UPDATE: see below for the tale of the bad apostrophe in Southampton…and Tony’s fix!
Dear Readers: I welcome Tony Grant today as he offers us an imaginary diary entry for a single day in the life Jane Austen, a day in Southampton, a town that Tony knows very well – wouldn’t it be lovely if such a diary existed!!
A Jane Austen Manuscript – British Library
JANE AUSTEN: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF…
By Tony Grant
As we are now into celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Emma by Jane Austen (published December 23, 1815), I have taken a scene from that novel as my cue for this fanciful piece of writing.
Once they have arrived at the top of Box Hill on their excursion from Hartfield and Highbury, Emma Woodhouse, Mrs Elton, Mr Knightley, Mr Weston, Miss Bates et al are affronted by Frank Churchill’s assertive direction for them all to talk.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who wherever she is, presides,) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of.”
Mr Knightley answered this request with,
“Is Miss Woodhouse sure she would like to hear what we are all thinking of?”
The whole idea of privacy and private thoughts is the crux of this scene. Do any of us want to say what we are actually thinking? Don’t we in polite society automatically set up a barrier between what we think and what we say? We all would like to tell the truth and I am sure we generally do, but within limits. All sorts of safe guards come into play. We don’t want to insult anybody or reveal our true feelings in case of embarrassment or revealing something too personal about ourselves. Where can we reveal our true selves? Maybe we never do. But certain things can get us close. Writing a personal diary is one of them. A diary that we keep secret and just put our own personal thoughts, ideas and feelings into is a private place we can inhabit. Samuel Pepys even wrote his famous diary in a coded short hand. Anybody in his household picking it up would not have had a clue what he had written. Samuel Pepys probably intended that nobody should ever have access to his inner life and thoughts -especially the King or other government officials and certainly not his wife.
The 19th century was a strange world in the sense that privacy was not what we would think of it today. Many people were servants who often shared garret rooms. Where was privacy for them? The masters and mistresses of a wealthy house had an extended family that included their servants who lived with them. Where was their privacy?
However, the idea of privacy and private thoughts today is maybe not what we might think also. With the internet, social media and the logging of all our most personal details by obscure internet providers and companies is there such a thing as privacy at all?
As far as we know Jane Austen did not keep a diary. All that she wrote, novels, letters and a few poems and some juvenilia were for others to read. They were intended for an audience.
Where could the private Jane Austen, the Jane Austen with an inner life not for publication go? Many of her beliefs and thoughts, I am sure, come through in her novels and letters. However they are her thoughts chosen, subtly inserted and intended to be read by others. We can get a sense of her as a person, but what of those raw unedited emotions, her deepest moods, her deepest thoughts, not for publication?
I have used some real events taken from some of her letters while she lived in Southampton (Austen lived there from 1806-1809) and then rewrote them as though Jane had written a diary. It is a diary entry about one day, for nobody else to read, EVER!!!! A secret place for her thoughts and emotions.
Southampton ,Tuesday 6th January 1807
Jane’s house in Castle Square, located at the base of the keep
We have been here for nearly four months now. This Castle Square house is well positioned within the town walls. Our garden backs on to the towns great medieval defences. The top parapet makes a picturesque, and moss embossed vertical expanse against which we grow raspberries and gooseberries. I think the sun must heat up the ancient stones and the heat from the stones brings along the fruit bearing shrubs admirably. We have already had one harvest, soon after we arrived, last October. Molly and Jenny, our two servants who we hired in the town, collected three huge baskets of the juicy fruit. We have had raspberry and gooseberry pies ever since. Surely our stock must run out soon and then we will have to wait all through the summer until autumn comes once more for those delights to be ripe enough to pick once more?
Rear of the Juniper Berry, site of Jane Austen’s house
[with thanks to Tony for “fixing” this sign and making all of us grammarians out there rest easy. Jane may not have been strong on punctuation, but we shall assume that she is pleased as well…]
From my very own room at the back of the house I have some wonderfully entertaining views. Fishermen pull their boats up to the narrow harbour wall beneath our garden and spend their time sewing nets and scraping barnacles off the keels of their skiffs. I often try and listen to their conversations but their accents are so thick with oys and aghs and yeh’s. I am all a wonder at what a ,”mush,” is or a ,”nipper?” I can never quite fully catch what they say but the other day I heard two burly sailors nearly come to fisticuffs, “ Oy, mush what yer staring at?” said one rather aggressively to the other. I turned away quickly in case they saw me watching them. I might get a few choice words aimed my way. I blame it on The Royal Standard Inn just along the walls from us, next to the postern gateway – A drinking den of iniquity if ever there was one. Sometimes I hear a song, maybe a shanty, of some sort. I often see fishing smacks setting sail for Southampton Water to fish for the local dabs which are a great delicacy. Often a Man of War ventures this far up the Solent and anchors off Marchwood, in the Test estuary. They come up to the refitting yard I have been told. They get new masts there. The proximity to the New Forest provides a ready source of timber.
On a clear bright day the New Forest stretches green and verdant in the distance far across the sparkling waters surrounding this peninsula on which Southampton is chiefly situated. We really must take a carriage ride there.
