Monday, 25 August 2014

'Mansfield Park': Should Fanny have married Henry?

Fanny’s situation presents us with the conundrum of whether or not it is always wrong to marry without love. Jane Austen has created a situation where marrying without affection is presented in the most favourable light. Henry is charming. He is rich. He loves her for herself, and his love is disinterested, which is to his credit. It also is in his favour that when he does fall in love, it is with a woman like Fanny, and he sets out to change himself (not her), based on her values, which he has learned to appreciate.

Jane Austen points out that Henry might well have succeeded with Fanny, had she not already been in love with Edmund. Maybe Jane is presenting Fanny as more human and more true to life than most contemporary literary heroines. By giving Fanny a prior attachment, she is allowed to resist all of Henry's charm, something which few 18-year-old girls would have been able to do otherwise. Maybe we are meant to see Fanny as neither a paragon of virtue and principles, nor as the insufferable prig she sometimes appears to be, but rather as a normal girl who has good principles, but who is really governed as much by her heart (her love for Edmund) as by her head.

There are similarities between the relationship of Fanny and Henry, and that of Elizabeth and Darcy. In both cases, the lady starts off despising the man. In both cases, when her feelings become known to him, along with the reasons for them, the man tries to change to prove himself worthy. Both men have sisters whom they love. Both want to marry for love, rather than for social or financial gain.

If we believe that Darcy is capable of changing, it is reasonable to believe that Henry might also. He is young. Although he is an unabashed flirt, we are never led to believe he has seduced women, as we know Willoughby did. He is kind to his sister, and shows a great deal of tact and delicacy when dealing with Fanny's family in Portsmouth. His own sister believes that he would never be cruel to Fanny, even if he no longer loved her: …but I know you, I know that a wife you loved would be the happiest of women, and that even when you ceased to love, she would yet find in you the liberality and good-breeding of a gentleman.

Admittedly, we learn more about Darcy's goodness and generosity in the past from his housekeeper and others, but Henry's going out of his way to help William has some correlation with Darcy's aid to Lydia.

Henry's attachment to Fanny is not imaginary, like that of Mr. Collins. Also, Elizabeth is the daughter of a gentleman, but Fanny is only the niece of one, which is different. As her Aunt Norris constantly reminds her, she must prepare herself ‘for that mediocrity of condition which seemed to be [her] lot.’ It is unlikely that she will ever marry well, and she is destined to be a burden on either her uncle or her father. She can have little hope of anything better. If she married Henry, she could continue to help her brother William's career; she could aid the rest of her brothers and sisters, and her parents as well, in ways that would never be available to her if she simply continued living with her uncle; she could be a benefactress to Henry's tenants and the poor in the village where his estate lies; and she would no longer be dependent on her uncle. She could attend the theatre, read books, further her education, and in many ways enjoy life far more than she can as Lady Bertram's companion. In addition, she would be gratifying the wishes of her uncle, to whom she owes a great deal; in a sense, doing her duty, as he points out to her: 


And I should have been very much surprised had either of my daughters, on receiving a proposal of marriage at any time, which might carry with it only half the eligibility of this, immediately and peremptorily and without paying my opinion or my regard the compliment of any consultation, put a decided negative on it. I should have been very much surprised, and much hurt, by such a proceeding. I should have thought it a gross violation of duty and respect. You are not to be judged by the same rule. You do not owe me the duty of a child. But, Fanny, if your heart can acquit you of ingratitude..........

Sir Thomas sees nothing wrong in marrying without love: Fanny is quick to let him know that she does not have any affection for Henry. Even Edmund, though he knows Fanny does not love Henry, believes that she should marry him, that she will learn to love him: 

Sir Thomas could not regard the connection as more desirable than he did. It had every recommendation to him, and while honouring her for what she had done under the influence of her present indifference, honouring her in rather stronger terms than Sir Thomas could quite echo, he was most earnest in hoping, and sanguine in believing, that it would be a match at last, and that, united by mutual affection, it would appear that their dispositions were as exactly fitted to make them blessed in each other, as he was now beginning seriously to consider them. 

The only person against the match is Aunt Norris, because she believes Fanny does not deserve it! 

Some find the ending of Mansfield Park unsatisfactory. For long it seems that Henry will be right for Fanny. Henry's elopement with Maria Rushworth is contrived to pair them off according to a moral plan that does not convince. Edmund and Fanny should have been seen as the good redeemers of the Crawfords. Instead it is the failure of goodness. Fanny could have accepted Henry, as a sentence explicitly stated: Fanny must have been his reward, and a reward very voluntarily bestowed ....

Friday, 22 August 2014

Jane Austen's Novels: Characters studying Character

Although Jane wrote wonderful dialogue, the absence of it on rare occasions causes a character to disappoint. Examples are Lady Russell (who has very few words) and Colonel Brandon (whose few speeches are almost always gloomy). Jane's numerous memorable characters come alive even more in what they say than in those succinct descriptions she is also famous for.
Jane's fascination with the problem of assessing character is expressed through Eleanor Dashwood. Explaining to Edward that he is wrong to consider Marianne, despite her animation, 'a lively girl', she adds: I have frequently detected myself ... in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other – fancying people so much more gay, or grave, or ingenious, or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why, or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge. How well Jane understood how our impressions of others are formed!

In the eighteenth-century epistolary novels, letter-writers spent their time analysing and commenting on the behaviour of others. It is natural that this custom should be found in Jane's heroines. The reader is influenced by the heroines' opinions, partly because we sympathise with them and partly just because they take character analysis so seriously. Elizabeth Bennet makes a declared hobby of studying character. If people show ill-breeding, she makes no excuses for them, as her sister Jane always does. She speaks her mind. And she is right about most people, particularly the women. With 'more quickness of observation and less pliancy of temper than her sister', she finds Bingley's sisters proud and conceited. Lizzy says 'intricate characters are most amusing'. When Darcy suggests there may be limited scope for studying such people in a country neighbourhood, she replies, 'But people themselves alter so much that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.' (Jane Austen's own pleasure in rural observations is manifested here; and ironically it is the something new in Elizabeth that forms the subject matter of much of Pride and Prejudice.) Elizabeth says: I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can – what better manifesto could there be for Jane Austen? 


There is a long paragraph where Elinor Dashwood sums up Mr. Palmer. She thinks his temper may be soured by finding like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman. (One is reminded of the situation of Mr. Bennet.) Palmer's habit of abusing everything comes from a desire to compensate and make himself appear 'superior to other people'. 

Since Edward Ferrars is such an undemonstrative character, it is also through Elinor's evaluation that we have to accept his worth. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent.... I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments, and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure. Jane Austen makes it clear from Chapter One that Elinor Dashwood, at the age of only nineteen, is a girl whose judgement we can trust. She has more sense than her mother and dissuades her from rushing away from their home as soon as it has been occupied by Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood.

