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Monday, August 6, 2012

Letter 74, 31 May 1811: Jane Austen's Sharp Desire for a visit from Miss Sharp

Diana wrote: "She begins by being brisk and purposeful, fully determined on having Miss Sharp to visit...."

Diana, that passage struck me very strongly, I think it's worth analyzing it for what it suggests in terms of Chawton family dynamics:

"I have a magnificent project.-The Cookes have put off their visit to us; they are not well enough to leave home at present, & we have no chance of seeing them till I do not know when-probably never, in this house. This circumstance has made me think the present time would be favourable for Miss Sharp's coming to us; it seems a more disengaged period with us, than we are likely to have later in the summer; if Frank & Mary do come, it can hardly be before the middle of July, which will be allowing a reasonable length of visit for Miss Sharpe supposing she begins it when you return; & if you & Martha do not dislike the plan, & she can avail herself of it, the opportunity of her being conveyed hither will be excellent.-I shall write to Martha by this post, & if neither You nor she make any objection to my proposal, I shall make the invitation directly-& as there is no time to lose, you must write by return of post if you have any reason for not wishing it done.-It was her intention I beleive to go first to Mrs. Lloyd-but such a means of getting here may influence her otherwise."

What is striking to me is how desperately JA wishes for Anne Sharp to come visit Chawton Cottage, and at the same time, how hard JA apparently feels she has to work in order to convince CEA (and Martha) that a visit from Anne Sharp is a good idea which will not interfere with any other plans of the Chawton Cottage women. Chawton Cottage is a democracy run jointly by CEA, JA and Martha (apparently Mrs. Austen has no vote?) and a visit from a friend must receive unanimous approval, so JA needs to "win the vote" of _both_ CEA and Martha, or it won't happen. And we also see, once again, all the tortured logistics of arranging travel by women who have no independent means of travel.

How very sad, JA is 35 years old, and all she wants is a long satisfying visit from her dear old friend (or perhaps there is more to it than platonic friendship, as Ashford's recent Austen bio-novel suggests---and I agree, in fact I wonder if there might not be some subtle undercurrent of jealousy going on here, given JA's extremely close relationship with Martha), but JA cannot have this simple thing, that she ought to be able to take for granted, without having to dance on the head of a pin.

And what a clever "lawyer" JA is--she does not want to wait for an affirmative "yes" from CEA and Martha, so instead she sets up the rules of the "vote" so that if JA does not receive a "no" by a certain date, then she will go forward with the plan.

For any of you who don't want to wait till next week to find out whether the visit actually did happen, just read Letter 75, the answer is right there.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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