ABOVE: The 1813 Cruikshank caricature of The Prince of Whales: The Fisherman at Anchor.................. Read Colleen Sheehan's articles (including the footnotes) for the amazing Jane Austen connection:



...Halloween, 2010, when I addressed the JASNA AGM in Portland re: "Remember the country and age in which we live": The Covert Death-in-childbirth Anti-parody in Northanger Abbey"



...to various JASNA chapters re: “The Shadow Story of Emma: Jane Austen, the Secret Feminist”:

In NYC....


...and also in Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Gainesville, Atlanta, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sacramento.


I want to present to other JASNA chapters. Email arnieperlstein@myacc.net if you're interested!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

“Elinor could not find herself…”: the carriage rides of Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Musgrove, and Queen Mab

On countless occasions, among both serious Austen scholars and non-academic Janeites, the controversial passage in Chapter 8 of Persuasion when Anne is sitting on the same sofa with the corpulent Mrs. Musgrove in between Anne and Wentworth, has been passionately debated: 

“They were actually on the same sofa, for Mrs Musgrove had most readily made room for him; they were divided only by Mrs Musgrove. It was no insignificant barrier, indeed. Mrs Musgrove was of a comfortable, substantial size, infinitely more fitted by nature to express good cheer and good humour, than tenderness and sentiment; and while the agitations of Anne's slender form, and pensive face, may be considered as very completely screened, Captain Wentworth should be allowed some credit for the self-command with which he attended to her large fat sighings over the destiny of a son, whom alive nobody had cared for.
Personal size and mental sorrow have certainly no necessary proportions. A large bulky figure has as good a right to be in deep affliction, as the most graceful set of limbs in the world. But, fair or not fair, there are unbecoming conjunctions, which reason will patronize in vain--which taste cannot tolerate--which ridicule will seize.”

Many take the position that it must be Jane Austen-- a slender person all her life, by all accounts --- who personally felt surprisingly judgmental feelings toward those less svelte, and that this passage was the most overt expression of those feelings, which we also find traces of in JA’s letters.

I tend to think that Jane Austen the person did harbor unkindly thoughts toward heavy people, but it has been several years since I realized that, regardless of Jane Austen’s personal feelings, the phrase “large fat sighings” was intended by Jane Austen to reflect Anne Elliot’s subjective perceptions. In JA’s masterful psychological portraiture, they arise from Anne’s strong, repressed anger over being blocked from Wentworth’s line of sight, and vice versa, by Mrs. Musgrove’s formidable bulk seated in the middle of the sofa between them.

And that second quoted paragraph reflects the struggle in Anne’s mind, as first she finds Mrs. Musgrove’s histrionic grieving ridiculous, but then her reason/conscience argues that heavy people can also feel deep affliction--but then, Anne’s anger fuels her finding some irrational justification for sticking to her initial harsh judgment—sometimes, she decides, appearances do trump substance, when ridiculous is just too ridiculous.

And, if we dig a little deeper in Persuasion, we find out that Anne does not make this harsh judgment out of the blue, it has been set up by comments made to Anne by sister Mary three chapters earlier, in Chapter 5, as Mary describes a dinner out with her inlaws:

"Nothing remarkable. One always knows beforehand what the dinner will be, and who will be there; and it is so very uncomfortable not having a carriage of one's own. Mr and Mrs Musgrove took me, and we were so crowded! They are both so very large, and take up so much room; and Mr Musgrove always sits forward. So, there was I, crowded into the back seat with Henrietta and Louise; and I think it very likely that my illness to-day may be owing to it."

Mary has no qualms about being explicit about the cause of her discomfort. And if you think about it, it makes perfect sense that both Anne and Mary should be judgmental, each in their own way, of the appearance of other people less blessed than the Elliots with good looks and a nice figure. After all, they both grew up in a household headed by Sir Walter, the world’s leading authority (or so he thinks himself) on good looks, and on the great, even decisive, importance of those good looks in judging the value of a person, second only perhaps to that person’s social status.

So we can also see that Anne, for all she thinks herself superior to, and different from, Mary and her father, and above their petty, small-minded, un-Christian  complaints, resentments, and judgments, is a whole lot more like them than she would ever want to admit.

