In Austen L & Janeites, Anielka Briggs wrote: "All film versions of Sense and Sensibility lead one to believe that Fanny Dashwood and her irritating demeanour ejected the first Mrs. Dashwood from Norland very swiftly. And yet the text is very clear that the second Mrs. Dashwood lived in her son-in-law's home for at least six months..... "Mrs. Dashwood began shortly to give over every hope of the kind, and to be convinced, from the general drift of his discourse, that his assistance extended no farther than their maintenance for six months at Norland. " It seems almost reasonable that after six months Fanny Dashwood should begin to grow anxious to dispense of the other Mrs. Dashwood....... "
I responded as follows:
Let's see......Le Faye's Chronology entry on p. 249 reads as follows:
"late November-early December : Steventon: Revd and Mrs GA
suddenly decide to leave the rectory and retire to Bath; when JA and
Martha arrive from Ibthorpe Mrs. GA greets them with the decision; JA is
said to have been much upset by it...."
This dating by Le Faye seems pretty solid, because Letter 28 posted
December 1, 1800 contains not a hint of any proposed move from
Steventon, and yet, by Letter 29, dated January 5, 1801, it is clear
that the move to Bath has been in the works for a pretty long while.
OK......so then we have Letters 29 through 36 (spanning the time period
from January 5, 1801 through May 13, 1801) which all provide ample
evidence of what I have previously referred to as "the Massacre of
Steventon", during which James and Mary Austen do their very best
imitations of John and Fanny Dashwood:
And we know from Letter 35 that Jane Austen left Steventon for Bath
during the first week of May, 1801, which means that the time span from
the moment JA first learns of the move to Bath, until she finds herself
living in Bath, is between just over _five_ months.
Hmm......Yes, Anielka, surely by May, 1801, after an eternity lasting
nearly six months (it would be very much the exaggerating mindset of a
grasping, greedy usurper to refer to a time period of five months and
four days as "nearly six months") that would try anyone's patience, Mary
Austen was indeed quite anxious to have her tiresome in-laws gone from
Steventon already. After all, who knew what sort of horrid, malicious
rumors these overstaying-their-welcome ingrate in-laws might spread
about Mary's attempts to feather her new nest properly, if they
continued to be so inconveniently impolite as to remain physically
present in Steventon to bear accurate witness to the details of the
Massacre, such as the following passage in Letter 36 dated May 13, 1801:
"....James I dare say has been over to Ibthrop by this time to enquire
particularly after Mrs. Lloyd's health, & forestall whatever
intelligence of the sale I might attempt to give.-Sixty-one guineas & a
half for the three cows gives one some support under the blow of only
Eleven Guineas for the Tables. Eight for my Pianoforte, is about what I
really expected to get; I am more anxious to know the amount of my
books, especially as they are said to have sold well."
So you say, "almost reasonable"? I think JA's Letters 29-36, as well as
Chapter 2 of S&S, tell us pretty clearly what JA thought and felt about
the Massacre of Steventon---a massacre based firmly on the following
principle enunciated by JA in Letter 37 dated May 22, 1801:
"The whole World is in a conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at
the expence of another.”
And it is quite interesting to read the characterization of all of the
above that was written 70 years later by the real-life model for Fanny
Dashwood's "poor little Harry":
"The loss of their first home is generally a great grief to young
persons of strong feeling and lively imagination; and Jane was
exceedingly unhappy when she was told that her father, now seventy years
of age, had determined to resign his duties to his eldest son, who was
to be his successor in the Rectory of Steventon, and to remove with his
wife and daughters to Bath. Jane had been absent from home when this
resolution was taken; and, as her father was always rapid both in
forming his resolutions and in acting on them, she had little time to
reconcile herself to the change."
Tell me, was Jane Austen prescient or not, when she put the following
words in Fanny and John Dashwood's mouths in Chapter 2 of S&S:
"....why was he to ruin himself, and their poor little Harry, by giving
away all his money to his half sisters?....Consider...that when the
money is once parted with, it never can return. Your sisters will marry,
and it will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could be restored to our
poor little boy—"
"Why, to be sure," said her husband, very gravely, "that would make
great difference. THE TIME MAY COME when Harry will regret that so large
a sum was parted with. If he should have a numerous family, for
instance, it would be a very convenient addition."
That time _did_ come for the elderly James Edward Austen Leigh when he
wrote the above passage in the Memoir, and tried to whitewash over JA's
obvious bitter resentment against James & Mary (i.e., against his own
parents!) by reframing JA's unhappiness as a response to her father's
overhasty decision making predilections, and utterly omitting any
reference to James or Mary in that regard!
