A different Jane: Jane Welsh Carlyle

My interests are drawn by letters and diaries – especially of English women, from a broad range of times. Mid-18th century, to complement my love of Mozart (his letters make for wonderful reading; I highly recommend the Anderson translation); early-19th century to complement my research into the lives of Emma Smith and Mary Gosling; I value my Queen Victoria collection of letters and journals; World War I and World War II – nothing of politics or “war,” but personal responses to these adverse times. 

Therefore, I had long ago bookmarked a wonderful website dealing with the letters of Thomas and Jane Carlyle. Jane is the half of this pair who interests me, especially after having read Thea Holme’s delightful The Carlyles at Home (a terrific piece of writing). This Duke University Press-related website has FULL TEXT letters, searchable, browseable. I cannot praise the site more highly. And looking at it today, I put in AUSTEN just to see what would turn up; my findings are what I want to share.

The first letter was written by Jane to Thomas on 5 August 1852. Jane is on the road, and recounts a little of her journey to her husband:

‘Some twenty minutes after; I started myself, in a little gig, with a brisk little horse, and silent driver— Nothing could be more pleasant—than so pirring thro’ quiet roads in the dusk—with the moon coming out—I felt as if I were reading about myself in a Miss Austin novel!  (Could she have been thinking of NORTHANGER ABBEY??) But it got beyond Miss Austin when at the end of some three miles before a sort of Carrier’s Inn, the gentleman of the barouchette stept into the middle of the road, making a sort of military signal to my driver, which he repeated with impatience when the man did not at once draw up!— I sat confounded—’ (And there, I’m afraid, we must leave poor Jane, in the middle of the thoroughfare and about to be accosted by who knows what sort of man… to find out the end of her tale and WHY he waved Jane’s carriage down, take a look at the complete letter.)

The second letter, and so comical, was written by Jane to Helen Welsh on 27 February 1843. It concerns Jane’s uncle, whom she visits:

‘My dearest Helen

After (in Dumfries & Galloway-courier phraseology) “taking a birds-eye view” of all modern literature, I am arrived at the conclusion; that to find a book exactly suited to my Uncle’s taste I must—write it myself! and alas, that cannot be done before tomorrow morning!

“La Motte Fouque’s Magic Ring”? suggests Geraldine—“too mystical! My Uncle detests confusion of ideas”—

Paul de Kock?  HE is very witty”— “Yes but also very indecent!—and my Uncle would not relish indecencies read aloud to him by his daughters.”—

“Oh!— Ah!— Well! Miss Austin?”— “Too washy—watergruel for mind and body at the same time were too bad”—

Timidly and after a pause— “Do you think he could stand Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame? “— The idea of my uncle listening to the sentimental monstrosities of Victor Hugo!— a smile of scorn was this time all my reply.’