Sunday, 28 August 2016

Mr. Allen and Mrs. Allen in Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'

Jane Austen very neatly depicts the genial but vacuous Mrs. Allen. How little of substance she ever has to say! Her 'conversation' with Mrs. Thorpe is actually a discussion in which there was scarcely ever any exchange of opinion, and not often any resemblance of subject, for Mrs. Thorpe talked chiefly of her children, and Mrs. Allen of her gowns.

Far from being a tyrannical gothic chaperon, intercepting her protégée's letters or 'turning her out of doors', she is simply one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

And her husband is another delightful portrait, having more than a little in common with Mr. Bennet. Catherine Morland in Volume 2, Chapter 7 is beginning to have wicked thoughts about General Tilney. She believes he must have been cruel to his late wife. 'She had often read of such characters; characters, which Mr. Allen had been used to call unnatural and overdrawn...'. Mr. Allen is a minor figure. We hear him speak very little. Though he has an empty-headed wife, he is a man of good sense. This little detail – that Catherine (or Jane Austen) should recall his opinion of 'such characters' just at this moment – is a wonderful example of Jane Austen's story-telling skills. It gives us a solid standpoint against which to measure Catherine; it is an interesting revelation of the wide interests and good taste of Mr. Allen; and it is so real in being typical of the way we all recall opinions expressed by friends even when those friends are not with us.

Friday, 26 August 2016

A Change in the Second Edition of Jane Austen's 'Sense and Sensibilty'

There is possibly a curious concession to public taste in the second edition of Sense and Sensibility: the first edition (in Chapter 13) had Lady Middleton, on overhearing that Brandon was believed to have an illegitimate daughter, banishing 'so improper a subject' by taking 'the trouble of saying something herself about the weather'.

This is omitted from the second edition.

Was this because Jane thought it was in poor taste? It seems more likely that the wiser Jane merely decided it was not in character for Lady Middleton.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Jane Austen's Novels: Clothing Details

Surprisingly, I can find in Jane's novels very little detail about clothes. As dress is Mrs. Allen's 'passion', there is more about clothes in Northanger Abbey than elsewhere, though we do not even know much about what she wore.

Muslin was a fashionable novelty in Jane Austen's youth. Heavier fabrics were superseded. Silk was popular. White gowns were now possible - and a symbol of elegance.

Jane Austen has a good eye for detail; yet she is very selective in the details she gives us. There is no need usually to describe what characters are wearing. The word ‘elegant’ says it all. But Jane makes a good deal out of a minor detail when it throws up questions of ethics or etiquette, or when reactions to the details reveal much about a group of characters. Think of the attention given to Emma’s portrait of Harriet, or the necklace Henry hopes to make Fanny Price wear. 

Incidentally, Penelope Byrde's A Frivolous Distinction: Fashion and Needlework in the works of Jane Austen is a handy guide to dress in England at the time. It makes clear, for example, what ‘bombazine’ and ‘sarsenet’ are.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Jane Austen's Elinor Dashwood ('Sense and Sensibility') - a Blemish?

An uncomfortable aspect of Elinor’s behaviour at the end of Sense and Sensibility concerns her view of the importance of money in marriage.

We have been led to believe that all she needs to make her happy is marriage to Edward. The fact that he has been disinherited should not prevent their marriage. Yet we are told: Edward had two thousand pounds, and Elinor one, which, with the Delaford living, was all that they could call their own … and they were neither of them quite enough in love to think that three hundred and fifty pounds a year would supply them with the comforts of life.

Not enough in love!

It seems odd that the couple who have been set before us as models of devotion, rectitude and honour should suddenly care so much for their creature comforts. Jane Austen must have known that the income this money would generate would be perfectly acceptable for a young couple to live on. However, she contrived that Mrs. Dashwood should have a change a heart, raising the couple’s income to almost exactly the figure originally put forward by Elinor (in her earlier conversation with her sisters) as her modest concept of wealth.

