“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.”

 

 

 

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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.

 

Letter to Cassandra — 24 October 1798

Here, Jane Austen is quite literally: “on the road again”  traveling with her parents home.

This letter was written from the Bull and George, “a coaching inn,” that was located in Dartford, Kent.  Per the notes, Dartford was originally a market town with manufacturing 19 miles southeast of London, and “the first post-town on the Dover road; now nearly part of Greater London.”

Jane Austen is reporting news, details and mishaps to her older sister Cassandra, as they traveled through Kent, starting with: “You have already heard from Daniel, I conclude, in what excellent time we reached and quitted Sittingbourne, and how very well my mother bore her journey thither.”

Two observations here: 1) the Austens had left and were returning home but Cassandra apparently stayed behind for a longer visit, and 2) Daniel via the notes, was very likely a coachman from Godmersham estate owned by Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (EAK),  and apparently Daniel worked for EAK for quite some time — per the notes: “possibly the Daniel Boys who was buried at Godmersham on 22 December 1835 aged 73.”

Again via the notes, — Sittingbourne is a “country town” in Kent, 46 miles southeast of London, and 16 miles from the Godmersham estate.

Mrs. Austen seems to wax and wane in her traveling and health complaints, as Austen notes about their mother: “I am now able to send you a continuation of the same good account of her.  She was very little fatigued on her arrival at this place, has been refreshed by a comfortable dinner, and now seems quite stout.”

Per previously reading the notes to these letters, and paraphrasing other Regency era references — during this time period, the word “stout” was used to convey “healthy” or “being of good general health and nourishment.”

Their visit at the country town of Sittingbourne was short: “It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious and really drove as fast as Cax.”

Per the notes, Cax is probably a misprint or a misreading of Cox or Cook’s which was a coach company — running a route from Salisbury to London and back. Another example of Austen’s wicked wit here — basically writing to Cassandra about how they had a crazy-fast driver, in comparing him to the London route drivers — which I guess had a reputation for speed at the expense of safety — in any case, Cassandra I presume would have gotten the reference and or joke.

Austen’s letter then gives another update on Mrs. Austen’s well being:  “My mother took some of her bitters at Ospringe, and some more at Rochester, and she ate some bread several times.”

Apparently there were several inns located in Dartford, Kent, during the time Jane Austen visited during her travels, “but the best was the Bull (later called the Royal Victoria and Bull), opposite was a smaller establishment, the Bull and George.”

Austen then details their quarters at the Bull and George, which again was the smaller inn, located in Dartford, which she noted, resulted in some compromise, “We have got apartments up two pairs of stairs, as we could not otherwise be accommodated with a sitting-room and bed chambers on the same floor, which we wished to be.”

And then kind of a major crisis:  “I should have begun my letter soon after our arrival but for a little adventure which prevented me.  After we had been here a quarter of an hour it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies.  No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l, and my dear Harry’s deputation.”  (The underline is Austen’s own notation.)

Okay so her writing box was put on the wrong coach en route to the West Indies no less.  Austen seems to be upset more about the money kept in the box, and EAK apparently had issued a letter to allow their neighbor Harry Digweed back home — giving Henry the right to shoot on the Steventon estate — so Austen was acting as a courier and transporting this official letter.

Although I think the worldly or historical impact would have been the loss of her literary work in the writing-box.  Austen seems more matter of fact — fixated on the loss of the money.  Luckily, Mr. George Nottley (via the notes could have been Knottley), the landlord of the George & Bull inn in Dartford stepped in, “immediately despatched a man and horse after the chase, and in half an hour’s time I had the pleasure of being rich as ever; they were only got about two or three miles off.”  Phew crisis avoided.  (The spelling ‘despatched’ is Austen’s own.)

