Letter to Cassandra, Saturday One November 1800–two Naval brothers, the “Petvals,” and a ball with a “Scarcity of Men.”

Austen is writing to her older sister Cassandra, away again visiting their brother’s household in Godmersham Park in Kent, from their home in Steventon.  This letter is full of news: including updates concerning their naval and seafaring brothers Frank and Charles, discussions of clothing and household purchases, a neighborhood ball Austen attended, plus other local news.

“You have written I am sure, tho’ I have received no letter from you since your leaving London;–the Post, & not yourself must have been unpunctual.”  Later on we learn, there a cross between the sisters letters along with a literary bit of Austen’s wicked wit: “Your letter is come; it came indeed twelve lines ago, but I could not stop to acknowledge it before, & I am glad it did not arrive till I had completed my first sentence, because the sentence had been made ever since yesterday, & I think forms a very good beginning.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Before acknowledging the arrival of Cassandra’s letter Austen had delved first into news of naval brother Frank: “We have at last heard from Frank; a letter from him to You came yesterday, & I mean to send it on as soon as I can get a ditto, (that  means a frank,) which I hope to do in a day or two.”   (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and punctuation.)

Not really sure what Austen means by a “ditto” if she means her own letter from brother Frank or some sort of word from Frank to forward the letter, obviously this is understood by the two sisters as Austen continues the update on their brother Frank with specific naval maneuvers: “En attendant, You must rest satisfied with a knowing that on the 8th of July the Petterell with the rest of the Egyptian Squadron was off the Isle of Cyprus, whither they went from Jaffa for Provisions, & c., & whence they were sail in a day or two for Alexandria, there to wait the result of the English proposals for the Evacuation of Egypt.  The rest of the letter, according to the present fashionable stile of Composition, is cheifly Descriptive; of his Promotion he knows nothing & of Prizes he is guiltless.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

To note, I did only a quick online search for the Petterell the ship, but I could not locate its historical record, so I’m presuming it was a British gunship or frigate of some kind due to the time period. But the name of the ship particularly intrigues me, in similarity to: “The Petvals” — or “Mother Carey’s Chickens” — Citing/paraphrasing: Barbara Walker here: “Mother Carey, Sea Goddess, per lore English Sailors.  Mother Cara (Latin) and literally: Beloved Mother.  Her “soul-birds” called Mother Carey’s Chickens or The Petvals.  Per the French, “Birds of our lady,” and later associated with St. Peter, i.e. with the name “Little Peters.”

After the Frank update, Jane Austen dives into wardrobe matter discussions apparently answering some of Cassandra’s opinions on either ordering or altering their clothes: “Your abuse of our Gowns amuses, but does discourage me; I shall take mine to be made up next week, & the more I look at it, the better it pleases me.–”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Apparently, Cassandra was responsible for sending home certain items of clothing and glassware for the household and Austen is both confirming their arrival and everyone’s thoughts and opinions on them.  First, Austen seems very impressed with a cloak trimmed with lace her older sister selected and sent home to Steventon: “My Cloak came on tuesday & tho’ I expected a good deal, the beauty of the lace astonished me.–It is too handsome to be worn, almost too handsome to be looked at.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

However, Austen seems to be gently breaking the news that Cassandra’s purchase of glassware for their house at Steventon was not as much as a success with their mother Mrs. Austen:  “The Glass is all safely arrived also, & gives great satisfaction.  The wine glasses are much smaller than I expected, but I suppose it is the proper size.–We find no fault with your manner of performing any of our commissions, but if you like to think yourself remiss in any of them, pray do.–My Mother was rather vexed that you could not go to Pennington’s, but she has since written to him, which does just as well.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Not sure, but it seems Cassandra did not go to a specific store or merchant that Mrs. Austen preferred, and Austen gives her older sister another sibling update: “Mary is disappointed about her Locket, & of course delighted about the Mangle which is safe at  Basingstoke.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Sort of like eavesdropping here, apparently something happened to Mary’s locket either it was lost or broken, but the mangle (an accessory to help wring out laundry) was either found or accessible at Basingstoke.  Austen doesn’t offer further details and this is a private exchange between the sisters, that obviously understand the unsaid details.

The neighborhood ball is the next topic of news Austen conveys to her sister, including her options for invitations, among other details: “I dined and slept at Deane.–Charlotte & I did my hair, which I fancy looked very indifferent; nobody abuse it however, & I retired delighted with my success.–It was a pleasant Ball, & still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people, & sometimes we had 17 couple.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

And this next part of Austen’s letter, make me think of Pride and Prejudice:  “There was a scarcity of Men in general, & still a greater scarcity of any that were good for much.–I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute & James Digweed & four with Catherine.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.) Not sure about that last name of a partner being “Catherine” as a surname for a male person, I am not familiar with Regency dance enough to elaborate, but generally I thought they were all male to female and females never danced together, but I could be wrong, and I will look into it.

“There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.–I heard no news, except that Mr. Peters, who was not there, is supposed to be particularly attentive to Miss Lyford.–You were enquired after very prettily, & I hope the whole assembly now understands that you are gone into Kent, which the families in general seemed to meet in ignorance of.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  Again, this seems to be a private exchange or reference, between the two sisters regarding Cassandra’s often traveling to Kent.

