Jane Austen and the Black Hole. Chapter 6
The rare intrusion of humble social reality into Jane Austen's novels
"I would rather work for my bread than marry him."
- Miss Frederica Vernon in Lady Susan (1794)1
"I would rather be a teacher in a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like."
- Emma in The Watsons (1804)2
“There are certainly not so many men of of large fortune in the world, as there are pretty women to deserve them.”
- in Mansfield Park (1814)3
“A large income is the best recipe for happiness that I ever heard of. It certainly may secure all the myrtle and turkey part of it.”
- in Mansfield Park (1814)4
“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor, which is one very strong argument in favour of matrimony, but I need not dwell on such arguments with you, pretty dear.”
- Letter from Jane Austen to her niece Fanny Knight (Austen) (1817)5
It is useful to very briefly summarize the essential plots and dramatis personae of Jane Austen's novels before making a necessarily very brief catalogue of instances in which the "real" world of radically socially stratified war-time England of circa 1800 actually intrudes into the lordly mansion, manor house, gentleman's cottage or rectory of her literary constructions. Such intrusions in her novels are about as frequent as references to famine or genocide in standard British history texts or indeed in British historical texts in general that are not devoted specifically to such unpleasant subjects.
The world in which Jane Austen lived was the comfortable lot of the gentry that represented one percent of the population. The bulk of the population lived in dire poverty, rural families were being dispossessed, urbanized and disempowered by the Enclosures,6 and a significant proportion of the male population was involved in the carnage of the Napoleonic Wars.7 It was a time at which women were in a subordinate position, childbirth was dangerous and a caesarean typically resulted in death from infection within days. 8 Men were flogged to death in the Navy .9 Thousands of petty criminals were confined on hulks and thence transported to the gross brutalities of penal servitude in America and (after American Independence) to New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land.10 Convicts would be sentenced to hundreds of lashes for minor misdemeanours in circumstances in which as few as 30 lashes could be fatal.11 Petty theft could attract a death sentence, a prospect with which Jane Austen’s Aunt Jane Leigh-Perrot was all too familiar.12 If life was tough for the ordinary people of Merrie England, then spare a thought for the victims of expanding British imperialism from the Scottish Highlands to the South Pacific.13 Slavery was in its hey day in Africa and the Americas,14 the rapacious taxation of indigenous farmers or tenant farmers was the “go” from Ireland to India15 and the extermination of Australian and Tasmanian aborigines had just commenced.16 However the horror to surpass all others was the famine in Bengal that had destroyed about 10 million people in 1769-1770 and from which it would take Bengal about 40 years to recover. Indeed that dreadful period of Bengali economic and demographic recovery would largely coincide with the period of Jane Austen’s life.17
We will now briefly examine Jane Austen’s novels and assess the minimal extent to which social realities intruded upon the “naice” world they describe. We will deal with the novels in order of their completion in the hope of espying a trend of increasing maturity, social consciousness or indeed of increasingly "common" values or sensibilities acquired in a slowly democratizing society.
Lady Susan (completed 1794) 18
The events unfold in a series of letters principally between Lady Susan Vernon and her confidante Mrs Alicia Johnson of Edwards Street and between Lady de Courcy of Parklands and her daughter Mrs Catherine Vernon, wife of Lady Susan's brother Charles Vernon of Churchill (cf John Churchill, associate of JA great great uncle James Brydges). The calculating and flirtatious Lady Susan, recently widowed and with a 16 year-old daughter Frederica, detaches Sir James Martin from ordinary Miss Manwaring, the daughter of jealous, rich Mrs Manwaring and poor but very attractive Mr Manwaring of Langford with whom she flirts. This was reported to the de Courcy ladies via gossipy Charles Smith, a friend of Reginald de Courcy, the son of Lady and Sir Reginald de Courcy. Lady Susan leaves Langford (unwanted by Mrs Manwaring) and repairs to Churchill (where she is unwanted by Mrs Vernon), leaving Frederica in the care of Miss Summers of Wigmore Street.
Lady Susan's sensible plan is to marry dull Reginald de Courcy (cf Brydges-related de Bourgh in P & P) in the expectation of his father's demise and for Frederica to marry silly, rich Sir James Martin. Frederica dislikes Sir James, escapes from Wigmore Street, is recaptured 2 streets away and is brought to Churchill by her uncle Charles Vernon. Sir James Martin imposes himself briefly at Churchill and Frederica, forbidden from complaining to the Vernons, entreats an increasingly indignant Reginald de Courcy of her distress at the plan. Lady Susan smooths the affair with her lover Reginald but visits town to see Mr. Manwaring who has seen Mrs Johnson who acts as a go-between. Lady Susan cannot visit Mrs Johnson's house (this having been forbidden by Mr. Johnson) and entertains Mr. Manwaring daily at her lodgings. Unfortunately Mr Johnson (somehow apprised of Lady Susan's presence in town, possibly as a result of the de Courcy ladies' correspondence with each other) delays his gout-impelled trip to Bath. Reginald de Courcy and the jealous Mrs Manwaring arrive at Edwards Street in town simultaneously and all is revealed after the latter cross-examines her husband's servant about his conduct.
In the wash-up, Reginald de Courcy returns to Parklands and his connection with Lady Susan is over. Mrs Johnson is forced by her husband to bid adieu to her dear friend and end all intercourse. The Manwarings part and Miss Manwaring comes to town, dresses well and resumes her pitch for Sir James Martin. However Lady Susan cheerfully survives: an influenza scare sends Frederica back to Churchill from her mother and the eventual marriage of the daughter to Reginald de Courcy is foreshadowed when the pain of his former attachment to the mother has faded. Lady Susan marries rich Sir James Martin, her happiness only being conceivably qualified by "her husband, and her conscience". Concludes naughty, ironic Jane: "For myself, I confess that I can pity only Miss Manwaring, who coming to town and putting herself to an expense of clothes, which impoverished her for two years, on purpose to secure him, was defrauded of her due by a woman ten years older than herself."
Analysis of Lady Susan: This delicious tale with intriguing under-currents actually fleetingly adverts to humble "reality" on several occasions: a servant, Wilson, brings word of Reginald's intended departure from Churchill and conveys Lady Susan's desire to talk with him, thus enabling the subsequent rapprochement; Mrs Manwaring extracts intelligence of her husband's misbehaviour from his servant; disease surfaces as an influenza scare. While the more rarefied financial realities of the plot are quite clear, the social bottom line is perhaps inadvertently put into the words of poor Frederica when she complains to Reginald de Courcy about the proposed match to Sir James Martin: "I would rather work for my bread than marry him."
Northanger Abbey (originally submitted as Susan in 1803)19
Oh so nice Catherine Morland leaves her parents' country home to visit Bath with her childless neighbours the friendly Allens. She briefly encounters a pleasant young clergyman Henry Tilney. They subsequently meet Mrs Allen's now-widowed friend Mrs Thorpe and thence the Thorpe children Isabella and John (a friend of James Morland at Oxford). Catherine and Isabella take to each other. When Henry re-appears at a ball, Catherine has to decline him because of her engagement to John for the evening. John behaves in a rather high-handed manner in not stopping the carriage on Catherine’s demand and unilaterally cancelling an engagement of Catherine to walk with Henry and his sister Eleanor. Catherine rushes to the Tilneys to explain to them and their father, General Tilney. Catherine, Henry and Eleanor subsequently walk to the Beechen Cliff of Bath and discuss art and novels (including Mrs Radcliffe's gothic Mysteries of Udolpho). Isabella becomes engaged to James Morland but the financial contribution to the couple by Mr Morland senior is necessarily (and accordingly disappointingly) modest. Isabella subsequently publicly flirts with Henry's brother, the dashing Captain Tilney (cf Anne Tylney Craven link and Manydown Park of the Bigg family).
