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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, September 24, 2012

Evangelical Cousin Edward Cooper's "Beauty & Courage"---NOT!

Last week in Janeites & Austen L, Christy Somer posted the following link to a portrait of Jane Austen's Evangelical cousin, Revd. Edward Cooper, which is now on display at the Jane Austen House Museum:

What is surprising to me is that, as far as I can tell from the article, the Museum, and those who have commented on that linked article, take no notice whatsoever of the ground breaking discovery a few years ago by Annette Upfal (working with her mentor and co-editor, Christine Alexander) that bears directly on that portrait of Edward Cooper now on display there.

I described Annette's discovery re Cousin Edward Cooper at the end of the following post last year at my own blog regarding miscellaneous passages in Jane Austen's Letter 33:

Specifically, I wrote:   "And the last item in my little potpourri of excerpts from Letter 33 is the following, yet _another_ "paean" to serial pregnancy and childbirth: "Caroline was only brought to bed on the 7th of this month, so that her recovery does seem pretty rapid. I have heard twice from Edward on the occasion, and his letters have each been exactly what they ought to be -- cheerful and amusing. He dares not write otherwise to _me_, but perhaps he might be obliged to purge himself from the guilt of writing nonsense by filling his shoes with whole peas for a week afterwards. Mrs. G. has left him 100l., his wife and son 500l. each."  The "Edward" who writes to JA is cousin Edward Cooper, the clergyman whom (according to Annette Upfal, and I believe her to be 100% correct) JA and CEA mercilessly satirized in Jane's 1793 History of England, first using a portrait of Edward Cooper's own ugly face to represent Edward IV, and then describing Edward IV in a similarly unflattering way:     "       END QUOTE

If you expand the size of the image of Cassandra's sketch of their cousin Edward Cooper, you can readily discern both the resemblance to the fancy full size portrait now on display at the Museum, and also also CEA's extremely unflattering and unsentimental depiction of the character of their cousin, which is, as I said, mirrored in the verbal description of Edward IV in The History of England text:

"This Monarch was famous only for his Beauty & his Courage, of which the Picture we have here given of him, & his undaunted Behaviour in marrying one Woman while he was engaged to another, are sufficient proofs. His Wife was Elizabeth Woodville, a Widow who poor Woman! was afterwards confined in a Convent by that Monster of Iniquity & Avarice Henry the 7th One of Edward's Mistresses was Jane Shore, who has had a play written about her, but it is a tragedy & therefore not worth reading. Having performed all these noble Actions, his Majesty died, & was succeeded by his Son."

When you look at CEA's sketch of Edward IV (aka Edward Cooper) and think about the text's specific reference to CEA's sketch as evidence of "his Beauty & his Courage", one realizes just how intentionally biting and personal this satire really was to both Austen sisters, since the word that would _least_ seem to fit with CEA's portrait of Cousin Cooper is "Beauty"--and the two wicked satirical girls wanted to make very sure that everyone really looked at CEA's sketch!

What makes the failure to take notice of Upfal's work in the Museum blog article (apparently written by Julie Wakefield) especially surprising is that Annette Upfal was actually one of the presenters at the July 2009 Chawton House Conference that I was privileged to present at as well, and Annette gave her talk about all the veiled Austen family portraits in Jane Austen's History of England right there, a short walk down the road from the House Museum.  I.e., Upfal's discovery should be common knowledge among Austen scholars, most of all within the small confines of Chawton!

But then again, perhaps the silence about Upfal's work in that article has something to do with the embarrassing kibosh that Deirdre Le Faye attempted to put on the celebration of publication of Upfal's book at that Conference.  As we discern from the article's quotation of Le Faye as seeing something of Cousin Cooper in Mr. Collins's cruel letters of condolence (actually, the honor of being the first Austen scholar to point out that parallel appears to belong to Robert Liddle _way_ back in his 1963 book about JA's novels), there is apparently an acceptably safe limit of satire that can be assimilated by mainstream scholarship, but when an Austen scholar like Upfal claims too sharp a personal satire, better to keep that sort of claim out of the spotlight.

So, to do my small part to remedy that omission, here is a link to the webpage for Upfal's book:

If you can't open my link for any reason, then go to and enter this data:

ISBN-10: 0733427804

ISBN-13: 978-0733427800

There you will see that Edward Cooper was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of biting Austen family satire that some might wish to keep in obscurity.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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