Letter to Cassandra Monday 24-Wed. 26, December 1798.

This letter written by Jane Austen from her home in Steventon to her older sister Cassandra, who is away visiting at their brother Edward’s Godmersham Park estate in Kent is full of family news as well as details of holiday events, plus a lot of “sisterly affection.”  This letter is a good example of the close relationship between the two sisters and their writing and sharing information with each other of their individual and daily experiences.

Austen begins this letter with news about one of the seafaring Austen brother’s Frank, with details about posts and plans of an imminent promotion with a bit of detour, “There!–I may now finish my letter, & go & hang myself, for I am I sure I can neither write nor do anything which will not appear insipid to you after this.–Now I really think he will soon be made, & only wish we could communicate or fore-knowledge of the Event, to him when it principally concerns.”  This is a little bit cryptic but I’m presuming perhaps part of the code between the sisters in sharing hopes and dreams for their brother and not wanting to jinx anything, but the intrigue continues: “Your cheif wish is now ready to be accomplished; & could Lord Spencer give happiness to Martha at the same time, what a joyful heart he would make of Yours!”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  Per the notes, Cassandra and Jane were both trying to do a bit of matchmaking here for their friend Martha Lloyd, which ironically did not take until about 30 years later.  In 1806, Frank first married Mary Gibson and had eleven children with her (six sons and five daughters).  However, Mary passed away in July 1823, and Frank married Martha in in July of 1828.

This letter then takes a turn back here, to more news of Frank, and his upcoming commission, before Austen gives Cassandra an update on Mrs. Austen, “I returned from Manydown this morning, & found my Mother certainly in no respect worse than I left here.–She does not like the cold Weather, but that we cannot help.”

From there, Austen gives Cassandra an update on her visit and the people she met, “Our Ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant.”  Jane Austen gives her older sister a pretty good account of the meet and the greet, plus a little update on the Rev, John Calland, per the notes, Rector of Bentworth near Alton, “Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his hand, & stood every now & then behind Catherine & me to be talked to & abused for not dancing.–We teized him however into it last last;– I was very glad to see him again after so long a separation, & he was altogether rather the Genius & Flirt of the Evening,–He enquired after You.”  (Spelling and capitalization are Austen’s own).

Again, per the notes regarding Mr. Calland: “his attachment to his hat are well known to the Austens.”  Interesting to note, Austen’s inclusion to Cassandra of his attendance, being teased about not dancing, then peer-pressured into it and then being thought of as a “Genius” and “Flirt” of the evening.  Wondering if there was some sort of love interest here, since Austen particularly noted, that he enquired after Cassandra and she specifically relied that back to her sister.  As well as just the idea of teasing an eligible man for not dancing, perhaps this was something Austen and/or other’s did and naturally fit into the characters of her fictional work, most notably Mr. Darcy — who is later called out by Elizabeth for his past refusal to dance, when male partners were short, etc.

Austen then recounts how she danced all 20 dances, as well as noting, “My black Cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy & secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room.”  This is followed by a break and a date designation of Tuesday, with the receipt of Cassandra’s letter and news from Kent: “I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible.–I am full of joy at much of your information: that you should have been to a Ball, & have danced at it & supped with the Prince.”  Per the notes, Cassandra’s ball included the attendance of HRH Major-General Prince William-Frederick of Gloucester, who was in Kent via military duties.  So Cassandra was out and about, and per the notes, Ashford is country town about 7 miles from Godmersham, and the balls were usually held at the Saracen’s Head, which was the coaching inn.

Austen continues her letter in reply with discussing wardrobe options an improvements, although right the middle of it, Austen pauses, commenting again on news from Cassandra that Edward, their wealthy brother has been ill, “Poor Edward! It is very hard that he who has everything else in the World that he can with for, should not have good health too.–”

Which leads to another update on their mother’s health, “My Mother’s Spirits are not affected by her complication of disorders; on the contrary they are altogether as good as ever; nor are you to suppose that these maladies are often thought of.–She has at times had a tendency towards another which always releives her, & that is, a gouty swelling & sensation about the ancles.”  (Austen’s own underline and spelling.)

Austen returns to her joy about Cassandra’s experience at the Ashford ball, discussions about wardrobe, repairing, repurposing and perhaps donating certain items. before noting to Cassandra, “I am glad to hear such a good account of Harriet Bridges; she goes on now as young Ladies of 17 ought to do; admired & admiring; in a much more rational way than her three elder Sisters, who had so little of that kind of Youth.”  Per the notes, the three elder Bridges sisters: “had all married straight from the schoolroom, and thereby assumed domestic and maternal responsibilities at a very early age.”  This is a little telling again, at Austen’s view of life and marriage, and marrying for love and not for domestic security.

