Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Colonel Fitzwilliam

How did Colonel Fitzwilliam come to have Darcy's christian name as his surname? Mothers' maiden names were sometimes taken as christian names. Probably the Colonel's father - before becoming a lord - was Mr. Fitzwilliam and Mr. Fitzwilliam's sisters were Lady Anne Fitzwilliam (Darcy's mother) and Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam (who later became Lady Catherine de Bourgh).

Friday, 26 June 2015

Scrappy Footnotes to 'Sense and Sensibility'

Colonel Brandon has a sister living in Avignon - the only example of Jane Austen's giving a member of one of her central families an address in mainland Europe!

Both in her own life and those of her characters, Jane Austen found no justification for idleness. When Marianne and Elinor settle at Barton, they amaze Sir John Middleton by being always occupied. Elinor draws prolifically, her pictures decorating the cottage. Marianne plays the piano proficiently. Reading is another worthwhile activity, never disparaged when the effect is to improve the mind. Jane Austen's own 'employment' was prolific, not only in her writing, but even in piano-playing or stitching patchwork quilts.

Though the heroines go through Sense and Sensibility enduring one emotional wound after another, they are rewarded with happiness in the end. It is those who have treated them selfishly who ultimately fall hardest, so there is some poetic justice. Mrs. Fanny Dashwood prevents her husband from inviting his sisters to stay by claiming that she wants the Miss Steeles as guests: the outcome is the hysterical scene when she and her mother discover that Lucy expects to marry Edward Ferrars.

Jane Austen likes to see meanness punished: the elder Miss Steele lets slip her sister's expectation of marrying Edward, and the furies descend. Fanny Dashwood falls 'into violent hysterics'. The Steele sisters are packed off. Mrs. Ferrars, after disinheriting Edward, has to endure his brother's marrying the very young woman to whom she had objected as a wife for him.

We should not read this novel primarily as a love story. It is not about Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon; it is about exactly what it says – sense and sensibility, in effect self-control. And the experience of all readers must be enriched by the many brilliant scenes in which attempts are made by the selfish or self-centred to warn off, persuade, tease or manipulate persons of stronger principles.

Jane Austen was still mastering the art of economy. Willoughby's bewildering behaviour in leaving Devon so ungraciously is discussed for too long by Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor. Their differing interpretations are quickly established and then padded out by a further thousand words. Chapter 32, a transition between Willoughby's desertion of Marianne and the return of Edward, is another over-leisurely survey of the state of play.

Although she enjoyed gossip, Jane Austen knew it should not be spread recklessly, risking slander. Such is certainly the case when Mrs. Jennings, in Sense and Sensibility, who is essentially a good-hearted woman, tells everyone after Colonel Brandon's surprising departure, that he has a 'natural daughter' - Miss Williams.

Very near the end, Elinor and Edward have 'nothing to wish for but the marriage of Colonel Brandon and Marianne, and rather better pasturage for their cows'.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Candour and Vitality in Jane's Personal Letters

In her acute and candid observations, and in her animated thoughts and decisive opinions, Jane’s vitality shines through in her personal letters: 'The Manydown Ball was a smaller thing than I expected, but it seems to have made Anna very happy. At her age it would not have done for me' (Letter 64).

Cassandra can not have been surprised to receive the following reply to a suggestion when the family was about to move to Bath. 'You are very kind in planning presents for me to make, & my Mother has shewn me exactly the same attention – but as I do not chuse to have Generosity dictated to me, I shall not resolve on giving my Cabinet to Anna till the first thought of it has been my own' (Letter 30).

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Lady Russell: Sundry Speculations

When led to believe that Wentworth has fallen in love with Louisa, Lady Russell's heart revels in 'angry pleasure, in pleased contempt'. This is difficult to understand. Though Lady Russell's sentiments are hardly noble, her 'contempt' in seeing that Wentworth - in his maturity - valuing Louisa more highly than he once valued Anne, is perhaps credible; but why 'angry'? What Wentworth does with his life is none of her business. Why should she feel 'angry pleasure'? Does she subconsciously now wish that Wentworth should offer himself again to Anne? There is no evidence of this in the text, but we have to interpret Lady Russell's emotion in this way. If Jane Austen had lived long enough, perhaps she would have written more to explain her ladyship's psychology.

Possibly Lady Russell, having been the cause of her dear surrogate daughter's eight years of misery, is pleased to hear evidence of her having been 'right' after all. It is solace from that guilt. Possibly, Wentworth represents an affront to her own snobbery and timidity (an interesting combination). Why exactly has this intelligent widow never remarried? Perhaps because no Wentworth ever entered her life. So in a horrible but totally unconscious way was she jealous of Anne? However, this explanation leaves the reader to make far more inferences than are usually necessary with Jane Austen. It contributes to a picture of Lady Russell as a none-too-pleasant, embittered person, which is hard to reconcile with the earlier presentation of her as a friend and supporter of the family (introduced in Chapter 1 with such words as 'sensible, deserving', 'of steady age and character'). Couple this with the big question whether Anne was right to reject Wentworth and 'Persuasion' becomes not just one of the world's most moving love stories but also strangely disturbing. After Wentworth and Anne, Lady Russell is the novel's most important character. 

It is unusual for Jane Austen not to be explicit in such matters. For example, in the chapters that follow, Anne is ambivalent in her attitude to the soapy young Walter Elliot, while he behaves ingratiatingly, quite out of accord with his character as previously known. But Jane Austen fully explains these attitudes. 