Catherine is invited to the Tilneys' Northanger Abbey (cf Stoneleigh Abbey) and in transit Henry induces a spooky atmosphere that is reinforced by the Abbey itself when they arrive. Catherine has a disturbing evening occasioned by finding in a secret cabinet a document that turns out to be a laundry list in the morning. Catherine fantasizes about the reserved General Tilney - has he murdered his late wife or secreted her in the Abbey? Henry disabuses Catherine of this fantasy: "this is England, we are Christians, how can you think such a thing?" They visit Henry's parsonage nearby and Catherine is charmed. Henry and the General have to leave on business and Catherine and Eleanor entertain each other. Catherine receives a letter from Isabella indicating the end of her engagement to James and the role of Captain Tilney in this.
Catherine is suddenly told to leave on orders of the General and is precipitately returned to her parents unescorted. Henry later appears and explains the General's incorrect intelligence from the vindictive John Thorpe that she is penniless, this totally counteracting Thorpe's earlier assertion that she came from a very well-off family. The Morlands will not consent to her marrying Henry unless the General agrees. He does so when Eleanor's beau (he of the laundry list) becomes a viscount and marries Eleanor. Henry and Catherine Tilney live happily ever after.
Analysis of Northanger Abbey: The "real" world intrudes minimally into this moral construction only to the extent that there are nameless servants; General and Captain Tilney are soldiers in England at the time of the Napoleonic wars; of Mrs Thorpe’s' sons, John is at Oxford, Edward is at Merchant-Taylors' (the school in London that Robert Clive of India attended before he was sent off to India as a “writer” in the East India Company) and William is at sea (in the Navy or on an East Indiaman or another merchant vessel). Of course a major interest of this novel for us in this disquisition is Henry’s passionate defence of the nobility and unimpeachable decency of English civilization that could not possibly admit of the possibility of Catherine’s fantasy about the General murdering or otherwise sequestering his wife:
“Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English and we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where everyman is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open?” 20
The Watsons (left unfinished 1804)21
The heroine Emma Watson returns to her sickly and widowed father in Surrey after 14 years in the care of her aunt Mrs Turner. Mr Turner has died and his widow has accompanied her new husband Captain O'Brien to Ireland. Her elder sister Elizabeth Watson lost her love Mr Purvis to another thanks to her sister Penelope's setting Purvis against her. Elizabeth has been disappointed with lady-killer Mr Tom Musgrave (900 pounds per annum) whom she now detests. Penelope Watson frets over Musgrave who slighted her over a further sister Margaret. Penelope is interested in an old Dr. Harding in Chichester and is now to spend time with her solicitor brother Robert Watson and his sharp wife Jane at Croydon. A further brother Sam Watson is a surgeon. He loves Mary Edwards, the only daughter of wealthy and sociable Mr and Mrs Edwards but faces stiff competition from Captain Hunter. Mary will have 10,000 pounds on marriage.
Emma attends a ball at the Edwards’ and sees Mary Edwards surrounded by Red-coats (notably Captain Hunter). The Osborne Castle mob arrive: widowed Lady Osborne, her son Lord Osborne, his former tutor the Reverend Howard, Mrs Blake (the Reverend Howard's widowed sister) and Mrs Blake's 10 year-old boy Charles. Emma gallantly dances with little Charles (who has been forsaken by Miss Osborne, engaged by Captain Beresford) and gains the approbation of the Reverend Howard and Mrs Blake. Elizabeth stays overnight and the next day avoids Musgrave's invitation to drive her home.
The Watsons are visited by Tom Musgrave and by Lord Osborne who has also noted Emma’s beauty and invites her to observe their hunting with hounds. Days later Robert Watson and his wife Jane (an only daughter worth 6,000 pounds when she married) arrive from Croydon with Margaret Watson (they have left their little daughter behind). This couple make pointed judgements about Mrs Turner and her financial dispositions and Emma is tearful in recalling the death of her uncle. Tom Musgrave, whom Margaret loves, drops by.
Jane Austen did not finish The Watsons, perhaps because of the coincidence of the plot and its composition with the infirmity and death of her beloved father in 1805. According to Cassandra, Mr. Watson was to die, Emma is forced to depend upon Robert and Jane but declines Lord Osborne's offer of marriage. Despite Lady Osborne's love for the Reverend Howard, he finally marries Emma.
Analysis of The Watsons: The unfinished account has a much more bourgeois complement than her other novels: we encounter a banker and his sons, another wealthy urban family in the Edwards, a surgeon, the inevitable clergyman, a solicitor and a plethora of Red-coat officers as well as the noble Osbornes. Servants, including an old Watson family retainer called Nanny, appear in the novel. Social attitudes quickly reveal themselves: Mr. Edwards dislikes his daughter's being about the military officers (see P & P) and as for Emma's brother, "Sam is only a surgeon". Emma opines: "I would rather be a teacher at a school (and I can think of nothing worse) than marry a man I did not like" and Elizabeth goes further: "I would rather do anything than be a teacher at a school".22
Sense and Sensibility (1811)23
Mr Henry Dashwood dies leaving his Sussex estate, including Norland Park, to his son by a previous marriage, John Dashwood. Mrs Dashwood and her daughters, sensible Elinor, emotional Marianne and very young Margaret, move to Barton Cottage on the Devonshire estate of a generous relative, hearty, sociable Sir John Middleton of Barton Park. Elinor quietly bears her removal from Edward Ferrars, the brother of John Dashwood's wife the sharpish Fanny: an attachment had developed between them since Edward had spent a lot of time at Norland Park. The Dashwood women are frequently entertained at Barton Park by hearty Sir John, reserved, children-absorbed Lady Middleton and her mother, the cheerful, gossipy Mrs Jennings.
Colonel Brandon, a reserved older man, loves Marianne. She loves the charming Mr Willoughby whom she has encountered when slipping on an outing with her sister. Willoughby somewhat improperly shows her over Allenham which he expects to inherit from his relative Mrs Smith. A social engagement is interrupted by the Colonel's urgent, unexplained removal to London. Marianne is bereft when Willoughby abruptly departs. Edward Ferrars appears but is strangely confused and despondent; he has been visiting a former tutor. Mrs Jennings’ pregnant daughter Charlotte and her discourteous husband come and go to be replaced at Barton Park by the two Miss Steeles. Lucy Steele confides to Elinor, with the latter's sworn secrecy, that Edward is engaged to her - the tutor he has been visiting is her uncle. Elinor bears her loss quietly while Marianne is increasingly distraught over hers.
