Letter to Cassandra, Sunday 2 June 1799; 13 Queen Square–Bath.

This letter follows one that is missing in the chronology of Austen’s correspondence.  Here she is writing to her older sister Cassandra in Stevenson from hBath, “I am obliged to you for two letters, one from Yourself & the other from Mary, for of the latter I knew nothing till on the receipt of Yours yesterday, when the Pigeon Basket was examined & I received my due.–”

Austen dives into business first, as for shopping and receiving what seems to be a reply to an order for certain wardrobe and latest fashionable clothing items from Bath: “I will lay out all the little judgment I have in endeavouring to get such such stockings for Anna as she will approve;–but I do not know that I shall execute Martha’s commission at all, for I am not fond of ordering shoes, & at any rate they shall have flat heels.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  So apparently, not a fan of the shoe shopping.  Duly she returns to the themes of shopping and fashion, as well as shoes later in this letter.

First, this letter proceeds with updates first on their brother with a dose of her wicked wit, “What must I tell you of Edward?–Truth or Falsehood?–I will try the former & you may cause yourself another time.”  Seems she is being a bit cheeky here, but then gives an update, as it seems Edward has been somewhat ill from their travels or adjusting to the visit in Bath and is now recovering and taking part in some of the local activities, “He was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before, about as well as while he was at Steventon–He drinks at the Hetling Pump, is to bathe tomorrow & try Electricity on Tuesday;–he proposed the latter himself to Dr. Fellowes, who made no objection to it, but I fancy we are all unanimous in expecting no advantage from it.”  The notes does not offer any details and so presuming here that “electricity” is some sort of a curative that is a bit of a long shot, or is well known generally not too be really effective.

Hard to say at this point, if Austen is having a good stay or not on this short-term visit to Bath, along with a scheduling update: “At present I have no great notion of our staying here beyond the Month.–I heard from Charles last week; they were to sail on wednesday.”  (Austen’s own capitalization.)

And onto with a very quick update on Mrs. Austen’s health which seems to always be a required part of her letters to Cassandra: “My Mother seems remarkably well.”  Before adding, “My Uncle overwalked himself at first & can now only travel in a Chair; but is otherwise is very well.”

Austen then returns to clothing and wardrobe matters and the letter includes a short sketch of lace, “My Cloak is come home, & here follows the pattern of its’ lace.”  (Austen’s own capitalization and punctuation.)  Again there is a discussion of money for purchasing more lace and fabric, as well as Austen’s observances and experiences shopping in Bath, as well as her describing the fashion trend of flowers and faux fruit decorating hats: “Flowers are very much worn, & Fruit is still more the thing.–Eliz: has a bunch of Strawberries, & I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs & Apricots–There are likewise Almonds & raisins, french plumbs & Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats.”  Per the notes,Tamarinds were pods from a tree native to East India and most likely the Bath shopkeeper were stocking them as a popular item in demand.

Austen then notes how much this fruit fashion trend will actually will cost to her older sister and possible bargain hunt, “A plumb or green gage would cost three shillings; Cherries & Grapes about 5 I believe–but this is at some of the dearest Shops;–My Aunt has told me of a very cheap one near Walcot Church, to which I shall go in quest of something for You.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  “Dear” I believe in this context means expensive or costly.

Austen continues the fashion update with noting: “Eliz: has given me a hat & it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty stile of hat too–It is something like Eliza’s–only instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon.–I flatter myself however that you can understand very little of it, from this description.–Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to Explanations, as to give a clear one on any occasion myself.”  (Austen’s own emphasis and spelling.)

The discussion of hats and fashion is left off at this point, for more of a social update, although it rings a bit of her being leery of meeting new people in Bath: “I spent friday evening with the Mapletons, & was obliged to submit to being pleased in spite of my inclination.”  After a updating Cassandra on names of new acquaintances, Austen returns with including her worries about purchases and bringing them back to Steventon, “I am afraid I cannot undertake to carry Martha’s Shoes home, for tho’ we had plenty of room in our Trunks when we came, We shall have many more things to take back & I must allow besides for my packing.”  (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and punctuation.)

