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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"..we must be in a good situation: none of your Queen-squares for us!"--P.S.

I did a little more digging after sending my first message under the above Subject Line, and I found that Park Honan, at P. 181 in his Austen bio, _did_ address (head-on) this question about the goodness or badness of the situation of Queen Square, and more important, he opened the door to still more valuable grist for this mill:

“John Wood’s Queen Square had lost so much glamour that Msugrove girls would cry out "...none of your Queen-squares for us!". The Austens had stayed at No. 13 in the summer of 1799 and eighteen months later, Mrs. Austen still pined for it: ‘My Mother hankers after the Square dreadfully,’ "

That latter quotation is from Letter 32, which happens, by happy coincidence, to be the Letter we are already discussing this week---I missed it my first go round because JA---most unhelpfully---only referred to Queen Square as "the Square"!

Here is the full context of that quotation:

"I join with you in wishing for the Environs of Laura Place, but do not venture to expect it--My Mother hankers after the Square dreadfully, & it is but natural to suppose that my Uncle [i.e., Mr. Leigh-Perrot] will take _her_ part.--It would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens!--we might go into the Labyrinth every day..."

So much there besides the reference to Queen Square to fill out the picture of the veiled autobiographical allusion in Chapter 6 of Persuasion!

First, re Queen Square. JA is talking about where the Austens will _live_ in Bath, and it is clear from what JA says that she definitely does _not_ want to live at Queen Square, I detect no irony in JA's tone! This suggests to me that perhaps Queen Square was chosen for the 1799 vacation with Edward not by Edward himself, but by Mrs. Austen--if she hankered so "dreadfully" for Queen Square in January 1801, it seems quite plausible that she hankered dreadfully for it less than two years earlier.
And it is also clear that Honan is wrong in his inference that Queen Square lost its mojo between 1799 and 1816, because JA and CEA _already_ don’t want to live there in 1801!
So, as I wrote to Diane, above, it seems clear to me that the Musgrove girls are actually representations of the _Austen_ girls in 1801! How characteristic of JA to split herself between contrasting characters. Just as I see JA splitting herself into Mary Crawford and Fanny Price in MP, and into Lizzy, Lydia, Mary _and_ Jane in P&P, I see her showing her own contrasting sides in the Musgrove girls and Anne Elliot! we have _another_ link between fiction and autobiography via the social geography of Bath. I.e., JA and CEA wish to live at Laura Place, but do not venture to expect it, because it was apparently living in a style that the Austens could not afford. And JA makes that very point, in spades, in Persuasion, Ch. 16:

"Lady Dalrymple had taken a house, for three months, in Laura Place, and would be living in style...."Our cousins in Laura Place,"--"Our cousin, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret," were talked of to everybody. "

Laura Place is also mentioned in passing in Ch. 11 of NA: "They [Thorpe driving Catherine] passed briskly down Pulteney Street, and through Laura Place, without the exchange of many words."

And even that passing reference makes me wonder if the few words exchanged included Thorpe's making a wisecrack about Laura Place as a neighbourhood where Catherine would want to live with the Allens if they lived in Bath?

So, this suggests that JA and CEA would have gladly lived in a fancy area if it had been possible--no shocking surprise there, I never felt that JA wanted to live an ascetic life, but I do believe she valued intangible goods _more_ highly than tangible ones.

And finally, re Sydney Gardens and its labyrinth:
I see now that JA mentioned Sydney Gardens twice already in two of the letters she wrote while staying at Queen Square in 1799, almost two years before she revisited that topic in Letter 32: once in Letter 19 (as I myself noted two months ago but completely forgot) and once in Letter 20 (as Diane noted two months ago and I completely forgot).

Here is a link to a fantastically thorough and entertaining description of Sydney Gardens, including its labyrinth (which would have held special appeal for JA, I think, with her own love of verbal mazes):

That is, basically, _almost_ everything a Janeite would want to know about Sydney Gardens!

I particularly liked the following comment, which makes me feel a little better about the time JA lived in Bath:

"Luckily for her, her wish came true and from 1801-4 the Austens lived at number 4 Sydney Place."

So, whatever other angst JA felt about living in Bath, at least she had a beautiful large park that she enjoyed right outside her doorstep!

But I wrote "almost" because of the following even more intriguing comment by JA in Letter 38 (which will come up in our queue in 5 weeks, but it is fair game to anticipate this one passage now):

"I assure you [CEA] in spite of what I might chuse to insinuate in a former letter, that I have seen very little of Mr Evelyn since my coming here; I met him this morning for only the 4th time, & as to my anecdote about Sidney Gardens, I made the most of the story because it came in to advantage, but in fact he only asked me whether I were to be at Sidney Gardens in the evening or not.-There is now something like an engagement between us & the Phaeton, which to confess my frailty I have a great desire to go out in;-whether it will come to anything must remain with him.-I really beleive he is very harmless; people do not seem afraid of him here, and he gets Groundsel for his birds & all that.-My Aunt will never be easy till she visits them;-she has been repeatedly trying to fancy a necessity for it now on our accounts, but she meets with no encouragement."

Mr. Evelyn is, I have previously suggested, represented, in a somewhat disturbing way, by John Thorpe. JA's "great desire" to go out in Mr. Evelyn's Phaeton might seem to suggest that Catherine Morland was, perhaps on a subconscious level, eager to be taken for a ride by Mr. Thorpe, although a few minutes in his gig was all she needed in order for that to turn into a desperate desire to escape from him! Or maybe Mr. Evelyn has been split half into Mr. Thorpe and half into Henry Tilney....

And I am reasonably confident that Aunt Leigh Perrot is not desperate to meet Mr. Evelyn's birds, but the Evelyn _family_, which sounds a bit like Sir Walter's desperation to socialize with the Dalrymples....

But what I find most intriguing is the reference to "my anecdote about Sidney Gardens" which JA tells Mr. Evelyn--what was it? Off the top of my head, I can't think of any example of an anecdote in any of JA's novels that involves a park. Of course we very likely will never know, but I suspect that somehow it might have some resonance with what happens in the serpentine paths and puzzling ha-ha landscaping at Sotherton.....

Cheers, ARNIE


mockingbird said...

Hello Arnie - I have been in contact with the Jane Austen Museum in Bath for you, as I know they have some pictures of the houses/areas at the time Jane Austen was there. This is their reply which I received this afternoon and copy in full.

Thank you for your enquiry. The whole of Bath lost some popularity with the
upper classes during this period as sea bathing became more popular. The
Prince Regent built his Brighton Pavilion and the elite social classes
began to follow him there. Bath became more popular with the middle classes
who wanted to emulate the lifestyle of the rich. Bath's image as a genteel
retirement city began to creep in. It is believed that part of the reason
that Jane's attitude to Bath changed from one of youthful enthusiasm to one
of dislike was this shift from a vibrant and exciting city to one of dull
middle class pretensions and sedate private parties. Also of course her time
spent living here was one of upheaval and financial struggle and her beloved
father died whilst they were here.
Queen's Square became a slightly less fashionable area of the city towards
the end of this period as the city expanded out towards Bathwick - Laura
Place and Great Pulteney Street became more popular. However, it was still a
fairly desirable area of town. Gay Street - another of Jane's addresses -
certainly became less fashionable during this period, and the nearby Trim
Street, where Jane ended her stay in Bath, was considered positively
I do hope this is of some help to you.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Thank you very much, Mockingbird, whoever you are! ;)


mockingbird said...

you know who I am........we were recently discussing matters of millinery and haberdashery in emails!

Arnie Perlstein said...

Yes, now i do know exactly who you are, thanks!!!!