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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen’ Category

How to annoy friends and loved ones: offering daily proof that all things come back to Jane Austen, no matter the context. There have been a good number of very funny and unexpected results to support this theory – I always surprised and delighted in these “sightings” of Austen in the strangest places – my friends? – they merely roll their eyes. But a discovery a few weeks ago while on an architectural walking tour of Savannah Georgia might be the most bizarre yet… As we trekked around the beautiful and history-laden downtown, the whole of it a National Historic Landmark, our guide was asked how James Oglethorpe was able to communicate with the Native Americans he encountered when he chose Savannah for his settlement.

James Oglethorpe - HistoryCentral.com

James Oglethorpe – HistoryCentral.com

This was in 1733 and much later than the earlier colonies in South Carolina, Virginia, and those in the north, when Oglethorpe, under a charter granted by King George II, founded Georgia on the spot of this small river town. He started out with the best of intentions – he designed one of the most interesting towns likely ever planned and only thankfully for the machinations of a group of women in the 1950s, this city of twenty-two squares remains largely intact today (there were originally 24 squares). But Oglethorpe saw perfection not only in his architectural plan of Savannah – he expected it of his fellow colonists: no slavery, no Catholics (due to the proximity to the Spanish-controlled area of Florida just south), and no liquor…all of these prohibitions were eventually lifted.  [There is an old-wives tale that lawyers were banned as well, but I shall leave that to the history writers to separate fact from fiction!]

SavannahCityPLan-1734

Savannah City Plan 1734
source: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/savannah-city-plan

[The original caption of this print by Paul Fourdrinier reads: “A View of Savannah as it stood on the 29th of March 1734. To the Hon[orable] Trustees for establishing the Colony of Georgia in America. This View of the Town of Savannah is humbly dedicated by their Honours Obliged and most Obedient Servant, Peter Gordon.” – Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries]

map_savannah_historicdistrict

Savannah Historic District map: see this link for a description of the 22 squares. http://sherpaguides.com/georgia/coast/northern_coast/savannah_historic_district.html

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My intention here is not to give you a full-blown accounting of the founding of Savannah, fascinating subject though it be – but merely to share this tidbit. Back to our walking guide: it seems that there was a Creek woman, married to an English trader, who lived comfortably in both her worlds and served as interpreter, translator, and facilitator to Oglethorpe and his band of colonists, and therefore was largely responsible for the peaceful establishment and development of Savannah. Her name? Mary Musgrove. Now I know the guide was in a quandary when I yelped aloud and burst out laughing (I did explain the outburst after the walk – but when I said that Mary Musgrove was the name of one of Jane Austen’s most infamous characters, I am quite sure he was even more baffled…)

But there you have it – Mary Musgrove in America and Jane Austen once again rears her brilliant head!

Oglethorpe, Mary Musgrove, and Chief Tomochichi

Oglethorpe, Mary Musgrove, and Chief Tomochichi – Courtesy of Ed Jackson*

Now I am not saying that Jane Austen knew of this Mary Musgrove of course – there is nothing in her hypochondriac self-absorbed character to link her to a Creek woman living in the colonies nearly a century before. But it gave me a start nonetheless – and there is always the slight chance that Jane Austen may have seen something in her history books. Oglethorpe returned to England in 1734 with the chief of the Yamacraw Tomochichi and others from the Creek tribe to meet the King, and Mary’s husband John Musgrove went along to serve as interpreter. Mary remained in the Georgia colony and ran the trading post – but she too traveled to England in 1754 with her third husband Thomas Bosomworth [now there’s a name…] to settle the twenty year-long dispute over her ownership of several of the Georgia sea islands. In the end, she was granted title only to St Catherines Island, where after several more years as interpreter between the colonists and the Creeks, she died around 1765. Could any of this very interesting history have been part of the Austen family dinner conversation?

[*Image above from Ed Jackson’s website with thanks: http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/gastudiesimages/Oglethorpe-Mary%20Musgrove-Tomochichi%201.htm ]

There is another important aside with respect to Oglethorpe and slavery. He was one of the earliest to speak out against it, his founding of the Georgia colony prohibiting slaves proof of his humanistic beliefs. It was he who brought Granville Sharp and Hannah More into the argument – and they, after Oglethorpe’s death in 1785, joined with William Wilberforce and others in fighting slavery in England, on the seas, and in the colonies. For those of us who see the subtext of the slavery issue in Mansfield Park, it is certainly a possibility that Jane Austen knew of Oglethorpe, his history in settling Georgia, and his anti-slavery sentiments – and maybe something perhaps about Mary Musgrove?

Musgrove-GAEncycl

Mary Musgrove (pictured with her third husband, the Reverend Thomas Bosomworth) –
From First Lessons in Georgia History, by L. B. Evans
Source: http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/mary-musgrove-ca-1700-ca-1763

She was known as Coosaponakeesa among the Creek Indians, the daughter of an English trader Edward Griffin and a Creek Indian mother (the Creeks were a matrilineal society and children took the clan identities of their mothers). Living among both cultures she learned to speak both English and Muskogee (the language of the Creeks), and learned from her father the trading post business. Her marriage to John Musgrove, the son of a South Carolina trader and planter and a Creek mother, was settled to reinforce the peace treaty between the Native Americans and the English. They lived within the Creek culture until they established a trading post near the Savannah River, and where Oglethorpe found them in 1733. We know that Oglethorpe was appreciative of her efforts on the colonists’ behalf because in his will he left her £100 and a diamond ring from his finger … And Musgrove was important enough to the history of Georgia that in 1993 she was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement. http://georgiawomen.org/

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Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove (1995)

Sophie Thompson as Mary Musgrove (1995)

 Source:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/460844974341615969/

As for Austen’s own Mary Musgrove – here are a few of the priceless quotes:

“My sore-throats, you know, are always worse than anybody’s.” 

“If there is anything disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.” 

“So, you are come at last! I began to think I should never see you. I am so ill I can hardly speak.” 

“Yes, I made the best of it; I always do: but I was very far from well at the time; and I do not think I ever was so ill in my life as I have been all this morning: very unfit to be left alone, I am sure. Suppose I were to be seized of a sudden in some dreadful way, and not able to ring the bell!” 

“…. as long as I could bear their noise; but they are so unmanageable that they do me more harm than good. Little Charles does not mind a word I say, and Walter is growing quite as bad.” 

“… and it is so very uncomfortable, not having a carriage of one’s own.” 

