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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jane Austen's Letter 23: Heathcote & Chute forever....and the Lords of the Creation

I just came across something that relates to Letter 23, which of course we discussed in Janeites and Austen L in early May, but which was written by JA to CEA only a few months before Letter 29:

First here is the relevant passage from Letter 23 which I wish to comment on:

"This morning we called at the Harwoods', and in their dining-room found
"Heathcote and Chute forever." Mrs. William Heathcote and Mrs. Chute -- the first of whom took a long ride yesterday morning with Mrs. Harwood into Lord Carnarvon's park, and fainted away in the evening, and the second walked down from Oakley Hall attended by Mrs. Augusta Bramston; they had meant to come on to Steventon afterwards, but we knew a trick worth two of that. If I had thought of it in time, I would have said something civil to her about Edward's never having had any serious idea of calling on Mr. Chute while he was in Hampshire; but unluckily it did not occur to me."

Le Faye's footnote quotes Chapman to say that "Heathcote and Chute forever" is an election cry, and that makes sense, especially given that Mrs. Heathcote's brother in law became an MP for Hants after Mrs. Chute's husband filled that role from 1798-1806.

But...JA is referring here not to Mssrs. Heathcote and Chute, but to Mrs. Heathcote and Mrs. Chute! And the playful tone of JA's "fainted away in the evening" and "we knew a trick worth two of that" suggests to me that JA enjoyed some spirited, affectionate, and witty repartee with both of those ladies.

And I find confirmation of all of that in the following passage from Deborah Kaplan's _JA Among Women_:

"Women’s complaints about specific domestic tasks could lead them to articulate a more generalized resentment against subordination. In 1800,
Elizabeth Chute, for example, shifted her anger from the necessity of
sustaining the role of homemaker all the time to the great ‘difference between husbands& wives.’ Confiding in Elizabeth Gosling about her husband, she burst out: ‘He seems to think it strange that I should absent myself from him for four& twenty hours when he is at home, tho’ it appears in the natural order of things that he should quit me for business or pleasure, such is the difference between husbands& wives. The latter are sort of tame animals, whom the men always expect to find at home ready to receive them: the former are *lords of the creation* free to go where they please. “

It is perfectly consistent with my central claims of JA's feminism in general, and her deep resentment and antipathy toward subordination of women in English society in particular, that she would be fast friends with Mrs. Chute, who could write such passionate and sarcastic things about male chauvinism.

And it is no coincidence that Mrs. Chute refers to men as "Lords of the Creation", which of course is how I found this passage in the first place, as I investigated the use of that very same phrase in the Epilogue to Centlivre's Wonder, which I have speculated may well have been written by Jane Austen herself, perhaps even many years after the Austen amateur theatrical performance of that play in 1789.

Cheers, ARNIE

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