Letter to Cassandra, Wed. June 19, 1799–scabies, hats with flowers or fruit, and something afoot in Hampshire.

Scabies and scheduling are the first concerns of this letter, written by Jane Austen visiting Bath with her brother Edward and his with Elizabeth (Eliza).  Promptly thanks her older sister Cassandra for her previous letter and expresses relief that she was not exposed to scabies (per the notes small parasites that borrow under the skin and cause a horrible itch), that are affecting their friends the Bigg family at Deane, as well as their avoiding the problem by their traveling schedule being changed: “not sorry as it turns out that our stay here has been lengthened.–I feel tolerably secure of our getting away next week, tho’ it is certainly possible that we may remain ’till Thursday the 27th.”

Duly she reports to her older sister about their brother Edward and their purpose for the visit, “Edward has been pretty well for this last Week, & as the Waters have never disagreed with him in any respect, We are inclined to hope that he will derive advantage from them in the end;–everybody encourages us in this expectation, for they all say that the effect of the Waters is felt afterwards more than on the spot.”  (Austen’s own emphasis.)

Aside from the health benefiting waters, Bath is known for shopping –Austen then reviews her shopping errands including her efforts to address the latest fashions of women’s hats including decorations or flowers or fruit.  “I cannot decide on the fruit till I hear from you again.–Besides, I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.–What do you think on the subject?”

Austen then jumps to addressing and joking about some of what Cassandra has written to her, including a reference to her work that would eventually become Pride and Prejudice, “I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power.–She is very cunning, but I see through her design;–she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it.”  Aside from the wicked wit here, wondering if Austen was tinkering with the manuscript and that is why she didn’t want Martha Biggs to read it — perhaps she wanted to make some edits or changes?

Austen then jumps to lace she sent Cassandra and her cloak, going from subject to subject and acknowledges, “I do not know what is the matter with me to day, but I cannot write quietly; I am always wandering away into some exclamation or other.–Fortunately I have nothing particular to say.”

Austen then relates walking to Weston one night and then clarifies at just being happy at having the chance at a long walk.  She describes their visit at Bath as being mostly at home and not visiting that much.  Edward’s health matters it seems to keep them out of the social circle and from her tone, Austen, her brother and his wife seem reluctant circulate, “We have not been to any public place lately, nor performed anything out of the common daily routine of No. 13, Square Bath.

Austen then relays that a dinner invitation was made and then cancelled because of the health of the other gentleman.  “Edward renewed his acquaintance lately with Mr. Evelyn who lives in the Queen’s parade & was invited to a family dinner, which I believe at first Eliz: was rather sorry at his accepting, but yesterday Mrs. Evelyn called on us & her manners were so pleasing that we liked the idea of going very much.–The Biggs would call her a nice Woman.–But Mr. Evelyn who was indisposed yesterday, is worse to day & we are put off.”

Her letter jumps to a reference to their party’s eventually arrival from Bath, “It is rather impertinent to suggest any household care to a Housekeeper, but I just venture to say that the Coffee Mill will be wanted eery day while Edw: is at Steventon as he always drinks Coffee for Breakfast.”

Austen then sends all kinds of regards to Cassandra and the family, before another injection of wicked wit, “‘On more accounts than one you wishes for our stay here to be lengthened beyond last Thursday.’–There is some Mystery in this.  What have you going on in Hampshire besides the Itch from which you want to keep us?” (Austen’s own emphasis.)

Jumps again to addressing news of a recent or a soon to be wedding and concern over the gift which was another shopping concern, along with their budget for the hat decorations, “Now I will give you the history of Mary’s veil, in the purchase of which I have so considerably involved you that is my duty to economies for you in the flowers.”

Jane’s dislike of shopping or her description of getting overwhelmed in trying to make quality purchases on their shared budget is apparent, “I had not difficulty in getting a muslin veil for half a guinea & not much more in discovering afterwards that the Muslin was think, dirty & ragged, & would therefore by no means do for a Gift.–I changed it consequently as soon as I could & considering what a state my impudence reduced me to, I thought myself lucky in getting a black lace one for 16 shillings—. I hope the half of that sum will not greatly exceed what You had intended to offer up on the alter of Sister in-law affection.

Austen includes a post script in the letter to Cassandra and per the notes, perhaps finally addressing the issue she was referencing before, about other activities in Hampshire besides the scabies.  “They do not seem to trouble You much from Manydown.  I have long wanted to quarrel with them, & I believe I shall take this opportunity.–There is no denying that they are very capricious!–for they like to enjoy their elder Sister’s Company when they can.”  Per the notes, the elder sister referred to is probably Jane Bigg, so perhaps this was a misunderstanding or some sort of riff around Jane Bigg’s visits or scheduling that somehow affected Cassandra?

All notes/cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition, Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.










JASNA Tour of England 2018 celebrating the publication of Persuasion.