I mention all of the above, because of something I noticed for the first time in Sense & Sensibility, which, upon examination, I realized, and will explain, below, is the covert forerunner of Mrs. Musgrove’s fat sighings—between 1811 and 1816, Jane Austen grew bolder in her depiction of uncharitable impulses in her virtuous heroines.

More than a few Janeites have over the years noticed the similarity between the personalities of Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Musgrove—jolly, expansive mother-figures who dote on their families and are not shy about expressing their  feelings in company, often to the chagrin of the restrained, discreet young heroines through whose eyes we see those matrons.

But how many Janeites have also noticed the strong physical similarity between Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Musgrove?  What I realized today is that Mary Musgrove’s report of the carriage ride with her in-laws the Musgroves that made her ill, and Anne Elliot’s frustration sitting on the sofa with Mrs. Musgrove and Wentworth, are actually not only connected to each other, but are also both echoes of a much earlier uncomfortable carriage ride described in Chapter 26 of S&S, when the narrator recounts the beginning of the long trip from Barton Cottage to London, with Elinor, Marianne, and Mrs. Jennings sharing some tight traveling accommodations:

"ELINOR COULD NOT FIND HERSELF in the carriage with Mrs. Jennings, and beginning a journey to London under her protection, and as her guest, without wondering at her own situation, so short had their acquaintance with that lady been, so wholly unsuited were they in age and DISPOSITION, and so many had been her objections against such a measure only a few days before!”

I’ve read that passage many times over the past 20 years, but for some reason this time, for the first time, I did a doubletake at the phrase “Elinor could not find herself”—was I just imagining it, or was this the prototype for Anne Elliot sitting on the sofa with Mrs. Musgrove?  I.e., taken out of context from the rest of that compound sentence, those first five words almost sound like Elinor literally could not find or locate her own body, because she was sitting next to, and to some extent under, the body of Mrs. Jennings, squeezed into tight quarters in the carriage!

Of course, upon further parsing of the entire sentence, the normative meaning becomes clear, i.e., “Elinor could not find, i.e., think of, herself in the carriage …without wondering, etc.”. However, knowing Jane Austen’s love of having it both ways as an author, I think it a compelling secondary interpretation that Mrs. Jennings, sitting next to Elinor, is also partially sitting on Elinor!---in the same way that a heavy person sitting next to a slim person on a modern airliner, where everyone is squeezed in like sardines from the getgo, cannot help but infringe on the personal space of the neighboring passenger.

Sound like a reach on my part? Well, consider how this seemingly wacky alternative reading fits remarkably well with other textual evidence in S&S. First and foremost, we all know that Mrs. Jennings is not petite:  “Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother, was a goodhumoured, merry, fat, elderly woman, who talked a great deal, seemed very happy, and rather vulgar.”

Mrs. Jennings’s bulk is part of what could almost be a caricature of the merry older widow. Could this have anything to do with Elinor’s negative thoughts in the carriage?  Turns out that JA very quietly set up the idea of a physically uncomfortable carriage ride to London in the immediately preceding Chapter 25, when we learn a crucial detail indicating that Mrs. Jennings is going to be squeezing Elinor and Marianne into her carriage with her:
“It will only be sending Betty by the coach, and I hope I can afford THAT. We three shall be able to go very well in my chaise…”
So per Mrs. Jennings there would not be room in the carriage for herself, Marianne, Elinor, AND Betty. But, while Mrs. Jennings may very well believe that with Betty removed from the carriage, there will be plenty of room for the Dashwood sisters and Mrs. Jennings, I believe JA is giving us a very strong hint –via her ambiguous sentence structure--that Elinor would strenuously but silently, disagree vehemently on that point.

And note that JA, the mistress of literary economy, only needs five words to convey all of this extra meaning, and these five words, read against the grain as I suggest, are also true to Elinor’s character—she is not her sister Marianne, and she is not Mary Elliot either, in that she does not say what she really feels, everything is guarded, coded, and careful—and so “Elinor could not find herself” is the perfect expression of both her character and her feelings.

