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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Jane Austen's Aunt Leigh-Perrot (aka Mrs. Churchill), benefactrix of JEAL “a penniless clergyman”—NOT!!!

In followup to a post of mine this morning in Janeites and Austen-L, I remembered where I found a summary of Uncle Leigh-Perrot's Will -- it was at Ron Dunning's Austen-family genealogy site, and it states that Aunt L-P did have a power of appointment over the trust corpus (which I am guessing included all of Uncle L-P's personalty as well as Scarlets), and she did appoint it all to JEAL in her 1836 (and last) Will. This further testifies to the undue influence she must have exerted over Uncle L-P, reminding me even more, as I have been suggesting for years, of Mrs. Churchill. Aunt Leigh-Perrot was a wife who dominated her husband even as to the disposition of his wealth after her death!  And it was in following up on that insight, and looking more closely at Mrs. Churchill as a particularly barbed but just barely concealed portrait of Aunt Leigh-Perrot, that I struck gold twice, as you will now see, as I walk you step by step through my sleuthing.


First, it’s very revealing to think about JA writing the characters of Mr. & Mrs. Churchill about year before she, her sister,  and her mother were all disinherited in March 1817 when Uncle Leigh-Perrot died. As JA was writing Emma, she didn’t know what his Will provided, but we know that the Austen women, including JA, all harbored hope that he would not forget his only surviving sister and her two daughters.

So isn’t it interesting that in Emma, the character representing her Aunt L-P just happens to have the very unpleasant habit of using money and future inheritance as a club to coerce her nephew Frank into visiting her frequently, and also, as Frank C. writes to Mrs. Weston, to make sure he marries for money and not for love:

“You must all endeavour to comprehend the exact nature of my situation when I first arrived at Randalls; you must consider me as having a secret which was to be kept at all hazards. This was the fact. My right to place myself in a situation requiring such concealment, is another question. I shall not discuss it here. For my temptation to think it a right, I refer every caviller to a brick house, sashed windows below, and casements above, in Highbury. I dared not address her openly; my difficulties in the then state of Enscombe must be too well known to require definition; and I was fortunate enough to prevail, before we parted at Weymouth, and to induce the most upright female mind in the creation to stoop in charity to a secret engagement.—Had she refused, I should have gone mad.—But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this?—What did you look forward to?—To any thing, every thing—to time, chance, circumstance, slow effects, sudden bursts, perseverance and weariness, health and sickness.”

And so, isn’t it then even more interesting that Mrs. Churchill suddenly dies, making it possible for Frank to inherit Enscombe, and also to marry whomever he wishes, given that his uncle is not an ogre, and ends the reign of coercion under which Frank has been living while his aunt lived?  I’ve always thought of Frank Churchill as a representation of Edward Austen Knight, because of the obvious correspondences  which were noticed by Austen scholars before I came along—a young man adopted by rich childless relatives, who takes the adoptive family surname and eventually inherits a great estate. I still think that is a strong, valid interpretation, but now I see that there is a second Austen brother also represented by FRANK Churchill, and that is…..FRANK Austen!  It’s not only that they share the same Christian name, it’s also that (as RAAL revealed in The Austen Papers) Frank Austen was (as late as 1828, but perhaps going back some years) the intended inheritor of Scarlets from the Leigh-Perrots!

Think about who the candidates for inheritance were from among the Austen brothers:

ONE: James was the eldest, and not surprisingly, he was the one named in Uncle L-P’s Will, and he would in fact have inherited Scarlets had he, as was expected, outlived Aunt L-P. But he didn’t, so he didn’t.
TWO: George was the second eldest, but obviously was not a candidate.
THREE: Edward was the third eldest, but he had already struck inheritance gold with Godmersham.
FOUR: Henry was the fourth eldest, but he was Evil Incarnate to the Leigh-Perrots as a result of his 1816 bankruptcy.
FIVE: That left only Frank and Charles, and Frank obviously was the elder of the two, so it makes perfect sense that he would have been the second choice behind James! And I believe that JA somehow---either by logical inference via  the above analysis, and/or by family gossip, believed that Frank was the second choice, hence she named the heir of Enscombe Frank rather than James!

