one she liked best of all: "Mr Marhew." She calls these young men her "little stock."

Then she turns to the woman and she is really catty.  I know critics go on about this imagery but I see in it alienation and jealousy that reminds me of the abrupt unfair comments she often makes about other people's novels she's reading. Miss Iremonger did not look well; Miss Blount much admired but has a broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband & fat neck. One Miss Cox has the remains of the vulgar girl Austen saw at Enham 8 years ago, the other refined like Catherine Biggs (so there's a good word, but for a friend). The woman with the animal neck. 

Diane asks what Jane can mean by Mrs Warren getting rid of some part of her child. I assume she corseted very tight (she is described in the next phrase as "looking by no means very large").  Maybe she had looked like she was going to be very big the last time Jane Austen saw her and has not become as huge as expected.  But (lest Cassandra admire) Jane says Mrs Warren's husband is "ugly enough, uglier even than his cousin and but at least "does not look so very old" (accent on "very" I suppose).

The ex-father-in-law patron has the gout, Mrs Maitland the jaundice (all yellow does Austen mean?), three young women all in black, like statues and Jane as "as civil as their bad breath would allow" She learned nothing new of Martha from them and this provides a transition.

If Martha does not come, she Jane will go to her on Thursday morning (I expect the next Thursday is meant here; it is a confusing passage, perhaps something was scissored away), unless Charles comes with a friend, Shipley and then she'll go to another ball first. She seems to need a male to go with her.  Jane says if she does not go to this second (in this letter) ball she will not be so uncivil as to leave for home at the same time the neighborhood is going elsewhere. This I assume is hunting or riding, neither of which Austen did. I assume this is a wry joke.  The neighborhood is uncivil in leaving her behind but she will not do so herself in turn.

Now she reverts to the above ball again and we see some background to her reaction to the way the other women looked. Mary Austen said she looked well and she wore her aunt's gown and handkerchief (the rich one who stole things anyway, perhaps a present?) and her hair "was at least tidy," which was all her ambition.  In other words, she did not over-dress at all as did the others. While I assume she was not envious since she is choosing to dress plainly, not go into racking fusses over her hair, it's human nonetheless to feel some resentment at those who choose to dress up as they will form the norm not her.

Mr Bennet would certainly be glad of this line:  "I have now done with the Ball." She "moreover' goes to to dress for dinner.

And continues later that evening. There follows a long account of gossip overheard earlier that night, an ironic account of a day spent at Ashe the previous Monday which would be November 17th.  Who talked, who gambled, who became lovers, the reading of Jenner's pamphlet with Austen "bestowing" her conversation on anyone who would listen. She writes away a thicket of gossip details. She seems again to have enjoyed herself mightily (her tone seems to come out of this evening) and is not this time inclined to write down nasty cracks. No one "stole" anyone else's partners. Perhaps too the older Jane feels less threatened to exposure when the dancing ended.

The details that might have some significance for Austen. That it was brother, James, who read the pamphlet aloud.  Mrs Clerke corrected all the blunders Mrs Heathcote made in her retelling local news. "Blunder" is the word Frank Churchill uses in Emma when he forgets that it was Jane who told him of Dr Perry. There was a game of commerce (like there are games at MAnsfield Park).  Austen regales Cassandra with James Digweed's long distance flirtations ("two Elms fell from their greif at [Cassandra's] absence Digweed said.

A pleasant passage showing Austen really did care about the trees. She was not just posturing. Hacker putting in fruit trees,, a new plan for the enclosure, maybe they will  make a new orchard. I like the way she names them all simply in the manner she does in her novels:

"a little orchard of it, by planting apples, pears, and cherries, and whether it would be larch, Mountain-ash and acacia."

The relatives having the usual petty squabbles, and Austen gayly brushes over this:  I say nothing & am ready to agree with everyone."  If Cassandra did offer an opinion, it would leave her feeling worried lest she give her sister what turned out to be bad advice.  Cassandra has had enough bad advice over her suitor (she was to wait for him and now he's dead).

