Earlier this morning, Anielka Briggs wrote the following in Austen-L:
"The fictional Austen mother who holds the record for the most children is Mrs. Heywood in "Sanditon". She has fourteen children. "They had a very pretty property; enough, had their family been of
reasonable limits, to have allowed them a very gentlemanlike share of
luxuries and change; enough for them to have indulged in a new carriage
and better roads, an occasional month at Tunbridge Wells, and symptoms
of the gout and a winter at Bath, But the maintenance, education and
fitting out of fourteen children demanded a very quiet, settled, careful
course of life, and obliged them to be stationary and healthy at
Austen even jokes that a family of fourteen is not of "reasonable
limits" . Not only does Mrs. Heywood have fourteen children but she and
her family are so remarkably healthy that they never need a doctor as
Austen pointedly remarks on in the text. In fact Charlotte Heywood, she
of the thirteen siblings, takes a rather dim view of the childless,
Parker sisters imagined ill-health. This is again contrasted against
Lady Denham who, also childless and aged 70 is as fit as a fiddle and a
range of teenage girls (apparently childless but who knows!!) who are
compelled to take sea baths and take patent medicines other than asses'
milk." END QUOTE
I replied as follows:
Yes, Mrs. Heywood is a twin sister, so to speak, of Mrs. Morland, in
that both bear a Biblical number of children without the slightest ill
effect to themselves. Given JA's known (from her letters) predilection
to decry every instance of serial pregnancy she knows of, and in
particular to express dismay at the chronic health issues of pregnant
English wives of her acquaintance, a wary reader might just suspect JA
of a satire, i.e., of meaning precisely the opposite of what at first
appears to be a celebration of serial pregnancy.
I.e., I suggest that the Heywood "litter" is like the Morland "litter"
in that both of them are JA's satirical Regency Era version of the
Stepford Wives----depicting the fantastical but totally imaginary
perception of the typical English gentleman as he looked at his wife's
life. Whereas, to the more sober eye, this appears instead as an
absurdly idealized version of real life, in that a wife who lived as a
breeding cow for two decades rarely came out the other end in robust
If you think I'm exaggerating, just attend Dr. Cheryl Kinney's talk
about health care for women in JA's time (Cheryl is not only an
extraordinarily gifted and brilliant public speaker, she is also a
practicing OBGYN with a passion for medical history) and you will
realize just how rare that sort of pristine maternal health would have
been, given all the medical dangers that wives faced in that era. Serial
motherhood in JA's time was often a house of horrors, medically speaking.
And so, given this striking parallel between Mrs. Morland and Mrs.
Heywood, it's obviously no accident (as in the "accident" that Mr.
Parker suffers to his ankle) that both of these rustic mothers of a
multitude also share with each other the curious parallel that they both
cheerful send an elder daughter from among their respective broods as a
companion with a childless couple on an adventure to a watering hole
(Bath and Sanditon) where their wide-eyed but clear-headed daughter
witnesses all manner of exotic, mysterious human behavior in the wild
far from home. How sad to realize that Sanditon, had it been completed,
would very likely have been as funny, and as serious, as Northanger
Abbey (which by the way was, as we all know, still unpublished at the
time JA was writing Sanditon).
And just as I claim we ought to stand Mrs. Morland and Mrs. Heywood on
their heads in order to see them as JA really saw them, I assert that
exactly the same thing is true of the Parker sisters and their "imagined
ill health"--after all, to the extent that the smartest Parker sister is
a veiled self portrait of JA herself--and I assert that she is---was it
really "imagined ill-health" that caused JA to fall deathly ill in the
late Winter of 1817, never having the strength thereafter to carry
forward on the writing of Sanditon? I think it was very real ill-health
And by the way, Anielka, given your own repeatedly expressed strong
interest in the personal life of Jane Austen's favorite real-life Mr.
Collins, i.e., James Stanier Clarke, I am pretty sure it will interest
you to note the following description in a memoir about JSC's younger
"Mr. Clarke left three sons and one daughter, the youngest of the
family. Of these, Edward Daniel, the subject of these memoirs, was the
second. He was born, as we before stated, at the vicarage-house of
WILLINGDON, in SUSSEX, in the short interval which elapsed between his
fathers return from Minorca, and the removal of his family to the
rectory at Buxted. His elder brother, Dr. James Stanier, who is well
known to the literary world by his various publications, was born at
Minorca: he has had the honour to be domestic chaplain to his present
Majesty, both before and since his accession to the throne, and is now a
canon of Windsor, and rector of Tillington in Sussex. The younger,
George, was born at WILLINGDON: he was a captain in the navy, and after
many years of distinguished service, was unhappily drowned in the
Thames, on a party of pleasure, in 1804. His sister Anne, married to
Captain Parkinson of the navy, and now living at Ramsgate, was born
after the settlement of the family at Buxted."
