In Memory of Jane Austen ~ July 18, 1817 ~ A Bicentenary

July 18, 1817.  Just a short commemoration on this sad day…200 years ago….

No one said it better than her sister Cassandra who wrote

have lost a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed,- She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself…”

(Letters, ed. by Deidre Le Faye [3rd ed, 1997], From Cassandra to Fanny Knight, 20 July 1817, p. 343; full text of this letter is at the Republic of Pemberley)

There has been much written on Austen’s lingering illness and death; see the article by Sir Zachary Cope published in the British Medical Journal of July 18, 1964, in which he first proposes that Austen suffered from Addison’s disease.  And see also Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A life, “Appendix I, “A Note on Jane Austen’s Last Illness” where she suggests that Austen’s symptoms align more with a lymphoma such as Hodgkin’s disease.

The Gravesite:

Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral

….where no mention is made of her writing life on her grave:

It was not until after 1870 that a brass memorial tablet was placed by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh on the north wall of the nave, near her grave:

It tells the visitor that:

Jane Austen

[in part] Known to many by her writings,
endeared to her family
by the varied charms of her characters
and ennobled by her Christian faith and piety
was born at Steventon in the County of Hants.
December 16 1775
and buried in the Cathedral
July 18 1817.
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom
and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”

The Obituaries:

David Gilson writes in his article “Obituaries” that there are eleven known published newspaper and periodical obituary notices of Jane Austen: here are a few of them:

  1. Hampshire Chronicle and Courier (vol. 44, no. 2254, July 21, 1817, p.4):  “Winchester, Saturday, July 19th: Died yesterday, in College-street, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen formerly Rector of Steventon, in this county.”
  2. Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle (vol. 18, no. 928, p. 4)…”On Friday last died, Miss Austen, late of Chawton, in this County.”
  3. Courier (July 22, 1817, no. 7744, p. 4), makes the first published admission of Jane Austen’s authorship of the four novels then published: “On the 18th inst. at Winchester, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen, Rector of Steventon, in Hampshire, and the Authoress of Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility.  Her manners were most gentle; her affections ardent; her candor was not to be surpassed, and she lived and died as became a humble Christian.” [A manuscript copy of this notice in Cassandra Austen’s hand exists, as described by B.C. Southam]
  4. The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle published a second notice in its next issue (July 28, 1817, p. 4) to include Austen’s writings.

There are seven other notices extant, stating the same as the above in varying degrees.  The last notice to appear, in the New Monthly Magazine (vol. 8, no. 44, September 1, 1817, p. 173) wrongly gives her father’s name as “Jas” (for James), but describes her as “the ingenious authoress” of the four novels…

[from Gilson’s article “Obituaries,” The Jane Austen Companion. Macmillan, 1986. p. 320-1]

Links to other articles and sources:

There are many articles and blog posts being written today – I shall post links to all tomorrow – here are just a few:

Copyright c2017  Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen in Love: An Entertainment by Elsa Solender ~ Now in Real Book Format!

book cover - ja in love - solender

Elsa Solender’s book Jane Austen in Love: An Entertainment was released last year as a kindle ebook only – it is now available as a real hold-in-the-hand, turn-the-pages book! – Hurray! – you can find it here at Amazon.com:

book cover - ja in love - solender

You can read my interview with Elsa here:

https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/an-interview-and-book-giveaway-jane-austen-in-love-an-entertainment-by-elsa-solender/

Diana Birchall reviewed the book for this blog here:

https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/jane-austen-in-love-by-elsa-solender-a-review-by-diana-birchall-a-light-and-lovely-literary-biography/

My review of the book will appear in this winter’s JASNA News [and why it is not here on the blog] – if you are a collector of Jane Austen materials, you should add this book to your collection without delay – the kindle edition has been great to read, but there is nothing like the real thing on your bookshelves when it comes to Jane Austen! – and a perfect Holiday gift to your favorite Austen fan…

c2012, Jane Austen in Vermont

Cardinal Newman says…

According to one of my literary calendars, today [ January 10, 1837 ] is the day that Cardinal Newman made his oft-quoted remark:

Miss Austen has no romance!… What vile creatures her parsons are.’

… though he supposedly admired her works [and goodness! how we love those parsons!]

 

John Newman (1801-1890) was an English Catholic who at the age of 15 moved to Alton with his parents and lived at 59 High Street for three years (1816-1819) after his father took over the Baverstock Brewery. The house dating to 1769 bears a blue plaque by the door highlighting the fact.  The previous owners were involved in a lawsuit with Austen’s brother Edward Knight over his failed Hampshire property.  Alton is the nearest town to the village of Chawton where Austen lived until 1817.  One wonders, did they ever meet in that overlapping year??

 

 

Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Newman

Further reading on Alton and Cardinal Newman:   

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and on another note of important dates, I missed Cassandra’s birthday yesterday:  January 9, 1773.