Presenting characters through the eyes of others is a tricky technique. We must first understand the prejudices of the observer. Thus, for example, when Caroline Bingley describes Elizabeth Bennet's lack of beauty, we know she is jealous of Elizabeth and therefore we do not give much weight to her opinion. 

Jane's heroines are indeed keen students of character and she sometimes allows them to express the kind of opinion she might have given herself. Tom Musgrave in The Watsons is a poseur. He likes people to think him stylish and fascinating. Emma Watson sums him up after one meeting: he seems very vain, very conceited, absurdly anxious for distinction, and absolutely contemptible in some of the measures he takes for becoming so. In criticising the mean and arrogant, even Elinor Dashwood can exercise a sharp tongue. When John Dashwood assures her that 'Mrs. Ferrars can never forget that Edward is her son', she replies: 'You surprise me; I should think it must nearly have escaped her memory by this time'.

Even in the early work Catharine, the heroine makes comments which a more sensitive person than Camilla would recognize as sarcastic. When Camilla reports how Lady Halifax had to buy clothes for Mary Wynne and adds: 'Is not it shameful?', Catharine retorts, 'That she should be so poor? It is indeed, with such wealthy connexions as the Family have.’

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Servants of Jane Austen's Family


Jane Austen's surviving letters throw some light on the number and nature of the servants employed by her family.
The Austen ladies, like everyone of their class, depended on a small number of labourers and servants for their comforts and had to deal with them - sometimes almost as part of the family. References to them are incorporated into the general fun. When the family was moving to Bath on her father's retirement, Jane wrote: My Mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do, to our keeping two Maids – my father is the only one not in the secret. – We plan having a steady Cook, & a young giddy Housemaid, with a sedate middle aged Man, who is to undertake the double office of Husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter (Letter 29); meanwhile their present man, John Bond, has had an offer from a Farmer Paine of taking him into his Service whenever he might quit my father's. We learn later that John continued in the employ of the new tenant of Steventon.

In Southampton (January 1807), the Austen ladies were concerned about their reliable servant Jenny, who had not returned from a visit: we have heard nothing of her since her reaching Itchingswell, and can only suppose that she must be detained by illness in somebody or other ... Our dinners have certainly suffered not a little by having only Molly's head and Molly's hands to conduct them; she fries better than she did, but not like Jenny (Letter 49).

From Southampton in December 1808 (Letter 62), Jane passed on a request from Mrs. Anne Hilliard, maidservant at Steventon Rectory, to find employment for her twelve-year-old daughter Hannah. Yesterday I, or rather You had a letter from Nanny Hilliard, the object of which is that she wd be very much obliged to us if we wd get Hannah a place ... She says not a word of what service she wishes for Hannah, nor what Hannah can do – but a Nursery I suppose, or something of that kind, must be the Thing.

In Lyme Regis, a manservant proves to be the delight of our lives ... My Mother's shoes were never so well blacked before, & our plate never looked so clean. – He waits extremely well, is attentive, handy, quick, & quiet, and in short has a great many more than all the cardinal virtues (Letter 39). He is surprisingly literate: He can read, & I must get him some books. Unfortunately he has read the 1st vol. of Robinson Crusoe. We have the Pinckards Newspaper however, which I shall take care to lend him.

Newspapers were flourishing. The sale of daily newspapers had practically doubled between 1753 and 1775. The Daily Universal Register (now The Times) had been founded in 1785 and The Observer in 1791.

When they were preparing to settle in Chawton, Jane writes that they were thinking of having a manservant, and His name shall be Robert, if you please (Letter 61). Eliza, a maidservant at Southampton, was happy to move with the Austen ladies to Chawton, as it took her closer to her mother. However, the manservant Cholles was sacked: We have been obliged to turn away Cholles, he grew so very drunken and negligent, & we have a Man in his place called Thomas (Letter 67). My own dear Thomas, as she describes him in Letter 78, proved an excellent support, even accompanying Jane home from a social occasion on a January evening.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Did Jane Austen plan to marry?

Did Jane Austen ever come close to getting married? Cassandra's censorship ensured that no surviving letters supply an answer.

We know Jane accepted a proposal in 1802 from Harris Bigg-Wither (five years her junior and heir to the nearby Manydown estate); but she withdrew her consent the following morning.

In doing so, she declined luxury as mistress of a fine Tudor mansion with a grand park. Such was her integrity.

She did not let this disrupt her friendly relationship with Harris's sisters. In a letter written in 1808 from Godmersham, she insists that she wants to be home in Southampton for a planned visit by those ladies: I have felt obliged to give Edwd & Elizth one private reason for my wishing to be at home in July. – They feel the strength of it, & say no more; – & one can rely on their secrecy. – After this, I hope we shall not be disappointed of our Friends' visit; – my honour, as well as my affection will be concerned in it (Letter 54).

As for the story that Jane fell in love possibly at Lyme with a man who later died – a family tradition begun many years later by Cassandra (as related by James Edward Austen-Leigh in his Memoir of 1870) – there is no clue in the surviving letters.

Perhaps there is a hint of another proposal. An August 1805 letter reported that Edward Bridges was being remarkably attentive. He had been too late for a cricket match, returned home and It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me (Letter 46).

In October 1808, she wrote to Cassandra: I wish you may be able to accept Lady Bridges's invitation, tho' I could not her son Edward's (Letter 57). Edward was a brother of the Elizabeth Bridges whom Jane's brother Edward had married.

Jane was always ready to make fun about marriage possibilities. It was a running joke that she would have married the poet Crabbe, though she never met him. When visiting London in September 1813 while Crabbe was there, she feigned disappointment at failing to meet him, at the theatre, for example: I was particularly disappointed at seeing nothing of Mr Crabbe (Letter 87). On the death of Crabbe's wife, Jane wrote: Poor woman! I will comfort him as well as a I can, but I do not undertake to be good to her children. She had better not leave any (Letter 93). While in Kent during November 1813, Jane met a Miss Lee. Jane wrote: Miss Lee I found very conversible; she admires Crabbe as she ought. – She is at an age of reason, ten years older than myself at least (Letter 96). 

At Godmersham in 1813 Jane became acquainted with Stephen Lushington, the member of parliament for Canterbury – the man of whom she wrote: I like him very much. ... He is quite an M.P. – very smiling, with an exceeding good address .... I am rather in love with him. – I dare say he is ambitious & Insincere (Letter 92).

There are several references around Christmas 1796 to a flirtation with Tom Lefroy, nephew by marriage of Jane's friend Mrs. Lefroy. The nineteen-year-old Irish-born Tom spent just three weeks at Ashe Parsonage with his aunt and must have met Jane several times. So flippant is Jane on the subject that it is difficult to be sure of her feelings. Her claim that she would not have accepted a proposal from him may be girlish affectation. Here as elsewhere, Jane gives herself the persona of a heroine in an epistolary romance, as David Nokes pointed out in Jane Austen, A Life (1997).

