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!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Effusions of Fancy by a Very Young Lady Consisting of Tales in a Style Entirely New

From Peter Sabor's Introduction in his recent Edition of Jane Austen's Juvenilia:

"In his editions of Volume the First and Volume the Third, Chapman['s]... minimalist prefaces reveal his disdain for [JA's] earliest writings. Echoing his precursors, the Austen-Leighs, Chapman claims, in his edition of Volume the First, that 'it will always be disputed whether such _effusions_ as these ought to be published; and it may be that we have enough already of Jane Austen's early scraps.' The word "effusions', tellingly, is the patronizing term used by Austen's father in his inscription in 'Volume the Third'...George Austen employed it in the eighteenth century sense of 'outpourings', and Austen herself seems to have found the term apt, alluding to it in her famous passage on novel-writing in Northanger Abbey: 'Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy'...For Chapman, however, the term held the modern sense of 'effusiveness'; he thus turns a compliment by Austen's father into a patronizing jibe."

It is remarkable to me how Sabor, whom I know from other stuff he has written to be a very sharp literary Austenian critic, can so badly misread this situation, as I will now explain.

Here is Revd. Austen's inscription in Volume the Third:

"Effusions of FancyBy a very Young LadyConsisting of TalesIn a Style entirely new"

So, it is clear from the exact quotation of "effusions of fancy" that JA, in that passage in NA defending the female novel, is thinking of her own father's minimizing words, which obviously stung JA when she was 16, and still stung her 25 years later when she made her final changes to NA in 1816. And it's not just "effusions of fancy"---the narrator of NA also describes Isabella's capsule judgments on a variety of subjects as being "entirely new" to Catherine--but no one, I think would suggest that JA intends us to think positively about what Isabella says. Rather, this is JA's droll way of showing how generous Catherine is---she is far too polite, even in her thoughts, to characterize Isabella's b.s. as such, so she euphemizes it into "entirely new". And in this way JA shows that this is the sense in which JA has taken her father's reference to her Juvenilia--he really thinks they are wild, demented ravings, but he says this in a very veiled polite way: he calls it "a Style entirely new".

I claim that JA felt her father's words as "abuse", not in our modern sense, but in the Regency Era sense of "speaking very negatively". Sabor is engaged in a futile attempt at arbitrarily prejudiced parsing--he wishes to nail Chapman (and rightly so) for his dismissiveness as to JA's Juvenilia, but to let Revd. Austen off the hook for saying _exactly_ the same thing Chapman did, but in a more clever way!

It just won't fly, and I am reminded of Jane Bennet's comparably futile and rose-colored attempt to rationalize things so as to make both Wickham and Darcy blameless. The reality is that JA was pissed off that her father treated Volume the Third (which includes incredible writing like The History of England and Catharine, and the Bower) with such benign contempt. She had worked very very hard on Volume the Third, and was clearly very very proud of her achievement (and rightly so), and she wanted her father's approval--and instead she got damned with VERY faint praise.

Now.. in his defense, perhaps he had been more than a little chagrined---like Sir Thomas finding Lover's Vows being performed in his own room---when he read Catharine, and the Bower, and recognized his own sister Philadelphia in it, with little attempt by JA to conceal the allusion to his sister's real life hardships, being shipped off to India to marry a much older man, etc etc.

So perhaps his inscription was born of his anger, since he did not have any plausible excuse for simply tossing JA's manuscript in the fire. So he did what he could---he and his precocious teenaged daughter, the 'sharp poker', played their little game of Cat and Mouse, neither one ready to openly speak their anger.

And so JA had to wait till Revd. Austen was dead before being able to finally vent her spleen about this in print, in NA, and surely that was part of her motivation for trying to reclaim the manuscript from Crosby.

Cheers, ARNIE

Revd. Austen's Letter to Son Frank: "To Thine Own Self Be True (but don't require the same of me) "

In Janeites and Austen L, Christy Somer brought forward some extracts from a letter written by Jane Austen's father to his elder sailor son, Frank, in December 1788, which you can read here:


Nancy Mayer responded in part: "Still, our modern interpretation is likely to equate disinterest with not having interest in rather than being impartial."

And here is my further response:

Nancy, it's not a modern interpretation, it's just an inaccurate definition! You are absolutely correct that "disinterested" means "impartial"-- it is "uninterested" that means "does not give a damn"!

But there is an irony associated with Revd. Austen's letter to Frank, one which pervades the entire letter, which is of the greatest importance in understanding Austen family dynamics, the recognition of which depends upon knowing something about the plays of some theatrical hack named... Shakespeare. ;)

I.e., as soon as I read Revd. Austen's letter of advice to son Frank, I was struck very powerfully by the unmistakable allusion to the following words of advice from another rather famous, but fictional, father, to his equally famous, but fictional, son:

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame! The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail, And you are stay'd for. There- my blessing with thee! And these few precepts in thy memory Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue, Nor any unproportion'd thought his act. Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar: Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in, Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee. Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment. Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy, But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy; For the apparel oft proclaims the man, And they in France of the best rank and station Are most select and generous, chief in that. Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all- to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. Farewell. My blessing season this in thee!

I think Revd. Austen, whom we all know to have been a highly intelligent, extremely & literarily learned man, was having some very VERY sly fun turning Polonius's very famous fatherly advice into very polished, elegant prose.

In this regard, note all of the following three huge parallelisms:

First: The date of the letter to Frank is December 1788, which falls right in the center of the era of the Steventon amateur theatricals, which ran sporadically between December 1787 and January 1790, with special emphasis, apparently, on the Christmas season, when, presumably, the entire clan was assembled together for a period of weeks. In Mansfield Park, the list of plays that is considered for performance includes Hamlet, and, what's more, Tom Bertram reminds Edmund of how their father Sir Thomas has been know to enjoy a good performance of Hamlet: "How many a time have we mourned over the dead body of Julius Caesar, and to be'd and not to be'd, in this very room, for his amusement?" I think it highly likely that Revd. Austen was equally amused at his own brood's productions of the Bard's plays, and in particular Hamlet. (I think that if I had a time machine and could spend two hours as a fly on the wall anywhere and any time during Jane Austen's lifetime, I think that being present at the Steventon production of Hamlet would have been near the top of my own list for where I'd want to be!)

Second: Polonius's speech is saturated in imagery of sea travel, which makes perfect sense, since Laertes is about to sail from Elsinore to Paris and spread his wings in the big city for the first time. And of course Frank Austen is about to embark on what will eventually be a naval career that will last over half a century.

Third: the topics as to which both fathers, real and fictional, render advice to their sons, are extremely parallel, including how to behave toward others, and in particular, how to handle money. Just read both carefully, and you will see how closely Revd. Austen tracks Polonius.

Fourth and finally, note that Polonius gets a bad rap (mostly from Hamlet) for being long winded, the big joke being that it is Polonius who coins the most famous aphorism ever on the subject of conciseness, while speaking to Claudius and Gertrude about Hamlet:

This business is well ended. My liege, and madam, to expostulate What majesty should be, what duty is, Why day is day, night is night, and time is time. Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time. Therefore, since BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WIT, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief. Your noble son is mad. Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad? But let that go.

And yet, ironically, Polonius's speech to Laertes is much shorter than Revd. Austen's letter to Frank--and I believe that Revd. Austen was well aware of all of this, and was having a jolly good time playing with this conceit, while at the same time giving his son some genuinely sensible, but long-winded, advice.

There's no question in my mind that one of the reasons Frank held onto this letter for 75 years was that it revealed not only his father's love for him, but also his father's considerable literary erudition and sense of humor.

But....as to what JA thought about all of this, I am sorry to say that she does not think her father's joke was entirely funny. Why? I have written in the past about the significance of the veiled allusion I see in Mansfield Park to Hamlet, e.g.:


In that post, I write about Sir Thomas being the "Big Mouse" not being agreeable to sitting in the "trap" set by "mad" son Tom, and not being willing to be confronted with painful truths about himself as represented in the character of Baron Wildenhaim in Lover's Vows--painful truths like Sir Thomas's Antigua slave plantation.

In that regard, it has been known since 1969 that Revd. Austen was a Trustee for his neighbor Nibbs of some land in Antigua, and it is also clear that Revd. Austen was a pragmatist who, having survived an onerous orphaned childhood, recognized the value of attaching himself not only to the likes of Mr. Nibbs, but also the much more powerful Warren Hastings. And there is also that pesky Austen family habit of sending "new-hatch'd, unfledg'd" children away from home--by my count, the only Austen children out of the eight who actually lived at home continuously until age 14 were James and Henry. Look at the others---Edward was "sold" to the Knights; George was sent away because of his "problems"; Jane and Cassandra were sent away to school twice, with nearly fatal results; and of course the sailor brothers were sent to the Naval Academy.

I get the feeling that Revd. Austen's attitude was that he had lived through such experiences, and worse, so why should not his children (except of course James and Henry, who were exempt, perhaps because Mrs. Austen would not part with her first born James, and Revd. Austen especially enjoyed Henry's company?

Anyway, just as Polonius navigates his way through the treacherous waters of King Hamlet's and then King Claudius's court, so too did Revd. Austen navigate through his own troubled waters, perhaps following advice that he dared not put into writing in his letter to Frank, but which Frank (who, we know from the way he skilfully handled very dicey and delicate matters for the East India Company in China) read between his father's lines.

So thanks to Christy for bringing Revd. Austen's letter to Frank to our attention!

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Can you guess who Henry Crawford is competing with in wanting to make a hole in Fanny Price’s Heart?

In Chapter 24 of MP, we read the following memorable (and sinister) comments by Henry Crawford to sister Mary:

“Henry Crawford…seeing the coast clear of the rest of the family, said, with a smile, "And how do you think I mean to amuse myself, Mary, on the days that I do not hunt?.....I must take care of my mind. Besides, that would be all recreation and indulgence, without the wholesome alloy of labour, and I do not like to eat the bread of idleness. No, my plan is to make Fanny Price in love with me." …”…I cannot be satisfied without Fanny Price, without making a small hole in Fanny Price's HEART….”