Austen then returns to telling Cassandra of the activities in Bath and apparently noting a disdain for concerts or loud music: “There is to be a grand gala on tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens;–a Concert with Illuminations & fireworks;–to the latter Eliz: & I look forward with pleasure, & even the Concert will have more than its’ usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)

There is an off and off sad tone here I detect reading all of this, perhaps she is just missing her older sister, as well as a return to another fashion or wardrobe discussion this time of patterns and caps: “I am quite pleased with Martha & Mrs. Lefroy for wanting the pattern of our Caps, but I am not so well pleased with Your giving it to them.”  Seems a little upset that Cassandra has been so generous with the patterns, but then continues: “Some wish, some prevailing Wish is necessary to the animation of everybody’s Mind, & in gratifying this, You leave them to form some other which will not probably be half so innocent.”  (Austen’s own punctuation and capitalization.)  There is really no way to know if she is referring back again to Martha and Mrs. Lefroy here, or if this an extension or a return to a discussion of another issue with Cassandra, as it seems more detailed and complex — but the specifics are lost.

This is where I wish, and I’m sure certain scholars for the return of the lost letters, and perhaps to read Cassandra’s letters — in order to “read” or “hear” Cassandra’s side of their conversations and discussions.

Austen closes the letter saying she will not forget to write to their brother Frank and includes a post script about their sisterly correspondence: “My Uncle is quite surprised at my hearing from you so often–but as long as we can keep the frequency of our correspondence from Martha’s Uncle, we will not fear our own.”  Per the notes, this may be a reference to either Reverend John Craven or Reverend Thomas Fowle, but why either man would have an opinion on Jane and Cassandra’s often writing to each other is a mystery for me.

All notes to, Jane Austen’s Letters, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter to Cassandra Monday 21-Wed. 23 January 1799 — “What time in March may we expect your return in?”

Jane Austen writes again to her older sister Cassandra, who remains away visiting their brother Edward in Kent.  Per the notes, there is a letter missing here in her correspondence.  Austen though seems to be continuing an apology for an empty sheet/requiring the postage being paid for blank paper from previous letters earlier in January and perhaps the missing letter from before this one, was rather on the shorter side, because she writes joking about the charge from the local postmaster: “I will endeavour to make this letter more worthy your acceptance than my last, which was so shabby a one I think Mr. Marshall could never charge you with postage.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Austen then relays that her eyes are improving from her previous illness and gives an update on their brother Charles and his naval commissions, and his plans to travel to recently arrived and docked ship, “The Tamar,” which did not exactly work out.  Austen in fact sounded like she was a bit frustrated about scheduling: “I want to go with him, that I may explain the country to him properly between Canterbury and Rowling, but the unpleasantness of returning by myself deters me.”

The relaying a little bit of gossip and/or another’ lady’s opinion of the Austen men: “Martha writes me word that Charles was very much admired at Kintbury, and Mrs. Lefroy never saw anyone so much improved in her life, and thinks him handsomer than Henry.”

Austen adds on her own comments about their brother Charles: “He appears to far more advantage here than he did at Godmersham, not surrounded by strangers and neither oppressed by a pain in his face or powder in his hair.”  Austen leaves off and goes onto other subjects, but later will return to the change in Charles’ appearance.

She then includes an update family news via letter received by Mrs. Austen from their cousin Edward Cooper, details a new living and a move to Staffordshire including a good amount of Austen’s wicked wit:  “Staffordshire is a good way off; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls.”  Austen then specifies the amount of the living before again summing up, and somewhat teasingly adding: “Our first cousins seem all dropping off very fast.”