Jane seemed to be concerned to be of interest to Tom. Writing of a forthcoming ball, she says (Letter 2), I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat. In the same letter, she adds, Tell Mary that I make over Mr Heartley and all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future ... as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr Tom Lefroy, for whom I do not care sixpence. Two years later (Letter 11) she reports that a letter from Tom was read when Mrs. Lefroy visited their home. He was to practise the law in Ireland. I am very sorry, he wrote, to hear of Mrs. Austen's illness. It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving my acquaintance with that family – with a hope of creating to myself a nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it. Jane comments That is rational enough; there is less love and more sense in it than sometimes appeared before, and I am very well satisfied. It will all go on exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner.

A year later Tom married the sister of a college friend. They had ten children and Tom, who was addicted to biblical study, made rapid progress as a judge. He became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1852. Claire Tomalin thinks Jane Austen was really in love: the experience with Tom taught her what it felt like to 'feel the blood warm ... to long for what you are not going to have and had better not mention'. If so, it was an experience she put to good use in her novels. 
A Portrait of Tom Lefroy.
Amazing but true, a photograph of Tom Lefroy also exists. It was taken in 1869, shortly before his death at the age of 93. It shows him at that age bald-headed and stern in appearance, with a formidable jaw.

Audrey Hawkridge, in Jane Austen and Hampshire (published by Hampshire County Council in 1995), suggests that Mrs. Lefroy failed in match-making here and probably tried again with Samuel Blackall, a boisterous clergyman, two years later. Mrs. Hawkridge suggests there may even have been a third - the landowner Thomas Harding Newman. The 'Zoffany' portrait of a teenage Jane Austen (almost certainly not our Jane) was for fifty years owned by his son, who was convinced it was a portrait of the novelist. It could just conceivably be a portrait of Jane painted when at the age of twelve she was in Sevenoaks, the muslin dress perhaps being a gift from her great-uncle Francis. Perhaps Jane wore it at the wedding of her cousin Jane Cooper in 1792. (Fanny Price is given a dress by her uncle to wear at the cousin's wedding.) In 1973, the Committee of the Jane Austen Society gave their opinion that the portrait was not of the novelist. However, their reasoning was thin: the hair-do (short, with a fringe) and the dress (very high waistline) would not, they say, have been in fashion until a few years later. In the Report of the Jane Austen Society for 1974, the opposite case is cogently argued by Constance Pilgrim. Jane Cooper, incidentally, married Captain (later Admiral) Thomas Williams - yet another naval connection in the family.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Engagement of Emma and Mr. Knightley - on curious terms!

An odd point: a gentleman aged almost 40 proposes to a young lady and is accepted. But a few days later she slaps on the appallingly unreasonable condition that they should postpone the marriage indefinitely - possibly for many years. What on earth is he to make of this? You would expect a flaming row and possibly a breaking off of the engagement.

But that is not what happens in Emma. The heroine accepts Mr. Knightley's proposal. Then she informs him that she will not marry him while her father is still alive. She must always remain with her father. But her father could live another twenty years or more! You can bet he will, too! When they marry, Mr. Knightley could be 60 and Emma herself over 40. In fact, Mr. Knightley stands a fair chance of dying first.

It is no excuse to say that Emma expected Mr. Knightley to move in with them: 'such an alternative as this had not occurred to her'. Also, it is no use saying she expected to take her father with her to settle at Donwell: 'she had tried the scheme and rejected it'.

A possible inference is that Emma really did not want to be in the married state. She once said I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband's house, as I am of Hartfield.

This is a little disturbing: possibly what she wanted (albeit unconsciously) was not to marry Mr. Knightley but to prevent him from marrying anyone else!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Travelling in England (1790-1815)

It is fascinating to visualise travel two hundred years ago, as depicted in Jane's novels. When Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins and moves to settle at Hunsford Parsonage, this involves travelling from, say, Wheathampstead to Sevenoaks - a distance of less than 60 miles. Even with the average traffic load of the M25, it would be unlikely to take more than two hours today. Darcy thinks Charlotte must be pleased to be not very far from her family. Elizabeth, however, considers such a journey long.

In Mansfield Park, William Price attends the ball (in Northamptonshire) on the 22nd but has to be in Portsmouth on the 24th. He covers about 150 miles necessarily via London, it seems, even though London is off the direct route. At first he intends to go by the mail from Northampton the following night which would not have allowed him an hour’s rest before he must have got into a Portsmouth coach. It seems he would have been travelling all through the night. Is this what the mail coaches did? Their lights must have been remarkably advanced. As it happens, Henry Crawford offers him the slightly less tiring alternative of a lift as far as London, travelling post with four horses

When William travels from Mansfield Park to Portsmouth with Fanny later in the novel, in the dirty month of February, the journey takes them two days, with an overnight stop at Newbury, averaging 75 miles a day and apparently avoiding London.

The journey from Bath to Northanger Abbey in Gloucestershire (Chapter 20 of Northanger Abbey) is vivid, as is Catherine's return to her home (roughly from Stroud via Salisbury to a village near Southampton - a total of about 93 miles). With a very early start, this takes all of one day. Maybe this journey enforced by her eviction is to be regarded as a special case, for it incurs no sense of wrong, even though it is undertaken on a Sunday. One of the things Anne Elliot holds against her cousin Walter Elliot is that there had been 'bad habits' in his younger days, including 'Sunday-travelling'. Sundays were 'holy'. Working and travelling on a Sunday - except in an emergency - was wrong. In England, this attitude persisted until about 1960. 

Horse-drawn vehicles travelled slowly. The journey from just outside Exeter to London (over 160 miles) takes Elinor and Marianne three days. It was just possible to get from London to the Bristol region (about 120 miles) in one day: Willoughby did when he heard Marianne was ill. He set out from London at 8 o'clock, stopped only for a pint of porter with my cold beef' at Marlborough and reached Cleveland at 8 o'clock in the evening. That was a very fast journey for those days.


The Dashwood ladies in Sense and Sensibility set up home in their cottage at Barton, just north of Exeter (approximately where Brampford Speke is). Later scenes take place in London and Somerset. It is easy to imagine that Jane, in writing of their experiences and Mrs. Dashwood's plans for improvements, may well have been using some of her own family's feelings. As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window-shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honey-suckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind... . Mrs. Dashwood says that in the Spring she will think about building. These parlours are both too small for such parties of our friends as I hope to see often collected here... . The Dashwood ladies – guided by Elinor’s prudent advice - restrict themselves to just three servants in their cottage.


As for taking furniture when moving house, it is interesting that when Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters move from Norland, Sussex, to Barton, their furniture is 'sent round by water'.