Mary’s final response includes this disturbing metaphor:

“…I do desire that you will not be making her really unhappy; a little love, perhaps, may animate and do her good, but I will not have you plunge her deep, for she is as good a little creature as ever lived, and has a great deal of feeling."

Then we read these wry (and somewhat perverse) narrative reflections on that Crawford conversation:

“And without attempting any farther remonstrance, she left Fanny to her fate, a fate which, had not Fanny's HEART been guarded in a way unsuspected by Miss Crawford, might have been a little harder than she deserved; for although there doubtless are such unconquerable young ladies of eighteen (or one should not read about them) as are never to be persuaded into love against their judgment by all that talent, manner, attention, and flattery can do, I have no inclination to believe Fanny one of them, or to think that with so much tenderness of disposition, and so much taste as belonged to her, she could have escaped HEART-whole from the courtship (though the courtship only of a fortnight) of such a man as Crawford, in spite of there being some previous ill opinion of him to be overcome, had not her affection been engaged elsewhere.….”

So we have much ado in this passage about Fanny’s _heart_, and there is much that can be said on this topic, in terms of its metaphorical significance—but that is a topic for another time and place. What I want to share today is what I found when I went to Google Books and searched for a possible allusive source in the Christian Bible for Henry’s poetic goal to make a small hole in Fanny’s heart. Have a look:

_Sixteen sermons on the Lord's Prayer, for his people, in John XVII, 24 By Robert Traill_, Sermon 7:

First this introductory paragraph of the sermon: “Men’s hearts are best known by their prayers, and by the same way we may know Christ's HEART. Whosoever would know how deeply his HEART is concerned in the saving of his people, let them read and believe this prayer. And indeed, unless people do know how Christ's HEART stands affected to their salvation, their hearts will never stand well affected towards him, in their employing him for salvation. A clear and strong persuasion of Christ's HEARTY concern in and about saving of sinners, will make a poor sinner hearty in trusting him with his own salvation…..”

And then this passage a bit later in Sermon 7:

“Christ knew well where his people were; in an evil world, ver. 11; and what bad entertainment they had, and were to have in it. In love and pity to them, therefore, he wills this blessed lodging for them in heaven. Christ knew well what their frame of HEART and desires was. He knew what a HEART he had put in them; that nothing less than being with him where he was, could content, satisfy, and make them happy. Would you know when Christ begins to do good to a poor sinner, what is the first thing Christ doth to one he minds to save? It is plainly this: HE MAKES SUCH A HOLE IN THE MAN’S HEART, that nothing but Christ and heaven can fill. None but Christ, nothing but being with him where he is, can satisfy this man. Christ's grace given, springeth up into everlasting life, John IV.14. And he that created this spring, will neither divert nor stop it. But as their HEARTS, by his grace, spring up to heaven; Christ's HEART, in this prayer, springs up to that same everlasting life for them.”

I have capitalized all the “hearts” in these passages from MP and Traill’s Sermon 7 to show the frequent repetitions of that word in both, but of course what is startling is the near perfect quotation of making a hole in someone’s heart. It raises the plausible possibility that JA intends for the knowing reader to realize that Henry Crawford has that very passage from Neill’s Sermon 7 specifically in mind when he repeats that same image in regard to Fanny.

Before I give my interpretation of this veiled allusion, I will first explain _why_, in the first place, I was even thinking that there might be some connection between Henry Crawford’s menacing aspirations and the noble aspirations of Jesus? After all, Henry Crawford in MP has been consistently associated by JA, via veiled allusions to _Paradise Lost_ to Satan, not The Son (as Jesus is called by Milton).

Well, I was prompted to that strange association when, the other day, I was reading in one of the sermons written by JA’s cousin Edward Cooper (whom I mentioned, not in a positive light, in a post a few days ago) in which Cooper used Romans 2.28-29 ...

(“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly ; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly ; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God.”)

...as the epigram. Out of the blue, that vivid image of circumcising a heart (which of course was derived by St. Paul from the Hebrew Bible) popped into my head alongside Henry Crawford’s profane and equally vivid “battle cry”.
So, if I am right that JA means us to believe that Henry is alluding to Traill’s sermon 7, what could it mean?

First, I read the following brief online bio about Traill:


Robert Traill first published these sermons in 1705. But if JA did read them, it would probably have been the 1810 edition published by the Religious Tract Society, which, per Wikipedia, was founded 1799, 56 Paternoster Row and 65 St. Paul's Chuchyard, “a major British publisher of Christian literature intended initially for evangelism, and including literature aimed at children, women, and the poor.”

The timing is just right—1810 would have been right when the seeds of MP were growing inside JA’s mind, even though it would have to await the editing and publication of S&S and P&P before it would flower into MP itself. And that book of Traill’s sermons would have been just the sort of book aimed at an evangelical audience, that Fanny Price, with her evangelical leanings, would have read!

And _that’s_ precisely why Henry Crawford, of all people, has been reading Traill’s sermons! If you think about it, you realize that Henry Crawford would at that exact point in MP have been _highly_ motivated to read it. Why?

Because Henry has taken on the formidable challenge of seducing the virtuous, chaste, iron-willed Fanny Price, and in order to seduce her, he is going to have to find some vulnerable chinks in her armor, to get into her heart and work on it.

And, sharp elf that he is, he realizes that he is going to have to attack her on several fronts. And it is in Chapter 34 that he “sees the whites in Fanny’s eyes”, so to speak, and comes at her with verbal guns blazing. That’s when he first makes serious inroads via his virtuosic readings aloud from Shakespeare, which elicit from Fanny involuntary positive reactions. And then, what topic does Henry turn to but… sermons! That’s when Henry engages with Edmund about making sermons, and he attempts to evoke a deep resonance, in terms of theatricality, and also stirring the audience’s intellectual and emotional responses, between the theater and the pulpit.

So, how brilliant and subtle a foreshadowing that line about making a hole in Fanny’s heart turns out to be, coming to fruition ten chapters later! Henry really is brilliantly and sacrilegiously Satanic, as he seeks to tempt Fanny to give her heart to him, seeking to lure her away from her first love, Jesus.

Which gives the narrator’s line about Fanny’s heart being “guarded” a double meaning. Of course, we all understand that this refers to Fanny’s secret love for Edmund. But…it also covertly refers to Fanny’s openly acknowledged love for Jesus, which only whets Henry’s perverse appetite! He does not merely wish to seduce Fanny’s body, he wants her _soul_, too!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I was also reminded as I reread Henry’s brilliant argumentation about sermonizing in Chapter 34 of the striking resonance of a striking resonance of one of his comments...

“But then, I must have a London audience. I could not preach but to the educated; to those who were capable of estimating my composition.”
…to the following very famous line from one of JA’s letters:

“I do not write for such dull elves, as have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.”

The Bottom Line about Monstrously Little

In Janeites and Austen L, Christy Somer responded to a post by Anielka Briggs about Jane Austen's mimicking the expressions of the uneducated in Sense and Sensibility such as the adjective "monstrous" meaning "extremely", by identifying the following passage in a Jane Austen letter using the adjective "monstrously":

"Here it is in context -from Letter 37: .-As I had a separate invitation however, I beleive I shall go some afternoon. It is the fashion to think them both very detestable, but they are so civil,& their gowns look so white and so nice (which by the bye my Aunt thinks an absurd pretension in this place) that I cannot utterly abhor them, especially as Miss Holder owns that she has no taste for Music.-After they left us, I went with my Mother to help look at some houses in New King Street, towards which she felt some kind of inclination-but their size has now satisfied her;-they were smaller than I expected to find them. One in particular out of the two, was quite MONSTROUSLY LITTLE;-the best of the sittingrooms not so large as the little parlour at Steventon, and the second room in every floor about capacious enough to admit a very small single bed…” "

Here is my response to Christy:

Notice the wonderful ironic use of clanging oxymoron----"monstrously little" is absurd in exactly the same way as our modern advertising marvel from Madison Avenue: "jumbo shrimp"!

And now I see that JA did not invent this particular turn of phrase, but almost certainly was channeling the Bard of Stratford on Avon when she wrote that, because he puts almost exactly those same oxymoronic words in the mouth of his most monstrously gifted mechanical, Bottom:

Quince: That's all one: you shall play it in a mask, and you may speak as small as you will.

Bottom: An I may hide my face, let me play Thisby too, I'll speak in a MONSTROUS LITTLE voice. 'Thisbe, Thisbe,' 'Ah, Pyramus, lover dear! thy Thisby dear, and lady dear!'

Cheers, ARNIE

Letters 40-42: The Death of Reverend Austen, As Described by Jane to Frank (Austen)

In this post, I comment on Jane Austen's Letters 40-42 (all written to Frank Austen upon the sudden death of Revd Austen) as a unit, because #41 is a rewrite of #40, and #42 is akin to a p.s. to the earlier letter. This is a unique opportunity to see how JA's mind worked as she rewrote a letter one day after sending it.

Letter 40: 1/21/05 Letter 41: 1/22/05 Letter 42: 1/29/05

I've broken #40 & #41 into sections, one after the other, to see the changes more clearly. My overall comment, is first that it’s interesting to compare Letter 40/41 to Letter 8, the condolence letter JA wrote to cousin Phylly Walter after the death of Phylly’s father (who was Revd. Austen’s elder half brother). In both, we see JA struggling (as we all struggle) to find the right words to write in such a moment. And second, it’s interesting to compare #40 to #41, as we see JA, the author who automatically kicks into writer mode, and edits and refines upon rewriting.


#40: I have melancholy news to relate, & sincerely feel for your feelings under the shock of it.-I wish I could better prepare you for it. But having said so much, your mind will already forestall the sort of event which I have to communicate.-

#41: I wrote to you yesterday; but your letter to Cassandra this morning, by which we learn the probability of your being by this time at Portsmouth, obliges me to write to you again, having unfortunately a communication as necessary as painful to make to you.-Your affectionate heart will be greatly wounded, & I wish the shock could have been lessen'd by a better preparation;-but the Event has been sudden, & so must be the information of it.

