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Dear friends and readers,

We've read slightly more than a fifth of Jane Austen's letters.  They are still not gone to Bath (see letter 32).

There are two unusual passages in this letter.  She records probable sexual harassment or unwanted encounter of some sort. I wrote the other week that unlike Burney's Evelina, there is little record of any infliction of physical sexual aggression of any sort in Austen's novels but I remembered there was a passage in the letters. It's this one I was remembering. She was shut up in the drawing room with Mr Holder; she thought of sending for the housekeeper or Mary Corbett (farmer's daughter) to fend off this man, but she didn't and just stayed right by the door with her hand on the lock. Mr Holder does seem to be a nasty piece of work:  he has to be argued into decent responsibility towards John Bold, and here he is a nervy abrasive male.

One of several moments in the 2007 NA where males have come over to Catherine, to bump into her, insinuate a desire for a sexual encounter; here Catherine looks slightly disgusted

She also tells of a a servant reluctantly left behind, giving a more suggestive portrait of someone outside her class than she does in all the novels and most of the letters: Nanny who works as a maid to help the women when they go to an assembly (presumably dressing and hair), does the wash, caters to Mrs Austen. She has a husband who her money helps support and who is against her quitting so it seems Nanny is torn because she, like Jane Austen, does not want to go to Bath.

18th century servant in a large kitchen (like Northanger Abbey)

There is a weary tone here, and there's a passage which makes explicit the kinds of frustration leading to tired emptiness:  "There is nothing which energy will not bring one to."  She is talking of Cassandra's plan not to go to Bath (as Jane wants, and with their mother, all three probably to shore one another up) but return with Edward and Elizabeth to Kent. She gives up. All she has said means nothing, her wishes go for nothing.  The weariness comes from her having failed to make any dent in the plan to leave Steventon to go to Bath full-stop, and this is one part of it. 

I also find much wryness and dry humor.  There is more than one passage showing Austen registering the poverty of conversation and hence repetition of inanities she had to endure - this reminds me of Emma's restlessness at the Cole's party. But the utterances are written in a dry and wry tone.


Henry showing a just appreciation of the beauty and delicacy of Mrs Allen's muslin dress (2007 NA)

She begins by saying she has nothing to tell about Manydowne (by letter) but writes because Cassandra expects a letter and if she waits Cassandra's visit to Goodnestone would make her letter arrive after Cassandra left. She's not sure Cassandra will direct to her at home (Steventon still).

Then several sentences about the clothes she will need this coming summer and what she plans to buy in Bath:plain brown cambric muslin, a requirement for specific colors (two brown, one a "very pretty yellow and white cloud") and length (for a tall woman). Brown might have been easier to keep clean. Cambric muslin is a lightweight plain weave cotton. It would not cost too much and be comfortable. the tone is that of a dog-trot:  orders for cambric muslin and the requirement for specific colors (two brown, one a "very pretty yellow and white cloud") and length (for a tall woman).

It's apparently very cold just now; there was an idea (bogus) that people did not get sick as easily in deep freeze weather as they did in mild winter ("dreadfully mild and unhealthy season"). The theory of sickness was all wrong; one idea was you became ill from "miasma" in the air -- hence the talk of going to places where the air was healthier. But Austen imagines if they complained before about the unhealthiness of mild air, now they will wish it back "with all your hearts" now they are "half starved quite frozen."  They probably did have a reasonable fire, but these are not centrally heated insulated houses, none of them, and it's cold in winter in the UK.

Then the incident of Mr Holder's aggressive abrasive behavior, some form of sexual harassment where she thinks to call the housekeeper or a nearby farmer's daughter but decides holding onto the door knob so she can get away if he gets really violent -- this "hitting" on her, to use the contemporary phrase, is literal. This is a kind of (alas) commonplace incident she does not put in her novels.  Despite her closer adherence to decorousness, Riccoboni is the only other novelist beyond Burney and Smith to record this sort of thing in novels that I can remember from the 18th century.

An unwanted declaration of love by Nicholas Lancret (ca 1720)

 If it were Austen were just worried about a lack of chaperon, she would not stand by the door holding onto the lock or think of calling for a housekeeper or farmer's daughter.  If she reacted this way just to being alone with a man in a room,she'd be ludicrous. There is no sense in the novels or these letters (or any record that has come down to us) that she feared physical sexual life as such. she dislikes what it does to women (endless babies, growing old before your time, death), yes.