On a slightly related point, I am pleased to note that Edmund gets ordained at Peterborough Cathedral, because Peterborough is a place I often visit. Peterborough Cathedral (dating from the Twelfth Century) would have been Edmund’s ‘local’ cathedral, being only about 35 miles north-east of Mansfield Park. Catherine of Aragon is buried there.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The Denham Family in 'Sanditon'

Lady Denham is an interesting study – another of the titled Austen characters whose manners are unworthy of their status. Born 'to wealth but not to education', she had outlived two husbands. The first, Mr. Hollis, left her the manor house and much of Sanditon. The second, Sir Harry Denham, left her a title. There are strong hints that she married only with those two acquisitions in view. In spite of her fortune, she constantly scrounges hospitality and meals from others. 


At seventy, she is alert, opinionated and healthy, but even her business partner Mr. Parker recognizes that 'now and then, a littleness will appear' in her attitudes. She is too concerned about profit. Hearing that a rich family from the West Indies is expected, she does not share Parker's excitement but rather fears it will push prices up. 

Sir Edward Denham and his sister Esther, nephew and niece of the second husband, have little money. They hope for a bequest from Lady Denham. Her ladyship delights in fending them off. She expects Sir Edward to make his own way: he 'must marry for money. – He and I often talk the matter over.' Though agreeing that they are 'good young people', she will not even invite them to spend a week with her. 

Sir Edward and Esther are in competition for her Ladyship’s favours with the sensible and gentle Clara Brereton, a young relative whom Lady Denham has made her protégée. Charlotte meets Clara just after visiting Sanditon's library (where she had noticed Fanny Burney's Camilla). It occurs to her that Clara could be a literary heroine. She is regularly handsome, with great delicacy of complexion and soft blue eyes, a sweetly modest and yet naturally graceful address... she could not separate the idea of a complete heroine from Clara Brereton. Her situation with Lady Denham so very much in favour of it! – She seemed placed with her on purpose to be ill-used.... (Like her creator, Charlotte was sufficiently well-read in novels to supply her imagination with amusement, but not at all unreasonably influenced by them...!) 

Sir Edward is an amusing caricature. Charlotte is humbugged into liking him at first, for he is attentive, with 'a fine countenance' and 'a most pleasing gentleness of voice'. However, increasing familiarity shows him to be a poseur. Unintelligently and unintelligibly, he speaks of literature in pseudo-critical clichés he has learned by heart. 

He claims to be 'no indiscriminate novel-reader', explaining: 

You will never hear me advocating those puerile emanations which detail nothing but discordant principles incapable of amalgamation, or those vapid tissues of ordinary occurrences from which no useful deductions can de drawn. – In vain may we put them into a literary alembic; – we distil nothing which can add to science. – You understand me I am sure? 

Charlotte replies: 

I am not quite certain that I do

Sir Edward likes to talk feelingly of the sea, and says 'Scott's beautiful lines' are never out of his mind (though he is unable to recall them: it must be Byron's sea he is searching for - 'Dark-heaving – boundless, endless and sublime – The Image of Eternity'). 

So Charlotte sees through him: He seemed very sentimental, very full of some feelings or other, and very much addicted to all the newest-fashioned hard words – had not a very clear brain she presumed, and talked a good deal by rote

In Chapter 8, Jane Austen uses a conversation outside the library between Charlotte and Sir Edward to offer us food for thought on the effects of reading. Illustrating a point noted from the time of Fielding onwards, that the novels of Richardson and his imitators had an unintended bad influence on readers who ignored their professed moral stance, she depicts Sir Edward as one such reader. He sees man's determined pursuit of woman in defiance of every feeling and convenience as heroic rather than despicable. It had occupied the greater part of his literary hours, and formed his character. Not having 'a very strong head', such a reader sees the graces, the spirit, the sagacity, and the perseverance, of the villain of the story as outweighing all his absurdities and all his atrocities. To Sir Edward, such conduct was genius, fire and feeling. – It interested and inflamed him. So, like gothic villains, he wants to be passionate about women. He fancies himself as a great seducer in the literary mould, a 'dangerous man'. He plays the part, making gallant speeches to all attractive young women (including Charlotte). Soon Charlotte thinks him 'downright silly’. 

Sir Edward sees Clara Brereton as the potential victim of his 'serious designs'. He fantasizes about abducting her. Here, Jane Austen touches on a murky bit of psychology, but treats it with a light touch. The place to which Sir Edward wants to abduct Clara is Timbuctoo! He knows he cannot afford to take her there and must prefer the quietest sort of ruin and disgrace for the object of his affections

But he is no match for the women: Clara saw through him, and had not the least intention of being seduced; and Charlotte, hearing his praise of villain-heroes in whom we see the strong spark of woman's captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man, delivers the frosty rebuff: If I understand you aright... our taste in novels is not the same!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Medical practices, as shown in Jane Austen's Letters

Medicine Chest
During Jane Austen's lifetime, the sick suffered from the ignorance of their physicians. In Jane's letters, there are interesting references to contemporary medical practices, notably the frequent bleeding of patients. Blood-letting was believed to release bad 'humours'. Jane uncritically reported how, when she was staying with her brother Henry during his alarming illness in 1815, his physician Charles Haden 'took twenty ounces of Blood from Henry last night – & nearly as much more this morng – & expects to have to bleed him again tomorrow ... Henry is an excellent Patient, lies quietly in bed & is ready to swallow anything. He lives upon Medicine, Tea & Barley water' (Letter 121). 


Dentistry, without anaesthetic, was excruciating. Jane resisted it. Those with gout were advised to exist on bread, water and meat. Calomel was taken as a stomach medicine: made of mercurious chloride, it is poisonous. During his serious illness, brother Henry's cure was no doubt delayed by calomel and the blood-letting. On another occasion, Jane herself prescribed (for brother Henry) rhubarb medicine with plenty of port and water when he had a cold and an unsettled stomach.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Emma Woodhouse and Harriet Smith: Educating Each Other

Emma's influence on Harriet is not wholly bad. She cures her girlish giggle and helps to form her taste, at least to the point where she can recognize Mrs. Elton for what she is.

At their first meeting, Harriet finds Augusta 'very charming' and 'quite beautiful' but she learns later to see her as 'very ill-tempered and disagreeable'. This – and her emotional education – prevent Harriet from being colourless. The touching scene in which she destroys her 'Most Precious Treasures' is especially memorable. It is also important for Emma's reactions: it makes her aware of the harm she has caused (when Elton cut his finger, she pretended to have no court plaster and made Harriet supply some) and she realises she herself would never keep as a relic 'a piece of court plaster that Frank Churchill had been pulling about’.

(Incidentally, Jane Austen no doubt derived the germ for the 'Most Precious Treasures' from a letter she received from her beloved niece Fanny Knight: Fanny had visited the room used by the man with whom she thought she was falling in love and had obviously regarded his shaving cloth as a most precious treasure. Jane replied, 'The dirty shaving rag was exquisite! Such a circumstance ought to be in print. Much too good to be lost.')

