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

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Letter 61: "...Miss Sawbridge is Married...": The Hidden Bombshell

In Letter 61, Jane Austen wrote the following:

"Before I can tell you of it, you will have heard that Miss Sawbridge is married. It took place I beleive on Thursday, Mrs. Fowle has for some time been in the secret, but the Neighbourhood in general were quite unsuspicious. Mr. Maxwell was tutor to the young Gregorys-consequently they must be one of the happiest Couples in the World, & either of them worthy of Envy-for she must be excessively in love, and he mounts from
nothing, to a comfortable Home.-Martha has heard him very highly spoken of.-They continue for the present at Speen Hill."

Le Faye's footnote to that passage pertains only to JA's deleting the word "probably" which she initially wrote after "he mounts from" and before "nothing", and her Biographical Index entries for Miss Sawbridge and Mr. Maxwell read as follows:

"Miss Sawbridge: Perhaps Elizabeth-Jane, sister of Revd. Henry Sawbridge, rector of Welford near Welbury, Berks."

"Mr. Maxwell: Perhaps James Maxwell, of Lewes, Sussex, who entered Trinity College, Cambridge, 1804 aged 18; ordained 1811 and went to a Norfolk living."

I would imagine that a small but significant percentage of all the Janeites who've ever actually read the above passage in Letter 61 have been prompted by curiosity (piqued by JA's characteristic ironic, cynical speculations about the relative importance of money and love in courtship) to read Le Faye's footnote and Biographical Index entries. But I'd also imagine that those readers were disappointed by the absence of interesting information, and then returned to Letter 61 with a sigh, in search of other avenues of insight into Jane Austen's life.

I also cannot find any evidence of any Austen scholar besides Le Faye who has even commented on the above passage, beyond Halperin's brief mention in the same vein as my above parenthetical. Based on the dry data provided by Le Faye, above (actually, _speculation_ as Le Faye’s “perhapses” admit she doesn’t know who these people really were), perhaps it is not surprising that this passage has never been examined more

But..those of you who know my M.O. have by now suspected that I had some special reason to focus on this passage--and your suspicions were entirely correct, because, as I will lay out for you, below, I claim this is actually an extraordinarily interesting passage for Austen scholars, in ways that could not be imagined from the face of the above passage or from Le Faye's speculations thereon.

I found what I found Because I am someone who picks up on surnames and wonders about possible connections, and am also someone who is never stopped or discouraged from checking on a speculated connection by a thought such as "Le Faye must have checked that already, I don't need to".

If my posts during the past year about these letters have any common denominator, it is that Le Faye either has not checked, or has checked but has chosen not to reveal the whole truth about, a _hundred_ different possible connections raised in JA's letters!

And this one might just be the _most_ significant one of them all.

Before I go further, if you want to play Sherlock Holmes yourself, stop before reading the following link, reread what I've written, above, and see if you can spot what I spotted, and see if it leads you where I was led.

For everybody else, though, just scroll down.....

....keep scrolling.....

.....keep scrolling.....

...and now, read this:

Surely you now see what I am driving at. Although I did not mention the above-quoted passage in Letter 61 in my answers to my Quiz, it does not require a degree in puzzleology to take note that Catherine Macaulay's maiden name was Sawbridge, which just happens to be the maiden name of Jane Austen's "Miss Sawbridge" who married Mr. Maxwell. And _YES_, to answer the obvious next question, I did check into this possible
connection on my own, and I quickly found out that these two ladies _were_ closely related! And what's more, as I will outline, below, I also found out that the Sawbridge family actually was very closely connected to the Austen family as well!

But before I briefly outline the genealogical data that links "Miss Sawbridge" to Catherine Sawbridge, and that also links the Austen and Sawbridge families, I want to emphasize the Big Picture in all of this, i.e., why you should care at all about any of these connections. It's not just about our ability to interpret the above passage in Letter 61, it's about much more than that.

Rather, the bottom line for Austen studies, as I see it, is that these family connections---and, in that context, JA's very personal and familiar remarks about Miss Sawbridge's recent marriage to the upwardly mobile Mr. Maxwell---show that JA had every personal reason to know all about the life _and_ _writings_ of Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay.

In my posting of the quick answers to my quiz, I briefly referred to the complex but covert allusions that JA made to Macaulay's extraordinarily--even uniquely- influential _feminist_ writings. I also stated that any detailed explanation of those allusions was beyond the scope of these blog posts, but would be front and center in my book about
Jane Austen the radical feminist.

