Saturday, 28 May 2016

Sidney Parker in Jane Austen's 'Sanditon'

In the final chapter of Sanditon, Tom Parker's brother Sidney arrives in town. We expect him to be a more balanced, whimsical sort of man, for Tom has confessed that Sidney teases him about his plans.

Indeed, Sidney is not taken in by his brother Arthur's and his sisters' illnesses. He proves to be about twenty-eight, good-looking, 'with a decided air of ease and fashion, and a lively countenance'. We may speculate that Jane Austen intended him to fall in love with Charlotte.

This novel is a testament to Jane Austen's courage. Written when she was dying, it jokes about illness. Jane often tried to make others believe she was better than she really felt. She would insist that her mother (who was to outlive Jane by ten years) should have the place on the sofa, in preference to herself, who really needed it. Jane Austen's mother was just a little of a hypochondriac. As Margaret Drabble says in her introduction (Penguin edition, 1974), Jane 'was too ill to moralize in fiction, and cheered herself up by seeing the world as a joke'.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Clever Opening Chapters of Jane Austen's 'Persuasion'

Persuasion opens by telling us how Sir William loved to study the 'Baronetage'. With him, we learn about his family (for he has entered dates of marriages and births) and we infer that he is conceited and foolish.

The skill with which Anne Elliot's past is explained was well described by Dr. C.V. Wedgwood (in the 1966 Annual Lecture of the Jane Austen Society): 'Jane Austen moves in towards Anne slowly, starting with the revealingly funny account of her father.... It is only after we have had Sir Walter, his life, his interests, and his intention of letting his house, fully set down for our interest and amusement, that Jane Austen breaks off the narrative to explain the predicament of Anne in a straightforward, economical, deliberately low-toned chapter, which, as much by its position in the book as by any direct statement, establishes the fine character of Anne and the nature of her tragedy, her broken engagement to Captain Wentworth, in almost austere contrast to the false values with which she is surrounded.'

It is typical of the way Jane Austen interweaves comedy with sadness. (A similar effect is achieved when Fanny Price, aged ten, arrives at Mansfield Park. She is distressed, shy, lonely, made to feel inferior and guilty; yet the scene has all the outward appearance of comedy.)

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Love and Marriage in Jane Austen's Novels

In Jane Austen's juvenile works, marriage was a casual and unemotional transaction – an absurdity of adulthood. She mocked sexual passion as depicted in sentimental novels. Yet her mature work, drafted only a few years after those teenage satires, contains some of the most satisfying love stories in all literature. She can still joke about love (Elizabeth Bennet pretends to date her love for Darcy as beginning when she first set eyes on his beautiful home) but, in the intensity of their love, Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot experience feelings as deep as any to be found in generations of romantic novels.

In Jane Austen's earliest extant work, marriage proposals, seen through the eyes of a twelve-year-old author, are an absurd feature of adult life, ripe for comic treatment. In Frederic and Elfrida, Charlotte goes to London, immediately accepts two proposals of marriage from strangers, recollects next morning 'the double engagement she had entered into' and escapes by drowning herself in the 'pleasure Grounds in Portland Place'. A lady called Rebecca becomes engaged to Captain Roger of the Buckinghamshire, but her mother does not approve because of their tender age, 'Rebecca being but 36 and Captain Roger little more than 63'. However, a week later, 'seven days having expired, together with the lovely Charlotte,' sufficient maturity is deemed to have been reached, though only after Rebecca's mother has been threatened with a dagger to make her give her consent. This 'sweet and gentle persuasion could not fail of having the desired effect'.

Young Jane had made fun of contrived tear-jerking (especially in deathbed scenes). In her mature writing, however, there are tear-jerking moments. The difference is that the tears Jane evokes have nothing to do with contrived pathos; they are tears of joy that come from learning, after a period of suspense, that one's love is reciprocated.

There was a difficulty about revealing the heroine's love. It would be improper for the heroine to declare it herself, especially before the man had revealed his own sentiments. She can experience 'esteem', a 'preference', a 'growing attachment'. It is for others to see where this is leading. It would not do for the nineteen-year-old and exceptionally level-headed Elinor to admit that she has fallen in love with Edward Ferrars. But, when provoked by Marianne's criticisms of him to come to Edward's defence, she is eloquent in praise of his principles and goodness and admits she can think him 'really handsome'. She esteems and likes him. That is enough.

Catherine Morland is a young woman of simple, pure, generous thoughts. There is a touching moment when Eleanor comes to her room late at night, wondering how to break the dreadful news that she is being sent away. Immediately Catherine fears that it concerns Henry, 'and turning as pale as her friend, she exclaimed, ''Tis a messenger from Woodston!"' (There is a similar moment in Emma, when the heroine's thoughts leap at once to Mr. Knightley.)

Jane Austen had come to know about love and to treat the subject with respect. As the film industry discovered in the 1990s, after an age of crude, explicit and passionless attempts to portray sexual relationships, there is no shortage of intense sexual passion in the novels of Jane Austen. It would be difficult to find better studies than hers of what it is to fall in love, to be secretly in love, to endure the suspense of loving when the loved one seems lost. Whether she was writing partly from personal experience (perhaps having fallen in love with the man who died young after she met him on holiday in Devon) we do not know. What is clear is that she had the empathy and imagination to convey the developing and enduring love of a number of contrasting heroines (of whom only Elizabeth Bennet seems close to being a self-portrait) and that she did more than she is usually given credit for in conveying the men's corresponding emotions, too.

It would be difficult to find anywhere else in literature romantic moments as satisfying as that in which Elinor Dashwood discovers Edward is unmarried or where Anne Elliot is overwhelmed by the note she receives from Frederick Wentworth. Jane Austen shows that even where characters scarcely ever touch, a writer can convey feelings of great depth and poignancy.

After Edward Ferrars reveals it is his brother and not himself who has married Lucy, Elinor is so relieved that even she for once loses control. 'Elinor could sit no longer. She almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease'.