Childham, a walk near Godmersham today

And then she imagines Cassandra and family at Godmersham and finds them "droll" -- an absurd party too. Cassandra and the little boy, George walking to Eggerton. (why not? she Austen walks.)  Do the Ashford people come in a cart? She informs Cassandra it is Cassandra who dlisked Mr N. Toke, Jane dislikes his wife and Mr Breet but does like Mr Toke better than most.

Why we are not told.

By association she moves on  to Miss Harwood and her friend who took a house 15 miles from Bath (cheaper than in it?). Miss Harwood kind but send no news of the man who shot himself. The "particulars of the situation" might also be (probably is) not about the shot man but the house she and friends took in Bristol for themselves.

I wonder if Austen yearned to be with them.  Why didn't she join in?  money probably. but then maybe Austen is not really eager to throw herself into such a perpetual round of half phony relationships.

And Jane meant to close the letter here with Charles's best wishes and Edward's the least -- this may be a tease to Edward. (He has not lately been too John Dashwoodish) or he may be self-deprecating (I doubt this last form all Jane wrote in the extant letters). If Cassandra find this improper, let her take the worst (Edward) herself and leave Charles go.  Charles will write from his ship.  All written in a dry humorous or wry vein

Austen meant to end here, but later that night added a sort of postscript and then on Friday morning another:

There is another line where we are told that Charles likes Jane's gown and then a sort of postscript (in effect) written upside down -- somewhere between Thursday evening and Friday.  Since it seems to me probably she finished the Thursday evening journalizing quite late, the paragraphs suggest someone writing after mid-night or before dawn.  Frank has written and knows of his promotion now, from Larnica in Cyprus. He was also in Alexandria, Egypt where he wrote Cassandra. He is careful what he writes because he knows that the mails are corrupt; the Viennese gov't has its spies and hand what passes through the post office. Nonetheless, Frank was a faithful correspondent to his sisters both.  He too has been destroyed -- his adventures, comments, often written concisely, wiped out from memory.  Austen is not satisfied.  Since Frank wrote Cassandra twice, he now must send Jane (who writes him).  How this woman likes getting a letter, loves writing them and reading them -- she revels with others in solitude.

Again Miss Austen Regrets, Olivia Williams as Jane at Godmersham stealing time to write (probably Emma which she has brought along with her).

Henry is to come for one night only -- he has his business, his London life, his wife. 

And yet more of the gossip about people from relatives.  Mrs E Leigh tells of how is going to Bath, perhaps glad to say something about aristocrats. I note that in this tiny paragraph what Austen says she values is the nature of someone's character: Mr Sloane a "young Man under Age ... He bears a good character however.

Friday sometime:  Austen will go to Martha next Thursday but wait for letters first :) Again her eagerness for these missives.  Perhaps Cassandra asked and Jane replies that Charles looks very well (not affected by time at sea is probably the issue). Then one last catty remark: the "fat girls with short noses" who disturbed Jane at the ball are the "Miss Atkinsons of Enham."

Henry Austen said Austen never said or thought a mean thing. It's true her exemplary heroines don not make personal remarks or talk snobbishly and mostly do not think in these ways (Emma is excepted), nor does her narrator in the novels indulge in petty remarks. Her venom is mostly directed at "serious" targets like say Mrs Ferrars; and when aimed at Maria at her phoniness and seething with hatred herself.  But Austen the writer of the letters does.

There is this disconnect between the writer in the letters and the writer in the novels.  This has often been remarked upon.  I take it that some aspect of Austen's mind (like many other authors in this) is released when she's imagining so she goes well beyond what her conscious mind understands and sympathizes with (especially in the area of psychology and character creation, dramatic scenes). If asked to comment on this our of her reasoning mind, she uses conventional formula which get nowhere near what she has created.

See 1&2, 3&4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 , 10, 1112, 13, 14 , 15, 16 & 17 , 18, 19 , 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26.



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 3rd, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
Humor and Brabourne
From Diane Reynolds:

"The missive opens with Austen's surprise and gratitude at an unexpected letter from Cassandra. We note in Jane's sincerity -- at least this reads without irony to me--"you are very welcome ... I am very much obliged to you"-- how important the letter is to her. It's possible the letter contained some particular piece of information or even money that JA is grateful for, yet it reads as if she is grateful for the letter itself, which is consistent with Jane's character, her love/need of her sister and her love of the written word.