Mrs Jennings is going to London to be with Charlotte and takes Elinor and Marianne with her. Marianne cannot get any communication from Willoughby but finally encounters him at a ball, is snubbed and subsequently receives a cruel terminating letter from him. Colonel Brandon tells Elinor about Willoughby's unworthiness. Brandon was raised with an orphaned relative Eliza whom he loved. Rich Eliza is to be unhappily married to Brandon's brother at her guardian uncle’s insistence but her planned elopement with Brandon is betrayed by a maid and Brandon is sent away. Returning from his regiment in India some years later he traces Eliza: she has divorced, had a life of sin and has borne a child "from her first guilty connection", also Eliza, whom she bestows upon Brandon on her deathbed. Eliza was sent to a school but was equally as lively as her mother and was productively impregnated by Willoughby. Colonel Brandon perforce had a duel with Willoughby in which neither was wounded; Eliza and her baby were rescued and removed to the countryside by Colonel Brandon. This intelligence does not enliven the inconsolable Marianne: "She felt the loss of Willoughby's character yet more heavily than she had felt the loss of his heart."
Edward's engagement to Lucy is opposed by his sharpish sister Fanny and his plain nasty mother Mrs Ferrars who wants him to marry a rich Miss Morton. Despite Mrs Ferrars’ determination to cut him off from his fortune as the elder son if he marries Lucy, he persists with his engagement out of honour if not of love. He is cut off and his brother Robert is elevated as heir and favoured son. Colonel Brandon respects Edward's decency and offers him via Elinor the "living" of Delaford, his country location. Charlotte Palmer having given birth, the Palmers, the Dashwood girls and Mrs Jennings all go to Cleveland, the Palmers' place in Somersetshire, 80 miles from Barton and 30 miles from Willoughby at Combe Magna. Marianne falls seriously ill. The futile doctor Mr Harris attends and as the illness worsens, Colonel Brandon is sent off to fetch Mrs Dashwood from Barton. Summoned by the noise of a carriage from her sister's bedside, Elinor rushes downstairs to encounter Willoughby. He explains his conduct to Elinor. Mrs Smith of Allenham had heard of Willoughby’s impregnation of Eliza II but her offer to restore him in her favour if he married her was declined. He therefore decamped to London and became engaged to the rich Miss Sophia Grey. Miss Grey discovered the Marianne attachment through her letter and dictated Willoughby’s cruel letter of termination. On learning of Marianne's illness he had rushed over to Cleveland. He still loves Marianne but she is lost for ever.
On their return to Barton Cottage, Marianne recovers her health and spirits and becomes more resolved, dignified and occupied. A servant Thomas brings the intelligence that he has seen Mr. Ferrars and his new bride in the locality on their way to Mr Pratt (Miss Lucy's uncle) at Plymouth and that the handsome Miss Lucy, now Mrs Ferrars, has spoken to him at length (and in our hindsight most deceptively). Elinor maintains her forbearance and Marianne has hysterics. When Edward appears Elinor inquires after "Mrs Ferrars" - no, not his mother but "Mrs Edward Ferrars" - and then Edward reveals that it is Robert who has married Lucy. Elinor can control herself no longer - she almost rushes from the room and bursts into tears of joy. Elinor marries Edward and they remove to Delaford parsonage, Mrs Ferrars having re-admitted him as a son and given him 10,000 pounds. Robert remains her favourite on 1,000 pounds a year. Marianne through her frequent visits to Delaford eventually marries Colonel Brandon.
Analysis of Sense and Sensibility: Sense and Sensibility goes further than any other Jane Austen novel in actually giving a voice to the common folk. While natural-born Henrietta of Emma does talk after a fashion, for most of the novel we are assured that she is a daughter of a gentleman and is certainly schooled and treated as such. Only at the end of the novel do we discover that she has been an unwitting social contaminant. While her "common" suitor Mr Martin, a farmer, pens a letter that "would not have disgraced a gentleman", we find later that Mr. Knightley has composed it for his tenant farmer. In Sense and Sensibility, Thomas, the mere man-servant of Mrs Dashwood at Barton Cottage is not only named but is permitted an extensive verbatim account of his encounter and conversation with Mrs Ferrars (née Steele) at Exeter that runs to 3 pages.
Other servants and maids have an anonymous existence in the novel but some of these "common folk" have a more critical role in the story than that of Thomas, who is simply the vehicle for transmitting a farcical misapprehension engendered by the mischievous deceit of Lucy, the new Mrs Robert Ferrars. Thus when Elinor wants to find out where Marianne has been with Willoughby "she had actually made her own woman inquire of Mr.Willoughby's groom, and that she had by that method been informed that they had gone to Allenham". In Colonel Brandon's tale of Willoughby's infamy, a servant intervenes critically to destroy his life with Eliza: "We were within a few hours of eloping together for Scotland. The treachery, or the folly, of my cousin's maid betrayed us". Many years later, in searching for a servant he discovers his cousin Eliza: "Regard for a former servant of my own, who had since fallen into misfortune, carried me to visit him in a spunging house, where he was confined for debt; and there, in the same house, under a similar confinement, was my unfortunate sister." [Note again the unabashed consanguinariousness! ]
Some estimate of the value of servants is indicated by the fact that Mrs Dashwood has an income of only 500 pounds a year and yet "Her wisdom, too, limited the number of their servants to three - two maids and a man, with whom they were speedily provided from amongst those who had formed their establishment at Norland". When Willoughby offers Marianne a horse for riding, the need for a groom is readily accepted:
"As to an additional servant, the expense would be a trifle".
While Sense and Sensibility is less Naval and Military than some of the other novels (e.g. Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and The Watsons) it is certainly the Austen novel most explicitly and intrinsically linked to the affairs of the East India Company and Warren Hastings in India. Colonel Brandon has served in a regiment in the East Indies and this experience is amplified in the following exchange between Marianne and Willoughby in which they are discussing the "neither lively nor young" Colonel Brandon:
“Willoughby asserts that "he has always answered my inquiries with the readiness of good-breeding and good nature." "That is to say," cried Marianne contemptuously,"he has told you that in the East Indies the climate is hot, and the mosquitoes are troublesome." "He would have told me so, I doubt not, had I made any such inquiries; but they happened to be points on which I had been previously informed". "Perhaps," said Willoughby," his observations have extended to the existence of nabobs, gold mohrs, and palanquins." 24 [ A "gold mohr" is like a gold sovereign - indeed my Indian wife wears a "mor-hurr" impressed with George V on a gold chain around her neck. ]
The connections between Warren Hastings and India in this novel extend to the names, conduct and locations of some of the characters. While "Middleton" is the name of the Austens' neighbour at Chawton who rented Chawton House from Edward Knight (née Austen), it is also the name of Warren Hastings' associates in Bengal, the brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Middleton. Nathaniel Middleton was involved in the outrages against the famous Begums (Muslim princesses) of Oudh, their eunuchs, the ladies of their zenana and their treasury that were the most celebrated of Hastings' infamies paraded at the impeachment proceedings (at which Nathaniel Middleton testified).25 John Middleton was the second-in-command to James Lancaster on the first East India Company expedition and Henry Middleton commanded the second such expedition.26 Willoughby was the family name of Cassandra Brydges (née Willoughby), wife of James Brydges (the first Duke of Chandos and Jane Austen's great-great uncle ancestor). Cassandra Willoughby's stepfather was Sir Josiah Child, a Governor of the East India Company.27 A long bow can be drawn about the name of Colonel Brandon himself: he is a "nabob" or a wealthy returned East India man.28 Jane was fond of charades and word games (see Emma in particular) and the reverse of Brandon, nodnarb, and its anagrams, nardnob, narbnod, nnarbod, narbodn, nnardob and nardobn come close to nabob. Colonel Brandon has set himself up nicely in Somerset at Delaford House and the great dream of Warren Hastings was to re-acquire and restore the family home at Daylesford in Worcestershire - a dream he realized on his return to England despite the huge expenses incurred by his impeachment. The close friendship of Middleton and Colonel Brandon is mirrored in the loyal association of Nathaniel Middleton and Warren Hastings. 29