I Googled to see whether I was the first scholar to ever address this question, and I find that my young friend Ophelia Murphy (who was one of the two grad students who, along with their supervising professor, Fiona Stafford, invited me to give my first public talk about Jane Austen, at the Oxford Romantic Realignments Seminar, in June 2007), in her recent, erudite and thought provoking book, Jane Austen The Reader, quoted  that very passage in S&S Chapter 26, and then wrote about it from a different angle:
“Part of the reason for the disparate opinions of Elinor and her mother arises from their  different understandings of the Dashwood sisters’ position in society. A winter excursion to London was in many respects an important signifier of wealth during Austen’s lifetime. …This is the ‘condition of life’ in which Mrs. Dashwood mentally places her daughters, a sharp contrast to the ‘situation’ in which Elinor finds herself in Mrs. Jennings’s carriage, where she and her sister literally take the place of the maid Betty. Unlike her mother and younger sister, Elinor understands only too well her diminished status in a society in which wealth is the paramount signifier of personal importance. Her sensitivity to the ways in which she and her sister are likely to be perceived and judged by others may be seen as the source of her unease. Her response is to curtail her expectations….” END QUOTE FROM MURPHY BOOK

Here we see Jane Austen’s genius in full flower, because I believe Olivia is 100% correct, and onto something very important, in her explanation for how the carriage ride to London is a metaphor for the living situation of Elinor and Marianne—surely Jane Austen did indeed intend that interpretation.  But…when you layer on the covert depiction of Mrs. Jennings literally sitting on top of Elinor, such that Elinor cannot even see or feel the rest of her own body as she sits, it dovetails perfectly with Olivia’s metaphorical interpretation—the carriage ride is a kind of physical oppression which Elinor mightily seeks to stoically endure, but, because she is even more tightly wound than Anne Elliot, no “fat sighing” thought bubbles up from her subconscious, it only comes out muted, hidden beneath a benign meaning.

The metaphor Olivia sees is extended by realizing that Elinor is a lightweight not only in body but  also in finances and social status, and since her father’s death she has increasingly spent her life being pushed around, oppressed, and given no space, by those around her, even nice, kind people like Mrs. Jennings.

So, in those five words, we get a poetic encapsulation of Elinor’s life as she experiences it at that moment—she could not FIND herself—and it also seems to me  that Jane Austen was 150 years ahead of her time in using this expression as well. It of course became a cliché of the Sixties (the 1960s, that is) for young people to go off on adventures of various kinds, outside-the-box (or perhaps, outside-the-carriage?) attempts to achieve some mysterious alchemy, whereby they would suddenly have an epiphany and “find themselves”, i.e., find their true selves.

And when we look at Elinor Dashwood at that crucial juncture of the action in S&S, as she sits under Mrs. Jennings and ruminates with trepidation and doubt on what will happen in London, we may fairly say that she is a young person experiencing an identity crisis, as all the things she loved have been taken away from her, and she sees her sister having the same experience, and Elinor sees little hope for the future at that instant.

This is truly the prose poetry of Jane Austen at its most perfect---beneath the words of ordinary mundane life, which seem to be merely practical, we find, just under the surface, and putting on our double-take spectacles as readers, some very deep metaphysical angst.

And speaking of poetry, in this post I will only mention in passing the connections between this literal carriage ride to London and the metaphorical, carnal “carriage ride” that some “Queen Mab” (like, say, Mrs. Jennings, a very droll Queen Mab, given the grotesque contrast between her and Shakespeare’s tiny Queen!) would try to take Marianne (and perhaps Elinor too?) on, leading to a true “vortex of dissipation”, as the young JA described London.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Friday, July 18, 2014

Jane Austen’s Brokeback Mountain: Cassandra’s poignantly jealous letter to Anne Sharp re: Anne’s “ardent” “sensibility” for the recently deceased Jane