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book-cover-barchas-mattersJanine Barchas in her book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen offers the possibility that Austen took the name from a small village in Somersetshire called Charlton-Musgrove and that this served as a real world setting for her imaginary Uppercross. In her geographical mapping of Persuasion, Barchas notes that this village as well as Lyme and Bath would be within the travel distances Austen lays out from her fictional “Uppercross” and “Kellynch Hall” [p. 235-6].

And this has nothing to do with any of this naming of characters, but I have always wondered why ever did Austen have Mary Elliot marry Charles Musgrove on December 16th, her very own birthday? Any thoughts?

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Further reading: [there is a great deal on Mary Musgrove – I take some of this bibliography from the online Georgia Encyclopedia] 

  1. Baine, Rodney M. “Myths of Mary Musgrove,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 76 (summer 1992).
  2. Fisher, Doris. “Mary Musgrove: Creek Englishwoman,” (Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1990). 
  3. Frank, Andrew K. “Mary Musgrove (ca. 1700-ca. 1763).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/mary-musgrove-ca-1700-ca-1763 
  4. Georgia Women of Achievement: http://georgiawomen.org/2010/10/bosomworth-mary-musgrove/
  5. Gillespie, Michele Gillespie. “The Sexual Politics of Race and Gender: Mary Musgrove and the Georgia Trustees.” The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South. Ed. Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie. New York: Oxford UP, 1997.
  6. Green, Michael D. “Mary Musgrove: Creating a New World.” Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives. Ed. Theda Perdue. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.
  7. Hahn, Steven C. The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2012.
  8. Irby, Richard E., Jr. “Mary Musgrove, Queen of the Creeks.” On the About North Georgia website: http://www.aboutnorthgeorgia.com/ang/Mary_Musgrove,_Queen_of_the_Creeks
  9. Perdue, Theda. “Native Women in the Early Republic: Old World Perceptions, New World Realities.” Native Americans in the Early Republic. Ed. Ronald Hoffman and Frederick Hoxie. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1999.
  10. Sweet, Julie Anne. “Mary Musgrove: Maligned Mediator or Mischievous Malefactor.” Georgia Women: Their Lives and Times, Vol. 1. Ed. Ann Short Chirhart and Betty Wood. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2009.
  11. Wikipedia on Mary Musgrove: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Musgrove
  12. And even a YouTube! “Mary Musgrove: Georgia’s Own Pocahontas”- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jwy8dvPTPVo
  13. [Legal] indenture executed by Henry Ellis and Thomas [and] Mary Bosomworth [with sworn statements and opinion], 1760 Apr. 19 – Thomas and Mary Bosomworth (a.k.a. Mary Musgrove or Coosaponakeesa) and Henry Ellis (Royal Governor of Georgia, 1757-1760). The Bosomworths herein agree to cede the two islands of Ossabaw and Sapelo to the Crown in exchange for a sum of money and title to St. Catherine’s Island. Sworn statements given by Mary Bosomworth and her husband, Thomas, follow the indenture as does criticism, offered by an unknown author, relative to the negotiations between the Governor and Bosomworths. [WorldCat]

There is also a book for young people: published in 1997 with the title Call the River Home, a 2nd edition was published in 2011 as Mary Musgrove, Queen of Savannah:

bookcover-MaryMusgrove-Statham

And here we find Mary Musgrove very present in present-day Savannah:

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c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

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BookCover-Slothouber…and the winner is Nancy who wrote:

Quite fascinating. I am particularly interested in your comment that Edward had more land and less money than many thought then and today. I know there are those who revile Edward today for not doing more for his mother and sisters instead of praising him for what he did do. . I’d love to have a copy of that book as much for what it says about general conditions and Edward’s in particular. –  I have the impression that Mr. Knightley also had more land than cash on hand and that his brother John received an allowance or something from their estate.

Nancy, please contact me as soon as possible with your contact details, and Linda will get the book sent off to you right away.

Thanks all for your terrific comments, and to Linda for her generosity for the guest post and responding to all your questions. Those of you who didn’t win, I encourage you to do it the old-fashioned way and buy the book – it is worth every penny and more of the $11.95!

And apologies for delay in announcing the giveaway – the Holiday caught me up short!

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

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Very Exciting news just in! Sandy Lerner, the force behind the turning Chawton House, home to Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight, into the Chawton House Library, has been awarded an Honorary OBE – “honorary” being the term for the OBE presented to a non-UK national [read here about the OBE, Order of the British Empire]. Here is the info on the event and celebration that took place yesterday at Chawton House!

Sandy Lerner copyright Pal Hansen from 2013

CHL Founder Awarded Honorary OBE
for Services to UK Culture

Award recognises importance of our unique Library of women’s writing

Today at Chawton House Library a very special event took place: our founder and Chairman, Dr Sandy Lerner, was awarded an Honorary OBE.

As a foreign national, the award of an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen recognises the significance of Dr Lerner’s cultural contribution to the UK in restoring the house an estate and establishing the Library. Although such awards are usually recognised at the British Embassy in the recipient’s country of residence, when Dr Lerner was first advised of the award over a year ago, she requested permission to delay announcing the honour and wait to be presented with the award at Chawton House Library itself.

Hampshire’s Lord-Lieutenant, Mr Nigel Atkinson Esq, presented the award to Dr Lerner in the Dining Room where Jane Austen would have dined with her brother, Edward. Dr Lerner, like many avid readers, loves the work of Jane Austen.

Read the rest here at the CHL website: http://www.chawtonhouse.org/?p=60082

And here are two pictures from yesterday’s celebration:

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Hampshire’s Lord-Lieutenant, Mr Nigel Atkinson Esq, with Sandy Lerner

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CHL Board of Trustees Members Richard Knight (descended from Edward Austen Knight), Gilly Drummond, and Len Bosack with Sandy Lerner and Nigel Atkinson

[Images courtesy of Chawton House Library, with thanks.]

We were very fortunate at JASNA-Vermont to have had Sandy visit us for our December tea in 2012 – she spoke about her book Second Impressions, a sequel of sorts to Pride and Prejudice. Here she is signing her book for our member Thierry Guerlain:

Sandy Lerner and Thierry Guerlain

All our members here in Vermont send our hearty congratulations to Sandy! – a very much deserved award for all her efforts on behalf of Jane Austen and the many other women writers too long neglected. They all have a “home of their own” at last.