My comment: Note that she edits to talk about Frank’s heart instead of his mind.


40: Our dear Father has closed his virtuous & happy life, in a death almost as free from suffering as his Children could have wished.

41: We have lost an Excellent Father.

My comment: Less is definitely more in change from #40 to #41.


40: -He was taken ill on Saturday morning, exactly in the same way as heretofore, an oppression in the head, with fever, violent tremulousness, & the greatest degree of Feebleness. The same remedy of Cupping, which had before been so successful, was immediately applied to-but without such happy effects. The attack was more violent, & at first he seemed scarcely at all releived by the operation.

41 -An illness of only eight & forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten & eleven. He was seized on saturday with a return of the feverish complaint, which he had been subject to for the three last years; evidently a more violent attack from the first, as the applications which had before produced almost immediate releif, seemed for some time to afford him scarcely any.

My comment: I detect no significance in the change in wording. What I am most struck by is imagining living in a world with such primitive medical knowledge!


40: -Towards the Evening however he got better, had a tolerable night, & yesterday morning was so greatly amended as to get up & join us at breakfast as usual, & walk about with only the help of a stick, & every symptom was then so favourable that when Bowen saw him at one, he felt sure of his doing perfectly well.-But as the day advanced, all these comfortable appearances gradually changed; the fever grew stronger than ever, & when Bowen saw him at ten at night, he pronounc'd his situation to be most alarming.-At nine this morning he came again-& by his desire a Physician was called in;-Dr. Gibbs-But it was then absolutely a lost case-. Dr. Gibbs said that nothing but a Miracle could save him, and about
twenty minutes after Ten he drew his last gasp.

41 -On Sunday however he was much better, so much so as to make Bowen quite easy, & give us every hope of his being well again in a few days.-But these hopes gradually gave way as the day advanced, & when Bowen saw him at ten that night he was greatly alarmed.-A Physician was called in yesterday morning, but he was at that time past all possibility of cure-& Dr. Gibbs and Mr. Bowen had scarcely left his room before he sunk into a Sleep from which he never woke.- Everything I trust & beleive was done for him that was possible!-It has been very sudden!-within twenty four hours of his death he was walking with only the help of a stick, was even reading!-

My comment: Again, I detect no significance in the change in wording. I also note that Bowen (who was, I guess, an apothecary) was the first to be called, and only when things really went south, was the physician called.


40: -Heavy as is the blow, we can already feel that a thousand comforts remain to us to soften it. Next to that of the consciousness of his worth & constant preparation for another World, is the remembrance of his having suffered, comparatively speaking, nothing. Being quite insensible of his own state, he was spared all the pain of separation, & he went off almost in his Sleep.-

41 We had however some hours of preparation, & when we understood his recovery to be hopeless, most fervently did we pray for the speedy release which ensued. To have seen him languishing long, struggling for Hours, would have been dreadful! & thank God! we were all spared from it. Except the restlessness & confusion of high Fever, he did not suffer-& he was mercifully spared from knowing that he was about to quit the Objects so beloved, so fondly cherished as his wife & Children ever were.-His tenderness as a Father, who can do justice to?-

My comment: #41 dramatized and “showed” the last hours whereas #40 merely “told” what happened.


#40: My Mother bears the Shock as well as possible; she was quite prepared for it, & feels all the blessing of his being spared a long Illness. My Uncle & Aunt have been with us, & shew us every imaginable kindness. And to-morrow we shall I dare say have the comfort of James's presence, as an express has been sent to him.-We write also of course to Godmersham & Brompton. Adieu my dearest Frank. The loss of such a Parent must be felt, or we should be Brutes-. I wish I could have given you better
preparation-but it has been impossible.

#41 My Mother is tolerably well; she bears up with great fortitude, but I fear her health must suffer under such a shock.-An express was sent for James, & he arrived here this morning before eight o'clock.-The funeral is to be on Saturday, at Walcot Church.-The Serenity of the Corpse is most delightful!-It preserves the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him.-They kindly press my Mother to remove to Steventon as soon as it is all over, but I do not beleive she will leave Bath at present. We must have this house for three months longer, & here we shall probably stay till the end of that time.-We all unite in Love,

My comment: #41 clearly has up to the minute news lacking in #40 written a day earlier, including the appearance of the corpse--but #41 does not mention Aunt and Uncle being there, an interesting oversight.


“My Mother has found among our dear Father's little personal property, a small astronomical Instrument which she hopes you will accept for his sake. It is, I beleive a Compass & Sun-Dial, & is in a Black chagreen Case. Would you have it sent to you now, & with what direction?-There is also a pair of scissars for you.-We hope these are articles that may be useful to you, but we are sure they will be valuable.-I have not time for more.

My comment: It might seem at first that Mrs. Austen has determined that Frank, even though the next to youngest son, is the elder of the sailor sons, and therefore could very well have some special feeling for his father's telescope, compass & sun dial. However, when we add to this mix the discovery I made 5 years ago, which is that Frank Austen was a _Freemason_, therefore a compass & sun-dial would have _extra_ significance for Frank for that special reason.

Cheers, ARNIE

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jane Austen the True (Radical Feminist) Christian REDUX

Nearly six months ago, I summarized some of my thoughts about Jane Austen's Christianity, as I envisioned it then:


Today, in response to a post in Austen L by Christy Somer, I have expanded somewhat on those earlier thoughts as follows:

Christy wrote: "Of course, within the Anglican world of Jane Austen’s time-line, the pursuit of self-pleasuring without the 'wedded' balance of responsibility was a sin against lust and the sixth commandment. And such behaviors were certainly not ‘collectively’ supported within the society. In reality, Jane Austen was not really ‘free’ to think whatever she wanted as a law-unto-herself. Her letters and novels tell me she continually discerned, measured, judged, and dished-out on those who seemed to live by these types of privately accommodating, selfishly-oriented rules. Any choices involving a form of renegade, free-thinking sexual-politics (for that time) would have required a duplicitous flexibility of mind and spirit. A privately fueled sophistication, so over-the-top, it would have betrayed the honor and practice of an honestly devoted Christian, who also believed in the immortality of the soul and the accountability which was demanded from the applications of such a truth."

Christy, I think (but am not sure) that your above, impassioned Philippic is a response to the suggestion [by Ellen Moody in Austen-L, echoed by myself and others] that JA may have had a sexual relationship with Martha Lloyd? When you refer to "self-pleasuring", it sounds like you are talking about masturbation, too?

In either event, I would say that you've begged the question entirely as to what constituted "an honestly devoted Christian, who also believed in the immortality of the soul and the accountability which was demanded from the applications of such a truth". We know what the official Anglican church position was on these points, but that begs the question of whether one person--Jane Austen--accepted that position, or whether she had very different ideas of what it meant to be "an honestly devoted Christian". See below for more.

[Christy] “To believe that men will be called to account for each wrong committed and each good committed is itself enough to give an urgency to human deliberations and decisions which the secular mind cannot sense...The Christian mind, by cultivating the eternal perspective, will bring a totally different frame of reference to bear upon all that touches human success or human failure, human joy or human misery, human health or human pain...[with the consciously cultivated qualities of]....its awareness of evil, its conception of truth, its acceptance of authority, its concern for the person, and its sacramental cast.” [Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind)"

Christy, you've made my argument for me! _Everything_ in that quotation can be plausibly understood to refer to exactly the sort of radical feminist Christianity that I ascribe to Jane Austen (just play Devil's advocate and try it out, and you will see)!

And of course it also can be plausibly understood to refer to the kind of non-subversive, pious Christianity you ascribe to JA.

The reason that passage is so deeply ambiguous is that its meaning depends on how a Christian defined the words "wrong", "success", "failure", "misery", "evil", "truth", "authority", "concern for the person" and "sacrament". A _lot_ of ambiguity!

In the three Gospels written by evangelists who actually had a living memory of what he said and did, we see a Jesus who often cleverly defies the powerful, mocks even those who follow him who think too rigidly and without imagination, has a very very wicked and subversive sense of humor, and challenges everyone's assumptions right and left. That is a very different Jesus from the one depicted by the evangelist John, and also by St. Paul, and also by the mainstream Protestant sermons of JA's time--the kind that her awful cousin Edward Cooper delivered, e.g., which could easily have been written by Mr. Collins. And we know what JA thinks of Mr. Collins as a spiritual guide.

So I see Jane Austen as going _directly_ to those more reliable Biblical sources (Mark, Matthew and Luke)----very consciously bypassing the hypocritical edicts of the "Pharisees" who ran and manned the Church of England during her own lifetime, which gave aid, comfort and direction to the subjugation of Englishwomen----and JA instead derived her own highly personal sense of Christianity from that authentic Jesus, and from other Biblically infused writings which gave her moral and spiritual sustenance, including secular poets (most of all Shakespeare) and novelists. And she shows us all of this in her writings.

[Christy] "While reading through her frustrations, disappointments, cutting hyperbole and fancifulness, my experience of her letters (and novels) also brings up a feeling for Jane Austen’s innocence, which has been protected, and
> which lives alongside a religious certainty. It was a creative and enclosed life which faced the rigors of mortality, and its punishments -which were enforced as a given."

And to me, that is a completely fanciful projection on your part. You've pre-decided this is who JA was, and you read everything through that lens, and just toss away the stuff (e.g., in certain of JA's letters) that simply doesn't fit--which is a lot!

[Christy] From my perspective, a much more objective and disinterested reading of the letters and novels, will continue to produce more evidence to support a solid Christian framework living within the natural human mixtures of contradiction and complexity."

And I claim that you are very _subjective_ in your readings!