For Anne Elliot, 'On the contents of that letter depended all which the world could do for her!' Reading it brings 'an overpowering happiness'. She is only a little more able than Elinor to retain her composure. Soon 'obliged to plead indisposition and excuse herself', she longs to walk quietly in the street, 'almost certain' that Frederick will be there, waiting to claim her.

In the full context of the novels, these moments are the fulfilment of months (in Anne's case years) of devotion and constancy. And long before these happy endings, Jane Austen shows herself just as skilful in recording the progress of love as she is in recording details of selfishness, hypocrisy or eccentricity.

The development of Elizabeth Bennet's love is the most complex. Unlike the other heroines, she first disapproves of the man who is to become her perfect partner. And unlike some of the others, she also has not met her future husband before the novel begins. In a tour de force the young Jane Austen is able to show how Elizabeth changed her attitude completely and to convince the reader that this love was based on the deepest feelings.

Jane Austen precisely records the transformation of Elizabeth's feelings. The way her love has developed has great appeal. Both parties learn to temper their pride and prejudices with a humility that enriches their other excellent qualities: 'for herself she was humbled; but she was proud of him – proud that in a cause of compassion and honour he had been able to get the better of himself'.

Readers admire heroines who learn through experience. This is part of the fascination of Elizabeth. Having engaged our sympathy, she involves us in every stage of her emotional evolution and we share with her the tantalizing suspense concerning the outcome. Elizabeth's behaviour during Lydia's elopement appeals because it is decorous and yet full of the sexual tension readers vicariously enjoy. Chapter 51 ends sublimely, after Elizabeth hears that Darcy was at the Wickhams' wedding and she dashes off the letter to her aunt. We share the quickening of her fluttering spirits. She suspects Darcy acted so generously 'for her'. Jane Austen skilfully prolongs the suspense, through the letter from Mrs. Gardiner, the visit of Lady Catherine and the letter from Mr. Collins to Elizabeth's father.

Playfully, at the end of the novel, Elizabeth and Darcy discuss how they fell in love. He admits he was attracted by the 'liveliness' of her mind. She tells him, with intuitive accuracy: 'You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking, and looking, and thinking for your approbation alone. I roused and interested you because I was so unlike them.’

No other Jane Austen heroine goes through a phase of determining to hate the man she eventually marries. Marianne Dashwood is merely indifferent to her future husband. Emma Woodhouse is unconscious of loving the man she has always regarded merely as a kind neighbour. Fanny Price and Catherine Morland fall smoothly in love with the first man to charm them. Elinor similarly succumbs and stays constant, against the odds. Anne Elliot, in love before the novel begins, loves 'longest' and most movingly of all.

Marriage 'was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and, however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want'. In these cheerless words, Jane Austen explains why Charlotte Lucas accepted Mr. Collins. For such women, Elizabeth Watson says that marriage to virtually any man with money is preferable to the alternative of making a pitiful salary as a school teacher. (It was better to be a governess than a school-teacher. But it was better still to be supported by a good husband and not teach at all. The lot of a school teacher then, as now, was hard.)

While recognising the predicament of such women, Jane refused to see herself as one. She resisted the temptation to become mistress of the Manydown Estate when she decided against marrying Harris Bigg-Wither. Necessary and welcome though money was, she believed marriage should be founded on love. As she wrote to Fanny Knight: 'Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection'. Her favourite characters all marry for love. Most of them happen to benefit financially as well, but to do so has not been their aim. Elizabeth Bennet 'began now to comprehend that [Darcy] was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was a union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance'. Money is not mentioned.

For women of independent means, matters were different. Emma Woodhouse makes the case for their not marrying without love: 'without love, 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'.

The notion was growing that young people should choose their marriage partners for themselves. Jane's heroines resist the charms of men they do not really love. These gentlemen – Wickham, Henry Crawford, John Thorpe, Mr. Collins, Frank Churchill, Charles Musgrove – are skilfully deployed.

Good looks and charm are not enough. Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility has 'youth, beauty, and elegance' on his side. The seventeen-year-old Marianne, her mind full of romantic notions, immediately sees him as 'equal to what her fancy had ever drawn for the hero of a favourite story' and virtually falls in love at first sight. He shows himself to have 'good abilities, quick imagination, lively spirits, and open, affectionate manners'. He even reads 'with all the sensibility and spirit which Edward had unfortunately wanted'. But he proves to be both mercenary and a seducer. When Brandon receives a letter and has to rush off to London, just as a large party is about to set off on an outing, Willoughby says, 'There are some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Brandon is one of them. He was afraid of catching cold, I dare say, and invented this trick for getting out of it.' In retrospect, we realise this is cruelly ironic: Brandon has been called to her assistance by his ward Eliza whom Willoughby left pregnant.

Long before this is discovered, however, Elinor has some reservations: he says too much of what he thinks on every occasion, 'without attention to persons or circumstances'. To win attention, he slights 'too easily the forms of worldly propriety' and gives opinions too freely, displaying 'a want of caution which Elinor could not approve'. (Jane Austen subtly advocates being on one's guard and reserving judgement – as Fanny Price and Elinor do.) Colonel Brandon is one of those he defames: he says Brandon is a man 'everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.' Marianne agrees but Elinor speaks in Brandon's defence. Elinor is never quite comfortable about Willoughby: when he has suddenly left the party in Devon, she tells her mother, 'suspicion of something unpleasant is the inevitable consequence of such an alteration as we have just witnessed in him'.