Incidentally, Jane Austen's Persuasion, which has much in common with Sense and Sensibility, shows how she strengthened her technique over the next six years. Much more attention is given to the heroine who seems to have loved in vain (Anne Elliot), other major characters are not left so shadowy, and, having only one central love story, it is less cramped.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Jane Austen's Willoughby ('Sense and Sensibility') - the Snake!

In Chapter 18 of Sense and Sensibility, Mrs. Palmer unwittingly plants the idea in Colonel Brandon's head that Marianne is going to marry Willoughby. For all the reasons he later explains in Chapter 31, Brandon did not expose Willoughby. In Chapter 25, it is winter and Mrs. Jennings takes the Miss Dashwoods to London. Willoughby has not counted on this, and he also does not know whether Brandon has told the Miss Dashwoods the truth, but he is hoping he has not (and he is right). Eventually Willloughby's engagement to Miss King causes Brandon to reveal the sordid story to Elinor.

Jane Austen makes very little of this explicit; but it seems a reasonable interpretation of events.

Willoughby is snake-like even when he makes his final explanation to Elinor during Marianne’s illness. He tries to exonerate himself over the seduction of Eliza: 

…because she was injured she was irreproachable, and because I was a libertine, she must be a saint...the violence of her passions...the weakness of her understanding -- I do not mean, however, to defend myself. 

He stops at a critical point: if she had a weak understanding, then he did take advantage of her. He had a full understanding. 

He says Mrs. Smith offered to forgive the past, if I would marry Eliza. That could not be.

Why could it not be? Because she was poor? Probably not as poor as Marianne! Marianne has £1000, but Colonel Brandon surely had at least the same or more put aside for Eliza.

This does not seem to occur to Elinor, however.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Opening of Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' - what skills!

The structure of the opening four chapters of Northanger Abbey illustrates what makes this novel so enjoyable on two levels. Chapters 1 and 2 detail how woefully our heroine's childhood contrasts with that of the gothic fictional heroines. There is such sureness of touch: Catherine's mother 'had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as any body might expect, she still lived on – lived to have six children more ...'. 'No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.' Her father, a clergyman, was perfectly respectable, 'though his name was Richard and he had never been handsome'. Catherine as a child liked 'nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house'. She had 'a thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark, lank hair, and strong features'. She was a slow scholar and lacked 'accomplishments': 'The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life'. She does not mind books, 'provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection'.

As usual with Jane Austen, we have to admire the economy and crispness. In seventy words, Catherine's home village of Fullerton in Wiltshire and the family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, are clearly introduced, Catherine is invited to Bath, and 'Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness'.

In Chapter 2, farewells from the family are tamely practical; there are no tempests, robberies or kidnaps en route; and the Upper Rooms in Bath afford no better entertainment than the loneliness of being in a crowd with nobody to talk to. Bath threatens to be a disappointment to Catherine, with a lack of young male companions or any companions at all apart from her weak-minded chaperone.

The comedy of tedium is sustained just long enough. The mood changes in Chapter 3. Within a few words of the start, James King introduces Catherine to Henry Tilney. (James King was a real person - he was the Master of the Ceremonies in the Lower Room from 1785 to 1805. He maintained the strict régime imposed fifty years earlier by Beau Nash.) 

It is a sparkling 'boy meets girl' first encounter, unlike those in the other Jane Austen novels. Tilney dazzles Catherine with his wit, his jokes, his ideas and his teasing. He even charms her chaperone, Mrs. Allen, with his opinions on dress material. Jane hints that Catherine has fallen in love at first sight. She has 'a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance'. The author is unable to comment on whether thoughts of Tilney affected Catherine's dreams. After all, Richardson has taught her that as 'no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared, it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her'! But it is easy enough to display the symptoms. Catherine ingenuously questions the twenty-two-year-old Eleanor Tilney so keenly about Henry that Eleanor has 'some knowledge of her new acquaintance's feelings', without Catherine's 'smallest consciousness of having betrayed them'.