She then returns to updating Cassandra on her activities, “I was to have dined at Deane to day, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of Snow.”  As well as possibly lamenting some upcoming plans, “We are to have Company to dinner on friday; the three Digweeds & James.–We shall be a nice silent  party I suppose.”  The tone here tends to land a little flat, like she’s really not all that thrilled about it but duly relaying it to Cassandra.

Although this letter diverts again, “Seize upon the Scissors as soon as you possibly can  on receipt of this.  I only fear your being too late to secure the prize.”  This is followed by a bit of a cryptic update concerning Charles and efforts in what seems again, to be related to a posting and naval career issues, before Austen then sends a directive from Mrs. Austen, “My Mother wants to know whether Edward has ever made the Hen House which they planned together.”

With another nod to Martha and scheduling, Austen then concludes, but not before she apologizes to Cassandra for the inferiority of her letter, “You deserve a longer letter than this; but it my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.”  The Wednesday postscript she added gives Cassandra a bit more news. “The Snow came to nothing yesterday, so I did go to Deane, & returned home at 9 o’clock at night in the little carriage–& without being very cold.–Miss Debary dines with us on friday as well as the Gentlemen.”

All cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

“I have good news.”

In Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, Emma Thompson portrays Elinor (and Thompson also wrote the screenplay for which she received an Oscar), says this line to Edward (portrayed by Hugh Grant).  The scene drawn on reams of awkwardness as in the original novel. Colonel Brandon has generously offered Edward the living at his estate at Delaford, so that Edward can realistically have a living after being cast off by his family and marry Lucy.  And the Colonel asks Elinor to deliver the news, completely unaware of course, that Elinor herself is in love with Edward.

Austen’s original lines in her book are not as succinct as in the film version: “I have something of consequence to inform you of, which I was on the pointing of communicating by paper.  I am charged with a most agreeable office, (breathing rather faster than usual as she spoke).”  Here I find Austen’s insertion of Elinor’s description of fast breathing rather telling.  Austen is setting a scene of frayed nerves, with compressed emotions, and continues to convey a very precarious scene unfolding, “What Edward felt, as he could not say it himself, it cannot be expected that anyone else should say for him  He looked all the astonishment which such unexpected, such unthought-of information could not fail of exciting; but he said only these two words:

Colonel Brandon!”

“Yes,” continued Elinor, gathering more resolution as some of the worst was over, “Colonel Brandon means it as a testimony of his concern for what has lately passed–”

And I’m going to leave off on quoting the passage there.  Returning to the the film version, the scene was awkward with Elinor (Thompson) and Edward (Grant) sort of shifting around, avoid eye contact, until Elinor (Thompson) sort of opens her arms, and gestures for Edward (Grant) to sit, while saying, “I have good news.”

Often I think of the line and it’s origins.  The idea that is a composite or a riff off one of my favorite author’s pivotal scenes often recalls me to sort of say it was a good long pause. Rather like the delivery of actor Emma Thompson, when I have the rare occasion to say it, often at work.  “I have good news,” is not something I say with any regularity and I try to keep (unlike Austen’s Elinor), a good even breath and tone.

These days as we enter the month of October, and are in reminders of the color pink and breast cancer awareness — it’s all we can hope for really.  My maternal grandmother was diagnosed in 1975, but lived until 1999.  My mom was diagnosed in 2014 right before my dad passed away, her surgery was just a small one, but the timing was terrible, she had to have it during my dad’s last days in ICU — and so I was left to run between buildings in Mass. General Hospital in Boston.  The realization of an only child’s worst nightmare.

Before my mum was diagnosed I was not considered high risk but that all changed.  And in February of 2016 my mammogram lit up.  After ultrasounds and biopsies — it wasn’t cancer but my surgeon, who like most surgeons I’ve met is not a big talker — told me simply it was a polyp in my duct and they were going to take it.  To note, he also does genetic profiling which is why I think I was assigned to him chiefly due to family history and my age, etc.  And learned about the high rate of change of cells, and read about the high incidence of cancer often beginning in the duct afterwards.  My surgery was minor, so I was back to work after a few days. Had a follow up mammogram a few months later.  As recommended my mother went in for the genetic testing and it turns out she doesn’t have any of the genes that are a pre-cursor to breast cancer — so I don’t have them either.  That was good news.

The close watch also requires an MRI every 6 months as well, which are difficult because: 1) MRI’s are very expensive and they must be pre-approved by my insurance company as medically necessary at least one week before, 2) the MRI must be done during a certain physical time of the month and Mother Nature often does not cooperate with the scheduling. The MRI is to keep an eye on a group of cysts–they are not cancerous yet (I had an MRI biopsy in the summer of 2016 they came back clear no high change of cells or anything yet) and it seems some people have a lot of cysts, just like acne or moles, but still they are just part of the whole close watch.