Jane's novels are all love stories but we only hear one of her lovers, the self-controlled Mr. Knightley, declare his love. Although we have in full ceremonial such proposals as that of Mr. Collins to Elizabeth, there is no need for words in the proposals that really matter. They happen almost soundlessly. Sometimes the reader is offered only reported speech, and very little of that. Here is Henry Tilney's proposal to Catherine. 'Some explanation on his father's account he had to give; but his first purpose was to explain himself, and before they reached Mr. Allen's grounds he had done it so well, that Catherine did not think it could ever be repeated too often. She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own.' Of the unsuccessful proposals, Henry Crawford's is particularly appealing. He thrills Fanny by telling her that, through his own exertions, her brother William is being promoted to the rank of second lieutenant on H.M. Sloop Thrush. As he continues, taking her hand, it dawns on her that his kindness is moral blackmail. Unlike Elizabeth Bennet, she does not deflect the undesirable suitor in a matter of minutes: sincerely attached, Henry pursues her for weeks.

(By the way, the character William Price is generally believed to have been inspired largely by Jane's brother Henry, just as Captain Wentworth was probably inspired by her brother Frank.)

Jane Austen shows not only how but also why people are drawn to each other. One has charms; the other is charmed. Second thoughts, reconsiderations, revised opinions, occasionally total changes of heart – these, within her outwardly gentle novels, become dramas. She appeals to the perpetual youth in all of us.

Although the heroines make matches likely to produce happiness ever after, the girls around them fail to do likewise. In Mansfield Park, Maria considers it 'evident duty' to marry Mr. Rushworth. It is a passionless union of two bank balances. The 'courtship' of the ill-matched couple is dismissed in one paragraph.

The 'hero' of this novel admires the virtues of Fanny Price but spends his time in love with someone else. Fanny loves, observes and suffers in silence, finding solace in Edmund's frequent kindness to her. When Fanny appropriates the note Edmund had just started writing (to accompany the gold chain), she preserves it just like Harriet Smith preserving her 'Most Precious Treasures'. Edmund never 'courts' Fanny but there are scenes which - to her - are like courtship. Such is his gift of the gold chain. She is 'overpowered by a thousand feelings of pain and pleasure'; and even he says 'Believe me, I have no pleasure in the world superior to that of contributing to yours'. Understandably, he regards her only as a little step-sister.

Henry Crawford makes his intention to court Fanny clear (to his sister): not caring to 'eat the bread of idleness', he plans to make Fanny fall in love with him. Sexual relations will be a game. Henry's vanity has been wounded, as his sister spots at once, by Fanny's lack of response to him. His is hardly a sound basis for courtship (though as sound as some others in the novel) and Fanny's emotions remain unaffected.

A common device, of which Jane Austen was an early exponent, is having the heroine suffer dreadful suspense thinking the man she loves is about to marry someone else. Will Mr. Knightley marry Harriet? Will Darcy marry his cousin? Will Wentworth marry Louisa? Fanny has to endure the 'wretchedness' of having Edmund confide in her that he is off to London to propose to Mary Crawford.

Three pages from the end of Mansfield Park, Edmund still has no idea of marrying Fanny. Jane Austen chooses to leave his conversion from Mary to Fanny to the imagination of the readers, who are even invited to 'fix their own' dates! The author summarises Edmund's change of heart in one sentence:

Scarcely had he done regretting Mary Crawford, and observing to Fanny how impossible it was that he should ever meet with such another woman, before it began to strike him whether a very different kind of woman might not do just as well – or a great deal better, whether Fanny herself were not growing as dear, as important to him in all her smiles, and all her ways, as Mary Crawford had ever been; and whether it might not be possible, an hopeful undertaking to persuade her that her warm and sisterly regard for him would be foundation enough for wedded love.

While disapproving of mercenary marriages, Jane did not approve of marriages without sufficient means of support. There is an interesting discussion in Sense and Sensibility about the importance of money. Elinor Dashwood (the eminently sensible heroine) thinks a minimum requirement is one thousand a year.

'What has wealth or grandeur to do with happiness?'

'Grandeur has but little,' said Elinor, 'but wealth has much to do with it.'

'Elinor, for shame!' said Marianne; 'money can only give happiness where there is nothing else to give it. Beyond a competence, it can afford no real satisfaction, as far as mere self is concerned.'

'Perhaps,' said Elinor, smiling, we may come to the same point. Your competence and my wealth are very much alike, I dare say; and without them, as the world goes now, we shall both agree that every kind of external comfort must be wanting. Your ideas are only more noble than mine. Come, what is your competence?'

'About eighteen hundred or two thousand a year; not more than that.'

Elinor laughed. 'Two thousand a year! One is my wealth! I guessed how it would end.'

The viable financial basis of Elinor and Edward's marriage is that 'Edward had two thousand pounds, and Elinor one, which, with the Delaford living, was all they could call their own' though Edward is 'not entirely without hopes of some favourable change in his mother towards him'. (He obtains a further ten thousand pounds from his mother, but the marriage would have taken place without this.)

There is a wonderful moment in Sense and Sensibility when John Dashwood tells his sisters how Mrs. Ferrars promised her son Edward 'the Norfolk estate' and 'twelve hundred' a year if he would give up Lucy Steele and marry the heiress Miss Morton. Marianne, shocked at such an attitude, says, 'Gracious God! Can this be possible?' Her money-grubbing brother, completely misunderstanding, replies, 'Well may you wonder, Marianne, ... at the obstinacy which could resist such arguments as these'!

There are similarities in the love stories of Catherine Morland and Fanny Price. In love only once, they adore the man who treats them well early in life. Fanny begins as a child to fall in love with her cousin and has the benefit of being brought up in his house. With Catherine, the case is more sudden. After only two meetings with Henry Tilney, she is in love, sure enough. Witness Chapter 10, where she tries desperately to avoid being invited to dance by John Thorpe, in the hope that for once Henry will be able to partner her. She sits, eyes averted, warning herself that she is absurd to hope he will notice her. Suddenly she 'found herself addressed and again solicited to dance, by Mr. Tilney himself. With what sparkling eyes and ready motion she granted his request, and with how pleasing a flutter of heart she went with him to the set, may be easily imagined ... it did not appear to her that life could supply any greater felicity'.