As Catherine's relationship with Henry continues, her obvious pleasure in his company evokes a corresponding response: dancing, she 'enjoyed her usual happiness with Henry Tilney, listening with sparkling eyes to every thing he said; and, in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself’. 

Having created the love interest, Jane Austen deliberately keeps Tilney out of Chapter 4 in order to set Catherine up in another productive acquaintanceship, this time female: Isabella Thorpe is introduced.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Language of Jane Austen: 'did not reply' or 'made no answer'

Here's a curious footnote to Pride and Prejudice.

The expression 'made no answer' is used seventeen times in the novel, with reference to several different (non)-speakers: Catherine Bennet, Bingley, and Miss Bingley once each, Mr. Bennet twice, Darcy five times, and Elizabeth seven.

Jane Austen uses the expression five times in Sense and Sensibility. You may not be surprised to hear it is usually Edward who chooses not to answer! 

Given their contexts, the three appearances of the expression in Emma seem especially deliberate rather than formulaic.

Jane Austen does not use the expression at all in Mansfield Park or Persuasion or Sanditon.

I conclude it was an expression she was fond of in her early years as a novelist but for which she found alternatives in later writing.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Highway Robberies; and Jane Austen's Highway Journeys

Highway robbery still occurred during Jane Austen's lifetime, though she seems never to have been a victim. (In 1793, there was a series of highway robberies not far from Steventon.)

However, travel was always a problem for her. As a respectable woman, Jane could not travel alone by stagecoach. In her genteel poverty, she was dependent on others for lifts. But her father had a carriage only for a few months of his life. 

She gives some indication of the state of roads and transport: There has been a great deal of rain here for this last fortnight, much more than in Kent; & indeed we found the roads all the way from Staines most disgracefully dirty. – Steventon lane has its full share of it, & I do not know when I shall be able to get to Deane (Letter 10); We met with no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk had once nearly slipt off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greazed (Letter 10).

Travelling from Chawton to London in May 1813, Jane reported: Three hours & a qr took us to Guildford, where we staid barely two hours, & had only just time enough for all we had to do there, that is, eating a long comfortable Breakfast, watching the Carriages, paying Mr Herington & taking a little stroll afterwards. From some veiws which that stroll gave us, I think most highly of the situation of Guildford (Letter 84). Luggage went astray: it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies. No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l.,... Mr Nottley immediately despatched a man and horse after the chaise, and in half an hour's time I had the pleasure of being as rich as ever (Letter 9).

The family's removal to Bath gives us the following: Our Journey here was perfectly free from accident or Event; we changed Horses at the end of every stage, & paid at almost every Turnpike; – we had charming weather, hardly any Dust, & were exceedingly agreable, as we did not speak above once in three miles. – Between Luggershall and Everley we made our grand Meal, and then with admiring astonishment perceived in what a magnificent manner our support had been provided for –; – We could not with the utmost exertion consume above the twentieth part of the beef (Letter 35). From Devizes, they had a very neat chaise ... it looked almost as well as a Gentleman's, at least as a very shabby Gentleman's. They took three hours from Devizes to Bath (twenty miles).

A letter to Cassandra dated 24 August 1814 makes us aware how much one's progress was slowed down if there were a large number of passengers in the coach being pulled: We were late in London, from being a great Load (Letter 105).

Friday, 12 August 2016

Jane Austen's Control of Crowd Scenes

Jane Austen amazes me with her control of crowd scenes.

Several people can be involved in an incident, each with his or her own interests and motivations, and somehow the reader is made aware of all the nuances of feeling.

Consider how in Sense and Sensibility Jane contrives a remarkable gathering of conflicting characters at the Dashwoods' party in Harley Street. Elinor finds herself in the company of the rich, formidable and autocratic Mrs. Ferrars (another in the mould of Lady Catherine de Bourgh), as well as her rival Lucy Steele, her own greedy brother John and various others whom she has good reason to dislike.

