Thursday, 16 October 2014

Deaths reported in Jane's Letters

At a time of large families and brief life expectancy, in her private letters to her sister Cassandra Jane Austen had to report deaths with grim regularity. You will be sorry to hear that Marianne Mapleton's disorder has ended fatally; she was beleived out of danger on Sunday, but a sudden relapse carried her off the next day. – So affectionate a family must suffer severely; & many a girl on early death has been praised into an Angel I beleive, on slighter pretensions to Beauty, Sense and Merit than Marianne (Letter 38).

Deaths often resulted from childbirth. I believe I never told you that Mrs Coulthard and Anne, late of Manydown, are both dead, and both died in childbed. We have not regaled Mary with this news (Letter 11). Mary is their sister-in-law (née Mary Lloyd), who gave birth before Jane finished writing this letter. The child was James Edward. Seventy years later, he was to write the first biography of Jane Austen.

In 1808, at Godmersham, where Jane had so often been a welcome visitor, Elizabeth, the wife of Jane's brother Edward, died twelve days after giving birth to her eleventh child, Brook-John. (Brook-John survived and lived to the age of seventy-six.)

Jane was deeply shocked to receive the news from Cassandra, who was at Godmersham. Quickly her thoughts moved to Fanny, the eldest child who at fifteen would have to become a mother to the others. My dear, dear Fanny! – I am so thankful that she has you with her! – you will be everything to her, you will give her all the Consolation that human aid can give (Letter 58). In her next letter she can picture the sad scene, poor Edward restless in Misery going from one room to the other – & perhaps not seldom upstairs to see all that remains of his Elizabeth. – Dearest Fanny must now look upon herself as his prime source of comfort, his dearest friend. Jane was extremely fond of Fanny. A few days earlier she had written I am greatly pleased with your account of Fanny; I found her in the summer just what you describe, almost another Sister, and could not have supposed that a Neice would ever have been so much to me (Letter 57).

Another sister-in-law died in childbirth: in 1814 Fanny, wife of the sailor brother Charles, gave birth to a fourth daughter in August. Fanny died a week later – a 'sad event' referred to in Letter 107. The baby survived for only two more weeks. (Six years later, Charles married his wife's elder sister and had four more children - including a Jane Austen, born in 1824. Alas, she lived for only one week. )

Reports of death are so frequent, squeezed between accounts of social events, that they can seem insensitive: Sir Tho: Miller is dead. I treat you with a dead Baronet in almost every Letter (Letter 145); ... there does not seem to be a great deal to relate of Tuesday. I had hoped there might be Dancing. – Mrs Budd died on Sunday Eveng. I saw her two days before her death, & thought it must happen soon (Letter 76).

After family bereavements, the strength of Jane's love for her nephews and nieces was a great support. In later life, they remembered her with deep affection. In Southampton, she tried to cheer Edward's sons Edward and George, aged 14 and 13, after the death of their mother: We do not want amusement; bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable, spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, and watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed (Letter 60). She took them on the river and allowed them to row and their questions and remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing. In the evening, she introduced them to the game of ‘speculation’ and it was so much approved that we hardly knew how to leave off.

(In Mansfield Park, written shortly after, a game of Speculation is at the centre of Volume II, Chapter 7: Lady Bertram and Fanny are taught how to play by Henry Crawford. Fanny picks up the game rapidly but her ladyship proves a dull pupil. Elsewhere in this novel, we find Fanny playing cribbage with Lady Bertram - not the easiest of games for her ladyship, one would imagine!)

The boys took the game Speculation back to Kent. Jane affected disappointment on hearing it had been dropped there in favour of a game called 'Brag'. Later, both games lost their popularity in Kent, for she enclosed the following verses for Edward (Letter 65, 17 January, 1809):

'Alas! poor Brag, thou Boastful Game! What now avails thine empty name? – 
Where now thy more distinguish'd fame? – My day is o'er, & Thine the same. – 
For thou like me art thrown aside, At Godmersham, this Christmas Tide; 
And now across the Table wide, Each Game save Brag or Spec: is tried.' 
'Such is the mild Ejaculation, Of tender hearted Speculation.' 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Jane Austen indebted to Fanny Burney?


In Fanny Burney's Cecilia, Delvile professes his love to the heroine: Upon you, madam, all that is good or evil of my future life, as far as relates to its happiness or misery, will, from this very hour, almost solely depend. In Chapter 23 of Persuasion, when Anne Elliot takes up the famous letter, we read: On the contents of that letter depended all which this world could do for her!