Four days of "dissipation" (wasted insofar as anything serious -- writing - could be done or maybe reading). Just the people in the house with the sore loser (so LeFaye thinks) Fulwar. But it says "we" were very cross so I take it this table of card playing was not fun for more than one of them. Digweed is another person they are having hassles with over the fallout from Mr Austen giving up his control or direction of his parish.

The first time I read this sentence I thought it lay behind the snow scene at Xmas in Emma. I still do:

"While I was there a sudden fall of snow rendered the roads impassable, and made my journey home in the little carriage much more easy and agreeable than my journey down."

The 1996 Emma: it snow on the way there: Mr John Knightley offering his arm to Emma

As Diane remarks, this does not seem to make much sense. How could snow make the journey easier. Perhaps Austen miswrote something here, was not thinking? It could simply be ironic only I don't feel ironies here -- only the weariness and dryness we spoke of yesterday and Sunday.

Maybe the carriage then went across the frozen countryside; remember roads were bad, not macadamized.  Perhaps Jane Austen liked snow.  It covers the world with quiet and her favorite poets loves to write of snow, imagine it, sit in a warm house in front of a fire with snow outside (Cowper) and Austen gives Mr Knightely one of the lines Cowper writes during one such incident.

Then the usual sarcasms about the family.  After Eliza and Fulwar leave, Jane thinks how glad Cassandra will be to hear Mary will have another maid.  (Maybe it's Cassandra who needs a maid in the first place to help her help Elizabeth.)  The ostensible reason is Sally is "too much a servant to find time for everything" (a nasty crack, condescending, I'd like to see how Austen would fare doing hard work in this era before modern washing stuff) and Mary wants Edward to go out more.

Why does she not take him out herself? Beneath her dignity?  I don't mean to say Austen questions this, but rather that I do.

Then the hopelessness of Mr Rice's chance for a living in Deane because of the narrow-minded perverseness of Mrs Harwood. Here Austen does lash out against meanness.  :  apparently Mrs Harwood is the "perverse and narrow-minded woman" who (the implication is) will not oblige those she loves so why should she oblige those she doesn't and that's Mr Rice who wants the living at Deane in the Harwoods' gift. But by and large she is controlled. She is accepting the going to the Bath to the point of acquiescing in Nanny not coming with them to Bath even though this means she and Mrs Austen may have to somehow deal with the wash themselves. I don't say they will necessarily wash, but who knows? such horrible tasks have devolved upon gentlewomen now and again -- Mme de la Tour du Pin descended to this and plucking chickens when she landed in New York state during the early 1790s.

This also gives Austen a chance to remark on how poorly Rice writes. He would have to write a great deal better to convince even a decent woman to help those she loved and there is no love here. 

Cassandra is worried about what Edward has been saying about her.  (Curious that Cassandra didn't destroy this bit, perhaps a slight rebellion here because the feared calumny was about her and she felt she didn't deserve it.) This is where she makes her exhaustion after such intense effort and trauma and frustration explicit.  "There is nothing which energy will not bring one to."  She is talking of Cassandra's plan not to go to Bath (as Jane wants, and with their mother, all three probably to shore one another up) but return with Edward and Elizabeth to Kent. She gives up. All she has said means nothing, her wishes go for nothing.  The weariness comes from her having failed to make any dent in the plan to leave Steventon to go to Bath full-stop, and this is one part of it.  And the reason Cassandra's wanted is language used for a servant:  "in his letter to James, [Edward] seems quite sorry to part with you." The sarcasm has multiple targets then:  "It is a great comfort to me to think that my cares have not been thrown away, and that you are respected in the world?"

Who would not be tired to see such disvaluing of her sister and yet that sister chase after these people and not come with Jane and Mrs Austen to Bath.

This talk about the reality of relatives leads to this aphorism:  "for the present we greatly prefer the sea to all our relations." So, no, they don't want to accept Edward Cooper's invitation to come to Hamstall (a village north of Lichfield), they prefer to go to the sea. The language here plays satirically on the way people talk about offers as "kind:  "Edward Cooper is "so kind ...but we are not so kind as to mean to do it."  She detests cant talk. People are not kind and not doing things out of sheer kindness.