“My dear Miss Sharp, I have great pleasure in sending you the lock of hair you wish for, & I add one pair of clasps which she sometimes wore & a small bodkin which she had had in constant use for more than twenty years. I know how these articles, trifling as they are, will be valued by you & I am very sure that if she is now conscious of what is passing on earth it gives her pleasure they should be so disposed of. - I am quite well in health & my Mother is very tolerable so & I am much more tranquil than with your ardent feelings you could suppose possible. What I have lost, non one but myself can know, you are not ignorant of her merits, but who can judge how I estimated them? - God's will be done, I have been able to say so all along, I thank God that I have. - If any thing should ever bring you into attainable distance from me we must meet my dear Miss Sharp. - Beleive me very truly Yr affectte friend Cass. Elizth Austen (CEA)“

Diane Reynolds’s and Ellen Moody’s comments in Janeites & Austen-L are both very insightful about the above letter, I would like to add my own usual allusively-tinged twist on it.

First, this letter clearly is CEA’s response to a letter from Anne Sharp written right after JA’s death, in which Anne requested a lock of JA’s hair as well as any other personal items that CEA could spare. I don’t know whether locks of hair were normally passed between heterosexual women in such instances, but it sounds like a very intimate request to me. And I have long believed, and am not alone in this, that Anne and Jane in fact had an intimate romantic relationship going back at least a decade to when Anne was a governess at Godmersham, just as Jane and Martha had an even longer intimate relationship.

Two scenes from literature come immediately to my mind, which I think uncannily echo this emotionally charged exchange between CEA and Anne Sharp---and, ironically, both of them were powerfully captured on film by Ang Lee (he who, as I recall, inexplicably opined that he did not actually enjoy reading JA’s novels, or something like that). Irony within irony!

First, I see CEA, in writing testily to Anne about their opposite ways of grieving, as very consciously echoing the dramatic exchange between Elinor and Marianne in Chapter 37 of S&S, when Elinor for the first time shares with Marianne her long-concealed, tormenting secret about Lucy and Edward:

“…And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one's happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant—it is not fit—it is not possible that it should be so.— Edward will marry Lucy; he will marry a woman superior in person and understanding to half her sex; and time and habit will teach him to forget that he ever thought another superior to HER."—
"If such is your way of thinking," said Marianne, "if the loss of what is most valued is so easily to be made up by something else, your resolution, your self-command, are, perhaps, a little less to be wondered at.—They are brought more within my comprehension."
"I understand you.—You do not suppose that I have ever felt much.—For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least.— It was told me,—it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself, whose prior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me, as I thought, with triumph.— This person's suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested;—and it has not been only once;—I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again.— I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection.—Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me.— I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages.— And all this has been going on at a time, when, as you know too well, it has not been my only unhappiness.— If you can think me capable of ever feeling—surely you may suppose that I have suffered NOW. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion;—they did not spring up of themselves;—they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first.— No, Marianne.—THEN, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely—not even what I owed to my dearest friends—from openly shewing that I was VERY unhappy."—
Marianne was quite subdued.— "Oh! Elinor," she cried, "you have made me hate myself for ever.—How barbarous have I been to you!—you, who have been my only comfort, who have borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be only suffering for me!—Is this my gratitude?—Is this the only return I can make you?—Because your merit cries out upon myself, I have been trying to do it away."
The tenderest caresses followed this confession.”

CEA casts herself as Elinor, and Anne Sharp as Marianne. I think the parallels are obvious to any Janeite, as CEA channels Elinor’s eloquent defense of restrained sensibility, justifying (or rationalizing?) how she came to terms with an irreparable loss.

But I also think the edginess bubbling under the surface of this letter is much more than just testiness about different styles of grieving---it’s more about deep, heart-wrenching jealousy---and as I pondered that, an even more perfect literary analogy came to mind, in the form of the unbearably poignant scene near the end of Brokeback Mountain, when Ennis Del Mar calls Lureen (the widow of Jack Twist, Ennis’s longtime secret gay lover, who Jack has just learned, via a letter he wrote to Jack which was returned to him marked “DECEASED”):