Austen then jumps from family to neighborhood social news, “Our ball on Thursday was a very poor one, only eight couple and but twenty-three people in the room; but it was not the ball’s fault, for we were deprived of two or three families by the sudden illness of their neighbor Mr. Wither, who was seized that morning at Winchester with a return of his former alarming complaint.”

Continues to update Cassandra with a run down of the smaller ball and her dancing partners, as well as an update for Mr. Withers who had fallen ill: “In such a disorder his danger, I suppose, must always be great; but from this attack he is now rapidly recovering, and will be well enough to return to Manydown.”  As well as a bit of a report on their sister: “Mary behaved very well, and was not at all fidgety.  For the history of her adventures at the ball I refer you to Anna’s letter.”

Austen then shifts back to their brother Charles and apparently outfitting him for his new post, then pausing to note: “Tuesday.–Your letter has pleased and amused me very much.  Your essay on happy fortnights is highly ingenious, and the talobert skin made laugh a good deal.”

Readers here are left out of the loop.  There is no way to know what Cassandra wrote about a “happy fortnight” or two weeks, and the notes presume “talobert” is either a misreading of rabbit skin or a in-family joke.

Also in response to Cassandra’s recent letter, Austen provides a mom update: “It began to occur to me before you mentioned it that I had been somewhat silent as to my mother’s health for some time, but I thought you could have no difficultly in divining its exact state–you, who have guessed so much stranger things.”

From the tone, seems Austen’s patience with her mother’s complaints are wearing a bit thin: “She is tolerably well–better upon the whole than she was some weeks ago.  She would tell you herself that she has a very dreadful cold in her head at present; but I have not much compassion for colds in the head without fever or sore throat.”

The it’s back to domestic business, with a reference to Charles “Our own particular little brother,” resuming his travel plans and per the notes a joke and/or reference to Burney’s novel Camilla.  Before happily delegating to Cassandra, purchasing clothes while away in Kent: “I have no objection at all to your buying our gowns there, as your imagination has pictured to you exactly such a one as is necessary to make me happy.”   Austen also praises Cassandra, “You quite abash me by your progress in notting, I am still without silk.”  Per the notes, “notting” is most likely a misreading of “netting,” which was a fashionable at the time, and a process often used on clothing and accessories, and per the notes, Austen referenced netting in her novels: Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.

Here, Austen returns to the recent changes in their brother Charles’ appearance.  Per the notes, apparently he cut his hair, as Austen refers to him as a “crop.”  In addition, the fashion of the cropped hair and losing the wigs, was it appears, a bit of a touchy subject between the siblings: “I thought Edward would not approve of Charles being a crop, and rather wished you to conceal it from him at present, lest it might fall on his sports and retard his recovery.”

Although it is difficult to know, but it definitely seems like Austen is asking for a sisterly confidence here.  Again missing letters perhaps hold the key, but apparently Edward was ill, and from afar their brother Edward (the wealthly brother), may have been upset by these changes in Charles, even if it wasn’t politically motivated.  Per the notes, “a new fashion for young men, and viewed with some disapproval since it might imply sympathy with the fashions of Republican France.”

This letter then turns to domestic talk of animals and food provisions, as well as another update on a neighborhood marriage announcement, before Austen implores her sister:  “What time in March may we expect your return in?  I begin to be very tired of answering people’s questions on the subject, and, independent of that, I shall be very glad to see you home again, and then if we can get Martha and shirk … … who will be so happy as we?”  Presuming that “Martha” is their friend Martha Lloyd — rest though a mystery.  Per the notes, it’s unclear if Cassandra or another relative struck this out, regarding Austen’s plans: “I think of going to Ilbthorop in”

But this is left as a fragment, for Austen continues noting: “Wednesday, 23rd.”  With birthday wishes to her niece: “I wish my dear Fanny many returns of this day, and receiving from her doll’s beds.”

