and Other Influences
In Jane Austen's Time
A Male Voices Web Page
Revised: September 1, 2001
In this second page, we turn to the literature of Jane Austen's time. The emphasis is on those things that Jane Austen might have read - on possible Jane-Austen influences. We will discover that Jane Austen's time seems to have been a golden age for women writers. We also attempt to understand how the male voices of our Lady's time thought about women. - What were their attitudes?
Here is a link to the
For This Page
|Fashion in the|
The time of Jane Austen was an historical period in which English fashion moved away, for a time, from the more restrictive undergarments. Such things were worn before and after this period, but less so during.
A painting by Rolina Sharples
This was the age of the "Regency" or "Empire" fashion, the fashion inspired by Napoleon's Josephine, we are told. The outer garments were the flowing styles they associated with classical times. Isn't it nice to think of Jane Austen's generation made more comfortable in this way! And isn't it wonderful to contemplate those high-waisted styles that so set off and so compliment the angelic female form?
There was one amazing defection from this fashion trend, Mary Wollstonecraft! Mary Wollstonecraft was so set against fashionable dress that she remained in her stays - no pun intended. So, you see, even the great ones can paint themselves into a corner.
|The Regency is|
not the Victorian
One has to remind some people that Jane Austen was not a Victorian, not in any sense. Both Queen Victoria and her milieu were born and cultivated after Jane Austen's death. Remember that Jane Austen was a contemporary of Casanova, the Marquis de Sade, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lady Hamilton, the Duchess of Devonshire, etc. Surely you don't think of those persons as Victorians. It is important to understand this so that you don't assume Jane Austen to be too tightly wound, the typical Victorian affliction.
Perhaps there is no universally accepted definition of what we mean by "Victorian". To me it was a period of rigid rules, frozen class structures, and calcified sphincters. I also think of the malady as a kind of London flu that spread throughout the English-speaking world. (The rest of us could not expect to import only the good stuff.) Victorian attitudes seem a natural consequence of the industrial revolution combined with the establishment of the British Empire; these were the firm attitudes that disciplined and trained that large middle class that was so necessary for the control and functioning of the two vast domains. The "revolution" and the expansion were well under way in Jane Austen's times; indeed, Jane's brothers were participating in both of these historical processes. However, the bad stuff had not yet begun.
I think Jane Austen is sometimes mentioned in the Victorian context because she may have influenced some of the novelists of that later period, not in content but in artistic ways. However, as I have argued in another place, confusing Victorian attitudes with those of Jane Austen leads one to misinterpret at least one aspect of Pride and Prejudice, and we can expect that there are other instances of that same danger.
The correct name for the intellectual period that Jane Austen lived in is the "Regency Period". The reference is to the royal control ("regency") assumed by the Prince of Wales, the future George the IV, when his father, George III, became incapacitated. Strictly speaking, Jane Austen's novels were published in the regency; however, Jane Austen's character was formed - and three of her novels were first drafted - in what might be called the Late Georgian period. I will not be so precise in our discussions. Incidentally, another good site for the study of this period is that maintained by Jack Lynch.
The Victorian, Charlotte Bronte, was born the year before Jane Austen died (1817), Emily Bronte the year after, and their sister Ann Bronte was borne a few years later still. Charles Dickens was five years old when Jane died and George Eliot was born two years later. Incidentally, Charlotte Bronte is one of my favorite targets at this web site because of the petty, jealous remarks she made about Jane Austen. It is said that George Eliot committed a similar crime, but I wouldn't dare mess with her.
I don't know for sure, but my impression is that most English novelists in Jane Austen's day (1775-1817) were women. (See Cathy Decker's excellent survey of women writers of that time.) There were Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), Fanny Burney (1752-1840), Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821), Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) to name just a few women authors. These women were slightly older and first published slightly before Jane Austen. Jane Austen admired Burney and Edgeworth and had the opposite feelings about Radcliffe. (Oh! and America's first novelist was a woman, so James Fenimore Cooper was not.)
If you insist that Jane Austen's influences must have been women, then those are the usual suspects, but the one I think everyone misses - the one that I think may have been the most important is Madame de La Fayette (1634-1693)
There was a slightly younger woman author, Mary Wollstonecraft's more-famous daughter Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Our Lady could not have known of Shelley, whose first major work, Frankenstein (1818), appeared the year after Jane's death. (Well, Jane Austen might have heard the gossip.) You can find my comments on Mary Shelley's novels, Frankenstein, Matilda, and The Last Man on the first page of this posting. I am generally very positive about Mary Shelley; her Frankenstein and The Last Man are important visions even if two centuries premature.
I have seen one estimate that more than two hundred women published novels before Jane Austen. In fact, Jane Austen was not even the first woman in her own family to publish a novel. One of the more important literary critics of the day was a woman; that was Madame Anne Louisa Germaine de Staël (1766-1817), who was a novelist at times but was at her best when writing about political philosophy or in the sphere of literary criticism. (She resides in infamy at this web site because of something she should not have said about Jane Austen.)
Given the wide acceptance of women writers and novelists, the question arises as to why Jane Austen published anonymously. First of all, notice that while Jane Austen did not affix her name to her novels, she did nothing to hide her sex. I mean, her first publication, Sense and Sensibility, was signed, "By a Lady." I don't know the answer to the question, I have seen several speculations. The one I favor is that our Lady did not want the public to think that an Austen woman had to publish novels in order to earn a living. Jane Austen did not want us to imagine that her brothers were not supporting her as, indeed, they were. (However, she was as pleased as punch to rake in those proceeds.)
I have tried to read something from each of these woman authors and have discovered that hardly any of them was a positive influence for Jane Austen - thank god. They could write well; but, to borrow a phrase from Jane's own family, there is "little of nature or probability" in any of these works. (The exception might be de La Fayette.) You may not have to take my word for it. In her recent, popular critique of Jane Austen, Mary Waldron, it seems to me, claims that Jane Austen explicitly tried to avoid the errors of Burney and Edgeworth [Waldron].
I should add that I am not entirely convinced that Fanny Burney wasn't a positive influence of some sort for Jane Austen. I say that because the words "nature" and "probability" appear in the preface to Burney's first novel Evelina (1778). A better indication may be the fact that Jane Austen found the phrase "pride and prejudice" in another Fanny Burney novel. C. S. Lewis suggested that Dr. Johnson was a major influence for Jane Austen. If he is right, then there is an interesting connection here, because Johnson included Burney among his proteges after publication of Evelina.
Fanny Burney led an amazing life; novelist, Lady-In-Waiting to the Queen, wife of a French aristocrat, political hostage to Napoleon, etc. In her diary, she records the details of her mastectomy that was performed in her kitchen and before the invention of anesthetic. Don't read that when you need some cheering-up. The good news is that the procedure stopped the progress of the cancer and she was to live another several decades.
Actually, all of these women authors led very interesting and very eventful lives. Maybe this is why Jane Austen shied away from any possible contact; although, she did send a copy of Emma to Maria Edgeworth just before it was released to the public. Given Jane Austen's extreme shyness, this was a bold and dramatic act. Miss Edgeworth didn't know what to make of it, which doesn't surprise me, but couldn't she at least have sent a letter of acknowledgement? (Actually, Edgeworth's father was a close friend of an uncle and aunt of Jane Austen.)
I have described two novels and a short story by Mary Shelley on the first page of this posting, and I will discuss here one novel by Burney and one by Edgeworth. I would first comment that the plots of the other contemporary women authors consist of such things as a woman marrying her former priest-confessor and/or being lead astray by a seducer or an evil ravager-abductor (a ravager-abductor always has an evil and ugly accomplice-servant).
All the heroines are of a perfect character and understanding of course - if only they would not allow themselves to be influenced by, and come under the control of men! It really does remind you of - well, the women's literature and the conventions of our own times. It is little wonder that the imperfection of Jane Austen's heroines left some of her contemporary readers perplexed.
Ann Radcliffe's novels always had a hint of the supernatural thrown in with the other nonsense, and hers, I believe, were the most commercial novels of the regency period. (If pressed, I would choose Anne Rice as the author of our own times that reminds me most of Ann Radcliffe; but, that is not a perfect match.)
Lady Jane Grey
the night before her execution
By Robert Fulton (1765-1815)
American Artist and Inventor
It is true, however, that Jane Austen's novels did well enough, especially among the discerning. In fact, Pride and Prejudice was the best seller of its season. I wish that someone would bequeath me just one day's profit earned from her work nowadays.
Here are links to other web sites that provide information on women novelists. An excellent web site for information on the women authors is Cathy Decker's web site. Another excellent resource is Jack Lynch's web site. Of course, there is Henry Churchyard's Jane Austen Information Page. See, especially, his page on Jane Austen's literary allusions. Here is a site with information on Madame de La Fayette.
Fanny Burney's Evelina
It is difficult to describe Evelina; try to imagine the Starkadder family of Cold Comfort Farm set down in London - set down in London where they are better dressed but where they display even worse manners. The only explanation I can offer for the popularity of this novel is that, at the time of its publication, it might have seemed very funny. I suspect that we have lost the cultural context to appreciate most of the humor at this date. What once may have seemed slapstick now appears to be simple cruelty. The novel is divided into three volumes and, for me, the first two are shockingly bad. It is impossible for me to imagine an intelligent person - let alone Jane Austen - ever holding a copy of this novel in her hands and thinking the first two volumes to be good. There is absolutely nothing in Jane Austen's writings, professional or private, to prepare me for that possibility.