And I finish by repeating for the umpteenth time that just because there
were women like Mary Austen who were clever enough to find ways to
unofficially twist the knobs of power, does not negate the sexist status
quo that put the eldest son of the Austen family, James, in a position
of absolute power vis a vis his sisters in the first place. Fanny
Dashwood, Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Churchill, Lucy Steele, Charlotte Lucas,
and Mrs. Clay, to name the most obvious examples from JA's fiction,
represent one species of distortion in _female_ personality that was
triggered by the mostly gender-based institutional inequalities of JA's
world, just as, e.g., the Wickhams, WIlloughbys, Crawfords, et al
represent another such distortion on the male side.
JA was a master psychologist, and recognized that "the system" was at
the root of so much amoral or reckless behavior of all kinds in her
society, on the part of both males and females. Had there been true
gender equality in the society, JA is suggesting, there would have been
much more truly Christian behavior by one part of the world toward the
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Monday, April 30, 2012
" half a year's residence in her family afforded": The Six-Month Massacre of Steventon
Posted by Arnie Perlstein at 10:53 AM
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Arnie, while I don't like to view Jane's relationship with her family as always one of pain, I appreciate this post detailing the pain of the Steventon "massacre" immensely. My family and I are going through a similar experience right now, where the party in power feels themselves wronged and we feel ourselves cast out on the world, yet we have to remain in a place where we're despised and resented. Reading of the pain Jane went through - at the hand's of her own family - gives me comfort and strength like little else. I've long marveled at how Jane prophesied her own experience, writing S&S about five years (I think) before the Steventon massacre. It makes perfect sense that she rewrote it more powerfully after going through an experience which I can testify could smother the spirits of almost anyone. Thank God that Jane survived to become one of the great eternal voices that ring through time... and the soother of my every sorrow.
Hi, Lit-Lass, always glad to hear from you here!
The only thing I disagree with you about is Jane's prescience. Even though we know she wrote the earliest version of S&S around 1798, it was not published until 1811, and so I believe that Chapter 2 of S&S was not written at all until after the move from Steventon to Bath in 1801.
I hope that your own difficulties pass quickly and that you are restored soon to a better situation, and that you don't need to languish for years where you don't want to be.
You're probably right the ejection of the Dashwoods wasn't portrayed in the epistolary draft. Rereading the opening chapters, I'm impressed with all the detail she lavished on setting up the move. It's just sad we don't have the original drafts of S&S, P&P & NA.
Oh, no, we won't be languishing for years - a month or two more, at most. I just wish we had a noisy, vulgar cousin to offer us an unromantic cottage without ivy or green tiles. ;)
Well, one way or another, I hope you are delivered from your current situation sooner rather than later.
Yes, my guess is that when JA sat down to revise S&S for the last time after settling in at Chawton Cottage (finally having the proverbial room of her own), she decided that the karma was right for bringing nearly a decade of festering bitterness to light, and so the entire design of Ch. 1 is there so as to set the stage for the great comic set piece, Fanny Dashwood doing her best Goneril and Ragan in Ch. 2. And then, as you say, this six month limbo is milked for all it's worth.
I notice you said she probably wrote S&S (as Elinor & Marianne, epistolary) in 1798. I'm wondering what your source for that date is. According to my notes from Tomalin's bio and Joan K. Ray's timeline she wrote it in 1795 and Cassandra remembered it read to the family by '76. Of course she did a great deal of revising later.
It's a pity she didn't keep opinions on S&S like she did for MP and E - it would've been interesting to know if James or Mary made any (unfavorable) comments indicating they might have seen the similarity. Or maybe they did. If there were any such comments, you'd probably sniff them out. ;)
Lit Lass, I was sloppy re the date of first writing of Elinor & Marianne, I am sure your sources are accurate re 1795-6.
However.....our discussion here has led me to an intriguing new hypothesis, i.e., that perhaps Cassandra was being less than honest when she reported those dates of earliest writing of E&M---we have independent third party verification of early drafts of P&P and Northanger Abbey (Susan), but we only have Cassandra's word for the early version of E&M.
And why would Cassandra want the world to think that S&S was first written in the 1790's? Because then nobody would think that the "Massacre of Steventon" in 1800-1801 was being depicted!!!!
How's that for some suspicious sniffing out on my part? ;)
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