In the Christmas scene at Uppercross, Jane Austen makes use of 'noise' both ironically and as a link to what comes next - the scenes in Bath. Lady Russell snootily dislikes the din in the Musgroves' household while Mrs. Musgrove regards it as 'a little quiet cheerfulness'! Then Lady Russell, who could not stand the noise at Uppercross, hears nothing unpleasant when greeted by the din of Bath (and how vividly a few words introduce us to that city!). Who were the 'bawling ... muffin men'? We seem to have an example of the modern craze for take-away fast-food. 

‘How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!' I entered that quotation in my commonplace book many years ago and later forgot where in Jane Austen it came. Countless times in daily life I observed its truth in relation to so many people, including myself. I thought it probably came from a moment where a self-centred young lady (such as Lydia Bennet) was arguing to get her own way. It was a pleasure to rediscover it, though a disappointment to find it applied only to a private thought of Lady Russell's!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Judging People

Jane Austen leads us to admire the good, wish well to the deserving, and disapprove of the selfish and mean. An underlying message of her novels is that individuals do not find happiness unless they put the interests of the community above themselves. Yet, she presents characters with impartiality (conceding that the Miss Bingleys are agreeable company, that Edmund Bertram is capable of acting against his better judgement, that Jane Bennet's goodness leads her to deceive herself, that even Mrs. Norris has a strength of character).

Jane Austen allows all her main characters to have clear views of life, often quite different from her own. Yet she leaves us in no doubt of what she values. Such words as becoming, proper, just, decorum, respectable and order are important. The word judgement, for example, appears thirty-seven times in 'Mansfield Park'. If a person fails, Jane Austen passes sentence. 

Her disapproval of human behaviour ranges from the fun made of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Elton to the sharper irony exercised against Mrs. Norris and especially the telling exposure of the mercenary, heartless Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood. The scene in which his wife convinces John Dashwood that he should do nothing for his sisters (after he proposed giving them £1000 each) is a tour de force

Jane shows us we should not make snap judgements about people, or see issues in black and white. There are no villains in her novels. Consider Henry and Catherine's discussion about Captain Tilney and Miss Thorpe: there is tough honesty (Henry sees the woman as being to blame) but there is also more subtlety, for Catherine is thinking of the disappointment for her brother. The head goes with Henry, the heart with Catherine. Jane Austen records both. 

Original revulsion and subsequent acceptance is a familiar pattern in Jane Austen. Think of Elizabeth Bennet's reactions to Charlotte's marriage. Look at Elinor's emotions after Willoughby races to call at the home where he believes Marianne to be dying and seeks to explain his behaviour. 

Jane Austen prized qualities for which we prize her: she admired simplicity and truthfulness and scorned hypocrisy. She liked people to work hard and be kindly, modest and humorous. Her novels endorse behaviour which gives the impression that all can be right with the world. This is why they make us feel good. 

Jane knew that it was possible to love people whilst at the same time seeing their imperfections: She has Elizabeth Bennet saying: 'There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well. The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it'. 

Although the useful word 'snob' did not exist in Jane Austen's day, snobbery is everywhere condemned. She says of Lady Catherine de Bourgh: 'her air was not such as to make her visitors forget their inferior rank'. Even a heroine – Emma Woodhouse ('I could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin, of Abbey-Mill Farm') – has to be cured of snobbery. And the haughty Darcy learns to be ashamed at the behaviour of a relative when he witnesses Lady Catherine's impertinence to Elizabeth. 

Jane Austen's heroines work hard for their reward - marriage to the right man. The major heroines, Elizabeth, Anne, Elinor, Fanny, Emma, and even Catherine, achieve marriages of equality and respect. Others who achieve that reward and deserve it are Jane, Harriet, and Marianne. Charlotte Lucas gets the reward she aims for, and is respected by Mr. Collins insofar as he can comprehend what 'respect' means. Lydia gets the reward she sought, though far from equality and respect. Jane Fairfax gets the reward she sought as well, though one does not have confidence in Frank's commitment to equality and respect. It is the 'equality and respect' aspects that make the heroines' marriages so satisfying. 

In contrast with the purity and truth of her heroines, Jane Austen delights in producing clever, manipulative women - such as Lucy Steele and Isabella Thorpe - who take advantage of gullible men with naive notions of honour.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Jane's Life during the Chawton Years, as depicted in her Letters

On 7 July 1809, Jane settled at Chawton in a cottage on one of brother Edward's estates. It was to be the final and - in literary output - most fruitful period of her life. While preparing for the move to Chawton, Jane wrote: 'Every body is very much concerned at our going away, & every body is acquainted with Chawton & speaks of it as a remarkably pretty village, & every body knows the House we describe – but nobody fixes on the right. – I am very much obliged to Mrs Knight for such a proof of the interest she takes in me – & she may depend upon it, that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or my own. – I owe her much more than such a trifling sacrifice' (Letter 62). Mr. Papillon was the Rector at Chawton, where he lived unmarried with his spinster sister.

The family joke about Papillon was sustained for years. In December 1816, when he had arranged to move into a larger house, Jane wrote: 'I am happy to tell you that Mr Papillon will soon make his offer, probably next Monday, as he returns on Saturday. – His intention can be no longer doubtful in the smallest degree, as he has secured the refusal of the House which Mrs Baverstock at present occupies in Chawton & is to vacate soon' (Letter 146).