The third volume is much better; the most serious defect of this final volume is the animal cruelty played for laughs in Letter XXII. (Well - there is also a great deal of silly dropping to the knees in this final section by an entire range of characters: You can almost hear the thumping of bruised knees on hardwood.) The only interesting character is introduced in the third volume (the heroine and her Lord are insipid). That would be Mrs. Selwyn whom I would describe as an Elizabeth Bennet at age forty-something, widowed, and grown meaner and more cynical. Mrs. Selwyn makes me laugh, at all the intended places, and saves Burney's reputation a bit for me. Mrs. Selwyn is the only truly competent character in the entire novel; she resolves the main problem facing the heroine after several family members fail miserably at that task. Fanny Burney has her heroine describe Mrs. Selwyn in this interesting way.
"Mrs. Selwyn is very kind and attentive to me. She is extremely clever; her understanding, indeed, may be called masculine; but, unfortunately, her manners deserve the same epithet; for, in studying to acquire the knowledge of the other sex, she has lost all the softness of her own. ... I have never been personally hurt at her want of gentleness; a virtue which, nevertheless, seems so essential a part of the female character, that I find myself more awkward, and less at ease, with a woman that wants it, than I do with a man. ..."
EPITHET!? Evelina was published during the middle of the American Revolution and this quote certainly indicates some of the attitudes prevailing at that time. However, don't be fooled: Fanny Burney uses this quote to put some distance between Mrs. Selwyn and the heroine (and the author). Fanny Burney allows Mrs. Selwyn to say things that she would like to say herself but doesn't dare. I mean that Fanny Burney obviously didn't much care for men and she spoke to them through Mrs. Selwyn. I suspect that one can learn a lot about the differences between Fanny Burney and Jane Austen by comparing Mrs. Selwyn to Elizabeth Bennet. Another important basis for comparison would be the very different way the two women develop male characters; there will be no Male Voices web site devoted to Fanny Burney anytime soon. In any case, Fanny Burney earns the right to be called a Jane-Austen influence in this third volume
However, there is still one mystery. I waded through the dreck to arrive at Volume III because I was in search of signs of Jane Austen; what in the world was Jane Austen seeking?
Maria Edgeworth's Belinda
In Maria Edgeworth's Belinda, two woman fought a dual while dressed in drag. Neither character was wounded but the recoil of the pistol bruised the breast of one so severely that she came to believe that she had cancer, and contemplated a mastectomy. I think Belinda has a happy ending because (1) it turns out that the diagnosis was found to be incorrect just before the surgeon's knife was about to fall, (2) the woman's husband was so concerned over her illness that she forgave him for killing her lover, and (3) she was so grateful that she ended her opium addiction - cold turkey. I am not joking, all that is the basis of the plot. If you just read a paragraph or even a few pages at random from Belinda, things are not so silly and you will even be impressed; but, read far enough, and you will perfectly understand why Jane Austen's is the name we all know. Maria Edgeworth's male characters are one-dimensional and otherwise unrecognizable.
I read somewhere that a character in Belinda, a certain "Harriet Freke", is Maria Edgeworth's disguised portrayal of Mary Wollstonecraft. If true, we are given a much different portrait than that rendered by William Godwin. To be sure, Harriet is of an ambiguous sexuality (a bit mannish), but she is also monumentally mean-spirited, and a dedicated and gifted trouble-maker. Have you ever heard anything along these lines about Ms Freke?
I have a more severe complaint about Maria Edgeworth. This bothers me because I so very much want to love everyone that Jane Austen loved - but, I cannot. I read a little about Maria Edgeworth before I picked up Belinda and I was impressed to learn that although she was the daughter of an English owner of Irish lands, she demonstrated a clear respect for Irish culture and the Irish predicament. Given that, you can imagine my surprise to discover Belinda tainted with the author's racial stereotypes. People tell me that I should not try to apply a modern sensitivity to a novelist of two hundred years ago. Excuse me - I don't believe that! I know, for a fact, that I can apply this same sensitivity to Jane Austen and have her pass every test and then teach me something besides.
The Feminist Novels of Mary Hays
In her biography, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, Claire Tomalin makes frequent reference to Mary Hays (1760-1843). Hays was a good friend of both Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Unlike many others, she remained a good friend to the very end.
Mary Hays very much admired Maria Edgeworth and said that it was that author who inspired her own literary-fiction career. Hays was also a rabid feminist and was inspired, in that regard, by her good friend Mary Wollstonecraft. I discuss the feminist philosophy of this woman in another place and insert some comments about her fiction here.
I believe that Mary Hays primarily was thought of as a novelist in her own day. That means that an excellent resource for you is the web site maintained by Cathy Decker. In particular, see Ms Decker's page on British women novelists in the Late Georgian and Regency periods. To save you the trouble of linking over there immediately, I have extracted a list of Hays's novels and those of Ms. Decker's comments that I could find. Claire Tomalin annotated her bibliography, including references to Hays's novels; so, I can append Tomalin's comments as well.
As you can see, Mary Hays's literary period overlapped that of our Lady (1811-1818).
Claire Tomalin mentions Hays's novels in her biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, even quotes from one of them. I will excerpt from those passages as they indicate the feminist nature of Hays's fiction. In Emma Courtney, the fictional philosopher, Mr Francis, who Tomalin identifies as the very real William Godwin, is trying to deal with a female protagonist on the matter of the independence of unmarried women. The frustrated philosopher warns his companion that she is in danger of becoming unbalanced and Hays's protagonist replies in this way.
"While men pursue interest, honor, pleasure, as accords with their several dispositions, women, who have too much delicacy, sense, and spirit, to degrade themselves by the vilest of interchanges, remain insulated beings, and must be content tamely to look on without taking any real part in the great, though often absurd and tragical drama of life. Hence the eccentricities of conduct, with which women of superior minds have been accused - the struggles, the despairing though generous struggles, of an ardent spirit, denied scope for its exertions! The strong feelings, and strong energies, which properly directed, in a field sufficiently wide, might - ah! what might they have not aided? forced back, and pent up, ravage and destroy the mind that gave them birth."
[Tomalin-MW, Chapter 16, page 197]
Tomalin added this commentary.
"... Mary Hays, both in Emma Courtney and The Victim of Prejudice, dwelt on the exploitation and helplessness of girls who were not protected by money or family. 'I thought of myself as a wild animal fallen into the hunter's nets', she had one girl say after a weary effort to find and keep a decent job in London. These were frightening but not fanciful pictures of the dark side of life for women, what they had to fear if eligible husbands failed to appear, fathers' fortunes were lost, rich uncles did not help; then they would indeed find that the social superiors were implacably rude and cruel, and that the poor, instead of blending anonymously into the landscape, were individuals like themselves. If nothing more, these novels serve as a reminder of the mass of silent girls who found the world empty of opportunity or happiness."
[Tomalin-MW, Chapter 16, page 203]
I believe that the best-known contemporary English male novelist was Walter Scott (Invanhoe, Waverly, etc.). Scott acknowledged that Jane Austen was his superior and he was certainly correct in that. Walter Scott was well known as a poet, but he published his novels anonymously. One reason he might have done that is because novels did not enjoy a good reputation. For example, use this link to read what Mary Wollstonecraft said about the reading of novels. Here is a link to a mixed review of novel reading by Samuel Johnson.
Actually, Wollstonecraft's husband, William Godwin, wasn't a half bad novelist when he set his mind to it. I have suggested that his Caleb Williams (1794) may have inspired, in part, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1818).
I have the impression that novels were not even considered "literature" in England at that time. Men did read novels of course, but it was a brave admission to make in public. You can read of just such a brave admission by Mr. Tilney in Northanger Abbey. However, this was an admission unashamedly made by Jane Austen's father, brothers, and nephews.
On the other hand, there is this completely positive view of novels submitted by Henry Fielding. Incidentally, Fielding delineated there what he thought was required of a good novelist - genius, learning, wide-ranging experience, and heart. The Janite will recognize this list because our Jane Austen meets all criteria every bit as well as Fielding himself. The wise Janite will say a special "amen" to "heart." (Perhaps it is "heart" that brother James Austen is claiming for his sister with his mention of Lawrence Sterne - see 8/15/00.)
Perhaps things were different on the continent. Goethe (1749-1832) was publishing in Germany, and was considered quite respectable I think. And, there was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) in France.
Of course, there were many noted male English novelists before Jane Austen's time. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) dabbled in novels, and some have suggested that he was an influence for our Lady, but I don't think so (also, see 4/10/00, 4/17/00, and 5/13/00.) In this context, I should also mention Daniel Defoe (1659-1731), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), and Henry Fielding (1707-1754).
The male novelist that the young Jane Austen liked particularly was Samuel Richardson (1689-1761). In fact, I believe that he was a profound influence on our Lady, and would point, in particular, to his History of Sir Charles Grandison (1754-5). In fact, I think I see a prototype of Elizabeth Bennet in that novel! You will have difficulty finding Richardson's work in bookstores these days.
All of those men were of Jane Austen's grandfather's or great-grandfather's generation. One is struck by the fact that severe rivalries and dislikes existed among the male writers. Swift and Defoe didn't much care for one another, and both Richardson and Fielding made unkind remarks about the other. The first case may have been a natural consequence of religious difference; Jonathan Swift was Church of English clergyman and Daniel Defoe was a dissenter, a Presbyterian. The later rivalry may have been a reflection of class differences; Samuel Richardson was working class and Henry Fielding was privileged. Fielding enjoyed lampooning Richardson's novels and Richardson expressed a good deal of moral outrage over Fielding's. If you will read the biography of only one of these men, choose Daniel Defoe - born of a poor father, he was a short-term insurrectionist, long-term government spy, and a man of letters.
Here are links to other web sites that provide information on the male writers: Samuel Johnson, Fielding and Richardson, and Lawrence Sterne. Another excellent resource is Jack Lynch's web site. See Henry Churchyard's page on Jane Austen's literary allusions. There are some other at least remotely relevant links: here are sites devoted to John Bunyan and to William Hogarth.