"Attaching radical dimensions to Jane Austen’s life may be provocatively interesting to some modern minds; and the raising of the ordinary ‘paradigm’ into a more extraordinary otherness, so that a being radically different arises and is discovered, might attract some controversy and stimulating conversation; yet, all of this, for me, does not ring true to my spirit, and growing understanding of Jane Austen."

It is interesting that you keep repeating those same general statements (including only two days ago) every time someone brings forward fresh evidence that contradicts them.

And my response remains that I perceive a radical feminist _Christian_ sensibility everywhere in Jane Austen's writings, which I have not imposed from the future, but which was of its own time--look, e.g., at the writings of Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays, Godwin, and other radical thinkers of her day.

Cheers, ARNIE

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Clockwork Orange Consumed at a Naked Lunch: Anthony Burgess & William S. Burroughs, Two (More) “Strange Bookfellows” in Covert Janeism

Over the past 5 years, I have collected a steadily growing number of instances of famous writers who have lived since JA died, who would seem to have been unlikely Janeites, but actually were positively engaged in some way(s) with JA’s writing.

In particular, I have written during the past year about three such writers—Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, and Vladimir Nabokov--who are widely believed by Austen scholars and ordinary Janeites alike to have been hostile and/or indifferent to JA’s writing, but whom I assert were _all_ only pretending:



Now I would like to add two more strange bookfellows to this literary menagerie, the late Anthony Burgess, most famously the author of A Clockwork Orange, and his friend, the late William S. Burroughs, most famously the author of Naked Lunch. A month ago, luck led me to discover Burgess’s and Burroughs’s relationship to JA’s writing, and the following is the ore that I mined today from Part Two of Burgess’s autobiography just received by me from ILL (and note that Burgess’s first wife Lynne was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis at 45 in 1968):

Ppg. 5-6: “[In 1960,] Lynne lay reading the Daily Mirror or a trashy novel. She had lost whatever literary taste she had ever had, except that she still adored Jane Austen, and one of my duties was to fetch her fictional garbage from the public library. If I brought Henry James or Anthony Trollope, the book would be hurled viciously at my head. It was her fault that I could not take JA seriously; it was a matter of association. If she could read trash and JA indifferently, JA had to be close to trash. But she used my ignorance of that scribbling spinster to trounce my own literary pretensions. In our cups I was catechized:

‘How many daughters have Mr. and Mrs. Bennet?’ ‘Four, or is it five?’

‘Who does Emma marry?’ ‘A man of decent education, appearance and income. I’ve forgotten his name.’

‘What is the play that is put on in Mansfield Park?’ ‘Something by Kotzebue, I think.’

Ppg. 69-70: “Lynne was nearly always in bed on holiday…Over in Tangier in the Miramar Hotel she lay in bed while I incessantly rolled cigarettes of adulterated kif for her. William Burroughs, author of The Naked Lunch, admirer of A Clockwork Orange, would read funereally Jane Austen to her as she lay. His cured junkie heart homed to Regency stability….One evening when Lynne lay in bed, [she made] me read Persuasion to her (William Burroughs’s lugubrious American tones were not right somehow)….” END QUOTE

First, I just love that line “His cured junkie heart homed to Regency stability”! Second, I revel in the irony of the conceit of a JA catechism administered to a great writer by his alcoholic wife. But third and most important, do you see the “tell” which I spotted in Burgess’s comments about JA, which is unmistakably a clue to Burgess’s deliberate echoing of Mark Twain’s famously (and I claim faux) dismissive comments about JA’s writing?

…….(scroll down)

…….(scroll down)

……..(scroll down)

Here it is. Just as Twain’s “Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone" is a veiled allusion to Lizzy Bennet saying to Darcy “I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry"...

...so too is Burgess’s “she still adored Jane Austen, and one of my duties was to fetch her fictional garbage from the public library… If she could read trash and JA indifferently, JA had to be close to trash” a veiled allusion to not one but _two_ passages in JA’s fiction:

NA, Ch. 5: “Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body.”


Sanditon, Ch. 8: “The two Ladies [Charlotte Heywood and Lady Denham] continued walking together till rejoined by the others, who, as they issued from the Library, were followed by a young [boy] running off with 5 volumes under his arm to Sir Edward's Gig -- and Sir Edward, approaching Charlotte, said "You may perceive what has been our Occupation. My Sister wanted my Counsel in the selection of some books. -- We have many leisure hours, & read a great deal. -- I am no indiscriminate Novel-Reader. The mere Trash of the common Circulating Library, I hold in the highest contempt. “

So we have Burgess, a literary man, referring to JA’s novels as trash and referring to his wife reading fictional garbage (presumably also written by women) fetched by him for her from the public library. Then we have JA’s narrator in NA defending female novels against the charge that they are trash, and we also have Sir Edward Denham, the most literarily obtuse and opinionated male reader in all of JA’s fiction, referring to novels his sister wants to read, presumably also written by women, as mere trash of the common circulating library.

What a remarkable coincidence—NOT! As you can read in the second of my links, above, I claimed that Nabokov consciously emulated Twain’s faux criticism of JA. Now I claim that Burgess consciously emulated Twain _and_ Nabokov in the same fashion. The M.O. of the “quiz” is identical in all 3 cases.

In regard to Burgess’s awareness of Nabokov’s pretense vis a vis JA, note that Burgess, on ppg. 187-8 of his autobio, reproduced the text of the 45-line verse-letter Burgess wrote in 1969 _to Nabokov_, who was about to celebrate his 70th birthday and who, Burgess also points out, admired Burgess’s writing.

So it would make perfect sense that Burgess would add a fourth tier to this layer cake of mock-critical allusion to JA!

And to the above, I add yet another covertly erudite allusion to a famous female writer in Burgess’s “casually” dismissive comments about JA—calling her a “scribbling spinster” just happens to echo the way that Bronson Alcott referred to his famous novelist daughter Louisa May Alcott.

And I also believe it highly likely that the image of The Ambassadors or The Warden being “hurled viciously” at Burgess’s head owes something to the image of Mark Twain braining JA’s skull with her own shin bone!

So, in conclusion, Burgess, who was a writer like Nabokov engaging in complex literary gamesmanship, has to my mind clearly engaged in a very clever, witty, learned game in his comments about Jane Austen, and has, I believe, shown that he really did value JA’s writing.

And doesn’t that conclusion fit perfectly with the fact that Burgess was a good friend of William Burroughs, the ultimate unlikely Janeite, and also a world renowned satirist and literary game player in his own right?

Just as William Dean Howells taught Mark Twain the value of JA’s writing, so too it appears to me that Burroughs, the cured junkie, raised Burgess’s consciousness about JA’s writing.

A sweet irony that would, if JA were alive today and aware of it, elicit from JA a warm and fitting exclamation of praise, perhaps emulating the favorite word of Alex in A Clockwork Orange:

“Horrorshow!” ;)

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. After posting the above, I discovered with a little further searching that, according to an early 19th century guide book to English resorts, in Ramsgate (where Wickham almost gets to Georgiana Darcy, and one of the real life sea-bathing towns from which JA drew her fictional resort town Sanditon), the larger circulating library was called.....BURGESS'S LIBRARY!

Which tells me that Burgess's little joke was even more erudite than I described it, above--the covert allusion by Anthony Burgess to Sanditon, in which he disdains to read Jane Austen's “trash” novels, takes on a very funny personal meaning when we realize that the circulating library in Sanditon which Sir Edward Denham disdained to frequent went by the name of Burgess's!
This is a little Chinese Box of self-reference-- a gem of erudite cleverness, which explains why Burgess chose that particular motif for his veiled allusion to Jane Austen. He was confirming, to a reader fully aware of all of Burgess’s hidden wordplay, that this was indeed all intentional on his part.

Emma Donoghue's Passions between Women and Austen as a possibly lesbian spinster

Ellen Moody just wrote an interesting blog and Austen L post under the above title:


Nancy Mayer then responded in Austen L, and I further responded as follows:

[Nancy] "I can see Jane Austen as a Lesbian oriented spinster..."

Nancy, call all the newspapers, because you, Ellen, and I (and surely some others as well) all agree with Terry Castle on the plausibility of JA having had at least some lesbian orientation.

What is for certain is that JA had an extraordinarily close and _frank_ relationship with Martha Lloyd---and of course I do intend the pun on "Frank", given that Martha married JA's brother Frank after JA died, when Martha was long past child bearing years, and which could very well have been a marriage of friends rather than lovers.

That frankness between Jane and Martha included rather broad sexual humor of the Mary Crawford variety, as illustrated in the following post by me of a few months back:


So it would not at all surprise me to learn that JA and Martha had a physically sexual lesbian relationship at some point(s) during their long friendship. But...even if it never progressed beyond the Platonic, it was still very very intense and long lasting.

[Nancy] "...more than I can see her as having Aspergers..."

I don't buy that one at all, either. JA had an extraordinarily acute radar for, and intuitive grasp of, human emotion and psychology, so why postulate a condition that is characterized by "significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests"? JA was the polar opposite of that description--she had enormously flexible patterns of behavior and interests, and subtle and adept abilities in social interaction. In regard to her grasp of the infinite variety and subtlety of human psychology, she was an equal of Shakespeare, i.e., both of them at the top of the pile among storytellers.

[Nancy] "...or being woman who is forever thinking about phalli. "

Nancy, I think you miss the point (so to speak) entirely as to all of JA's frequent puns on the male sexual organ. I don't think she was joking about it because she had an intense physical desire for men, I think she joked about phalli for exactly the same reason that a female stand-up comedian in today's world would joke about phalli--because it is such a fertile subject for subversive satirical humor---i.e., men thinking with their little head instead of their big one, and causing most of the trouble in the world. That sort of attitude. "Men and their ridiculous complexes and anxieties, and narcissisms about their penises".

Cheers, ARNIE

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Edmund, pluralism, forming minds, favorite heroes

My recent post about Edmund Bertram...