It seems to have been a formula within contemporary novels at a great emotional climax for all future happiness to 'depend' on the contents of a communication.

Probably Jane Austen intuitively borrowed more from Fanny Burney than many critics have acknowledged.

A Canadian correspondent - Ellen Moody - pointed out to me, for example, how close in tone and choice of diction the two authoresses are. Many sentences in Burney have their close analogies in Austen:

The stance taken towards the world by the heroine of Cecilia recalls the stance taken towards the world by a number of Austen heroines. Cecilia at times seems a combination of Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot: she has the sense of the one and the sensibility (romanticism) of the other. She recalls Marianne in having to endure the asinine and ostentatious. She also resembles Fanny Price. Cecilia is also an outsider; if she were not an heiress, she would certainly not be chased after. She refuses insofar as she can to be co-opted into a phony society; she holds fast to some old-fashioned values. We could say she resembles a certain type of heroine in Austen which is captured in some realm to which Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, and Anne Elliot all belong. Catherine Morland also belongs to this set. She is an early version of it. Cecilia recalls Sense and Sensibility in its fops, concerns with money and language. Mrs. Harrel recalls Mrs. Palmer. When I read Cecilia, I was struck by Mortimer’s description of Henrietta Belfield in which he tells Cecilia that he has learned to like Henrietta very much, but could never find in her an equal and companion for life. It reads like an analysis of Harriet Smith from the point of view of Mr. Knightley: 'Miss Belfield has, I grant, an attraction in the simplicity of her manners which charms by its singularity; her heart, too, seems all purity, and her temper all softness. I have not, you find, been blind to her merit; on the contrary, I have both admired and pitied her. But far indeed is she removed from all chance of rivalry in my heart! A character such as hers for a while is irresistibly alluring; but when its novelty is over, simplicity uninformed becomes wearisome, and softness without dignity is too indiscriminate to give delight. We sigh for entertainment, when cloyed by mere sweetness; and heavily drags on the load of life when the companion of our social hours wants spirit, intelligence, and cultivation’.

And take the chapter called 'A Rout'. There is the dialogue over the concert in which all pretend to listen to the music and exclaim how much they enjoy it while clearly doing no such thing. It recalls the scene at the Middletons’ where only Brandon listens to Marianne and the scenes at the musical party in London where Elinor meets Edward Ferrars. A couple of the scenes between Cecilia and Mr. Meadows and Cecilia and Delvile are directly echoed in the more arrogant and withdrawn behaviour of Burney's men. This recalls Darcy: 'he looked grave and thoughtful, saluted her at a distance, shewed no sign of any intention to approach her, regarded the dancing and dancers as a public spectacle in which he had no chance of personal interest'. Of dancing at balls the affected Mr. Meadows says: 'What dancing! Oh, dreadful! how it was ever adopted in a civilized country I cannot find out; 'tis certainly a Barbarian exercise, and of savage origin'. Then at the conclusion of the rout, Delvile's behaviour (as described) recalls Darcy's when he comes with Bingley to visit the Bennets: 'The more she recollected and dwelt upon the difference of his behaviour in their preceding meeting, the more angry as well as amazed she became at the change'. Cecilia plays Emma to Henrietta's Harriet, including Henrietta's falling in love with Delvile in just the way Harriet fell for Knightley.

I am most grateful to Ellen Moody for this analysis.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Revising the Final Chapters of 'Persuasion'

Thanks to the existence of the famous 'cancelled' chapter and the Memoir written by Jane's nephew in 1870, we appreciate the rigour with which Jane, even in failing health, revised and polished her writing – a practice she recommended to her nephew and niece when they tried writing fiction. James Edward Austen-Leigh rightly said the re-engagement of the hero and heroine had been in a totally different manner in a scene laid at Admiral Croft's lodgings. But her performance did not satisfy her. She thought it tame and flat ... She cancelled the condemned chapter, and wrote two others ... The result is that we possess the visit of the Musgrove party to Bath; the crowded and animated scenes at the White Hart Hotel; and the charming conversation between Capt. Harville and Anne Elliot, overheard by Captain Wentworth, by which the two faithful lovers were at last led to understand each other's feelings ... Perhaps it may be thought that she has seldom written anything more brilliant .... Who would dispute the final comment? 

Jane's re-writing of the penultimate chapter is proof that she knew what she was about and – for as long as her health allowed – boldly went for the best. Jane had finished The Elliots.) Despite her poor health, she found the strength and inspiration to revise the ending on 6 August. 

