[1/22/11 corrections to eliminate my confusion of the Duchess of Gordon with her daughter the Duchess of Richmond who was also sometimes called "Lady Gordon"]
I want to make crystal clear the implications I derive from the series of posts I have just written about Jane's November 1813 letter to Cassandra in which Jane fantasized about what to say to Mrs. Harrison about Anna Austen, and in Jane's 1817 letter to Fanny Knight in which Jane imagined being the Duchess of [Richmond]:
..If I were the Duchess of Richmond, I should be very miserable about my son's choice...."
I believe my posts have made a very powerful circumstantial case, via a variety of convergent evidence, that Jane Austen was sufficiently intimate with Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, and the daughter of the Duchess of Gordon, to have received from a duchess such effusive praise of Mansfield Park, which would have been received sometime in 1815 or 1816. [The Duchess of Gordon died in 1812]
And, that intimacy implies that Jane would not have written what she did in 1813, without realizing that it was a veiled allusion to the famous anecdote about the Duchess which the Duchess herself, by her own acknowledgment (as reported by Samuel Rogers), did not hesitate to broadcast her matchmaking prowess, which would have made even Mrs. Bennet--she who was willing to risk Jane's life in order to improve her chances to marry Bingley--acknowledge the Duchess's superiority in that
field of endeavor.
So, I claim that we can use this sure knowledge that Jane was on some very friendly terms with the Duchess of Richmond to interpret the meaning of both of Jane's epistolary excepts under discussion:
1. As to the November 1813 tidbit, the subliminal burlesquing of the Duchess's anecdote suggests an explosive analogy:
Jane Austen is to Anna Austen, as the Duchess is to her daughter. I.e., a mother of an illegitimate daughter!
2. As to the March 1817 tidbit, the introduction ("If I were the Duchess of Richmond") is itself an allusion back to that November 1813 tidbit. I believe that Jane was in this latter letter responding to a letter from Fanny to Jane, and I speculate that in that earlier letter, Fanny rendered some snobbish, priggish judgment on the prospective marriage of the Duchess's son to the innocent 20 year old Caroline Paget.
And what was Jane to do with that? The last thing Jane was going to do was to confide in Fanny as to the powerful resonance to Jane's own past which had been brought up by Fanny's letter, but Jane also resented Fanny's unconscious and unwitting judgment on Jane herself. The solution? As in her novels, Jane gave Fanny exactly what Fanny deserved: a put-on, a pretense to agreement with Fanny, but, beneath the surface and in code, the truth, a truth which Fanny would never understand, because if she understood, she (like Emma) would not forgive her aunt.
And that, as they say, is the _rest_ of the story!
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