...yielded some interesting fruit, in the form of several interesting responses from Diane Reynolds, Diana Birchall, and Nancy Mayer, to which I respond as follows:


Diana wrote: "Diane (and Arnie), I am no partial defender of Edmund, but you may be just a trifle too harsh! There's no certainty that he kept the living of Thornton Lacey when he removed to Mansfield, is there? Austen says: "to complete the picture of good, the acquisition of Mansfield living, by the death of Dr. Grant, occurred just after they had been married long enough to begin to want an increase of income, and feel their distance from the paternal abode an inconvenience. On that event they removed to Mansfield..."
He may have then sought a curate for Thornton Lacey, or sold the living to someone. "

Diane replied: "However, while I had always thought Edmund keeps the income at Thornton Lacey, it is possible that the "increase" mentioned merely comes from the MP living being bigger. Great catch, Diana, which shows once again how careful we have to be reading "dear Jane! " "

Given that Edmund made such a big deal halfway through the novel (as I quoted) about the vital importance of a hands-on, local clergyman in a small rural community, I think it's significant that JA at the end of the novel leaves Edmund's clerical choices so teasingly ambiguous--it seems clear to me that JA, having raised this question so pointedly, wants _us_ to ask this question (just as Fanny asks about slavery)---and... as with so many other aspects of this disturbing novel, most of all the slavery question, JA does _not_ want us to be certain of our answers, which could be innocent and worthy, but also could be guilty and horrible.

Chekhov famously opined about storytellers who have an obligation to readers to answer questions raised by the introduction of seemingly tangential story elements. I think JA was as sensitive as Chekhov to this subject, but her pervasive strategy for dealing with such things was to seize and embrace--indeed to foreground and accentuate-- ambiguity, so as to challenge readers to work to figure out answers, by grappling with that ambiguity. Why? Because real life is ambiguous, in a thousand ways. Humans therefore need practice in dealing with ambiguity.

Nancy wrote: "Don't forget that Austen's own father and brother were pluralists. her father needed the money to support his daughters.....I don't think she was opposed to pluralism. It was what put jam on her bread."

I haven't forgotten for a second, quite the contrary, Edward Cooper and Theo' Cooke were not the only country clergymen whom JA satirized and put under a moral microscope---her favorite target on the topic of clerical hypocrisy was brother James, and her father was also not immune. I think that what JA was most opposed to was hypocrisy--spouting worthy platitudes, while quietly doing exactly the opposite--that is why Auden famously wrote that next to JA Joyce was an innocent as grass. JA well understood that it was necessary, as I believe Diane recently wrote, to follow the money.


Diana wrote: "But [Edmund] is the one who forms Fanny's mind ("her mind in so great a degree formed by his care, and her comfort depending on his kindness"), and it is he who encourages her when she asks Sir Thomas about the slave trade"

That's just it, Diana--he gives her the tools to think critically, but then the student far surpasses the master, both in terms of insight _and_ (much more important) in terms of "kahones"--Fanny walks the walk--most of all, when she politely but firmly stands up to Sir Thomas like a Regency Era Gandhi----while Edmund only talks the talk.

Diana wrote: "I do love your phrase "he becomes Mansfield educated through and through!" And I do agree that Edmund is self-serving...his fine morality and great kindness to Fanny goes only so far as the borders of his infatuation for Mary Crawford."

What is sad for Edmund is that _his_ mind has been formed by SIr Thomas, and Sir Thomas is the king of hypocrisy. The difference between them is that Sir Thomas is much older, and he has been unrestrained for decades from acting on his impulses. After all, Lady Bertram has not played the restraining, civilizing role for him that, say, Lady Elliot played for Sir Walter. Plus, his moral sense has been utterly corrupted by money and power.

That's why JA makes sure to let us know that Sir Thomas _smiles_ a little smile when he banishes Fanny to Portsmouth--over the years, he has become a sadist, and he enjoys wielding power over others, especially women.


Diana wrote: "And don't forget that Jane Austen herself said that Mr. Knightley and Edmund Bertram were her favorite male characters!"

Diana, I wrote about that a month ago:


My bottom line was that if JA did in fact say that her favorite heroes were "Edmund Bertram and Mr. Knightley; but they are very far from being what I know English gentlemen often are…..", then that latter part of the sentence was exactly like one of those passages in P&P which Kishor Kale wrote about some years ago, i.e., they can be plausibly read in two _opposite_ ways. And that ambiguity is precisely the way I assert JA depicted Edmund (and Mr. Knightley for that matter)--either they are the best of gentlemen, or else they are men believing their own b.s. but who in their behavior do _not_ live up to the ideals they so forcefully assert in words.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, August 22, 2011

Edmund Bertram (and the Anglican Clergy as a Whole) Set A Dubious Example

Two weeks ago, I wrote the latest in an intermittent series of posts over the past year or so, in all of which I vent my spleen at Edmund Bertram, every time I realize some _new_ aspect of his character which dismays me:


Today, I discovered another complaint to lodge against Edmund, to wit: it’s bad enough that when push comes to shove, he almost always makes the wrong choice by wimping out on a duty that a morally strong man would have performed—and in particular, as I have argued, he consistently fails in his duty to protect Fanny, even though her attitude toward him as a girl was that “she regarded her cousin as an example of everything good and great, as possessing worth which no one but herself could ever appreciate…”

But what makes this failing even worse is that Edmund inadvertently and cluelessly adds insult to injury by actually styling himself as a strong advocate for...setting good moral examples! This unfortunate trait in Edmund is subjected to a merciless irony by JA, by her putting into his mouth hollow words in this vein on (at least) two separate occasions:

First, Exhibit A: Edmund persists in lecturing his sister Maria for wanting to participate in the amateur theatricals, after she at first responds less than enthusiastically to him:

“I am sorry for it," was his answer; "but in this matter it is you who are to lead. You must set the example. If others have blundered, it is your place to put them right, and shew them what true delicacy is. In all points of decorum your conduct must be law to the rest of the party."

Of course the words have barely ceased to echo in the green room before he himself rationalizes why _he_ will participate---and what’s more, he promptly proceeds to encourage-actually, to push--Fanny to participate too! And is this because he has had a moral epiphany? Of course not! So Edmund gets an “F” in example-setting, but an “A” in unconscious hypocrisy, for this “performance”.

Now, don't get me wrong---I personally don’t think that it _was_ immoral for anyone to participate in Lover’s Vows, but that is not the point—_Edmund_ considered it immoral, and yet in the end of the day he set precisely the opposite example, adopting, promoting, and rationalizing the very behavior he had initially criticized so strongly-and why does he do this? Because he’s a wuss, but also because he’s not thinking with the brain inside his skull, but is directed by a less elevated form of cognition.

And then, not long afterwards, we have Exhibit B, when Edmund explains to Mary Crawford the importance and worthiness of the country clergyman:

“...it is not in fine preaching only that a good clergyman will be useful in his parish and his neighbourhood, where the parish and neighbourhood are of a size capable of knowing his private character, and observing his general conduct…And with regard to their influencing public manners, Miss Crawford must not misunderstand me, or suppose I mean to call them the arbiters of good-breeding, the regulators of refinement and courtesy, the masters of the ceremonies of life. The manners I speak of might rather be called conduct, perhaps, the result of good principles; the effect, in short, of those doctrines which it is their duty to teach and recommend; and it will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation."

The irony of that last sentence is that Edmund has inadvertently hoisted himself on his own rhetorical petard. I.e., since he, in his conduct, is often not what _he_ ought to be, it turns out to be absolutely true that his failure to set a good example contributes to there being nobody else at Mansfield Park (except Fanny) who demonstrates moral scruples on a consistent basis! He turns out to be a lousy role model.

And Mansfield Park, standing in metaphorically for England as a whole, lends to the negative ironic judgment on Edmund a devastating national significance. The judgment rendered by JA on her own country is that because of the failure of the Anglican clergy to set a good moral example, this has contributed to the general breakdown of morality in the entire English nation. And that is why we not only have the example of Edmund Bertram, but also the gluttonous bon vivant Dr. Grant, to show us that JA really means it!

Cheers, ARNIE

Letter 39 and Tristram Shandy

Diane Reynolds responded to my recent posting of links to two earlier blog posts of mine regarding allusions by Jane Austen to Laurence Sterne's groundbreakingly experimental 18th century novel Tristram Shandy:

[Diane] "I remember now seeing that T Shandy (TS) posts and meaning to go back to it. Now I have. Yes, "Uncle Toby's annuity" is another good catch--I had wondered why JA referenced Uncle Toby's annuity rather than Trim in talking about the every faithful James. I had not remembered that Trim's name was James Butler --very interesting that JA refers to a butler named James. This leads me to believe that "James" may be a fictional character. I will have to look at the letter again. Of course, one can't help but think of Mr. Woodhouse's butler James. "

Nice catch there on the pun, Diane, which I did not even realize when I first responded to your message---"James Butler" and "James _the_ butler"!!!

Otherwise, I can only reply, in the words of Molly Bloom, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" Diane, your mind has wandered in pretty much all the same directions as mine, for, I suspect, all the same (good) reasons.

[Diane] "Not too long ago, my husband and I re-read TS aloud to each other during 5 or 6 long road trips, partially because it is a delightful book in parts and also because, as a source for Austen, it is one of the strongest arguments that JA learned techniques of subtext and wordplay (and there is absolutely no doubt she was fascinated by wordplay). Her odd allusion to it--and what a memory of it she has--is evidence she thought about the book, and had absorbed the book--and as well, honed in on its moral content. I'm thinking as well of a laughing reference she makes in a letter about how she should have thrown a few sermons or treatises (?) in a book--I want to say P&P--to "improve" it and I also think that is an allusion to TS. "

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, again!

And don't forget these other TS allusions by JA as well:



[Diane] "TS is one of the most bizarre books ever written--at least of the books I've read. Scholars accept its "birth" subtext--that Sterne placed clues to indicate that Mr. Shandy could not have been TS's father-- sciatica at the time of conception, etc, and that Yorick was his real father. None of this is "out there" --Sterne never once says "Oh Yorick is TS's father." You have to piece it together, and even then, it's not a surety--Sterne leaves us guessing, as he does with the injury to Uncle Toby's "nose." I don't see any reason why JA couldn't have done this too--in fact, I think she did. It would have been characteristic of her. "

Yes, yes, yes, yes....