Jane also decided to have a piano of her own once more – 'as good a one as can be got for 30 Guineas – & I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and neices' (Letter 63).

Five days after moving to Chawton, Jane became an aunt again when Mary Austen, wife of her brother Frank, gave birth to Francis-William. To celebrate the two events, Jane sent this poem on 26 July as a letter to Frank: 

My dearest Frank, I wish you Joy 
Of Mary's safety with a Boy, 
Whose birth has given little pain 
Compared with that of Mary Jane. – 
May he a growing Blessing prove, 
And well deserve his Parents' Love! – 
Endow'd with Art's & Nature's Good, 
Thy name possessing with thy Blood, 
In him, in all his ways, may we 
Another Francis William see! – 
Thy infant day may he inherit, 
Thy warmth, nay insolence of spirit;- 
We would not with one fault dispense 
To weaken the resemblance. 
May he revive thy Nursery sin, 
Peeping as daringly within, 
His curley Locks but just descried, 
With "Bet, my be not come to bide." – 
Fearless of danger, braving pain, 
And threaten'd very oft in vain, 
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul, 
One needful engine of Controul 
Be found in this sublime array. 
A neighbouring Donkey's aweful Bray. 
So may his equal faults as Child, 
Produce Maturity as mild! 
His saucy words & fiery ways 
In early Childhood's pettish days, 
In Manhood, shew his Father's mind 
Like him, considerate & kind; 
All Gentleness to those around, 
And eager only not to wound. 
Then like his Father too, he must, 
To his own former struggles just, 
Feel his Deserts with honest Glow, 
And all his self-improvement know. – 
A native fault may thus give birth 
To the best blessing, conscious Worth. – 
As for ourselves we're very well; 
As unaffected prose will tell. – 
Cassandra's pen will paint our state, 
The many comforts that await 
Our Chawton home, how much we find 
Already in it, to our mind; 
And how convinced, that when complete 
It will all other Houses beat 
That ever have been made or mended, 
With rooms concise, or rooms distended. 
You'll find us very snug next year, 
Perhaps with Charles & Fanny near, 
For now it often does delight us 
To fancy them just over-right us.

(By the final words, Jane meant they would be nearby in the Great House at Chawton.) 

The letters make life at Chawton vivid for us. 'We hear that there is to be no Honey this year. Bad news for us. – We must husband our present stock of Mead' (Letter 145). Mrs. Austen 'will send the Strawberry roots by Sally Benham, as early next week as the weather may allow her to take them up' (Letter 120). 'The Chicken are all alive, & fit for the Table – but we save them for something grand. – Some of the Flower seeds are coming up very well – but your Mignionette makes a wretched appearance. – Miss Benn has been equally unlucky as to hers; She has seed from 4 different people, & none of it comes up. Our young Piony at the foot of the Fir tree has just blown and looks very handsome; & the whole of the Shrubbery Border will soon be very gay with Pinks and Sweet Williams, in addition to the Columbines already in bloom. The Syringas too are coming out. – We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plumbs – but not many greengages – on the standard scarcely any – three or four dozen perhaps against the wall' (Letter 73, 29 May 1811).

'I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive' (Letter 74).

'We have had no letter since you went away, & no visitor, except Miss Benn who dined with us on friday; but we have received the gift of an excellent Stilton cheese – we presume, from Henry. – My Mother is very well & finds great amusement in glove-knitting ... ' (Letter 78, January 1813). 

However busy Jane was kept by reading and writing at Chawton, she found time for visits and to receive guests for social evenings at the cottage. This to Martha (November 1812) is typical: 'Our next visitor is likely to be William from Eltham in his way to Winchester, as Dr Gabell chuses he should come then before the Holidays, though it can be only for a week. If Mrs Barker has any farther curiosity about the Miss Webbs let her know that we are going to invite them for Tuesday eveng – also Capt. & Mrs Clement & Miss Benn, & that Mrs Digweed is already secured. – "But why not Mr Digweed?" – Mrs Barker will immediately say – To that you may answer that Mr D. is going on tuesday to Steventon to shoot rabbits' (Letter 77).

Miss Benn, who lived in relative poverty at Chawton and seems to have spent much time visiting or being visited by the Austens, was the unmarried sister of a clergyman. 

Part of Jane Austen's Chawton experience (like Emma Woodhouse's) was the bestowing of charity on the poor. Her brother Edward, being the local landowner, invested her with the task of distributing handouts: 'We are just beginning to be engaged in another Christmas Duty, & next to eating Turkies, a very pleasant one, laying out Edward's money for the Poor; & the Sum that passes through our hands this year is considerable, as Mrs Knight left £20 to the Parish' (Letter 77). On another occasion she reports how Miss Papillon (the rector's sister) and she called on the Garnets - 'Dame G. ... surrounded by her well-behaved, healthy, large-eyed Children' (Letter 78). Jane gave them an old shift and promised a 'set of our Linen'. Miss Papillon left some cash. 

Staying at Godmersham at the age of thirty-seven, Jane had settled comfortably into her rôle as a lady chaperoning rather than chaperoned. She liked the resulting comforts: '... as I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of Chaperon for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like' (Letter 96). 