I have more to say about some of the novels of these male writers in a section further on, but first I want to deal with the extraordinary case of
Justine: The Misfortunes of Virtue
De Sade died two years before Jane Austen. So, he was a contemporary of hers and, for that reason, deserves some study. I read de Sade's Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue. I thought that it would probably be about people who took pleasure in inflicting or receiving pain during sex or about really mean-spirited people. I guessed, "how bad can it be? It can't be any worse than the movies that Hollywood makes for teen audiences these days." WRONG! - jee-eeze! It is a sequence of stories about serial killers who kidnap, torture and then murder young woman. The torture and murders are described in great detail as are the unapologetic philosophies of those men. In the end, all the criminals prosper and the virtuous are given terrible fates (the virtuous Justine is struck and killed by lightning).
Apparently, de Sade spent a good deal of time in jail for trying to act out some of these fantasies - that makes a lot of sense to me - but, why were his books published? I decided that there might be some redeeming quality that I had missed, I was determined to find something. I did find a little something, not something redeeming so much as something interesting. This from Chapter 15. One of de Sade's monsters is lecturing the virtuous Justine (called "Therese" for some unexplained reason) in this way:
"... This is my confession to you, Therese: two girls are necessary every day for my sacrifices. The means of ridding myself of these victims are easy. An hour after having pleased me they are shipped and sold to pimps and bawds ... by my emissaries. This trade is very profitable to me and makes up for what they cost me. You see, I satisfy two of my dearest passions, lust and greed. But seeking out these girls and abducting them gives me a lot of trouble, as I am very particular about them. I like to seek them out of the slums, where poverty, hunger and misery sap all their courage, pride and delicacy. I have all those nooks carefully searched. You have no idea what a rich hoard the slums bring me. Sometimes I am forced to do a little maneuvering to keep this mine freshly supplied. With my influences in this town that's easy. I create by means of a few transactions a depression in trade, thereby increasing the unemployed, and, as a result, poverty. On the other hand, I limit the supply of provisions and make them harder and more expensive to procure. Hunger and misery soon weaken all resistances to my schemes for delivering up my victims. It makes them easy prey. It's an old stunt, Therese. The same motives were behind the last famine we had in one of our largest towns. ..."
This suggestion that poverty, and not immorality, is the root cause of prostitution strikes me as an anticipation of the modern idea. (Actually, Defoe expressed something of the same notion in his Moll Flanders, however, Defoe's treatment is more complex and more compelling.) The notion that a sinister force creates the conditions for the exploitation of women seems almost a modern Marxist or feminist analysis. You can find a number of things like that in Justine.
To me, one of Jane Austen's great contributions was to raise her art form up to and perhaps beyond the male-dominated discipline of poetry. Do you agree that W.H. Auden makes just that point in his Letter To Lord Byron?
You can read a professional, academic interpretation of Jane Austen's literary influences; that is the popular and recent book by Mary Waldron [Waldron]. (I have put together some of my own reflections on Mary Waldron's theories.) I have formed, independently, my own first impressions of our Lady's literary influences and will post those here. The basic difference is that I only thought to look for positive influences, while the more-scholarly, more learned Mary Waldron develops the theory that Jane Austen's main influences were actually negative - our Lady wrote primarily to correct the literary errors of others.
First of all, let me summarize some references. Two of Jane Austen's brothers gave hints of who may have been their sister's influences. Henry Austen is unequivocal,
"... [My sister's] reading was very extensive in history and belles lettres; and her memory extremely tenacious. Her favorite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse. It is difficult to say at what age she was not intimately acquainted with the merits and defects of the best essays and novels in the English language. Richardson's power of creating, and preserving the consistency of his characters, as particularly exemplified in Sir Charles Grandison, gratified the natural discrimination of her mind, whilst her taste secured her from the errors of his prolix style and tedious narrative. She did not rank any work of Fielding quite so high. Without the slightest affectation, she recoiled from every thing gross. Neither nature, wit, nor humour, could make her amends for so low a scale of morals. ..."
So, Henry Austen dissed Henry Fielding (1707-1754) while implicating William Cowper (1731-1800), Samuel Richardson (1689-1761), and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784). Brother, James Austen, wrote a poem to his sister to celebrate her first published novel. In that he mentioned Laurence Sterne (1713-1768) in an interesting way.
The film makers of our day very much want Jane Austen and her heroines to admire Shakespeare and Byron. However, I believe Henry Austen; Jane Austen preferred what I call the pastoral poets - poets like Grabbe and Cowper (I think that is pronounced "Cooper"). This was in keeping with her love of the country life.
C.S. Lewis made a case for Samuel Johnson as a Jane-Austen influence:
"... [Jane Austen] is described by someone in Kipling's worst story as the mother of Henry James. I feel much more sure that she is the daughter of Dr. Johnson: she inherits his common sense, his morality, even much of his style. ..."
I have more to say about these guesses further down. I can interject here that Jane Austen's dates are 1775-1817, so all of those male authors were old men to her - men from her grandfather's or great-grandfather's generation. That doesn't mean that they could not have been influences, but the observation does encourage us to look a bit nearer to her own generation.
Again, while Jane Austen was growing up, the contemporary novelists that our Lady seemed to admire most were Fanny Burney, and Maria Edgeworth. Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) is another mentioned quite frequently. (Actually, Jane Austen favorite readings went in phases; first Richardson, then Burney, and later still she seemed to favor Edgeworth.) In fact, it seems that Burney and Edgeworth may have been admired by the entire Austen family - Brother Henry said this:
"... [my sister] sent into the world those novels, which by many have been placed on the same shelf as the works of a D'Arblay [Fanny Burney] and an Edgeworth. ..."
That is amusing! Who, today, would rank the novels of either of those women with Jane Austen's? No one! - but no shade in heaven would celebrate that fact any more than the ghost of Henry Austen.
My opinion is this, I believe that Jane Austen's main influence on substance was Samuel Richardson, while the chief influence on style was Henry Fielding - or someone or some persons a good deal like Fielding. I very much like the way that Henry Austen described Richardson's influence on his sister, with special emphasis on The History of Sir Charles Grandison (12/11/00 and 1/5/01.) The plots of both Sense and Sensibility (1/18/01) and Persuasion (2/8/01) are themes explored in Grandison. Also, Richardson's Charlotte Grandison is bound to remind many readers of Elizabeth Bennet (1/13/01, 1/31/01, and 2/3/01.) Of course, the themes and the characterization are better done by Jane Austen because our Lady was the better writer - by far. And, as Henry Austen suggests, Jane Austen had problems with Richardson and not just problems in style (12/15/00 and 1/21/01.) Yes indeed, in terms of style, we must look elsewhere.
Since Jane Austen certainly admired Fanny Burney (Madame d'Arblay), and since she may have admired Maria Edgeworth even more, it is logical to look to their work for influences in style. However, I do not find much similarity in the works of either woman with those of Jane Austen for the reasons noted above. If you are certain that a woman or women must have been Jane Austen's primary influence(s), and you wish to prove it, you might start at Cathy Decker's web site. I should warn you that Mary Waldron [Waldron] will not be of any help in this regard; she is at least as negative about Burney and Edgeworth as I am.
I do believe that the earlier woman writer who did produce something very close to those of Jane Austen's is Madame de La Fayette (1634-1693); her The Princess of Cleves (1678) is very suggestive of our Lady's style and purpose (10/13/00.) That is my opinion, others will judge otherwise (1/23/01.)
You might say that Samuel Johnson was the guy, after all that is what C.S. Lewis said and Lewis had credentials! With all due respect to my betters, I humbly and respectfully submit, "no damn way!" In fact, I have developed some serious reservations about both Samuel Johnson's style (4/17/00) and his common sense (4/10/00.) It is not that I did not find anything of Johnson's that reminded me of Jane Austen, on the contrary (5/13/00); however, I was looking for a more comprehensive kind of similarity in order to record an "influence." I am sure that Lewis was familiar with a far broader selection of Johnson's writing than I am; so, maybe my thinking will evolve - I doubt it.
Again, to me, Jane Austen's model on style was Henry Fielding. That judgment requires a lot of explaining. Maybe my pronouncement is a prejudice based upon the fact that, for me, Henry Fielding is the other great writer in the English Georgian/Regency period. - There are so many similarities in wit and composition, that I will not be easily knocked off my position.
Obviously, I must explain away Henry Austen's thoughts on Henry Fielding. Actually, I am skeptical about the possibility suggested by Henry, the suggestion that Jane Austen herself "recoiled from every thing gross ... Neither nature, wit, nor humour, could make her amends for so low a scale of morals" when regarding Fielding. For example, consider this excerpt from a letter our Lady wrote to her sister, Cassandra, on January 10, 1796:
"... After I had written the above, we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is well behaved now; and as for the other, he has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove - it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same colored clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded. ..."
(Many think that Jane Austen was in love with Tom Lefroy - she was just twenty years old when that letter was written.) Well, the tone strikes me as easy and joking - no sign of "recoiling" there! I wonder if it is possible that Henry Austen was expressing his own attitudes and then attributing them to his sister?
Notice that the words "moral" and "morality" are used by Henry Austen, C.S. Lewis, and by Samuel Johnson in his comparison of Fielding and Richardson. Mark Twain is alleged to have said, "the difference between using the right word or not, is the same as lightning striking or not." I believe that, and I cannot see any bright flashes in the use of "morality" by those men. To me, in any context, "morality" refers to ideas of right and wrong. Therefore, I can freely assert that Henry Fielding's morality is identical to Jane Austen's, to Samuel Richardson's, to Samuel Johnson's, or to mine. I defy anyone to demonstrate otherwise. Also, this particular brand of morality is the very superior sort - especially mine.
