Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Marrying for Money

Elizabeth Elliot’s outlook is rooted in class entitlement. It is part of Elizabeth's blindness that she cannot even begin to fathom that a woman like Mrs. Clay might try to rise above her station. Elizabeth is husband-hunting only among the baronetcies and above. She firmly believes her £10,000 entitles her to a baronet.

We learn in Chapter One of Mansfield Park (from Maria Ward's uncle) that Maria Ward (later Lady Bertram) with her £7,000 was at least £3,000 short of attracting a baronet.

Note other women in the novels with at least £10,000 a year and see whom they attract or marry: In Pride and Prejudice, Miss King attracts Mr. Wickham; Caroline Bingley (£20,000) wants Mr. Darcy. In Sense and Sensibility, Miss Grey wants Mr. Willoughby (who is worth £700 a year); Fanny Ferrars marries John Dashwood. In Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford (with £20,000) wants Edmund Bertram; Maria Bertram accepts Mr. Rushworth.

In Persuasion, Anne Elliot attracts Charles Musgrove, Captain Benwick, Captain Wentworth, and Mr. Elliot; Mary Elliot captures Charles Musgrove.

So only one woman with at least £10,000 attracts a baronet's heir, and we learn to be suspicious of his motives. Other than that, it is not commonplace for a woman of £10,000 to attract titled gentlemen. Elizabeth Elliot, then, is stuck in a pipe-dream.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Thoughts on Sir Thomas Bertram

Probably Jane took from her own family the idea of sending Sir Thomas Bertram off to Antigua on business. Her father had been a trustee of the Haddon Plantation, which belonged to a former fellow student. Jane's brother Francis served on the Canopus when it visited Antigua in 1805.

It is interesting that Sir Thomas has a serious talk to Maria when he has doubts about the wisdom of her engagement to Rushworth.

Advantageous as would be the alliance, and long standing and public as was the engagement, her happiness must not be sacrificed to it.

He offers to act for her in obtaining her release from the engagement if that is what she wishes. It recalls the situation in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Bennet is concerned to protect his daughter from an unhappy marriage to Darcy, however financially advantageous it would be.

Also like Mr. Bennet, Sir Thomas has found strategies for dealing with a silly wife. We have a delightful example: his wife wants to know whether she should take part in the game of whist or whether the game of speculation would be better for her. Sir Thomas recommends speculation. Why? He was a whist player himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not much amuse him to have her for a partner!

Despite his daunting manner, which unnerves even the innocent Fanny, Sir Thomas can be a kindly man. He shows this especially when he promises Fanny that he will say nothing to anyone about her rejection of Crawford's proposal, even though he is angry about it.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Pleasures of 'Mansfield Park'

Despite reservations I have expressed elsewhere, there is much that is admirable about Mansfield Park. If you stop considering it just as the story of Fanny Price and remember that even Jane Austen said (no doubt tongue-in-cheek) that it was a book about 'ordination', you can sit beside the log fire with your glass of chianti and find much to ponder and much to make you waggle your toes and chuckle. For example, (taking at random Chapters 3 to 6 that I have just re-read) - the delightful undercurrents of antipathy between Dr. Grant and Mrs. Norris; and Mary's lively expressions of unconventional opinion on anything from marriage to the 'improvement' of estates and from men's laconic letter-writing to her ironic view of admirals.


What about the first paragraph of Chapter 6? It is a masterly example of the novelist's art. It begins by taking us inside Mary's mind. We see the assembled company from her perspective. We are made aware of her attitudes and motivations. But incidentally, without actually describing them, Jane Austen manages to let us know exactly what mealtimes were like before Tom left; and how Edmund's becoming the head of the table changes the atmosphere. Then from Mary's observations of the newcomer Mr. Rushworth, we quickly learn what a tedious fellow he is, and finally the paragraph opens out from Mary's consciousness into a full view of a discussion at table. Throughout all this, we learn by implication almost all we need to know about Tom, Edmund, Rushworth and especially Mary herself. Mary found the meals lively when Tom was there to tell stories of 'my friend such a one'. The reader is left to form his or her own view of whether such tales would have appealed to all.

Anyone who tries to see this novel as a study of the relative importance of environmental and hereditary factors in a child's development will find much to explore, and considerable complexity.