Jane was conscious that 'minutiae' could be tedious: 'We left Guildford at 20 minutes before 12 (I hope somebody cares for these minutiae) & were in Esher in about 2 hours more. – I was very much pleased with the Country in general – ; – between Guildford and Ripley I thought it particularly pretty ...' (Letter 84).

However, historians can find much to savour in the minutiae, as social life is well documented. There are many scenes such as this describing an evening at Henry's home in Hans Place, London, in November 1815: 'then came the dinner & Mr Haden who brought good Manners and clever conversation; – from 7 to 8 the Harp; – at 8 Mrs L. & Miss E. arrived – & for the rest of the eveng the Drawg-room was thus arranged, on the Sopha-side the two Ladies Henry & myself making the best of it, on the opposite side Fanny & Mr Haden in two chairs (I beleive at least they had two chairs) talking together uninterruptedly' (Letter 128). 

Letters from Godmersham in 1813 are full of allusions to the men engaging in political activity or local administration, improving and developing their estates or spending days in field sports and evenings at dinners and cards. In the great house, they would be drawn to the billiard room: 'The Comfort of the Billiard Table here is very great. – It draws all the Gentlemen to it whenever they are within, especially after dinner, so that my Br Fanny & I have the Library to ourselves in delightful quiet' (Letter 92). 

'I can recollect nothing more to say at present; – perhaps Breakfast may assist my ideas. I was deceived – my breakfast supplied only two ideas, that the rolls were good and the butter bad' (Letter 22). 

On many occasions when living at Chawton, Jane walked to Alton and no doubt as on 3 February 1813 'dirt excepted, found it delightful' (Letter 80).

When in London, she did not care for travelling around and was pleased to escape from the dust and lamps (especially, one imagines, when returning from evening theatrical performances): 'We are now all four of us young Ladies sitting round the Circular Table in the inner room writing our Letters, while the two Brothers are having a comfortable coze in the room adjoining. – It is to be a quiet evening, much to the satisfaction of 4 of the 6. – My eyes are quite tired of Dust & Lamps' (Letter 88). 

In Letter 75, we hear about the Wedgwood pottery which had been delivered at Chawton (it is on view at Chawton today). 'On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking & approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely, & upon the whole is a good match, tho' I think they might have allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a Year of fine foliage as this. One is apt to suppose that the Woods about Birmingham must be blighted. – There was no Bill with the Goods – but that shall not screen them from being paid. ... Martha ... is just now sending my Mother a Breakfast set, from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow'. 

Other such trivia abound. 'I knew there was Sugar in the Tin, but had no idea of there being enough to last through your Company' (Letter 91). 

From breakfast (at mid-morning) onwards, meals were taken later than they are today. When Jane's family, much reduced in size, had earlier lived modestly at Steventon, she wrote to Cassandra, who was visiting Godmersham, 'We dine now at half after Three, & have done dinner I suppose before you begin – We drink tea at half after six. – I am afraid you will despise us' (Letter 14). Occupants of the great houses were likely to eat later and to have a 'dinner' during the evening.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Education in Jane Austen's Time


In the England of Jane Austen, responsible, well-to-do parents provided much of their children's education within the home. This was certainly the case with Jane Austen's parents and it suited her perfectly. Only for very brief spells between the ages of seven and ten was she sent away to any institution with pretensions to being a school.

Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey paints a picture of elementary teaching in the home 'and how tired my poor mother is at the end of it'. Possibly Jane was drawing on scenes she had witnessed in Austen homes, where tuition by senior members of the family was common. Jane herself participated: 'I have, of course, tendered my services, and when Louisa is gone, who sometimes hears the little girls read, will try to be accepted in her stead’ (Letter 52). 

Home tuition could be provided by governesses and visiting masters. In the great houses, there would be a school-room, where the girls had their lessons: 'there they had read and written, and talked and laughed'. Miss Lee, in Mansfield Park, was employed until Fanny was fifteen. This novel shows what might be achieved by a 'governess, with proper masters' in 1790: there is much rote learning, of which the Bertram sisters are proud. They know 'the principal rivers of Russia'; they can 'repeat the chronological order of the kings of England, with the dates of their accession, and most of the principal events of their reigns'; they know about the Roman emperors 'as low as Severus; besides a great deal of the Heathen Mythology, and all the Metals, Semi-Metals, Planets, and distinguished philosophers'. They also learn French and practise music and drawing. Jane Austen makes fun of all this: despite their accomplishments, Maria and Julia are 'entirely deficient in the less common acquirements of self-knowledge, generosity, and humility'. Jane Austen valued moral education long before it became fashionable for politicians to fasten on the topic. (In Britain, the Tory government and the 'New Labour' Opposition both did so as a potential vote-winner before the 1997 General Election.)

Generally, governesses were treated as servants. Jane Fairfax dreaded such a career, seeing agencies dealing in 'governess-trade' as 'Offices for the sale – not quite of human flesh – but of human intellect'. However, Miss Taylor (Emma's governess) shows there could be exceptions: she is a beloved member of the household. Miss Lee seems to have preceded Fanny in being a 'companion' to the lady of the house as part of her duties. In the amateur theatricals, Mr. Yates thought a 'mean, paltry part' could be best undertaken by the governess.

