misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters: Letter 27, 20-21, Thurs-Fri, November 1800, now expecting to visit her friend

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.

Tags: jane austen films, jane austens letters, women's art, women's films

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