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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Long P.S. to Jane Austen's Letter 61: "....Miss SAWBRIDGE is married...": The Hidden Feminist Bombshell

I realized upon rereading what I wrote yesterday about my discovery of heretofore unrecognized personal connections between the great feminist historian Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay (later Graham) (1731-1791) [hereafter "CSM"] and both (i) the "Miss Sawbridge" whose recent marriage Jane Austen discussed in Letter 61, and also (ii) Jane Austen's family itself…..

....that in my desire to end an already-long post, I had been far too terse in describing those connections.

I will now remedy that over-terseness, with what turns out to be a good deal of clarifying amplification, which will, I believe, make it much clearer to you as to why I am so excited about the connections between CSM and JA that I sketched in my previous post.


First, as to the relationship of CSM to Jane Austen's "Miss Sawbridge":

Yesterday I wrote: "The Miss Sawbridge in JA's letter from 1808 was CSM's niece (the daughter of CSM's eldest brother John), was in her early to mid thirties when she married Mr. Maxwell, and was an heiress of a good fortune. CSM grew up on her father’s estate in Kent that was practically a stone’s throw from Godmersham!"

I now amplify as follows:

First, for the verification that this was indeed the Miss Sawbridge who married Mr. Maxwell, as described in Letter 61, I give you the following citation from The Gentleman's Magazine, 1808:

"At Speen, the Rev.. P. Maxwell, to Miss Sawbridge, daughter of the late John S. esq. of Olantigh, in Kent."

And, for anyone who cares, some further checking told me that her husband's name was Peter Maxwell.

But what matters to me is that this Miss Sawbridge was Elizabeth-Ann Sawbridge, the third child (but the only daughter) of John Sawbridge, the eldest brother of CSM. John Sawbridge was in his heyday not only the squire of Olantigh, the estate located a stone' s throw from Godmersham, but also the Lord Mayor of London. He died in 1795. That means that JA's "Miss Sawbridge" was CSM's niece, and was born some time between 1770-1780 (making her a contemporary of JA). And, being the eldest daughter of an eldest son who owned a great estate, she really was an heiress, as JA’s Letter 61 jocularly notes.

She also was probably a teenager when her famous great-aunt CSM died, and it must therefore be the case that Miss Sawbridge, as a young girl, knew her aunt personally, at the least until 1778. But then, in 1778, CSM endured a huge scandal and notoriety due to her marrying a much younger man, Mr. Graham. Here is a brief summary of that scandal from an article about CSM by Devoney Looser (yes, by coincidence, the very same, strongly feminist Austen scholar/JASNA member/ author who just sent, in Austen L, that call for participants in her upcoming Austen seminar!):

"...What most injured Macaulay’s reputation, however, was her second marriage, at age 47 [in 1778], to William Graham, a 21-year-old surgeon’s mate whose famous brother, James Graham, had been her quack doctor. Before Macaulay was cruelly ridiculed for this May-December marriage, she had changed the landscape for women and history writing. Her reception was built upon her status as « the female historian »."

As I write, I am eagerly waiting to receive from the InterLibraryLoan service _the_ definitive bio of CSM, written some years back by Bridget Hill, with the wonderful subtitle _The Republican Virago_. I hope it will provide lots of details I have not yet seen on the Internet as to CSM's relationship with her Olantigh family (including Miss Sawbridge) during her last years (1778-1791).

Given what Looser described, as quoted above, it might occur to some of you reading along here that CSM's Olantigh family--a wealthy landowning "race", as JA might have called them--might have shunned her, in disapproval of her politics and/or her personal life.