For starters, we have the complex allusion (heretofore _not_ definitively recognized by any Austen or Macaulay scholar) by the 16 year old Jane Austen, in writing her satirical History of England, to the hugely famous multivolume work of the same title written by Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay! But as I said, that allusion is very complex and takes a long time to explain properly.

Feminist scholars have been aware for the longest time that Macaulay was a huge influence on some of the most influential advocates for women's rights during JA's lifetime who followed in Macaulay's huge footsteps: Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays and many others. But now I suggest that to that "list of fame" must be added one other name--Jane Austen!Just as I have previously argued elsewhere that JA was wired into Charlotte Smith, the most overtly feminist female novelist who preceded her, I will show that JA also paid her deepest homages to Catharine Sawbridge Macaulay.

For anyone wishing to get a quick sense of who Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay (hereafter CSM) was, the Wikipedia entry under the name "Catherine Macaulay" is extensive, and you will quickly understand why JA's being connected to her is a very big deal:

And what I want to emphasize is that I discovered the true identity of Letter 61's "Miss Sawbridge" _after_ I had already independently realized the importance of CSM's writings in forming JA's own authorial feminism! I actually searched the name "Sawbridge" in Le Faye's letters a month ago, and was brought to that passage in Letter 61.

That was why I immediately set about to discover the family connections I will now briefly summarize:

Relationship of CSM to Jane Austen's "Miss Sawbridge": The Miss Sawbridge in JA's letter from 1808 was CSM's niece (the daughter of CSM's eldest brother John), was in her early to mid thirties when she married Mr. Maxwell, and was an heiress of a good fortune. CSM grew up on her father’s estate in Kent that was practically a stone’s throw from Godmersham!

Relationship between CSM's family and the Austen family: CSM's paternal uncle Jacob Sawbridge (younger brother of her father,. who was the eldest son) married Thomas Knight's sister (who was therefore a quasi-great aunt of Edward Austen!), and THEIR offspring included a daughter who married Mr. Heron at Chilham Castle, which JA described visiting in her letters.

Now, again, what should a Janeite make of Le Faye's failure to note _any_ of the above? Did/does Le Faye have any idea what sort of mega-star notoriety Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay enjoyed in that era, such that she might have been made particularly curious to find out if the famous "Catherine _Sawbridge_ Macaulay" was related to Letter 61's "Miss
Sawbridge"? Hard to imagine that she didn't, as she seems to otherwise enjoy a great familiarity with many aspects of English social, cultural, and political history during Jane Austen's lifetime.

Harder still to imagine that Le Faye was unfamiliar with the surname Sawbridge as being one of the small circle of prominent families that lived in very close proximity to Godmersham. Plus, there is another hint hidden in JA's above passage in Letter 61---JA (reminiscent of the way the news of Mr. Elton's engagement to Miss Hawkins spreads rapidly in Highbury) jokes to CEA that CEA "will have heard about" the marriage of Miss Sawbridge with Mr. Maxwell before JA reports on it to CEA.

JA has heard about it from Mrs. Fowle from Berkshire, but JA’s point is that JA is reporting “old news” because of the distance the news had to travel to get to JA, whereas CEA would have heard it sooner from Godmersham sources.

In short, either Le Faye missed something obvious and significant that a competent biographer who’s spent a lifetime working on this body of data should never have missed, OR... perhaps she was so convinced that JA would never have had any interest in the writings or life of CSM,that she felt justified in avoiding providing information leading directly from Jane Austen to the great feminist historian.

Either way—and I have no idea which one applies, it ain’t good.

Cheers, ARNIE


Karen Green said...

Congratulations Arnie, working on Catharine Macaulay I had worked all this out. But what about the Rev. Patrick Maxwell being tutor to the young Gregories ...

Are these the children of Catharine Macaulay's daughter, Catharine Sophia, who married Charles Gregorie in 1786, or are they the children of another branch of the Gregorie family.

I guess that the answer lies in the reference to Spleen. Let me know if you have already worked it out.

Also, why did the Knights make Edward Austen their heir, rather than Colonel Jacob Sawbridge, the living descendant of Anne Brodnax and Jacob Sawbridge?

Karen Green said...

Actually, since posting this I have found evidence that indeed, the Rev. Patrick Maxwell had been tutor to Catharine Sophia Gregorie's children.