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.

 

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Thoughts on Megan Garber’s Essay–Colin Firth’s Shirt: Jane Austen and the Rise of the Female Gaze

Photo credit BBC/UK Telegraph

There have been a lot of Jane Austen articles and/or clickbait online this year–they have been so plentiful that I’ve been saving the links to re-read and digest them.  Usually I print them out and save them for the train ride commuting to or from work.  Megan Garber, wrote a very interesting essay back on July 17, 2017 via The Atlantic online. The complete title as noted above is — Colin Firth’s Shirt: Jane Austen and the Rise of the Female Gaze.

Ms. Garber starts off with the recent exhibit held at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC: “Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity.” Sadly I did not make it down to DC to see this exhibit, I did however enjoy many photos by writers, and Janeites who did travel there and posted the photos online.

One of the key items on display she describes was, “the shirt,” the tunic worn by actor Colin Firth in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  Ms. Garber contends, as many others that the scene where Mr. Darcy was a pivotal cinematic, soon to become iconic moment, “he dives in — clad in nothing, at this point, but his breeches and THE SHIRT.”  Correctly, Ms. Garber notes the displeasure of many Austen scholars and perhaps some more traditional Janeites, since that scene is no where in the book at all and that the film’s director Andrew Davies took a bit of liberty objectifying Darcy, “proud and prejudiced and Fabio-ed.”

Would like to pause here and say a couple of things.  First, Pride and Prejudice  was the first Austen I ever read, back in the early 1990’s as part of a classic novel course in college.  A young 20-something I was juggling a modern/popular novels class at the same time–which lead to the unfortunate timing of reading Gone with the Wind at the same time as Moby Dick — kid you not.

At the time, I liked Pride and Prejudice, but I sort of was bemused by the barriers drawn between economic class levels, the idea that everyone was worried about everyone’s honor, and of course marrying off the girls. In short, I missed a lot, in a word — whoosh.

Our classics teacher did show us a film version of Pride and Prejudice, the old Hollywood black and white version starring Greer Garson–who was a lovely Elizabeth Bennet, and Sir Laurence Olivier was a dark, brooding Mr. Darcy.  To be noted, the Hollywood version of this film did not follow Austen’s book very closely either, most notably inserting the archery scene. Also the ending was tweaked with Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine paying a faux visit to truth test Elizabeth’s intentions, and not to express her blustering outrage as in the book.  Most of all, the gowns are not period appropriate, it’s like someone raided an old Civil War stockroom on a studio back lot, and then decided to call it a day.

My mum still loves this version, and Olivier’s portray of Darcy is her favorite.  Generational speaking, I’m more partial to the 1995 version which yes did spur me to re-read Pride and Prejudice, which was the beginning of my becoming a Janeite.  The scene that most impresses me is when Darcy visits Elizabeth at the Collin’s parsonage cottage, and is sort of trying to find out how she would feel about living so far away from her parents at Longbourne.  This scene was in the book, where they discuss travel distances and “good road,” and I think Mr. Firth, did a really excellent, subtle job of Darcy’s sort of trying to find out how she felt, in the course of his planning to propose to her. Lizzie though, has no real idea what he is fishing for here–she’s is freaked out and put out by his surprise visit.

On going back to the essay, Ms. Garber makes an interesting point that the pond dive sort of humanizes, if not objectifies Mr. Darcy into a characterization beyond a stereotype–of a wealthy man, “both something simpler and more radical: a sex object.”  Agreed, it’s interesting and certainly an ongoing debate among Janeites — the idea of a favorite Austen hero, romantic lead is often divided, and again I think generationally.  Although these days, I tend to agree with the younger Janeites and vote for team Captain Wentworth.

Darcy though I would say is the origin of the bad boy with the heart of gold–again really an iconic character in literature, film and even sadly in real life.  Sometimes you meet people who are obsessed with the “bad boys” or “bad girls,” and I think they are sort of mistaken in their reality–that this person is misunderstood in some way — they will not accept that is not going to turn around into someone they can love forever.  And I’m not citing Austen here, because I don’t think the majority of these people have even read Austen–although I do think it remains a strong and much large part of inter-relational culture.

If I had to give a current pop culture example I would cite, MTV’s Catfish the TV Show, which although it has been scripted and edited, revisits the same theme again and again, as people falling for the perfect persona online–the illusion–but they cannot one hundred percent connect with this person–even the evasive and/or bad behavior does not seem to dissuade them.  The people featured on this show/or who participate–seem to almost know they will be disappointed and deceived but seem to need some sort of closure to the deception that they participated in, sometimes sadly for years–in the hopes this person would turn around and there would be some sort of a resolution of being together.