Mrs. Ferrars, knowing Edward's attraction to Elinor, belittles her throughout. Elinor smiles to see how Mrs. Ferrars, in order to snub her, deliberately makes a fuss of Lucy Steele, for she knows Mrs. Ferrars would suffer an even greater shock if she knew Lucy was planning to marry Edward. It is a potentially explosive gathering and an explosion almost takes place when Marianne, unable to endure the slighting of her sister, says to her 'Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make you unhappy' and bursts into tears.

Jane Austen puts together another explosive mix for the next scene. She has Edward arriving to visit Elinor (seeing her for the first time in several months) just when Lucy is present, boasting of the warmth with which she believes herself to have been received by Edward's mother. 

It was a very awkward moment; and the countenance of each showed that it was so. They all looked exceedingly foolish.

Elinor has valiantly to sustain conversation.

However, my favourite example of a 'crowd scene' occurs at the shock occasioned by Sir Thomas's return from Antigua in Mansfield Park and his response to the proposed theatricals. We are so skilfully made aware of contrasting reactions of the numerous individuals affected.
Some consider Mansfield Park Jane's greatest novel. It contains much of her best writing and invention. With extraordinary skill, she handles simultaneously the reactions to events of a large number of characters, all behaving more or less selfishly, but in subtly different ways. Jane may have learned something here from her hard-working predecessor Charlotte Smith, whose novel The Old Manor House (1793) handles big scenes (for example, the tenants' feast) in which many characters have private schemes afoot.

In Mansfield Park, we have the marvellous moment when Sir Thomas returns. The young people, led by Tom, his heir, have caused upheaval with rehearsals for the amateur theatricals. But – on Sir Thomas’s return – not everyone understands the situation. While others cringe, Yates prattles cheerfully to Sir Thomas about the scheme. So brilliant here is the way Jane Austen conveys the feelings not just of Yates but of no fewer than ten other people – Tom, Edmund, Maria, Julia, Mary and Henry Crawford, Fanny, Mr. Rushworth, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram – each motivated differently by embarrassment or selfishness or self-gratification or even (in Rushworth's case) relief.

Edmund was the most difficult to portray, he having reluctantly agreed to participate. The struggle to rationalize his change of attitude had been too much for him.

Masterly is Jane Austen's depiction of the way Sir Thomas resumes control. He is never less than courteous. He even brings himself to praise the ‘neat job’ done by his ‘friend Christopher Jackson’ – the carpenter who has constructed the scenery. Yet order is restored within just a few hours and he stifles all further prospects with a few words and a diplomatic change of subject.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion': The Cobb at Lyme

In a letter written to Cassandra from Lyme on 14 September 1804 Jane Austen mentions a walk she had on the Cobb at Lyme Regis: 'I called yesterday morning – (ought it not in strict propriety be termed Yester-Morning?) on Miss Armstrong, & was introduced to her father & Mother. Like other young Ladies she is considerably genteeler than her Parents; Mrs. Armstrong sat darning a pr of Stockings the whole of my visit –. But I do not mention this at home, lest a warning should act as an example. – We afterwards walked together for an hour on the Cobb; she is very conversable in a common way; I do not perceive Wit or Genius – but she has Sense and some degree of Taste, & her manners are very engaging'.

So Jane knew the Cobb well.

Now think of the famous chapter in 'Persuasion' in which Louisa falls from the steps of the Cobb. How many readers could recall how it begins? It starts quietly with one of those incidental, delightfully-ironic conversations in which Jane's novels are so rich. Anne and Henrietta are taking an early stroll by the sea. Henrietta talks about Dr. Shirley, the vicar, and wishes he would move permanently to the seaside: she argues that it would be good for his health at his time of life. Her motive is not entirely altruistic - the removal of Dr. Shirley would create the need for a curate to replace him; the post would suit Charles Hayter well; she could then marry Charles.