Austen Letter No. 2 ~ “My Tears Flow…”

The Times Online in this Then and Now article re-publishes the Times Literary Supplement review of November 10, 1932,  E.M. Forster on Chapman’s edition of Austen’s letters.  It is a fascinating read.

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And on that note, I continue my Austen Letters journey, here with Letter No. 2:

  • January 14-15, 1796 (Thursday, Friday)
  • Jane Austen (Steventon) to Cassandra Austen [Kintbury, Newbury: Rev, Fowle’s home]
  • Present ownership and location unknown

Austen begins with a response to Cassandra’s last letter, and feeling disappointed that their plans to be reunited have gone awry; she then talks of the upcoming ball at Ashe and the friends she will see there:  Edward Cooper, James, Buller, and of course Tom Lefroy.  This passage and the later one penned the next day have long been the subject of a wide range of conjecture in articles, essays, biographies, and movies.  Little did Jane suspect that these few lines would give rise to such a mass of words!…so I quote these directly:

…I look forward with great impatience to it [the ball at Ashe], as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening.  I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.

…Tell Mary that I make over Mr. Heartley & all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future, & not only him, but all my other Admirers into the bargain wherever she can find them, even the kiss which C. Powlett wanted to give me, as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr. Tom Lefroy, for whom I donot care sixpence….

Friday.- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over – My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea.

 So much speculation on all this, coupled with Austen’s later reference to Lefroy in her letters, as well as other family references…one is not sure how to interpret Austen’s feelings for Lefroy.  The various biographers have their own opinions, from Park Honan, who says that Austen pursued Tom Lefroy and “fell deeply in love” and was “long obsessed with [him]” and equates Anne Elliot’s “we do not forget you” speech in Persuasion  with Austen’s not forgetting Tom Lefroy all those years later; Honan has a very romantic interpretation that Jane was very forward and suffered much in his leaving.  David Nokes in his Jane Austen: A Life [Farrar, 1997] emphasizes Austen’s love of flirtation and concludes that the attachment between Jane and Tom was very real.  Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: A life [Viking 1997] states that Austen’s first extant letter is the “only surviving letter in which Jane is clearly writing as the heroine of her own youthful story” and that by Letter 2 she already has her defences up [p.119].  Tomalin believes that Austen’s reference to Fielding’s Tom Jones [in Letter 1] is a very provocative remark…Austen is making clear that “she doesn’t mind talking about a novel that deals candidly and comically with sexual attraction and sexual behaviors and she is telling Cassandra that she and Lefroy have openly discussed this book [p. 117].  But she is gravely injured in his leaving, and henceforth “her writing becomes informed by this knowledge of sexual vulnerability, running like a dark undercurrent beneath the comedy” [p.122].   

But the book and movie “Becoming Jane” has played upon the most romantic notions that stay with us in our hopes that Jane did have such a love and lost [see the references below that try hard to refute all this, especially by Joan Klingel Ray, who makes a strong case that Lefroy was already spoken for and realized he he was acting badly to Austen knowing she was “interested” in him…shades of Frank Churchill and Edward Ferrars?].  The Family Record makes it clear that as there was no further information as to what happened at the ball that last night, “it is unlikely he proposed or that Jane Austen thought that he would;” Tom was never asked there again as Madame Lefroy “did not like Tom because he had behaved badly to Jane”… but concludes that this was all a “temporary disappointment” as she shortly afterwords began her “bright and sparkling” story of “First Impressions” [later P&P]

Is Austen just evoking humor here to give Cassandra a laugh, offering up all her potential beaus to others, or does she really care something for Lefroy and really hurting at his going away?  Does the “offer” she refer to mean a marriage proposal or an offer to dance [as Ray suggests in her article]?  The fact that Cassandra did not destroy or edit these passages seems to indicate that they did not mean as much as “Becoming Jane” would like us to believe.  It is so easy to let our imaginations fill in the gaps that the letters leave for us.  So I put this out there for discussion… what do you think Austen means in these passages??  How much is she just playing and being facetious?

Though Austen speaks of Tom Lefroy in several places in this letter, there are other lines of interest:  one oft-quoted passage is “I am very much flattered by your commendation of my last Letter, for I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.”  Here is Austen at her very best!  And there are the usual references to friends and family, those whose names will appear again and again :  Eliza; Charles Fowle (“I hope he will be too hot for the rest of his life for it!” (regarding her stockings…); the Coopers, Anna; the Miss Biggs; Tom Fowle; the Rivers; and a comment to Cassandra that “I am very glad to find from Mary that Mr. & Mrs. Fowle are pleased with you…I hope you will continue to give satisfaction.”… and so on to Letter 3 for another day… with a huge jump from January 1796 to August 1796…

Further reading: (just a few of the many…)

