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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jane Austen's dreadful Cousin Theo-Leigh Cooke as Mr. Collins in Letter 17 which will shortly be sold for big bucks!

 Just as Eleanor Tilney, in Northanger Abbey, completely misinterprets Catherine Morland's solemn comment that she has "heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London", to the great amusement of brother Henry Tilney, so too news reports out of London in the past few days have surely given to most of the world (i.e. other than knowledgeable Janeites) the entirely mistaken "first impression" that a new Jane Austen letter has just been discovered:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2863601/Previously-unseen-letter-Jane-Austen-writes-Pride-Prejudice-goes-public-display-time.html#ixzz3LEvMpeIj

"A PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN LETTER BY JANE AUSTEN in which she first writes about Pride And Prejudice has gone on public display for the first time. The double folded sheet, sent by Austen to her sister Cassandra in January 1799, makes reference to the novel - 14 years before it was first published. The handwritten note, which lay undiscovered in a box file for 60 years, will be exhibited at Torquay Museum in Devon ahead of a planned auction."

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-devon-30351264
"A PREVIOUSLY UNSEEN LETTER PENNED BY JANE AUSTEN is set to be sold by Torquay Museum. The letter, from the famous author to her sister, makes a reference to her novel Pride and Prejudice - which at the time had not yet been published. The letter is part of a collection that includes
letters from Charlotte Bronte, John Keats and Abraham Lincoln given to the museum in the 1930s. Director Basil Greenwood said selling the letter could raise £200,000."


In point of fact, the letter in question has been seen by those many thousands of Janeites who have ever read Le Faye's 1995 and more recent edition of JA's letters--it is Letter 17, and it has been reproduced in
those editions in full and with its provenance vis a vis the Torquay Museum fully set forth.

So the only real news here is that the letter is about to be sold for big bucks!!!

All the same, I am glad for these misleading news reports, because they caused me to revisit the post I wrote about Letter 17 three years ago near the beginning of our very long Group Read of JA's letters in
Janeites and Austen L. Here is the link to my post:

http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2011/08/mr-collinss-nothing-meaning-harmless.html


And here is the title and beginning of my post:

"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."  END QUOTE FROM MY 2011 POST

In other words, I argued in my post that Letter 17's reference to Bookham which Cassandra Austen attempted to cover over was JA's dig at her obnoxious, Mr. Collins-like cousin the Revd. Theo-Leigh Cooke, a dig she revisited in two later letters, showing she held a long standing dislike for Theo-Leigh Cooke. He must indeed have been very much like Mr. Collins.

And that leads me to a few additional observations:

1. Is it possible that at some point the Austen family pressured JA to MARRY her cousin (who was three years younger than she)? That would fit with Cassandra's unusual attempt at very specific editorial suppression -- i.e., it would not just be a non-specific expression by JA of desire to avoid seeing her cousin in passing in the midst of a large family gathering, but it might go a few steps further and suggest that in 1799, JA, at age 24, was under pressure to marry the Revd. Theo-Leigh Cooke???

2. If that were so, then it would also fit very nicely with the other misleading headline in the recent news reports about Letter 17:

BBC: "The letter, from the famous author to her sister, makes a reference to her novel Pride and Prejudice - which at the time had not yet been published"

Daily Mail: "Previously unseen letter by Jane Austen where she first writes about Pride and Prejudice...A previously unseen letter by Jane Austen in which she first writes about Pride And Prejudice has gone on public display for the first time.The double folded sheet, sent by Austen to her sister Cassandra in January 1799, makes reference to the novel - 14 years before it was first published. In the letter, Austen writes of her upcoming novel First Impressions, later renamed and published as Pride And Prejudice in 1813.The book later became one of the most popular novels in English literature, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.

'I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago,' she wrote to Cassandra."


So...putting the pieces of the puzzle together, I do NOT believe it was a coincidence that JA suspiciously mentions CEA wanting to read First Impressions again in this same Letter 17 in which JA writes a sharp dig at a close family member who was one of the models for Mr. Collins! What I actually think JA was doing was TELLING CEA to read First Impressions again--why? It was a coded way of telling CEA, "Read FIrst Impressions again so you can see on the page all the reasons why I am so glad I did have to talk to Theo-Leigh Cooke!"

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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