The Colonel Brandon-Warren Hastings connection gains greater solidity when one considers the tragic tale of the 2 Elizas. We have already seen that Hastings is very likely to have had an affair with Jane's aunt Mrs Philadelphia Hancock (née Austen) and fathered Eliza. Brandon has an affair with a to-be-married woman, namely his brother's wife-to-be Eliza I. The second Eliza, Eliza II, comes from "the first guilty connection" of Eliza I which one supposes could indeed be Brandon prior to their sprung elopement. Philadelphia / Eliza I and Eliza / Eliza II are rather lively women. Both Philadelphia and Eliza I die prematurely (cancer and consumption, respectively) and both Eliza and Eliza II are left with an infant without a father (through the guillotine and desertion, respectively).30 The duel between Brandon and Willoughby may indeed be a reflection of the famous duel between Hastings and his intractable enemy Philip Francis in Calcutta (1780) in which the latter was wounded but survived to resume his active animosity against Hastings in Bengal and in England.31
A final intriguing connection: Hastings had an affair with Baroness Imhoff, the wife of the painter Baron Imhoff. If connecting oneself with the romance of a noble, globe-travelling painter is sensibility, then subsequently marrying one of the most celebrated and wealthy men of the world shows sense. The Baron and the Baroness were divorced amicably, allowing the Baroness to marry Hastings (although it appears that Hastings used his influence to have the cuckolded husband removed from the East Indies). Just as Colonel Brandon finally takes his Marianne to Delaford, so Warren Hastings took Mrs Anna Maria Chapuset "Marian" Hastings home to Daylesford.32
Jane Austen provides an intriguing insight in a letter to Cassandra (15 September 1815):
“And Mr. Hastings! I am quite delighted with what such a man writes about it [Pride and Prejudice]. Henry sent him the books after his return from Daylesford, but you will hear the letter too... I heard Edward last night pressing Henry to come to Gm [Godmersham], & I think Henry engaged to go there after his November collection. Nothing has been done as to S & S. The books came to hand too late for him to have time for it, before he went. Mr. Hastings never hinted at Eliza in the smallest degree ... I long to have you hear Mr. H.’s opinion of P & P. His admiring my Elizabeth is particularly welcome to me.” 33
Pride and Prejudice (1812) 34
Kind but paternally indulgent Mr Bennet and his silly, talkative wife Mrs Bennet have 2 sensible older daughters, articulate Elizabeth (Lizzie) and demure Jane, as well as 2 younger, silly, flirtatious daughters, Lydia and Kitty, and a serious youngest daughter, Mary. Mr Bingley rents nearby Netherfield Park and arrives with his 2 nasty sisters (one of them married) and extremely wealthy but reserved Mr Darcy of Pemberley. At a local ball Bingley dances with Jane, but Darcy offends the Bennet connections by dancing only with the Bingley sisters and Lizzie overhears him declining Bingley's suggestion to dance with her. They meet subsequently at the Lucas ball with the Bingley-Jane connection strengthening but with Lizzie responding proudly to Darcy. Jane is invited to dine at Netherfield but cannot go by carriage, rides there, catches cold and has to stay there abed. Lizzie walks over, muddying her petticoats and provoking the Bingley sisters' scorn. Lizzy stays to care for Jane and verbally fences with the sisters and Darcy.
Simultaneously pompous and sycophantic cleric Mr Collins is heir to the Bennet estate, which is entailed, and proposes to marry Jane to resolve this family difficulty. Alerted by Mrs Bennet to the Bingley-Jane affection, he shifts his attention to Lizzie. Lydia and Kitty are excited by the arrival of a regiment at nearby Meryton where Lizzie meets an officer, Wickham, and observes the coldness of Darcy towards him. Wickham indicates that Darcy has refused to fulfil the obligations toward him made by Darcy's late father. Bingley gives a ball at Netherfield at which Wickham is not present. Jane dances with Bingley, Lizzie spars with Darcy and Mrs Bennet and her younger daughters are variously embarrassing. The next day Collins proposes to Lizzie who says no to the consternation of Mrs Bennet and the pleasure of Mr Bennet. Collins then successfully proposes to Lizzie's plain friend Charlotte Lucas.
The Bingleys depart for London to be followed by Jane who stays with her aunt and uncle, the friendly and perceptive Gardiners. Miss Bingley pays one frosty visit in London, alluding to a possible Bingley connection with Darcy's sister Georgiana, but there is no visit from Bingley. Mrs Gardiner warns Lizzie against Wickham who has made some kind of attachment to a plain girl who has inherited 10,000 pounds. Lizzie is invited by Collins and Charlotte to the Hunsford Parsonage on the Rosings estate of Collins' patron, the arrogant and nasty Lady Catherine de Bourgh, to and about whom Collins is revoltingly sycophantic. Lady Catherine has a delicate young daughter. Mr Darcy and his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam stay at Rosings and there is much traffic between Rosings and the Parsonage. Fitzwilliam tells Lizzie that Darcy has been able to scotch some unfortunate alliance involving his friend Bingley. Mortified and angry, Lizzie pleads indisposition to excuse herself from the latest Rosings occasion and stays back at the Parsonage, only to receive a visit from an exquisitely uncomfortable Darcy. His ardently meant but clumsily expressed proposal is comprehensively rejected and Lizzie tasks him about his treatment of Jane and Wickham and for his ungentlemanly behaviour (the worst cut of all). The next day Darcy gives her a letter that admits and accounts for his scotching of a Bingley-Jane marriage (citing the gross behaviour of her family and Jane’s demureness having been interpreted as lack of enthusiasm). The letter also describes Wickham's dishonesty, profligacy and attempted seduction of Georgiana. Lizzie is partly convinced.
Lizzie and Jane return home. The regiment has left for Brighton and Lizzie and Jane decide to keep Wickham's misdeeds unreported since he is now gone. Lydia is invited to stay with an officer's wife at Brighton and is permitted to do so by Mr Bennet against Lizzie's advice. Lizzie goes on a tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners. They take in Darcy’s magnificent palace Pemberley, Darcy is praised by the housekeeper and to their surprise Darcy returns unexpectedly early. He is solicitous to the Gardiners, Mr Gardiner is invited to fish on the estate and all are invited to tea where Lizzie meets Georgiana and fends off the nasty Bingley sisters. A further invitation is cancelled in a tearful meeting with Darcy when a note from Jane describes Wickham's elopement with Lydia. Lizzie returns home and the Gardiners repair to London.
A letter from Mr Gardiner brings good news to the Bennets: the couple have been found, they have married, Wickham has been transferred to a northern regiment, Wickham's debts have been paid and a financial settlement arrived at for the marriage. The couple visit and Lydia lets slip that Darcy was at the wedding. Mrs Gardiner confirms that Darcy was responsible for everything. Bingley returns to Netherfield and the Bingley-Jane affair is on again. Lady Catherine visits for an intemperate hectoring of Lizzie about Darcy having been promised to Miss de Bourgh. Lizzie refuses to undertake not to marry Darcy. Darcy hears of this from Lady Catherine and returns. Lizzie's thanks to Darcy for his interventions preface a course to wedded bliss.