(short story by Annie Proulx, closely adapted in this scene by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana)
ENNIS: Uh, hello, this is Ennis Del Mar, I, uh…
LUREEN: Who is this?
ENNIS: Ennis  Del Mar. I ‘m an old buddy of Jack’s, I…
LUREEN: Jack used to mention you. You’re the fishing buddy or the hunting buddy, I know that. Would have let you know, but wasn’t sure about your name and address. Jack kept his friends’ addresses in his head.
ENNIS: Why I was callin’, to see what happened…
LUREEN: Oh yeah, Jack was pumping up a flat on the truck out on a back  road when the tire  blew up. The rim slammed into his face and broke his nose and jaw, knocked him unconscious on his back. By the time somebody came along, he had drowned in his own blood. Terrible thing. He was only thirty nine years old.
[Ennis can’t answer right away. He wonders, suddenly, if it was the tire iron – imagines Jack being beaten to death by homophobic brutes]
LUREEN: …Hello?
ENNIS: He buried down there?
LUREEN: We put a stone  up. He was cremated, like he wanted, and half his ashes was interred here. The rest I sent up to his folks. He use to say he wanted his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain, but I didn’t know where that was. I thought Brokeback Mountain was around where he grew up. But knowing Jack, it might be some pretend place where the bluebirds  sing and there’s a whiskey spring.
ENNIS: ..We herded sheep up on Brokeback one summer…
LUREEN: Well, he said it was his favorite plaace. I thought he meant to get drunk. He drank a lot.
ENNIS: His folks still up in Lightnin’Flat?
LUREEN: They’ll be there till the day they die. They couldn’t come down for the funeral.
ENNIS: Thanks for your time, then…I sure am sorry…we was good friends…
LUREEN:  Get in touch with his folks. I suppose they’d appreciate it if his wishes was carried out. About the ashes, I mean.
[Although she is polite, her little voice is as cold as ice. Ennis hangs up. Looks like death.]  

Channeling the best Austenesque tradition, in that telephone conversation it’s the words and feelings left unspoken and between the lines that matter most---most of all the sharp jealousy that Lureen feels, but will never state openly, as she finally connects all the dots she’s long been wondering about, for the first time. She realizes with a painful shock what Ennis and Jack have been to each other, how much these two “friends” have unofficially been “married”, during the entirety of her official (and in many ways sham) marriage to Jack. And she is not kind to Ennis for these reasons.

And there could not, I claim, be a closer parallel to the triad of Jane, Cassandra, and Anne at the moment  just after Jane’s death. Perhaps Jane and Anne, neither of whom had the wherewithal to visit each other whenever they liked, also shared their own “Brokeback Mountain”---a treasured memory of a brief interlude or two, years earlier at Godmersham during one of JA’s visits while Anne was still there.  And in the end, Anne seeks out relics of her dead lover to treasure the rest of her life, in the form of the few of  JA’s letters to her that Anne saved, and also the lock of hair and the other trifles CEA sent her—and of course the precious  autographed first edition of Emma. Just as Ennis will forever treasure Jack’s blood-stained flannel shirt, Anne had her “precious treasures” of her beloved Jane as well.  

And those observations almost make me wonder whether Annie Proulx and/or Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana actually had S&S, and also JA’s death, in mind when they wrote this magnificent modern tragedy. And perhaps that was one reason why they sought out Ang Lee to direct it, recalling his masterful work on Sense & Sensibility.

All lovely and poignant thoughts to ponder today, the day after the 197th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jane Austen's Aunt Leigh-Perrot (aka Mrs. Churchill), benefactrix of JEAL “a penniless clergyman”—NOT!!!

In followup to a post of mine this morning in Janeites and Austen-L, I remembered where I found a summary of Uncle Leigh-Perrot's Will -- it was at Ron Dunning's Austen-family genealogy site, and it states that Aunt L-P did have a power of appointment over the trust corpus (which I am guessing included all of Uncle L-P's personalty as well as Scarlets), and she did appoint it all to JEAL in her 1836 (and last) Will. This further testifies to the undue influence she must have exerted over Uncle L-P, reminding me even more, as I have been suggesting for years, of Mrs. Churchill. Aunt Leigh-Perrot was a wife who dominated her husband even as to the disposition of his wealth after her death!  And it was in following up on that insight, and looking more closely at Mrs. Churchill as a particularly barbed but just barely concealed portrait of Aunt Leigh-Perrot, that I struck gold twice, as you will now see, as I walk you step by step through my sleuthing.