Anne discerns all this but answers sympathetically. Thus more light is subtly cast on the characters of both ladies.

Then there is additional irony: Henrietta wishes Lady Russell could somehow be induced to persuade Dr. Shirley to retire. She is sure Lady Russell has remarkable powers of persuasion - powers Anne knows only too well.

Such is the artistry with which Jane Austen writes so many episodes.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Jane Austen's 'Persuasion': The Relationship between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth

Persuasion is often considered autumnal in mood and setting. The Bath scenes take place in the Winter, leading to the prospect of joy with the coming of Spring. However, this novel is also different in that the story centres on the thoughts and feelings of Anne Elliot, who has already gone through her Spring and Summer of experiences before the novel starts. Unlike other heroines, she knows her mind before Page 1. She has arrived at full maturity. Also, the autumnal feeling comes from the sense that now is the time of harvest - the product of work done in the Spring and Summer.

Anne's error lay in a wrong estimate of Wentworth. She did not realise that his moral and mental qualities were such that it would have been prudent to marry him, even at the age of nineteen. Jane implies that right feeling is an integral part of good sense. Perhaps Jane's head had matured sooner than her heart. Though she could still regard love with a touch of irony, this was softened by a new mood of pensive sympathy. In this novel the tender autumnal weather reflects the tender autumnal mood. There is rich illustration - quite apart from Anne - of love versus prudence in the novel. So it has a dramatic and spiritual unity.

What makes Anne fear Captain Wentworth will marry Louisa? Much of the damage is done by the well-meant but painful speculation of her friends and relatives. 'Anne had to listen to the opinions of her brother and sister': Charles and Mary discuss which of Henrietta and Louisa is likely to be preferred by Captain Wentworth. Then, shortly after Captain Wentworth has handed her into their gig, Anne has to hear the Admiral tell his wife: 'He certainly means to have one or other of those two girls, Sophy..'. Nobody ever says: 'Frederic needs a wife. Anne would be ideal.' Wentworth himself has fuelled the flames by telling his sister: 'Yes, here I am, Sophia, quite ready to make a foolish match...'. But this is light-hearted and not spoken in front of Anne.

It is clever of Jane Austen to make speculation do so much. It prevents her from having to show Wentworth becoming even more deeply involved with Louisa.

Captain Wentworth is angry when he learns that his plan to keep Anne in Lyme has been thwarted by Mary's selfishness. Wentworth's ostensible motive for keeping Anne close to himself is to employ her nursing skills on Louisa. However, in view of the Captain's recent attitude to Anne ('.. no one so proper, so capable, as Anne!') and what he says later (in Chapters 23 and 24) about his feelings for her, what Wentworth really wants is to keep Anne close to him not only in Lyme but for all time. As for Wentworth's supposed 'love' for Louisa, it turns out that he did not think her good enough even for Benwick!

If Captain Wentworth had succeeded in keeping Anne in Lyme, they could have renewed their engagement in Chapter 13, married in Chapter 14 and we would all have got to bed a lot earlier! However, we would have missed all those wonderful moments in Bath.

Alternatively, Anne might have married Captain Benwick. They get on well, having much in common - personal sorrows, a tendency to introversion and a fine taste in literature. In Lyme they almost become 'a pair'. He is 'considerately attentive to her' and she hopes with pleasure that their 'acquaintance' may continue. Later, at Uppercross, Charles Musgrove gives Anne strong hints that Benwick has fallen for her: Benwick would have accepted an invitation to Uppercross if Anne had been living there; instead, on a pretext of admiring local church architecture, he is likely to visit her at Kellynch, according to Charles. Anne does not seem averse to the prospect.