Well, surprisingly, I have very good reason to hope that exactly the _opposite_ was actually the case. And as Exhibit A in support of that hope, read the following description [from the 1917 _Life of John Wilkes_, the famous political radical during JA’s youth] of CSM's brother, John Sawbridge (i.e., Miss Sawbridge's father), who was owner of Olantigh during that entire time period from 1778-1791 when CSM died:

“A group of new friends, more useful and zealous than any political associates of former years, had [by 1769] gathered around [Wilkes]. Some of them came to sup or dine with him in his luxurious cell at frequent intervals. John Home, the maccaroni parson with one eye, who had reserved the two best inns at Brentford in Wilkes's interest during the first Middlesex election at his own expense, continued to be one of the most strenuous supporters of the popular cause. In a lordly, patronising way Alderman William Beckford, the West India plutocrat, also allied himself with the combative little band, affording valuable assistance financially, and assisting in the battle in Parliament in his bluff, ostentatious style….”

So far so good as background, but now comes the part about John Sawbridge:

“… A person of rather more culture and refinement, though inordinately ugly and an alderman too, John Sawbridge by name, was at this period perhaps the most enthusiastic among Wilkes's lieutenants. Sprung from an old county family living at Olantighe in Kent, he was supposed to have learnt his political philosophy from his sister, Mrs. Catherine Macaulay, who was the authoress of an imaginative work in praise of republican principles under the title of a History of England. Rich, honest, and indefatigable, he was a most valuable ally, though Wilkes, finding him much less pliable than he had hoped, soon came to the conclusion that he had "more mulishness than understanding."

So, the owner of Olantigh from 1778-1791 was a prominent political radical who had apparently learned his radicalism from his famous and controversial precocious younger sister, CSM! He was therefore probably the _last_ person in the world who would have cut off ties with his sister when she horrified the entire sexist, patriarchal power structure of England by her“scandalous” choice to live out her post-menopausal life as what we today call a “cougar”-and this in a society where men twice or even three times the age of their young wives were not questioned (by men) in the slightest.

And, by the way, doesn’t that ring a bell to what I wrote just the other day, about JA’s Letter 60, when JA casts a skeptical eye on the marriage of the much older Revd. Herbert Hill to her old friend Catherine Bigg? But just think of the vivid contrast between that situation, where a young woman (also a thirtyish never married spinser) marries a much older man for “prudential” reasons, and thereby submits herself to be turned into a breeding cow for a decade, versus CSM’s marriage to a much younger man, which was apparently a match of intellectual soul mates (from what I have read), without any “colonization” of the body of one for the benefit of the other!

_That’s_ why I even go so far as to hold out hope to find out that CSM _was_ a frequent and welcome visitor to Olantigh (located very close to Godmersham, as I stated yesterday) during all those years, and therefore would have known her niece Miss Sawbridge very well indeed!

Now, hold that last thought, while you allow your mind to roam for a moment to 1808, seventeen years after the death of CSM, when JA is writing Letter 61, and ask yourself whether you think JA knew that Miss Sawbridge was the niece of CSM, and what’s more, ask yourself whether JA ever took the opportunity to chat with Miss Sawbridge about her famous aunt during JA’s visit to Godmersham only four _months_ previously!

Of course you know my answer is “Yes!” And, in support of that answer, I not only cite everything I have just written, above, which by itself would, I think, support my claim. But fortunately for me, that brings me to part _two_ of this long p.s., where I will make the case that there was even _more_ reason to think that JA was very familiar with CSM!:


As to the relationship between CSM's Olantigh family and the Austen family, here is what I wrote yesterday:

"CSM's paternal uncle Jacob Sawbridge (younger brother of her father, who was the eldest son) married Thomas Knight's sister (who was therefore a quasi-great aunt of Edward Austen!), and THEIR offspring included a daughter who married Mr. Heron at Chilham Castle, which JA described visiting in her letters. "

I just sketched a little family tree to help me better visualize the relationships, and it helped me to see how I could explain that connection more clearly, in a few steps:

First, many Janeite knows that Edward Austen was adopted (practically if not legally) by Thomas Knight, owner of Godmersham, and his wife, Catherine (nee Knatchbull), when Edward was 16, in 1783, although that was the culmination of a gradual process that had actually begun a few years earlier.