First, it’s very revealing to think about JA writing the characters of Mr. & Mrs. Churchill about year before she, her sister,  and her mother were all disinherited in March 1817 when Uncle Leigh-Perrot died. As JA was writing Emma, she didn’t know what his Will provided, but we know that the Austen women, including JA, all harbored hope that he would not forget his only surviving sister and her two daughters.

So isn’t it interesting that in Emma, the character representing her Aunt L-P just happens to have the very unpleasant habit of using money and future inheritance as a club to coerce her nephew Frank into visiting her frequently, and also, as Frank C. writes to Mrs. Weston, to make sure he marries for money and not for love:

“You must all endeavour to comprehend the exact nature of my situation when I first arrived at Randalls; you must consider me as having a secret which was to be kept at all hazards. This was the fact. My right to place myself in a situation requiring such concealment, is another question. I shall not discuss it here. For my temptation to think it a right, I refer every caviller to a brick house, sashed windows below, and casements above, in Highbury. I dared not address her openly; my difficulties in the then state of Enscombe must be too well known to require definition; and I was fortunate enough to prevail, before we parted at Weymouth, and to induce the most upright female mind in the creation to stoop in charity to a secret engagement.—Had she refused, I should have gone mad.—But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this?—What did you look forward to?—To any thing, every thing—to time, chance, circumstance, slow effects, sudden bursts, perseverance and weariness, health and sickness.”

And so, isn’t it then even more interesting that Mrs. Churchill suddenly dies, making it possible for Frank to inherit Enscombe, and also to marry whomever he wishes, given that his uncle is not an ogre, and ends the reign of coercion under which Frank has been living while his aunt lived?  I’ve always thought of Frank Churchill as a representation of Edward Austen Knight, because of the obvious correspondences  which were noticed by Austen scholars before I came along—a young man adopted by rich childless relatives, who takes the adoptive family surname and eventually inherits a great estate. I still think that is a strong, valid interpretation, but now I see that there is a second Austen brother also represented by FRANK Churchill, and that is…..FRANK Austen!  It’s not only that they share the same Christian name, it’s also that (as RAAL revealed in The Austen Papers) Frank Austen was (as late as 1828, but perhaps going back some years) the intended inheritor of Scarlets from the Leigh-Perrots!

Think about who the candidates for inheritance were from among the Austen brothers:

ONE: James was the eldest, and not surprisingly, he was the one named in Uncle L-P’s Will, and he would in fact have inherited Scarlets had he, as was expected, outlived Aunt L-P. But he didn’t, so he didn’t.
TWO: George was the second eldest, but obviously was not a candidate.
THREE: Edward was the third eldest, but he had already struck inheritance gold with Godmersham.
FOUR: Henry was the fourth eldest, but he was Evil Incarnate to the Leigh-Perrots as a result of his 1816 bankruptcy.
FIVE: That left only Frank and Charles, and Frank obviously was the elder of the two, so it makes perfect sense that he would have been the second choice behind James! And I believe that JA somehow---either by logical inference via  the above analysis, and/or by family gossip, believed that Frank was the second choice, hence she named the heir of Enscombe Frank rather than James!

Now, before leaving the subject of Emma, I will point out the obvious, based on the above. The sudden death of Mrs. Churchill can fairly be viewed as JA’s fantasy, the idea of getting rid of Aunt Leigh-Perrot  while Uncle L-P was still alive, so that he would do the right thing by the whole Austen family, once he was free of his wife’s dominating influence. And that becomes an especially wicked fantasy, when we think about Frank Churchill having (as Leland Monk was the first to suggest, way back in 1990) murdered his aunt in order to accelerate the timeline of inheritance a bit. Dark dark humor indeed, if JA was venting her spleen at her aunt this way!

But what JA did not anticipate when Emma went to final press in early 1816 is the unlikely twist that did in fact happen, which is that Uncle L-P died first, but then James Austen died in 1819, long before his Aunt, and so Frank Austen did apparently move up the ladder and assume the position of heir apparent to Scarlets by 1828.