I continue to mull JA's accounting for her "shaking hand" and "indistinctness of writing" as the result of "too much wine" the night before. Perhaps she is literally saying what she means -- I wonder, for anyone who has looked at facsimiles of the original, if the handwriting is noticeably worse than in other letters? I remember to JEAL's singing to the heavens the praises of her handwriting. But perhaps, I can't help but think, she is alerting Cassandra to other kinds "indistinctness of writing" -- perhaps indicating she is not telling the truth about some things, that there is a need to read between the lines?

I am assuming that naughty Charles and good Charles are the same person, naughty when he does not arrive, good when he does.

A typical Austen line, poking wry, deadpan fun at the tendency to label so many young woman beauties -- the kind of misuse of hyperbolic language she endlessly ripostes -- "There were very few beauties, and such as there were were not very handsome." I laughed. I wish that line were in a novel. Maybe it is. She goes on, as she would not in a novel, to talk about one of the beauties having a broad face and fat neck. A touch of asperity, even jealousy, as Jane, dance lover, danced only 9 of 12 dances. Jane frames the 9 dances as success--but would she have loved to have danced all 12?

Next the text notes what Brabourne omits/changes: Jane writes of another guest at the ball: "She [words omitted in Brabourne edition: "has got rid of some part of her child, and"] danced away with great activity [words omitted in Brabourne edition: "looking by no means very large"]" and "I was as civil to them as circumstances [Unexpurgated original: "their bad breath"] would allow me." It does bother me intensely that B. took upon himself to make these unethical edits--(I am having a renewed appreciation for the the way Jewish Biblical scribes will, to this day, copy what they believe are even simple, seemingly "slip of the pen" type minor grammatical errors and note them in the marginalia rather than make changes. Some of this preservation of the traditional text has been a godsend to feminist scholars.) But to return to Austen: What does it mean that the woman has got rid of some part of her child and looks by no means very large? Does this mean she's disguised or partially disguised a pregnancy? Obviously one can't literally get rid of "part" of a child. I take it there would be no corseting in this period? Did she wear a very flowing dress? Am I completely missing the point here?

Edited at 2011-06-04 03:30 pm (UTC)
Jun. 4th, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
More on Acerbic humor
More on JA's acerbic, amused sense of humor (or so I read it): "I had the comfort of finding out the other evening who all the fat girls with long noses were that disturbed me at the 1st H. ball. They all prove to be Miss Atkinsons of En---- [illegible]." Was the name illegible? Is that an "edit?" Didn't JA have perfect handwriting, according to JEAL? Did she make it illegible on purpose, as a joke towards Cassandra?

Information about a short letter from Frank to Cassandra, that Jane was obviously at liberty to open and read--interestingly, Frank, she writes, thinks his letters will be "opened" (presumbably censored?) in Vienna.

I am curious about this: "Mrs. Estwick is married again to a Mr. Sloane, a young man under age, without the knowledge of either family. He bears a good character, however." This is Mrs. Estwick's second marriage and to someone under age, which implies she much be significantly older. It would be interesting to know more about this and how common it was for older woman to marry underage men.

I also forgot to mention being curious about this line under Thursday evening: "Miss Harwood and her friend have taken a house fifteen miles from Bath; she writes very kind letters, but sends no other particulars of the situation. Perhaps it is one of the first houses in Bristol." Is JA being satiric when she surmises Miss Harwood in one of the first houses in Bristol? Might one assume a lack "of particulars" meant Miss Harwood's situation was humble? Is it an insult to say "one of the first houses in Bristol" as we might say "one of the first houses in Appalachia or Po-dunk City?" If Bristol is looked down upon --I am making some huge leaps here--what does that
say about how we are to understand Mrs. Elton? And of course, should Highbury dare to look down even on Bristol?"

Jun. 4th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
Jenner on inoculation
I've not been as careful to go over every detail as I did at the outset and am grateful to Diane for bringing us back to that. This time too the reading of Jenner's article is of historical importance. It's hard to say whether this shows the Austens to be part of a milieu "in the know" or a little belated, but that the article is a direct topic of interest is significant. I have not been interested in the historical details which don't relate particularly to Austen but they merit mention :)

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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