Harriet is also instrumental in Emma's education. Jane Austen uses the portrait incident to enable the confusion to develop. Later, Harriet is conveniently ill on Christmas Eve, thereby leaving Emma to the company of Elton, who takes his chance and reveals his intentions.

But Emma continues to deceive herself.

There is the ball at The Crown during which Knightley dances with Harriet, and later Harriet's rescue from the gypsies by Frank Churchill. When Harriet speaks of the man she now admires at a distance - and to think of his infinite superiority to all the rest of the world, Emma assumes she is referring to Frank. Having learned well from her previous mistake, she resolves not to interfere this time. She will not even hear the gentleman's name confirmed. Thus she continues to blunder until her painful disillusionment.

When Harriet gives her that great shock and unwittingly teaches her to understand her own emotions, Harriet, once the muddled thinker and timid speaker, proves articulate just when her words are least welcome. Hoping for a proposal from Mr. Knightley, she cites the very argument Emma had put forward when thinking of a marriage between Harriet and Frank: But you know they were your own words, that more wonderful things had happened, matches of greater disparity had taken place.... So Harriet is the catalyst to the emotional climax of the novel.

Harriet has a very important function is making us think about how we should conduct ourselves in our behaviour towards our fellow men, which is a central theme of this novel (and is close to the heart of all Jane's mature writing). Though she lacks Emma's wealth and education, she has greater good-will. Even on the odd occasion when she is obliged to see defects in another (Mrs. Elton), she says, However,... I wish her no evil

Emma comes to appreciate Harriet's qualities: 

Warmth and tenderness of heart, with an affectionate, open manner, will beat all the clearness of head in the world, for attraction.... Harriet is my superior in all the charm and all the felicity it gives

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Writing of Letters in Jane Austen's Novels

In the age of e-mail and the Internet, it is difficult to appreciate the importance of letters in Jane Austen's day. She did not live long enough to see such advances in communication as the telegraph and the railway. Even the earliest wooden bicycle did not appear in England until after her death. How else than by letters could people communicate over a distance?

Jane loved receiving letters, especially those mingling gossip with wit. She enjoyed writing them. This included inventing them for her characters. Living in an age when many recent 'novels' had been constructed entirely of letters, she was naturally influenced by the epistolary form at the beginning of her career. She never forgot how helpful a letter could be in revealing a character or advancing a plot.

Jane Austen's writing indeed evolved from the eighteenth-century epistolary novels, such as Richardson's. After imitating them in her early parodies and burlesques, she continued with the epistolary form even when her writing became more mature. At about the age of seventeen, when writing Lady Susan, she discovered the limitations of the letter-form. Nevertheless, to the end of her career (even in the posthumous Sanditon), letters were keystones in the structure.

Epistolary novels are still occasionally found in modern times. A witty example, Capital Gains by Colin Johnson, was serialised in February 1996 on BBC Radio 4, with a sequel in July 1997. It demonstrated well the power of letters to reveal character through viewpoints and attitudes. A similar entertainment was Carole Hayman’s Ladies of Letters - broadcast also on Radio 4, in 2004.

Look at any of Jane Austen’s mature novels and you quickly notice how important the letters still are. In Pride and Prejudice, there is especially the pivotal letter of explanation from Darcy to Elizabeth, but there are also the amusingly pompous letters of Mr. Collins, the news of Lydia's elopement in letters from Jane, and Mrs. Gardiner's letters filling gaps in the narrative. These are only a few: twenty letters are reproduced in full or quoted, as well as others which are summarised. First Impressions (the original draft of Pride and Prejudice) may have been entirely in the form of letters.

It is impossible to deduce how the letters of the original novel Elinor and Marianne were adapted into continuous narrative. There are moments when a character gives a long account of an incident and one suspects an original letter has become direct speech. One such is in Chapter 37, where Mrs. Jennings describes after her own fashion the hysterical scenes at John Dashwood's house when Nancy Steele let slip that her younger sister expected to marry Edward.

Keeping the full text of a letter can be effective, so Jane has retained a few. For its curt and brutal nature to have full impact, the letter in which Willoughby casts off Marianne could be presented no other way: I am quite at a loss to discover in what point I could be so unfortunate as to offend you. He then informs her of his engagement to Miss Grey. (We learn that he wrote this letter at Miss Grey's dictation.) The three letters sent by Marianne to Willoughby in London recall, in their brevity, vitality and dramatic content, some of those from Jane's earlier works. (How surprised you will be, Willoughby, on receiving this... when you know that I am in town!; I cannot express my disappointment in having missed you the day before yesterday...; What am I to imagine, Willoughby, by your behaviour last night?... I have passed a wretched night in endeavouring to excuse a conduct which can scarcely be called less than insulting... If your sentiments are no longer what they were, you will return my notes, and the lock of hair which is in your possession. 

The letter Edward receives from Lucy, informing him of her marriage to his brother, is appalling in both tone and content. It finally damns her. 

The first draft of the novel would have included the letters sent from London to her mother by Elinor (Chapter 27) and the replies (summarized in various subsequent chapters, notably in Chapter 32). These would have conveyed Elinor's concern for Marianne and shown how Willoughby had failed to continue his courtship. 

Letters often advance the narrative. In Pride and Prejudice, a significant part of the action occurs in Brighton and London. Lydia elopes with Wickham, who has to be bribed to marry her. Throughout these scenes, Jane Austen keeps the focus off the errant couple and on Elizabeth, who is miles from the events. The author not only avoids a direct narration of the shameful episode but also forces us to share the suspense with Elizabeth (who is the real centre of interest - not Lydia) as, scrap by scrap, the heroine is fed details of the story and becomes aware of Darcy's involvement. Letters carry all the narrative. Jane Bennet and then the Gardiners are correspondent-narrators. The last letter - the most exquisite to Elizabeth - is reproduced in full. Mrs. Gardiner in a letter of almost two thousand words completes the narrative about Wickham and Lydia, hints that Darcy loves Elizabeth and ends jokingly: I shall never be quite happy till I have been all round the park. A low phaeton with a nice little pair of ponies would be the very thing.... How skilfully the letter is used here to set up the happy ending of the novel! No wonder the letter threw Elizabeth into a flutter of spirits. Within seconds, her heart did whisper that he had done it for her

The first extant epistolary 'novel' Jane wrote (as a child), Amelia Webster, comprises seven very short letters. The eponymous heroine is too busy (or too lazy!) to write letters longer than two sentences each. With characteristic jests and incongruities, the story rushes towards news of three marriages. One of the correspondents, George Hervey, gets married on the strength of falling in love in this way: 

Madam 

An humble Admirer now addresses you. – I saw you lovely Fair one as you passed on Monday last, before our House in your way to Bath. I saw you thro' a telescope, and was so struck by your Charms that from that time to this I have not tasted human food. 