The impertinent interrogation of Elizabeth Bennet by Lady Catherine reveals how the Bennet girls were educated at home. There were private tutors, but no governess: '...such of us as wished to never wanted the means. We were always encouraged to read, and had all the masters that were necessary. Those who chose to be idle certainly might.' Sterner parents than Mr. and Mrs. Bennet might have ensured their daughters studied. In Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas Bertram visited the school-room to 'examine' Fanny 'in French and English'. 

In London at least, Jane Austen did not have great faith in 'masters': 'Mr Meyers gives his three Lessons a week – altering his days & his hours however just as he chuses, never very punctual, & never giving good Measure. – I have not Fanny's fondness for Masters, & Mr Meyers does not give me any Longing after them. The truth is I think, that they are all, at least Music Masters, made of too much consequence & allowed to take too many Liberties with their Scholar's time’ (Letter 129, sent from Hans Place in 1815)

There were few schools and private boarding institutions for girls. The fee paid by Jane's father for her tuition was what he himself charged - £35, including board. In her novels, such private seminaries are run by Mrs. Goddard (in Emma) and Mrs. Griffiths (Sanditon). Jane has some respect for Mrs. Goddard's type of school, though she probably would not send anyone there herself. 

In his Sermons to Young Women, in Two Volumes (1775), James Fordyce, D.D. says that at boarding schools girls learn 'principally to dress, to dance, to speak bad French, to prattle much nonsense, to practise I know not how many pert conceited airs and in consequence of all conclude themselves Accomplished Women'. He claims that 'Nothing domestic or rational is thought of.' It is not surprising that the Bennet girls were bored when Mr. Collins read to them from these sermons in Pride and Prejudice! He advises women to display meekness (a point Jane Austen also made playfully): Fordyce writes that 'the most sensible men have been usually averse to the thought of marrying a witty female'. 'A woman that affects to dispute, to decide, to dictate on every subject ... such a woman is truly insufferable'. 

Lady Sarah Pennington in her Unfortunate Mother's Advice to her Absent Daughters (1761) (she was 'unfortunate' in the sense that her husband had left her) recommended a curriculum for girls. They should be taught their own language, grammar and derivations, with some French and Italian, basic arithmetic, and - only if they showed some aptitude - music and drawing. They should be given some notions of history, especially relating to their own country, and enough geography 'as to form a just idea of the situation of places mentioned in any author'. They should study 'natural philosophy' which would lead to 'contemplation of the great Author of Nature'. The woman's proper rôle is 'management of domestic affairs' and, if she acquires some learning, she had best not display it, because loquacious know-all women are 'insupportable companions’. 

Regarding music in particular, Jane Austen's own collection, songs and piano pieces, copied by herself in manuscript into specially bound albums, included songs by Handel and Haydn and by such English composers of the day as Dibdin, Samuel Webbe the younger and Shield, as well as folk songs, popular ballads and comic songs, Italian songs, French songs and operatic selections. There were instrumental pieces by Corelli, Handel, Gluck, Haydn, Pleyel, Cramer and John Christian Bach. Her fictional lady musicians have similar tastes to Jane’s own. Italian songs were still popular as they had been for much of the 18th century. 

Anne Elliot, Georgiana Darcy and Lady Susan's daughter Frederica were all sent away to school. (Frederica was packed off as a virtual prisoner, but managed to get herself expelled.) In these finishing schools for young ladies, manners and accomplishments were everything. They would be instructed in languages, music and drawing. The piano was taught; and playing the harp was a prized accomplishment (Edmund Bertram is charmed by the harp-playing of Mary Crawford). Charlotte Palmer's landscape in coloured silks is ironically described as 'proof of her having spent seven years at a great school in town to some effect'. Lady Susan did not rate the usual accomplishments very highly. As a woman interested only in manipulating men, she would not. Her letters contain salutary cynicism: she says mastering languages and sciences is '..throwing time away; to be mistress of French, Italian, German, music, singing, drawing etc., will gain a woman some applause, but will not add one lover to her list. Grace and manner after all are of the greatest importance...’. 

Turning from girls’ education to that of boys, we find the sons of well-to-do families could be sent to board with private tutors. Jane Austen's father combined being tutor to boarding pupils with the the careers of priest and farmer. In the novels, we find Edward Ferrars tutored by Mr. Pratt in Devon. 

Other boys were sent to public or grammar schools: Robert Ferrars was at Westminster and Edmund Bertram at Eton. In her Chawton years, Jane Austen would see carriages taking boys to and from Winchester School. She wrote to one of them, her nephew James-Edward: 'We saw a countless number of postchaises full of boys pass by yesterday morning – full of future heroes, legislators, fools, and villains’  (Letter 142, written a year before Jane's death). 

University (available to men only) was not academically rigorous. Even Edward Ferrars found that Oxford gave him only 'nominal employment'. John Thorpe was a typically idle student. 

What was there for boys from poorer families? Fanny Price's younger brothers in Portsmouth attended day-schools: while Fanny waits for tea, they dash in 'just released from school', talking only of naval matters and making a din. Families poorer than the Prices could afford little or no tuition. Boys might attend the local 'dame's' school, where education was basic. In Jane's The Generous Curate a boy is adopted by a curate who cannot afford to educate him. So the lad 'knew nothing more at the age of 18 than what a twopenny Dame's School in the village could teach him'. 