When she returns to Portsmouth, Fanny finds her old home chaotic and looks back fondly on Mansfield Park as a peaceful, civilized place where 'everybody's feelings were consulted'. However, her impressions are not borne out by what we can observe. Mansfield is not a shining example in bringing out the best in people: the eldest boy is debauched, the mother is indolent, the daughters are unprincipled and superficial; and snobbery prevails. Yet Portsmouth, despite its relative poverty, has produced two sons (John and Richard) who have respectively obtained a clerical post in London and become a midshipman; it has produced another - William - who is well regarded at Mansfield; and Sam who is intelligent and also destined for the Navy; and Susan who shows courage, energy and good understanding; not to mention Fanny herself. Even Mr. Price can be animated and polite (when with Henry Crawford). In truth, it seems Fanny has acquired her values as much from nature as from nurture.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Jane Austen's Own Comments on her Novels

Jane's secretiveness about her novels is reflected in the modesty of the letters. We seek in vain for evidence of how it felt to be perfecting the paragraphs of Mansfield Park or Emma while fitting in so much socialising, shopping, travelling, walking, management of domestic provisions, piano-playing and voluminous letter-writing.

There is an interesting comment near the end of her life: ... how good Mrs West cd have written such Books & collected so many hard words, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Joints of Mutton & doses of rhubarb (Letter 145). She is referring to the prolific authoress Mrs. Jane West, whose novels included The History of Ned Evans: A Tale of the Times (1796) and A Gossip's Story; and a legendary tale (also 1796), the latter similar in plot to Sense and Sensibility


Writing, and dealing with the procrastination of publishers, were not unfamiliar in Jane Austen's circle. Your letter was chaperoned here by one from Mrs Cooke, she writes to Cassandra on 27 October 1798, in which she says that 'Battleridge' is not to come out before January; and she is so little satisfied with Cawthorn's dilatoriness ... (Letter 10). Mrs. Cooke was the cousin of Jane's mother. The historical novel Battleridge was published – anonymously, like Jane Austen's – in 1799. Battleridge contains in effect two stories. It is a gothic novel, and happens to include lost deeds discovered in an oak coffer with a false bottom. There is also a mysterious lady prisoner in Battleridge Castle. It is just possible that Jane read the book before publication and that it influenced scenes in Northanger Abbey.

Jane had at least two other female relatives who wrote fiction. The daughter of William Leigh, a cousin of Jane's mother, was a novelist. This woman, Lady Hawke - another Cassandra - wrote Julia de Gramont which was published in 1788. There was also Mary Leigh, a cousin of Jane's mother, who wrote novels, though hers were unpublished.

All Jane's novels published in her lifetime were merely 'by a lady': she chose to be anonymous, like many women novelists. (Fanny Burney, at the start of her career, even wrote in a feigned hand.) However, Jane's identity became known to many, particularly through her proud brother Henry. By September 1813, she wrote to Frank: the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now – & that I beleive whenever the 3d appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it. – People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them.. (Letter 90).

In January 1799, we find Jane writing to Cassandra: Mr Ludlow and Miss Pugh of Andover are lately married, & so is Mrs Skeets of Basingstoke and Mr French, Chemist of Reading. – I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone though it, & that so long ago. – I am much obliged to you for meaning to leave my old petticoat behind You ... (Letter 17). First Impressions, so casually mentioned, was to become Pride and Prejudice.

A few months later, amidst chatter about hats, she jokes, I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. – She is very cunning, but I see through her design; – she means to publish it from Memory, and one more perusal must enable her to do it (Letter 19). 

Shortly before leaving Southampton in 1809 for her final home at Chawton, Jane resolved to be published. She wrote firmly to Crosby & Co. Using her nom de plume, 'Mrs Ashton Dennis' (initials 'MAD'), she reminded them that she was still awaiting publication of her novel Susan, which they bought six years earlier. She offered to send another copy if they had lost the original and said that, if they did not intend to publish, she would find another publisher (Letter 68[D] is a copy she made of this communication.)

Richard Crosby replied, warning that he would 'take proceedings' if she took the latter course of action but also offering to sell the manuscript back to her for the original price. She obviously accepted this offer, though we do not know when.