What those commentators might be confusing with "morality" is a view of human nature! Indeed, I agree, it is there that Henry Fielding separates himself from the others I mentioned (but not from me); it is there that the similarity between Jane Austen and Richardson is a justified claim. Also, in that regard, Henry Fielding is pessimistic, harsh, more skeptical, more unflinching, more masculine - I don't know if that is better or worse than the views of Austen and Richardson - I don't know if that is better or worse, it just is a fact.
There is a way, of course, in which I can be right about what I think I see without contradicting brother Henry Austen - it may be that both Henry Fielding and Jane Austen were inspired by the same literary tradition. That might be the explanation of the reason that I think I see the same writing skills (logic, ironic humor, efficiency, and heart) in both writers.
Jane Austen had special qualities and perhaps that insight is the main benefit one gains by investigating other writers in the Georgian and Regency periods. Her exquisite good taste in style and purpose make her novels unique. Perhaps an equally endearing quality is her progressive nature - her gender neutrality, ethnic sensitivity, and her relationship to nature are compatible with the best standards of today (1/23/01.) And that when other well-known authors of her time were making gaffes. You will never witness a Janite required to invent a complicated apology that begins with,
I want to explore with you the way that Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Sir Walter Scott, and James Fenimore Cooper developed the characters of women in their novels. I do that because you may be surprised and pleased at the way that men actually thought about women in those days. Perhaps the treatment is typical - if so, then we have been misled by the modern representations of our eighteenth-century fathers.
A parallel development is our treatment of the way radical men thought about women in Jane Austen's time.
In particular, I will focus upon
The latter four fictional women are highly attractive to male readers - almost as attractive as Elizabeth Bennet.
Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders" - 1722
The original title page to Daniel Defoe's novel look's a bit like this:
Of the FAMOUS
Moll Flanders, &c.
Who was Born in NEWGATE, and during a
Life of contin'd Variety for Threescore Years,
besides her Childhood, was twelve year a
Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her
own brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a
Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich
liv'd Honest, and died a Penitent.
Written from her own MEMORANDUMS
"Newgate" was a famous London prison. "Whore" is too strong a word; "adulteress" yes, "kept woman" yes, but "prostitute" never - umm, rarely. Certainly Moll applied that term to herself, but she did not qualify for arrest for prostitution, then or now. Well, she did qualify for arrest as a thief; in fact, she often achieved the legal limit for which she might have been executed for theft. She turned to theft only after age fifty when she realized that she might no longer be able to attract a husband.
The book is as disturbing as is the case when reading the novels of Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy written nearly a century and a half later. I suspect that I will think about the book for the rest of my life. There is nothing comical or heroic about Moll Flanders. She is simply an amoral if intelligent woman born with little money or position, but with a determination to use her understanding and beauty to avoid becoming a servant. And, she was determined to avoid being alone in the world without a husband. If she could only gain her needs by simulating fortune and gentility, or by otherwise misrepresenting the facts, it was done. Many of us will forgive her given the circumstances.
The thing we may never forgive her for is the ease with which she abandoned the children born in most of her marriages and liaisons. Moll abandoned them and then never seemed to look back. I want to be precise here - Moll often had qualms about an abandonment at the moment when she was leaving, but she never grieved for very long. You will also be appalled where Moll sees a young girl walking home from a dancing lesson, befriends her, and then steals the child's necklace. Afterward, as Moll is assessing the considerable value of the necklace, she muses that the family deserved what happened because they had not supervised the child properly. Today's feminists explain that Moll was a victim and then install her in the feminist's pantheon - well, they are welcome to her. Don't get me wrong, I do like Moll, it is just that I have no Hall of Fame for her.
The first three-quarters of the book describes Moll's relationships with men, while the final quarter describes her life of crime; she was a pick-pocket, burglar, and con artist. She preferred the last mode because she was so good at it, "I became the greatest artist of my time." It was only during this last stage of her life that Moll took on the alias of "Moll Flanders." (The reference was to Holland, because many of the prostitutes and grifters in the London of that time were Dutch.) It is interesting to notice that Moll was especially adept at disguises - interesting because Daniel Defoe himself often wore disguises and assumed false identities in his second occupation as a government spy.
This is a story about poverty before the industrial revolution. In all respects, it seems not as bad as what would come after. I doubt that anything else like this was written in the eighteenth century - if you know otherwise, I would like to hear of it. Certainly, no Janite will recognize anything of this nature in the writings of Jane Austen.
Moll was married five times and was a mistress on several other occasions. Her first and last husbands died but the other marriages ended when the couple came upon financial difficulty and the partners were forced to separate. Divorce was talked about, but the trouble was never taken; so, we can wonder about the legality of the later marriages. Moll wondered about that herself, but never let herself get depressed about it. Those were different times. You may know that Benjamin Franklin had illegitimate children; but, you may not know that he never actually married the woman we call his wife. In fact, she was married to someone else who had abandoned her. The folks in Philadelphia just considered the Franklins married and that was good enough. Benjamin Franklin treated his illegitimate children the same as his "legitimate" and always did his best by them. (His illegitimate son, William, was selected by the British to be the Governor of New Jersey, remained a loyalist during the Revolution, and ended his days in England.) Remember that story as you try to get perspective on Moll Flanders's "marriages."
An interesting thing is that Moll liked her husbands and all the other men in her life, and they liked her. These were usually long-term, loving, pleasurable relationships that might have lasted had financial circumstances allowed. Moll was never unfaithful; although, in some cases, that was true in a technical sense. Her third husband took her to Virginia where he and his mother had carved out a thriving tobacco plantation. There, three babies were born, two surviving. Moll was happy, the husband was happy, and Moll and her mother-in-law got along famously. The two women got on so well, that the older woman opened up to the younger and confessed that she had been a prisoner at Newgate, had a baby there, and then had been transported to Virginia. Moll straightened bolt up, questioned the woman further, and discovered that she was talking to her own mother.
Much later, Moll would return to Virginia, this time as a transported convict. She had been under a sentence of death but a helpful clergyman had had the death-sentence delayed and then it was commuted when Moll promised to emigrate. (The clergyman was disappointed because he thought it would have been better had Moll left this world while she was in a sincerely penitent state.) Moll had found one of her former husbands in prison, also on death row, and had persuaded him to accompany her to America. Arriving in Virginia she was pleased to take up a relationship with her son/nephew and he was very pleased to meet her. It turned out that his grandmother, Moll's mother/mother-in-law, was deceased but had given him a good estate to manage but it was entailed to Moll. That, combined with her own enterprise - honest enterprise - allowed Moll and her new/former husband to accumulate a considerable fortune and income. And so the story ends with Moll Flanders - or whatever her real name was, we are never told - near her seventieth year while comfortably retired back in England.
Henry Fielding's "Maria Western" - 1749
I don't read Henry Fielding's intention in the same way as most others. To others, his The History of Tom Jones: a Foundling is "picaresque". That is to say, the novel is commonly placed in the category of novels about rogues. Certainly, that is the way that Tom was portrayed in the filmed version of the 1970s. The celluloid Tom Jones is a counter-culture, anti-hero. That is the way that our American generation of the '70s liked to think of themselves. To me, Fielding's Tom Jones is physically beautiful, naturally graceful, and rational - well, Tom is also passionate. Now, if someone wants to call Moll Flanders "picaresque", then I can go along; but, every time someone applies that term to Tom Jones, I balk. I see a great deal of comedy and a great deal of sadness in the novel, and it is a superlative love story between two worthy characters.
Tom has two things going against him. The first is his birth - he is a foundling and, therefore, the neighborhood "bastard". Alongside Tom, Fielding raises up the neighbor gentlewoman, Sophia Western, and that wonderful lady is our subject in this section. If a male reader has not lost his heart to Elizabeth Bennet, then Sophia is sure to capture it - albeit, for different reasons. (It has been said that Sophia is modeled after Fielding's wife - I hope so, Fielding deserved to be happy.) The two knew and loved each other from childhood, but Tom's birth and fortune made it impossible for him to imagine a match with Sophia - the gentry often reminded him of that fact - but, Sophia found it impossible to imagine anything else.
About half way through the novel, Fielding's narrator confesses that he has fallen head-over-heals, totally in love with Maria Western himself. That is played for laughs of course, but you will sense that there is a lot of truth in it as well. I love Fielding, I love his Tom Jones, but I would have pledged my fate and my faith to Sophia Western.
Before his mother abandoned the infant Tom, she managed to deposit the new-born in the bed of Squire Allworthy, the most excellent kind of country gentleman. That excellent Squire loved Tom like the son he never had, and fully recognized in him all the considerable ability, virtue, athleticism, and intelligence that were there. Tom Jones was raised with the education, manners, and gallantry of the best of men. Tom could never be the Squire's heir; that was to be the right of the Squire's nephew (and one of the novel's villains.) However, Tom was provided for rather handsomely in Allworthy's will.
While Tom Jones is a wonderful young man, he will disappoint you at times as he did me (and the narrator), but when you begin to consider his situation and circumstances, you will forgive him. Then you will be able to fully appreciate his many random acts of kindness that make him worthy of Sophia. The problem was Tom's other defect, his passionate nature. He could be irascible and, too often, he thought with his - umm - heart. Men are pigs. Incidentally, Fielding makes it quite clear that had a match with Sophia seemed at all possible, Tom Jones would have been a perfectly faithful lover. Also, Tom Jones was not a seducer; he was merely a beautiful and well-mannered young man and it was the women who came after him.