By Chapter 17, she is dreaming of marriage: 'Once or twice indeed, since James's engagement had taught her what could be done, she had got so far as to indulge a secret 'perhaps', but in general the felicity of being with him for the present bounded her views: the present was now comprised in another three weeks, and her happiness being certain for that period, the rest of her life was at such a distance as to excite but little interest.’

In the cases of Catherine Morland, Elizabeth Bennet, and Emma Woodhouse, part of the process of falling in love involves being taught a painful lesson by the future partner. Catherine suspects General Tilney – as a self-respecting owner of a gothic abbey – must either have murdered his wife or be keeping her locked away in some remote chamber. After several nerve-tingling attempts, Catherine eventually gets into the room that had once been Mrs. Tilney's. To her surprise, it is bright and modern. A moment later, Henry comes upon her there and her greatest embarrassment (the ultimate cure for her fantasies) comes when her blushes reveal to him what she has been imagining.

'If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to – Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. ... Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you – Does our own education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay every thing open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?’

His lecture reduces her tears. Like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, she benefits from a good cry brought on by the reproach of her lover. Catherine has to recognize how right Henry is: however 'charming' the works of Mrs. Radcliffe might be, 'it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the midland counties of England, was to be looked for'.

The walk round Beechen Cliff by Catherine with Henry and his sister is as central to the advancement of the love story as any ballroom scene. Catherine – knowing nothing about theories of the picturesque – charms Henry by giving him the pleasure of teaching such a sweet and enthusiastic pupil. Rapidly, she learns to appreciate that the best view is not 'from the top of an high hill' and that clear blue skies are not necessarily a good thing. She listens to Henry lecturing on 'fore-grounds, distances, and second distances – side-screens and perspectives', unaware that 'a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man'. So guided, she soon has the confidence, when they reach the top of Beechen Cliff, to reject 'the whole city of Bath, as unworthy to make part of a landscape'. Jane Austen archly comments:

Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.

Yet Catherine is not overawed during this walk. Like Harriet Smith, she suddenly proves surprisingly articulate. Making a case against books about history, she speaks with the wit and conviction of an Elizabeth Bennet. She has given the subject some thought and marshals cogent arguments: history books are all about quarrels, wars and pestilences; they ignore women ('the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all – it is very tiresome'); speeches put into characters' mouths are obviously 'invention'; and history books are used to 'torment' small children who are made to struggle through reading them!

Throughout the walk, Tilney continues to dazzle and charm. He impresses Catherine by liking Mrs. Radcliffe's gothic novels and (in sharp contrast with John Thorpe) claiming to have enjoyed 'hundreds and hundreds' of novels. Unusually for Jane Austen's humour, some of his wit has perhaps lost its charm with the passage of time: his teasing seems today a little pedantic when he challenges Catherine's uses of words – 'nicest' and 'torment', and when he takes his time explaining to his sister that she and Catherine are talking at cross-purposes. But his pedantry is partly mock-pedantry. Her mind still on books, Catherine has ventured the remark that 'something very shocking indeed, will soon come out of London'. Miss Tilney thinks she is talking politics. The outcome is that Tilney is invited to give his opinion of 'the understanding of women'. Urged to be serious, he says: 'Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half.’

As for Edward Ferrars, the hero of Sense and Sensibility, he is so rarely seen that we do not get to know him. Not witnessing scenes in which he and Elinor fall in love while he is staying with his sister (Mrs. John Dashwood) at Norland in Sussex, we have to take Elinor's word for it that he is attractive. The first time he is mentioned, a 'growing attachment' between the couple has already developed. We do not even hear him speak once before Elinor moves away to Devon. We are simply told 'He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open, affectionate heart.' He resists pressures from his family to make something of himself in society. 'All his wishes centred in domestic comfort and the quiet of private life.'

We do not know that his secret, long-standing but rued engagement to Lucy Steele is preying on his mind. In the later scenes, Edward is kept offstage for so long that he has no chance to impress the reader. Elinor and Marianne reach London in Chapter 26. Edward is not seen until Chapter 35 and even then it is only in an embarrassing situation where Lucy is determinedly present throughout. The next we hear of him is that he has again gone away after the storm following the announcement of his engagement to Lucy. Even when he appears and is told by Elinor of the living Colonel Brandon is giving him, he becomes suspicious that Brandon is in love with Elinor and this puts him once more out of spirits.

When the Dashwood sisters undertake their journey home (long interrupted by Marianne's illness), Edward is again offstage. It is not surprising that, by the middle of Chapter 47, 'Elinor grew impatient for some tidings of Edward'. Even when he reappears in Chapter 48, it is mainly to behave awkwardly – embarrassed as he is by recent events – and to undeceive the Dashwoods regarding Lucy's wedding. When Elinor, bursting into tears of joy, leaves the room, Edward slinks away to the village. At the beginning of the next chapter we are told 'His errand at Barton, in fact, was a simple one. It was only to ask Elinor to marry him; and considering that he was not altogether inexperienced in such a question, it might be strange that he should feel so uncomfortable in the present case as he really did...'! All we know is that three hours later 'he had secured his lady' and become 'one of the happiest of men'. However, we are left to assume they have plenty to say to each other in the following week, while he stays at the cottage. 'with lovers... no communication is even made, till it has been made at least twenty times over...’.

The great moment of a marriage proposal is often best left to the reader's imagination. The 'proposal' which results in Darcy and Elizabeth's ultimately becoming engaged is not his first one – the one that began 'You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you'. It is induced by the warmth now shown none too subtly by the lady. As they walk together, she secretly forms 'a desperate resolution' and thanks him for rescuing Lydia from disgrace. He admits he was thinking only to bring Elizabeth happiness. Amidst her embarrassment (she knows what is coming), he says, 'My affections and wishes are unchanged.' Then Jane Austen resorts to reported speech and summary to convey what followed. Elizabeth, not very fluent, 'gave him to understand' how her sentiments had changed. Elizabeth is too confused to look at him but drinks in his words, which prove 'of what importance she was to him'.