She does get irritated at social lying.  I remember how she writes in S&S that all the "burden of lying" fell on Elinor.


Ackermann's Repository of art, 1809

In the last part of this letter Austen turns her attention to Cassandra's doings in town. Nokes used some of this in his narrative describing Cassandra's visit to Henry and Eliza Austen.  Austen hopes Cassandra will go out a good deal (opera house for examle), see Henry's office (Cleveland Court, a posh part of town) and take away enough to write about for 12 months.

What a wasteland of at least this kind of doings she suggests they have here. The rich inner life of writing is not one Cassandra was interested in -- nor reading books apparently  Burney does have critiques of books in her journals from her earliest to latest years.

The father, mother and Austen have sent a turkey to help out at the dinner table. A gift of the kind people will bring today (say a bottle of wine). And a mention of the exquisite French cook Henry and Eliza apparently pay.

Cassandra may have been bothering her to write smaller so Cassandra will have to pay less for her letters but "I cannot write any closer."  This gives the feeling she's trying hard.

Anna Maxwell Martin makes an appealing Cassandra Austen (Becoming Jane Austen 2008)

The association leads to other frustrations:  she cannot keep up her end if Cassandra goes on another of her (apparently) minimally lettered visits.  After three months of no letters Austen gives out. My heart goes out to her. I know what she feels. So many listservs I see people (say 5% write) and for the others a free ride, or they just have nothing to say or don't want to write.  Can't be bothered. Don't value it.  She can be "loving ... a very excellent correspondent" for three months on minimal reciprocation.  She herself needs to reach out; she herself has a heart and real warmth within all the barbed talk: 

"Neither my affection for you nor for letter-writing can stand out against a Kentish visit. For three months' absence I can be a very loving relation and a very excellent correspondent, but beyond that I degenerate into negligence and indifference."

She then wishes Cassandra a pleasant time at her ball and herself. The Newberry Assembly coming up and what do you know a scheme about the servants. This connects to Bath.  We are not told the ins and outs, but enough to see the Austen women used Nanny as a maid when they went to the assembly (she came cheap?) and that leads to Austen remembering that Nanny's husband is against her quitting work.  (Men do like income too)  So he's not against her coming to bath with them.  It's not clear she will.  Perhaps the fee is too high; the keeping of a fifth person. Austen wishes she could come, dreads doing the wash or coping with it without a live in servant. I'll bet.  We do see that she is accepting the going to the Bath to the point of acquiescing in Nanny not coming with them to Bath even though this means she and Mrs Austen may have to somehow deal with the wash themselves.

She does think of Nanny too. I notice that she can do this -- as her father regularly does.  Mrs H. Rice's place would do for her - so no need to move to Bath to keep a job when the Austens leave. And then this: "It is not many, as she herself is aware that she is qualified for."

So the Austens take a less qualified (less upper class looking, less mannered person) than others; perhaps because she is then cheaper perhaps out of sense of what is humanly useful; they are not such snobs as others?  A woman's life below the gentry comes out here more than in any of her novels.

Nanny's job was to cater to Mrs Austen too according to this last concession:  My mother has not been so well for many months as she is now."  So no need for Nanny there as (from Austen's view) this pretense Mrs Austen is willing to give up  or the need to be better because she will be called upon to be more active in Bath makes her better.

Another with no salutation.


Wedgwood and Byerly showroom:  all must be bought, and an elegant lifestyle maintained

After all all these letters looking forward to Bath have not begun to be mined properly to really describe the life and feel of these fringe types:  This letter has several elements we rarely find in Austen's writing but were part of daily living, from abrasive men to a real servant woman It also as have all the others since the removal to Bath began to be a subject shown Austen aware of and anxious about money in a stronger way than even the earlier letters.  The family would have a much smaller income, all the extra resources gone, the stipend given to James, and now they have to pay rent, buy all food, the drudgery of life has to be done in smaller tight quarters.  (I don't mean to say they knew the poverty of the vast majority of British people at the time, but rather they were continually straitened to keep up a lifestyle as gentry and yet within their means.) They had to give up old practices and ways they would not resume until 1809 in Southampton and not fully until they landed in Chawton Cottage (allowed that after the death of Elizabeth). 

