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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jane Austen's 1808 Birthday Elegy to Madam Lefroy: Shining a Light on James Edward Austen Leigh's Concealments in his 1870 Memoir of Jane Austen

Today would have been Jane Austen's 236th birthday, if she had only drunk more deeply of the life-prolonging elixir known as Bath waters during her youth, and if she had kept away from those pesky arsenic-based medicines. ;)

One of the points noted every year on JA's birthday is the elegy JA wrote on her birthday in 1808, four years to the day after the accidental death of the woman many (but _not_ including myself) consider to have been a mentor to the young Jane Austen, Madam Lefroy. Madam Lefroy was, among other things, the aunt of Tom Lefroy, with whom JA flirted so famously at age 21 in 1796.

The following is a link to my post of March 2, 2011 in which, by pointing to a few earlier posts of mine, and then adding more details, I laid out a comprehensive case for why that famous 1808 elegy that JA wrote to Madam Lefroy was actually a biting and bawdy satire of Madam Lefroy, her brother Samuel Egerton Brydges, and, for good measure, Samuel Johnson, who had died and been similarly eulogized in 1784.

In my post, I also explain how James Edward Austen Leigh, the nephew of Jane Austen and author of the 1870 Memoir of JA that marked the true beginning of Austenmania, successfully obscured evidence of the satirical nature of that 1808 elegy, so as to Bowdlerize the public image of Jane Austen:

In the above post, please note that a link to what I call "the Lefroy Book" was unable to be included in the blog post itself, so I added it in the first Comment to the post.

If you're interested in the above, and are willing to invest the time to follow the trail I lay out, I am confident you will not be disappointed.

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

Today, Christy Somer wrote in Janeites & Austen L: "David Nokes’ bio reminds me of JA’s poem to Mrs. Lefroy written between letter’s 62 & 63, so here it is. This is taken family poetry: To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 -my Birthday- written 1808"

Christy, thanks for reminding us of that chronology. Your comment made me think about that poem as the "meat" inside the sandwich provided by Letters 62 & 63.

You of course recall that I have previously expressed my opinion about that poem as a covert satire of Madam Lefroy here....

...which contains links back to earlier more extensive posts of mine on this topic.

In reflecting on that elegy in relation to these letters, what is involved in both is that this was a huge turning point in JA's life, that began abruptly in October 1808 when Elizabeth Austen Knight died and the plan to move to Chawton Cottage miraculously came into being. This was a time, I think, when JA really began to feel empowered as an author, as she could foresee living in a home environment in which she could take control of her creative life and get published.

So the satirical poem to Madam Lefroy was, I think, part of getting closure on her life up to that moment, moving on from the past--both the Steventon era now 7 years removed for JA, and also the wandering in the desert in Bath and Southampton---and looking with enormous energy and eagerness toward the future. I feel that same surge of energy all over these last letters written from Southampton. There is no mourning, no regrets, only eager anticipation of a bright future.