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You can learn more about supporting the Chawton House Library by visiting their “Get Involved” page. You can:

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont

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BookCover-SlothouberGentle Readers: Today I welcome Linda Slothouber, author of Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community (Woodpigeon Publishing, 2015), the result of her research at Chawton House Library in 2013. As the recipient of a grant through JASNA’s International Visitor Program, Linda’s project was to research the management of the Chawton estate in Hampshire during Edward Knight’s [nee Austen] ownership and this recently published book presents her findings. It is a most interesting and informative read, giving insights into the life and character of Jane Austen’s brother, thereby showing us how knowledgeable Jane Austen was in creating her own Heroes as landlords [think Mr. Knightley and Mr. Darcy! Henry Crawford, not so much…] – she had a fine model in her very own brother! I cannot improve upon what Deirdre Le Faye has written, that this book is “an essential addition to the Austenian bookshelf.”

I asked Linda how she chose this topic, what prompted her to apply for the JASNA grant, and here is her response: “Having written about other businesses in Jane Austen’s time, such as Wedgwood and Richard Arkwright’s cotton-spinning empire, I was very interested in how the business of estate management worked, both in the real world and in Jane Austen’s fiction.  I made some preliminary inquiries and found out from Chawton House Library about the Knight Archive and other potential resources.  My original intention, when I applied to JASNA’s International Visitor Program, was to write a much shorter book, but each question I answered spawned two more, and I discovered some stories and information I just couldn’t bear to leave out.” She tells us more about it all in her post below.

Linda has generously offered us a copy of her book for a giveaway, so please leave any comments and questions for her after this post in order to be entered into the random drawing [details below].

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Edward Knight, Landlord
by Linda Slothouber

The number of books, websites, magazines, and television programs that aim to explain the world in which Jane Austen lived must number well into the hundreds.   Many of them give a broad view of historical events and cultural conditions, compressing decades of time and significant regional diversities into a notional Georgian/Regency England.

In researching my book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce and Community, I wanted to complement the more general histories by looking closely at specific people in a specific place.  My goal was to answer my own questions about the structure and economy of the English estate by looking at the experience of the estate-owner who would have been most familiar to Jane Austen:  her brother, Edward.  Adopted by rich relations, Edward inherited Godmersham Park in Kent; property in Chawton, Steventon, and elsewhere in Hampshire; and property in three other counties, changing his surname to Knight as a condition of the inheritance.  (Ronald Dunning gives more background on the Knight family here.)

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight – wikipedia

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight – wikipedia

I knew that the landed gentry made their money from renting and using their inherited lands, but how exactly did that happen?  How involved were landowners in estate management?  Jane Austen’s brother was an excellent case study.  I also wanted to explore how Chawton actually functioned as a community and get a better look at the people who lived in the cottages and farmhouses.  Who were the people that Jane Austen would have encountered during her years in Chawton?  When Chawton Great House was vacant or in the hands of tenants, what effect did that have on the estate and the village?

A View of Chawton @1740 by Mellichamp. Chawton House Library (BBC – Your Paintings)

My research into these questions was possible because of the availability of the Knight Archive, a treasure trove of several centuries’ worth of papers.  In 1961, 1986, and at various points in the 1990s, the Knight family gathered up record books, official documents, and random bits of paper from Chawton House and turned them over to the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester.  The HRO’s archivists created an index, but, because many entries refer to bundles of documents, the index can’t comprehensively describe everything in the archive.  The experience of going through one bundle after another, carefully unfolding 200-year-old papers to discover what each one contained, is something I will never forget!  Among the fascinating odds and ends I came across were the bills for Elizabeth Austen’s funeral and for the care of Jane and Edward’s brother George in his last weeks, the seating plan for the church in Chawton, and the list of poor old ladies to whom flannel petticoats were given after Edward Knight’s death.

Most of the documents in the Knight Archive concern the management of the Chawton estate and other Knight holdings.  While there are significant gaps, what has survived provides important insight into the Knights’ estate operations in Hampshire over a long period of time.  I read estate papers written by Elizabeth Knight and her steward in the early 1700s, and then turned to an estate wages book from the early 1900s, when Montagu Knight was the squire; some of the activities done on the estate remained remarkably constant, and some of the same surnames appeared on the lists of workers in both centuries.  As the focus of my research fell exactly between these two points, the range of documents provided an invaluable context for understanding Edward Knight’s period of ownership.

Excerpt from Edward Knight’s 1807 bank ledger, showing several deposits of estate income made by his steward, Bridger Seward, and forwarded through Henry Austen’s bank in Alton. (Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)

The period between 1808 and 1819, encompassing the years when Jane Austen lived in Chawton, is, by chance, particularly well documented.  An estate accounts book has survived and is supported by bundles of vouchers documenting specific purchases and jobs done on the estate.  To pursue some questions, such as how much money Edward Knight earned from all his property in a typical year, I had to do some detective work, comparing the data found in the Knight Archive with that from other sources, including the Godmersham Heritage Centre, Barclays Group Archives (which holds Knight’s banking ledgers), and previously published sources such as Deirdre Le Faye’s Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family.

So what did I learn?  It turns out Edward Knight had more land, and less money, than has commonly been believed.  I estimate that his contemporaries would have spoken of him as having “7,000 or 8,000 pounds a year,” not the £15,000 his near-contemporary Mary Russell Mitford stated (admittedly based on hearsay) as his income.  Knight had to contend with a lawsuit that threatened his ownership of his Hampshire property – that much is well-known – but his wealth was also affected by changes in the national economy that affected land values and farming income, presenting problems that plagued him throughout the 1820s and seem to have had an effect on his health, as well.

Edward Austen Knight - CHL

Edward Austen Knight – CHL

Knight felt deeply his responsibilities to his family, to the community, and to his own posterity – his son and the future heirs of the Knight estates.  Throughout his life, he provided financial assistance to many members of his family, though his female relations received far less direct financial support than his brothers did, or received assistance in ways that were not recorded in bank ledgers.  As for the community, Knight’s support for education, health care, and housing for the poor made Chawton more stable and less miserable than many other villages at the time.  It may be tempting to criticize some of his actions and omissions from our 21st-century vantage point, but L.P. Hartley’s maxim holds true:  “The past is another country:  they do things differently there.”

Learning about Edward Knight’s history and experience in estate management is valuable in its own right, but adding to the body of knowledge about Jane Austen is always a goal.  By discovering more about the people she knew during her eight years in Chawton and comparing the facts of their lives with what she wrote about them, we may come a tiny step closer to understanding her views and feelings.