The fountainhead of entertainment and education for most people was the book. Circulating libraries were in fashion. (These could be - as in Sanditon  - shops which also sold jewellery and knick-knacks.) 

Mansfield Park shows how inspiring reading aloud – as in the Austen family – could be. Henry Crawford's readings are a delight: 'in Mr. Crawford's reading there was a variety of excellence beyond what [Fanny] had ever met with. The King, the Queen, Buckingham, Wolsey, Cromwell, all were given in turn; for with the happiest knack, the happiest power of jumping and guessing, he could always light, at will, on the best scene, or the best speeches, of each; and whether it was dignity or pride, or tenderness or remorse, or whatever were to be expressed, he could do it with equal beauty. It was truly dramatic.' 

The teenage Jane Austen wrote parodies and burlesques of the books she got her hands on. Though she satirised the absurdities of the gothic novels and the poems and novels of sensibility, they helped develop her critical and moral judgement. She respected them. She discovered that sensibility, when carried to excess, amounted to mere affectation. 

She did not regard factual texts as the only educational books. Fiction instilled wisdom with enjoyment. A 'fondness for reading ... properly directed, must be an education in itself', says Edmund Bertram. (Like all good teachers, Edmund reinforces the value of books by 'talking to [Fanny] of what she read'.) When Fanny returns to Portsmouth and wishes to educate her sister Susan, she realises the problem is that 'The early habit of reading was wanting'. Even the chastened Marianne Dashwood thinks books will cure her for good: 'there are many works well worth reading at the Park; and there are others of more modern production which I know I can borrow of Colonel Brandon. By reading only six hours a day, I shall gain in the course of a twelve-month a great deal of instruction which I now feel myself to want'. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy famously gives his exacting definition of the perfect woman - one who not only has the conventionally-admired qualities but who also has improved 'her mind by extensive reading'. 

In Northanger Abbey the second half of Chapter 5 – a Fieldingesque interpolation – is a homage to novelists and their art. Jane condemns book reviewers who praise those who put together a thin anthology of poetry and prose rather than praise someone who writes a novel which has only 'genius, wit and taste' to recommend it. She blames novelists for failing to depict their heroines reading novels with enjoyment. She says young ladies, taken by surprise while reading a novel, quickly hide the book, saying, 'Oh! it is only a novel!' They mean, says Jane, it is 'only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language'. With the passage of time, Jane's comments have been given gravitas by their aptness to her own novels. She knew her art. 

Jane goes so far as to imply that literary taste is a correlative to mental health and morality. Sir Walter Elliot reads no book but the Baronetage. Benwick has an unbalanced diet of poetry. A lack of social graces is often a sign in less pleasant characters that they have gained nothing from literature: Lucy Steele, for example, can be agreeable for half an hour of conversation, but 'her powers had received no aid from education, she was ignorant and illiterate'. Elinor finds herself meeting Lucy 'playing at cards, or consequences, or any other game that was sufficiently noisy'. People who show little respect for books are boorish. Jane has fun putting John Thorpe to the test of literary taste and finds him sadly wanting. 'I never read novels; I have something else to do.' He claims to have read Camilla and The Monk but has gained nothing from them. He shows his ignorance by praising Mrs. Radcliffe but not knowing that she wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho

In contrast, Robert Martin's reading illustrates his sound sense. He studies the Agricultural Reports – William Stevenson's General Review of the Agriculture of the County of Surrey (1809 and 1813). He belongs to the new breed of farmers, taking a scientific view of agriculture. In a silent, bloodless revolution, the likes of Robert were about to take over from the idle and stagnant gentry symbolized by Mr. Woodhouse. Robert also reads Cultural Extracts and The Vicar of Wakefield. Emma must have been disconcerted to learn that he read the Elegant Extracts, since the Woodhouses also read this work. It was a best-selling anthology of poetry compiled by Vicesimus Knox (1789; and often reprinted). 

Jane Austen is sometimes criticised for not condemning the massive inequalities in the society in which she lived. But attitudes were different then: everyone had their place and knew it. Why should she not go along with accepted eighteenth-century wisdom? Even so, she liked people to improve their fortunes by toiling honestly and – like Robert – making the most of opportunities. She does not object to those who make a fortune through 'trade' (such as the Bingley family, whose wealth was founded on trade in the North) but it galls her when the newly-rich – such as the Bingley sisters – also become snobs. 

Seizing educational opportunities, as Robert Martin does, is always commended. Elinor Dashwood admires Colonel Brandon because he has taken the trouble to educate himself and can help educate her. 'He has seen a great deal of the world; has been abroad; has read, and has a thinking mind. I have found him capable of giving me much information on various subjects...'. Jane Austen respected people who kept themselves well informed on more than one topic (unlike Fanny Price's father, for example). 

Jane Austen was as likely to spend spare cash on books as on muslin: 'We have got Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, and are to have his Life of Johnson; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon's hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper's works' (Letter 12). (Burdon was a Winchester bookseller.) Her letters demonstrate how widely and constantly she read. She is delighted by an 'Essay on the Military Policy & Institutions of the British Empire', by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers. She reads the latest novels – Mary Brunton's Self Control, Eaton Stannard Barrett's The Heroine, Laetitia M. Hawkins' Rosanne, for example. In her Chawton days, she obtained books from the Alton Book Society.