Jane's childhood story The Three Sisters handles the epistolary form confidently. An almost complete tale is told, with graphic detail and lively dialogue. Characters are strongly delineated. The theme, which was to concern Jane throughout her adult fiction, is the relative importance in match-making of love and money. Mary Stanhope sends letters to her friend Fanny, reporting that she has received a proposal from Mr. Watts but does not know whether to accept. She hates him; and he is old (thirty-two), ugly and disagreeable. But he is rich and, if she does not secure him, one of her sisters probably will. She could not endure that. 

In Volume the Second of Jane's childhood notebooks we have Love and Freindship. The conventions of contemporary fiction are parodied, especially the vogue for the sentimental and for the epistolary form. Jane Austen makes fun of conventional language, emotion, settings and plot. All the ingredients are here – insipidly perfect heroes and heroines, extraordinary coincidences, exotic names, tender philosophising in romantic settings, much swooning, and deathbed scenes. Though the novel is in the epistolary form, all letters from the second to the last (the fifteenth) are from the same person to the same recipient and in effect constitute a first-person novel. Laura, the heroine, tells her life story for the benefit of Marianne, the daughter of a friend. 

Another juvenile work, Letter the third, is not so much a letter as a miniature novel with a first-person narrator. It is a polished literary exercise from the author who was preparing to give the world Elizabeth Bennet and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Maria Williams relates how, just because she is poor, she has to endure impertinence from her wealthy neighbour Lady Greville. Her ladyship takes every opportunity to humiliate and mortify Maria, publicly criticising her clothes, her family and her poverty. She says, for example, that she assumes Maria's mother is at home eating 'Bread and Cheese' before going to bed early to save on candles. Maria does not quite display the spirit of Elizabeth Bennet in coping with such rudeness, though she has the excuse that her mother has instructed her to be 'humble and patient’. 

Lady Susan, an epistolary novel, is the next extant piece of Jane Austen's fiction. She wrote it at about the age of nineteen. It is entirely in letters apart from the final pages, when the author steps in as narrator to summarise the passage of twelve months and dispose of individuals in marriage. The transition here from the epistolary to the third-person is interesting. Jane is frustrated by the artificiality and clumsiness of making a story entirely out of mail and by the restrictions this imposes on tone and viewpoint. The artificiality in Lady Susan has to include correspondents reproducing in great quantities the exact words of recent conversations. And there are convolutions. For the reader to discover the contents of one particular letter, it has to be forwarded under cover to a Mrs. Vernon, even though it was posted by her brother from her own house. 

In a later novel, Jane Austen would have let us in on some of the scenes which, in the epistolary form, can only be reported at second hand - Lady Susan exercising her wiles on Reginald, for example. Lady Susan, despite being the villain, is the only character of real vitality. She writes sixteen of the forty-one letters. It would have helped if a wider range of entertaining correspondents had been recruited. The only other spirited correspondent is her confidante Mrs. Johnson (What could I do? Facts are such horrid things! she writes, when her friend has been found out) but she has a limited function in the novel: she is on hand mainly to receive letters which reveal Lady Susan's true feelings. 

Lady Susan represents a transition from the novel of the Eighteenth Century, with its coarseness and explicitness, to the decorous and discreet novel of the Nineteenth Century.

In Jane's teenage novels, letter-writers spend much of their time analysing and commenting on the behaviour of others. It is unsurprising that this passion for understanding others is common to the heroines of her major novels.

In Northanger Abbey, letters to the heroine Catherine from her brother James and her false friend Isabella tell her of the break-off of their engagement. Isabella's letter is a transparent attempt to get Catherine's help to win James back. This hypocritical letter is a direct descendant of many in the teenage novels. It is one Jane Austen must have specially enjoyed composing. 

Letters do not only report action; they also provoke it. This is most notably the case when Jane Bennet writes to Elizabeth at Pemberley. An accurate picture of Lydia's elopement gradually emerges. What we witness is not the events in London but rather Elizabeth, in front of Darcy, reduced to tears by the news. She artlessly reveals that she has accepted the truth of all Darcy told her in his letter (about Wickham): I might have prevented it – I who knew what he was!... When my eyes were opened to his real character.... Darcy must realise that he has convinced her. For her part, she never had... so honestly felt that she could have loved him as now, when all love must be in vain. For him, the letter is a call to action. It provides him with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate his love for Elizabeth by extricating her family from its difficulties. 

Seemingly innocuous letters often prove essential to a structure. Caroline Bingley's letter unwittingly sets in motion events she comes to regret: out of boredom while the men are away, she invites Jane to Netherfield. Mrs. Bennet exploits the opportunity. Jane catches a cold. Lizzy visits her. The sisters are thrown into prolonged contact with Darcy and Bingley – hardly the outcome Caroline Bingley would have wished. 

The letter of greatest moment in this novel is delivered by Darcy to Elizabeth at Hunsford after she rejects his proposal. In two and a half thousand words reproduced verbatim (unlike his proposal of marriage), it explains his views of the relationship between Jane Bennet and Bingley (he believed Jane 'indifferent'), it gives his opinion of the Bennet family and it reveals the truth about Wickham. This letter puts so much in a new light that it triggers a total reappraisal of herself by the heroine. 

The wonderful first letter of Mr. Collins introduces us to a character whose absurdity is greatly to enrich the novel. The tone of the letter, combining synthetic humility and pomposity, and with its predilection for long words, perfectly conveys the character of its writer. The sense of humour shared by Mr. Bennet and his daughter is well demonstrated by their response to this letter. Elizabeth is chiefly struck with his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying and burying his parishioners whenever it were required. Much later in the novel, Collins sends Bennet a letter which confirms our worst impressions and condemns him for ever: gloating with affected sympathy over the Bennets' disgrace, he says it would have been a blessing if Lydia had died rather than eloped. He urges Bennet to 'throw off' his 'unworthy child'. Such lack of charity from a Christian clergyman leads us to enjoy the revenge which fate will deal him when he hears of Elizabeth's engagement, especially as, in yet another letter to Mr. Bennet, he advises against Elizabeth's acceptance of Darcy, simply on the grounds that Lady Catherine would not approve. 

Jane Austen puts this last letter to good use. Mr. Bennet sees the prospect of Lizzy's marriage to Darcy as a great joke. Elizabeth, in dreadful suspense, has to laugh when she wants to cry. At the end of the novel, Bennet writes with relish to Mr. Collins: Console Lady Catherine as well as you can. But if I were you, I would stand by the nephew

Lydia's letters are used to reveal her selfish irresponsibility. Her letter to Harriet Forster announcing her elopement shows no consideration for her family or thought for her future. She expects Harriet to 'laugh'. Her brazen letter to her family a few days later exposes her as ungrateful and unashamed. 