For Emma Woodhouse, a severe test comes when Harriet expresses her hopes concerning Mr. Knightley. Suddenly recognising her own love for him, Emma realises with horror that she has brought evil upon Harriet, herself and Mr. Knightley. Humbled and matured, she proves herself capable even of self-sacrifice. She has progressed so far in desiring to avoid giving pain that, 'cost her what it would', she resolves to listen to what she expects to be Mr. Knightley's announcement of his intention to marry Harriet. In fact, he proposes to her. The scene is highly charged because the writer focuses on Emma's twittering emotions. Knightley's words of proposal are brief and straightforward. 'I cannot make speeches, Emma ... If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but the truth from me... '.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Jane Austen's Defence of Novels

Jane Austen’s famous defence of novels in Northanger Abbey was timely. In Robert Bage's Hermsprong (1796), a curate wonders whether it is worth his while to write a novel, as they were at the time considered as the lowest of all human productions.

We know from her letters that Jane was proud her family resisted the contemporary tendency to disparage fiction. She wrote: I have received a very civil note from Mrs Martin requesting my name as a Subscriber to her Library ... As an inducement to subscribe Mrs Martin tells us that her Collection is not to consist only of Novels, but of every kind of Literature &c &c – She might have spared this pretension to our family, who are great Novel-readers & not ashamed of being so.

The point is elaborated in Northanger Abbey, where Jane fills half of Chapter 5 with a homage to novelists and their art. It is an interpolation by the author in the manner of Fielding. She regrets that other novelists do not depict their heroines as reading novels with pleasure, and thereby add to the feeling that novels are worthless. She blames reviewers, who are more ready to praise someone who edits a thin anthology of poetry and prose than someone who writes a novel which has only genius, wit and taste to recommend it. Young ladies, taken by surprise while reading a novel, will 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.

However, even in this ‘Defence’, Jane may be enjoying a joke. The terms she uses are deliberately exaggerated. She may have been suggesting that contemporary novelists were puffing themselves up with claims about their art, when in fact most of the novels fell far short of such claims. When she was orginally writing this novel, there had recently been a correspondence in The Monthly Magazine: a contributor had written: ‘The business of familiar narrative should be to describe life and manners in real or probable situations, to delineate the human mind in its endless varieties, to develop the heart, to paint the passions, to trace the springs of action, to interest the imagination, exercise the affections, and awaken the powers of the mind!

There is more than an echo of this (probably an intentional parody) in Jane’s words.

Friday, 20 May 2016

There's not much about books in Jane Austen's Letters

We might expect Jane Austen's surviving private letters (mostly to her sister Cassandra) to be full of observations of writing. But Jane is generally too busy gossiping to saddle Cassandra with literary criticism. Her comments on books are perceptive but sweeping.

Jane and her father were interested to peruse Arthur Fitz-Albini: a Novel (1798) by Samuel Egerton Brydges, based closely on the author, his friends and acquaintances. Egerton Brydges, a brother of Jane's friend Mrs. Lefroy, was known to the Austens. We have got "Fitz-Albini"; my father has bought it against my private wishes, for it does not quite satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton's works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume. My father is disappointed – I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton's. There is very little story, and what there is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated. We have not been able to recognize any of them hitherto, except Dr and Mrs Hey and Mr Oxenden, who is not very tenderly treated (Letter 12). The comments from the twenty-two-year-old show how well she understood the writer’s craft and how perceptively she thought about pitfalls in writing fiction.

In Letter 25, Jane says she has just read the first volume of Tales of the Castle by Madame de Genlis but adds only I think it a good opportunity for beginning a letter to you while my mind is stored with Ideas worth transmitting.

Even after the death of the Revd. Austen, the Austen ladies continued his habit of reading aloud in the evenings. In Letter 49 (from Southampton), Jane says they found Madame de Genlis' Alphonsine, or Maternal Affection unsatisfactory. We were disgusted in twenty pages, as, independent of a bad translation, it has indelicacies which disgrace a pen hitherto so pure. They have switched to Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote, or, the Adventures of Arabella ('which now makes our evening amusement; to me a very high one, as I find the work quite equal to what I remembered it). (The novel had first appeared in 1752.)

Referring to Sir Walter Scott's Marmion, she writes, Ought I to be very much pleased with Marmion? – as yet I am not. – James reads it aloud in the Eveng – the short Eveng – beginning at about 10, & broken by supper (Letter 53).

When writing - in Letter 108 - to her niece Anna in 1814, Jane joked about Scott: Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. – It is not fair. – He has Fame & Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people's mouths. – I do not like him, & do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but I fear I must.

The Austen ladies read continually during the Southampton years. In February 1807, Jane mentions Clarentine, a Novel written in 1798 by Sarah Harriet Burney. They were surprised to find how foolish it is. I remember liking it much less on a 2nd reading than at the 1st & it does not bear a 3rd at all. It is full of unnatural conduct & forced difficulties (Letter 50).

In January 1809 she was reading Margiana, or Widdrington Tower by Mrs. S. Sykes: We ... like it very well indeed. – We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain (Letter 64).

A few days later she was on to the newly-published Woman, or Ida of Athens by Lady Morgan, who had earlier written The Wild Irish Girl: the latest novel must be very clever, because it was written as the Authoress says, in three months. – We have only read the Preface yet; but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much. – If the warmth of her Language could affect the Body, it might be worth reading in this weather (Letter 65).

In August 1805, Jane in Kent writes to thank Cassandra for recommending Thomas Gisborne's An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex (1797), for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it (Letter 47).