Austen often deals with the idea of illusion in Pride and Prejudice, the idea of giving a poor first impression is significant, from Mr. Darcy’s rude dismissal of Elizabeth, to Mrs. Bennet’s gossiping tenacity, and Mr. Collin’s braying condescension–these characters are imprinted on the reader’s experience and we see though–Austen’s intentions behind some of their motivations later with Darcy trying to explain to Lizzie that he has issues talking with strangers (social anxiety), and ties back in somewhat the reality of Mrs. Bennet’s ongoing quest to marry of her daughters bringing her almost to a nervous collapse.  Mr. Collins, not so much–I think Austen was just having fun with the obnoxious parson persona–and I think also sometimes Austen used her own mother’s ailments to inspire Mrs. Bennet’s nerves.

Garber’s article continues on, tackling Austen’s other characters, including Willoughby and Mr. Collins, “Austen had her own Willoughby, it seems — Thomas Lefroy, an Irish political, whose family disapproved of the match–and also perhaps, her own Collins: Harris Bigg-Wither, a man of wealth and education whose proposal of marriage she accepted in December of 1802 and then, the next day refused.)  To note, I’m not really in hundred percent agreement with either of Ms. Garber’s theories here.  Lefroy is long thought to the be the model for Mr. Darcy.  To say, he’s the model for Willoughby is interesting, but I think Austen pulled the model for both Wickham and Willoughby more from the general fear and/or experience of the times.  To my knowledge, Lefroy never had any kind of a scandal of  running off with a girl and then abandoning her.  As for Mr. Bigg-Withers, the Austen’s remained connected to the family, and while he was certainly solvent, I think there are many theories about why Austen refused, most of all through her letters to younger nieces and the importance of marrying for love.  Which Garber points out, was a new-fangled concept in those days. Here is a link to the article, and it is worth a read:  https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/07/who-gaze-on-the-men-in-jane-austen/533415/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Sat. 17-Sunday 18 November 1798 — an update on Tom Lefroy.

Per the notes there is a letter missing here between–Saturday October 27th and Sunday the 28th and this letter — the notes also state the manuscript of this particular letter — is untraced since its first publication, possibly sold via auction/sale in 1893.

In the back and forth with writing to her older sister Cassandra who is at Godmersham in Kent, Jane Austen seems to be filling her in and updating her on their mother’s health issues at home in Steventon, “my mother has had no relapse, and Miss Debary comes.”   Again the notes clarify, Miss Debary is to help manage the parsonage while Mary Lloyd was giving birth/having her baby.

Austen next delves into Mrs. Austen’s recent improvements, “She was able to sit up nearly eight hours yesterday and to-day I hope we shall do as much.”  The notes/commentary here state here there were edits or redactions made by Cassandra and later by Lord Bradbourne who inherited it, and likely sold this letter by auction. It is unknown why — I’m presuming perhaps it was a bit of wicked wit regarding her mother’s care-taking that Cassandra censored because Austen wrapped it up with, “So much for my patient — now for myself.”   There is no way to know though.

Austen then relays news about a recent visit from Mrs. Lefroy and an update on Tom Lefroy — often thought to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy or perhaps some of her other main male characters or love interests.  Apparently Austen was hitting a bit of a wall with his aunt, but Mr. Austen got the update after all,  “She did not once mention the name of the former to me, and I was too proud to make any enquiries; but on my father’s afterwards asking where he was I learnt that he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise.”  (Underline annotation and spelling are Austen’s own.)

Jane Austen’s interest is prevalent as she continues to tell Cassandra quoting via third party a recent letter Lefroy sent to his aunt about the Austen family, “‘I am very sorry to hear of Mrs. Austen’s illness.  It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving my acquaintance with that family — with a hope of creating to myself a nearer interest.  But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it.'”

Austen seems very particular to be “quoting” Tom’s letter to his aunt — although it’s really uncertain if his aunt, Mrs. Lefroy was really being honest about what Tom wrote or not.

The meaning here via Austen’s own interpretation seems to be he liked the family, but could not visit again and did not want to say he was going to try again–or for all purposes he did not want to get anyone’s hopes up, etc.

Apparently, Jane Austen took Mrs. Lefroy mostly at her word, and writing to Cassandra to confirm, “This is rational enough; there is less love and more sense it it than sometimes appeared before, and I am very well satisfied.”

Perhaps Austen was recounting a sort of release to her older sister, in confirming that Tom would not return so she was certain whatever small time frame of a relationship they had together was certainly now over. “It will all go exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner.”