And Austen closes this letter a final update about their brother: “I have just heard from Charles, who is by this time at Deal.  He is to be Second Lieutenant, which pleases him likewise.”  Apparently, there was a change in ship assignment as well: “He expects to be ordered to Sheerness shortly, as the ‘Tamar’ has never been refitted.”

All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre Le Fay, Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digression: Invitation — Nov. 6, 2017, New York City–Where are the women? New Central Park monument.

Via the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust — NYC Parks, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, & The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund cordially invite you to attend the launch of: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument, Monday, November 6th, 2017, 11:30 a.m. The Mall, Central Park (between 67th and 68th Streets) RSVP to 212-360-8143 or Colombina.valera@parks.nyc.gov — Organized in partnership with New York Life and The Central Park Conservancy.  For more information please visit these websites: Elizabethcadystanton.org; MonumentalWomen.org and CentralParkWhereAreTheWomen.org

“And what is fifty miles of good road?”

Taking a little time here to follow up, examining the scene in Pride and Prejudice, where Mr. Darcy, quite unexpectedly visits Elizabeth in the parsonage.   Austen describes that Elizabeth happened to be alone and the conversation did not exactly flow.  Elizabeth first tries to make polite inquiries about Mr. Bingley and Netherfield — but sort of hits a wall with Mr. Darcy: “Elizabeth made no answer.  She was afraid of talking longer of his friend; and having, nothing else to say, was now determined to leave the trouble of finding a subject to him.”

Darcy though does pick up his end of the conversation, choosing to the discuss the parsonage and her cousin Mr. Collins.  “He took the hint, and soon began with, ‘This seems a very comfortable house.  Lady Catherine, I believe, did a great deal to it when Mr. Collins first came to Hunsford.'”

And Elizabeth’s response — another line often tweaked for film or adaptations: “I believe she did — and I am sure she could not have bestowed her kindness on a more grateful object.”  Bit of Austen’s wicked wit here, as she is poking fund not just of her hapless and often sniveling cousin Mr. Collins but also of Lady Catherine to an extent with the choice of the word “kindness” owing again to Austen’s descriptions of Lady Catherine’s domineering personality.

Their talk then turns into the Collins marriage and the distance that Charlotte resides from her family, with Darcy commenting: “It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

Elizabeth shoots back: “An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

So Darcy sort of mansplains here: “And what is fifty miles of good road?  Little more than half a day’s journey.  Yes I call it a very easy distance.”  (Emphasis is Austen’s own.)

This exchange is interesting on a number of levels.  First, it shows perhaps the differences of opinion between a member of the social classes of the time nobility (Darcy) and the gentry (Elizabeth). As well as a marked difference between the genders, Darcy a man who sees little more than a half day of travel being no big deal, and Elizabeth as woman of the time period, who like her author, considers 50 miles to be a much longer distance because she  must take into account: scheduling, being escorted, time, and money — issues and concerns that don’t apply to Mr. Darcy.  As a gentleman he has the money, resources and male freedom to come and go as he pleases.

Interesting as the discussion continues because Darcy doesn’t back off from Elizabeth pushing back, rather he continues to fish for information, “It is proof of your own attachment to Hertfordshire.  Anything beyond the very neighbourhood of Longbourn, I suppose, would appear far.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Darcy is trying to find out, in the wake of his interest for her and I presume in trying to form his upcoming proposal, how Elizabeth feels about the distance from the family home.  And, again that I will comment here that Mr. Firth, did a very fine and subtle portrayal in the BBC adaption, of Mr. Darcy in this particular scene: “As he spoke there was a sort of smile, which Elizabeth fancied she understood; he must be supposing her to be thinking of Jane and Netherfield, and she blushed as she answered, ‘I do not mean to say that a woman may not be settled too hear her family. The far and the near must be relative, and depend on many varying circumstances.'”

