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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Letter 61: Stoneleigh Abbey Ruminations

In Letter 61, JA writes the following in relation to Stoneleigh Abbey:

"Yes, the Stoneleigh business is concluded, but it was not till yesterday that my Mother was regularly informed of it, tho' the news had reached us on Monday Eveng* by way of Steventon. My Aunt says as little as may be on the subject by way of information, & nothing at all by way of satisfaction. She reflects on Mr. T. Leigh's dilatoriness, & looks about with great diligence & success for Inconvenience & Evil-among which she ingeniously places the danger of her new Housemaids catching cold on the outside of the Coach, when she goes down to Bath-for a carriage makes her sick.-John Binns has been offered their place, but declines it-as she supposes, because he will not wear a Livery.-Whatever be the cause, I like the effect.-In spite of all my Mother's long and intimate knowledge of the Writer, she was not up to the expectation of such a Letter as this; the discontentedness of it shocked & surprised
her-but I see nothing in it out of Nature-tho' a sad nature. She does not forget to wish for Chambers, you may be sure.-No particulars are given, not a word of arrears mentioned-tho' in her letter to James they were in a general way spoken of. The amount of them is a matter of conjecture, & to my Mother a most interesting one; she cannot fix any time for their beginning, with any satisfaction to herself, but Mrs. Leigh's death-& Henry's two Thousand pounds neither agrees with that period nor any other.-I did not like to own, our previous information of
what was intended last July-& have therefore only said that if we could see Henry we might hear many particulars, as I had understood that some confidential conversation had passed between him & Mr. T. L. at Stoneleigh." END QUOTE

I would imagine that the financial aspects of that passage would be Greek to most Janeites reading it, so let me assist in orienting you.

Previously, I've written about Stoneleigh Abbey as follows:\tml

[JA's veiled representation of Stoneleigh Abbey as Sotherton in MP]\f.html

[JA's veiled representation of Stoneleigh Abbey as Delaford in S&S]\.html

[My demystification of the actual and the would-have-been disinheritances of the Austen women vis a vis Stoneleigh Abbey]

With all of that as background (and by the way you will find absolutely no assistance whatsoever in any of Le Faye's indices or footnotes to help you figure out what that was all about), the above passage in Letter 61 becomes intelligible in terms of Austen family _economics_ (at least, I _think_ I understand what is being described obliquely) and even more interesting in terms of Austen family _psychodynamics_.

Apparently Aunt Leigh-Perrot (her husband, Uncle James Leigh-Perrot, is not mentioned at all--apparently Mrs. Austen has received a letter from her sister in law) is playing it very close to the vest, i.e., has not disclosed to the ultra-curious Mrs. Austen any details of the final financial settlements between Uncle Leigh Perrot (who, per the third of my above linked posts, had previously agreed to take a lump sum of 20,000 pounds in exchange for his waiver of all his rights against Stoneleigh Abbey itself). The discussion of "arrears", I am guessing, relates to the question of how much was owed to Uncle Leigh Perrot as _interest_ which had accrued on his 20,000 pounds since 1806 upon the death of Mary Leigh. Apparently Henry Austen, the Austen with the most financial knowledge, apparently, has guessed 2,000 pounds, which sounds
right to me, as it would be about 5% per annum for a period of 2 years, on a principal amount of 20,000 pounds.

I gather that Mrs. Austen's extreme curiosity, and the guesswork by Henry, is motivated by the belief that at some point after Uncle Leigh Perrot received his 20,000, plus 2,000 +-, then there was hoped to follow some healthy "trickle down" of at least some of that new infusion of wealth from the childless Leigh-Perrots in the general direction of the Austens. Certainly Mrs. Austen takes a very lively interest in that subject, and it is in _that_ context that we get the above litany of Aunt Leigh Perrot's Aunt-Norris-like phantom complaints about housemaids catching cold on the outside of a coach, a male servant not wanting to wear a livery, etc. That's what is so frustrating to Mrs. Austen, and which gives no information and less satisfaction, as JA drolly puts it.
Mrs. Austen wants to know pounds and shillings, and dates, and instead all she gets in the letter is a bunch of b.s. about housemaids and servants--sorta like Dogberry giving his "reports" to Leonato in which he talks about everything else _except_ to the point of interest.

JA, ever the "studier of human nature", is, however, not surprised. She describes Aunt Leigh-Perrot with the same sort of scientific clinically detached lingo that Darwin deployed in describing minute differences in traits in Galapagos finches, but with characteristic Austenian irony mixed in:

"Whatever be the cause, I like the effect"--meaning, I gather, that JA, like Mr. Bennet, enjoys the droll entertainment unwittingly provided by Aunt Leigh's selfish stupid complaints. If Rome is going to burn, JA is going to enjoy watching the flames.

"...the discontentedness of it shock & surprised [Mrs. Austen]--but I see nothing in it out of Nature--tho a sad nature. She does not forget to wish for Chambers..."---meaning that, unlike Mrs. Austen, who , JA (beside whom Joyce was as innocent as grass, as Auden told us) had no illusions about her Aunt's true character, this idiotic, frustrating performance by her Aunt is entirely _in_ character.

All of which--from JA's fictional representations of Stoneleigh Abbey, to JA's representations of Aunt Leigh Perrot in JA's novels (Mrs. Norris, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Churchill)--gives the lie, for the thousandth time, to HTA's and JEAL's assertions that JA did not write about real life people in her novels. The reality was actually the reverse, i.e., the more one knows JA's biographical details, the harder it becomes to find any character in her novels who is _not_ a representation of at least one real life person!

Cheers, ARNIE

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