Now, before leaving the subject of Emma, I will point out the obvious, based on the above. The sudden death of Mrs. Churchill can fairly be viewed as JA’s fantasy, the idea of getting rid of Aunt Leigh-Perrot  while Uncle L-P was still alive, so that he would do the right thing by the whole Austen family, once he was free of his wife’s dominating influence. And that becomes an especially wicked fantasy, when we think about Frank Churchill having (as Leland Monk was the first to suggest, way back in 1990) murdered his aunt in order to accelerate the timeline of inheritance a bit. Dark dark humor indeed, if JA was venting her spleen at her aunt this way!

But what JA did not anticipate when Emma went to final press in early 1816 is the unlikely twist that did in fact happen, which is that Uncle L-P died first, but then James Austen died in 1819, long before his Aunt, and so Frank Austen did apparently move up the ladder and assume the position of heir apparent to Scarlets by 1828.

And that brings me to my other discovery:


Recall that Diane started this thread this morning and wrote: “According to the introduction to the later section [in The Austen Papers], Mrs. Leigh-Perrot had chosen Frank Austen as her heir, but changed to JEAL after Frank married Martha Lloyd in 1828”.

The editor of The Austen Papers, published in 1942, was Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (RAAL), the very same truthteller whom I praised so highly last month for his discreet correction of the Big Lie perpetrated by his grandfather, JEAL, re the true cause of Jane Austen’s massive medical crisis in early 1817—it was the disinheritance of the Austen women by Uncle Leigh-Perrot, not (as JEAL fraudulently edited the Memoir to make it appear) Henry Austen’s bankruptcy.

Turns out that this worthy gentleman, RAAL, three decades after correcting an error of commission by his grandfather JEAL, corrected an error of omission by JEAL, by informing the Janeite world that Frank married Martha in 1828. And I found out about it, ironically enough, via the first hit in Google when I searched “Mrs. Churchill AND Leigh-Perrot”, and read the following:

Persuasions  #18 1996 “Jane Austen's Favourite Nephew” by Joan Austen-Leigh
“…Edward [i.e., JEAL] was staying as a guest at Tring Park when he proposed to Emma. Emma's eldest brother, Sir Charles Smith, noted in his diary:
“20 September, 1828: I was much surprised by a letter from Tring announcing a marriage to be between Emma and Edward Austen”
Here is what Emma, herself, had to say:
“We read Emma in the morning. After luncheon Mamma and Fanny went to call on Mrs. Badcock. We all walked towards the woods at Terrets and during the walk I was engaged to marry Mr. Austen. On our retum home Mamma was spoken to and most kindly gave her consent. I afterwards walked with him in the shrubbery. Mr. Lacey dined here. Music. “
Imagine! They walked in the shrubbery! Just like Mr. Knightley and Emma. What a picture of circumspection and restraint these words suggest. Very different from the various presentations on the
screen we have had lately inflicted upon us with Captain Wentworth kissing Anne Elliot on the public street, behaviour unlikely to take place even today between a captain in the Royal Navy and a girl with
any pretensions to gentility.
But to retum to Charles Smith. He might well have been surprised that his sister, who had turned down three previous suitors (one of whom became chaplain to Queen Victoria), should succumb to the charms of a penniless clergyman, who had only the distant hopes of an aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot, a person every bit as capricious as Mrs. Churchill of Enscombe. And since Edward had already greatly displeased her by taking orders (one thinks of Mary Crawford), she seemed hardly a prospect to depend upon. The importance of money, even as in Jane Austen's novels, was not under-rated. It was perfectly understood by all concerned, and no one was shy of mentioning it.” END QUOTE

The irony here is rich. We read Joan Austen-Leigh, in her article extolling the manifold virtues of her ancestor JEAL, going out of her way to emphasize that JEAL and his wife Emma married for love, not money. She laid it on really thick when she described JEAL as “a penniless clergyman, who had only the distant hopes of an aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot, a person every bit as capricious as Mrs. Churchill of Enscombe… hardly a prospect to depend upon.” 

She laid it on so thick, in fact, that I was reminded of Ophelia’s droll comment about the Player Queen’s overly fervent protestations of fidelity toward her husband the Player King? Sounds to me like Joan A-L was, like the Player Queen, protesting way too much about JEAL’s new bride marrying him for love not money. So I asked myself, why might she be protesting so much? Was there any fact out there that might suggest the opposite, i.e., that would suggest that the marriage of JEAL and Emma Smith--an heiress---might never have happened if he really had no prospects, financially speaking?  