  • Auerbach, Emily.  “Searching for Jane Austen: Restoring the ‘Fleas’ and ‘Bad Breath.’ ”  Persuasions, No. 27 (2005),  pp.  31-38.
  • Bander, Elaine.  “Jane Austen’s Letters:  Facts and Fictions.”  Persuasions, No. 27 (2005), pp. 119-129.
  • Fergus, Jan. ” ‘The Whinnying of Harpies’? – Humor in Jane Austen’s Letters.” Persuasions, No. 27 (2005) pp.13-29.
  • Wenner, Barbara. “Following the Trail of Jane Austen’s Letters.”  Persuasions, No. 27 (2005), pp. 130-141.
  • Ray, Joan Klingel.  “The One-Sided Romance of Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy”  Persuasions Online Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter 2007.
  • Canal Academie: “The True Love Life of Jane Austen”  discusses the movie “Becoming Jane.”
  • Spence, John.  Review of Jane Austen: A Family Record  in JASNA News (Summer 2005), where Spence questions Le Faye’s interpretation of this letter about Tom Lefroy.
  • Huff, Marsha.  “Becoming Jane:  Sorting Fact from Fiction,” at JASNA.org.
  • Walker, Linda Robinson.  “Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories”  Persuasions Online, v.27, no 1 (Winter 2006)
  • ” ‘I was too proud to make any inquiries’ ” Jane Austen’s Eleventh Letter” at the The Loiterer
  • Nokes, David.  Jane Austen: A Life. Farrar, Straus, 1997.  See online,  Chapter 5 “Proflilgate and Shocking.”
  • Tomalin, Claire.  Jane Austen: A life.  Viking, 1997.
  • Honan, Park.  Jane Austen, her life.  St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
  • Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh.  Jane Austen: a Family Record; revised and enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye.  London, 1989.  See also the 2nd edition published by Cambridge University Press, 2003, which includes additions and corrections and a changed format.
  • The Becoming Jane Fansite, the go-to place for all things Jane & Tom.
  • Fashion and Fun in 1796 (from the Regency Fashion Page), for thoughts on what was going on when Austen wrote this letter.

A Journey through Jane Austen’s Letters

I have read many of Austen’s letters through the years, and certainly know the majority of quotes that are repeated over and over…but I am finally committing myself to going through each letter in chronological order and reading through all the accompanying notes and references ( my source and Essential Austen title: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 1997)…. and I invite you all to take this journey with me, one letter at a time, one day at a time. 

So often these letters, and the sentences or words from them, are quoted out of context, and I feel compelled to make some sense of it all, to go back to the original source and get a feel for what Austen was really saying.  There are so many gaps in the letters, either from Cassandra’s choice to edit and / or destroy many of her sister’s writings, or because the sisters were not apart and hence no need to write (and of course there are only a few letters from Cassandra herself, and because Austen often refers back to a received letter, and with her constant comments on her sister’s writing abilities and humor, the reader is saddened by this loss.)

There are also many primary and secondary sources on the letters and I will discuss these periodically (see also the Letters Page, which I will continually add to), but I think I better just start the process and let it evolve from there.  I encourage you to comment, suggest sources, offer suggestions or interpretation, so please visit often and participate.  For those of you who know the letters backwards and forwards, and for those just discovering them, please take this journey with me.  I think all of us might learn something new along the way.  I know I already have….

This will be the format: 

  • letter number
  • date
  • sender (their location) / recipient (their location)
  • location of letter today
  • synopsis; quotes of import; comment

So today I start with Letter No. 1:

  • January 9 – 10 (Sat, Sun) 1796
  • Jane (Steventon) to Cassandra (Kintbury, Newbury [Rev. Fowles home])
  • Original MS untraced

 This is Austen’s first documented letter and one of the most quoted.  It is here that Jane writes of her attachment to Tom Lefroy and she refers to him often in this letter…”I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved.  Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.”  She tells of the balls- “we had an exceedingly good ball last night”, who she danced with (Warren, Charles Watkins, and “fighting hard” to escape John Lyford), commenting on Miss Heathcote (“[she] is pretty, but not near so handsome as I expected”), and the many references to friends that we meet again and again in her letters.  We read of her latest fashion thoughts, the silk stockings she cannot afford but the white gloves and pink persian (silk) she can, and much on her brother Charles and brother Henry and his latest plan to obtaining a lieutenancy.

The letter ends with another lengthy reference to Tom Lefroy:  “he has but one fault…his morning coat is a great deal too light.  He is a great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore he wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded.”

So in this first letter,  (Jane was 20 years old writing this letter on Cassandra’s 23rd birthday and the letter opens with “In the first place I hope you will live twenty-three years longer”)  we are introduced into Austen’s life, her family and friends, her likes and dislikes, and her biting wit, her poking fun at others and so very often herself.  Her letters to her sister were entertainment for both of them when they were apart, and in just these few pages we are drawn into this late 18-century world, with all its domestic goings-on, and we are glad to be in such company.  These letters are a veritable feast!