One individual she knew well is William Triggs, Edward Knight’s gamekeeper at Chawton.  Triggs was by far the most well-paid of the Chawton estate servants; his salary of £52 was nearly half that of the estate steward.  His primary responsibility was to protect game on the estate for Edward Knight’s sons and guests to shoot when they came to stay. Since this didn’t happen often, some of his time was spent overseeing hay-making and other projects on the land, paying workers, and selling hay and potatoes on behalf of the estate (all tasks a bailiff might have done, but Knight didn’t employ one at Chawton at the time).  He was trusted with the money required to carry out these tasks and he earned a commission on sales.  He had guns and dogs and a horse that was purchased with estate funds, as was his hat, which cost a guinea (four times the cost of a common laborer’s hat).  Gamekeepers at the time were often resented by villagers for their high-handed ways and for siding with landowners, and this may have been the case with Triggs.  I found only one record in Knight’s estate accounts of poachers being conveyed to jail, but I did find a mention of a charge of assault brought against Triggs, which was settled by the estate paying the large sum of 9 pounds to the victim.

Jane Austen mentioned Triggs several times in her letters.  She found in him a worthy subject of long-running jokes shared with several members of her family.   She ended one letter, written from Godmersham Park to Cassandra back in Chawton, “With love to you all, including Triggs.”  In another letter, she wrote of seeing Triggs scurry down the lane, laden with birdcages and luggage, to meet the coach—not the kindest observation surely, but it seems to me she took some delight in seeing Triggs lose his swagger and struggle with lowly tasks.  In 1817, an interesting meeting took place:  “Tell William [Edward Knight’s son] that Triggs is as beautiful & condescending as ever, & was so good as to dine with us today,” wrote Jane.  We must imagine Triggs, the servant who perhaps acted above his station, sitting down to dine with the Austen women, who were related to the squire at the Great House but living in much humbler circumstances.  How did Jane Austen feel about being condescended to by her brother’s employee?  She tried to make conversation with him, but was it the sort of conversation Mr. Bennet had with Mr. Collins at dinner?  Did she speak aloud, teasingly, what she later wrote in her letter, that Triggs must have looked “very handsome” in his green coat at a recent funeral procession?  By discovering more about the dinner guest at the cottage table, it becomes easier to at least formulate such questions, even if the answers remain elusive.

A final word:  Even a scrap of paper of no obvious significance, which might easily have gone in the fire 200 years CEA-3-JAHouseMuseumago, has its magic today:  the words, the spelling, the quality of signatures (or X’s marked down by the unlettered), and the amount of paper allocated to a particular purpose all tell us something.  If such ephemera is worth saving and studying, then how much more essential is it to preserve a unique document that is central to Jane Austen’s life story?  Right now, Jane Austen’s House Museum is engaged in a campaign to collect £10,000 to purchase the letter that Cassandra Austen wrote to her niece Fanny immediately after Jane Austen’s death.  To secure the letter, this sum must be collected within less than three months.  Please read about the letter and consider contributing to the fundraising campaign.   [ The letter is CEA / 3, dated July 29, 1817 – Le Faye, 4th ed., p. 363 – you can read the text here]

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About the Author:  A 20-year career in management and technology consulting, degrees in English and Administration, and a stint as JASNA’s International Visitor to Chawton in 2013 created the foundation for Linda to write her 2015 book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community.  The book is available from Amazon, Woodpigeon Publishing, and Jane Austen Books in the U.S., and is available in the shop at Chawton House Library.  Linda blogs about new findings and supplemental research at chawtoncommerceandcommunity.blogspot.com. [Please note that Linda will be donating all profits from U.S. sales to the JASNA 2016 AGM.  For those of you attending JASNA-Vermont’s 7 June 2015 meeting, I will have copies for sale.]

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Book Giveaway:

BookCover-Slothouber

Thanks you so much Linda for your guest post on Edward Knight! Readers, please leave a comment or question for Linda in order to be entered into a random drawing to win a copy of Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce and Community. Deadline is next Friday May 22, 2015 at 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced on May 23. Limited to domestic mailings, sorry to say, but don’t let that keep you from commenting!

Chawton House Library today - cTony Grant

Chawton House Library today – cTony Grant

[Tony Grant and I visited CHL last May on a very rainy day –
his picture was better than mine so I use it here with thanks!]

c2105 Jane Austen in Vermont

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cover-twoteens

You are Cordially Invited to JASNA-Vermont’s June Meeting 

“The Mystery of Emma Austen’s Aunt Emma ~ An Interactive Presentation”

with Kelly McDonald*

Sunday, 7 June 2015, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Morgan Room, Aiken Hall, 83 Summit Street
Champlain College, Burlington VT**

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Brief sentences in a series of letters lays out the basic “mystery”: the 200-year-old family secret of a highly discouraged relationship between two women. Were the quarrels based on religion, class, station, or sexual attraction? In the spirit of Sanditon or Edwin Drood, no definitive conclusion exists; the audience is invited to brainstorm as family history unfolds. The connection to Jane Austen? Emma Austen was married to Austen’s nephew and biographer James Edward Austen Leigh.

Kelly McDonald

Kelly McDonald

We all know Kelly McDonald as the prime mover in the founding of the Vermont JASNA region – she “retired” as co-RC when her research and publication work became her main focus. She is working on a 4-volume biography of the lives and families of Emma Smith and Mary Gosling – you can read all about them at Kelly’s blog “Two Teens in the Time of Austen”: https://smithandgosling.wordpress.com. Kelly has also published various essays in Persuasions, the monograph Jane Austen and the Arts, online articles via Academia.edu, has spoken at JASNA AGMs and will again be presenting at the 2015 AGM on Childbirth in early 19th-century England. You can read a full list of her writings here: https://smithandgosling.wordpress.com/the-author/

~ Free & open to the public ~
~ Light refreshments served
 ~ 

For more information:   JASNAVTregion [at] gmail.com
Please visit our blog at: http://JaneAustenInVermont.wordpress.com

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**Aiken Hall is located at 83 Summit St – #36 on the map here: https://www.champlain.edu/Documents/Admissions/Undergraduate%20Admissions/Campus-Map.pdf
Parking is on the street or in any College designated parking during the event.

Hope you can join us!