Update February 2018–This year’s tour is full!  According to JASNA it filled two(2) weeks after being announced — so folks have to move/book fast!

JASNA has announced the theme of its 2018 England Tour — will be to celebrate the publication of Austen’s Persuasion.  More info on their website/URL/link below —




Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: On Darcy and Elizabeth and “six inches deep in mud.”

When Elizabeth Bennet hears that her older sister Jane has fallen ill in Pride and Prejudice, part of her mother’s matchmaking scheme, she sets out to visit the invalid despite Mrs. Bennet’s protests.  “How can you be so silly,” cried her mother, “as to think of such a thing, in all this dirt!  You will  not be fit to be seen when you get there.”

“I shall be very fit to see Jane — which is all I want.”

Austen often has her female characters walking, their chief mode of transportation as familiar to the Austen sisters as well, but she further elaborate’s on her lead character’s progress, “Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with wearing ancles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Austen often documents the differences in meal times in her letters and novels.  The dining schedule at home in Steventon was much earlier and less fashionable than at her brother’s in Godmersham, Kent.

Reflecting this, Elizabeth Bennet arrives when the party at Netherfield and arrives when  the Bingley party at the great house is their taking breakfast. “She was shown into the breakfast-parkour, where all but Jane were assembled, and were her appearance created but a great deal of surprise. — That she should have walked three miles so early in the day, in such dirty weather, and by herself, was almost incredible to Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley; and Elizabeth was received , however, very politely by them; and in their brother’s manners there was something better than politeness; there was good humour and kindness.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Mr. Bingley’s good humor aside, Austen duly notes the disapproval of  the female members of the party, at Elizabeth’s daring to walk alone, unattended and during bad weather.  Austen as author, notes the social impropriety while deftly building the character of her heroine and her relationship with her foil slash love interest Mr. Darcy.  Darcy already ascribed both by his friends and the entire Meryton neighborhood as a lauded member of the gentry would have definite opinions on Elizabeth’s actions or impropriety but Austen takes the opportunity to convey Darcy’s own private debate about Elizabeth while inserting a little bit of wicked wit about Mr. Hurst, “Mr. Darcy said very little, and Mr. Hurst nothing at all.  The former was divided between admiration of the brilliancy which exercise had given to her complexion, and doubt as to the occasion’s justifying her coming so far alone.  The latter was thinking only of his breakfast.”

Elizabeth ends up remaining at Netherfield to look after Jane.  The members of the house party continue to discuss and debate her long after she has settled into nurse her older sister. “Miss Bingley began abusing her as soon as she was out of the room.  Her manners were pronounced to be very bad indeed, a mixture of pride and importance; and she had no conversation, no stile, no taste, no beauty.  Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley seem determined not to let the subject go, Mrs. Hurst  thought the same, and added

‘She has nothing, in short to recommend her, but being an excellent walker.  I shall never forget her appearance this morning.  She really looked almost wild.'”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

These sisters continue their discussion of Elizabeth Bennet, with Mrs. Hurst adding the famous observation, “Yes and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud.”

The sisters then try to draw Mr. Darcy into their bashing and optimally make sure he is on the same page.  Miss Bingley obviously has the vested interest here, as she is trying to both make conversation with Darcy and engage him in more than just a friendship but on intimate matters.  “You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure, said Miss Bingley; “and I am inclined to to think that you would not wish to see your sister much such an exhibition.”

And of course Darcy answers (about his sister Georgiana): “Certainly not.”

Darcy is of course, as Austen often notes, a man of few words.

Again, the invoking here of appropriate behavior of young ladies, and using the example of Georgiana, Darcy’s young, beloved sister is two-fold.  Miss Bingley is trying to make her point about how uncivilized their unwanted guest Elizabeth Bennet is, and she is trying to ascertain Darcy’s level of dislike as well.  Perhaps this is to foreshadow that Miss Bingley is uncertain about her status with Darcy herself and also she suspects he may have some sort of an attraction to Elizabeth.

Miss Bingley, is appealing to the snob in Darcy, basically trying to appeal to him to officially condemn Elizabeth being from a lower class, and that way Elizabeth is dismissed formally as any kind of a love interest or rival.

After an exchange with her brother back and forth, Miss Bingley circles around again to Darcy, this time baiting him with a bit of irony, for his previous admiration of Elizabeth’s physical appearance, “I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingley, in a half whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of your fine eyes.”

We had to wait for it but here it is, the reply from Darcy:  “Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.”

So, Darcy was privately and internally debated Elizabeth’s walk across the countryside but he wasn’t going to own up to it, he wasn’t going to trash her as a woman of bad behavior, and of course his admiration for the beauty of her eyes remains.  Here, he was officially on the record there for that compliment, and to Miss Bingley’s dismay, she is recognizing more so, that Elizabeth is attractive in Darcy’s eyes and a bit of a rival, so Miss Bingley then descends on pulling apart and reminding Darcy of the Bennet’s lower social class status and family connections.

