misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Jane Austen's Letters, Letter 34: Wed, 11 Feb 1801, from Manydown to London

Dear friends and readers,

This is a calmer letter. Jane is out of Steventon. She writes from Manydown where she is staying with the Bigg sisters and their brother to Cassandra, now residing with Henry and Eliza in Berkeley Street. The chord has been cut but more importantly she no longer has the irritant of Mary Austen's triumph and James's acquiescence -- or collusion -- in front of her.

Steventon from Barley Lane, by Julia Lefroy

It is as realistic as those which have come before (see, e.g., Letter 33) about the people she has to be dependent on (Henry, James), the politics surrounding her sailor brothers' lives and continually aware of her lack of money and independent power.  its focus is first on simply retelling a letter sent by Charles; then we get a visit Austen intends to Miss Lyford (not exactly a favorite as we've seen), but also to where the Bigg sisters are (so friends Austen likes, if not as much as Martha Lloyd). Then these worried frettings about traveling, this time it's Cassandra who must be ferried here and there in a state of upper-middle-classdom prestige and safety (how much did these people dread the "lower orders" -- or did they dread being identified as one of them).  I am interested to find that again Austen thinks it fine for Cassandra to go with a servant..

I suggest from this juncture of her experience emerged The Watsons. People have often observed the milieu is that closest to Austen's own and that of her father's generation.  He is the person she has most identified with in this crisis, and for whom she has hidden why he was led to move his family from where they were secure and comfortable.

Page from manuscript of The Watsons: not titled that by Jane Austen. The Younger Sister gives away the strong autobiographical perspective. The bad Tuesday in this case was Oct 13th, 1801: see my calendar drawn from the novel.

Jane is not spending three days in Lisbon, she is not in London -- she's the younger sister, thought to have been the original title of The Watsons, perhaps the novel whose milieu for the central family comes closest to Austen's own.  She dines at the same hour as Emma and Elizabeth do, one their visitors do everything they can to shame them with. I argued from the extant calendar in The Watsons that the novel was begun in 1801 (its opening date is Tuesday, Oct 13th and by my calculations that probably means 1801. So The Watsons is the novel written in the wake of the full brunt of the Austen family dismissal. Its mood is an expression of what she felt at this time. In rereading The Watsons I see the older brother and his nasty wife have inserted in them characteristics very like (but much stronger) we find in John and Fanny Dashwood, so all are reflections of Austen's reaction to her eldest brother and sister-in-law as well as Edward Austen (though it was Henry Austen who made the remark about just think how cheap they will live ...)

A must read & reread



We might mention that at Manydown Austen lives with the Bigg-Wither family. She would be with her wealthy friends (the family went back 4 centuries in records), Elizabeth, Catherine and Aletha. Harris was the brother, born in 1781, so 6 years younger than Austen. The proposal in December 1802 would not have come in a vacuum but after a considerable acquaintance. So perhaps during this and other visits there is building up a relationship between Harris and Jane that Jane's extant letters do not mention. She might have talked of him, described him in some of her letters either unfavorably or mockingly (derisively) or else been frank in some other way (shown him to be stupid, or herself to be half-interested) and Cassandra destroyed it. I speculate that Jane did so write at times and this is part of what was destroyed.

I take Austen's opening line to be a teasing about Mr Smithson, Henry's friend. Cassandra has perhaps written about Mr Smithson so eagerly, that Austen teases her that she likes him.

Again Austen is self-consciously aware she will be seen as writing too much and excuses herself on the grounds of a letter from Charles which she now proceeds to paraphrase. This takes up about 1/2 of Austen's letter..

There is a description of Henry and Eliza's home in Upper Berkeley Street in Nokes, pp 231-234 -- of the French cook, of the lifestyle of Eliza and Henry's doings as a banker.

New Bond Street -- shopping in fashionable London, 1801.

Jane acknowledged Cassandra's letter on her mother's behalf and then proceeds to paraphrase a letter that she has had from Charles Austen.