But Jane loved good talk as much as books. In Letter 26 (to Martha Lloyd, whom she is about to visit), Jane says, You distress me cruelly by your request about Books; I cannot think of any to bring with me, nor have I any idea of wanting them. I come to you to be talked to, not to read or hear reading. I can do that at home; & indeed I am now laying in a stock of intelligence to pour out on you as my share of conversation. – I am reading Henry's 'History of England', which I will repeat to you in any manner you may prefer, either in a loose, disultary, unconnected strain, or dividing my recital as the Historian divides it himself, into seven parts. The final volume of Robert Henry's History of Great Britain had been published in 1793.

Similarly, Jane enjoyed looking at real people as much as she enjoyed looking at works of art. In London on 16 April 1811, she went to the British Gallery in Pall Mall and also to an exhibition of natural history in Piccadilly but she commented: I had some amusement at each, tho' my preference for Men and Women, always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight (Letter 70).

Occasionally, there is verse. Jane admitted in a letter to Martha Lloyd on 29 November 1812 that she was the writer of a poem on Miss W. ... but James afterwards suggested what I thought a great improvement. The little punning poem concerned Miss Wallop who had become engaged to an elderly curate, the Revd. Henry Wake. We do not know how her brother James' suggestion affected the poem, but it was passed down through the Austen family in this form:

Camilla good humoured and merry and small
For a Husband it happen'd was at her last stake;
& having in vain danced at many a ball
Is now very happy to Jump at a Wake.

In July 1806, (Letter 48C), to celebrate the marriage of her brother Frank and his subsequent honeymoon at Edward's estate in Godmersham, Jane sent the following verse to Fanny, who was then thirteen. This poem first became public in The Times Literary Supplement as recently as 1987. A copy of it, made by Anna Lefroy in about 1855, had remained in the family:

See they come, post haste from Thanet,
Lovely couple, side by side;
They've left behind them Richard Kennet
With the Parents of the Bride!
Canterbury they have passed through;
Next succeeded Stamford-bridge;
Chilham village they came fast through;
Now they've mounted yonder ridge.
Down the hill they're swift proceeding
Now they skirt the Park around;
Lo! The Cattle sweetly feeding
Scamper, startled at the sound!
Run, my Brothers, to the Pier gate!
Throw it open, very wide!
Let it not be said that we're late
In welcoming my Uncle's Bride!
To the house the chaise advances;
Now it stops – They're here, they're here!
How d'ye do, my Uncle Francis?
How does do your Lady dear? 

Incidentally, in Southampton Public Library there is a manuscript in Jane Austen's handwriting in which she has copied out a poem by Byron (it is a Farewell to France in the voice of Napoleon). But, in copying it, she has made a few changes, such as replacing 'gloom' with 'bloom' and reversing Byron's rhymes of 'fame' and 'name'. These may be seen as 'improvements' to the poem.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice': Elizabeth Bennet's Embarrassing Parents!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that young people seeking to attract the opposite sex find their parents embarrassing. Perfect though mothers and fathers may be, there come times when sons and daughters are convinced their parents' behaviour seems ridiculous to their friends. In most cases, as with Adrian Mole, events prove there was no need for such fears. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet has some justification for uneasiness. Matters are made worse because Darcy, the man to whom she is attractive, openly criticizes her parents.

When at Hunsford Elizabeth has just learned that Darcy prevented Bingley from marrying Jane, she considers what objections there could possibly be to her family. She thinks nothing may be said against her father, who, though with some peculiarities, has abilities which Mr. Darcy himself need not disdain and respectability which he will probably never reach. However, after rejecting Darcy's proposal and receiving his letter, she amends these views. Darcy's criticism of her family does not exclude even Mr. Bennet, whose failure to restrain his wife and daughters he had noticed.

Reflecting on the matter, Elizabeth decides her family is hopeless of remedy. Her father, contented with laughing at them, would never exert himself to restrain the wild giddiness of his youngest daughters. Her father's behaviour is causing her embarrassment; and she thinks he is wrong to be constantly exposing Mrs. Bennet to the contempt of her own children.

But the embarrassment caused by her mother is worse and at times excruciating. Mrs. Bennet is rude to Darcy at Netherfield when he points out that there must be limited scope in the country for Elizabeth's hobby of studying character. Lizzy has to intervene. Similarly, when her mother boasts of the likelihood that Jane will become engaged to Bingley, Lizzy blushed and blushed again with shame and vexation because Darcy overhears.

When the militia move to Brighton, Lydia desperately wants her father to take the family there for the summer. It would be such a delicious scheme, and I daresay would hardly cost anything at all. Mamma would like to go.... (Elizabeth believes such a plan would completely do for us at once). She finds her father had not the smallest intention of yielding, though he cantankerously torments his wife with vague and equivocal answers on the subject. However, Lydia's 'gloom' is relieved when Mrs. Forster invites her to Brighton.

Following Lydia's elopement, Mrs. Bennet laments her own sufferings and takes to her room, blaming everybody but the person to whose ill-judging indulgence the errors of her daughter must be principally owing; but even then one of her principal thoughts is that, if Wickham can be made to marry Lydia, she must help choose the wedding clothes.

Possibly the education Mr. Bennet gave his daughters, allowing those who chose to be idle to be so, accounts in part for two of them growing up empty-headed. This is an implicit criticism of him as a father.

With her background and haphazard education, it is hard to discover where Elizabeth gets her notions of propriety. She can see that the university-educated clergyman, Mr. Collins, five years her senior, is taking an impertinent freedom in speaking to Mr. Darcy without an introduction. At the Netherfield Ball she cringes with embarrassment at the behaviour of her mother, of Mary and of her cousin Mr. Collins (partly because it gives Mr. Darcy the opportunity of ridiculing her relations). Her usual amusement at the folly of others deserts her in these circumstances, even though her father retains his sense of fun.

Some of Elizabeth's sense of propriety comes from her father, no doubt, some from reading, some from discussion with Jane, some from the Gardiners and much (by the end of the novel) even from Darcy. Interestingly, however, whenever she sees members of her family behaving badly and feels embarrassed, it is because Mr. Darcy is given ammunition to despise her.