Analysis of Pride and Prejudice: Common social reality intrudes minimally into this delicious novel. We have the reminder of the on-going war with France in the arrival of the regiment and its subsequent re-location to Brighton. Jane cannot take a carriage and rides a horse over to Netherfield (and thence gets drenched and takes ill) because the farm labourers are taking in the harvest and cannot be disturbed in the process. The power and irresistable charm of this novel lies in the dignity, self-possession and wit of the deliciously articulate Lizzie living in a world in which women are at an enormous disadvantage. It is also a determinedly honest novel: thus for all her proud intelligence, Lizzie concedes the very real temptation of the wonderful world of Pemberley. Of immediate relevance to the moral thrust of the present disquisition is the lesson deriving from the failure of Lizzie and Jane to reveal Wickham’s misdeeds - history ignored yields history repeated.
Mansfield Park (1813)35
Sir Thomas Bertram is the master of Mansfield Park and has an elder son, fun-loving Tom, a younger son, dignified, responsible Edmond, and 2 daughters Maria and Julia. One of Lady Bertram's sisters marries Reverend Norris and the other marries well below her station to a Marine, Mr Price of Portsmouth, and has a horde of children including our heroine Fanny. When Reverend Norris dies, a penny-conscious, self-interested Mrs Norris lives on nearby but has much to do with Mansfield Park. She encourages Sir Thomas to foster Fanny but in the event declines to participate in her care. Fanny arrives and leads a subdued life, missing her brother William and being subordinate to everybody. Edmond is very kind to her and Fanny becomes the companion of Lady Bertram. Sir Thomas goes off to Antigua to fix up his estate problems. Henry Crawford and his sister Mary come to stay with their half-sister Mrs Grant, the wife of the gluttonous Reverend Grant, the local vicar.
Maria is engaged to dull, rich Mr Rushworth of Sotherton Court, Julia is interested in Henry, Henry in Maria and Mary in Tom until he leaves and thence in Edmond. On a trip to Sotherton Court Fanny sees Maria go off in the gardens with Henry and Rushworth and Julia are jealous. Mary is frankly contemptuous of Edmond’s plans for being a cleric. Tom returns with his friend Yates and a theatrical performance is planned to which Mrs Norris assents. Moralistic Fanny and Edmond disapprove but Edmund is persuaded to play opposite Mary and they practise before Fanny. A carpenter decorates Sir Thomas’ office and in the middle of a rehearsal Sir Thomas returns and puts a stop to it all. Maria marries Rushworth for his money and they leave for Brighton with Julia.
Mary oscillates with Edmond and Henry sets on Fanny. Fanny’s brother William was formerly started in the Navy with the help of Sir Thomas and comes to stay. A ball is given for Fanny and William at which Fanny wears William’s present of a cross on a chain provided by Edmond rather than the one impressed on her by Mary, a gift from Henry and which does not accomodate the cross. Henry goes to London with William and on return explains that he has introduced William to his uncle the Admiral and thereby secured his promotion to lieutenant. Fanny is conscious of Henry’s fickleness and looseness and rejects his proposals, despite the earnest intervention of kindly Sir Thomas and of Mary. The Crawfords return to London and Fanny is sent to Portsmouth to stay with her own family so that she can see the real world and appreciate the consequences of her indulgence in rejecting Henry.
At Portsmouth Fanny sees her “awful” mother and father, siblings, slatternly servant and dirty, crowded abode. In addition to William (who is at sea), a further salvageable sibling is Susan. A letter from Mary mentions a Yates-Julia affair, Henry visits and Edmond writes but is still concerned by Mary’s unsoundness. Lady Bertram writes and advises of Tom’s illness borne of his gay life. Events now move quickly: Mary writes and outrageously implies that Tom’s demise would solve her problem with Edmond as a cleric for he would then be master of Mansfield Park rather than the Rector at nearby Thornton Lacy. Mary writes again urging Fanny to reject a dreadful rumour. However the rumour turns out to be true: Henry has run away with Maria and Julia has eloped with Yates. In the wash-up Edmond spurns Mary who takes Henry’s crime too lightly; Henry leaves Maria who is divorced by Rushworth and goes to live in disgrace with Mrs Norris; Julia marries Yates; Tom recovers. Edmond and Fanny finally declare their love and marry and Susan takes her place as Lady Bertram’s companion.
Analysis of Mansfield Park: The most sexual and titillating of the novels, Mansfield Park allows a glimpse of the real world of people as biological entities e.g. Maria’s liaison in the gardens at Sotherton, the play-part pairings, Maria’s attraction for Henry and subsequent flagrant flight and adultery and the elopement of Julia. However the most powerful passion in all of this is the extraordinary flowering of essentially consanguinous love between Fanny and Edmund, the two most constrained, upright and “sound” of the characters. Jane Austen is surprisingly quite comfortable with what amounts to a translation of brother-sister love to realisable first cousin marriage. Such realised or considered connections between first cousins occurred in Jane’s immediate family as with Eliza Hancock-James Austen and Eliza Hancock-Henry Austen and among her forbears as with John Austen-Mary Stringer and James Brydges-Cassandra Willoughby. It is worth reiterating that the suit of James Austen for Eliza Hancock was not realised because of her contempt for his clerical plans that is reflected precisely in the attitudes of Mary Crawford. The subsequent non-consanguinous marriage of Jane’s nephew Edward Knight to her niece Fanny Knight’s step-daughter Mary Dorothea Knatchbull had this quality as indeed in a more remote sense did Francis Austen’s second marriage to Martha Lloyd who had lived with Jane, Cassandra and Mrs. Austen for so long (including several years with Francis and Mary and the Austen women at Southampton).
In addition to the inevitable shadowy servants and the carpenter, we now actually get to see the awfulness of people and their dingy lives at the bottom of the servant-retaining barrel, the world of Fanny’s real family at Portsmouth. Implicit in the novel are greater realities as well: the Antigua estates, no doubt worked by slaves from Africa, and the naval realities of Portsmouth, Mr Price, William and the Admiral. George Austen acted as an agent for Antiguan estates and variously made representations to his family connections Warren Hastings and Admiral Gambier on behalf of his naval sons Francis and Charles. 36 This novel certainly has the most “social realism” of all of Jane Austen’s works with the intrusions of advanced London attitudes, the Navy, Antiguan estates, the opportunity for prolonged physical intimacy in the Sotherton gardens, the awful lives of the lower gentry, the indulgence of young men, adultery, elopement and brotherly-sisterly love leading to consanguinous physical passion. However even a rude 20th century Antipodean fellow such as myself is taken aback by Mary Crawford’s assertion about her familiarity with Admirals:
“Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears, and Vices, I saw enough. Now, do not be suspecting me of a pun, I entreat.” 37
Emma Woodhouse (about 20) lives with her widowed, ageing father at Hartfield. Her sister Isabella has married Mr John Knightley and her former governess, Miss Taylor, has married Mr Weston. Mr John Knightley’s brother, Mr George Knightley (mid-30s), is a friend of Emma and her father. Mr Knightley disapproves of Emma’s claims to have “matched” Miss Taylor with Mr. Weston and is angry when Emma is involved in the rejection of the proposal of farmer Robert Martin by her young friend Harriet. Harriet has stayed at the Martins’ farm with Mrs Martin, her son Robert and his sisters. Knightley is particularly annoyed since he helped to compose the letter of Martin, who is his tenant at Abbey-Mill Farm. Harriet is the “natural born” daughter of a presumed gentleman and is being schooled by Mrs Goddard in her establishment in the nearby village of Highbury. Emma plans a match between Reverend Elton and Harriet. After a dinner at the Westons, Emma occupies a carriage home with Elton who makes a passionate proposal which she rejects. Elton subsequently marries a snooty lady from Bath.