[Diane] "TS is also an important book for Arnie's thesis about JA's concern over childbirth. Childbirth is treated comically by Sterne, but the pre-nuptial agreements between Mr. and Mrs. Shandy about childbirth and who controls it and it where it happens, are detailed and remarkable--also a great deal of comedy revolves around the fact that Mrs. Shandy is left to the devices of the incompetent Dr. Slop (despite her energetic attempts otherwise) Underlying all of this is the reality of the dangers of childbirth--and a good depiction of male detachment from its realities."

YES! There could not be an allusive source more apt for Northanger Abbey, in about a half dozen ways....


Letter 39: The Seeds of _Emma_

In response to the following post by me the other day...


...Diane Reynolds wrote: "Good catch on the parallels between let 39 and "no ice" and Mrs. Elton in Emma!"

Thank you, Diane, that was a particularly exciting catch, like bringing in an especially large fish (not that I have ever caught an actual fish in my entire life!) ;)

And your comment got me thinking again about how remarkable it is that Letter 39 was written nearly a decade before JA (according to CEA) began writing _Emma_, and yet here is an unmistakable allusion in _Emma_ to this seemingly trivial, playful passage in Letter 39.

I have always had the sense that JA had been working on _Emma_ for _much_ longer than one year--and sure enough, in certain letters like Letter 39 (and also Letter 23, written even earlier, in October 1800), we find little eruptions of names and phrases which are unmistakably echoed so much later in _Emma_. And, as we have been going along, I have pointed out a large number of passages in the first thirty nine letters which are similarly echoed in P&P, NA, and/or S&S--this echoing cannot be coincidental, or unconscious, in my opinion. It reflects, I believe, that JA used CEA's retained cc of these letters as "longterm storage" of ideas, turns of phrase, clever conceits, situations, etc. What a wonderfully clever way of hiding material in plain sight, so that even if some "voluntary spy" were to sneak in and peruse these letters, they would never find any explicit footprints from the novels, and yet, to JA (and perhaps also to CEA) these would be readily discernible, and therefore recallable, mnemonics.

"Imbedding a reference to Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby's annuity--which is how she refers to James, the servant who delights her and about whom she happily exaggerates--communicates all the warmth of the gentle and charming Uncle Toby, hasus thinking of his loyal servant Trim, and adds to the tone of light-hearted joyfulness."

If you read my blog entries from 3 months ago that I linked to in the P.S. to my post about Letter 39, you will see that beneath the surface light-heartedness, there is serious and disturbing subtext in that allusion.

Which again makes me wonder if CEA was privy to the full intended meaning of all of JA's veiled allusions in these letters? Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't, but _something_ induced CEA to preserve Letter 39, from among what I would imagine were a pretty large number of letters written by JA during the "lost years" in Bath and other places, and perhaps these allusions in some way dictated the preservation of Letter 39?

Cheers, ARNIE

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Mr. Collins’s Nothing-Meaning, Harmless, Heartless Civility

When we discussed Letter 17 (dated Jan. 9, 1799) four months ago, Christy quoted the following passage…

“I assure You that I dread the idea of going to Bookham as much as you can do; but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it; Theo’ has lost his Election at Baliol, & perhaps they may not be able to see company for some time.—They talk of going to Bath too in the Spring, & perhaps they may be overturned in their way down, & all laid up for the summer.”

….and then commented as follows:

“Here, it is obvious both sisters are not enamored with certain `plans`, and according to DLF, CEA cancelled the words, "Bookham", "Theo" and "at Baliol" as the Cooke cousins were not held in high esteem. DLF writes: “a study of the rediscovered MS enables the three names to be deciphered beneath the cancellations.”

Today, I realized that the Austen sisters retained their strong dislike in particular for their cousin the Revd. Theo-Leigh Cooke (3 years younger than JA) over quite an extended period of time, because there are two later passages in JA’s letters which demonstrate their continued abhorrence for his company. And once my attention was drawn to this, I realized there was a significant veiled allusion to one of JA’s real life Cooke cousins in one of JA’s most memorable characters.

First, look at the following passage in Letter 64 (dated Jan. 10-11, 1809, and so almost exactly ten years to the day after Letter 17) from JA in Southampton to CEA at Godmersham:

“…the very day of our leaving Southampton is fixed; and if the knowledge is of no use to Edward, I am sure it will give him pleasure. Easter Monday, April 3, is the day; we are to sleep that night at Alton, and be with our friends at Bookham the next, if they are then at home; there we remain till the following Monday, and on Tuesday, April 11, hope to be at Godmersham. If the Cookes are absent, we shall finish our journey on the 5th. These plans depend of course upon the weather, but I hope there will be no settled cold to delay us materially. To make you amends for being at Bookham, it is in contemplation to spend a few days at Barton Lodge in our way out of Kent.”

Great Bookham is where the Cookes all lived, and JA is writing about an otherwise joyous subject, reporting to CEA the plans for the “exodus” of the Austen women from their four years wandering in the “desert” of Portsmouth (or, given that the trip was to begin on Easter Monday, perhaps even more appropriate to refer to the “resurrection” of the Austen women).

However, even reporting such plans which are giving JA and CEA such joy in anticipation, JA still acknowledges to CEA that having to stop Bookham is an evil. That is why JA sardonically suggests that amends be made to CEA by making a much more agreeable stopover, when the second leg of the journey from Godmersham to Chawton was to be made. Clearly JA is hoping (sorta like Lizzy when she comes to Pemberley) that the Cookes _will_ be absent when the Austens reach Great Bookham, so that they can both avoid a dreaded extended visit with unpleasant relatives, and also arrive at Godmersham 6 days earlier. JA and CEA would both be dreading the prospect of spending those six days not only in the company of the Cookes, but, I would imagine, at the home of the senior Cookes.

And last, we have the following passage in Letter 70 (dated April 18-20, 1811), this letter written by JA from London:

"I spent Tuesday in Bentinck St.; the Cookes called here & took me back; & it was quite a Cooke day… [JA escapes the parents with Mary Cooke and goes to the Museum]…I did not see Theo’ till late on Tuesday; he was gone to Ilford, but he came back in time to show his usual nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless civility. Henry, who had been confined the whole day to the Bank, took me in his way home; & after putting Life & Wit into the party for a quarter of an hour, put himself & his Sister into a Hackney coach—I bless my stars that I have done with Tuesday! "

Here we finally get some specificity about why JA and CEA so detest their second cousin—he is a clergyman just like Mr. Collins—(as to whom we see many examples of what is described at the end of P&P as his “parading and obsequious civility”).

And actually, the way JA writes about Theo-Leigh Cooke, who was the second cousin of JA and CEA, reminds me very strongly of the way she writes about another contemporary maternal cousin—the Revd. Edward Cooper (son of Mrs. Austen’s sister). JA mocked Revd. Cooper’s sermons in several letters, and also wrote the following about him: “I have written to Edwd Cooper & hope he will not send one of his Letters of cruel comfort to my poor Brother.”
It is no coincidence, therefore, I claim, that Mr. Collins just happens to be a _cousin_ of Lizzy & Jane Bennet! I think “nothing-meaning, harmless, heartless civility” perfectly describes much of what Mr. Collins says, and, now we can see, also describes not only the real life Revd. Cooke but also the real life Revd. Cooper.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: It is a reflection of the many obstacles which have been thrown in the path of an accurate, unbiased understanding JA’s personal beliefs, attitudes, and opinions, particularly in regard to members of her family, that it was not until 1989 (yes, that’s right, only 22 years ago) that CEA’s theretofore successful attempt to mask JA’s true meaning in Letter 17 was finally undone, and the truth was available to all. Without the crucial context provided by the overt vitriol of the unexpurgated passage in Letter 17, the passage in Letter 64 is too vague to even attract attention, and the passage in Letter 70, while much stronger, is still not sharp enough to raise eyebrows. But taken as a three-headed collectivity over a period of 12 years, these excerpts only then take on their full significance, and make the veiled allusion via the character of Mr. Collins that much more interesting, powerful, and personal.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Letter 39: No Ice In Weymouth……or Highbury (and Uncle Toby's Annuity)

Letter 39, dated Sept. 14, 1804, marks the first surviving JA letter after the longest gap between surviving letters that exists between 1796 and 1817—over 3 years! And we find JA in Sept. 1804 apparently on holiday in Lyme, in what appears to me to be an upbeat mood, full of playful invention.

It seems to me that JA often sought to begin her letters with some witty conceit, and Letter 39 is a particularly fine example. JA has been in Lyme with her mother (and also her father, or is he with CEA?) for at least a week (perhaps a trip during which she took notes for what would 12 years later emerge as a chunk of _Persuasion_?), while CEA is in Andover after having recently spent some time in Weymouth. So both of them have apparently been taking advantage of separate travel opportunities, and JA does not waste any time having some major fun with her favorite pasttime— finding “great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not _her_ own”:

“Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which STRIKES me so forcibly as there being NO ICE in the town. For every other VEXATION I was in some measure prepared, and particularly for your DISAPPOINTMENT in not seeing the Royal Family go on board on Tuesday, having already heard from Mr. Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late, but for there being NO ICE what could prepare me? Weymouth is altogether a SHOCKING place, I perceive, without RECOMMENDATION of any kind, & worthy only of being frequented by the inhabitants of Gloucester. I am really very glad that we did not go there, & that Henry & Eliza saw nothing in it to make them feel differently.”