The last MRI was in May 2017 — after several attempts and rescheduling  it was done not at MGH Boston but outside the city, I had to go to work, leave, catch a shuttle  bus that did not take me right there, but luckily a nice lady on the bus helped me find it a few blocks away it via the GPS on her phone.  The tech was nice enough but they were short handed and one point he thought he may have perforated my vein hooking up the IV, finally it was all sorted out I just wanted to get it over with and we did. Ending up climbing out of the MRI machine myself because they were so understaffed and took a regular bus back to the train and the city.

By the time I got back to work there was only enough time left in the day to check email and mail and sort things out, and then my cell phone rang. It was the nurse practitioner (NP) covering for the NP from my surgeon/doctor’s office.  And I sort of freaked out but she said, “I have good news.”  The MRI results were back, and the cysts everything was the same, etc. She told me they would schedule me again, and the date awaits on the calendar. I’m hoping that Mother Nature and everything will comply, and again I just hope for that line, “I have good news.”

 

 

 

Sense and Sensibility to be performed by the ART in Cambridge MA – December 10, 2017 — January 14, 2018

The American Repertory Theater (the ART) has announced they will be performing a stage adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, to run from December 10, 2017 — January 14, 2018 in Cambridge, Mass.  URL/link to their website below —

https://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/sense-and-sensibility

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Tues. 18 — Wed. 19, December 1798

Per the notes, this letter also follows several that are missing in Jane Austen’s correspondence time line.  Austen writes to her older sister Cassandra from their home in Steventon in the weeks before Christmas, and apparently Cassandra is away visiting their brother Edward at his large home Godmersham Park.  From the opening it sounds like Austen was missing Cassandra very much, “Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters will always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them till they come, in which I think consult the ease of us both.”

The whole, making a rule reference — sounds like Austen is trying to assure her sister she is not hanging on her every letter, which sort of reflects both her missing Cassandra and confirming again to her older sister that she knows she is busy and doesn’t expect her to write all the time.

Next item up is a reference to some sort of legal business for Cassandra, per the notes perhaps the legacy (pension) left to Cassandra by her fiancé Tom Fowle who perished en route to a position in the West Indies, and then Austen goes right into planning for winter clothes and accessories, “I shall keep my ten pounds too to wrap myself up in next winter.” (Underline by Austen.) Per the notes, the ten pounds Austen cites here may either being their Christmas allowance from her father Mr. Austen, or a gift from Mrs. Knight — their extended family member, who adopted their brother Edward as her male heir.  Continues describing a black velvet bonnet in particular, and possible changes to it and other hats, and also she seems to be asking Cassandra for input on in trying to update a hat to one similar to one fashionable at that time, per the notes references a red poppy color, or perhaps otherwise try to save them and not replace them to avoid more expense.

Austen then talks about one of their seafaring brothers, Charles, “I am sorry that our dear Charles begins to feel the Dignity of Ill-usage. — My father will write to Admiral Gambier.”  Per the notes, it seems that Charles was trying to transfer to another post/larger ship.  Apparently there are some ideas being discussed to help Charles with his situation in the Navy, plus some scheduling plans, and apparently there was a bit of a glitch going on, “I cannot approve of your scheme of writing to him (which you communicated to [p.2] a few nights ago) to request him to come hoe & convey you to Steventon. — To do you justice however, You had some doubts of the propriety of such a measure yourself.” (Underline and page cite are Austen’s own.)

This letter then goes onto the topic of their nephew George (Edward’s son aka itty Dordy), who seems to be generally regularly discussed back and forth between the sisters in their letters.  Austen has routinely sent regards to her little nephew with comments that are sort of anxious that he will forget her. “I am very much obliged to my dear little George for his messages, for his Love at least; — his Duty I suppose was only in some consequence of some hint of my favourable intentions towards him from his Father or Mother,”  (Underlines are Austen’s own.)  Austen also includes a reference to the tradition of someone having a “dish of tea” on their birthday, and again per the notes, the saucers were so large during that time period, it was deemed socially fine to drink out of it — the idea of saying a “dish of tea” was a more popular expression than a “cup of tea.”  Wrapping up discussing their nephew little George, Austen adds, “Give my best Love to him.”  Before relaying news of a morning visit by neighborhoods to Steventon, by Mr. Holder and Mr. Harwood.

Austen then informs Cassandra she received a note about a circulating library from a Mrs. Martin, which was an invitation to subscribe to her collection, “which opens the 14th of January, & my name, or rather Yours is accordingly given.”  Circulating libraries were popular during Jane Austen’s time, and they cost money to be able to borrow the books or “subscribe.” Not sure about this, I’m wondering if Cassandra would be listed as a subscriber because she is an oldest sister, or simply because Jane Austen just could not afford her own library subscription at the time, but the notes do not offer a cite or any clarification here. Austen continues in this letter, “My Mother finds the Money — Mary subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. — 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; — but it was necessary I suppose to the self-consequence of half her Subscribers.”  (Underlines and &c are Austen’s own.)