This Society had been founded by local clergymen and gentlemen in 1799. By 1806 it had 25 members and a clear set of rules. Every member paid an annual subscription of one pound and five shillings and an additional ten shillings and sixpence when ordering a new book. There were fines for the late return of books. By 1811, the club had 223 works, a large proportion of them on politics, travel, biography, history and theology. They tended to be works of a serious non-fiction kind. The books were kept in a special bookcase at the house of Mr. Pinnock in Alton. Periodicals were also available for inspection there. By January 1813 Jane was among those obtaining books from this club.
But she knew there was more to life than reading. She enjoyed good talk, as she explained in a letter to Martha Lloyd. (Similarly, she preferred looking at real people to looking at works of art or museum exhibits.) The level-headed Elizabeth Bennet is the same: she enjoys books, but is not a compulsive reader. She chooses to read rather than play at loo when visiting the sick Jane at Netherfield, but this is mainly because she suspects the company to be 'playing high'. She says 'I am not a great reader, and I have pleasure in many things'. 

Education does not end in the school-room. Jane's writing is all about education in the widest sense - the development, through life's experiences, of the understanding, of the emotions, of taste and judgement. It was important to acquire what the Bertram girls did not: 'self-knowledge, generosity, and humility'. 

The story of Marianne Dashwood has this point as its theme. Through her relationship with Willoughby and her love for her sister, she acquires wisdom, thoughtfulness and common sense, to add to her other attractive qualities of sincerity, loyalty and generosity. She discovers her failings: 'The kindness, the unceasing kindness of Mrs. Jennings, I had repaid with ungrateful contempt'.

But Emma Woodhouse is the outstanding example of a heroine with much to learn from bitter experience. After her series of blunders, she is no longer presumptuous. Because of or in spite of Emma's influence, Harriet also acquires better sense. Not only does she rediscover that Robert Martin is the right man for her; she also improves her judgement in more trivial matters: having first found Mrs. Elton 'very charming', she later declares her 'very ill-tempered and disagreeable'. 

The truly educated person appreciates the mystical and sublime effects of Nature. Fanny Price observes from the window at Mansfield Park 'all that was solemn and soothing, and lovely' in 'the brilliancy of an unclouded night, and the contrast of the deep shade of the woods' and says: 'When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.' Edmund replies that people who have not been taught to 'feel in some degree as you do – who have not at least been given a taste for nature in early life' lose a great deal. 

Finally, as an educational tool, Jane Austen did not oppose mild corporal punishment. In a letter to Anna Lefroy in 1815, she says Anna's nephew, 'little Charles Lefroy' is 'a very fine boy, but terribly in want of Discipline. – I hope he gets a wholesome thump, or two, whenever it is necessary' (Letter 117)! Charles was about four at the time.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Jane Austen : The Paul Jennings Tribute Poem

I remember well the pleasure that the gently humorous writings and broadcasts of Paul Jennings used to give me. He was an English author who lived mainly in the county of Suffolk. Paul died in 1989.

Did you know that Paul Jennings wrote in 1957 a delightful poem called 'Jane in Vain', as a tribute to our favourite author?


Here is is.

                  Jane in Vain 

I often get lost in the works of Jane Austen 
For Jane is my favourite writer; 
Suave and satirical, Jane is a miracle, 
Who subtler than Jane – and who lighter? 

With elegant diction unequalled in fiction 
Her characters meet and commingle 
Unlike, say, the martyrs or Camus or Sartre, 
So anguished, so lonely – so single. 

Though nil is the ration of bedroom and passion, 
When Crawford runs off with Maria 
Their sex-life, off-stage in that elegant age, 
May still be assumed to have fire. 

Such art, with such breeding, makes beautiful reading – 
But let me confess my dilemma; 
I am only safe when it’s the Bingleys and Bennets, 
I mix up 'Persuasion' with 'Emma'. 

I’ve read all thrice, I recall Fanny Price 
Beneath Old Sir Thingummy’s aegis – 
Was it this Cinderella, or some Isabella 
Who fell off a cliff at Lyme Regis? 

I can’t recall rightly if Mr. John Knightley 
Resided at Donwell or Randalls. 
My memory’s flabby: is 'Northanger Abbey' 
The one with the Willoughby scandals? 

I am quite in the dark: is it 'Mansfield Park' 
That begins with the Dashwoods all greedy 
And planning what cash would be left to John Dashwood 
If kept from some relative needy? 

No, they lived at Norland – with Catherine Morland 
Or Rushmore, or Bertram, or Elton, 
Or perhaps Marianne, or Miss Elliot (Anne?) 
In scenes that all Janeites have dwelt on…. 

Mistress of clarity, what a disparity 
Between my response and your art! 
But Jane, don’t complain. I shall read you again 
And again, till I’ve got you by heart.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Sir Walter Scott and 'Emma'

Sir Walter Scott wrote about Emma for the Quarterly Review of March, 1816. He recognized that Jane Austen was re-establishing the novel and that depicting the realism of ordinary life as skilfully as she did required great artistry. His review is ponderous and wordy (you can find it on the Internet) so I am not quoting it here. But he was one of the first to show such insight.

Many other nineteenth-century critics failed to notice Jane's artistry, mainly because they were so imbued with the notion that a writer who concerns herself with ordinary, everyday people must be an ordinary, everyday writer. Many failed to notice her concern with values and principles.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Jane Austen's Seamanship

Jane Austen was always concerned to get details right. Persuasion shows how she closely she paid attention to all she could learn from her seafaring brothers about naval matters.
As J. E. Austen-Leigh said in his Memoir of his aunt (1870), 'I believe no flaw has ever been found in her seamanship either in Mansfield Park or in Persuasion'.