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Gentle Readers: Here is Chris’s third post on Mansfield Park – let’s hear what he has to say about Mrs. Norris!

Some of Mansfield Park’s characters

by Chris Sandrawich

Mrs Norris is a really interesting character and quite important to the plotting of the whole novel. It is after all her idea, and her desire, that brings Fanny Price from Portsmouth to Mansfield Park. It is also her wish, mainly to avoid any expense, that her own involvement will be at arm’s length and that Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram will raise Fanny and house her. The inter-relationship of Sir Thomas Bertram with Mrs Norris is also very important especially as it affects Fanny Price, but also as it affects Maria and Julia.

Just as with the naming of the novel giving links to the slave trade what may we make of the name Norris? In Jane Austen’s day a notorious slave trader Robert Norris gave evidence in support of the slave trade which is staggering when compared to the reality of extreme over-crowding with the slaves’ transportation: However, during a Parliamentary investigation, a witness for the slave trade, Robert Norris, described how ‘delightful’ the slave ships were. The enslaved people, he suggested, had sufficient room, sufficient air, and sufficient provisions. When upon deck, they made merry and amused themselves with dancing… In short, the voyage from Africa to the West Indies was one of the happiest periods of their life! Is the naming for Mrs Norris, the story’s villain, coincidental? Perhaps it is, but as with the use of “Mansfield” I think Jane Austen was making a direct reference to the slave trade.

Mrs Norris - 1986

Mrs Norris (Anna Massey) – BBC, 1983

Mrs Norris and Sir Thomas are both powerful characters who create change and affect other characters. About the only character not affected by them, or anything much really, is Lady Bertram who carries on relaxing on the sofa with Pug in much the same way no matter what is going on. It’s been suggested that she’s quietly boozing liqueur or stoned on laudanum but I rather think that in the gene share out her two sisters got all the ‘activity genes’ the family could spare. The mention of Pug raises one of Jane Austen’s rare mistakes. In Chapter VII of Volume I, Lady Bertram says “ . . . . . calling for Pug, and trying to keep him from the flower beds” but much later on in Volume III she is thinking of offering Fanny a puppy next time Pug has a litter.

Mrs Norris and Harry Potter? J K Rowling’s website claims that her favourite author is Jane Austen. So is the choice of name, Mrs Norris, for the Hogwarts’ Caretaker’s nosey, busybody cat who is forever on the prowl a co-incidence? I checked out this notion elsewhere on her website and an unsupported claim for a deliberate choice is made; but the jury is still out, I think.

Sir Thomas Bertram fatefully misjudges Mrs Norris. He thinks she is kind and well-meaning, as Mrs Norris does herself, and his authority as a father already weakened by his remote and austere countenance – which creates a gulf that separates him from his daughters and Fanny – allows a vacuum that Mrs Norris fills. Sir Thomas believes his approach and that of Mrs Norris will combine and average out in their effect producing overall a beneficial result. However, his daughters simply avoid showing their real selves to him, and take the full measure of Mrs Norris’s flattery and blindness to their faults that allows them to think and do as they wish, and not as they should. Mrs Norris is free to oppress and bully Fanny unmercifully and all in the name of maintaining the distinction between her and her cousins.

Mrs Norris habitually claims to be poor, She does not have much income, she says, and often she exclaims that she will not “Withhold her mite” when suggesting she may make a contribution. To be fair to Mrs Norris I do not think she meant the coin, ‘the Mite’ defunct since Tudor times and a small fraction of an old penny. No, she’s probably alluding to

Widow's Mite - wikipedia

Widow’s Mite – wikipedia

the “Widow’s Mite” mentioned by both Mark and Luke in the bible, were Jesus suggests two such coins from a poor widow were worth more to God than the extravagant but proportionately lesser contributions of richer people. This is typical of Mrs Norris’ style: do not give much but make out it is proportionately worth more than others give, and every time there is a suggestion of cash contributions required talk of the mite.

This works perfectly in the case of the cash given to William by Lady Bertram and Mrs Norris when he leaves for Portsmouth with Henry Crawford. Here is the extract from Chapter 31 (in which it has already been discovered that William has been made a Lieutenant), which is very funny:

 She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable; that is, for her, with her limited means, for now it would all be useful in helping to fit up his cabin. She knew he must be at some expense, that he would have many things to buy, though to be sure his father and mother would be able to put him in the way of getting everything very cheap; but she was very glad she had contributed her mite towards it.”

“I am glad you gave him something considerable,” said Lady Bertram, with most unsuspicious calmness, “for I gave him only 10.”

“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!”

“Sir Thomas told me 10 would be enough.”

Mrs. Norris, being not at all inclined to question its sufficiency, began to take the matter in another point.

Austen-Leigh in his book A Memoir of Jane Austen said that Jane Austen told her family that the “considerable sum” given was only £1. So we can see that Mrs Norris is perfectly happy to leave her sister in ignorance and thinking she had given much more than the £10 Lady Bertram had given.

How badly off is Mrs Norris? We are told she is on £600 pa or £36,000 – £480,000 which if you remember Edward Ferrar’s situation in Sense and Sensibility is very much the same as he was willing to be happily married on, although in the end he gets slightly more. Families on £850 pa could afford to run a carriage. There is no mention of her rental terms on Sir Thomas’s land but we can assume she negotiated herself a peppercorn rent. With her energy and a restless eye on opportunity one imagines that a steady flow of produce from the Bertram’s kitchen gardens and fields along with game and fruits in season comes her way. She also spends much of her time at the “big house” taking her meals there as well as benefitting from any heating and lighting. Every servant could be frightened or cajoled into helping Mrs Norris walk off with anything useful so as not to be on the wrong end of a bad report from Mrs Norris. It would be a powerful motivation. She has some servants of her own but not many. Louis Simond in his book gives many useful figures and a manservant at that time would cost £40pa but a maid only £15 as would a cook. I find it hard when I speculate upon her budget to see how she spends, when begrudging every penny lost in expense, even up to one third of her income. After all a Curate’s rate of pay for performing all that the Rector ought to do was generally £50pa and he did not starve. If Mrs Norris is managing to add £400 a year to her capital then over the period of the novel you could argue that she adds £4000 to her savings and another therefore a further £200pa to her income. She lives alone and walks everywhere and at all times avoids any expense. The conclusion must be that Mrs Norris is miserly natured and is unreasonably worried that she might starve.