Well, Tom's enemies made the most of his defects and exaggerated and misrepresented where they didn't invent. After a long, relentless effort, they poisoned Allworthy's opinion and Tom was disowned and turned out of the home. The novel is set in 1745, the year of a great insurrection in England and Scotland. Tom decided to join the loyalist forces in order to die in the war. So, he started out as a Don Quixote, but circumstances are such that he ended up a Candide and a Gulliver.
Fielding did something interesting at that point - he also turned Sophia out on the road to escape a wedding arranged and insisted upon by her father. So, there were two pilgrims to this story. As it turns out, Maria's father, Squire Western, got it in his head that his daughter must marry the novel's villain. When Maria refused, the father explained that he will beat her until she did unless he locked her up in her room without food or water instead. Another option he held out to her was to strip her naked and turn her out of doors. Maria punctuated her pleading with tears and protestations of love and obedience to her father. She continually pleaded that she would not disobey, but wouldn't he please reconsider? Well, all that certainly reinforces what we are all told of the treatment of woman and of their compliance in Jane Austen's time.
However, the truth is quite something else - in Fielding's novel as well as in life. While Squire Western had been a complete failure as a husband, he loved his daughter dearly, would not have harmed a hair on her head, and would have fought to the death anyone else who tried to do so. Also, in spite of her protestations of obedience, when it became apparent that the old fool actually intended to go through with the ceremony, Maria packed up herself and her maid, and left in the middle of the night.
Incidentally, the reason that Squire Western got it in his head to marry Maria to the villain is rather amusing. He had always liked Tom Jones - had liked him a great deal - and had, correctly, assumed that Maria loved Tom. He also saw Allworthy's nephew, the villain, to be exactly what he was and, therefore, of no possible interest to Maria. The villain was certainly a qualified match for the gentlewoman Maria, but the Squire would not have thought to match them until someone else put it into his head. That someone was the Squire's sister, Mrs. Western, who, incidentally, had raised Maria in London. Mrs. Western was a strident feminist who intimidated her brother because she was far better educated - I mean she even (gulp!) read political pamphlets. There is this hilarious chapter in which the brother and sister argue about which sex should rule the world. Mrs. Western easily demolished her blustering brother and we might have been convinced by her ourselves if she had not ended the argument in an interesting way. She explained to her brother that he so little understood women that he even misread his own daughter. It was obvious, she explained, that Maria was only simulating interest in Tom while actually longing for Allworthy's nephew - The nephew! The villain of the novel! Since his educated, pamphlet-reading sister said it, Squire Western was convinced.
During Maria's flight, innkeepers, grooms, etc. fell madly in love with her. At one of these inns the innkeeper and all the male guests decided that she must be the famous mistress of the rebel leader. Their reasoning was flawless: (1) Maria was traveling incognito; (2) she was the most gracious, most elegant, most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen; (3) by all accounts, the pretender's mistress was beautiful; (4) Q.E.D.! Then all the men did the natural, manly thing; they stopped rooting for the established King and began to express some hope for the rebellion.
I shouldn't do this - this is not to the point - I am compelled to mention a scene that greatly affected me. I don't know why I was so affected, the scene seems so wonderful for some reason I can't explain. The beautiful refugee, Sophia, is traveling with a maid servant and a youthful male guide. They are on horseback, of course, when they encounter a grouping composed in exactly the same manner - a run-away wife (she turns out to be not what she seems), a maid, and a guide. There is this beautiful passage when the two parties are riding along in the moonlight when, almost without thinking about it, they coalesce. The two gentlewomen end up side by side as do the maids, and the two young men ride one in the front of the party and the other in the rear. That segregation is kind of sad, but the conversations are wonderful and the image Fielding created in my mind is beautiful. I especially like the way the two guides intuitively form an advance and a rear guard. I don't know - maybe you have to be there.
Perhaps you are one of those who think that the gentlemen and gentlewomen of Jane Austen's time did not share a kiss or caress before marriage - and maybe not even after. Many people think that, women of the Commonwealth are especially adamant about that. One such tried to get the point through my thick, crude, American skull in this way: "The point is that Tom Jones could kiss a maid in the street, and indeed, so could Wentworth, but neither could kiss the daughter of a gentleman ... in the street." Perhaps you agree with this lady. - Oh yeah! then explain this passage. This is from Chapter 12 of Book 5 of Tom Jones. Sophia Western is a gentleman's daughter (one of the most proper and most attractive in English literature), and out for a stroll when she came upon Tom, lying in a heap and covered with blood. (A couple of guys had just beat the wee out of him.) So, since Sophia was a heroine in a mid-eighteenth novel, she fainted - she knew her obligations and duties as a heroine. Tom revived to find his dearest, loveliest unconscious and so he scooped her up and ran to a nearby stream to revive her.
|"Happy was it for Sophia that the same confusion which prevented her other friends from serving her, prevented them likewise from obstructing Jones. He had carried her half ways before they knew what he was doing, and he had actually restored her to life before they reached the waterside. She stretched out her arms, opened her eyes, and cried, 'Oh! heavens!' just as her father, aunt, and the parson came up. Jones, who had hitherto held this lovely burthen in his arms, now relinquished his hold; but gave her at the same instant a tender caress, which, had her senses been then perfectly restored, could not have escaped her observation. As she expressed, therefore, no displeasure at this freedom, we suppose she was not sufficiently recovered from her swoon at the time."|
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Well, enjoy the novel when you get the chance. Incidentally, the passage describing the proposal is hilarious, but it is also quite affecting and even sexy - at least, it was for me.
Samuel Richardson's "Charlotte Grandison" - 1753-4
You should read The History of Tom Jones and The History of Sir Charles Grandison in that order. Samuel Richardson thought Tom Jones a moral outrage and, in reaction, wrote his History in order to show how a real man would behave. (Refer to Richardson's epilogue.) Personally I think Tom Jones to be perfectly moral and suggest that Samuel Richardson was actually trying to get back at Henry Fielding for publishing Shamela in parody of Richardson's Pamela. The irony is that Pamela has a slightly skewed morality; but, the greatest irony of all is that Richardson's (and Samuel Johnson's) misjudgment of Tom Jones survives to this days in the halls of our universities.
The main elements of the principal love story in Grandison are identical to those of Elinor Dashwood's in Sense and Sensibility; but, the focus here is on a secondary character, the hero's younger sister, Charlotte Grandison. Charlotte is wonderful and is beautifully portrayed (a far better portrayal than that of the hero, Sir Charles Grandison, or of the heroine, Harriet Byron.) Charlotte is also a good deal like Elizabeth Bennet, so you will love her.
The hero, Sir Charles, is hopelessly good; in fact, he is a twenty-six year old virgin. Well, that's nice - I suppose - but, did I have to know that? (Actually, it is kind of weird.) Anyway, the action around him is all good deeds and melodrama. He is implausibly portrayed, a stick figure, no one could be like that. The attitude I recommend, in order to appreciate things, is to heed to what Richardson is trying to say with this character. For example, how does a man avoid an invitation to violence, say a duel, and still maintain his dignity? Well, Richardson several times puts his hero into that situation and then tries to invent ways for Sir Charles to avoid violence to himself or another. OK, from that standpoint, things are interesting. Most of the novel deals with things like that; I like the novel, but most will not.
Incidentally, while Samuel Richardson failed to invent a plausible, likeable, good man, his villains are excellent. They are genuinely detestable to the reader; they come off ominous and dangerous. Well, more on that some other time.
Sir Charles has two sisters, Charlotte is the younger. Something weird happened in the writing of that novel. Every passage with a reference to Charlotte is superb literature. It almost seems that some one else wrote those passages, because there is no other indication that Samuel Richardson possessed such a fine sense of humor. I mean the goodly Grandison and the heroic Harriet are humorless - well, Harriet has her moments. BUT, the writing for Charlotte is hilarious - such repartee. It is difficult to understand how the same mind that invented the tedious Sir Charles could have imagined someone like his sister at the same time. Examine only those pages dealing with Charlotte Grandison and you have a timeless masterpiece; otherwise, you have a dated masterpiece.
Charlotte Grandison is arch, playful, saucy, sardonic, witty, vivacious, and far more intelligent than anyone about her. You will decide that, and so do the other characters in the novel. They also find her naughty and exasperating. BUT, the really weird part is that Charlotte thinks about Sir Charles and Harriet about the same way as you might. That is way weird! Here is an example of what I mean: Charlotte frustrates Harriet the heroine who then explicitly admonishes Charlotte and warns that she must amend her behavior or face the direst consequences in society. Charlotte makes her reply (and thereby defeats Harriet), and she begins that with, "At your service, Goody Gravity ..." That did it! - from that point, both Grandison the good and Harriet the heroine became Goody Gravities to me. Don't get me wrong, Charlotte loves both of them beyond measure, and they love her dearly, but for some unimaginable reason, Charlotte has a tendency to puncture both of them. - How very, very interesting.
So, Charlotte was hurried into a marriage with a man that she actually loved but was not yet ready to marry. There are good reasons for the hurry that I will not burden you with here. Anyway, during the ceremony, she whispered to her chief attendant, heroine Harriet, that she will not vow "obedience" to her husband; and, in fact, in that part of the ceremony, rather than repeating the vow, she merely curtseyed. It is hilarious. After that, Charlotte began a campaign to torture and afflict her poor husband in private and in public. He was especially vulnerable because he could not match her wit or energy, and he was deeply in love with her. Everyone became distressed, and all the talk was about the terrible Charlotte who will "joke herself out of all happiness." The Goody Gravities were especially unhappy because the husband was actually a good guy and deserving.
