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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Letter 19 Headlines

For some reason, Letter 19 suggested to me the format of that chapter from Joyce's Ulysses where he gives a caption for each bit of the story:


"Poor Eliz[abeth] has had a dismal ride of it from Devizes, for it has rained almost all the way, & our first veiw of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth."

Here JA refers to Elizabeth Austen Knight, her sister in law, and perhaps the dismalness of _Elizabeth's_ ride from Devizes in particular arises from the fact that her pregnancy with her _sixth_ child in _six_ years has just begun ("Lizzy" was born in the end of January, 1800, which means that conception occurred a few weeks before the trip to Bath began. Morning sickness on a long bumpy ride in lousy weather, with a 5-year old and 6-year old in tow---not fun!

Just as Edward Austen Knight kicked Fanny out of her mother's bed upon return home from a trip, sounds like Edward wanted to make sure Elizabeth did not leave Godmersham without his having made sure he kept her firmly on the annual baby treadmill schedule. What a charmer!


" the bottom of Kinsdown Hill we met a Gentleman in a Buggy, who on minute examination turned out to be Dr Hall—& Dr Hall in such very deep mourning that either his Mother, his Wife, or himself must be dead."

Yes, that is the same Dr. Hall who was the "hero" of Letter 10, written six months earlier:

"Mrs. Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected oweing to a fright—I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband”

My guess is that Dr. Hall was _not_ actually dressed in mourning clothing at all, but that JA saw Dr. Hall as a connubial Angel of Death, who _should_ have been mourning his stillborn child (and his wife, who was, I gather JA's opinion, virtually entombed in marriage to him).

I love the "on minute examination" touch, as I guess that Dr. Hall was so uniquely ugly that he could be identified a mile away!


"I have some hopes of being plagued about my was too heavy to go by the Coach..."

Aside from the joke about wishing for delays in delivery, I wonder why JA's trunk in particular would have been so heavy--my guess is that she had lots of books in it! I base this guess on the fact that I just took a trip out of town with my wife, and we stuffed all our heavy books in our carry-on bags, so that the _checked_ bags would only have clothing in them, and therefore would not exceed the weight limit. Books are heavy! ;)

If my guess is correct, it is noteworthy that JA would bring a bunch of books with her for what would amount to only a two week stay in Bath--it fits with my sense of the dense allusivity of her novels, she would have planned which books to bring in order to refer to them while working on her novels.


}Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the staircase."

It does seem as though JA (and surely CEA as well) was very focused on women's bodies in a way that sounds strikingly modern, and we are reminded once again of Anne Elliot's reaction to Mrs. Musgrove's girth. The juxtaposition of Mrs. Bromley with a little black kitten is a study in vivid contrast.

And this is the second reference to mourning in the first half of this short letter, is it a coincidence, or does JA have mourning on her mind for some reason as she writes this letter?


"Elizabeth has the apartment within the drawing-room; she wanted my mother to have it, but as there was no bed in the inner one, and the stairs are so much easier of ascent, or my mother so much stronger than in Paragon as not to regard the double flight...."

I hear a strong veiled sarcasm in that "or my mother so much stronger than in Paragon as not to regard the double flight"---obviously Mrs. Austen is _not_ so much stronger than she was when previously staying at the Paragon, when it would seem that Mrs. Austen insisted on having the ground floor apartment, because climbing the stairs would be too difficult for her. Sounds to me like Mrs. Austen is deferring to her rich daughter in law (whose husband, Edward, is perhaps footing the bill for this trip?), in a way that Mrs. Austen would _not_ defer to either of her own daughters.

" is settled for us to be above, where we have two very nice-sized rooms, with dirty quilts and everything comfortable."

Again, JA tosses in a stink bomb ("dirty quilts") to undermine the "everything comfortable".

" I have the outward and larger apartment, as I ought to have; which is quite as large as our bedroom at home, and my mother's is not materially less."

More droll humor about JA somehow deserving the larger room.


"The beds are both as large as any at Steventon, and I have a very nice chest of drawers and a closet full of shelves -- so full indeed that there is nothing else in it, and it should therefore be called a cupboard rather than a closet, I suppose."

Sounds like a real-life Lady Catherine went hog wild in the closet of JA's room, as there is an unmistakable echo of the following passage in Ch. 14 of P&P:

"[Lady C] had perfectly approved all the alterations [Mr. Collins] had been making, and had even vouchsafed to suggest some herself, -- some shelves in the closets up stairs."


"There was a very long list of arrivals here in the newspaper yesterday, so that we need not immediately dread absolute solitude; and there is a public breakfast in Sydney Gardens every morning, so that we shall not be wholly starved."

I guess that it would be Elizabeth Austen Knight and Mrs. Austen, and not JA herself, who would be poring over the names of the arrivals, looking for Dalrymples and Carterets.


"Elizabeth has just had a very good account of the three little boys. I hope you are very busy and very comfortable."

Le Faye asserts in her footnote that the three youngest Knight children were all back at the Godmersham nursery. Absent some extrinsic evidence to that effect, I wonder whether that was so. If you read the above two sentences as a unit, then it sounds like Cassandra is taking care of the three kids by herself, and that would account for the "very busy" part!

Cheers, ARNIE

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