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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Friday, December 30, 2011

Jane Austen's Stealth Poem to the 8-year old Anna Austen

Yesterday, Ellen Moody wrote the following in Austen L:

" vigilant eye spotted two poems I'd never read before 'attributed to Jane Austen.' True, the attribution is not firm, but (according to Todd and Bree), the handwriting is like that of Austen's, it is found written in a book by Ann Murry (Mentoria; or, The Young Lady's Home Instructor) which literal book was owned by Austen in the 1790s and given to Anna Lefroy in 1801. How much provenance do we need? Here it is:

Sigh Lady sigh, hide not the tear thats stealing
Down thy young face now so pale& cheerless [now is underlined in ms]
Let not thy heart be blighted by the feeling
That presses on thy soul, of utter loneliness.

In sighs supprest& grief that's [ever?] weeping
Beats slow& mournfully [a mourning?] heart
A heart oer which decay& death are creeping
In which no sunshine can a gleam impart.

Thou art not desolate, tho' left forsaken [not underlined in ms]
By one in whom thy very soul was bound
Let Natures voice thy dreary heart awaken
Oh listen to the melodies around.

For Summer her pure golden tress is flinging
On woods& glades& silent gliding streams
With joy the very air around is ringing
Oh rouse thee from those mournful mournful dreams.

Go forth let not that voice in vain be calling
Join thy hearts voice to that which fills the air
For he who een a sparrow saves from falling
Makes thee an object of peculiar care.[thee underlined in ms]

I replied to Ellen as follows:

It's not unknown, Ellen, but I agree, it has not been publicized, and you are absolutely right, it has been deliberately been given a quiet death by faint praise by the usual suspects, Le Faye amongst them. Indeed, it ought to have been announced with a megaphone.

Ellen also wrote about this poem: "So why did David Selwyn not include this when others are in ms's or places just as scattered? My guesses: it's so sad and doesn't fit a preconception of Austen....She had reason to be sad sometimes in the 1790s until 1801 as we've seen, and we've noticed so many letters destroyed and Cassandra continually trying to repress her sister."

I further replied as follows:

Ellen, you need to put on your deerskin cap to notice the obvious crucial clue to the poem's very sad meaning, which you yourself provided to us! That clue is the date (1801) and the person to whom it was given (Anna Austen). Think about what happened in 1801 and how that event affected the relationship between Jane Austen and Anna Austen (at the very least, her psychological daughter).

Of course you see it now, right? JA was forced to leave Steventon and leave poor sad little Cinderella, Anna age 8, in the care of the evil stepmother, Mary Lloyd Austen, who by then was well into her career of spoiling her own 3 year old darling boy, JEAL, the way Mrs. Middleton spoiled her little darling son (until Lucy Steele "accidentally" poked him with a needle!). And that left poor Anna out in the bitter cold, with her two loving aunts exiled away from her in Bath.

Now the poem makes perfect sense, and it is chilling and awful to contemplate the heartbreak that JA and Anna both endured at that wrenching time. Because you can be damned sure that the profit that James and Mary made at the expense of the Austen women and Revd. Austen was _not_ spent on giving extra TLC to Anna, and JA knew it!

And there in that last stanza, by the way, is a perfect example of JA's truly compassionate Christianity, one which cared most for the weak and the powerless.

We can see the seeds of Fanny Price in this poem, can we not?

And how clever JA had to be, in order to leave this message to Anna where it would be safe from detection, and possible destruction, by Mary Lloyd Austen--what better place to hide a poem like this than in a conduct book that would have warmed Mary Lloyd Austen's hard heart, thinking that it was going to teach little Anna to show more respect to her stepmother and her other elders, and not to fall into dejection at the loss of her aunts, and ingratitude toward her "wonderful" stepmother, etc etc.

JA knew that Mary actually had no pleasure in a book--even a book like this one--and so little Anna need not be afraid to keep this book close to her at all times, so she could read her Aunt Jane's loving poem whenever she felt lonely and abused.

And finally, we know JA's satirical stance toward the Murry Mentoria book in which JA hid this poem to her dear Anna, because it was also pointed out 13 years ago in this list by Ursula Rempel and Eugene McDonnell that the Mentoria book contains the following "tactful" suggestion to young ladies...

Murry: "Knowledge ought not wholly to be concealed; yet like beauty, it appears most amiable seen through the veil of diffidence and modesty."

...which JA famously and deliciously mocked with this translation in Northanger Abbey:

"[Catherine] was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can."

THAT's why JA could feel safe in Mary Lloyd Austen not being too quick to detect and destroy JA's poem to Anna, as Mary apparently took Murry' advice very seriously, and that is why she read as little as possible!

Cheers, ARNIE

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