The wish-fulfillment aspect of the novels is highlighted by the comparison.  Only the Watsons and Miss Bates know the level of frustrated cares Austen alludes to in these letters. Servants not a felt presence as real people, and as to the unkind insensitivity of stupid arrogant males we don't really get sufficient details to know what happened in this letter, but we don't hear of this banal kind of distress at all in the novels.

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 , 26 , 27, 28 29, 3031 and 32.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 16th, 2011 03:13 am (UTC)
From Diane R:

"Austen sounds world weary and desperate to stave off boredom in this letter, though, it may be, as she mentioned fairly far down in the letter, Cassandra's long absence is wearing on her. Whatever the reason, her spirits seem low.

She wants to stave off boredom: she asks Cassandra to buy brown muslim for both her and her mother but asks that she buy different shades of brown "as it will be always something to say, to dispute about which is the prettiest." This bespeaks a certain desperation. Of course, this is probably meant to be taken as joking too, but it is directive: please buy this, for this reason. Jane is serious; this is not just a flight of fancy. Different shades of brown will help make conversation.

The boredom and world-weariness come through in her talk of weather. Without bothering to finesse it or add a smiley-face, she writes, almost bitterly, imagining the wearisome, predictable conversation: "now you all draw into the fire, complain that you never felt such bitterness of cold before, that you are half starved, quite frozen, and wish the mild weather back again with all your hearts."

Then she does seem to catch hold of herself and becomes more giddy. She uses hyperbole: "Your unfortunate sister was betrayed last Thursday into a situation of the utmost cruelty." The situation: being forced to be alone in the room with Mr. Holder for 10 minutes. Did she fear a marriage proposal? She says she kept her hand on the lock of the door the whole time, but then says, without transition, "We met nobody but ourselves, played at vingt-un again, and were very cross." I have to imagine, since she only spent 10 minutes with Mr. Holder and had her hand on the door the whole time, that the "we" she played 21 with was someone else.

Another cryptic sentence--and again, perhaps she is just tired, crabby and not paying attention, but this doesn't make sense to me: "While I was there a sudden fall of snow rendered the roads impassable, and made my journey home in the little carriage much more easy and agreeable than my journey down." This doesn't sound like her typical sarcasm, so I wonder how impassable roads made her journey home more easy and agreeable.

She imparts the news that Mary will get another maid, saying, rather tartly (a shot at servants), "I fancy Sally is too much of a servant to find time for everything." Another maid would not be a huge expense in those days, especially as it sounds as if she were to be a young under maid in the nursery, but perhaps it still irked Jane, who was, as we noted, worrying about pennies.

She is out and out crabby about Mr. Rice and his chance of a living at Deane--she strikes at both him and his would-be patronness and doesn't finesse it with giddy humor: "I would not give much for Mr. Rice's chance of living at Deane; he builds his hope, I find, not upon anything that his mother has written, but upon the effect of what he has written himself. He must write a great deal better than those eyes indicate if he can persuade a perverse and narrow-minded woman to oblige those whom she does not love." A jumps right to "Edward Cooper is so kind as to want us all to come to Hamstall this summer, instead of going to the sea, but we are not so kind as to mean to do it. The summer after, if you please, Mr. Cooper, but for the present we greatly prefer the sea to all our relations." Again, acid, and openly, if flippantly, preferring the sea to the relatives."

Edited at 2011-07-16 03:14 am (UTC)
Jul. 16th, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
Two replies
Two replies:

There is still a very popular fallacy around in England that freezing weather is healthier. The rationale has evolved into a belief that the cold "kills all the bugs", which goes against all the evidence that colds and flu are more prevalent in winter. People will never let the facts get in the way of a good myth, and it's probably one that developed from earlier beliefs about miasma. My guess is that there were similar beliefs prior to miasmic theories dating from the Black Death or even before! The English do have some bizarre attitudes to weather, as Noel Coward wrote. In an air-conditioned building or vehicle, if the sweltering heat outside raises the temperature to an uncomfortable point inside, it will usually be the English person who asks if anybody "minds if they open a window"! I can say all this because I'm English. Let others beware.