The repurchased manuscript became Northanger Abbey. The heroine was changed from Susan to Catherine probably because a novel called Susan had appeared in 1809.

Jane got down to business as soon as she settled at Chawton. T.A.B.Corley, writing in the Jane Austen Society’s Report for 2004, calculated that, in the four key Chawton years beginning in February 1811, Jane’s average output was 1000 words a day, despite all the family commitments and despite having to write painstakingly with a quill pen. By April 1811, during a visit to London she was correcting proofs of Sense and Sensibility: No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to W.s first appearance. ... I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. – Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the Printer ....' (Letter 71 - 'W' must have been Willoughby).

After finding a publisher for Pride and Prejudice, in a letter to Martha Lloyd Jane says in passing, P. & P. is sold. – Egerton gives £110 for it. – I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard so much. – Its' being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me (Letter 77).

On earning money, Jane told her niece Fanny that praise was all very well but she also liked people to buy her books: People are more ready to borrow & praise, than to buy – which I cannot wonder at; – but tho' I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too (Letter 114). 

Letters of 1815 include references to dealings with publishers. She was in London, staying with Henry, during the printing of Emma. He, typical male of the time, tended to handle his sister's dealings; but when he was taken ill, she fended well for herself. The bookseller and publisher John Murray (1778-1843) of Albemarle Street had succeeded Thomas Egerton (of The Military Library, Whitehall) as Jane's publisher. He brought out Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and a second edition of Mansfield Park.

Disappointed at the time it was taking to get the novel printed, Jane wrote firmly to Murray: My Brother's note last Monday has been so fruitless, that I am afraid there can be little chance of my writing to any good effect ... . She did not refrain from name-dropping in an attempt to pull strings: Is it likely that the Printers will be influenced to greater Dispatch & Punctuality by knowing that the Work is to be dedicated, by Permission, to the Prince Regent? (Letter 126).

Writing to Cassandra the next day, Jane said the delay was caused by a shortage of paper. She added that John Murray had been 'most civil' and 'very polite indeed'. He was even lending books to her and to Henry.

The publishers provided a bound copy for the Prince Regent: Jane wrote to John Murray: I have received the Prince's Thanks for the handsome Copy I sent him of Emma. Whatever he may think of my share of the Work, Yours seems to have been quite right (Letter 139). The dedication copy sent to the Prince Regent was specially bound in red morocco gilt, at a cost of £1 4s. It is now in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

It was Jane who finally dealt with Murray over both Emma's financial terms and typographical detail. She also handled the dealings with Murray at the time of Henry's bankruptcy.

On 1 April 1816, she requested Murray to direct any post or packages to me (Miss J. Austen) Chawton near Alton (Letter 139). In the same letter, she thanked him for sending her a copy of Sir Walter Scott's review of Emma, which had appeared in The Quarterly Review. She was pleased that she had nothing to complain of in Scott's treatment of her, except his total failure to mention Mansfield Park. In 1814, Jane Austen made £350 from sales of that novel.

Letter 78 brings a brief reference to Mansfield Park, then in the process of composition. At the time, Jane's mother was reading Sir John Carr's recent book about his travels. Jane learned from it that there was a mistake she had to put right in Mansfield Park: I learn from Sir J. Carr that there is no Government House at Gibraltar. – I must alter it to the Commissioner's.

On 29 January 1813, she had just received her first copy of the newly-published Pride and Prejudice. For once, she allows herself some self-satisfaction: I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London; – on Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles & sent a 3d by the Coach to Godmersham; just the two Sets which I was least eager for the disposal of. I wrote to him immediately to beg for my two other Sets, unless he would take the trouble of forwarding them at once to Steventon and Portsmouth – not having an idea of his leaving Town before to day; – by your account however he was gone before my Letter was written. The only evil is the delay, nothing more can be done till his return. Tell James & Mary so, with my Love. – For your sake I am as well pleased that it shd be so, as it might be unpleasant to you to be in the Neighbourhood at the first burst of the business. – The Advertisement is in our paper to day for the first time; – 18s – He shall ask £1-1- for my two next, & £1-8- for my stupidest of all. – I shall write to Frank, that he may not think himself neglected. Miss Benn dined with us the very day of the Books coming, & in the eveng we set fairly at it & read half the 1st vol. to her – prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work wd soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out – & I beleive it passed with her unsuspected. – She was amused, poor soul! that she could not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know. – There are a few Typical errors – & a "said he" or a "said she" would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but "I do not write for such dull Elves, As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves." – The 2nd vol. is shorter than I cd wish – but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt and cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S. & S. altogether (Letter 79). (Incidentally her reference to 'dull elves' was a paraphrase of a couple of lines from Sir Walter Scott, whose work both Cassandra and Jane must have known well.)