Now, if only Wentworth had stayed in Lyme and married Louisa, and if only Benwick had turned up at Kellynch, Anne could have become Mrs. Captain Benwick in Chapter 15. She would have married into the profession she loved and she would have had a perfect soul-mate.

The subtle unfolding of the relationship between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth shows Jane Austen's craftsmanship at its most mature. There can be few better realised moments in English literature than that in which Captain Wentworth, in a crowded room, overhears Anne discussing with Captain Harville the comparative constancy of men and women in love, and is moved by what he hears into writing to her to declare his love. C.V. Wedgwood [Annual Report of The Jane Austen Society, 1966] wrote: 'Under the surface calm of this scene the controlled passion of the two protagonists seems to electrify the atmosphere, so that the absurd intrusion of Charles Musgrove is a welcome relief of tension'.

In that famous discussion of the relative constancy of men and women, the comments made by Anne are uncannily similar to lines in Washington Irving's The Broken Heart (from 'The Sketch Book', which was published almost immediately after Persuasion.) He wrote: 'To a man, the disappointment of love may occasion some bitter pangs; it wounds some feelings of tenderness, it blasts some prospects of felicity; but he is an active being - he may dissipate his thoughts in the whirl of varied occupation, or may plunge into the tide of pleasure; or if the scene of disappointment be too full of painful association, he can shift his abode at will, taking, as it were, the wings of the morning, can fly to the uttermost parts of the earth, and be at rest. But woman's is comparatively a fixed, a secluded and meditative life. She is more the companion of her own thoughts and feelings; and, if, they are turned to ministers of sorrow, where shall she look for consolation? Her lot is to be wooed and won; and if unhappy in her love, her heart is like some fortress that has been captured and sacked and abandoned and left desolate’. 

Captain Wentworth normally speaks articulately and clearly. Yet in the final paragraph of Chapter 9 Anne hears him simply making 'noises'. Two-year-old Walter Musgrove has clambered on to his Aunt Anne's back, while she is kneeling by her patient. Little Walter ignores rebukes. Then - quite a shock for his infant system - he is suddenly picked up by a strange man (Captain Wentworth) who does not even speak any calming words to him. Obviously he screams. But Jane Austen edits that out. This is when Captain Wentworth makes the 'noises'. Anne thinks he is trying to blot out any thanks she might express. Possibly he is actually saying under his breath to the little boy words which had better not be repeated. By the way, what was little Walter screaming? 'I want my Mummy!'? No.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Little Gems of Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'

There are in Northanger Abbey enjoyable throw-away comments satirizing the foibles of human nature.

James Morland allows his younger sister to flatter him by expressing her joy that he has come to Bath to see her, when in fact he has not, and is soon surprising his sister by taking sides against her in favour of Isabella.

When, in Bath, Mrs. Allen chances to meet her former school acquaintance Mrs. Thorpe, their joy is great, 'since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years'.

When Mr. Allen opposes on grounds of propriety the idea of young people driving round the countryside unchaperoned in open carriages, Mrs. Allen supports him only with 'Open carriages are nasty things. A clean gown is not five minutes wear in them.'

There are in light touches astonishing insights. Mrs. Allen advises Catherine, who is planning to visit Miss Eleanor Tilney: 'put on a white gown; Miss Tilney always wears white'. These few words imply so much – that Miss Tilney is from a wealthy family (laundry is no problem), that she has taste, and also that Mrs. Allen, however silly she may be, knows how Catherine can make herself attractive to the Tilneys.

In Chapter 25, when it is expected that Captain Tilney will marry Isabella, Henry tells his sister, with heavy irony: 'Prepare for your sister-in-law, Eleanor, and such a sister-in-law as you must delight in! – Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise.' This is typical of his Jane Austen-like wit and charm. Eleanor's reply, however, is equally delightful, since it carries (for the reader) the double irony of a compliment to Catherine: 'Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in'. Such a sister-in-law she eventually has.

The novel ends with a characteristic Jane Austen-ism: 'I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience'.