In Mansfield Park, Mr. Price says: ‘The Thrush went out of harbour this morning . . . Captain Walsh certainly thinks you'll have a cruize to the westward with the Elephant. . . she [the Thrush] lays close to the Endymion, between her and the Cleopatra…’. The Elephant was the ship on which Jane's brother Francis was in command in the Baltic; the Endymion was the ship on which her brother Charles sailed in the Mediterranean; and the Cleopatra the ship which Charles sailed home from North America in 1811.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Should Brandon have married Elinor?

Elinor falls in love with Edward when she is only nineteen. It is a truth universally acknowledged that girls aged 19 are in love with someone but that he rarely turns out to be the man to whom they are married at the age of 29.

So in Chapter 10, might Elinor have fallen for Brandon?

When Elinor has been detached for a while from Edward, we find: 'She [Elinor] liked him [Brandon] - in spite of his gravity and reserve, she beheld in him an object of interest. ... Sir John had dropped hints of past injuries and disappointments, which justified her belief of his being an unfortunate man, and she regarded him with respect and compassion'.

Elinor tells Marianne and Willoughby that Brandon is 'sensible', 'has attractions' for her; that he is 'well-bred, well-informed, of gentle address' and 'possessing an amiable heart'. (He also possesses a fair amount of cash.) At this stage in the novel, it may strike us that Elinor and Brandon would make a good couple even though this sensible man surprisingly prefers her sister.

Friday, 22 May 2015

'Mansfield Park' - some random observations

As in Pride and Prejudice, the opening pages of Mansfield Park provide concisely a large quantity of essential information.. We are informed about the characters, marriages and fortunes of the three Ward sisters of Huntingdon. Later, notice how we move in a couple of pages from Fanny at 15 to Fanny at 17.

A theme of Jane Austen’s novels is the question of when to hold to our own opinions and when to allow ourselves to be swayed from them. Edward Ferrars, Marianne Dashwood, Catherine Morland, Elizabeth, Darcy, Edmund, Henry Crawford, Harriet Smith, Anne Elliot (in the past), and Louisa Musgrove all either wrestle with this question or illustrate some point about it. So especially does Fanny Price.

Among the characters we are invited to admire in this novel, there are no Mr. Bennets or Elizabeth Bennets or Henry Tilneys - characters with a taste for wit and irony. The only people in Mansfield Park who enjoy making others laugh are Henry and Mary Crawford; but their jokes show insensitivity and bad taste which is contrasted with the sensitivity and natural good taste of the heroine, who endures with fortitude the cruelty and selfishness of those around her. Henry teases Edmund by saying he will go and listen to him preaching and that he will take a pencil in order to 'note down any sentence pre-eminently beautiful'. The reader may enjoy such flippancy but Fanny sees it as disrespectful to the cloth and distinctly unfunny.

Henry Crawford is one of the few Jane Austen male characters whose motivation we are made fully aware of, albeit briefly.

By the way, have you noticed that, in all Jane’s novels, there are very few scenes in which men converse alone together? 

Tom Bertram has some of Mrs. Norris’s characteristics: he too likes to give the impression that he is willing to put up with deprivation in order to contribute to the general good. When parts are to be cast for the play, he says: ‘the rhyming butler for me – if nobody else wants it – a trifling part, but the sort of thing I should not dislike, and as I said before, I am determined to take anything and do my best..’.

The complete overthrow of Mrs. Norris comes in the penultimate chapter. The scandal involving Maria and Henry (indirectly attributable to Mrs. Norris's influence) had finished her: 'She was an altered creature, quieted, stupefied ... unable to direct or dictate, or even fancy herself useful'. She goes off to live with Maria in her exile from society.

At one point, Mrs. Norris claims to have given a considerable sum to Fanny's younger brother. (Jane Austen told niece Anna and nephew James-Edward that the 'considerable sum' Mrs. Norris claimed to have given William Price was a mere £1!) 

Incidentally, William Price’s professional activities exactly reflect what the British Navy was doing at the time, particularly against the French, protecting trade through the Mediterranean and, for example, blockading Toulon. Cruisers - such as the ‘Texel’ to which William was assigned - protected merchant ships approaching the Thames. 

For the social historian: Mansfield Park gives us a little bit of nostalgia in reminding us of what the city street-life once was: recalling their earlier days in Portsmouth, William says to Fanny, 'We used to jump about together many a time, did not we? when the hand-organ was in the street?' 

Incidentally, Lady Bertram's pug is a male: 'Sitting and calling to Pug, and trying to keep him from the flower-beds, was almost too much for me'. A few pages later, we read of 'the barking of pug in his mistress's arms'. However, later, Lady Bertram says: 'And I will tell you what, Fanny – which is more than I did for Maria – the next time pug has a litter you shall have a puppy'. Has Pug changed sex? Well, maybe Lady Bertram means 'sires a litter'!

Ultimately the most ambivalent character is the narrator! For much of the novel, she seems to allow for great subtleties, but in the final pages she offers nothing but a dogmatic and evangelical advocacy of religious principles such as is not found elsewhere in Jane's novels.