Now, the underlying reason for all this is that Charlotte's father had been a real bastard - domineering, evil, and sadistic. Charlotte was subconsciously afraid that she might come under the same kind of tyranny in her marriage. Interesting? The problem became resolved in this way. One of the worst things that Charlotte would do was that every time her husband would start to voice his frustration, Charlotte would go to her harpsichord to sing and play (which, by the way, she did quite well - as well as Elizabeth Bennet would someday.) Well, on one such occasion, she was headed for the harpsichord when the husband smashed it. Bravo! He then left the room and came back only to announce that he would be gone for about a month or so on a tour that he had just planned. Charlotte then realized what she had been provoking and countered that she would then leave London herself to visit heroine Harriet during that time. However, she was also determined to make amends and so, without losing a step or a single ounce of composure, she soothed the poor man, charmed him, and then manipulated the now-happy soul into joining her in her travel plans. Wonderful - the marriage was happy thereafter, as Charlotte gained more respect for the man she had actually loved all along.
Charlotte Grandison was introduced into the world about sixty years before Elizabeth Bennet. It is well known that Jane Austen was familiar with Grandison, had even committed large sections to memory. In fact, the adolescent Jane Austen annually celebrated the wedding anniversaries of Harriet and Charlotte. It wasn't just Jane Austen that was enthralled in this way, her mother and nieces were also so inclined. There are extant letters by Mrs. Austen in which she quotes, verbatim, from Grandison. That novel was an important part of Austen-family culture.
So, it is undeniable that Samuel Richardson's creation might have been a bit of a model. However, Elizabeth Bennet is a kinder, gentler Charlotte Grandison - I love her far more. I am also grateful that Jane Austen did not provide her most famous heroine with a helpless lover. When Elizabeth tells Darcy that his character is in question (at the Netherfield ball), or tries to embarrass him in front of his cousin (at Rosings), Darcy's replies are quick and telling verbal rejoinders. Darcy's replies answer Elizabeth's attitudes, make his points, and, yet, would not justify a claim of petulance or offense. I would prefer that kind of reply, any time, to a smashed harpsichord.
Next, let me introduce you to a new slur, one that was applied to a social class. The pejorative term was "cit", which was derived from "citizen." The slur implied that a person was an - ugh - tradesperson. Here is an example of its use. Charlotte Grandison was in company with her new and beloved sister-in-law, the Harriet-the-heroine Byron that was. They were sharing the table with Charlotte's least favorite cousin and his new wife. The profligate cousin had married the woman, a rich wine-merchant's widow, for her inherited wealth. The woman was delighted to have married into the aristocracy, so we are glad that she did not hear Charlotte refer to her as a "cit widow." Harriet, once again, was shocked by Charlotte, once again, admonished her, and observed that "cit" was an especially inappropriate slur in England, which, after all, was a "trading nation." Incidentally, Samuel Richardson was a printer, a carpenter's son, and, so, was a "cit" himself. We must imagine him on Harriet's side. The irony is that while this term was an insult in 1754-5 England, it became a salute in the Revolutionary France of 1789.
Let me try to reinforce my contention that Elizabeth Bennet is a bit like Charlotte Grandison. Incidentally, I might have said that Samuel Richardson may have struck a chord in the English psyche with this character; I say that because, for example, Charlotte also reminds me of Fanny Burney's Mrs. Selwyn in Evelina. Perhaps many more such echoes can be found in the literature of England (and the United States.)
First of all, there are the similarities in situation. Charlotte Grandison also had had her disappointment with a first love, a man remindful of Wickham. Also, both Charlotte Grandison and Elizabeth Bennet had the benefit of female influences that attempted to rein in their friends. In the case of Elizabeth Bennet, the sensible influence was her sister, Jane Bennet; while, in Charlotte's case, the novel's heroine, Harriet Byron attempted a similar service. Incidentally, in the first volume, Harriet - yes, not Charlotte - received two marriage proposals that may remind you of those of Mr. Collins and Darcy made to Elizabeth Bennet.
One can make too much of that kind of similarity, more to the point is the similarity in the nature of the two female characters. Charlotte Grandison is very, very witty and very, very bright; but she, like Elizabeth Bennet, sometimes goes beyond the pale. Either woman could get away with what might be a transgression by most others; she could do that because of her wit and attractive appearance. The characters in the novel who would defend Charlotte, try to explain away her "vivacity" and emphasize, instead, her considerable good qualities. In fact, there are a large number of worried references to that word, "vivacity", by Charlotte's friends and family. With that in mind, read this from Chapter 29 of Pride and Prejudice: Mr. Collins is in the middle of his proposal to Miss Bennet when he begins to praise Lady Catherine.
" '... Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe, and your wit and vivacity, I think, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite... ' "
Mr. Collins had, on several occasions, come to feel the sting of that "vivacity".
Jane Austen placed another example of Elizabeth's vivacity in Chapter 33. Our heroine is in a private conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam when Elizabeth makes this remark about Darcy.
'... I do not know anybody who seems more to enjoy the power of doing what he likes than Mr. Darcy.'
'He likes to have his own way very well,' replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. 'But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be enured to self-denial and dependence.'
'In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose, or procuring anything you had a fancy for?'
'These are home questions--and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.'
'Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do.'
'Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.'
'Is this,' thought Elizabeth, 'meant for me?' and she colored at the idea; but, recovering herself, said in a lively tone, 'And pray, what is the usual price of an earl's younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.'
He answered her in the same style, and the subject dropped. ..."
I wouldn't quarrel with Elizabeth's understanding, but I do find her manners interesting in this instance. But, believe me, these are the sort of thing that Charlotte Grandison might have said. - "Vivacity" from a beautiful mouth, but rude impertinence from others.
My last example is from Chapter 43. Elizabeth is visiting Pemberley with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Our heroine had been informed, by Darcy himself, that his sister had nearly eloped with Wickham from Ramsgate the year before. The Uncle asks the housekeeper
"... 'Is your master much at Pemberley in the course of the year?'
'Not so much as I could wish, sir; but I dare say he may spend half his time here; and Miss Darcy is always down for the summer months.'
'Except,' thought Elizabeth, 'when she goes to Ramsgate.' "
If Elizabeth was proud of her muted witticism, the feeling would completely have left her in a few days when she received a letter from home with the information that her own sixteen-year old sister had gone down that very same road.
Well, I have focused on less fortunate aspects of this kind of "vivacity", and that is not a good picture of my complete view of these fictional women. I love Charlotte Grandison far, far better than any other character in her novel; and, of course, I am in love with Elizabeth Bennet.
I conclude my discussion of Charlotte Grandison of Sir Charles Grandison with mention of Letter 40 in Volume 6. It is gender war. Charlotte Grandison is a feminist.
Taking the feminist position is Charlotte Grandison and the opposition is - this is weird - her brother, the novel's hero, Sir Charles Grandison. The issue is the apparent intellectual superiority of men. Charlotte has it that it is all an artifact of the tradition that bars women from access to the better education. The brother argues that it is a natural tendency; his argument is the usual one of a biological determinism. (Biological determinism is always the resort of those who seek to maintain discrimination.)
This is all very curious because you can wonder whose side does Samuel Richardson take? It seems that Charlotte has all the answers and, in many other instances, Richardson seems a feminist; but, why does the author assign the other side to Sir Charles? It is almost as if Richardson had lost control of Charlotte and she broke through to grasp the pen - er, quill. That will sound ridiculous to you unless you take the trouble to get to know Charlotte, at which point you will put nothing past her.
Scott's "Jewess of
York" - 1819, and Cooper's "Cora Munro" - 1826
Ethnic Tolerance Served Up with a Goodly Portion of Machismo
I conclude this section with a discussion of Sir Walter Scott's Rebecca of York and James Fenimore Cooper's Cora Munro. Jane Austen died in 1817, but the two authors were mature men in that year, so their characterizations qualify as examples of the attitudes of some men in our Lady's time. (Incidentally, Scott freely acknowledged that Jane Austen was his superior.)
I am referring, of course, to Scott's Ivanhoe (1819) and Cooper's Last of the Mohicans (1826). And, this is a combined discussion because, for my purposes, the novels are very much alike—the two heroines have much in common, both personally and in situation. There are other similarities. Both authors were writing historical romances for which they did a great deal of research, revealed to us in a series of interesting footnotes. And, both men are misunderstood as authors of machismo-laden books for adolescent boys. In fact, it is my purpose to present both works as admirable social commentary.
Rebecca and Cora are dark-haired beauties whose charms are fatal to themselves; each is the object of the lust of the villain of her novel who abducts this heroine and attempts to force her into marriage.
More importantly, for my purposes, the heroines are descendents of a despised race; Rebecca is a Jew and, after several hints, we learn of Cora's ethnic background in Chapter XVI. This is the situation, Major Heyward has gone to Cora's father to ask for the hand of her younger half-sister, Alice Munro. At first, the father is surprised and disappointed that the young man is not asking for his older daughter's hand, and then he becomes upset.
" '... it was my lot to form a connection with one who in time became my wife, and the mother of Cora. She was the daughter of a gentleman of these isles, by a lady whose misfortune it was, if you will,' said the old man proudly, 'to be descended, remotely, from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people. Ay, sir, that is a curse entailed on Scotland by her unnatural union with a foreign and trading people. But could I find a man among them who would dare to reflect on my child, he should feel the weight of a father's anger! Ha! Major Heywood, you are yourself born at the south, where these unfortunate beings are considered of a race inferior to your own.'
' 'T is most unfortunately true, sir,' said Duncan [Heyward], unable any longer to prevent his eyes from sinking to the floor in embarrassment.
'And you cast it on my child as a reproach! You scorn to mingle the blood of the Heywards with one so degraded—lovely and virtuous though she be?' fiercely demanded the jealous parent."