In Fanny Burney's Cecilia, Delvile professes his love to the heroine: 'Upon you, madam, all that is good or evil of my future life, as far as relates to its happiness or misery, will, from this very hour, almost solely depend'. In Chapter 23 of 'Persuasion', when Anne Elliot takes up the famous letter, we read: 'On the contents of that letter depended all which this world could do for her!' It seems to have been a formula within contemporary novels at a great emotional climax for all future happiness to 'depend' on the contents of a communication. 

Probably Jane Austen intuitively borrowed more from Fanny Burney than many critics have acknowledged.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Books read by Jane Austen in the Chawton years

In her Chawton days, Jane obtained books from the Alton Book Society. It had been founded by local clergymen and gentlemen in 1799. By 1806 it had 25 members and a clear set of rules. Every member paid an annual subscription of one pound and five shillings and an additional ten shillings and sixpence when ordering a new book. There were fines for the late return of books.

By 1811, the club had 223 works, a large proportion of them on politics, travel, biography, history and theology. They tended to be works of a serious non-fiction kind. The books were kept in a special bookcase at the house of Mr. Pinnock in Alton. Periodicals were also available for inspection there. By January 1813 Jane was among those obtaining books from this club.

Jane wrote: We quite run over with Books. She [her mother] has got Sir John Carr's Travels in Spain from Miss B. & I am reading a Society-Octavo, an Essay on the Military Police & Institutions of the British Empire, by Capt. Pasley of the Engineers, a book which I protested against at first, but which upon trial I find delightfully written & highly entertaining. I am as much in love with the Author as I ever was with Clarkson or Buchanan ... he does write with extraordinary force and spirit (Letter 78, January 1813). Jane uses 'police' in the old sense of 'policy'. She was reading the Essay on the Military Policy and Institutions of the British Empire (1810) by Captain (later Sir) Charles William Pasley, who was thirty-one when he, a friend of Coleridge, wrote this much-admired book.

Pasley's book quickly ran to four editions. Pasley was a scholar and a scientist, with a quick mind and a huge technical knowledge. He advocated a positive global military strategy, rather than merely reacting to hostilities from other nations. He went on to run the Royal Engineers establishment at Chatham for nearly thirty years. 

In 1813, re-reading Mary Brunton's Self Control at Godmersham, Jane commented: my opinion is confirmed of its' being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it. I declare I do not know whether Laura's passage down the American River, is not the most natural, possible, every-day thing she ever does (Letter 91).

A year later, she was still joking about this novel: she pretends she will write a close Imitation of "Self Control" as soon as I can; – I will improve upon it; – my Heroine shall not merely be wafted down an American river in a boat by herself, she shall cross the Atlantic in the same way, & never stop till she reaches Gravesent (Letter 111). Jane was not impressed, in 1815, by the didactic 'Christian' novel Rosanne; or a Father's Labour Lost by Laetitia M. Hawkins. We have got "Rosanne" in our Society, and find it much as you describe it; very good and clever, but tedious. Mrs Hawkins' great excellence is on serious subjects. There are some very delightful conversations and reflections on religion: but on lighter topics I think she falls into many absurdities ...  (Letter 118).

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

An unusual summer in 'Emma'

In addition to Jane's well-known little (alleged) error in Emma of making apple trees appear in blossom too early in the year, she may also have slipped up in one other detail. Surely Frank should have explained, in his famous letter to Mrs. Weston, that he purchased the pianoforte for Jane during his visit to London, where he went presumably only on the pretext of having his hair cut.


In fact, some think Jane did not make a mistake about the apple blossom. There may have been a year at about that time when the climate was exceptional. Euan Nesbit in Nature [July 1997] says that in Emma meteorology shapes the novel. Day by day, the plot twists with the weather report. Is it bright? All is cheerful. Is it drizzling? Misery abounds. Or, beware, is it hot and sultry? Romance and danger loom. 

It is fascinating to read Emma alongside one of the founding texts of meteorology, Luke Howard's The Climate of London. Emma is set not far from London, perhaps near Painshill, where the eccentric Mr. Hamilton, related by marriage to Admiral Nelson's Emma, had created an experimental garden-farm, a ruined 'abbey' and artistic 'mill'. There was 'a sweet view, sweet to the eye and the mind'. (The site of the gardens is now disfigured by electricity pylons.)

On the warm evening of 22 July 1813, Howard records his visit to Alton, Hampshire. As he travelled through Chawton, just before Alton, he would have passed before Austen's dining room window. Whether he met Jane we do not know but it seems possible. Howard was a campaigning celebrity with links to the Lloyd and Barclay families, Quaker bankers. There were Barclays in Alton, and Jane's brother was a banker.