Austen continues noting the journey has been pretty pleasant and goes into accounts and exchanges about the weather, and a little account about their dad via a little book and reading update, “My father is now reading the ‘Midnight Bell,’ which he has got from the library, and my mother is siting by the fire.”  The notes describe this book as: The Midnight Bell, a German  Story, Founded on Incidents in Real Life, by Francis Lathom (1798), with a reference to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, chapter six (6).  So another connection from Austin’s letter to a novel she wrote. It’s unclear though which library Austen is referring to here in this letter — thinking possibly it was from the library at Godmersham or from a lending library back at home — although I think the former is more likely as they were leaving EAK’s estate and traveling back to Steventon.

Austen closes this letter with the uncertainty of their scheduling and route home, and noting the strong opinions of the inn’s landlord which differ from the Austens, “Our route to-morrow is not determined.  We have none of us much inclination for London, and if Mr. Nottley will give us leave, I think we shall go to Staines through Croydon and Kingston, which will be much pleasanter than any other way; but he is decidedly for Clapham and Battersea.”  (The spelling ‘to-morrow is Austen’s own.)

The very last line: “God bless you all!”  And then she adds a postscript, referencing the nickname of EAK’s second son George, “I flatter myself that itty Dordy will not forget me at least under a week.  Kiss him for me.”  (The underline is Austen’s own.) Think this is a reference to why Cassandra remained, most likely to help with EAK’s children.

Addendum here per the notes, in this collection of Austen’s letters: “Letter missing here, dated Thursday 25 October 1798.”  Which denotes a missing letter in chronological order, etc.

All notes unless otherwise noted are to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Fay, Oxford University Press 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Letter to Cassandra, Thurs. 15-Friday 16, September 1796

In this letter to her older sister Casandra at home in Steventon, Jane Austen continues to write from Rowling, giving a full account of social activities including: “dining at Nackington, returning by Moonlight, and everything quite in Stile, in to mention Mr. Claringbould’s funeral.”  Per the notes the Claringboulds are described as “a farming family, at Goodnestone, Kent.”  Austen goes onto say that their brother Edward was considering taking “Claringbould” as a name, but: “that scheme is over” —  apparently this is well before Edward became Edward Austen Knight.  And apparently this “scheme” was also monetary in nature, and did not work out too well because Jane Austen continued, “nothing was said on the subject, and unless it is in your power to assist you Brother with five or six Hundred pounds, he must entirely give up the idea.”

Jane Austen cheerfully describes their visit to Nackington, home in Kent of the Milles family, giving Cassandra a round down of their house tour, including a portrait painted by Reynolds.

Glimpses here of her wicked wit abound:  “Miss Fletcher and I were very thick, but I am the thinnest of the two — She wore her purple Muslin, which is pretty enough, tho’ it does not become her complexion.  There are two Traits in her Character which are pleasing; namely, she admires Camilla & drinks no cream in her Tea.”

Sort of a vibe of eavesdropping here between sisters, I’m not saying that Jane Austen is being catty, rather she is painting a portrait for her older sister with words, and apparently two standards were very important by which she did judge new acquaintances: by the writers they admired, and how they took their tea.

The letter relays the rest of the particulars of their visit to Nackington, as well as the carriage ride home and large swath of news concerning both the Field and Digweed families.  Once news of neighbors of news is finished,  Jane Austen adds news about their brothers, and discusses travel and scheduling.  Just shy of two hundred years later, pouring over this correspondence it may seem unlikely, but this was again a large part of her life, which all had to be arranged and approved by their male relatives, “I want to go in a Stage Coach, but Frank will not let me.”

Austen closes this letter with orders for shopping and errands, “If anybody wants anything in Town, they must send their Commissions to Frank, as I shall merely pass thro’ it. –”  Followed by a referenced to buy candles?  “The Tallow Chandler is Pennington, at the Crown & Beehive Charles Street, Covent Garden.”  However, she wrapped this correspondence up by assuring Cassandra, “Buy Mary Harrison’s Gown by all means.  You shall have mine for ever so much money, tho’ if I am tolerably rich when I get home, I shall like it very much myself.”

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press, 2011.  The underline emphasis was not added but was retyped as it appeared in the text.