But, from there, Heyward convinces the father that his interest in Alice is passionate and sincere while he means no slight to Cora for whom he feels a deep respect and admiration. He convinces us as well. (It will not be my intention to interpret either "unnatural union with a foreign and trading people" or "at the south".)
There is a prominent, blonde, blue-eyed woman in either novel whom the author might have chosen as the heroine. In Ivanhoe, that would be the lovely Saxon Princess Rowena, while in Mohicans, we have the lively, arch Alice Monroe. But no, in either case, it is the dark-eyed beauty that is given center stage to earn our admiration—and that is interesting! Both dark-haired heroines are incredibly lovely and charming and both are heroic in the literal sense—they are graceful, innovative, and courageous under fire, and both are exposed to the most extreme forms of danger.
What a clever device those men chose—they chose to represent the insanity of ethnic bias by presenting us with a black-eyed woman of beauty and courage, and then highlighted her with a representative of the dominant culture who is a fine woman but the lesser woman. The heroines are irresistable.
You and I live in an age when orthodox correctness carries elements of exaggeration and requirements of blindness. No Native American was ever a violent savage, we are instructed, they all were ecologists who were only interested in planting flowers, saving the whales, and financing the preservation of their culture through the peaceful operation of gambling casinos. In such a time as ours, the portrayals of the Indian warriors in Mohicans are unacceptable regardless of any validity of that reckoning. And yet, in Cooper's time, his contemporary Native Americans applauded his writing as fair and even laudatory of their culture and history. Perhaps they were right and perhaps we are confused.
The fact that is central to the plot of Mohicans is "The Massacre of William Henry"—the Hurons' massacre of the women, children, and the defeated Anglo-American Army removing under a supposed truce from Fort William Henry—which is an historical fact. And, Cooper took an unflinching look at these brutal events. (To be sure, many would implicate the victorious French Army either by conspiracy or by an inexcusable inaction in the event—Cooper chose the latter.) But perhaps this is an even handedness that makes Cooper's frequent extolling of Indian culture even more creditable than that we are treated to in our own times.
In Mohicans, the chief defender of Indian culture is the grizzled scout, Natty Bumppo, more commonly known as either "Hawkeye" or "La Longue Carabine". Here is the greatest hero in the minds of young American boys—he is impossible of course, but that is part of what makes him so admirable. And this great hero has, for more than 175 years, been preaching to young American boys an understanding and tolerance for native culture. "Cora Munro" and "Hawkeye", it's a one-two punch!
I believe that it might fairly be said that Cora's father summarized the attitude of Cooper's novel in a short speech he makes in the final chapter. The situation is this: Cora had been murdered in nearly the same moment as Uncas, the native warrior who was attempting her rescue and who had been the young chief upon whom the Lenape (Delaware) had pinned all their hopes for a cultural resurgence. The combined funerals had been conducted by the Lenape in a moving and impressive rite: women had been among the principal speakers and had lavished no less praise on Cora than on Uncas. After these young women had carried the beautiful Cora to her gravesite, they became silent and modestly waited for some sign from her people that the arrangement was satisfactory. Cora's father instinctively understood what was expected, and he asked Hawkeye to translate this speech.
" 'Say to these kind and gentle females, that a heartbroken and failing man returns them his thanks. Tell them, that the Being we all worship, under different names, will be mindful of their charity; and that the time shall not be distant when we may assemble around his throne without distinction of sex, or rank, or color.' "
In our first meeting with Rebecca, Scott describes her to us in this way.
"The figure of Rebecca might indeed have compared with the proudest beauties of England, ... Her form was exquisitely symmetrical, and was shewn to advantage by a sort of eastern dress, which she wore according to the fashion of the females of her nation. Her turban of yellow silk suited well with the darkness of her complexion. The brilliancy of her eyes, the superb arch of her eyebrows, her well-formed aquiline nose, her teeth white as pearl, and the profussion of her sable tresses which, each arranged in its own spiral of twisted curls, fell down upon as much of a lovely neck and bosom as a simarre of the richest Persian silk, exhibiting flowers in their most natural colours embossed upon a purple background, permitted to be visible—all these constituted a combination of loveliness, which yielded not to the most beautiful of the [gentile] maidens who surrounded her. It is true that of the golden and pearl-studded clasps, which closed her vest from throat to the waist, the three uppermost were left unfastened on account of the heat, which something enlarged the prospect to which we allude. A diamond necklace, with pendants of inestimable value, were by this means also made more conspicuous. The feather of an ostrich, fastened in her turban by an agriffe set with brilliants, was another distinction of the beautiful Jewess, scoffed and sneered at by the proud Dames who sat above her, but secretly envied by those who affected to deride them"
Excuse me a minute, I have to go somewhere and calm down. I love that novel!
Still, it would have been better that Rebecca had not dressed so fine or looked so well at this tournament. Her great beauty would attract the attention of the regent Prince John, and, far worse, she would unintentionally make the evil Knight Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, fall in love with her. In his mad compulsion to make her his wife or mistress, he would risk his career and ambitions, but he would risk her life.
And, with superb beauty came unsurpassed merit, for Rebecca was also a remarkable physician. Rebecca had been a student of the medical arts passed down though the generations of her co-religionists. These were the arts that Rebecca's "powerful mind had retained, arranged, and enlarged" upon. In particular, she was the special student of a famous woman, "an aged Jewess, the daughter of one of their most celebrated doctors, who loved Rebecca as her own child, and was believed to have communicated to her secrets which had been left to herself by her sage father". This was the "Miriam" who had fallen a sacrifice to the fanaticism of the times.
And this calling was just the thing that would save the life of the hero of the novel, Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe was unfairly set upon in the tournament and suffered a fatal wounding—well, wounds that would have been fatal had he not fallen under the care of beautiful physician of York. And, that medical care opened up some opportunities for intimacy—here is my favorite passage in the novel (in all of literature?)
"As the wounded knight was about to address this fair apparition, she imposed silence by placing her slender finger upon her ruby lips, while the attendant, approaching him, proceeded to uncover Ivanhoe's side, and the lovely Jewess satisfied herself that the bandage was in its place, and the wound doing well. She performed her task with a graceful and dignified simplicity and modesty, which might, even in more civilized days, have served to redeem it from whatever might have seemed repugnant to female delicacy. The idea of so young and beautiful a person engaged in attendance on a sick-bed, or in dressing the wound of one of a different sex, was melted away and lost in that of a beneficent being contributing her effectual aid to relieve pain, and to avert the stroke of death. Rebecca's few and brief directions were given in the Hebrew language to the old domestic; and he, who had been frequently her assistant in similar cases, obeyed them without reply.
The accents of an unknown tongue, however harsh they might have sounded when uttered by another, had, coming from the mouth of the beautiful Rebecca, the romantic and pleasing effect which fancy ascribes to the charms pronounced by some beneficent fairy ... touching and affecting to the heart. ..."
Excuse me a minute, I have to go somewhere and calm down. It is no wonder that kids play doctor. (Except, I don't remember the ruby mouth, the repugnance, nor the old domestic.)
Actually, both Rebecca and Ivanhoe had difficulty with composure themselves—little wonder. But then, reality reared its ugly, ugly head.
" 'Bestow not on me, Sir Knight,' she said, 'the epithet of noble. It is well you should speedily know that your hand-maiden is a poor Jewess. ...'
... Ivanhoe was too good a Catholic to retain the same class of feelings towards a Jewess. This Rebecca had foreseen, and for this very purpose she had hastened to mention her father's name and lineage; yet—for the fair and wise daughter of Isaac was not without a touch of female weakness—she could not but sigh internally when the glance of respectful admiration, not altogether unmixed with tenderness, with which Ivanhoe had hitherto regarded his unknown benefactress, was exchanged at once for a manner cold, composed, and collected, and ... expressed a grateful sense of courtesy received from an unexpected quarter, and from one of an inferior race. ..."
Sad. Especially sad, because Rebecca's love for Ivanhoe would only grow from that moment.
Just as Cooper would extol native American culture while not idealizing Native Americans, in just such a manner did Scott treat the European Jew. Rebecca's father does engage in politically motivated money-lending, but we come to understand that this is the way the community survived and made their way: " 'Thou has spoken the Jew.' said Rebecca, 'as the persecution of such as thou art has made him.' " The novel is full of the most reprehensible anti-Semitic judgments and slurs; however, for the most part, these remarks are put into the mouths and minds of the Norman villains with the obvious intent of making them more reprehensible. (And, there are plenty of sexist slurs put in those same places as well.) However, even the more admirable Saxons display a milder form of the same prejudice. Certainly the mind of Ivanhoe is no exception to that representation as we have seen. We can hardly criticize Scott for what must be an historical accuracy.
However, that is not to say that Wilfred would not lay down his life for Rebecca. In fact, he is given the opportunity to do just that. The musky Knight Templar, de Bois-Guilbert abducts black-eyed Rebecca and plans to take her as his wife, forgetting, apparently, his vows of chastity. Unfortunately, the ascetic fanatic that governed his order had a better memory. That ideologue decided that Rebecca must be a witch because; (1) she was a Jew; (2) she was a physician; and, (3) a Knight Templar was in love with her. The other knights found his logic compelling and began to assemble a bonfire in order to burn her at the stake. The only thing that could save her would be the appearance of a knight willing to engage in mortal combat in order to prove her guilt or innocence—more impeccable logic. Ivanhoe appears in the lists for just this purpose, even though his wounds had not healed sufficiently to allow him to engage in combat; his situation, and Rebecca's, is hopeless. Indeed, he is not sufficiently recovered, so that—well, I won't go on because I don't remember how things turned out. Maybe I do; yes, Ivanhoe and Rebecca suffered the same fate as Uncas and Cora Munro. No!—wait!—that's not right—is that right? Oh, I just can't remember!