Austen doesn’t seem to really have a great opinion of Mrs. Martin,  mostly for Mrs. Martin’s pitch that she was offering more than novels in this circulating library collection.  Chiefly because during that time period, novels were sort of looked down upon as sort of lighter or trash reading. To make a comparative popular culture reference today, I guess it would be a similar social-type stigma, if someone said they only watched reality/staged television shows and nothing else what so ever.  My take on this is: 1) on one Austen seems to be saying to Cassandra that she thinks Mrs. Martin is being pretentious in advertising the library will be more diverse with different types of books and that is fine, but Mrs. Martin could have spared this pitch to the Austens because they all as she said love to read novels and I guess everyone knows this about them, but 2) then Austen acknowledges to Cassandra, perhaps Mrs. Martin is just doing a much larger sales pitch to make other people happy and get more subscribers.

After the discussion of the subscription library, Austen returns to neighborhood and family news updates relaying them all to Cassandra, including nightly rituals at Steventon in comparison to a large house like Godmersham, “We dine now at half after Three, & have done dinner I suppose before you begin — We drink tea at half after six.  I am afraid you will despise us.  — My Father reads Cowper to us in the evening, to which I listen when I can.”  Austen then sets down a series of questions to Cassandra asking her how they are passing the evenings at Godmersham, before going into an obligatory update about their mother, concerning Mrs. Austen’s health and ongoing issues.  Austen continues with updates with the Lefroy and Digweed families, close friends and neighbors, including James Digweed being kicked by a young horse and getting a nasty cut.

Then Austen circles back to her cap and situation with the current fashion with updates to hats and gowns, as well as more news and her frustration in making plans for her own travels and visits, “Perhaps I may stay at Manydown as long as Monday, but not longer.  — Martha sends me word that she is too busy to write to me now, & but for your letter, I should have supposed her deep in the study of Medicine preparatory to their removal from Ibthrop.”  Apparently having learned from Cassandra’s letter that Martha wrote to Cassandra and not here, claiming she was busy — Austen was perhaps annoyed that their dear friend Martha had not wrote back personally to her, and throws a bit of wicked slide at Martha’s being “too busy” as if Martha were a medical student — the idea and or concept which was nearly impossible during this time period.

Another visit seems to be in the works but Austen does not seem to be looking forward to it, “The letter to Gambier goes to day. — I expect a very stupid Ball, there will be nobody worth dancing with, & nobody worth talking to but Catherine; for I believe Mrs. Lefroy will not be there; Lucy is to go with Mr. Russell.”  Per the notes, most likely Jane Austen, referencing “Madame Lefroy,” her friend and mentor who died in a tragic riding accident which inspired Austen to write a memorial poem four years after her death.  Madame Lefroy was also married/a connection to Tom Lefroy, Austen’s “Irish Friend.” Per the notes, “the earliest English Lefroys were Huguenots (French Protestants cast out of France), who came to this country in the late sixteenth (16th) century and settled in Kent.” (Notes in parenthesis are my own.)

Continues to sort of lament different circumstances here to her older sister, venting a little bit perhaps about their economical situation and those of their friends in Steventon, “People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. — Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there; — I must do similar justice however to the Windsor neighborhood.”

This is followed by telling Cassandra that two sheets of her drawing paper were given away, and Cassandra may want to restock on drawing paper when she goes to town.  Presuming here Austen means London.  Austen closes this letter by saying she has finally heard from Martha, not citing a letter and also their other Naval brother Frank, “all well, & nothing particular.”

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFay, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

Sarah Emsley at Mass. JASNA

Today, I attended a wonderful lecture by author and scholar, Sarah Emsley at the Mass. JASNA meeting in Boston.  The lecture was titled: “Beautiful Cassy: Jane Austen’s Niece in Nova Scotia” — centering on Charles, Jane Austen’s younger brother and one of the Austen brother’s who spent his life and career in the Navy.  Charles met and fell in love with a young woman, named Fanny in Bermuda — an interesting story unto itself.  Cassy was their daughter, and she was named for Jane Austen’s older sister, Cassandra (Cassandra was also her godmother), and Cassy was baptized in Halifax.  There were some wonderful photographs and a comprehensive history to go along with the lecture about Cassy, Fanny and Charles, as well as a little about Frank, another Austen brother and career Navy man, who later visited Halifax. As well as this Boston connection concerning one of the Austen nephews via his marriage to a girl from Nova Scotia, whose Loyalist parents fled Boston during and/after the Revolutionary War.  Plus, we got a bit of a preview of her upcoming novel as well.  It was all very interesting, and it was lovely to meet and chat with her for a little bit afterwards.  For more information or to read her articles about Austen, and other projects, you can visit her website at:  www.sarahemsley.com