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

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jane Austen’s’ Cousin Edward Cooper: Another Real Life Mr. Collins Whining to a Murder Victim about Getting a Bump on the Head



In Janeites yesterday, Christy Somer wrote the following: This [following] letter was written to Jane Austen the day after she had written [Letter 157] to brother Charles.  And I believe this is the only extant family letter actually addressing Jane Austen, herself:

“My dear Jane, I am anxious to hear both of yourself & of my Aunt, because of the solicitude and agitation of mind, which she must lately have felt, and of yourself, because I am sorry to hear from Cassandra, what I did not before know, that you have been unwell. I hope to receive a favourable account of you both.
You will probably be desirous of hearing my sentiments on the communication received from James of the disposal of my Uncles Property. There was probably no reason why I should have expected any distinguished notice in his Will: but I certainly never seriously anticipated the probability of being altogether excluded from it. And I must express to you that the circumstances of being thus disowned by him at last does hurt me a great deal, because I did entertain a sincere regard & esteem for him. I had reason to suppose I was no great Favourite with him; yet his manner towards me, whenever I happened to see him, was kind and friendly, & I never suspected him to harbour those unfavorable dispositions towards me of which he has left behind him so marked & convincing proof. If however in thought or in act he has done me any injustice, I feel that I do most cordially forgive him. I trust that for his own sake he did not go out of the world with any uncharitable feelings towards me, but that at least in his last indisposition (during which from the time that I heard of it I did not cease to pray for him daily & earnestly) he forgave even as he looked to be forgiven. And I hope, if it so please God, that through the merits of our common Redeemer, we shall hereafter meet in another world, where mis-apprehension, mis-judgement, & mis-representation will have no place.
I will thank you to take an opportunity of communicating this letter to James, as it will save me the trouble of repeating my sentiments on a subject which at present is rather a painful one to dwell on. Give also my love to him, & tell him though I sincerely wish him well, & even rejoice in any good which befalls himself or his family, yet I feel it would be an indelicacy to offer him under present circumstances my congratulations on the prospective advancement of his family -a feeling, in which if I may judge from his letter to me, he fully participates; & I hope whenever he may write to me again, he will lay aside the Executor-title & assume that of a friend & cousin, which will be far more pleasant & natural to both of us. Will you be kind enough to send us word, when you write, what is the period of mourning, as we would wish to do the same as you do.
 As for the little boys, we conclude that one suit of black will be sufficient for them. Give my best love to my aunt: accept the same for yourself, & distribute a portion to all to whom a portion belongs, & believe me, Dear Jane, Your affectionate cousin, Ed. Cooper. “

I replied as possible:

Christy, thanks for transcribing the above for us, I don't recall ever seeing it, perhaps it was part of "The Austen Papers"? I have a very different reaction to this letter from that of either Ellen or Diane. At the top of my list, I am wondering, is it possible that this clueless narcissistic man does not realize that he's not the only one who has been stiffed by Uncle Leigh Perrot? Or is he so narcissistic that he considered it a grievous insult toward him that he was left out of the Will, but it was perfectly normal and okay with him that Mrs. Austen, CEA, and JA were left out of the Will? Is he so out of touch that he doesn't realize that money left to James and his own immediate family is NOT the same as money left to his mother and sisters?

Something is REALLY wrong with this picture, and it's not clear to me whether this is entirely his narcissism, or if CEA contributed to it by minimizing or ignoring the much more grievous injury suffered by the Austen women, when she corresponded with him after Uncle Leigh-Perrot's death. Just think about how Elinor Dashwood (CEA) would have kept her mouth shut, while Marianne (JA) would have shouted her outrage.

But then, as we see below, the Revd. Cooper is on his favorite subject--himself---so he was just getting started above, as he unwittingly does his best Mr. Collins imitation (hardly a coincidence, since he was definitely one of JA's real life sources for Mr. Collins), in trying to have it both ways---he struggles to appear to act like a forgiving Christian, but not quite pulling it off, because he feels so aggrieved and injured for the personal slight he feels was done to him, that he just can't help himself:

"If however in thought or in act he has done me any injustice, I feel that I do most cordially forgive him [much whining, then] Give also my love to him, & tell him though I sincerely wish him well, & even rejoice in any good which befalls himself or his family, yet I feel it would be an indelicacy to offer him under present circumstances my congratulations on the prospective advancement of his family -a feeling, in which if I may judge from his letter to me, he fully participates; & I hope whenever he may write to me again, he will lay aside the Executor-title & assume that of a friend & cousin, which will be far more pleasant & natural to both of us. Will you be kind enough to send us word, when you write, what is the period of mourning, as we would wish to do the same as you do."

The above would be vintage Austen fictional black comedy if we read this in one of her novels. Edward Cooper will forgive James Austen for gloating about stealing the inheritance out from under everyone  else in the family.......but only if Edward does not have to write it directly to James, so he appoints JA, the one who truly was devastated, and with good reason, by disinheritance by Uncle Leigh-Perrot, as his minister to do it for him!

Why am I reminded not only of Mr. Collins but also Charles Musgrove, Mary Musgrove and John Dashwood? JA's novels are a small encyclopedia of instances of such unwitting hypocrisy, narcissism, and lack of empathy for real suffering. We see in this letter a prime example of the source material JA drew on from real life, unfortunately it was never absent from her life.

What an ironic bookend this letter is to JA's Letter 157 to Charles!

Then Diane Reynolds moved toward my position on Edward Cooper with “He may have been a bit of an ass.", and I further responded as follows:

Diane, if you'd just change  "may have been" to "was" and zero in on the rear end of the horse, and then you'd see him exactly as I do. :)

I didn't recall that Le Faye also said (as I did earlier) that Edward Cooper was a Mr. Collins, so that tells you something, given her knee jerk readiness to apologize for and defend a long laundry list of horse's bottoms from JA's world. And also recall what i also posted last week, about how even the mild mannered CEA used his piggish features as the highly unattractive model for one of the King Edwards in JA 'a History of England. Nobody liked this guy, he was no fun at all.

Diane also wrote: "However, my first response does remain. This reads, even if EC is an ass, as the letter of someone whose home has been blown down by a natural disaster reaching out to a relative in the same situation. On the other hand, if he has a secure clergy living, he would have far less room to complain or worry than an elderly widow and her two unmarried daughters, one very ill, who have little money and survive due to the kindness of their sons/brothers. I do agree that, especially as a pastor, he should be a tad more concerned for his less fortunate relations and less for his own non-inheritance. Actually, I am talking myself into not liking this man much."

Diane you need to work on your inner Jane Bennet, ironically you show way too much Christian charity to a man who didn't deserve it, because he unintentionally made a crude mockery of true Christian charity. He was a mean spirited selfish ogre, the worst possible person to play the role of country clergyman.

One of the proofs of JA's astonishing psychological insight was her ability to, in effect, predict the future behavior of the ogres in her life. Cooper wrote that letter 4 years after JA published P&P, and his letter could have been inserted in P&P as Mr Collins's without raising an eyebrow. Just as Fanny knight Knatchbull's letter written 50 years after JA 's death was predicted by many of Emma Woodhouse's most snobbish judgments.

But back to Edward Cooper. You just know that this guy must have written HUNDREDS of letters like that during his life. JA's genius included the instinct for the psychological jugular, she could really identify the most telling personality defect of a person and then create a quintessential example of it and thereafter present it as theme and variation throughout the novel.

She understood that in real life, sadly, lots of people pretended to change and reform, but VERY few actually did change or reform.

Edward Cooper clearly NEVER changed!

Cheers, Arnie
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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