Second, some Janeites know that Thomas Knight (who died in 1794, leaving Mrs. Knight to survive as his widow for another two decades) was the son and sole residuary heir of Thomas Knight (who had been born Broadnax and took on the names May and then Knight, at each stage of his inheriting more property). Le Faye refers to the elder Thomas Knight as TBMK in her Chronology, because the names can be so damned confusing, as between the father, with his multiple name changes, and his son.

Now, how this relates to CSM is that it was the sister of that _elder_ Thomas Knight (TBMK), Anne Broadnax, who married Jacob Sawbridge, who was the younger brother of CSM's father John, and therefore was CSM's uncle!

What this means on the ground is that there must have been an extremely close and ongoing (on a multigenerational time frame) social and familial relationship between the Sawbridges of Olantigh, on the one hand, and the Knights of Godmersham, on the other:

First, the elder Thomas Knight (TBMK) (who died in 1780);

Second, the younger Thomas Knight (who died in 1794);

Third, with Mrs. Knight during the remainder of her tenure at Godmersham; and then

Fourth and last but not least, with Edward Austen Knight from the late 1790's when he became the squire of Godmersham, onward through well beyond JA's death in 1817.

And so, it makes perfect sense that JA would be writing to CEA in 1808 about the marriage of Miss Sawbridge, because both JA and CEA must have known the Sawbridge family very well indeed, for upwards of 20 years! These were not remote acquaintances, these Sawbridges of Olantigh were _family_ to the Austens via Edward's adoption by the Knights!

All of which bolsters my firm belief that JA's 1791 History of England (which, as Upfal has demonstrated, is saturated with a covert Austen family subtext) also owed a great deal of inspiration to CSM's very famous and much earlier History of England.


And it is those two pillars of evidence upon which I rest my claim to have discovered a bombshell, which is that all of this evidence strongly suggests that JA was personally connected, in several different ways I am still discerning and clarifying, to _THE_ greatest most famous and influential feminist of her lifetime, the "mother", if you will, of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays, among others!

I find myself imagining the steady social intercourse between the Sawbridges and the Knights, but perhaps some of you are wondering whether the Knights approved of their radical neighbors?

Well, I can’t as yet give a great deal of evidence in that regard, but there is one tidbit which I find very intriguing, indicating good relations between the two intermarried families:

Look here at a summary I found last night of the Last Will and Testament of Thomas Brodnax-May-Knight (yes, that same TBMK I described in Part One, above, i.e., the elder Thomas Knight, he of the ever changing surname):

“November 8, 1779 Monday Godmersham: Mr Thomas Brodnax-May-Knight makes his Will: refers to two previous ... Some legacy to his friend Catherine, wife of Thomas [indecipherable]; £100 to his nephew James Sawbridge; £100 to Revd John Hinton, rector of chawton; L500 to john knight hinton, son of revd john hinton and godson of tbmk; all remainder to son thomas knight.”

So, it can hardly be the case that there was a total estrangement in 1779 (a year after CSM married Mr. Graham) between the elder Mr. Knight and his sister’s brother in law, John Sawbridge, if he was leaving a bequest to James Sawbridge, who was a nephew by blood to both John Sawbridge and CSM, and a nephew by marriage to the elder Thomas Knight.

But, even more important than that, in terms of modern Austen studies, I wonder if you can guess _where_ I found the above description of the elder Thomas Knight’s Will?

It was in _LeFaye_’s Chronology (at P. 76), published only a few years ago! Why does that matter? Because, if you think about it for a second, you quickly realize that Deirdre Le Faye could not have written the above entry in her Chronology without being thereby made aware, if she was not aware previously, that the nephew of the elder Thomas Knight went by the surname “Sawbridge”! And so, isn’t it strange that when Le Faye was working on the 4th edition of the JA Letters, not very long after completing her mammoth Chronology, she made absolutely no change to her speculation in the 3rd edition that “Miss Sawbridge” and “Mr Maxwell” were two people utterly unconnected to any of the Sawbridges of Olantigh near Godmersham?