By the way, Miss Benn was an impoverished neighbour. Her brother - the rector of a nearby parish - had twelve children to support, so he could do little to help her. She rented a cold, leaky house. Her poverty reminds us how difficult things might have been for Jane if generous brothers had not contributed to her support.

In the same letter, Jane thanks Cassandra for the results of her 'enquiries'. These probably concerned the time Edmund would need to become ordained in Mansfield Park. She then asks whether Cassandra could discover whether Northamptonshire is a County of Hedgerows, maybe to check the validity of a reference to Mrs. Grant's shrubbery.


In February, Jane was still revelling in the success of Pride and Prejudice, though her comments tend as usual towards the playful: our 2d evening's reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I beleive something must be attributed to my Mother's too rapid way of getting on – & tho' she perfectly understands the Characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought. – Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough. – The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling; – it wants shade; – it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long Chapter – of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense – about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte – or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile (Letter 80).


In suggesting that she ought to have included digressions on 'serious' topics, Jane Austen was making fun of this characteristic of novels on which she had been brought up. Henry Brooke's The Fool of Quality (1770) frequently strays into comment on the status of women, the British constitution, the imprisonment of debtors and the definition of a gentleman.


In her next letter, Jane was enjoying wider appreciation: I am exceedingly pleased that you can say what you do, after having gone thro' the whole work – & Fanny's praise is very gratifying; – my hopes were tolerably strong of her, but nothing like a certainty. Her liking Darcy & Elizth is enough. She might hate all the others, if she would (Letter 81).


Visiting art exhibitions in London, Jane amused herself seeking likenesses of the characters: Henry & I went to the Exhibition in Spring Gardens. It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased – particularly (pray tell Fanny) with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley, excessively like her. I went in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs Darcy; – perhaps, however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time; – I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds's Paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall, & which we are also to visit. – Mrs Bingley's is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her. I dare say Mrs D. will be in Yellow (Letter 85). After visiting the latter exhibitions, she added that she was still disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs D. at either. – I can only imagine that Mr D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye. – I can imagine he wd have that sort of feeling – that mixture of Love, Pride & Delicacy.


In a letter of September 1813 to Frank, who was commanding HMS Elephant, Jane reported that every copy of Sense and Sensibility had been sold, bringing her £140, besides the Copyright, if that shd ever be of any value (Letter 86). She also requested Frank's permission to use in a novel the Elephant & two or three other of your old Ships. (Mansfield Park alludes to the Cleopatra, Elephant and the Endymion.)


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 Francis Austen was in command in the Baltic; the Endymion was the ship on which Charles Austen sailed in the Mediterranean; and the Cleopatra the ship which Charles sailed home from North America in 1811.


About this time, Fanny Knight (now aged twenty) played the joke of sending her aunt a letter addressed to Miss Darcy. Jane wrote to Cassandra: it made me laugh heartily; but I cannot pretend to answer it. Even had I more time, I should not feel at all sure of the sort of Letter that Miss D. would write (Letter 85).


Jane could soon rejoice that Pride and Prejudice had attracted distinguished admirers. Her brother Henry revealed the author's identity to Lady Robert Kerr; and Warren Hastings also praised the novel. Lady Robert is delighted with P. & P - and really was so I understand before she knew who wrote it – for, of course, she knows now. – He told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish. He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny. And Mr Hastings – I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about it ... His admiring my Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me (Letter 87). 

In October 1813, there is a reference to the second edition of Sense and Sensibility. Jane reports dining upon Goose yesterday – which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2d Edition (Letter 91). She is referring to an old proverb: the person who eats goose on Michaelmas Day 'Shan't Money lack'. With Henry's assistance, the second edition was being reprinted at Jane's expense: I shall owe dear Henry a great deal of Money for Printing &c. (Letter 95).


