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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jane Austen's Letter 160: JEAL Erasing Martha Lloyd from JA’s Final Days

“Had I not engaged to write to you, you would have heard again from your Aunt Martha, as she charged me to tell you with her best Love.”

Regarding JA’s above P.S. to Letter 160 to nephew and memoirist James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL), Diane Reynolds wrote in Janeites and Austen-L: 
“Martha must have visited, for she uses the fact of JA writing to JEAL to send her love and hence not have to write a letter herself: people work through others so as to reduce their own letter writing burden.”

Diane, I also noticed that immediately, but I don’t think JA’s mentioning Martha  had anything to do with Martha’s letter-writing burden---I speculate that JA, before she sealed Letter 160, felt strongly that she needed to make JEAL (and, perhaps also, James and Mary Lloyd Austen?) aware that, yes, Martha WAS there with her in JA’s hour of acute need.

Now, why would that  be so important to JA? Those who’ve followed my posts going back a number of years, know that I am one of those who see an extreme intimacy between JA and Martha extending over decades---a closeness which I still really wonder about as to its full extent---and so it’s clear to me that JA would have wanted Martha there, too, along  with CEA, to care for her, and JA was not going to conceal this from Martha’s jealous sister, Mary.  Martha meant everything to JA, and vice versa, and so the PS to Letter 160 is in exactly the same vein as JA’s Letter 159 to Anne Sharp, where we see JA reaching out to the other (perhaps) great more-than-platonic female love of her life, when JA feels her own mortality most acutely.

And all of that also makes me further wonder whether it was merely a quick visit, or if Martha was there for an extended time. And then my next thought, given that JA’s intensely close relationship with Martha apparently made some members of the Austen family very uncomfortable, was to wonder whether our favorite fraudulent editor, JEAL, in any way addressed  Letter 160 in his Memoir?

Sure enough, I found yet ANOTHER example of JEAL’s  intentional deceptions as an editor, and this time, his purpose was to erase Martha Lloyd—his own maternal aunt, I must add---from JA’s final days, because, apparently, it just would not do to raise any questions in his readers’s minds as to what Martha was doing there, in the dying invalid’s residence---where, according to the Myth of Jane Austen, of which JEAL was the chief architect, there were only supposed to be Austen family members present---members whose presence would not disturb any sense of propriety as to the true nature of JA’s romantic heart.

And it’s really simple to explain how he did it this time, in order to make me add this Letter to JEAL’s List of Editorial Shame. It’s not that he took the liberty of making a few trivial tweaks of JA’s verbiage—yes, that does show his hubris, as he thought she needed an editor like him to clean up her writing style ----but that’s peanuts and not worth our attention. Rather, what’s infinitely more important is that, after he quotes the ENTIRE Letter 160 throughJA’s signature, he proceeds to entirely omit the P.S.conveying Martha’s wishes ….to JEAL himself!

Now, again, why, why, why, would JEAL quote Letter 160, and delete only that one sentence? The answer is the same as the reason why he  did  exactly that same sort of surgical editing of Letter 156 to Charles Austen—HE DID NOT WANT the world to know that Martha was there in Winchester!

And further evidence of this specific  intention is to examine what comes next in the Memoir right after (and I mean, without ANY intervening text)  JEAL quotes Letter  160 in its entirety except for that P.S. about Martha:

“The following extract from a letter which has been before printed, written soon after the former, breathes the same spirit of humility and thankfulness:—
‘I will only say further that my dearest sister, my tender, watchful, indefatigable nurse, has not been made ill by her exertions.  As to what I owe her, and the anxious affection of all my beloved family on this occasion, I can only cry over it, and pray God to bless them more and more.’
Throughout her illness she was nursed by her sister, often assisted by her sister-in-law, my mother.  Both were with her when she died.  Two of her brothers, who were clergymen, lived near enough to Winchester to be in frequent attendance, and to administer the services suitable for a Christian’s death-bed.  “

Could it be clearer how deceitful JEAL was? Had he included the P.S., he would have had to include  Martha in the group that attended, or visited JA in Winchester—otherwise, the reader would  say “What?”.

But he was again in a Catch 22. If he had allowed Martha into the inner circle, that would have been, as Emma would have put it, “a dangerous opening” (just before Mr.Woodhouse ejaculated in her ear), it would have required JEAL to amend his description of Martha Lloyd in the Memoir, which made it sound as if Martha had been JA’s intimate friend while JA lived at Steventon, but then was not intimate with her thereafter (the only mention of Martha I can find in the Memoir after  JA’s early surviving letters, is a very ambiguous one in an 1814 letter JA wrote to CEA as follows: “I hope Martha had a pleasant visit again, and that you and my mother could eat your beef-pudding.”).  

Now, why would JEAL go to such lengths to omit Martha from the story of JA’s last days? Why would he decide to quote  Letter 160, but then delete an explicit reference to Martha from Letter 160, and then, right away, give a laundry list of those who were there when JA was dying, INCLUDING JEAL’s OWN MOTHER, but erase Martha from that narrative as if she had disappeared entirely from JA’s life nearly two decades earlier?

Those are, I think you realize, rhetorical questions—I think the answers are obvious---this is par for the course for JEAL, especially with everything that has to do with JA’s death—whether it’s the cause of JA’s terrible  relapse or who really there for JA when she was dying, JEAL exercises the full and awful power of the editor and biographer in sole possession of the actual facts, in order to conceal all the facts which he did  not wish to be seen by the world!

Badly done once again, James Edward!

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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