It strains _my_ credulity to try to imagine that Le Faye missed that one, how about you? In light of all the implications of what I have set forth above, suggesting a powerful connection between Jane Austen and the most radical feminist of her youth, is it not at least possible that Le Faye has known about this connection, and at least some of those implications, for at least a few years, but possibly for a much longer time, but nonetheless chose to perpetuate, in that 4th edition, clearly incorrect speculations about the identity of both “Miss Sawbridge” and “Mr. Maxwell”?

Again, whichever is the case, it ain’t good, in terms of the reliability of Le Faye’s information and inferences about Jane Austen’s life and works.

In any event, my gut tells me that CSM, during those last years of her life, very well might have mingled with the Knights of Godmersham, and therefore might have met Edward Austen subsequent to his adoption by the Knights (see below) but prior to his going on the Grand Tour, and (oh, Holy Grail!) might even have crossed paths with the precocious teenaged Jane Austen! If CSM did come to Olantigh during the late 1780's, it is not far fetched at all to imagine that JA, at age 14-15 already the author of some very accomplished feministically wild juvenilia, and a voracious reader, would have known exactly who CSM was, and would have wished to meet her. JA might have been of the party along with her parents and elder brothers during one or more family visits to Kent during the late 1780's, visits that surely would have included seeing Edward's adoptive parents, the Knights, and members of their social circle, such as the Sawbridges.

Anyway, one way or another, whether that meeting ever did happen or not, I am nonetheless certain that JA was familiar with CSM's History of England and also her very famous Letters on Education, prior to JA's writing her own History of England in 1791, which (I don't believe coincidentally) was very very very soon after CSM died.


In addition to the allusion to CSM’s History of England in JA’s own History of England, which I very briefly pointed to in my previous post, I now also begin to wonder whether Lady _Catherine_ de Bourgh owes her only good qualities to the real life _Catherine_ Sawbridge Macaulay Graham, in particular when Lady C opines:

""Your father's estate is entailed on Mr. Collins, I think. For your sake," turning to Charlotte, "I am glad of it; but otherwise I see no occasion for entailing estates from the female line. It was not thought necessary in Sir Lewis de Bourgh's family."

And finally, apropos CSM having married the much younger Mr. Graham, I have to wonder about the following interjection by Emma when things start to get tense between Mr. Woodhouse and John _Knight_ley:

"I did not thoroughly understand what you were telling your brother," cried Emma, "about your friend Mr. _Graham's_ intending to have a bailiff from Scotland, to look after his new estate. What will it answer? Will not the old prejudice be too strong?"

As I wrote the other day, this does appear on the surface to pertain to English prejudice against the Scots. But might it also refer to a much more ancient and much stronger prejudice, i.e., male sexist prejudice against women?

All food for thought!

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

Two very quick amendments to the above:

1. The first cousin of CSM, whose maiden name was also Catherine Sawbridge, married a Mr. Heron in 1779, but not at Chilham Castle as I originally wrote, but in the Long Room AT GODMERSHAM! Godmersham was at that time the home of Anne Broadnax, who was by that time a widow living with her brother Thomas Knight the elder.

2. In addition to the allusions to CSM by JA in JA's History of England, as well as P&P and Emma, I forgot to mention what I believe is the most important allusion by JA to CSM's writing in all of JA's novels--in Northanger Abbey. Having a heroine named Catherine who has no use for real solemn history, but instead looks for truth through the telling of stories in novels, is a wonderful veiled homage to CSM, who wrote HER History of England in the form of a series of letters to a friend, just like in an epistolary novel. I believe JA took great inspiration from CSM's innovation in that regard.

PLUS...if you read the passage in Chapter 10 of Northanger Abbey in which Henry teases Catherine about dancing and marriage being more similar than different, you may just note that the action takes place in a "long room", which I believe is a veiled homage to that very same 1779 wedding held in the Long Room at Godmersham when JA was 4 years old, a wedding in which JA's family was formally connected to CSM's family, a connection I believe JA was proud of.