According to Google Maps, Willingdon is about two miles inland NW of
Eastbourne, and while I know I am not the first to point out that the
real life Willingdon where the Clarke brothers grew up was in some way a
source for JA's fictional Willingden where the Heywoods lived, I am
pretty sure I am the first to point out that the vicar of the real life
Willingden during JA's childhood was the father of James Stanier Clarke.
Just a coincidence? Surely not, when we look at the chronology.
First, in late March, 1816 James Stanier Clarke suggests to her that JA
write a novel extolling the wonders of the "august house of Cobourg".
Second, JA completes the writing of Persuasion a few months later, and
not long afterwards, she begins a new novel, Sanditon, in which the
action begins in James Stanier Clarke's childhood village.
Third, JA writes her famous "Plan of a Novel" in which we read the
following initial paragraph:
SCENE to be in the Country, Heroine the Daughter of a Clergyman, one who
after having lived much in the World had retired from it and settled in
a Curacy, with a very small fortune of his own. -- He, the most
excellent Man that can be imagined, perfect in Character, Temper, and
Manners -- without the smallest drawback or peculiarity to prevent his
being the most delightful companion to his Daughter from one year's end
to the other. -- Heroine a faultless Character herself, -- perfectly
good, with much tenderness and sentiment, and not the least Wit -- very
highly accomplished, understanding modern Languages and (generally
speaking) everything that the most accomplished young Women learn but
particularly excelling in Music -- her favourite pursuit -- and playing
equally well on the PianoForte and Harp -- and singing in the first
stile. Her Person quite beautiful - dark eyes and plump cheeks. -- Book
to open with the description of Father and Daughter -- who are to
converse in long speeches, elegant Language -- and a tone of high
serious sentiment. -- The Father to be induced, at his Daughter's
earnest request, to relate to her the past events of his Life. This
Narrative will reach through the greatest part of the first volume -- as
besides all the circumstances of his attachment to her Mother and their
Marriage, it will comprehend his going to sea as Chaplain to a
distinguished naval character about the Court, his going afterwards to
Court himself, which introduced him to a great variety of Characters and
involved him in many interesting situations, concluding with his
opinions on the Benefits to result from Tithes being done away, and his
having buried his own Mother (Heroine's lamented Grandmother) in
consequence of the High Priest of the Parish in which she died refusing
to pay her Remains the respect due to them. The Father to be of a very
literary turn, an Enthusiast in Literature, nobody’s Enemy but his own--
at the same time most zealous in discharge of his Pastoral Duties, the
model of an exemplary Parish Priest. -- The heroine's friendship to be
sought after by a young woman in the same Neighbourhood, of Talents and
Shrewdness, with light eyes and a fair skin, but having a considerable
degree of Wit, Heroine shall shrink from the acquaintance.
I am not the first to see the obvious repeated lampooning of Clarke in
the above paragraph. However, this lampooning takes on startling new
significance when we think about it in light of Sanditon's initial
scenes being set in Clarke's home village--what it suggests to me is
that perhaps the "novel" for which JA has created this delightfully zany
"plan" is none other than Sanditon, the very first novel she began after
writing this "Plan of a novel"! Among other things, it makes me realize
that there must have been another Mr. Collins-like clergyman in the back
of JA's mind as she contemplated Volume 2 of Sanditon, a character who
would have had all the deliciously foolish traits of James Stanier
And finally, is it also a coincidence that there is a confusion between
two Willingden's in Sanditon? Does this confusion have anything to do
with James Stanier Clarke having been rector of TILLINGTON also in
Sussex, which is located only a few miles away from Willingdon? And, as
I briefly browsed in the Google Map for Sussex, I noticed also a village
named "Lillington" not far from those other two. Given JA's love of
wordplay, I cannot help but think that she noticed all these confusingly
similar village names in close proximity during a visit to Sussex
sometime in her life, or perhaps on a map of Sussex that she studied
before beginning to write Sanditon, and she chose to immortalize this
confusion in her inimitably droll way, in the lengthy discussion of Mr.
Parker's finding himself laid up in the wrong Willingden.
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