Austen passes along a bit more about the ball, including who she chatted with; ” I said civil things for Edward to Mr. Chute, who simply returned them by declaring that had he known of my brother’s being at Steventon he should have made a point on calling on him to thank him for his civility about the Hunt.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

From there, Austen delves right back into the second of their naval brothers, “I have heard from Charles, & am to send his shirts by half dozens as they are finished;–one sett will go next week.–The Endymion is now waiting only for orders, but may wait for them perhaps a month.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Also includes a short bit about Charles had attempted a quick visit possibly to Chawton to see Edward but it did not work out: “Charles had actually set out & got half the way thither in order to spend one day with Edward, but turned back on discovering the distance to be considerably more than he had fancied, & finding himself & his horse to be very much tired.”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Austen proceedings with a long paragraph filled with news and updates, closing with a little bit of extra fondness toward her nephew Edward’s son: “Love to all.–I am glad George remembers me.”  Before actually closing with two postscripts, the first with the owning up of a younger sister apparently have borrowed some of the older’s clothing: “I wore at the Ball your favourite gown, a bit of muslim of the same round my head, border’d with Mrs. Cooper’s band–& one little Comb.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.) Apparently, Austen forgot to mention this when she gave Cassandra the ball update earlier and per the notes, Mrs. Cooper was their aunt, Mrs. Austen’s sister.

The second postscript–also refers back to the second seafaring brother Charles and again crossing letters: “I am very unhappy.–In re-reading your letter I find I might have spared any Intelligence of Charles.–To have written only what you knew before!–You may guess how much I feel.–”   (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Notes/cites to: 1) Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFay, Oxford University Press, 2011 & 2) A Companion to Jane Austen, by Claudia L. Johnson, 2011, via Google Books, and 3) Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Barbara Walker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

Letter to Cassandra–Sunday 18 September 1796–Doubt & Deliberation

Jane Austen begins her letter from Rowling to her older sister Cassandra home in Steventon with this bit of news: “This morning has been spent in Doubt & Deliberation; in forming plans, and removing Difficulties, for it ushered in the Day with an Event which I had not intended should take place so soon for a week.”

In this letter, there was both good and bad news to relay to Cassandra.  Their brother Frank had received an appointment to a ship, and therefore, the delay/difficulties were in the scheduling of Frank escorting Jane Austen to her next destination.  Per Austen’s post script and the notes the ship Frank was newly assigned to was a frigate called the Triton.

Austen in leaving Rowling, was supposed to travel for a visit with Mary Pearson and her family, before they would leave together for Stevenson, but leaving Rowling early via Frank was an issue. Austen was not sure this would line up with the Pearson’s schedule, and there was an issue on confirming this change: “I wrote to Miss P — on friday, & hoped to receive an answer from her this morning, which would have rendered everything smooth & easy, and would have enabled us to leave this place tomorrow, as Frank on first receiving his Appointment to do so.”

Seems Austen did not hear back from Miss Mary Pearson and plans as she continued to write/describe were unsettled.  Per the notes, Mary was the eldest daughter of Captain Sir Richardson Pearson of the British Royal Navy, Lt. Governor of the Greenwich Hospital for Seaman.

Austen indulges here in a bit of her wicked wit with a bit of a confidence to her sister, “If Miss Pearson should return with me, pray be careful not to expect too much Beauty.”  And following with a little bit of a snarky reference to Mrs. Austen as well, “My Mother I am sure will be disappointed, if she does not take great care.”

Austen relays that her brother Frank had to change things around, “He remains till Wednesday merely to accommodate me.”  She adds that she had written to Ms. Pearson again and was trying to see about alternative plans with another brother, “Edward has been so good as to promise to take me to Greenwich the following Monday which was the day before fixed on, if that suits them better–”

And this letter continues: “If I have no answer at all on Tuesday, I must suppose that Mary is not at Home, & must wait till I do hear; as after having invited her to Steventon with me, it will not quite do, to go home and say no more about it.–”

Then noting perhaps Mr. Austen could also assist, “My Father will be so good to fetch home is prodigal Daughter from Town, I hope, unless he wishes me to walk the Hospitals, Enter at the Temple, or mount Guard at St. James.”  Per the notes “walk the Hospitals” is a term meaning to study medicine/become a medical student.

Austen’s tone seems to be light-light hearted and joking, but there does seem to be an underlining concern to confirm plans and prevail one or more of her brothers and father, “It will hardly be in Frank’s power to take me home; nay, it certainly will not. I shall write again as soon as I to Greenwich.”

Seems to be anxious awaiting from Miss Pearson relaying to Cassandra alternative plans proposed and shot down by her brothers.  Apparently Austen felt bad the letter was dominated by scheduling issues and schemes she did include this one other tidbit of news: ‘Mary is brought to bed of a Boy; both doing very well.  I shall leave you to guess what Mary I mean–”  Per the notes this is presumed a reference to Mary Robinson a maidservant at Rowling.  So perhaps this was a bit of gossip and Austen was a bit guilty to indulge for she closed the letter with, “How ill I have written. I begin to hate myself.”

All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press 2011.

 

Joan Vredenburgh at JASNA, Mass., May 21, 2017

Today, attended an interesting meeting hosted by Mass. Chapter of JASNA, featuring a lecture by Joan Vredenburgh, who teaches at the Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) in Newport, RI.  Her talk today focused and explored the perceptions of the different military branches, Army, Navy, and Marines during the Regency Era in England and connections/references in Austen’s novels. Enjoyed her talk very much, and on a somewhat different note — today was speaking to a colleague — a U.S. Navy veteran — he said that they cannot use blue ink, only black ink and officers must use red ink.  Found that really captivating and had to share!