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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lord Brabourne was Touchy about Serial Pregnancy Jokes for a Reason

In Janeites and Austen L today, Christy Somer wrote: "I have a question....In the facsimile of this first letter of October 1808 [i.e. Jane Austen's Letter 56], as I mentioned yesterday, this line is crossed out: "...but poor Woman! how can she be honestly breeding again?-" ..and this line was left out of the Brabourne edition of the letters. If one continues to read down a bit, this part remains in the Brabourne edition: "About an hour and a-half after your toils on Wednesday ended, ours began. At seven o'clock Mrs. Harrison, her two daughters and two visitors, with Mr. Debary and his eldest sister, walked in." Yet, leaves out the rest -here is the complete portion from RWC & DLF volumes, as well as from the facsimile: "About an hour & half after your toils on Wednesday ended, ours began;-at seven o'clock, Mrs. Harrison, her two daughters & two Visitors, with Mr. Debary & his eldest sister walked in; & our Labour was not a great deal shorter than poor Elizabeth's, for it was past eleven before we were delivered." Yet, in the facsimile, the removal was not done with any lines. It remains clearly, and was just left out of the Brabourne edition.
Why is one portion of a letter crossed out and not the other -and when both have been excluded? It certainly makes one wonder if someone else did the crossing out -and not Lord Brabourne, after all."

Christy, you've gone halfway toward answering your own question, by framing it so clearly--I will take it the rest of the way:

The attempted cancellation in the first passage you quoted was clearly performed by someone _prior_ to Lord Brabourne, and Lord Brabourne appears to have merely "ratified" that attempt in his 1884 edition, rather than restoring the manually cancelled portion. My vote is that Fanny Knatchbull was the culprit who attempted that (thankfully ultimately unsuccessful) cancellation, and the reason I suggest this derives straight from the relevant family history.

First, Fanny's husband's father, Sir Edward Knatchbull (8th Baronet), had, prior to his death in 1819, sired an appalling total of _seventeen_ children on _three_ wives (the first two of whom, I would bet, died in childbirth), including Fanny's husband who was, of course his eldest son.

And then second, Fanny's husband, Sir Edward Knatchbull (9th Baronet), truly his father's son in this same appalling way, quickly sired _six_ children on his first wife in 8 years (who it is certain also died in childbirth!), and then, after a 5 year hiatus, revved up the engines again to make up for lost time, and proceeded to sire _nine_ more children on his new bride Fanny (who was, by the way, already 26 when she married him, so her age is probably the reason, rather than some sudden outburst of conjugal restraint on the 9th Baronet's part, that she did not make it to double digits, breedingwise, and possibly thereby avoided dying while running this decade-long gauntlet).

And the eldest of those 9 children of Fanny Knight Knatchbull, Edward, was the very same Lord Brabourne who published the 1884 edition of JA's Letters! So it cannot come as a surprise to anyone that he in particular would not wish to publish an edition of his great Aunt's letters in which she so brazenly mocks the practice that led to his own existence, a practice that his grandfather and father both embraces with open arms (so to speak). He did not want the world to know that his childless great aunt had considered his progenitors as the equivalent of bulls and cows in a pasture.

As for the second quoted passage, Christy, it seems to me that Fanny, having deleted what she considered to be the offensive first passage, would have left in a passage where JA, even though she engaged in some witty wordplay on "Labour", went on to express sympathy for "poor Elizabeth", who of course was Fanny's own mother--and did so in a letter written right before her mother's terrible death! So I can well understand why Fanny left that passage in.

But her son, who never knew his maternal grandmother, was another story. He was clearly a born Bowdlerizer, who decided that wit on the topic of difficult childbirth was unacceptable.

Cheers, ARNIE

P.S.: I wondered why it was that the 9th Baronet gave his Christian name to a son born of his _second_ marriage, after siring six children in his first marriage. I quickly checked and saw that of his five children who lived to adulthood, four were _daughters_, but that still does not explain why his firstborn son, born in 1808, was given the name Norton instead of Edward. I wondered if Norton's legitimacy was in issue, but apparently not, as he eventually became the 10th Baronet. So it was probably like in the Austen family, sometimes the firstborn son did not receive his father's name.

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