Per Austen, Elizabeth felt the smile was a reference back to her earlier questions about Mr. Bingley and in her sister Jane.  I’m not sure if Austen intended for the reader to really feel that Elizabeth missed this line of questioning by Darcy and/or his interest in her, and his trying to gauge perhaps worried that his Pemberley estate — would be too far and some sort of a deal breaker.

Sort of Shakespearian in nature, two people having a conversation and taking away different meanings as a result. Austen sort of sets it up, Elizabeth got a smile which was it seems a rarity for Darcy, and he turned his chair and gave her this directive — a little chiding in tone it seems was directed squarely at Elizabeth — she cannot have mistake it for a Jane/Bingley reference. “Mr. Darcy drew his chair a little towards her, and said, ‘You cannot have a right to such a very strong local attachment. You cannot always have been at Longhorn.”

Jane Austen lets the reader fill in the blank or not.  She simply writes: “Elizabeth looked surprised.”

And I’m left to wonder — okay, how was she surprised? In the mind of Elizabeth Bennett was she asking herself: “why does he care?”  Or did it go completely over her head, which seems to be the latter.  Elizabeth seems to unintentionally to be missing all of Darcy’s clues of his apparent interest in her.

Austen then details how Elizabeth’s reaction impacts Darcy: “The gentleman experienced some change of feeling; he drew back his chair, took a newspaper form the table, and, glancing over it, said in a colder voice, ‘Are you pleased with Kent?'”  To sum up, there is something going on here, because Darcy turns his chair again, goes for a prop, the newspaper — and/or item of distraction/protection, and Austen notes his tone changes, specifically Austen writes he now has a “colder voice.”

Darcy is either frustrated, scared or both and he retreats into his usual short, clipped and disinterested stance.  He pretty much clams up.  The whole fishing for information, the intimacy or Darcy’s attempt at it was over, “A short dialogue on the subject of the country ensured, on either side calm and concise — and soon put to an end by the entrance of Charlotte and her sister, just returned from their walk.”   Because immediately Darcy takes the opportunity to just get himself out of there.

Charlotte, for the rest of the visit seems more aware of Mr. Darcy’s possible interest in Elizabeth.  “She had once or twice suggested to Elizabeth the possibility of his being partial to her, but Elizabeth always laughed at the idea.”   From here it’s clear that Austen perhaps either intended for their to be a sort of mix up and misunderstanding from Darcy’s parsonage visit, or that Elizabeth just dismissed Darcy because of his personality.

And Charlotte, per Austen, did not want to raise Elizabeth’s hopes of marrying someone in nobility, “from the danger of raising expectations which might only end in disappointment; for in her opinion it admitted not of a doubt, that all her friend’s dislike would vanish, if she could suppose him to be in her power.”  Austen seems to be giving readers a little bit a preview or a clue — if Charlotte her dear friend could see it, then we all should right?

Austen continues really with a practical notation on women trying to plan for other women, for Charlotte is savvy enough to realize Colonel Fitzwilliam does not have as much money or connections, but Charlotte it seems, prefers Darcy’s cousin as a choice via the Regency marriage market, “In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam.  He was beyond comparison the pleasantest man; he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam certainly may have had some polite or overt interest in Elizabeth, that motivated his cousin to realize his attachment for Elizabeth was not fleeting, and perhaps that is what spurred Darcy’s visit to the parsonage but Austen does not detail that, she leaves it again to us, her readers to decide.

However, I do think this parsonage/visit scene was Austen’s way of showing another, softer side of Darcy that he was trying to convey, as well as his interest in Elizabeth. The very practical discussion of distance and settling near/far from your family, as well the details about his tone, smile, and moving his chair closer and then away.  Austen conveys through all of this — how Darcy was definitely interested in Elizabeth.  Austen also notes to her readers, that Elizabeth could not see it or understand it, but as an author she plants the idea for us by using the Charlotte character, Elizabeth’s friend, a married woman who sort of settled in her own life, and is a little more neutral and perceptible in these observations and interactions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.”