And that brings me to my other discovery:


Recall that Diane started this thread this morning and wrote: “According to the introduction to the later section [in The Austen Papers], Mrs. Leigh-Perrot had chosen Frank Austen as her heir, but changed to JEAL after Frank married Martha Lloyd in 1828”.

The editor of The Austen Papers, published in 1942, was Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (RAAL), the very same truthteller whom I praised so highly last month for his discreet correction of the Big Lie perpetrated by his grandfather, JEAL, re the true cause of Jane Austen’s massive medical crisis in early 1817—it was the disinheritance of the Austen women by Uncle Leigh-Perrot, not (as JEAL fraudulently edited the Memoir to make it appear) Henry Austen’s bankruptcy.

Turns out that this worthy gentleman, RAAL, three decades after correcting an error of commission by his grandfather JEAL, corrected an error of omission by JEAL, by informing the Janeite world that Frank married Martha in 1828. And I found out about it, ironically enough, via the first hit in Google when I searched “Mrs. Churchill AND Leigh-Perrot”, and read the following:

Persuasions  #18 1996 “Jane Austen's Favourite Nephew” by Joan Austen-Leigh
“…Edward [i.e., JEAL] was staying as a guest at Tring Park when he proposed to Emma. Emma's eldest brother, Sir Charles Smith, noted in his diary:
“20 September, 1828: I was much surprised by a letter from Tring announcing a marriage to be between Emma and Edward Austen”
Here is what Emma, herself, had to say:
“We read Emma in the morning. After luncheon Mamma and Fanny went to call on Mrs. Badcock. We all walked towards the woods at Terrets and during the walk I was engaged to marry Mr. Austen. On our retum home Mamma was spoken to and most kindly gave her consent. I afterwards walked with him in the shrubbery. Mr. Lacey dined here. Music. “
Imagine! They walked in the shrubbery! Just like Mr. Knightley and Emma. What a picture of circumspection and restraint these words suggest. Very different from the various presentations on the
screen we have had lately inflicted upon us with Captain Wentworth kissing Anne Elliot on the public street, behaviour unlikely to take place even today between a captain in the Royal Navy and a girl with
any pretensions to gentility.
But to retum to Charles Smith. He might well have been surprised that his sister, who had turned down three previous suitors (one of whom became chaplain to Queen Victoria), should succumb to the charms of a penniless clergyman, who had only the distant hopes of an aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot, a person every bit as capricious as Mrs. Churchill of Enscombe. And since Edward had already greatly displeased her by taking orders (one thinks of Mary Crawford), she seemed hardly a prospect to depend upon. The importance of money, even as in Jane Austen's novels, was not under-rated. It was perfectly understood by all concerned, and no one was shy of mentioning it.” END QUOTE

The irony here is rich. We read Joan Austen-Leigh, in her article extolling the manifold virtues of her ancestor JEAL, going out of her way to emphasize that JEAL and his wife Emma married for love, not money. She laid it on really thick when she described JEAL as “a penniless clergyman, who had only the distant hopes of an aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot, a person every bit as capricious as Mrs. Churchill of Enscombe… hardly a prospect to depend upon.” 

She laid it on so thick, in fact, that I was reminded of Ophelia’s droll comment about the Player Queen’s overly fervent protestations of fidelity toward her husband the Player King? Sounds to me like Joan A-L was, like the Player Queen, protesting way too much about JEAL’s new bride marrying him for love not money. So I asked myself, why might she be protesting so much? Was there any fact out there that might suggest the opposite, i.e., that would suggest that the marriage of JEAL and Emma Smith--an heiress---might never have happened if he really had no prospects, financially speaking?  