Her relationship with the Grants gets off to a frosty start over “dilapidations” which is a technical term and refers to the sums required to make good an ecclesiastical property on handing it over. I imagine, because the actual conversations are never revealed, that Mrs Norris was well-armed in advance for Dr Grant opening the subject and responds with a torrent of words. A torrent of words is her basic strategy. Dr Grant may soon have been fed up with hearing, “Good as new” and “Fair wear and tear” as well as “Widow’s mite” and be pleased to save his ears by dropping the subject and be left to restore the property at his own expense and then be grumpy about it later.

HM Brock - Mrs Norris - Mollands

HM Brock – Mrs Norris – Mollands

We see early on in the novel how Mrs Norris “beats down” opposition to her own viewpoint by a shrewd mixture of anticipating the points to be made against and rebutting them with a torrent of words. She manages the “debate” by being the only speaker and takes both sides in turn ending up as Judge and Jury as well as speaking for and against the motion. When, right at the start of the novel, Mrs Norris is giving her views on the advisability of bringing Fanny to Mansfield Park she cleverly forecasts all Sir Thomas’s fears and as soon as he starts to air his doubts interrupts him and gives him answers to all objections whether stated or not. She does in fact construct a flow of nearly 400 words by the end of which he is left with nothing to say but to agree. It might be noted that Sir Thomas’s principal concern that he would be raising Fanny to marry one of his sons turns out to be well-founded.

We see Mrs Norris throughout the novel acquiring cloth, or wood materials, or cut flowers. In her shining hour with the visit to Sotherton she comes back with: a beautiful little heath from the gardener, a large cream cheese from Mrs Whittaker, and four beautiful pheasant’s eggs as well. Fatefully she has been so busy angling for these gifts, “but they were forced upon me” that she has no idea whatsoever what Maria was up to in the wilderness. Her actual supervision when acting “in loco parentis” is negligible and both Julia and Maria are happy to know it will be.

It was most unfortunate that Sir Thomas ever suggested to Mrs Norris that the distinction between his daughters and Fanny needed to be preserved at outset and he sees this as a delicate and difficult task and tragically leaves its implementation to Mrs Norris who sees it as an easy task. She just bullies Fanny unmercifully. She keeps Fanny low and never stops reminding her that her only role, for which she must be eternally grateful, is as an unpaid helper. This, of course, includes helping Mrs Norris do anything she asks. Sir Thomas initially misjudges Mrs Norris by thinking her kind and benevolent, and certainly Mrs Norris so little knows herself that she thinks of herself as the most liberal-minded sister and aunt in the world.

Certainly by the end of the novel Sir Thomas when reflecting on all that has gone wrong:

  • Blames himself for allowing Maria’s marriage and owns that his daughter’s true sentiments being insufficiently known to him was his fault alone
  • Suffers much anguish over the poor education and upbringing of his daughters, as it became obvious that they did not adhere to their first duties and that he did not know their real character and temper
  • He had hoped that his gravity and Mrs Norris’s favouritism would cancel or average out in effect, but he realises that his daughters merely hid their behaviour from him and that the excessive indulgence and flattery from Aunt Norris was a real evil
  • Realised that his opinion of Mrs Norris had been steadily sinking since his return from Antigua, but that he had badly formed his opinion of her in the first place.

It’s a miracle in a way that with Sir Thomas’s grave manner and blindness, Mrs Norris’s perpetual bullying and Julia and Maria’s unsisterly contempt and aversion to include Fanny in anything; that Fanny grows up untouched by all the negativity and criticism direct or implied.

CE Brock - MP - Mollands

CE Brock – MP – Mollands

“The kind pains you took to…persuade me out of my fears”

Fanny after a slow low start, with Edmund’s support and kindness, educates herself finding the correct manner in which to regulate her behaviour and to view the world and so Fanny gradually rises on the stepping stones of her dead selves to become all that Sir Thomas, or any parent, could want in a daughter. Let’s remind ourselves of her development from age 10 to the night of her coming out ball:

  • She was small for her age with no glow of complexion nor any other striking beauty, exceedingly timid and shy, and shrinking away from notice, but her air though awkward was not vulgar, her voice was sweet when she spoke and her countenance was pretty
  • Young pretty and gentle . . . . . . she had no awkwardnesses that were not as good as graces . . . . . . she was attractive, she was modest, she was Sir Thomas’s niece and soon said to be admired by Mr Crawford . . . . . .

And Jane Austen cleverly maintains the same basic character but subtly presents her significant development as well.

As Fanny grows from obscurity to become the star attraction Mrs Norris’s star falls from her position of influence and power to the restriction of living with her disgraced niece Maria and to be well aware of Sir Thomas not wishing her back. So, we have looked at how Fanny has developed in appearance but what of her mind? We get a clear idea of the growth in Fanny’s mental powers, her clear reasoning, her unfailing moral standards, her lucidity and passion in the outpouring she gives on the subject of memory to an unlistening, inattentive Mary Crawford. Fanny is talking of how the effect of nature has changed the view being looked at when she warms to her subject and says,

“. . . . . . . and perhaps, in another three years, we may be forgetting—almost forgetting what it was before. How wonderful, how very wonderful the operations of time, and the changes of the human mind!” And following the latter train of thought, she soon afterwards added: “If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.”

Going back to Thomas Lister’s comments on Jane Austen, she scarcely does more than make them act and talk and we know them directly” I think we have from this wonderful effusion on the subject of memory we get a pretty clear idea of the pace, power and wide range of Fanny’s mental development.

Thomson-MP-Rushworth

Thomson – MP – Rushworth

At the novel’s beginnings we are given a view of Mr Rushworth and it provides a good illustration of Jane Austen’s sharp eye for comedy. Mr Rushworth has the floor, and is on ‘home ground’ and in full flow talking about Sotherton and the improvements he might make, when Lady Bertram makes a remark taking him into new and uncharted waters.  He begins to reply to her suggestion that he should create a pretty shrubbery as an immediate response to her idea but gradually loses way as he tries to work in all of the following:

  • His agreement with Lady Bertram’s idea
  • His desire to pay her a compliment
  • Although submitting to her taste he wants to make clear that he had always thought it was a good idea himself
  • Mentioning that whilst a shrubbery aids the comfort of women generally
  • There is one particular woman he is most anxious to please

And we get the wonderful picture of a weak intellect seizing up under the weight and strain of its own thoughts as Mr Rushworth grinds to a halt. Jane Austen does not waste time in giving a detailed description of his talk running out of steam she merely remarks, “that he grew puzzled” and she has Edmund putting an end to the speech with a proposal for more wine. This establishes Mr Rushworth’s limitations from the start, and at his expense.