Here we have the assumed voice, and opinions, of a stupid, selfish snob, & of course my first association was therefore to Mrs. Elton. And that turned out to be a _very_ fertile association, because word searches quickly confirmed that the above-quoted mock philippic in Letter 39 contains the “seeds” of not one but _four_ of Mrs. Elton’s memorable declamations, using _all_ of those same _seven_ capitalized words in exactly the same phony way. Note also that all of Mrs E’s speeches are, like JA’s comments about Weymouth (which of course is a crucial location in _Emma_ as well), about _places_--Maple Grove, Bath, and Highbury--as to which Mrs. Elton is not shy in opining as to their relative merits. I now offer you those four speeches in a row for your cumulative reading pleasure:

Ch. 30 The very first subject after being seated was Maple Grove, "My brother Mr. Suckling's seat;"—a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove. The grounds of Hartfield were small, but neat and pretty; and the house was modern and well-built. Mrs. Elton seemed most favourably impressed by the size of the room, the entrance, and all that she could see or imagine. "Very like Maple Grove indeed!—She was quite STRUCK by the likeness!—That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister's favourite room."—Mr. Elton was appealed to.—"Was not it astonishingly like?—She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove."

32: "Ah! that's a great pity; for I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, where the waters do agree, it is quite wonderful the relief they give. In my Bath life, I have seen such instances of it! And it is so cheerful a place, that it could not fail of being of use to Mr. Woodhouse's spirits, which, I understand, are sometimes much depressed. And as to its RECOMMENDATIONS to you, I fancy I need not take much pains to dwell on them. The advantages of Bath to the young are pretty generally understood. It would be a charming introduction for you, who have lived so secluded a life; and I could immediately secure you some of the best society in the place. A line from me would bring you a little host of acquaintance; and my particular friend, Mrs. Partridge, the lady I have always resided with when in Bath, would be most happy to shew you any attentions, and would be the very person for you to go into public with."

34 No invitation came amiss to her. Her Bath habits made evening-parties perfectly natural to her, and Maple Grove had given her a taste for dinners. She was a little SHOCKED at the want of two drawing rooms, at the poor attempt at rout-cakes, and there being NO ICE in the Highbury card parties.

42 "Is not this most VEXATIOUS, Knightley?" she cried.—"And such weather for exploring!—These delays and DISAPPOINTMENTS are quite odious. What are we to do?—The year will wear away at this rate, and nothing done. Before this time last year I assure you we had had a delightful exploring party from Maple Grove to Kings Weston."

And…what ties the bond even closer between Mrs. Elton and Letter 39 is the following passage a bit later in Letter 39, which connects to Mrs. Elton’s very specific complaint about the lack of ice at “card parties”:

“My mother had her pool of commerce each night & divided the first with Le Chevalier, who was lucky enough to divide the other with somebody else. I hope he will always win enough to empower him to treat himself with so great an indulgence as cards must be to him.”

So this tells us that JA germinated the “seeds” of some of her most memorable satirical characterizations over more than a decade before bringing them to full flower in published print in her novels. How amazing it is to find Mrs. Elton boasting her head off in Letter 39 written in 1804, when JA (supposedly) was not writing fiction—I claim that she was _always_ working on her fiction, even (no, especially) when writing her letters!

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S. I leave you with two related factoids, which I just gleaned from the archives of Janeites:

First, in December, 2000, a piece entitled “No Ice in Weymouth” aired on BBC radio, which was “A portrait of the family, social and professional world of Jane Austen, as seen through her letters and novels, devised by Vanessa Rosenthal”.

And second, Del Claude, a long time member of Janeites and creator of a very valuable subject index for JA’s letters, wrote the following in 2003: “in 'A Jane Austen Household Book' by Peggy Hickman (p.17) it is reported-:The very rich, if they owned large houses and estates, constructed ice houses...; brick structures covered with soil; the ice was from winter ponds and lakes.
Possibly a business offered ice for sale to other businesses in Weymouth for drinks and frozen desserts.”

P.P.S: Here is the link to my 2 posts a few months ago explaining JA’s reference to “an Uncle Toby’s annuity” later in Letter 39:



Friday, August 19, 2011

Firm and Upright Figures & Other Objects in _Emma_: A Quick P.S.

After posting my last message under the above subject line, I did some quick checking and found a couple of other interesting things:

First, I had forgotten (but just realized from a search of the Janeites archives) that this same question arose five years ago in Janeites, when Victoria challenged a sexual interpretation by myself and others of the words "firm" and "upright" in _Emma_.

At the time, Victoria also raised the following additional objection to a sexual interpretation:

"How would that add anything to the story? I don't think the reader is supposed to believe that Emma all of a sudden is imagining herself in bed with Knightley. The story is all about Emma's gradual awakening to new feelings, new insights into herself, new ways of
looking at people, and so on. To have her abruptly start thinking of Knightley in an explicitly sexual way would not be true to the story here. So then, what would be the point of such an explicit sexual reference?"

To which Elissa Schiff gave what I consider a perfect rebuttal:

"Austen's language describing Emma's growing awareness of Knightley becomes an objective correlative of her romantic/erotic feelings for him. [Phrase coined by Keats about 1821] Simply put, we, as readers are meant to be aware of her growing sexuality toward this man even if the feelings are new and confusing to her. To read any text so superficially so as to dismiss all levels of irony, metaphor, allusion, and reference to mythos would seem to yield a very flat type of experience. Simple narrative with no heft of substructure , it seems to me, would be just that, simplistic...."

And I claim that my fuller analysis of the passages in three chapters of _Emma_ rotating around "firm" and "upright" only adds to the power of Elissa's concise rationale for why JA would so artfully and insightfully weave a web of partly-subliminal, partly-inyourface sexual suggestions.

And I also have a rebuttal to one _other_ point Victoria made, which was your assumption that Mrs. Weston's referring to Emma's "firm, upright figure" could not be sexual because this was a woman speaking about another woman's body.

Edmund Wilson, among many other Janeite scholars, amateur and professional, has suggested that there is a lesbian subtext in _Emma_, with most of the commentary rotating around the relationship between Emma and Harriet. And the relationship between Emma and Mrs. Weston is also extraordinarily close. And so, I claim, it is plausible to suggest that Mrs. Weston herself might feel at least a trace of unconscious attraction to Emma as well, and this would leak out in this way.

And JA's putting the word "firm" in Mrs. Weston's mouth in this regard turns out to be very interesting, when one looks at the usage of the words "upright" and "firm" in Cleland's Fanny Hill (which I have on several occasions argued that Jane Austen alluded to, particularly in _Emma_). Why? Because although the word "upright" is used twice in Fanny Hill, and both times to refer to male sexuality, the word "firm" is used more than a _dozen_ times in Fanny Hill, and nearly all of those usages of "firm" are Fanny speaking about either her own body or that of another _woman_--more specifically, in most of those cases, she refers to a young woman's breasts!

I think that makes for a persuasive extension of my earlier claims.


Firm and Upright Figures & Other Objects in _Emma_

In Janeites, Victoria Lansburgh wrote the following:

“And as for that "firm and upright figure" of Emma's, somehow this had always passed me by before. But hearing it, and realizing that this expression, used by a woman about a woman, was identical to the one that Emma later uses (in her mind) about Mr. Knightley, I was more convinced than ever that no double entendre of the locker room type was intended in the latter instance. Emma's admiration of Mr. Knightley's figure has a subtle sexual component to it, but I can't buy the idea that in "firm and upright" here, we're supposed to see a (not at all subtle) reference to the erect penis, as some have argued.”

I responded as follows:

I beg to differ, not only based on the passages in Ch. 5 and Ch. 38, of which you took note, but also a _third_ passage (actually a series of passage) in Ch. 28, where the sexual punning on the words “firm” and “upright” is made _so_ obvious that even mainstream Austen scholars, with no special agenda to sex JA up (as many people see the likes of Jill Heydt Stevenson, myself, and some others), have recognized the sexual innuendo. See for example, David Bell’s 2007 Persuasions Online article:


In a nutshell, even Janeites whose minds are _not_ (in your terms) in “the locker room” read Chapter 28 as presenting a situation where Jane and Frank have been engaging in some sexual behavior of some kind.

And my claim is that when these passages in these _three_ chapters are read as a group rather than in isolation, the obvious sexual imagery in Chapter 28 casts the usages in the other two chapters in a clearer sexual light.

Here are the relevant passages:

Ch. 5

"Such an eye! the true hazle eye -- and so brilliant! regular features, open countenance, with a complexion! oh! what a bloom of full health, and such a pretty height and size; such a FIRM AND UPRIGHT figure. There is health, not merely in her bloom, but in her air, her head, her glance. One hears sometimes of a child being ""the picture of health;"" now Emma always gives me the idea of being the complete picture of grown-up health. She is loveliness itself. Mr. Knightley, is not she?"

"I have not a fault to find with her person," he replied. I think her all you describe. I love to look at her; and I will add this praise, that I do not think her personally vain. Considering how very handsome she is, she appears to be little occupied with it; her vanity lies another way. Mrs. Weston, I am not to be talked out of my dislike of her intimacy with Harriet Smith, or my dread of its doing them both harm."

So this is a passage in which Mrs. Weston draws out from Mr. Knightley an explicit acknowledgment that _he_ finds Emma physically attractive. Indeed, once drawn out, he waxes eloquent—“I _love_ to look at her”. A 37 year old man who spends a lot of time around a gorgeous 21-year old girl who looks up to, and loves to engage in provocative banter with him.

I suggest your characterization of this passage as an “expression, used by a woman about a woman” is misleading, because it is an expression used by a woman speaking to a _man_ about a woman _he_ finds very attractive. A whole different kettle of fish.

Ch. 28

"I have not been working uninterruptedly," he replied, "I have been assisting Miss Fairfax in trying to make her instrument stand steadily, it was not quite firm; an unevenness in the floor, I believe. You see we have been wedging one leg with paper. This was very kind of you to be persuaded to come. I was almost afraid you would be hurrying home."

…"Conjecture -- aye, sometimes one conjectures right, and sometimes one conjectures wrong. I wish I could conjecture how soon I shall make this rivet quite firm. What nonsense one talks, Miss Woodhouse, when hard at work, if one talks at all; -- your real workmen, I suppose, hold their tongues; but we gentlemen labourers if we get hold of a word -- Miss Fairfax said something about conjecturing. There, it is done. I have the pleasure, madam, (to Mrs. Bates) of restoring your spectacles, healed for the present."