And I’m sort of moved by Austen’s use of the words “decline away.”  I’m presuming she is talking about their attraction and feelings that developed only to lapse with the reality of their living situations and perhaps feeling that she held stronger feelings for him,  “There seems no likelihood of his coming into Hampshire this Christmas, and it is therefore most probable that our indifference will soon be mutual, unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first, is best supported by never seeing me.”

Austen here seems to be accepting of a couple of things: 1) that perhaps she misread Tom Lefroy’s feelings for her as not being as strong as her feelings for him, or 2) he indeed had feelings for her that were soon dismissed or discarded when he learned of her background and he is not going to visit or tempt himself with a visit to see her.

Continues to tell Cassandra, that his aunt didn’t really help soothe her feelings on the subject, “Mrs. Lefroy made no remarks on the letter, nor indeed say anything about him as relative to me.  Perhaps she thinks she has said too much already.”

Austen here is playing it over and over a bit in her mind — perhaps missing her older sister terribly in trying to maybe talk out her feelings or misgivings about them via this letter.  The rest of Mrs. Leroy’s visit relays nephews and notes about family and mutual friends, before changing the subject.

Seems like Austen is being a little bit cheeky here to her sister, “My mother desires me to tell you that I am a very good housekeeper, which I have no reluctance in doing, because I really think it my peculiar excellence, and for this reason — I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping.”

Jane Austen continues the letter with household news, butchering, upcoming balls, the purchase of a post-chaise carriage, and also she is liberally sarcastic regarding news around Mary Lloyd’s preparing for child-birth, her health, nursing and other issues.  There is an edge here in the domestic litany with an undertone  of wit — again I think an understanding of relationship and private sayings between sisters.

Austen continues asking about their nephew George, and despite all the local and household news including the birth of a new nephew James-Edward Austen — mainly think this letter was really giving Cassandra the news about Tom Lefroy and her confirmation that she is never to see him again.

Once again back to the notes, the letter that follows this one is also possibly missing. Overall Austen’s feelings or misgivings about Tom seem to weigh heavily on her.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra, 14-15 January 1796

Jane Austen wrote this letter to her older sister Cassandra, starting on Thurs. January 14, 1796, concluding on Friday evening January 1796. Was written from her home in Steventon at the time — Cassandra was away at the Reverend Fowle’s in Kintbury, Newbury, staying with her fiancee’s family.

There are some interesting tidbits in the letter, particularly in reference to an upcoming ball: “I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening.”

Here, was sort of wondering if she really was informing Cassandra of a serious offer of marriage from Tom Lefroy — until Jane Austen follows it immediately with:

“I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.”  Which I think is a reference a previous letter where she described to Cassandra — his morning coat which to paraphrase Jane Austen seemed to find found gaudy and relayed to her older sister as a “flaw.”  But the tone here about the coat seems to be light and sort of dismissive — perhaps to soften or off set the remark about “the offer.”  Perhaps Austen is kidding because she knows no offer is possible because of Lefroy’s circumstances and commitments necessitating his return to Ireland.

The letter continues on with news of family and events and also notes the delay of departure of Cassandra’s fiancee Rev. Tom Fowle, but later Jane Austen returns to the subject of Mr. Lefroy in the closing of the letter on Friday evening: “At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over — — My tears flow as I write, at the Melancholy idea.”  Austen then goes right back into family and news of neighbors so again it’s hard to tell if she is being serious or taking on a tone of the mock dramatic for her sister.

All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th edition, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Letter missing January 1796.

According to Jane Austen’s Letters fourth edition, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFaye — there is a letter dated either Tuesday 12, or Wednesday 13, January 1796 — missing from her correspondence.  Unknown if these letters were fully destroyed by her sister Cassandra Austen or another family member, or if it was just misplaced and/or lost in time before her letters were considered valuable and collected.

Because this “missing letter” follows her confession to Cassandra about Mr. Tom Lefroy — it can be suspected that their discussion about the young man she favored may have very well continued.  Often by now reading Jane Austen’s correspondence, I can get a sense of Cassandra Austen’s voice — from Jane’s responses — although often find myself longing to read the other side and investigate what Cassandra is saying in her correspondence.  From Jane’s side it seems like they had a very close relationship and Jane was often missing her eldest sister.  Seems Cassandra was the one who traveled more frequently, and went to stay with different relatives, chiefly sisters-in-laws to help with”lying in” and the care of the other children, before after the arrival of a new baby.

These missing letters are holes in Jane Austen’s biographical timeline and fodder for authors, ripe with opportunity to fill in the missing sequences with their own imagination.

There is a whole world of Jane Austen now — writers don’t just write prequels and sequels and stories inspired by her literary work or the characters she wrote, but they write inspired theories, stories, novels, and produce other media inspired by her and her life.