After this time, Jane Austen's letters seem full of weather. It is nice to imagine that the crux of the book, the trip to Box Hill, dates from this time. The lesser details may have been filled in as she wrote.

Suppose that the book records the weather of summer 1814 and winter 1814-15, day by day as she wrote, although the calendar may be 1813-14, when she began the plotting. With these assumptions, the course of the book fits beautifully with the weather recorded in The Climate of London.

If so, the story may begin on 25 September, pass through autumn to snow at Christmas (now a rare event, but it did occur at Christmas 1814), then to a post-Christmas period between frost and thaw (32-41 degrees Fahrenheit in Howard's record), and the late winter weather of early 1815.

The crisis in the book occurs just before midsummer's day. What are apple trees doing in flower in mid-June? But is this an error - or a clue? The weather was unusual in 1814. The annual mean temperature was one of the coldest in Howard's record, and in May and June the means were colder than in 1816, the 'year without a summer' after the eruption of the Tambora volcano in what is now Indonesia.

In the cool spring of 1996, mild in comparison to 1814, my local apple trees flowered as late as early June. Perhaps Austen herself saw apple blossom on two hot days, 14 June (85 degrees F) and 15 June (78 degrees F), at Painshill and Box Hill.

Then the weather broke. Only as June ended did summer reappear. In July came clouds of uncommon beauty. In Emma 'it cleared; the wind changed into a softer quarter; the clouds were carried off, the sun appeared; it was summer again'.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Jane Austen: Agony Aunt

To her niece Fanny, Jane was a most caring aunt. Fanny confidentially sought advice on whether to marry John-Pemberton Plumptre (later M.P. for East Kent). He was gentlemanly and wise; but also religious and too serious. Jane Austen's Letter 109 was sent to Fanny on 18 November 1814. Jane forcibly puts both sides of the argument. Typically, she cannot help being torn between laughing and crying. I could lament in one sentence & laugh in the next, but as to Opinion or Counsel I am sure none will be extracted worth having from this Letter; ......I have no scruple in saying that you cannot be in Love. My dear Fanny, I am ready to laugh at the idea – and yet it is no laughing matter .... She points out that young women lose interest after being assured of their power to inspire love: What strange creatures we are! – It seems as if your being secure of him (as you say yourself) had made you Indifferent.

Fanny has made the common mistake of being charmed because he was the first young Man who attached himself to you. Yet Jane lists John Plumptre's many good qualities and concludes: Oh! my dear Fanny, the more I write about him, the warmer my feelings become, the more strongly I feel the sterling worth of such a young Man & the desirableness of your growing in love with him again. I recommend this most thoroughly.

Jane can excuse his evangelical fervour: don't be frightened by the idea of his acting more strictly up to the precepts of the New Testament than others. However, Jane's most characteristic advice follows: Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection; and if his deficiencies of Manner &c &c strike you more than all his good qualities, if you continue to think strongly of them, give him up at once.

(Remember that Emma Woodhouse opposed marrying without love, for 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.)

A few days later, Jane had to reply to another letter from the still-troubled Fanny. She reinforces the main point: I cannot wish you with your present very cool feelings to devote yourself in honour to him. It is very true that you may never attach another Man, his equal altogether, but if that other Man has the power of attaching you more, he will be in your eyes the most perfect' (Letter 114).

Eventually, John Plumptre married a Catherine Methuen from Wiltshire, had a long career as an M.P. and died in 1864.

Jane remained the 'agony aunt' even at the end of her life. Having yearned for and perhaps lost another lover, Fanny was now half in love again - this time with Mr. Wildman of Chilham Castle. Tormented, she again consulted Jane, who replied, You are inimitable, irresistable. You are the delight of my Life. Such Letters, such entertaining Letters as you have lately sent! – Such a description of your queer little heart! ... how full of Pity & Concern & Admiration & Amusement I have been. You are the Paragon of all that is Silly & Sensible, common-place & eccentric, Sad & Lively, Provoking & Interesting ... Mr J. W. frightens me. – He will have you. – I see you at the Altar ... Why should you be living in dread of his marrying somebody else? – (Yet, how natural) ... You are not in love with him. You never have been really in love with him' (Letter 151).

A few days later, in her penultimate surviving letter to Fanny, Jane wrote the stereotypical agony aunt's reassurance: Do not be in a hurry; depend upon it, the right Man will come at last ... (Letter 153). Fanny three years later married the widower Sir Edward Knatchbull and had nine children of whom one (Edward, Lord Brabourne) edited the first Letters of Jane Austen in 1884.

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!