In Mansfield Park, letters are still important. While Fanny spends weeks with her parents in Portsmouth, momentous events happen in the Bertram family at Mansfield Park and in London. Tom is critically ill. Edmund is expected to marry Mary Crawford. Henry Crawford elopes with Mrs. Maria Rushworth and Julia runs off with Mr. Yates. Jane Austen makes us share Fanny's emotions and suspense, as she waits for letters and reads them (to us) when at last they arrive. In this flurry of letters, more is also revealed of the correspondents' characters: Lady Bertram proves that she can exert herself at least to the extent of writing (though she is typically unconcerned about her son's health until he is visible before her); Edmund reports as factually as possible, while having his eyes opened to the true character of Mary Crawford; and, in her own letters, Mary appears even more selfish than we had previously suspected (she hopes Tom is about to die, for Edmund would then inherit the estate and she could agree to marry him). 

In her letters, Mary Crawford is unsentimentally candid. Seen through the eyes of the virtuous Fanny Price, this trait is presented as evidence of a selfish and grasping character. However, the reader finds the letters no different from Jane Austen's own - playful and entertaining, if sometimes heartless in a way acceptable when communicated confidentially to someone of like mind. The following could have come straight out of a letter from Jane to Cassandra: 

I have seen your cousins, 'dear Julia and dearest Mrs Rushworth'; they found me at home yesterday, and we were glad to see each other again. We seemed very glad to see each other, and I do really think we were a little. ... From all that I hear and guess, Baron Wildenhaim's attentions to Julia continue, but I do not know that he has any serious encouragement. She ought to do better. A poor honourable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in the case, for, take away his rants, and the poor Baron has nothing. What a difference a vowel makes! If his rents were but equal to his rants! (She is referring to Mr. Yates. She nicknames him 'The Baron' because he undertook to play the part of Baron Wildenhaim in the theatricals at Mansfield Park.)

A trick Jane learned from the gothic novels is that letters written years earlier can provide useful evidence to clear up present mysteries. In Persuasion, Mrs. Smith produces a letter written years earlier by William Elliot to her late husband. It reveals his true colours: Give me joy: I have got rid of Sir Walter and Miss ... my first visit to Kellynch will be with a surveyor, to tell me how to bring it with best advantage to the hammer ... I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it. This opens Anne's eyes to the truth and confirms her instinctive feeling that Mr. Elliot will never be the man for her.

In Northanger Abbey, typical of Henry's delightful teasing at his first meeting with Catherine are his comments on ladies' skills as letter writers. Every body allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is particularly female ... the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars ... A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar

Elizabeth Bennet expresses herself in the language of Jane Austen's letters. She responds to her father's arch advice that she should fall in love with Wickham because he would jilt you creditably by saying We must not all expect Jane's good fortune. Jane Austen's letters contain many such jokes. It is easy to imagine Elizabeth Bennet writing of a young M.P. she had met, as Jane Austen did: I like him very much. I am sure he is clever & a Man of Taste. ... He is quite an M.P. – very smiling, with an exceeding good address, & readiness of Language. – I am rather in love with him. – I dare say he is ambitious & Insincere (Letter 92). 

The epistolary element survives even in Jane's last novel. Tom Parker receives a letter of seven hundred and fifty words from his sister Diana, which he reads in full to the company. It is amusing, coming as it does from the doyenne of hypochondriacs. Diana claims she has been hardly able to crawl from my bed to the sofa. Her sister Susan has been suffering terribly. She tried six leeches a day for ten days together but then yielded to the idea of having three teeth extracted. Her nerves are so bad that she can only speak in a whisper. As for Arthur, I fear for his liver. It is out of the question for the three to travel to Sanditon: in my present state, the sea air would probably be the death of me. The irony is that they nevertheless go to Sanditon, that Diana busy-bodies vigorously and that she shows no symptom whatever of ill health. 

It would be difficult to find anywhere in literature a romantic moment giving as much satisfaction as that in which Anne Elliot is overwhelmed by the note she receives from Frederick Wentworth. On the contents of that letter depended all which the world could do for her! Reading it brings an overpowering happiness.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Jane Austen's Advice to Writers

Clearly, Jane Austen's letters are not the place to look for a treatise on the art of writing. However, she makes broad but perceptive criticisms from which her literary principles may be inferred. She liked books to be consistent, sensible, interesting, essentially moral, and plausible (though she was not averse to some escapism).

We learn much from letters to her nieces Anna and Caroline and nephew James-Edward, who attempted literary composition. She writes teasingly about Edward's early attempts. 'Edward is writing a Novel – we have all heard what he has written – it is extremely clever; written with great ease & spirit; – if he can carry it on in the same way, it will be a firstrate work, & in a style, I think, to be popular. – Pray tell Mary how much I admire it. – And tell Caroline that I think it is hardly fair upon her & myself, to have him take up the Novel Line' (Letter 144). 

There is a series of letters written to Anna between July and November 1814. The twenty-one-year-old Anna, writing a novel herself, lived nearby at Steventon parsonage where Jane had spent her youth. Anna submitted her manuscripts stage by stage for criticism by her aunt. Both Cassandra and Jane read them. Always kind and encouraging, Jane responded with succinct and wide-ranging advice. At pains to stress that the young writer should feel free to ignore her opinions ('If you think differently however, you need not mind me' - Letter 103), she is nevertheless forthright. 

The advice confirms Jane as a conscientious technician, looking for well-planned, logical plotting. 'We are not satisfied with Mrs F.'s settling herself as Tenant & near Neighbour to such a Man as Sir T.H. without having some other inducement to go there; she ought to have some friend living thereabouts to tempt her. A woman, going with two girls just growing up, into a Neighbourhood where she knows nobody but one Man, of not very good character, is an awkwardness which so prudent a woman as Mrs F would not be likely to fall into. Remember, she is very prudent; – you must not let her act inconsistently' (Letter 107). 

Jane expects characters to be not merely consistent but also plausible and interesting. 'Henry Mellish I am afraid will be too much in the common Novel style – a handsome, amiable, unexceptionable Young Man (such as do not much abound in real Life) desperately in Love, & all in vain. But I have no business to judge him so early' (Letter 108); 'I like your Susan very much indeed ... as she is now ... but I am not so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seemed all over attachment & feeling, & afterwards to have none at all ... She seems to have changed her Character' (Letter 107); 'your Aunt C. & I both recommend your making a little alteration in the last scene between Devereux F. & Lady Clanmurray & her Daughter. We think they press him too much – more than sensible Women or well-bred Women would do' (Letter 104); 'What can you do with Egerton to increase the interest for him? I wish you cd contrive something, some family occurrence to draw out his good qualities more – some distress among Brothers or Sisters to releive by the sale of his Curacy – something to take him mysteriously away, & then heard of at York or Edinburgh – in an old great Coat. – I would not seriously recommend anything Improbable, but if you cd invent something spirited for him, it wd have a good effect' (Letter 108); 'I have scratched out Sir Tho: from walking with the other Men to the Stables &c the very day after breaking his arm – for though I find your Papa did walk out immediately after his arm was set, I think it can be so little usual as to appear unnatural in a book – & it does not seem to be material that Sir Tho: should go with them' (Letter 104). Characters and incidents should be adequately developed. 'I should like to have had more of Devereux. I do not feel enough acquainted with him' (Letter 104). 