Charles's letter contained information about Frank as well as himself. The Start is a headland on the Devon coast, a landmark for ships coming up the Channel from the Atlantic. The letter was written there and carried to Popham Lane by Captain Boyle (on his way to Midgham (Boyle family house, north of Reading and Newbury so he passes Winchester, Popham Lane, Basingstoke).Charles had traveled from Lisbon on the Endymion. Charles had met Captain Inglis (a commander) going to take command of Petterel. The Petterel was Frank's ship. Boyle was a big man on the naval board and Austen's allusion to a "conjuror" probably refers to how much the man can help Charles in his career (and Boyle's own). The Endymion has not been plagued with any more prizes is one of her satiric jokes -- this is very much in the vein of her mockery of the way Francis's successes were over-played (letter 32).

Charles spent three pleasant days in Lisbon; they had the Duke of Sussex, 6th son of George III and his morganatic wife, Lady Augusta Murray (daughter of an Earl, Dunmore) aboard.  We see from Austen's letter that the Duke did not hide that he had married Lady Augusta (even if by law not recognized) and was (like a number of these sons of George) "fat"; he also seemed to Charles "jolly and affable." Charles hopes to be in Portsmouth by Tuesday and is eager to see Henry (a banker)

Then we get how Charles was "of course" much "surprised" at his parents' plans, "but quite reconciled" (right -- she's simply paraphrasing his pretense) but still wants to go to Steventon before it's taken over by James and Mary.

I mentioned I've been reading Maggie Lane on Jane Austen and food; ever so discreetly, she registers surprise at Mr and Mrs Austen's move from Steventon (though of course immediately turning to qualify and adhere to the myth they were seeking a version of "golden years"). Charles's letter apparently -- again ever so discreetly paraphrased by Austen with no open admission of subtext -- showed much surprise  "he "was much surprised of course."  But of course too "is quite reconciled," though not enough not to want to get to Steventon before James and Mary move in: He "means to come to Steventon once more while Steventon is still ours." Not only did James and Mary make it clear they would be regarded as distant guests, Charles is aware there is nothing to be gained (indeed much lost) by this decamping. Note that Austen is ever controlling her every move by money: she will stay with Miss Lyford only 4 days because then she can return at no expense by filching a ride with Catherine Bigg.

The mention of Abercombie can introduce Sir Home Riggs Popham. Popham accarried dispatches for Abercombie (who died in March 1801 from wounds).  He would be another man around Austen's sailor brothers.  Southam offers a portrait of Popham, pp 135-57 because Jane Austen wrote a political epigram (yes, Austen) defending this man as a victim of envy (he was court-martialed). Basically (according to Southam) Austen was right: Popham might have been as amoral as the rest of these naval people when it came to a career, and he was capable of wild adventurous risks, he was also efficient, knowledgable, effective, and ambitious -- and his quick rose earned the jealousy of other naval people who cared more about their careers and status than anything else.. As Southam says, there is something of his personality type in Austen's Henry Crawford (p. 166).

Austen then concludes her report on Charles with an allusion to the doings of Cassandra, Henry and Eliza in London:

"Such I believe are all the particulars of his Letter, that are worthy of traveling into the Regions of wit, Elegance, fashion, Elephants and Kangaroons (kangaroos)." LeFaye says Cassandra had gone to the zoo at Exeter Exchange -- as I believe John and Fanny Dashwood do with their little darling son.

W see the sign for the menagerie (Zoo) at the top floor of the Exeter Exchange.

For Letter 32 instead of patiently parsing out the lines the way I just did this one I quoted a long paragraph by Southam retelling the details of what Austen was half-mocking.  Austen's epigram  shows her genuine casual knowledge of the intimacies the Royal Bourbons seemed to share with everyone.

Miss Lyford was the young woman Austen suggested was either mutually in love with or chasing down the Digweed involved in the bickering and jockeying for most position and least expense at Cheesedown Farm. Mary Susan (born 1772) did marry James Digweed in 1803. There is no portrait of this apparent friend of Jane's (or why visit her), only paraphrasing of Austen's cattiness (Nokes 226).  Tomalin does not mention her either, only John Lyford, the man who later was Austen's doctor when Austen was dying. I for one wish we knew more about the characters of these women. Austen makes no portraits of them in her letters; they are too scatty. By contrast, you do have portraits of people in Burney's letters and that of many other women of this era.