By Austen's time there was a very good system of turnpike roads which were relatively firm, but the minor country roads had poor drainage and in the winter months could be a sea of mud, made worse by horse traffic. Lone riders could negotiate a way around the trickiest spots, but small carriages would find it very difficult. When it froze, there would be a point at which the ground hardened enough to make carriage travel progress much faster, if a little bumpier. In icy conditions horses could be fitted with "ice nails".
Jul. 16th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
In reply to the two replies
Just on the roads, they certainly were travelable. And Austen shows that in her novels: she's careful to have characters take as long to get to and from places as they would be in real life. That's part of her verisimilitude. My point was they were not yet macadamized which would make all of them hard, not rocky, and with few holes -- when the top was kept up.
Jul. 16th, 2011 03:16 am (UTC)
Nanny and the laundry
Diane R: Ellen is right to focus on Nanny in this relatively long passage in JA about servants:

"Nanny's husband is decidedly against her quitting service in such times as these, and I believe would be very glad to have her continue with us. In some respects she would be a great comfort, and in some we should wish for a different sort of servant. The washing would be the greatest evil. Nothing is settled, however, at present with her, but I should think it would be as well for all parties if she could suit herself in the meanwhile somewhere nearer her husband and child than Bath. Mrs. H. rice's place would be very likely to do for her. It is not many, as she is herself aware, that she is qualified for."

At first, I thought Nanny was perhaps too old to be easily employed elsewhere, then I reread the passage and noticed mention of her child, which would indicate a younger woman. Austen seems to care about Nanny: "she would be a great comfort" at least in some respects. Would it be the comfort of continuity, familiarity? Yet I wonder why, in some ways, Austen wishes for a "different sort" of servant. Ah, if she had only elaborated! Was Nanny too much a part of the family, too little a servant? We don't know. Is it the longing of employers everywhere for that mythic perfect employee? Probably not, as Austen notes that even Nanny is aware that she is not highly qualified for many posts.

Like now, jobs are scarce. Nanny's husband would like--or needs--the income despite the separation. Austen feels Nanny would be better off nearer her family and suggest Mrs. Rice's place, indicating that, for JA, the balance tips slightly towards replacing Nanny. There is compassion and interest in Austen's musings--a thought to find Nanny a place.

I didn't think from this that JA expected to do the laundry herself. I understood that the "greatest evil" referred to what would be a new servant's task of having to do the laundry--I took JA to be musing on hiring someone new and thinking, ah, but she'd have to do the laundry--and that could be problem. Perhaps that would deter likely candidates. Or perhaps it's difficult to get a different servant to do it correctly. I read this passage as a choice between Nanny and someone new.

Edited at 2011-07-16 03:16 am (UTC)
Jul. 16th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
Further on Nanny
There is a portrait of Nanny in _The Watsons_. I came across it today reading Maggie Lane's _JA and Food_;she only enters the room suggestively, but enough is given to show the parallel. Austen did not forget Nanny (as several years later she did not Mme Bigeon). The scene also is one where the callous Tom Musgrave gets a kick out of needling Elizabeth for the early hours the Watsons eat at, and Nanny (merely a servant, trying though to get his dinner to the ill Mr Watson) almost gets caught in the cross-fire.

The whole scene is the sort of cruelty Diane was pointing to (see JA and Food,p 38-39).

Jul. 16th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
d w. harding
Diane remarked how well Harding's "Regulated Hatred" stands up to a reading today, how much it explains quietly. "Say what we will, powerless--or relatively powerless people-will tell their stories if they can, one way or another. We can argue about that story, but a darker current wends through her works, if only in her relentless exposures of petty cruelty."

I replied: "I find much of Harding's work holds up very well. He also understood the nature of her art, how it mixes caricature and satire with realism and novelistic devices. I suggest to Diane if she can find it (or get it through interlibrary loan), she read his Social Psychology and Individual Values. He was a professor of psychology and the perspective on social life and the individual found there is one which leads to an understanding of Jane Austen.

He would know that the indiscriminate distribution of drugs that we have in US society comes partly from social situations. (See my blog: Privatizing Medical Knowledge:

http://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2011/07/14/privatizing-medical-knowledge/ )

I also recommend the book for itself. Another author who goes further in the same vein is Bernard J. Paris: Character and Conflict in Austen's Novels. There is still a level of gingerness, of hagiography in Harding as he seeks to excuse as well as to explain, not Paris."

And want here to add that I wish Austen was always clearly against the relentless cruelty. She does buy into it sometimes and that's very painful, since she sees it. We have to admit that she identifies with Emma far more than she should, especially as the book progresses towards the end, seeing what she does.


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