…Emma wished he would be less pointed, yet could not help being amused; and when on glancing her eye towards Jane Fairfax she caught the remains of a smile, when she saw that with all the deep blush of consciousness, there had been a smile of secret delight, she had less scruple in the amusement, and much less compunction with respect to her. This amiable, upright, perfect Jane Fairfax was apparently cherishing very reprehensible feelings.”

The above three passages are, to my mind, obviously sexual, because they are thick with sexual puns, including but not limited to “upright” and “firm”. These passages may fairly be characterized as a garden of Freudian delight.

And here is Jane Austen ventriloquistically making veiled comments on the sexual punning that fills Chapter 28:

….He brought all the music to her, and they looked it over together. Emma took the opportunity of whispering,

"You speak too plain. She must understand you."

"I hope she does. I would have her understand me. I am not in the least ashamed of my meaning."

"But really, I am half ashamed, and wish I had never taken up the idea."

"I am very glad you did, and that you communicated it to me. I have now a key to all her odd looks and ways. Leave shame to her. If she does wrong, she ought to feel it."

Indeed Jane Austen was not in the least ashamed of her meaning, and meant for her readers to have, by recognizing these sexual puns, a key to all of Jane Austen’s odd looks and ways.

And finally, after all of that, here is the relevant passage in Ch. 38:

She was more disturbed by Mr. Knightley's not dancing, than by any thing else. There he was, among the standers-by, where he ought not to be; he ought to be dancing, -- not classing himself with the husbands, and fathers, and whist-players, who were pretending to feel an interest in the dance till their rubbers were made up, -- so young as he looked! He could not have appeared to greater advantage perhaps any where, than where he had placed himself. His tall, firm, upright figure, among the bulky forms and stooping shoulders of the elderly men, was such as Emma felt must draw every body's eyes; and, excepting her own partner, there was not one among the whole row of young men who could be compared with him. He moved a few steps nearer, and those few steps were enough to prove in how gentlemanlike a manner, with what natural grace, he must have danced, would he but take the trouble. Whenever she caught his eye, she forced him to smile; but in general he was looking grave. She wished he could love a ball-room better, and could like Frank Churchill better. He seemed often observing her. She must not flatter herself that he thought of her dancing, but if he were criticising her behaviour, she did not feel afraid. There was nothing like flirtation between her and her partner. They seemed more like cheerful, easy friends, than lovers. That Frank Churchill thought less of her than he had done was indubitable. The ball proceeded pleasantly. The anxious cares, the incessant attentions of Mrs. Weston, were not thrown away. Every body seemed happy; and the praise of being a delightful ball, which is seldom bestowed till after a ball has ceased to be, was repeatedly given in the very beginning of the existence of this.”

In this context, it is not only the reference to Mr. Knightley’s tall, firm, upright figure—which is, revealingly, contrasted to that of older men (who are, due to the changes caused by age, the target audience for the barrage of Cialis and Viagra commercials and spam emails we see in 2011), it is also the frequent repetition of the word “ball”.

Cheers, ARNIE

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letter 38: Jane Austen's Craven Images

When Austen scholars and knowledgeable Janeites hear the name “Mrs. Craven”, the first (and only) association they are all likely to make is to the grandmother of Mary and Martha Lloyd, an infamously cruel harridan who is supposed by many to have been a model for the decidedly unmaternal Lady Susan —we’re talking stuff like not giving her daughters enough to eat, really nasty stuff. However, that “great lady” died two years before Jane Austen was born, and so she was definitely not a “Mrs. Craven” whom Jane Austen knew personally.

And…”Mrs. Craven” was also not the _Countess_ Craven who was better known to the world for many years as Louisa Brunton, the former actress who was for years Lord Craven’s mistress (and JA famously mentions her as his mistress in an earlier letter), but who eventually did marry him.

I mention these two female Cravens to distinguish both of them from the “Mrs. Craven” about whom we first read in Letter 38:

“I am very glad that Martha goes to Chilton; a very essential temporary comfort her presence must afford to Mrs Craven, and I hope she will endeavour to make it a lasting one by exerting those kind offices in favour of the young Man, from which you were both with-held in the case of the Harrison family by the mistaken tenderness of one part of ours. “

Per Le Faye, Mrs. Craven was the widow of Revd. John Craven, the maternal uncle of Martha, Mary and Elizabeth Lloyd, sire of a junior line of the Craven family. John was a contemporary of Revd. Austen and died at 71 in 1804.

His first wife was Elizabeth Raymond of Barton Court, who was a weak minded heiress—they had no children, and he cheated on her late in the marriage, and got caught and paid adultery penalties to a Mr. Harris in 1774-5. Shortly afterwards, his first wife died and he then married Catherine Hughes in 1779, and with her he had 2 sons and a daughter. So Catherine Craven is the “Mrs. Craven” ofwhom JA wrote in Letter 38, a gentlewoman with no special aura about her.

My first question about this Mrs. Craven is: what is JA talking about exactly in the above quoted passage? If you read it through a few times, you will quickly understand why Le Faye refers to this as an “obscure passage”. I found JA’s mysterious description intriguing, and decided to try to sleuth out what JA meant.

After a while, I arrived at the hypothesis that the “kind offices” had something to do with matchmaking—what other favors might Martha Lloyd be likely to perform for a young man? Plus, in MP, NA and Lady Susan, the phrase “kind offices” _does_ have to do with matchmaking, so that supports my hypothesis. As does the reference to “mistaken tenderness”, which seems to me to be closely related to the reference JA makes to “mistaken tenderness” in a much later letter written to her nephew JEAL. In that later letter, JA suggests that JEAL might have concealed an illness from her, out of a misguided desire not to cause her distress. So I can see how Mrs. Austen, perhaps, might have put the kibosh on a proposed match involving the Harrison family some years earlier.

I also surmised that “the young Man” was probably Mrs. Craven’s elder son, Fulwar Craven. He was then 19, two years older than his brother Charles, and therefore the most likely candidate to have benefited from matchmaking.

Here’s what eventually happened to Mrs. Craven’s three children, marriage-wise:

Fulwar Craven married at 27 in 1809 and has five children. Charles Craven married in 1817 at age 33and had three children. He matriculated St. Johns College in Dec. 1802. And the much younger Charlotte Craven married an MP in 1819 at age 21.

So any matchmaking services rendered in 1801 apparently came to naught.

But I then became curious to know more about Mrs. Craven, and was excited when Le Faye’s index alerted me that she was referred to by JA in several later letters over a period of years. This of course makes sense, as Mrs. Craven was Martha and Mary’s aunt, who was also not that much older than her two nieces. Given that Martha lived with JA for so many years, that meant that Mrs. Craven would have been a kind of honorary aunt to JA and CEA as well.

> From those references in JA’s later letters, I discerned one other
mystery, regarding Mrs. Craven’s finances, which goes to the heart of JA’s feminism, as I understand it. Here it is, in a nutshell.

In 1804, at approximately the age of 40, she found herself a widow with two sons out in the world and one very young daughter to care for. Within a year after being widowed, she relocated to Speen Hill, where I gather she lived a modest but solvent existence. Here is what JA writes to CEA in 1805:

“I am heartily glad that you can speak so comfortably of your own health & looks, tho' I can scarcely comprehend the latter being really approved. Could travelling fifty miles produce such an immediate change?-You were looking so very poorly here; everybody seem'd sensible of it.-Is there a charm in an hack postchaise?-But if there were, Mrs. Craven's carriage might have undone it all.”

I gather from this description that Mrs. Craven kept a carriage, but it was what was referred to in the Fifties as a “jalopy” rather than a first class carriage. So she was neither poor nor rich, I imagine.

Then in June 1808 we learn that Mrs. Craven is doing well enough to afford taking a vacation on the Isle of Wight, and to invite Frank Austen’s wife Mary and her newborn to join her there.

Then we fast forward ahead 5 years to May 1813, when JA makes a special point of visiting Charlotte Craven, Mrs. Craven’s daughter, who has attained the age of 15 and is at school in London, where JA famously observes:

“I was shewn upstairs into a drawing-room, where she came to me, and the appearance of the room, so totally unschoollike, amused me very much; it was full of all the modern elegancies-& if it had not been for some naked Cupids over the Mantlepiece, which must be a fine study for Girls, one should never have smelt instruction.” So there is still money to pay for her daughter to go to school in London.

Why I keep harping on Mrs. Craven’s financial health are the following comments by JA in Letter 92 (10/14/13) and Letter 105(8/23/14), respectively:

“Does Martha never hear from Mrs. Craven?-Is Mrs. Craven never at home?....The same good account of Mrs. C.'s health continues, & her circumstances mend. She gets farther & farther from Poverty. What a comfort!”

What happened to Mrs. Craven so suddenly to cause JA to be so anxious for her welfare in 1813-1814? Apparently she was very ill, and as a result, perhaps, her finances went into a tailspin? Had she overextended her finances paying for London schooling for her daughter?

Whatever is the cause, I got a sudden glimpse behind the curtain of Miss Bates (and Mrs. Austen) at that moment, thinking of the wife of a comfortably well off clergyman who, upon her husband’s death first has to relocate to a more modest home, and then finds herself one day on the brink of poverty in her early fifties.

But fortunately the Craven ship appears to have righted itself after that, because Mrs. Craven wound up surviving till a ripe old age, dying in 1839, and all her children also enjoyed full life spans as well.

I find it interesting that the tale of Mrs. Craven has never been considered worth telling by any Austen biographer, despite her making a half dozen appearances in JA’s letters, and being close family to Martha Lloyd. But I do believe that one of the real life personages inhabiting Miss Bates was this very same Mrs. Craven, and that JA considered this lady’s life worthy of notice, and so I am glad to remember her life.

Cheers, ARNIE