A conflict between Elizabeth and her father - one which ultimately shows her judgement as superior to his - concerns Lydia's trip to Brighton. Elizabeth regards the invitation from Mrs. Forster as the death-warrant of all possible common sense for Lydia. She urges her father not to let Lydia go, warning him of the 'improprieties' of Lydia's past behaviour and the 'temptations' to face her in Brighton. (The town was gaining a reputation for lax morality.) As usual, Mr. Bennet treats even such a possibility as a joke: Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense. Elizabeth does not give up the argument. She hints that a 'disadvantage' may arise - indeed has already arisen - to all of them because of Lydia's behaviour. Her father perceptively guesses: What! Has she frightened away some of your lovers?... Such squeamish youths as cannot bear to be connected with a little absurdity are not worth a regret.

Although Elizabeth denies any particular resentment, her arguments and the length of her reply indicate how well she has taken Darcy's words to heart. Elizabeth now regrets her hasty rejection of him.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Catherine Morland's Gothic Experiences in Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'


Catherine's 'gothic' experiences are only a small feature of Northanger Abbey. On the journey to Northanger, Henry teases her by describing the room she may expect. It will be a 'gloomy chamber' with a mysterious tapestry and a ponderous chest. A secret trap door will lead to a vault. An ancient manuscript will be there for her to discover in 'a large, old-fashioned cabinet of ebony and gold’.

Her imagination is fired by a chest in her bedroom but it contains only a counterpane. Later she spots a cabinet with many drawers. One of these yields up a 'precious manuscript' from which she anticipates gothic thrills: Her heart fluttered, her knees trembled, and her cheeks grew pale. She even manages to extinguish her lamp and, in a cold sweat, feels her way back to bed. But the 'manuscript' is only an inventory of linen and a farrier's bill.

Far worse, Catherine suspects the General of either having murdered his wife or keeping her locked away in some remote chamber. Gothic novels suggest such behaviour is commonplace; and, after all, the General is fearsome. After nerve-tingling attempts, Catherine gets into the room which had once been Mrs. Tilney's. To her surprise, it is bright and modern. Henry catches her in this quest and, to her great embarrassment (and ultimate disillusionment), says:

If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to – Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. ... Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you – Does our own education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay every thing open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?

His lecture reduces her to tears. (Like Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, she benefits from a good cry brought on by the reproof of her lover.) Catherine has found that, however 'charming' the works of Mrs. Radcliffe may be, it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the midland counties of England, was to be looked for.

Then Jane Austen turns Catherine into a truly suffering heroine. Catherine knows she deserves to suffer. What can Henry think of a girl who had such wicked thoughts? She is humbled. Punishment comes; and the General's behaviour in turning her out with no thought about how she is to pay for her journey home is monstrous.

The manner in which it was done so grossly uncivil; hurrying her away without any reference to her own convenience, or allowing her even the appearance of choice as to the time or mode of her travelling; of two days, the earliest fixed on, and of that almost the earliest hour, as if resolved to have her gone before he was stirring in the morning, that he might not be obliged even to see her.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Jane Austen Buys Hats, Gloves and Gowns

Jane Austen's personal letters offer something to anyone interested in the efforts ladies such as Jane went to in obtaining gowns, caps, bonnets and stockings. There is scarcely a letter to her sister Cassandra that does not contain references to clothes they were buying, borrowing, commissioning, adapting or altering. We could be forgiven for thinking the writer of these letters more expert in millinery and dressmaking than in novel-writing. My Cap is come home & I like it very much, Fanny has one also; hers is white Sarsanet & Lace, of a different shape from mine, more fit for morning, Carriage wear – which is what it is intended for – & is in shape exceedingly like our own Sattin & Lace of last winter – shaped round the face exactly like it, with pipes & more fullness, & a round crown inserted behind. My Cap has a peak in front. Large, full Bows of very narrow ribbon (old twopenny) are the thing. One over the right temple perhaps, & another at the left ear (Letter 88).

In Guildford Jane was happy to pick up a pair of gloves: .. got them at the first shop I went to, though I went into it rather because it was near than because it looked at all like a glove shop, & gave only four Shillings for them; – upon hearing which every body at Chawton will be hoping & predicting that they cannot be good for anything (Letter 84).

In London a few days later she collected a gown for her mother from Laytons (Layton and Shears, Henrietta Street) – 7 yds at 6/6 (Letter 85).

Typically, in Letter 35, sent from Bath in May 1801, we find: Mrs Mussell has got my Gown, & I will endeavour to explain what her intentions are. – It is to be a round Gown, with a Jacket, & a Frock front, like Cath: Bigg's to open at the side. – The Jacket is all in one with the body, & comes as far as the pocketholes; – about half a quarter of yard deep I suppose all the way round, cut off straight at the corners, with a broad hem. – No fullness appears either in the Body or the flap; – the back is quite plain, in this form – [here she draws a little shape like a tumbler] – and the sides equally so. – The front is sloped round to the bosom and drawn in – & there is to be a frill of the same to put on occasionally when all one's handkercheifs are dirty – which frill must fall back. – She is to put two breadths & a half in the tail, & no Gores; – Gores not being so much worn as they were ....

Letter 27 includes the following information: Miss Summers has made my gown very well indeed, & I grow more and more pleased with it. – Charles does not like it, but my father and Mary do; my Mother is very much reconciled to it, & as for James, he gives it the preference over everything of the kind he ever saw; but a few lines later she adds Charles likes my gown now.

In Letter 57, we read, how is your blue gown? – Mine is all to peices. – I think there must have been something wrong in the dye, for in places it divided with a Touch. – There was four shillings thrown away.

We hear about the commissioning of headgear and pelisses in Southampton: Miss Burton has made me a very pretty little Bonnet – & now nothing can satisfy me but I must have a straw hat, of the riding hat shape, like Mrs Tilson's; & a young woman in this Neighbourhood is actually making me one. I am really very shocking; but it will not be dear at a Guinea. – Our Pelisses are 17/S. each – she charges only 8/ for the making, but the Buttons seem expensive; – are expensive, I might have said – for the fact is plain enough (Letter 70).