Austen, for example, will only stay with Mary Susan for four days in order not to have to pay to travel back and still travel in upper class exclusionary style by going with Catherine Bigg. It seems that Catherine (not Mary Susan --it's hard to tell from the vague pronoun reference) wished to see Cassandra again before she left permanently (as they saw it), if their schedules allow this. Austen says she supposed that Cassandra would not stay with ehr brother (Berkeley Street) more han 3 weeks.

It's apparent here that Catherine will miss Cassandra and Austen assumes that Cassandra might like to see Catherine Bigg once more when she is still a owner-occupier as daughter of Steventon. The sentences do not quite make sense (as last week's on the snow didn't). for now Austen turns round and says she hopes this news of Catherine will not retard her coming back.


shelf in Austen home, from Miss Austen Regrets (they'd like to have more customs.

Teasing out this detail we see another source of Jane's unhappiness at leaving Steventon. She leaves women friends. Psychological studies have shown repeatedly how much women friends mean to other women, and at least in Jane's case that seems to be so. Perhaps Cassandra too -- if so, then staying at Kent was something of a sacrifice, though the reverse sentence suggests it was not. I get the feeling Cassandra is a self-contained controlled woman; the insistence on preparing and thinking and feeling pious fits in with that.

The more of this fretting detail about travel. In the mid1790s letters we had Austen going over vexing different plans for her to be able to travel and her frustration at having to wait for a brother to take her, and here is a repeat. Henry might send a carriage; Cassandra could avail herself of John their servant who could sit outside on the bar or take some cheaper way near her? (How they regard servants as fixtures here for their convenience.)

I note her sarcasm over James her brother. She says that James offered to meet Cassandra anywhere -- but Austen says he would not want to inconvenience himself, and has no intention of going to London on his own account.  Cassandra had better go with John, the servant.


The landscape in many of the film adaptations: this one sets quiet mood.

The last part of her letter from Manydown quickly sketches a visit to a country village town, Baugherst.  I add to Diane's remarks about the wit here (see comments):  this small last section has the usual barbed remarks . A sentence testifies to Austen's love of landscape and countryside (think Cowper). She had hoped to be in a pretty place, but it is winter. Family life of a house is described ironically: "all the comforts of little Children, dirt & litter."  Not much fun with endless noise, messes. Mr Dyson was his usual desperate self ("wild" = desperation) and she once again (as with Anna "poor animal") pregnant. Yes fat here means pregnant:  the 7th of 13 pregnancies. Once again the results of the cruel shallow selfish stance of those who repressed the knowledge and dissemination of contraceptive devices is before us: the ironies here include the reality it was done partly to keep men in charge (and women submissive); a man with little income and so many around him is not exactly in control of his life or space.

The only place left for Austen to express herself directly is the close we are told they pass the time quietly, and then we begin to get the usual barbed remarks  "Mr Dyson as usual looked wild & Mrs Dyson as usual looked big." This "poor animal" (to use Austen's phrase for Anna during yet another pregnancy) was on her 7th of 13 pregnancies

A Mr Bramston called in Manydowne the day before: if John Byng (LeFaye's note) is to be believed he was a "blockhead;" and while (years later) his mother or mother-in-law enjoyed Mansfield Park ,her daughter-in-law declared P&P, S&S and MP "boring and nonsensical." It should be remembered that from around 1820 when larger groups of people began to read Austen for the first time and until 1870 Austen was regarded as an elite taste. Nowadays many who might dislike Austen or be bored will not say so readily; there was nothing preventing conventional dullards then. Boring Austen might be to many who want adventure stories, but the "nonsensical" shows the cant mind.

Jane has sent a colored Muslin gown instead of a white one. So Cassandra was in need of a gown.

And "Everybody sends their love" (of course they do) and we get a fuller salutation than those in the last two letters which have survived from this moment: "I am sincerely Yours ..."

We then have a silence of three months. Some of this would be letters between Cassandra and Jane before Jane got to Bath; others include her letters to Frank and other friends.  Perhaps she began The Watsons then.

Unabridged texts read aloud.

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, 32 and 33.

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

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