Emma has as local acquaintances old Mrs Bates, her exceptionally talkative daughter Miss Bates and Mrs Bates’ orphaned grand-daughter Jane Fairfax. Jane has been brought up by Colonel Campbell. However the Colonel is visiting relatives in Ireland and his daughter has married Mr Dixon. Jane Fairfax, who has come to stay with her grandmother, is accomplished but reserved. Mr Weston has a son, Frank Churchill, by his now-deceased former wife and who has been adopted by her parents. Everybody is in anticipation of his first ever visit to his father and all are charmed when he arrives. He visits Jane, having met her previously, but excites comment when he goes to London to get his hair cut. At a party given by the lesser gentry the Coles, Knightley brings Miss Bates and Jane. Mrs Weston and Emma speculate about a possible Knightley-Jane match - Emma disapproves because this would threaten the inheritance of the Isabella-John Knightley offspring. Jane Fairfax receives a piano from an unknown benefactor - Emma fantasizes to Frank Churchill that it may be a token of illicit love from Mr Dixon, newly married to Miss Campbell. A ball is held at the local inn at which Elton snubs Harriet but Knightley is promptly gallant. The following day Harriett is rescued from importuning gypsies by Frank. Harriet subsequently disposes of some mementos of Mr Elton and Emma starts contemplating a Frank-Harriet connection. However a Frank-Emma possibility emerges for the prescient reader.
A day-time affair is held at Knightley’s Donwell Abbey (cf Stoneleigh Abbey) at which the guests eat fresh strawberries from the field. Jane Fairfax is pestered by remorselessly nosey Mrs Elton about taking up a governess position and eventually walks home. Frank turns up late and an outing is fixed for the morrow on Box Hill. On that occasion Frank is very friendly with Emma who is very rude to the dreadfully loquacious Miss Bates. Tasked by Knightley, Emma drops by at the Bates’ next day to make amends for her rudeness. However there is fuss and delay before she is admitted: Jane Fairfax is ill and cannot be disturbed. However Miss Bates adverts to Jane’s intended departure as a governess.
Frank has returned home because of the illness of Mrs. Churchill which soon translates to her demise. Emma speculates further on a Frank-Harriet connection. Her further attentions to the sick Jane Fairfax are declined. Finally the dénouement: Mrs. Weston explains to Emma that Frank has been secretly engaged to Jane Fairfax and that the death of his possessive foster-mother has permitted marriage to poor but beautiful Jane. The odd behaviour of Jane and Frank at Donwell and afterwards arose from a lover’s tiff. Emma dispels the Westons’ concerns that she has been attached to Frank. Emma tells Harriet and discovers that Harriet is not attached to Frank either but evidently likes Knightley for his gallantry. Emma speaks to Knightley of the Frank-Jane affair and of her lack of attachment to Frank. Knightley declares his love for Emma. Emma writes to Harriet to break the news but her concerns are misplaced. Harriet, who has gone to London, has now accepted farmer Martin and it transpires that her father is a tradesman. Mr Woodhouse is unhappy about losing his daughter but a spate of robberies in the area convinces him of the benefits of having a son-in-law at Hartfield.
Analysis of Emma: Emma is an honest but offending book that portrays the unwise fantasies, patronising match-making and social snobbery of the heroine. In Jane Austen’s own words:
“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” 39
Indeed Jane herself played these games in the sense of parlour speculation. Thus she writes in a letter to Cassandra (1 October 1808) :
“Our party at Mrs. Duer’s produced the novelties of two old Mrs. Pollens & Mrs. Heywood, with whom my Mother made a Quadrille Table; & of Mrs. Maitland & Caroline, & Mr. Booth without his sisters at Commerce. - I have got a Husband for each of the Miss Maitlands; - Coln Powlett & his Brother have taken Argyle’s inner House, & the consequence is so natural that I have no ingenuity in planning it. If the Brother shd luckily be a little sillier than the Colonel, what a treasure for Eliza.” 40
Of all Jane Austen’s novels, Emma strays closest to the downside boundary of the gentry. Old Mrs. Bates, Miss Bates and Jane are gentry with little money, Jane is facing the dreadful prospect of becoming a governess (jokingly comparing the “governess-trade” with the “slave-trade” in Volume 2, Chapter 17) and Mrs Elton sprays her snobbish venom (notably at the nouveau riche Tupmans from industrial Birmingham in Volume 2, Chapter 18). Harriet is assumed to be a gentleman’s natural born (out of wedlock) daughter because her education at Mrs Goddard’s establishment has been generously secured. Emma disingenuously distances herself from Harriet’s decision on Martin’s proposal but makes it clear that an affirmative would have ended their friendship:
“While you were in the smallest degree wavering I said nothing about it because I would not influence; but it would have been the loss of a friend to me. I could not have visited Mrs. Robert Martin of Abbey-Hill Farm. Now I am secure in you for ever ... Dear affectionate creature! - You banished to Abbey-Mill Farm! - You confined to the society of the illiterate and vulgar all your life! I wonder how the young man could have the assurance to ask it. He must have a pretty good opinion of himself.” 41
When the Harriet match is finalised, the joy is enhanced by the discovery that Harriet’s father is a well-off tradesman and not a gentleman after all:
“The event, however, was the most joyful, and every day was giving her fresh reason for thinking so. - Harriet’s parentage became known. She proved to be the daughter of a tradesman, rich enough to afford her the comfortable maintenance which had ever been her’s, and decent enough to have always wished for concealment. - Such was the blood of gentility that Emma had been so ready to vouch for! - it was likely to be as untainted, perhaps, as the blood of many a gentleman: but what a connexion had she been preparing for Mr. Knightley - or for the Churchills - or even for Mr. Elton! - The stain of illegitimacy, unbleached by nobility or wealth, would have been a stain indeed... Harriet, necessarily drawn away by her engagements with the Martins, was less and less at Hartfield: which was not to be regretted. - The intimacy between her and Emma must sink; their friendship must change into a calmer goodwill; and, fortunately, what ought to be, and must be, seemed already beginning, and in the most gradual, natural manner.” 42
Life on the downside of the social divide intrudes further with the inevitable unnamed servants, townsfolk and even a named employee, William Larkins, the manager of Mr Knightley’s estate. However Jane Austen goes further: Emma actually visits the poor of the parish and we see Harriet beset by a small group of begging “gypsies” who no doubt are going to be rudely treated by the law for their impertinence. It is not clear whether these are Romany gypsies (of medieval Indian origin) or simply some of the Enclosure-generated, homeless, wretched poor of England in those times. A final surprise is encountered in Emma for the Jane Austen reader - the heroine actually attends church on no less than 2 occasions, firstly at Harriet’s wedding and secondly at her own. Thus:
“Before the end of September, Emma attended Harriet to church, and saw her hand bestowed on Robert Martin with so complete a satisfaction, as no remembrances, even connected with Mr. Elton as he stood before them, could impair. - Perhaps, indeed, at that time she scarcely saw Mr. Elton but as the clergyman whose blessing at the altar might next fall on herself. - Robert Martin and Harriet Smith, the latest couple engaged of the three, were the first to be married.” 43
The novel ends with Emma’s own wedding with satin and lace:
“The wedding was very much like other weddings, where the parties have no taste for finery or parade; and Mrs. Elton, from the particulars detailed by her husband, thought it all extremely shabby, and very inferior to her own. - “Very little white satin, very few lace veils; a most pitiful business! - Selina would stare when she heard of it.” - But in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.” 44
These are the only occasions in Jane Austen’s novels in which we are taken inside a church, this being the more surprising coming from the daughter of a clergyman and the sister to 2 others. Attendance at church, one supposes, would have represented one of the most obvious acceptable means of “boy meets girl’ and certainly of “boy sees girl’ and vice versa. Perhaps respect for her father, the clergy and the Church constrained Jane Austen from such a profane employment in her novels.