Here is the great coincidence for this web site. Jane Austen's last novel, Northanger Abbey appeared, posthumously, in 1818, only one year before Ivanhoe. And, in that novel, Jane Austen used the exact same device, our Lady put ethnic and sexist slurs into the mouths of those by whom we are to be repelled. How well prepared was the contemporary English audience for such a message? Very well prepared, indeed. One indication might be the storm of protest that enveloped Scott because he did not unite Rebecca and Wilfred. (Actually, I would like to give him a piece of my mind as well.)
But, in the end, we must notice the way in which each author, a male voice of Jane Austen's time, treated his heroine as a woman. After all, that is the point of this exercise. Both Cora Munro and Rebecca of York must satisfy any taste of our time. Both are courageous, innovative, and animated in the face of extreme danger; both are well spoken in trying times. Each is put on trial for her life in front of a hostile audience and her eloquence and logic shames and sways, or nearly sways, evil intent ("an air of mingled simplicity and dignity, which excited universal surprise and admiration.") These heroines are magnificent women. Both are equally compelling and forthright in private conversations with her abductor-villain. In the case of Cora Munro, her adversary is the evil, alcoholic, traitorous, poison-tongued, lustful, murderous Huron captain Subtle Fox (Magua!) Even in the last seconds of her life, when Magua commands her to choose between his wigwam or his knife, Cora tells him, in effect, to go to hell. Scott and Cooper, those male voices, were liberal, progressive men more than one hundred years ahead of their time.
Sadly, Scott's prescient liberalism did fail him in one instance—I must tell you of that time. The scene is this: the fuel and restraints have been prepared and only one last ingredient was needed for the conflagration—black-eyed Rebecca. The equipment is being attended by four of the Templar's more exotic servants.
"... Beside this deadly apparatus stood four black slaves, whose colour and African features, then so little known in England, appalled the multitude who gazed upon them as demons employed about their own diabolical exercises. ... And when, in speech with each other, they expanded their blubber lips, and shewed their white fangs, as if they grinned at the thoughts of the expected tragedy. ... [It seemed to the gathered throng that] they whispered to each other, and communicated all the feats that Satan had performed during that busy and happy period, not failing to give the devil more than his due."
Ah well, nobody is perfect—except Jane Austen—or J.F. Cooper—or Mark Twain—or Thomas Hardy.
Incidentally, both Regency-era authors were later ridiculed by Mark Twain. Twain pointed to Cooper's great failing, his inconsistent, impossible sense of physical surroundings. To be sure, that weakness is quite evident in Mohicans, but I absolutely refuse to notice. I greatly admire Jane Austen's impeccable attention to detail, but I refuse to acknowledge this kind of talent a consideration in a study of Mohicans. Twain was less direct in the case of Scott. I had the misfortune to read Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in the same year as Ivanhoe; as a result, I sometimes laughed at some rather serious, if stilted, dialogue in Scott's novel. But, I gained the self-control required to put Twain's shameless, hilarious parody out of mind—good for me!
So, you think that "trash-talking" was invented by African-American athletes do you? Read Ivanhoe and Last of the Mohicans and become enlightened.
|"You Have Always|
Been a Good Sister"
By the way, Jane Austen wrote some prayers [Other Works]. I am not a spiritual man, never have been and never could be; yet, her prayers make me ashamed of myself and otherwise deeply affect me for reasons I can't comprehend.
"Give us grace Almighty Father, ... Teach us to understand the
sinfulness of our own hearts, and bring to our knowledge every fault of
temper and every evil habit in which we have indulged to the discomfort of
our fellow creatures, and the danger of our own souls. ... Be gracious to
our necessities, and guard us, and all we love, from evil this night. May
the sick and afflicted, be now, and ever in thy care; and heartily do we
pray for the safety of all that travel by land or by sea, for the comfort
and protection of the orphan and widow, and that thy pity may be shown
upon all captives and prisoners. ...
Our father who art in heaven,"Father of Heaven! Whose goodness has brought us in safety to the close of this day, ... Incline us Oh God! To think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves. ... May thy mercy be extended over all mankind, bringing the ignorant to the knowledge of thy truth, awakening the impenitent, touching the hardened. Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition, assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit. More particularly do we pray for the safety and welfare of our own family and friends wheresoever dispersed, beseeching thee to avert from them all material and lasting evil of body or mind; and may we by the assistance of thy holy spirit so conduct ourselves on earth as to secure an eternity of happiness with each other in thy heavenly kingdom. ...
Our Father who art in heaven,
Jane Austen died very well - if such a term can be applied in such a case. I think it can; in fact, I think she died beautifully and I hope people can say the same about you and me some day. This was her final lesson for us - a final gift. She died in the bosom of her family and with more than a single act of charity toward those about her. She practiced what she preached in her prayers. She was forty-one years old and so her best novels perished, unborn, within her. Her doctor was clueless but he understood his duty and gave her one of those diagnoses that every generation of doctors keep in reserve for just such occasions. Nowadays, everyone will tell you that she died of Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency). It must be said that Dr. Addison did not describe his disease until well after Jane's death and so this diagnosis is mere 20th century speculation. You can read about Addison's disease if you wish - I did, and would never recommend such a painful exercise.
There is a story in the family about Jane sitting with her sister Cassandra and her niece Anna (brother James's oldest child) while the three of them were sewing. Jane and Anna began to trade quips and jokes and they made Cassie laugh so hard and so long that she begged for mercy and pled with them to stop. Anna spent a lot of time at her aunts' home, but why should that be? For the company to be sure, but there may also have been a slightly darker reason. Anna's mother had died, James had remarried, and the new wife was the former Mary Lloyd. Some biographers hint that Mary may not have been the loving stepmother for whom Jane Austen would have hoped [Le Faye-89]. There are hints of worse things. The darkest suggestion of all is that Mary may have undone Jane and Cassie in a most underhanded way. The sisters arrived home from a visit to relatives to discover, to their complete and unpleasant surprise, that their parents had decided to resign the fathers "living" in favor of James, and the family was to abandon even the home to James and Mary and retire thence to Bath. To BATH! Of all places! The hint is that Mary was the instigator of all this and had waited until the daughters were out of the neighborhood to make her move. (It makes you think of the younger Mrs. Dashwood, does it not?) [Tomalin-JA, Chapter 16]
Jane Austen spent the last few months of her life in the south of Hampshire, at Winchester, as her family slowly began to grasp the grim fact that Jane had already comprehended. I thought to excerpt from one of her last letters. This is from #160 of Deirdre Le Faye's 1997 collection, Jane Austen's Letters. It is addressed to James Edward Austen and dated May 27, 1817; it was written from Winchester and describes the journey thereto. Our Lady had less than two months to live and the next time this sixteen-year old nephew would see her would be as she was being sealed in her coffin.
|"... I am gaining strength very fast. ... Mr Lyford says he will cure me, & if he fails I shall draw up a Memorial & lay it before the Dean & Chapter, & have no doubt of redress from that Pious, Learned, and Disinterested Body. ... Thanks to the kindness of your Father & Mother in sending me their Carriage, my Journey hither on Saturday was performed with little fatique, & had it been a fine day I think I should have felt none, but it distressed me to see Uncle Henry & William K--who kindly attended us on horseback, riding in rain almost all the way. ... God bless you my dear Edward. If ever you are ill, may you be as tenderly nursed as I have been, may the Blessed alleviations of anxious, sympathizing friends be Yours, & may you possess--as I dare say you will--the greatest blessing of all, in the consciousness of not being unworthy of their love--I cannot feel this. ..."|
The Austen men were powerless, they could do nothing but supply an honor guard. For that purpose, foul weather would have been welcomed as a slight enhancement of what little they could do - A small flourish to the respect being paid to their kinswoman. Perhaps they prayed for hail. (Also, see Jane Austen's last letter to Anne Sharp.)
Jane Austen was sinking - she understood that. Within a few days of writing, she would ask her ordained brothers, James and Henry, for last rites. Jane Austen wanted that done while she was still aware and still able to participate.
Many years later, James Edward would become his famous Aunt's first biographer. The "William K", of the letter, was the son of Jane Austen's brother Edward. The "Mother" is a reference to the Mary mentioned above. For whatever reason, it was that same Mary who would join Cassandra to attend upon Jane. In a letter to her niece, Fanny Austen-Knight, Cassandra described Jane's last hours in this way.
"... When I asked her if there was any thing she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death & some of her words were 'God grant me patience, Pray for me oh Pray for me' ... I sat close to her with a pillow in my lap to assist in supporting her head, which was almost off the bed, for six hours--fatigue made me then resign my place to Mrs. J.A. [Mary] for two hours & a half when I took it again & in about one hour more she breathed her last. I was able to close her eyes myself & it was a great gratification to me to render her these last services. ... her dear remains are to be deposited in the cathedral--it is a satisfaction to me to think that they are to lie in a building she admired so much--her precious soul I presume to hope reposes in a far superior Mansion. May mine one day be reunited to it."
Jane Austen's Last
The golden loom had been transported and so the sister reached down and closed Jane's eyes. Cassandra would perform one other act as Jane lay in state: In accordance with Jane's wishes, she cut some of the locks of Jane's hair and sent them to various members of the family. Cassandra's own share of this would be found among her last possessions. Mary must have wept, but what were her thoughts? What could she have been thinking during those two and a half hours when she supported Jane's head? We will never know, but perhaps she stroked that curly hair and thought over something that Jane had said to her only a few weeks earlier:
"Mary, you have always been a good sister to me."
First Page: Jane
Third Page: The Gathering
Fourth Page: The Raging
Contents of this Page
Links to Other Web Sites