Concluding Remarks

For a great work like Mansfield Park any mere article would be too short, and by only dipping into aspects and parts of the novel many things are left unsaid. I have touched on the importance of Stoneleigh Abbey to this novel and to the wider aspects of Jane Austen’s work, the role possibly played by Cottesbrook Hall, and the influence of Shakespeare on this novel especially. I hope that you have enjoyed looking afresh at Mrs Norris, and I am sorry my talk did not have time for more.

Sources read as background or alluded to in this paper:
1. George Crabbe – The Parish Register
2. Paula Byrne – Biography of Dido Elizabeth Belle
3. Austen Family letters.
4. Transactions No’s 3 and 6 especially Nell Poucher Jane Austen in the Midlands
5. Stoneleigh Abbey The House, It’s Owners, It’s Lands edited by Robert Bearman
6. AustenOnly website maintained by Julie Wakefield
7. Shakespeare’s Plays
8. J K Rowling’s novels and website
9. Jane Austen’s novels

********

Thank you Chris for sharing your many thoughts on Mansfield Park with ‘Jane Austen in Vermont’! Readers: please leave any question or comment for Chris below – he will get back to you right away.

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Chris Sandrawich, images as noted]

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Gentle Readers: Chris Sandrawich posts here today in Part II of his writings on Mansfield Park, here focusing on Shakespeare’s influence on Austen.

Shakespeare’s Influence on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park

by Chris Sandrawich

All of Jane Austen’s novels have direct quotations or echoes from Shakespeare’s plays but Jane Austen goes into overdrive with Mansfield Park.

The Wilderness and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: When they all go to Sotherton and stroll towards the Ha Ha, the barred gate and the wilderness beyond we see that various pairings are made, official or unofficial, and broken up, and reformed again, with Fanny as silent observer but only of part, and couples returning “from the woods” claim to have ‘been lost’ or have ‘forgotten time’ so there is more than an echo of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in amongst it all.

RushworthAtGate-CEBrock-mollands

[Source: Mollands]

There has been a mountain of interest displayed down the years in the prank played by Maria in wrong-footing the poor hapless Mr Rushworth who is sent away for a key whilst she takes an opportunity to squeeze through the bars and into the freedom of the wilderness beyond. Fanny’s pleas for patience and caution are ignored. On Mr Rushworth’s side of the fence we have his house and his mother, and all the feelings of restraint from manners, rules, etiquette and standards of behaviour to keep to. Gaining access to comparative freedom by an escape seemingly on an irresistible impulse takes Maria past the formidable barriers of the iron gates the bars of the fence and the Ha Ha, and even at the risk of tearing her clothes she effectively abandons herself to the freedom of being alone with Henry. Most commentators who wish for more “hanky panky” than is evident make a lot of this allusion to the renting of clothing. However, unlike the “great slit in my worked muslin gown” that Lydia in Pride and Prejudice wants Sally to mend – which is an actual slit and therefore an allusion to an event already taken place – Maria actually gets through unscathed. Acting with Mr Crawford’s encouragement Maria puts herself “out-of-bounds” and Henry follows immediately. It is significant that their first action is not to do what they claimed was their motivation and which would keep them in sight. They do not go up to the copse of trees so as to turn and survey the house from there. No, they disappear out of sight immediately. Every reader is free to think for themselves what Edmund and Mary on one side and Henry and Maria on the other actually get up to, all unobserved in the woods and wilderness and let us just leave it that time, opportunity and inclinations were all there for use and mischief. Certainly Shakespeare mentions the opportunities that present themselves with Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia, who are all discovered asleep together in the woods, and on waking have difficulty still in separating dream from reality. However, in Mansfield Park there is no after affect visible on person, clothing or behaviour and no future considerations are mentioned as affecting their various thoughts and feelings in later chapters. So we may conclude that very little happened, or at least I do! Others may disagree – and suggest quite a lot went on.

Three Daughters of King Lear, Gustav Pope - wikipedia

Three Daughters of King Lear, Gustav Pope – wikipedia

Plot Structure and King Lear: There are echoes of Alls Well That Ends Well in Mansfield Park but most critics would plump for King Lear as having most resonance. In both plot structures we have an authoritarian father who does not know his children, or anything else as he should, and who loses his authority by overestimating his eldest daughters and undervaluing the youngest (although Fanny is not Sir Thomas Bertram’s natural daughter she is to all intents and purposes being treated as such, accept by Mrs Norris). In King Lear, Regan and Goneril are rivals for the treacherous Edmund just as Julia and Maria are rivals for Henry Crawford. Cordelia rejects Lear’s auctioning of her affections and gets a “Nothing comes from nothing” response and Fanny rejects Sir Thomas’s encouragement to accept Henry Crawford. Both Cordelia and Fanny, the youngest daughters, are misunderstood, or not listened to properly and are certainly not trusted. They are accordingly banished in punishment. Both are accused of ingratitude.

Edmund at one stage advises Fanny to let Henry, “succeed at last” and she bursts out with, ”Oh! Never, never, never he will never succeed with me.” This is only one less never than from King Lear, “Thou’lt come no more. Never, never, never, never, never!” as the King addresses his dead daughter.

However, Fanny is recognised as the daughter he always wanted by Sir Thomas, who in the end has revised many opinions based on experience. The fates do not spare Cordelia or King Lear and they ‘enjoy’ grim ends.

General links to Shakespeare:

We have the Bertram brothers talking of plays they read as boys and list: Henry VIII, Julius Caesar and Hamlet when Tom tries to use them in claiming his Father’s encouragement to theatricals! Sir Thomas had instead thought of them more as an aid for diction and good material for young men to work with as useful preparation for speaking in public. Jane Austen shows her belief in the power of Shakespeare’s work by the conversation between Henry Crawford and Edmund in Mansfield Park. As Henry Crawford and Edmund seem to hardly agree on anything we can interpret their agreement on Shakespeare as being Jane Austen’s authorial voice showing through (in a similar fashion to the defence of the Novel in Northanger Abbey) as we hear Edmund say:

“That play must be a favourite with you”, said he; “You read it as if you knew it well.” “It will be a favourite I believe from this hour,” replied Crawford; – “but I do not think I have had a volume of Shakespeare in my hand before, since I was fifteen. – I once saw Henry VIII acted. – Or I have heard it from someone who did – I am not certain which. But Shakespeare one gets acquainted with without knowing how. It is part of an English-man’s constitution. His thoughts and beauties are so spread abroad that one touches them every where, one is intimate with him by instinct. – No man of any brain can open at a good part of one of his plays, without falling into the flow of his meaning immediately.”