In the same letter, no doubt thinking of the typical Reynolds portrait, she jokes about her increasing fame: I do not despair of having my picture in the Exhibition at last – all white & red, with my Head on one Side. A Mrs. Carrick has told her that her fame has spread to Ireland: I am read & admired in Ireland too. – There is a Mrs Fletcher, the wife of a Judge, an old Lady & very good & very clever, who is all curiosity to know about me.


In March 1814, Henry escorted Jane to his London home. They began reading the proofs of Mansfield Park during the journey. Every few hours, Jane reports on Henry's reactions: Henry's approbation hitherto is even equal to my wishes; he says it is very different from the other two, but does not appear to think it at all inferior. He has only married Mrs R. I am afraid he has gone through the most entertaining part. – He took to Lady B. & Mrs N. most kindly, & gives great praise to the drawing of the Characters. He understands them all, likes Fanny & I think foresees how it will be (Letter 97). A little later in the same letter, she adds, Henry is going on with Mansfield Park; he admires H. Crawford – I mean properly – as a clever, pleasant Man

Mansfield Park also pleased Jane's old friend and distant relative the Revd. Cooke. Mr Cooke says "it is the most sensible Novel he ever read" – and the manner in which I treat the Clergy, delights them very much (Letter 101).


In November 1814, she reports to Fanny: You will be glad to hear that the first Edit: of M.P. is all sold. – Your Uncle Henry is rather wanting me to come to Town, to settle about a 2d Edit: – but as I could not very conveniently leave home now, I have written him my Will & pleasure, & unless he still urges it, shall not go. – I am very greedy & want to make the most of it; – but as you are much above caring about money, I shall not plague you with any particulars (Letter 109). 

Jane enjoyed the income and the opportunity it gave her to treat her sister: I am extremely glad that you like the Poplin, I thought it would have my Mother's approbation, but was not so confident of yours. Remember that it is a present. Do not refuse me. I am very rich (Letter 89).


She joked that dedicating one of her novels was attractive if it paid well. I hope you have told Martha of my first resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate ... & that she is thoroughly convinced of my being influenced now by nothing but the most mercenary motives (Letter 128). Jane was referring to the dedication of Emma to the Prince Regent. The Carlton House librarian, Revd. James-Stanier Clarke (1767 - 1834), had told Jane the Prince would be willing to have one of her novels dedicated to him. She took the precaution of asking for this in writing before inscribing the Work now in the Press, to H. R. H. (Letter 125D), because she would be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful. The assurance was given by return of post. The Revd. Clarke went on to suggest the depiction of a certain type of clergyman as subject matter for a future novel. Jane replied politely but firmly. As elsewhere, she uses the ploy of self-deprecation. I am quite honoured by your thinking me capable of drawing such a Clergyman as you gave me the sketch of in your note of Nov: 16. But I assure you I am not. The Comic part of the Character I might be equal to, but not the Good, the Enthusiastic, the Literary. Such a Man's Conversation must at times be on subjects of Science & Philosophy of which I know nothing – or at least be occasionally be abundant in quotations and allusions which a Woman, who like me, knows only her Mother-tongue & has read very little in that, would be totally without the power of giving. – A Classical Education, or at any rate, a very extensive acquaintance with English Literature, Ancient & Modern, appears to me quite Indispensable for the person who wd do any justice to your Clergyman – And I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible Vanity, the most unlearned, & uninformed Female who ever dared to be an Authoress (Letter 132D).


The subtext is that she is a successful authoress who knows perfectly well what she is about and requires no meddlesome assistance from the likes of Clarke!


Incidentally, Clarke did not give up. He sent a fulsome letter, proposing that Jane wrote about a clergyman after her fancy and suggesting how a plot might develop: Carry your Clergyman to Sea as the Friend of some distinguished Naval Character about a Court ... (December 1815). The Revd. Clarke had become Librarian to the Prince of Wales in 1805. With wide literary enthusiasms, he had started the Naval Chronicle, which ran for twenty years. The following Spring, Clarke wrote to Jane yet again, suggesting she should dedicate a book to Prince Leopold, in whose service he was now working: any Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg, would just now be very interesting. Again, Jane defended her territory: such a book, she says, would be much more to the purpose of Profit or Popularity, than such pictures of domestic Life in Country Villages as I deal in – but I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem. – I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter' (Letter 138D).