On a visit to London in 1811, she wrote to Cassandra, I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too; for in a Linendraper's shop to which I went for check'd Muslin, & for which I was obliged to give seven shillings a yard, I was tempted by a pretty coloured muslin, & bought 10 yds of it, on the chance of your liking it; – but at the same time if it shd not suit you, you must not think yourself at all obliged to take it; it is only 3/6 pr yd, & I shd not in the least mind keeping the whole. – In texture, it is just what we prefer, but its' resemblance to green cruels I must own is not great, for the pattern is a small red spot (Letter 70).

Jane was skilful with the needle. With little to do at Southampton, she tells Cassandra: I wish I could help you in your Needlework, I have two hands and a new Thimble that lead a very easy life (Letter 63).

Other domestic and culinary activities are occasionally mentioned: we are brewing Spruce Beer again (Letter 62); a Hamper of Port & Brandy from Southampton, is now in the Kitchen. ... We began Pease on Sunday, but our gatherings are very small ... Yesterday I had the agreable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe ... There are more Gooseberries & fewer Currants than I thought at first. – We must buy currants for our Wine (Letter 75).

[My references are to Deirdre Le Faye's edition of the Letters.]

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Jane Austen's Final Illness, Her Death and Her Will

In 1817, at the age of only 41, Jane Austen began to sink under the weight of an illness that was incurable at the time. Possibly it was leukaemia, or possibly Addison's disease or possibly the consequence of a lymphoma.

Though seriously ill, she made light of her suffering and remained a spirited letter-writer for as long as she could hold a pen. In the middle of a lively letter to Fanny, dated 21 February 1817, she claims: I am almost entirely cured of my rheumatism; just a little pain in my knee now & then, to make me remember what it was, & keep on flannel. – Aunt Cassandra nursed me so beautifully! (Letter 151). Three weeks later, she claimed to be tolerably well ... quite equal to walking about & enjoying the Air; & by sitting down & resting a good while between my Walks, I get exercise enough. – I have a scheme however for accomplishing more, as the weather grows springlike. I mean to take to riding the Donkey (Letter 153). She did ride and reported: 'I took my 1st ride yesterday & liked it very much. I went up Mounters Lane, & round by where the new cottages are to be, & found the exercise & everything very pleasant, & had the advantage of agreable companions, as At Cass: & Edward walked by my side (Letter 155).

Six months before her death, she wrote to her eight-year-old niece Cassandra Esten Austen a letter to delight any child, since every word is spelled backwards, as in I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey (Letter 148).

Four months before her death, she told Fanny: I certainly have not been well for many weeks ... but am considerably better now, & recovering my Looks a little, which have been bad enough, black & white & every wrong colour. I must not depend upon being ever very blooming again. Sickness is a dangerous Indulgence at my time of Life (Letter 155).

In April, Jane wrote her will, leaving virtually everything to her sister Cassandra. She bequeathed £50 to her financially-ruined brother Henry and £50 to a Madame Bigeon who had suffered in the collapse of Henry's bank.

Who was Madame Bigeon? I am indebted to post-graduate research student Simon Kirkpatrick for the following information (sent to me in April 2013): Madame de Bigeon was, apparently, first and foremost a nurse. Madame de Bigeon and her daughter had nursed Hastings Austen prior to his death in 1801. Madame de Bigeon nursed Eliza Austen (Henry Austen's wife) up to her death in 1813 and following that acted as housekeeper to Henry. When Henry's bank collapsed it was reported that some Austen servants had lost money. Simon states that, 'Whilst accepting that Madame de Bigeon and her daughter, Madame Perigord, were long-standing servants of Henry Austen and his deceased wife Eliza (Henry's first cousin), I have not yet seen any specific reference to the fact that Madame de Bigeon was a registered account holder at Henry's bank.'

By 22 May, Jane Austen wrote to her old friend Anne Sharpe (a former governess at Godmersham), I have since been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me – the most severe I ever had – & coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. In the letter, Jane praises her family for their loving attention. She says she is being taken on May 24 to Winchester for further treatment, for she is really a very genteel, portable sort of Invalid (Letter 159).

Three days after Jane's arrival in Winchester, she wrote to tell her nephew James-Edward she was sorry that her brother Henry and nephew William, who had ridden alongside her carriage, endured rain almost all the way. She believes she is gaining strength but admits her face and her handwriting have not yet recovered their proper beauty. She says the physician, Mr. Lyford, has promised to cure her, & if he fails I shall draw up a Memorial & lay it before the Dean & Chapter, & have no doubt of redress from that Pious, Learned & disinterested Body (Letter 160)! 'God bless you my dear Edward. If you are ever ill, may you be as tenderly nursed as I have been, may the same Blessed alleviations of anxious, simpathising friends be Yours, & may you possess – as I dare say you will – the greatest blessing of all, in the consciousness of not being unworthy of their Love. – I could not feel this. – Your very affec: Aunt, J.A..

Jane spent her final days at 8 College Street, Winchester, dying there on 18 July 1817. She was buried in the Cathedral. The gravestone makes no reference to her having been a writer. It reminds us of her modesty and reticence in opting for anonymity by omitting not only autobiography from her novels but also her name from their title pages.

It is not possible to identify her with any of her heroines. There is not even a novel written in the first person.

Incidentally, Jane’s will may be read at:

http://www.pro.gov.uk/virtualmuseum/maingalleries/famous/jane_austen/default.htm

Jane’s letters are apparently available in facsimile form, though I have never seen the following volume:-

Jane Austen's Manuscript Letters in Facsimile: reproductions of every known extant letter, fragment, and autograph copy, with an annotated list of all known letters. Edited by Jo Modert. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1990.