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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Date of First Composition of Elinor & Marianne

As a followup to my recent post about Jane Austen
tracking the six-month time frame of the transition
of her own real life exile from Steventon to Bath 
from November, 1800 to May, 1801, in the six month
time frame of the transition of Marianne Dashwood's
 fictional exile from Norland to Barton Cottage.... ...
I have had an interesting off-shoot discussion with 
one of the commenters at my blog (who goes by the
 moniker "Lit-Lass") about the timing of the composition
 of Sense & Sensibility, which I thought was worth its
own blog post.  
Lit-Lass wrote: "According to my notes from Tomalin's
 bio and Joan K. Ray's timeline [JA] wrote [Elinor &
 Marianne] in 1795 and Cassandra remembered it read
 to the family by '76. Of course she did a great deal of 
revising later. ] 
I then replied as follows: "...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!"  
Am I correct in my recollection that Cassandra's 
recollection, long after JA's death, is the only basis
 for the pre-1800 composition of S&S in epistolary
 form under title "Elinor & Marianne"?  
When you think about it, if JA really did write Elinor
 & Marianne in 1796, why didn't Revd. Austen submit
 it, along with P&P, for publication in 1798? Why was 
Elinor & Marianne kept on the shelf, never mentioned
 in any of JA's many surviving letters from 1796-1800?
 Why are there so many echoes of P&P and NA in JA's
 1796-1799 letters, but no echoes of S&S that I can recall
 in those same early surviving letters? There's something
 fishy about it all, and realizing how closely the events of 
1800-1801 are tracked in the first Volume of S&S makes
 me wonder if CEA was being a politician when she
"recollected" Elinor & Marianne's early composition, 
as a way of deflecting attention by James Austen's children
 to the disturbing innuendo of the first volume of S&S vis
 a vis James &Mary Austen.  
Cheers, ARNIE 
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter


Arnie Perlstein said...

I just did a bit of digging, and here is what Cassandra Austen's memorandum {written AFTER Jane's death when Jane was therefore obviously NOT around to dispute any inaccuracy) says about the early composition of P&P and S&S:

"First Impressions begun in Oct. 1796,finished in Aug.1797. Publishd afterwards, with alterations & contractions under the title of Pride & Prejudice.
Sense & Sensibility begun Nov. 1797 I am sure that something of the same story & characters had been written earlier & called Elinor & Marianne."

Look at the contrast in those two descriptions. Re P&P, we have unqualified clear statements of its lineage. Re S&S, on the other hand, we have CEA hedging all over the place. "I am sure that something of the same story..." sounds like CEA is not at all sure that there was a n earlier version of S&S.


Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

Lit~Lass said...

Arnie, this post seems to be in different font and formatting and the sentences are incomplete on the right side. (I'll go see if you've posted this to AustenL and I can read it there.)

So are you thinking the MS wasn't even started until after the Steventon move? I trust you still accept the dates for P&P, because we mustn't move everything up and take away her glory in writing such lasting novels at 20/21. ;)

You seem to have rather an ill opinion of Cassandra.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Lit-Lass, I fixed the formatting as best I could, sometimes that happens when I post from my mini rather than my desktop, for reasons unknown...

Yes, I am thinking that Elinor & Marianne was not even begun till after the Steventon move! It would explain a lot, as I suggested in my post and in my first comment.

And yes, as to P&P, I trust those dates because we have TWO independent verifications of its early composition: (1) the explicit references to "First Impressions" in Letter 17 dated Jan. 9, 1799 and then again in Letter 21 dated June 11, 1799; and (2) the surviving 1797 correspondence from the publisher Cadell to Revd. Austen rejecting First Impressions for publication.

And finally, no, not a low opinion, I think she was always the one who was ready to kowtow to male power in the family, and after JA died, Cassandra was not about to rock the boat--so she gave everyone a safe cover story about the writing of S&S, that would defuse suspicion that S&S was really about James & Mary Austen.

Lit~Lass said...

Thanks for fixing it. ;)

Well, can I just say that perhaps Rev. George Austen thought (like many since, myself not included) that P&P (I'm sure at that time still FI) was superior in style? I've always had the (probably rather silly impression) that Rev. Austen may have decided, quite by himself, to send in FI, because he was impressed with it. (Since he made a rather bungling attempt of interesting an editor and I don't believe the attempt is mentioned in any of JA's letters.)

I'm not denying the possibility though. I have no idea if there are any sources other than Cass for the 75-76 dates.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Yes, it's possible that Revd. Austen just preferred First Impressions over Elinor & Marianne. But it is clear that the only evidence for the existence of E&M is Cassandra's recollection of it after JA's death. All other evidence derives from Cassandra's report.

So I still think, given the intensity of the thinly veiled negative portraiture of James & Mary Austen in S&S, that Cassandra may very well have made up the existence of E&M.