To her niece Caroline (a budding novelist), Jane wrote in one of her last letters: I have just recd nearly twenty pounds myself on the 2d Edit: of S & S - which gives me this fine flow of Literary Ardour (Letter 334). (An interesting comparison arises from the fact that Mrs. Radcliffe had been paid £500 for The Mysteries of Udolpho and £800 for The Italian.)


In the same month, she wrote to Fanny: Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out; – but I have a something ready for Publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence. It is short, about the length of Catherine (Letter 153). 'Miss Catherine' is Northanger Abbey and the 'something' is Persuasion. A few days later, Jane told Fanny: You will not like it, so you need not be impatient. You may perhaps like the Heroine, as she is almost too good for me. – Many thanks for your kind care for my health; I certainly have not been well for many weeks ...' (Letter 155). The 'heroine' is Anne Elliot.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Does Edmund deserve Fanny?

Does Edmund really deserve Fanny?

Fanny could be accused of being far too grateful to Edmund, bearing in mind that he does little to shield her from Mrs. Norris.

And consider the chapter in which Edmund walks with Fanny in the shrubbery to discuss Crawford's proposal. His avowed intention is to listen to her side of the story and give her comfort and support. He starts well by commending Fanny for refusing Crawford. He even assures her: ‘How could you imagine me an advocate for marriage without love?’; but, almost immediately he appeals to her ‘to let him succeed at last’. What sort of comfort and support is that? Her vehement protestations against this possibility are met with an admonition: ‘This is not like yourself, your rational self.’

Fanny's objections, which she sets out clearly and logically, are dismissed with little more than a wave of the hand. ‘We have not one taste in common. We should be miserable’ is countered with ‘You are mistaken, Fanny.’ So it goes on: every argument of Fanny's is firmly countered with a refusal to see or understand her point of view beyond that she needs more time.

Eventually we read:

'“My dear Fanny,” replied Edmund, scarcely hearing her to the end’ ...

- so, by this time he is not even listening!

Why? In a couple of pages, all becomes clear: he wants to talk to Fanny about Mary Crawford. He has written off Fanny's misery as a short-term local difficulty which she will overcome (with a little help from her friends) and wants to concentrate the conversation on what matters to him - his courtship of Mary.

In this chapter, Edmund shows his colours and suffers a serious fall from the reader's grace.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Caroline Bingley and Mary Bennet

Caroline Bingley and Mary Bennet do not deserve the bad press they sometimes receive. Caroline behaves as - or better than - most people would in her position. Though she is jealous of Elizabeth (and why shouldn't she be?), she tries to save Lizzy from sinking with Wickham by offering the kindly and truthful warning that he is a shady character. And - on Lizzy's last full day at Netherfield - she leaves Darcy alone with Elizabeth for a whole half-hour.

However calculating she may be, Caroline only speaks the truth as she sees it. When she tells her brother there may be some around who would not want a ball at Netherfield, she is right.

Mary Bennet deserves respect. It is enough for me that a pulchritudinously-challenged teenager works hard at her ‘thorough bass’. It is tedious, repetitive work, requiring exceptional nimbleness in the left hand. Perhaps Mary was to become, in later years, one of the pioneers of boogie-woogie!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Mr. Yates in 'Mansfield Park'

The Hon. John Yates is yet another wonderful Jane Austen creation. We have all met him at social gatherings: you laugh politely at his 'jokes' but sense that he is selfish, arrogant, shallow and dim. You would not want him as friend.

When you part, you casually mention that he ought to call if he is ever in your part of the country. You are certain he will never do so. After all, your home is about 200 miles away (north-east) and he is heading west to sponge on other hosts in Cornwall. So you know there is no danger he will ever take you up on the invitation.

Then, surprise, surprise, he appears on your doorstep… . He proceeds to install himself for a few days, guzzles all your chianti and keeps you up well beyond your preferred bedtime with mindless, dull 'conversation’.

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!