The author must accurately record social niceties. 'As Lady H. is Cecilia's superior, it wd not be correct to talk of her being introduced; Cecilia must be the person introduced' (Letter 103); 'I have also scratched out the Introduction between Lord P. & his Brother, & Mr Griffin. A Country Surgeon (dont tell Mr C. Lyford) would not be introduced to Men of their rank' (Letter 104). 

Geographical accuracy was demanded. 'Lyme will not do. Lyme is towards 40 miles distance from Dawlish & would not be talked of there. – I have put Starcross indeed. – If you prefer Exeter, that must be always safe' (Letter 104); 'I am not sensible of any Blunders about Dawlish. The Library was particularly pitiful & wretched 12 years ago, & not likely to have anybody's publication' (Letter 104); 'They must be two days going from Dawlish to Bath; They are nearly 100 miles apart' (Letter 104). 

The author should write about what she knows and understands, rather than the manners of a different society: 'we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the Manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations' (Letter 104). In this category, we also find (Letter 107) the celebrated comment that reveals Jane's awareness of her own strengths: 

You are now collecting your People delightfully, getting them exactly into such a spot as is the delight of my life; – 3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on – & I hope you will write a great deal more, & make full use of them while they are so favourably arranged. 

Jane knew the importance of self-editing and conciseness. She wrote of Pride and Prejudice, 'I have lop't and crop't so successfully, however, that I imagine it must be rather shorter than Sense and Sensibility'. To Anna, she wrote: 'I hope when you have written a great deal more you will be equal to scratching out some of the past' (Letter 107). 

Language should be precise, appropriate to context and character. 'Devereux Forester's being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a "vortex of dissipation". I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression; – it is such thorough novel slang – and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened' (Letter 108); 'You describe a sweet place, but your descriptions are often more minute than will be liked. You give too many particulars of right hand & left' (Letter 107). 


After her marriage to Ben Lefroy, Anna continued to send instalments to Aunt Jane. This led to a typical bit of fun when Jane wrote the following: 'St. Julian's History was quite a surprise to me ... his having been in love with the Aunt, gives Cecilia an additional Interest with him. I like the Idea; – a very proper compliment to an Aunt! – I rather imagine indeed that Neices are seldom chosen but in compliment to some Aunt or other. I dare say Ben was in love with me once, & wd never have thought of You if he had not supposed me dead of a Scarlet fever' (Letter 113). (Ben, by the way, became the Rector of Ashe, and died at the age of 38, leaving Anna with seven children.)

Jane's niece Caroline at the age of twelve also sent writings to her and was rewarded with encouragement and close attention: 'I have been very much entertained by your story of Carolina & her aged Father, it made me laugh heartily, & I am particularly glad to find you so much alive upon any topic of such absurdity, as the usual description of a Heroine's father. – You have done it full justice – or if anything be wanting, it is the information of the venerable old Man's having married when only Twenty one, & being a father at Twenty two' (Letter 143); 'I am glad to hear of your proceedings & improvements in the Gentleman Quack. There was a great deal of Spirit in the first part. Our objection to it you have heard, & I give your Authorship credit for bearing Criticism so well' (Letter 154); 'I like Frederick & Caroline better than I did, but must still prefer Edgar & Julia. – Julia is a warm-hearted, ingenuous, natural Girl, which I like her for; – but I know the word Natural is no recommendation to you' (Letter 156 - the last surviving letter to Caroline, written a few weeks before Jane's death). 

The writing of Caroline's elder brother James-Edward was more durable: in 1869 he wrote the valuable Memoir of Jane Austen. When he was preparing for Oxford, Jane told Caroline that she did not mind his academic future, provided he was not idle and that he went 'on with his Novel' (Letter 154). The most famous of all Jane Austen's letters - famous for its 'little bit ... of Ivory' - was the one sent to James-Edward in December 1816. Two and a half chapters of his novel had gone missing. Jane teases him (Letter 146): 

It is well that I have not been at Steventon lately, & therefore cannot be suspected of purloining them; – two strong twigs & a half towards a Nest of my own, would have been something. – I do not think however that any theft of that sort would be really useful to me. What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? – How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?

Outside what is implicit in the novels, this comment proves she fully understood what she was about. Much labour on a miniature painting with a fine brush involves years of acquired skill, careful planning, attention to detail and perfect judgement. Jane Austen knew how much labour – albeit pleasurable – went into her novels. The 'little effect' and two-inch piece of ivory reflect her characteristic modesty and her preference, rather than writing tales on a grander scale, for limiting subject matter to two or three families in a village. She also feared running out of inspiration. After writing Emma, Jane reported herself able to 'believe that I have not yet – as almost every writer of fancy does soon or later – overwritten myself'. 

Even in the haste of letter-gossip, Jane liked to be interesting and unambiguous. She would occasionally criticize herself. 'We walked to Weston one evening last week, & liked it very much. – Liked what very much? Weston? – no – walking to Weston – I have not expressed myself properly ...' (Letter 21); 'Elizabeth played one Country dance, Lady Bridges the other, which She made Henry dance with her; and Miss Finch played the Boulangeries – On reading over the last three or four Lines, I am aware of my having expressed myself in so doubtful a manner that if I did not tell you to the contrary, You might imagine it was Lady Bridges who made Henry dance with her ...' (Letter 5). At the end of a scrappy letter (Letter 7), she writes, 'How ill I have written. I begin to hate myself'. When she found herself writing 'It gives me sincere pleasure to hear of Mrs Knight's having had a tolerable night at last', she adds, 'I wish she had another name, for the two Nights jingle very much' (Letter 72). 

Jane had fun with styles. After beginning Letter 21 with a few plain and humourless sentences, she says: 'So much for Mrs Piozzi. – I had some thoughts of writing the whole of my letter in her stile, but I beleive I shall not’. In the middle of Letter 29, after a particularly fragmented, gossipy section, she writes 'I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth; I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter'. Referring to her niece Fanny's appreciation of her letters, Jane writes with a pretence of concern: 'I wish the knowledge of my being exposed to her discerning Criticism, may not hurt my stile, by inducing too great a solicitude. I begin already to weigh my words & sentences more than I did, & am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration or a metaphor in every corner of the room' (Letter 66). In Letter 87, Jane deliberately plays a game with style. 'I am going to write nothing but short Sentences. There shall be two full stops in every Line.' (Letter 87). The game is not sustained for long. 

The reference above is to the letters of Hester Thrale to Dr. Johnson. Hester was Mrs. Hester Lynch Piozzi.

James-Edward, by the way, went to Oxford, became a clergyman and inherited the Leigh-Perrot estate. He is best known today for his writing in 1869 of A Memoir of Jane Austen