“No doubt, one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree.” said Edmund, “from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody, they are in half the books we open and we all talk Shakespeare use his similes and describe with his descriptions . . . . .”

And so Jane Austen is telling us that Shakespeare’s influence is all-pervading and that his plays are well-known to every educated person, whilst subtly giving doubtful sincerity to Crawford’s lines.

Critics in Jane Austen’s time made reference to Shakespeare when commenting on her novels. As Paula Byrne mentions, a critic in the Quarterly Review in 1821, just four years after Austen’s death, compared Jane Austen’s art to Shakespeare’s. “Saying as little as possible in her own person and giving a dramatic air to the narrative by introducing frequent conversation,” she created in her fictional world “with regard to character hardly exceeded even by Shakespeare himself.”

Yet another 19th Century writer, Thomas Lister, ascribed her genius to revelation of character through dramatic dialogue, “She possessed the rare and difficult art of making readers intimately acquainted with the character of all whom she describes . . . . . . she scarcely does more than make them act and talk and we know them directly.”

Henry Crawford’s Choices of Parts: When they get into the theatricals it is interesting just which characters Henry Crawford picks out as parts he could readily play bearing in mind he has a free choice. He starts with Richard III, then he suggests Shylock from The Merchant of Venice and finally the singing hero of a farce in his scarlet coat and cocked hat. Is this Jane Austen suggesting he will act as either the villain or the fool in this novel?

Before they settle upon Lovers’ Vows they look at and reject: Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth.

Henry VIII: Later we have Henry Crawford thrilling Fanny, and even stirring Lady Bertram (which I think all will agree takes some doing), with his reading of Henry VIII. Once again, is this a subtle hint from Jane Austen? Henry VIII, in this play wavers between the virtuous but passive Queen Katherine and the vivacious, lively Anne Boleyn; and so should we expect Henry Crawford to act the same way when comparing Fanny with Maria? We know which one the King ends up with, and that it doesn’t last.

Merchant of Venice: Fanny is standing by a window admiring nature and saying its delights are superior to music and art and draws Edmund away from the ‘Glee’ by saying as she looks at the stars, “In such a night as this” which matches a line from The Merchant of Venice and a conversation between Lorenzo and Jessica in Act 5 Scene 1 as they stand in the avenue before Portia’s house. The full passage is:

JessicaLorenzo-ShakespeareInternet

Illustrator: H.C. Selous. London: Cassell, 1830. [Internet Shakespeare]

LORENZO

The moon shines bright: in such a night as this,
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees
And they did make no noise, in such a night
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.

JESSICA

In such a night
Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew
And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself
And ran dismay’d away.

LORENZO

In such a night
Stood Dido with a willow in her hand
Upon the wild sea banks and waft her love
To come again to Carthage.

JESSICA

In such a night Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs
That did renew old Aeson.

LORENZO

In such a night
Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew
And with an unthrift love did run from Venice
As far as Belmont.

JESSICA

In such a night
Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well,
Stealing her soul with many vows of faith
And ne’er a true one.

LORENZO

In such a night
Did pretty Jessica, like a little shrew,
Slander her love, and he forgave it her.

JESSICA

I would out-night you, did no body come;
But, hark, I hear the footing of a man.   [Enter STEPHANO]        

Now this allusion is very striking. Not only during this passage is the belling of “in such a night” very suggestive as we hear it eight times going through a listing of famous lovers. In almost all the pairings there is eventual betrayal by one or other and so they are all “star-crossed” lovers.

  • We have Chaucer’s Troilus and Cressida, and Cressida albeit with some heavy persuasion agreeing to betray Troilus and become Diomede’s lover.
  • We have Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe, who grow up as neighbours and lovers even though their families are at war. This is a neat template for Romeo and Juliet. In each story the hero kills himself thinking his lover is dead and she finding him dead then kills herself too.
  • We have Virgil’s Dido and Aeneas: Henry Purcell created an opera from Virgil’s story of Dido Queen of Carthage who loved Aeneas a Trojan hero. Aeneas abandons Dido and sails away.
  • We have from Greek Mythology Medea and Jason, and Jason leaves Medea for the King of Corinth’s daughter. Later they get back together and Medea cuts Aeson’s (Jason’s father) throat and puts his corpse in a pot with herbs and with a few incantations overnight he re-emerges as a young man. But as Medea was the grand-daughter of the Sun God Helios then all things are possible, I suppose.

So, Jane Austen is alluding to the recurring theme of lovers and looming tragedy, and we therefore wonder what is in store for Shakespeare’s Lorenzo and Jessica as well as the love triangle of Edmund, Fanny and Mary Crawford.

Hassell-MP-pemberley

“It is a great while since we have had any star-gazing.” The glee began. “We will stay till this is finished, Fanny,”
said [Edmund], turning his back on the window.

[Joan Hassall, Mansfield Park – Pemberley.com]

So is it meant to be significant that rather than stay and enjoy the quiet contemplative joys with Fanny, Edmund chooses to withdraw back into the room drawn by the music the singing group and Mary Crawford’s more vivacious charms, leaving Fanny isolated at the window?

Going by the Shakespeare allusion is it this first pairing that will fail? Jane Austen leaves it to us to judge; that is if we’ve noticed!

Sources read as background or alluded to in this paper:

1. George Crabbe – The Parish Register
2. Paula Byrne – Biography of Dido Elizabeth Belle
3. Austen Family letters.
4. Transactions No’s 3 and 6 especially Nell Poucher “Jane Austen in the Midlands”
5. Stoneleigh Abbey The House, It’s Owners, It’s Lands edited by Robert Bearman
6. AustenOnly website maintained by Julie Wakefield
7. Shakespeare’s Plays
8. J K Rowling’s novels and website
9. Jane Austen’s novels

***************

Any comments or questions for Chris? – please reply below, and stay tuned for Part III, where Chris will share his thoughts on Mrs. Norris!

c2015 Jane Austen in Vermont; text by Chris Sandrawich [originally published in JASM Transactions 25 (2014)], images as noted.

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