Persuasion (1816) 45
Sir Walter Elliot of Kellynch Hall is widowed with 3 daughters, namely Elizabeth (29) and Anne (27) who are unmarried and a younger daughter Mary who has married Charles Musgrove. Sir Walter’s expenses force him to retire to Bath and rent out Kellynch Hall to Admiral and Mrs Croft née Wentworth. Anne was once attached to Mrs Croft’s brother Captain Wentworth but Lady Russell, a good friend of hers and of her father, dissuaded her from the match because of his modest finances. Lady Russell and Anne disapprove of the friendship between Elizabeth and Mrs Clay, the widowed daughter of Sir Walter’s business adviser Mr Shepherd. In the event Sir Walter, Elizabeth and Mrs Clay go off to Bath.
Anne stays with Charles and Mary Musgrove at Uppercross, just down from the Great House. Anne had rejected the suit of Charles and he then turned to Mary. Mr and Mrs Musgrove have 2 daughters, Henrietta and Louisa, who live with them at the Great House. The Crofts move in to Kellynch Hall and Captain Wentworth comes to stay. He has made a modest fortune through naval victory and is now set to marry. He is interested in both Louisa and Henrietta, the latter being the object of the affection of her cousin Charles Hayter. Anne is looking after one of Mary’s boys (who has had a fall) when Captain Wentworth is brought round to visit. They meet further at the Crofts’ and on a long walk in the countryside with the Musgrove siblings that takes them as far as the Hayter estate. On this occasion Anne gets a lift back with the Crofts.
Captain Wentworth, Anne, Charles, Mary, Henrietta and Louisa go to Lyme Regis by the seaside where they meet Captain Harville, his wife and Captain Benwick, who was engaged to Harville’s dead sister. Benwick and Anne find common ground in poetry. Anne and a handsome stranger exchange interested looks at the inn. The next day they all stroll by the sea. Louisa jumps from the stone stairs on the side of the Cobb (sea-wall) and is caught by Wentworth. However when she insists on repeating the jump, Wentworth is unprepared and Louisa falls and loses consciousness. Anne is prepared to stay to nurse Louisa but Mary insists on staying. Anne returns to stay with Lady Russell and learns of Louisa’s slow recovery before she and Lady Russell go to Bath.
At Bath Anne meets her cousin Mr Elliot, who turns out to be the handsome stranger at Lyme Regis. Mr Elliot is set to inherit Kellynch Hall but has been estranged from Sir Walter. Lady Russell encourages an Anne-Elliot connection. Sir Walter and Elizabeth meet up with the wealthy Carterets. Anne visits an old friend, the now-widowed, poor and ill Mrs. Smith. Surprising news comes that Louisa is now recovered and engaged to Captain Benwick. Anne is secretly pleased that Wentworth is free. Wentworth comes to Bath and his successive meetings with Anne make her feel that it is “on” again. On their meeting at a concert with the Carterets, Anne is disappointed that Elliot’s presence has kept her from Wentworth.
Mrs. Smith has heard of an Elliot-Anne connection from her nurse but when disabused of this by Anne reveals that Elliot is a cad who has helped to ruin her husband and is preventing her from recovering a modest inheritance. He has designs on Anne and is now of a mind that inheriting the title and Kellynch Hall is worth it and he is in Bath to scotch any Mrs Clay-Sir Walter connection. Charles and Mary Musgrove and the Harvilles all come to Bath and at a big gathering Anne espies Elliot, who is supposed to have gone to London, talking in the street with Mrs Clay. The following day Anne attends the Musgroves and Harvilles. With Wentworth composing a note to her in the background, Anne talks to Harville of the faith of women who keep up their love. When everyone leaves, Wentworth gives his note to Anne declaring his earnestness. Anne is much overcome and Charles Musgrove sees her home, only to be overtaken by Wentworth who takes over this charge. Mutual love is revealed and all is set for bliss. Elliot goes back to London with Mrs Clay and they may deserve each other. Anne-Wentworth, Louisa-Benwick and Hayter-Henrietta are the happy outcomes.
Analysis of Persuasion: “Reality” intrudes minimally in this novel, principally in the “Naval” sense with the Crofts, Wentworth, Harville, Benwick and the dead Musgrove lad who sailed with Wentworth. Again we have proposed or realised first cousin consanguinity as with Henrietta-Hayter, Elizabeth-Elliot and Anne-Elliot. However this is a very personal novel dealing with 2 principal characters, the former lovers Anne and Wentworth. The story is of sustained affection with shades of Jane Austen’s “first love”, Tom Lefroy, and the disapproval of the match by Jane’s friend Mrs Lefroy. The romantic tension of the tale lies in the conduct of Anne and Wentworth with other supporting elements introduced, as in a symphony, that contribute to the sense of loss that can nevertheless be ultimately repaired.
Sanditon (unfinished; 1817)46
Mr and Mrs Parkers' carriage overturns and Mr Parker suffers a sprain when they travel to the "wrong" Willingden on the Sussex coast looking for a surgeon for their seaside resort Sanditon ("One mile nearer to London than Eastbourne"). They depart from the kind care of Mr and Mrs Heywood after some days and bring Charlotte Heywood with them to their resort development surrounding their Trafalgar House near the village of Sanditon. Rather mean, mercenary and extremely rich, Lady Denham (formerly a Miss Brereton) has had 2 husbands: Mr Hollis, who bequeathed her Sanditon House and a big estate and Sir Henry Denham, who left her the title. Denham's son Sir Edward, Baronet of Denham Park, and his sister, Miss Denham, are relatively poor and Lady Denham is well aware of their interest in her wealth. Edward would like to cement this interest through his courting of Lady Denham's relative and companion Miss Clara Brereton.
Mr Parker's lively and good-looking young brother Sidney and his somewhat hypochondriac further siblings Arthur, Susan and the rather pointlessly busy Diane turn up at Sanditon. Diane believes she has through a gossipy process secured two sets of visitors for the resort. In the event there is actually one party rather than two: Mrs Griffiths, who runs a finishing school at Camberwell, arrives with 3 charges, the wealthy West Indian Miss Lambe, "half mulatto, chilly and tender", and the two Miss Beauforts. Charlotte discusses poetry and literature with the rather flowery Sir Edward and observes his careful attendance on Clara Brereton. Charlotte eventually gets to see Sanditon House.