The reply here may be that Darcy fell prey to their snobbery or perhaps he conceded the point in the larger, general conversation: “But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy.

The idea that six inches of mud, and all that it represents (Elizabeth’s independence nature), didn’t repeal Darcy is interesting, Austen is playing with the idea that Darcy has both private and public thoughts and statements about Elizabeth.

All Cites to Penguin Classics, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, reprinted 1985.














Dinner with Mr. Darcy by Pen Vogler

Sharing a wonderful Christmas present I received this year, the book Dinner with Mr. Darcy,  is an interesting compilation of modern adaptations of Regency-era recipes along side reprints of the originals from their sources all noted in the bibliography.

This book includes interesting anecdotes about the origins of some of the foods or recipes, as well as essays about the connections these foods have in Austen’s time period  as shown through her work via references to her novels and her personal letters.

Chapters are are largely and charmingly Austen-themed:

Breakfast with General Tilney — Northanger Abbey,

Mrs. Bennett’s Dinner to Impress — Pride and Prejudice,

Pork and Apples:  An Autumn Dinner with the Bateses — Emma,

Jane’s Family Favorites — Letters of Jane Austen,

The Picnic Parade — Emma,

Tea and Cake — Mansfield Park,

The Ball at Netherfield — Pride and Prejudice,

An Old-Fashioned Supper for Mr. Woodhouse and His Guests — Emma,

Christmas with the Musgroves and Other Celebrations — Persuasion, and

Gifts, Drinks, and Preserves for Friends and the Sick at Heart — Sense and Sensibility.

This is a lovely addition to my growing collection of Jane Austen books in my small home library.




Digression: On coastal flooding & all things building a seawall.

This past storm on Thursday January 4, 2018 — turned out to be a record breaker in the worst of ways.  We live in a small town on the across the bay from Logan Airport, and the tide was the highest ever recorded in Boston Harbor, since they started recording tides.  The tide was actually higher than the massive storm in 1978 which still loomed in my mind as a the record breaker of all time, even though the snow record was broken years back.  We now have a new memory of chaos to take its place.

Actually braved this storm of storms with a failed seawall because of time and permits, and endless red tape.  Sparing most of the gory details I will just say, in December I had a conference call with three (3) state agencies and the army core of engineers.  Took over a month to organize this call, and not one them would agree to come out and see the state of my wall and yard with the dangers they continue to pose.  And yes I’ve got proof they said no via documentation in email.

A few doors down, my neighbor with a new seawall which I highly suspect isn’t completely legal was flooded as well. Actually all of us were.  In 1978, only we flooded, my dad could not get his car out and we lost it.

On Thursday, water came up so fast and in both sides of our cellar.  I tried to protect our furnace and my mother trooper that she is went out to save her car with the help of a couple of neighbors — they shoveled so she could pull it up into the curb cut/up onto the sidewalk or pavement.

The water on the beach next door, went over the town seawall newly built in 1999 and starting to break apart.  The water hit the street level fence.

We called 911 but they never came.  They had a fire to put out in another part of town, folks to evacuate, and one of the town fire trucks got stuck.

However, I heard and I truly hope my source is mistaken that our town did not call in everyone in the fire department to help because they did not want to pay overtime, even though they pay overtime to the Dept. of Public Works (DPW) folks plowing and the police officers that escort the plows during major storms. Update: Our electrician came yesterday 1/8/18–and said he had heard that as well but was listening to the fire dept. on the local scanner and heard the chief call everyone available into help.

In our town, we share 911 and emergency dispatch with another city–Metro North Regional Emergency Communications Center.  Every time we called they lied and said help was on the way.  We learned there was a list.  Day grew into night, they could not tell us where we were on the list and lied once.  We slept in our clothes thinking they might arrive overnight.

On Friday, after 24 hours — our Fire Chief called and left a mess. for my mum saying they were still coming to pump us out.  My mum called back to Metro North and told them to take us off the list.  They didn’t — Metro North called again Saturday morning — almost two (2) days after the storm again to ask if we still needed pumping out.  Which is bad communication/and organization all around.

Because we had no seawall and fence — giant ice flows from Boston Harbor are in the backyard and I’m not sure how much of the seawall and yard fell in, and I may not get down onto the beach and the flats for awhile.  The fierce winds were brutal after the storm and all weekend.  They died down today but it is still very frigid out there.  The high today being 18 degrees F.

Seawater melts at 28 degrees F — it’s supposed to hit 30 F tomorrow — so I’m hoping to be able to chop them and chuck them over the side — least they melt, flood and cause more damage. But our little pine tree — does somewhat look a like a snowman.

Update: We lost a washer and dryer, and a second refrigerator but there are families that lost their entire house so we are counting our blessings.  Today 1/9/18 — our landscaper is coming over to help me continue to shovel out and break up the ice flows/sea water ice.