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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The News that Really Made Jane Austen Sicker LAST INSTALLMENT


“To go back to Henry's bankruptcy, the only ones in the family who were directly affected, at least financially, were Edward Knight and Mr. Leigh Perrot, who each lost £10,000 (hence maybe the latter's testamentary hostility to the Austen brood at large?) Or am I missing something?”

Catherine, according to Honan, Nokes, AND Le Faye, Uncle Leigh Perrot lost L10,000 and EAK lost L20,000, as sureties, and Henry’s servants (such as Mme Bigeon) lost all their savings, and Charles Austen lost “hundreds” , as depositors (in a world without FDIC account insurance). According to Le Faye (quoting Caroline Austen), Frank and James each lost “hundreds” as well. So even though the lion’s share of the losses, in actual amounts, were borne by EAK and Uncle Leigh Perrot, it was also a relatively large debacle for the 4 other Austen brothers, too. And, by (the ceasing of ) trickle down, the three Austen women in turn suffered financially as well.

But what I love about your thinking, Catherine, is the suggestion of “testamentary hostility” as a possible factor for Uncle Leigh Perrot having pulled the testamentary plug on pretty much everyone in the Austen family except, ultimately, JEAL himself. Whether it was true or not in terms of Uncle Leigh Perrot’s actual motivations, which he took to the grave with him, it certainly is something that JEAL was clearly thinking about when he wrote that section of Chapter XI.

Now I see another layer to his Iagoish manipulations of reality. It’s almost as if he was giving the reader a second option for letting Uncle Leigh Perrot off the hook for disinheriting the Austens. If the reader didn’t buy that Henry’s bankruptcy was the DIRECT cause of that disinheritance, JEAL seems to be suggesting that it was an INDIRECT cause, in that it provided some moral justification for that disinheritance.

Someone who seems to taken that interpretation and run with it, bigtime, is Richard A Austen Leigh, JEAL’s son (I am pretty sure he was his son), who wrote the following in JA’s Life and Letters in 1913, having had about 40 years to improve on his father’s ingenious lucubrations:

“About the same time another will was causing great disappointment to the Austen family ; and as Jane was affected by anything that affected her nearest relations,
we must probably attribute to it some share in the rapid decay of her bodily strength. Her uncle, Mr. Leigh Perrot, died at Scarlets on March 28. He was childless,
and left a considerable fortune. As he was also a kind-hearted man and had always shown particular favour to the Austens, it was reasonably expected that they
would reap some immediate benefit under his will. Most of the family were in narrow circumstances, and they had lately been crippled by the failure of Henry's
business and the lawsuit about Edward's Hampshire property; a legacy, therefore, would have been very acceptable. Mr. Leigh Perrot, however, was actuated in
making his will by a stronger motive than love to sister and nephews. [We ought not to forget that he had just lost 10,000 in the bankruptcy of his nephew Henry.]
He was devoted to his wife, and was perhaps anxious to show that his devotion was increased in consequence of the false accusation with which she had been
assailed at Bath in 1799-1800. “

Here have yet another generation of Austen-Leighs making up some high-octane b.s. in order to cover the tracks of ol’ Uncle Leigh Perrot, and having his father’s
penchant for wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

So Column A is that Uncle L-P was a“kind hearted man”—but if you have a little difficulty swallowing the notion that a kind hearted rich man would completely stiff
his widowed aging sister and her two impecunious daughters, one of whom is dying, after leading them all to believe he was going to take care of them one day in his
will, then how about Column B.

Column B is that the old man REALLY loved his wife SO much, and felt SO bad that she had been unjustly (or was it?) accused of shoplifting 17 years earlier that
he just HAD to stiff his widowed aging sister and her two impecunious daughters, one of whom was dying. That’s Column B.

But…if you have a little difficulty swallowing that whopper, then hell, there’s always Column C, which is that those damned Austens deserved to be stiffed, because
after all, one of them, Henry, had cost Uncle Leigh Perrot L20,000, and so, what’s wrong with a little collective punishment? Teach ‘em a lesson they’ll really understand.

I’d love to see the letter that JA wrote to Martha Lloyd after the disinheritance, the letter that surely got destroyed by somebody, in which JA wrote what she REALLY
thought about the whole situation.

“Arnie, I'm fascinated with your discoveries and amazed that JEAL would change a word in a letter in so blatant a way. I wonder if we have originals of all the letters he
quotes in the Memoir, because it would be interesting to compare them to the texts in the book.”

Diane, I am too lazy to go and check and see which of the letters has as its only source JEAL’s Memoir. We already know he is the only source for several statements
he attributes to JA (such as, e.g., what happens to some of her characters after the end of the novels), and I’d say, given his evident willingness on a number of occasions
in the Memoir to bend truth to his own purposes, that he’s about as reliable a source as a $3 bill. And that is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

I had a low opinion about JEAL as a Memoirist before we started this group read, but now it has sunk further than the Dow sank in October, 2008—I mean, LOW!

Thinking about Iago, what would be the capper would be if someone finds a letter one day written by JEAL to Uncle Leigh Perrot in April, 1816, in which he leads off
by sympathizing with the old man for his grievous financial loss from Henry’s bankruptcy; and moves right along to assuring his uncle that the rumor which surely Uncle
had heard, that Mrs. Norris was really a veiled portrait of Mrs. Leigh Perrot, couldn’t possibly be true; and then hit ‘im right between the eyes with the claim that the
small army of folks who all said that Henry really was at fault for the bankruptcy were just a pack of malicious slanderers; and then finish with the philosophical
observation that it was only human nature, and therefore not anything to get bent about, that the Austens were taking bets among themselves as to how much
Uncle Leigh Perrot was going to leave to each of them, although he, JEAL, being a future man of the cloth, would never in a million years think about inheritance
when there was God’s work to be done in the world, etc etc.

I mean, really, I would not put ANY of that past JEAL. He was, as Mrs. Norris might have said, a real piece of work. (and thanks to Henry Fielding for inspiring me
to this little flight of fantasy).


P.S. And thank you, EB-T, for your positive response to my ideas

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