Well, actually, yes, and that’s RAAL’s cue—we know that on July 24, 1828 Frank Austen married Martha Lloyd. For more detail, here’s Le Faye’s version in Family Record p. 266 of how that came about:

“In 1823 Mary Gibson died at the birth of their eleventh child, Cholmeley, who survived her only a few months. For the next five years the eldest daughter, Mary Jane, was her father’s companion and mistress of the household, but when she herself married  early in 1828, Frank decided he must find a second wife—and chose Martha Lloyd, now aged sixty three and still living quietly with Cassandra at Chawton Cottage. They were married in Winchester on 24 July 1828, the anniversary of his first marriage. For some reason, this event annoyed old Mrs. Leigh-Perrot very much, and although she had been contemplating bequeathing Scarlets to Frank she apparently could not bear the idea of Martha succeeding her as mistress there, and so gave Frank a lump sum of L10,000 in lieu of this half promised inheritance. “

Assuming Le Faye’s dates to be accurate, that convincingly explains the timing of Frank and Martha’s wedding. And (call the newspapers, this may be a first), I actually agree with Le Faye that Aunt L-P “could not bear the idea of Martha succeeding her as mistress there” –it is in line with what I wrote in my earlier post today—but where Le Faye would not go, is that she’d never agree that it was Martha’s extremely close and non-platonic relationship with JA that made Martha persona non grata as the mistress of Scarlets.

But back to JEAL…for sure it did not take long for the sound of the bells that rang for Frank and Martha  to reach the angry ears of Aunt Leigh-Perrot, who then, like Mrs Ferrars in S&S, lost no time in issuing a draconian edict to Frank, informing him that he was no longer her heir, and simultaneously informing the next in line of an unexpected lucky promotion to the top of the list.

And guess who that lucky guy was? Of course, it was JEAL! And so, having heard all of the above, do you believe it was just a coincidence that JEAL got engaged to Emma Smith just prior to September 20, 1828, which was less than two months after Frank was disinherited by Aunt L-P? An engagement which, as Joan Austen-Leigh unwittingly also revealed, came as a total surprise to Emma’s own brother, whom we would not have expected to be blind-sided by such an announcement.

Which takes a good deal of that rosy, romantic glow off of Joan Austen-Leigh’s idyllic description of the Emmaesque walk in the shrubbery in Emma Smith’s diary –and it makes me wonder whether JEAL had a discreet discussion with Emma’s mother before he proposed to his Emma, in which he revealed to her that he had rather suddenly become a young clergyman with great expectations.

So for those who, like me, don’t believe in fairy tales, it’s pretty clear why Joan Austen-Leigh protested too much. Perhaps she felt a twinge of guilt, in 1996, about the largesse she benefited from at the expense of Frank Austen and his descendants, whose lives might have been very different indeed had he inherited Scarlets and a pile of cash from Aunt L-P instead of JEAL in 1836.

Of course, Le Faye, having for once acknowledged something dicey in Austen family history-the screwing over of Frank Austen in favor of JEAL for no worthy reason--promptly turned around and, in rhetorical acrobatics extreme even for her, tried to rationalize it, as though Aunt L-P had done Frank a favor, while putting a hardship on JEAL:

“With this [10,000 pounds, Frank] was immediately able to purchase Portsdown Lodge, so perhaps the security of having that property, at least, outweighed the uncertainty he might have suffered in the future regarding  Mrs. L-P’s eventual disposal of the Scarlets estate—an uncertainty which was passed on to the next generation of Austens. “

I mean, really…..which would Frank have preferred—the uncertainty of whether he would survive  his elderly aunt (who was 30 years older than he, while he was himself in excellent health) and receive a vast estate of both real and personal property, or the certainty of receiving only 10,000 pounds?

And maybe, now that I think about it, that’s also why JEAL’s Memoir was published so soon after the death of Frank Austen—because Frank’s death meant no more survivors of that generation around to contradict anything in the Memoir. Such as correcting the curious omission of any mention in the Memoir that Martha Lloyd (who after all was JEAL’s maternal aunt!) married Frank in 1828.

And so we need to add that to the list of JEAL’s editorial sins that his grandson, RAAL, corrected.  And how extraordinary that is! Is there any other precedent in the history of biography of a descendant quietly repairing all of his ancestor’s coverups and lies about a famous member of their family? And then in RAAL’s wake came Le Faye (who after all got her big break in Austen studies thanks to the Austen-Leigh family), who has mostly been busy trying to undo RAAL’s telling of inconvenient truths for nearly 4 decades now.

Irony upon irony upon  irony….

Cheers, ARNIE
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