Today a new man arrived to tend our garden. He seems much more reliable than the last one who wanted more remuneration than my mother could afford. He says he is going to replace our forlorn and stringy wild roses with a stronger fuller variety. And some syringas, some laburnum, which will look beautiful and luxuriant, dripping with their blooms all through the summer months. We will get some Cowper’s Line too. Oh! that reminds me of Cowper:
There’s not an echo round me,
But I am glad should learn,
How pure a fire has found me,
The love with which I burn.
For none attends with pleasure
To what I would reveal;
They slight me out of measure,
And laugh at all I feel.
“The love with which I burn.”
Burn with love. What must that be like? Cassandra, my so called sister, berates me with my past errors, hah! Martha, friend, is she? Sometimes my mother, when she is in one of her overbearing moods, teases me about that boy, that stuttering poor boy, Bigg-Wither who proposed. What was I thinking? How could I? Oh yes, “and laugh at all I feel,” indeed. I can feel my stomach tie into a knot as I remember even now. What crushing anguish and embarrassment that has caused me. I wanted a burning love. I wanted a pure fire inside me. Why can’t I ever experience that? I feel all this energy inside me wanting to burst out.
I know, it does burst out. My writing. My poor substitute for real lived life and love. I can make my characters experience truelove. I know how it all works. I can make it happen for them but, not, me. Look at those poor puppets, Elizabeth and Darcy. Ha! Another stuttering fool. He changed into something though. I did that for Elizabeth. No Bigg-Wither for her. There I go again. Darcy is NOT real!!!! Why do I let myself go off into this fantasy world? My fantasies are better than my lived life. How can that be? A spinster, destined for what?
Mary, my brother’s new wife, is pregnant. She is full with new life. She has expanded, rather quickly, shall we say. It is
Frank’s command that we be here, to live with and pander after, his wonderful Mary. I sound too abrasive, I know. We all love her. But we are here doing our duty, for our dearest brother. They only had a short time after the wedding too. He must have put all his efforts and strength into it. Another for this baby-making family. Ha! They have two spare wombs in Cassandra and myself as well. I wonder what will become of our two dry pods? I wonder what it would be like to carry a child?
Cassandra still languishes at Godmersham looking after Edward’s baby. A maiden aunt. Is that all she is good for poor thing? I know that she is worth far more. I know she takes my share of these, duties. It is a form of slavery. It should be banned by parliament. It is all so unfair. There I go. It truly is a man’s world.
What is that awful sound? I hear my mother calling. That shriek. That demanding forceful will of hers. Damn her.
What does she want? I will be back. Here, in this little book, this little place, are all my real thoughts. My real thoughts! It’s where I can truly be myself.
I want to go on writing in here forever and nowhere else. Where else can I say these things, that nobody will hear, nobody will see? Not even you, mother!
“I am coming!”
I seem to say those words a lot.
………… Ah, all it was, was piffle. She, wanted to tell me, once more, about her finances. She had £85 at the close of last year. She spent £27 during the year. At the start of this year she has £99. A triumph!! But I know this already. She has told me twenty times. And she will tell me again, next week.
And we have visitors tonight. How many, is not sure. Can we feed them? Have we got enough fuel to keep the fire going to warm them? Nobody knows. My mother and her finances don’t know.
…………………. So they came. Mr Husket, Lord Lansdowne’s painter, or interior decorator I should say, came across from his Lordships “castle.” Mr Harrison called in with his two daughters. They laugh a lot but are not too silly, thank goodness. Mr Debary with his sister came too. Most of them arrived about 7 o’clock. The men were all wrapped up, buttoned to the neck, in great coats and the ladies wore thick pelisses and carried umbrellas against the rain. Why couldn’t the rain stop them from coming? But they came. A house-full. We stoked up the fire, (at what expense?) so it heated the dining room admirably. We drank tea and Jenny and Molly worked hard at providing muffins and fruit cake. What did we play? Oh yes, we had a pool of commerce and a table of spillikins. Mr Harrison won at everything. He was so pleased with himself. He grins a lot. His fat cheeks became puffed out and swollen like two full cows udders. For tuppence I would have milked them for him and given him a round slap in the process!
The weather is damp. A wind blows off the water. It carries a chill. I am shivering now in my unheated room. I can actually smell the salt in the air. There is a mixture of seaweed in it too.
Hark! I just heard Lord Lansdowne’s coach coming out of his stables opposite us. At this time of night of all things. I wonder what’s up? The smell of straw and horse dung can be overpowering at times from that place. However the wind is from the sea tonight so we are spared that malodorous problem. I feel fatigued. I will have a little nap. Tomorrow these private and wonderful white pages await me again. I would never write another novel if it were not the fact the writing of them provides me a few extra pounds and pence….
Some additional pictures of Jane Austen’s Southampton: [I had the pleasure in May 2014 of touring all around Southampton with Tony – some of these pictures are mine, some his – it was a glorious day despite drenching rains…]
Thank you Tony for this interesting foray into a fantasy Jane Austen diary entry! Please comment – if you could read a diary entry of Jane Austen’s, what inner-most thoughts of hers would you most want to read about?