Well, actually, yes, and that’s RAAL’s cue—we know that on July 24, 1828 Frank Austen married Martha Lloyd. For more detail, here’s Le Faye’s version in Family Record p. 266 of how that came about:

“In 1823 Mary Gibson died at the birth of their eleventh child, Cholmeley, who survived her only a few months. For the next five years the eldest daughter, Mary Jane, was her father’s companion and mistress of the household, but when she herself married  early in 1828, Frank decided he must find a second wife—and chose Martha Lloyd, now aged sixty three and still living quietly with Cassandra at Chawton Cottage. They were married in Winchester on 24 July 1828, the anniversary of his first marriage. For some reason, this event annoyed old Mrs. Leigh-Perrot very much, and although she had been contemplating bequeathing Scarlets to Frank she apparently could not bear the idea of Martha succeeding her as mistress there, and so gave Frank a lump sum of L10,000 in lieu of this half promised inheritance. “

Assuming Le Faye’s dates to be accurate, that convincingly explains the timing of Frank and Martha’s wedding. And (call the newspapers, this may be a first), I actually agree with Le Faye that Aunt L-P “could not bear the idea of Martha succeeding her as mistress there” –it is in line with what I wrote in my earlier post today—but where Le Faye would not go, is that she’d never agree that it was Martha’s extremely close and non-platonic relationship with JA that made Martha persona non grata as the mistress of Scarlets.

But back to JEAL…for sure it did not take long for the sound of the bells that rang for Frank and Martha  to reach the angry ears of Aunt Leigh-Perrot, who then, like Mrs Ferrars in S&S, lost no time in issuing a draconian edict to Frank, informing him that he was no longer her heir, and simultaneously informing the next in line of an unexpected lucky promotion to the top of the list.

And guess who that lucky guy was? Of course, it was JEAL! And so, having heard all of the above, do you believe it was just a coincidence that JEAL got engaged to Emma Smith just prior to September 20, 1828, which was less than two months after Frank was disinherited by Aunt L-P? An engagement which, as Joan Austen-Leigh unwittingly also revealed, came as a total surprise to Emma’s own brother, whom we would not have expected to be blind-sided by such an announcement.

Which takes a good deal of that rosy, romantic glow off of Joan Austen-Leigh’s idyllic description of the Emmaesque walk in the shrubbery in Emma Smith’s diary –and it makes me wonder whether JEAL had a discreet discussion with Emma’s mother before he proposed to his Emma, in which he revealed to her that he had rather suddenly become a young clergyman with great expectations.

So for those who, like me, don’t believe in fairy tales, it’s pretty clear why Joan Austen-Leigh protested too much. Perhaps she felt a twinge of guilt, in 1996, about the largesse she benefited from at the expense of Frank Austen and his descendants, whose lives might have been very different indeed had he inherited Scarlets and a pile of cash from Aunt L-P instead of JEAL in 1836.

Of course, Le Faye, having for once acknowledged something dicey in Austen family history-the screwing over of Frank Austen in favor of JEAL for no worthy reason--promptly turned around and, in rhetorical acrobatics extreme even for her, tried to rationalize it, as though Aunt L-P had done Frank a favor, while putting a hardship on JEAL:

“With this [10,000 pounds, Frank] was immediately able to purchase Portsdown Lodge, so perhaps the security of having that property, at least, outweighed the uncertainty he might have suffered in the future regarding  Mrs. L-P’s eventual disposal of the Scarlets estate—an uncertainty which was passed on to the next generation of Austens. “

I mean, really…..which would Frank have preferred—the uncertainty of whether he would survive  his elderly aunt (who was 30 years older than he, while he was himself in excellent health) and receive a vast estate of both real and personal property, or the certainty of receiving only 10,000 pounds?

And maybe, now that I think about it, that’s also why JEAL’s Memoir was published so soon after the death of Frank Austen—because Frank’s death meant no more survivors of that generation around to contradict anything in the Memoir. Such as correcting the curious omission of any mention in the Memoir that Martha Lloyd (who after all was JEAL’s maternal aunt!) married Frank in 1828.

And so we need to add that to the list of JEAL’s editorial sins that his grandson, RAAL, corrected.  And how extraordinary that is! Is there any other precedent in the history of biography of a descendant quietly repairing all of his ancestor’s coverups and lies about a famous member of their family? And then in RAAL’s wake came Le Faye (who after all got her big break in Austen studies thanks to the Austen-Leigh family), who has mostly been busy trying to undo RAAL’s telling of inconvenient truths for nearly 4 decades now.

Irony upon irony upon  irony….

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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