Analysis of Sanditon: All was set for another interesting social and conversational collage but Jane Austen's illness intervened. As with The Watsons, a "finished" version of Sanditon has been devised and published. The unfinished Sanditon has a rather modern, "real estate and resort development" feel about it and the existence of a lot of ordinary human beings is adverted: servants, harvesters (men, women and children), fishermen, shopkeepers, farmers, cottage renters, teachers, physicians, a surgeon, a vegetable gardener and even a librarian, Mrs Whitby. Jane Austen's worsening, unameliorated illness at the time of the writing of Sanditon provides empirical justification for Lady Denham's indignant speech on doctors:
"Lord! my dear sir," she cried, "how could you think of such a thing? I am very sorry you met with your accident, but upon my word you deserved it. - Going after a doctor! - Why, what should we do with a doctor here? It would only be encouraging our servants and the poor to fancy themselves ill, if there was a doctor at hand. - Oh! pray, let us have none of the tribe at Sanditon. We go on very well as we are. There is the sea and the downs and my milch-asses - and I have told Mrs Whitby that if anybody enquires for a chamber-horse, they may be supplied at a fair rate - (poor Mr. Hollis's chamber-horse, as good as new) - and what can people want for more? - Here I have lived seventy good years in the world and never took a physic above twice - and never saw the face of a doctor in all my life, on my own account. - And I verily believe if my poor dear Sir Harry had never seen one neither, he would have been alive now. - Ten fees, one after the other, did the man take who sent him out of the world. - I beseech you Mr. Parker, no doctors here." 47
Some particular medical protocols were clearly effective (e.g. Jane Austen's friend Mrs Anne Lefroy inoculated about a thousand of the poor with Dr. Jenner's vaccine).48 However medical intervention only became really effective as a whole from about the mid-20th century onwards with the discovery of antibiotics. 49 Cartwright (1977) has provided statistics on the growth of the population of England plus Wales from the Middle Ages that can be summarized as follows: 1300 (4 million); 1377 (2.1 million, the fall being due to the Black Death of the bubonic plague); 1700 (5 million, it having taken several hundred years to recover from the effects of the Black Death); 1851 (18 million); 1876 (23 million); 1900 (32 million). In seeking an explanation for the extraordinary increase in population in the 18th and 19th centuries (a matter which also concerned Malthus), 50 Cartwright (1977) finds that this cannot be explained in terms of the modest decreases in infant mortality due to better medical practice: “We cannot therefore accept Professor Trevelyan’s opinion that population growth “was due mainly to improved medical service” and must look for some other explanation”. His explanation relates to agricultural progress and in particular the growing of crops for winter feed for livestock (that would previously have been slaughtered, dressed and salted down). He concludes: “Some fresh meat, larger supply of vegetables, and more milk in winter may have reduced the childhood rather than the infant mortality”. 51
Of course the greatly increased urbanization of Britain in the 18th and 19th century associated with the Enclosures and the Industrial Revolution meant that survival for the vast body of urban poor involved purchase of requisite food. The engine of the Industrial Revolution, and hence a key financial support for the urban populace, was the cotton-based textile industry. Before British conquest in the mid-18th century, Bengal was a rich, sophisticated and populous country with agriculture based heavily on rice production and an urban industry that led the world in cotton-based textile manufacture. We will see in Chapter 13 how this prosperous land was rapaciously exploited and great swathes reduced to wasteland through appalling, exploitation-linked famine. The textile industry was destroyed and Bengal effectively became an agararian economy devoted to production of cotton, jute, indigo and opium in addition to rice. The former leading textile manufacturer of the world became a raw cotton producer for Britain and the bare-subsistence Bengalis became a captive market for British cloth. 52
We have seen that the ugly realities of wider society did not intrude into Jane Austen’s novels. Nevertheless colonial operations do intrude significantly (if inexplicitly) as a background of necessary activity for the fortune of society. Thus Sir Thomas Bertram is compelled to leave the pleasures of Mansfield Park to address the problems of his West Indies estates, the custom of a wealthy West Indian is important for Sanditon and many of Jane Austen’s characters are involved in the defence of overseas interests against the French. Colonel Brandon is a nabob who has made his fortune in the East Indies and it is that wealth which has created Delaford (Daylesford) and enables a happy and prosperous conclusion in Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen’s “Indian” novel.
Some conclusions concerning Jane Austen’s art
Jane Austen’s novels dealt with a very limited aspect (courtship and marriage suitability) of the lives of a very small minority of the English population, the prosperous gentlefolk. However just as a single painting or a piece of music can be profound while being necessarily confined in material substance, so each of her novels has both emotional and technical depth. In construction, economy of word and flashes of elegance her novels can be seen to be related to great painting and music, in which there is also an orderly underlying scaffolding, technical competence and transfixing, exquisite elements. The charm, universality and popularity of Jane Austen’s work lies in the apparent domestic simplicity of her stories and the self-possession of her heroines that capture the hearts of her readers. The genius of her work lies in the literary construction and the elegant use of language.
If I were to find a popular cultural equivalent to Jane Austen’s novels in our complicated, sophisticated modern world I could suggest top-class women’s tennis - a game circumscribed by a restricted locus, well-defined rules and the authority of the umpire and linesmen, but providing an absorbing experience for the audience through the genius of the players. Pushed well into the background there is also a lot of money involved. A metaphorical and indeed artistic element is provided by the differences in style, focus and personality of the players: the cheerful, good-humoured self-possession of teenage Swiss Martina Hingis (readily relatable to the best of Jane Austen’s heroines), the determined self-control of South African Amanda Coetzer, the Gallic intensity of Mary Pierce, the brilliant resolve of German Steffi Graf or the furious vigour of Spanish Aranxe Sanchez Vicario. The absorption lies in the fluctuating fortunes, the battle of wills and temperament, the skill and the flashes of sheer brilliance.
If I were to find an equivalent in painting I could suggest the work of Vermeer (1632-1675), his beautifully constructed scenes of civilized, gentle domesticity, charm and placid warmth being rendered unforgettable by the powerful and faithful use of light. Of immediate relevance to the substance of Jane Austen’s life and work are Vermeer’s domestic paintings of young women, and in particular those works in which women are reading letters or writing. 53 A musical equivalent might well be the work of Mozart in which there is again powerful scaffolding, technical genius and flashes of exceptional beauty that grip the listener. Indeed the construction of Jane Austen’s novels has been previously related to that of works by Mozart. 54 In all three - Austen, Vermeer and Mozart - there is also a confident simplicity and lack of pomposity or pretension that make for universal appreciation.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Jane Austen’s work as socially irrelevant or a-political. Her self-possessed heroines are all in vulnerable social positions and in the background there are obvious economic realities that will constrain their actions. Nevertheless her articulate heroines survive through dignity, intelligence and the powerful use of language. In this sense Jane Austen’s work is feminist but all of humanity can benefit from the moral lessons of her art. No matter what our place in the world, we are all empowered by the dignified, intelligent and articulate use of words.
An even more careful analysis of quantitative times (months and years) repeatedly referred to in Sense and Sensibility in relation to the Eliza I and Eliza II story reveals remarkable consistency with the hypothesis of Brandon as the father of Eliza II, this in turn clearly suggesting that Jane Austen was actually very cleverly saying that Hastings was indeed the actual father of her cousin Eliza Hancock. Thus, for example, in Chapter 31 Brandon says that Eliza II was “about three years old” after he returns to England “nearly three years after this unhappy period” (of discovered elopement, Brandon’s “banishment” to a “distant relation” and hence “the East Indies” and Eliza’s marriage to Brandon’s brother when his “father’s point was gained”) and a further “six months” after this return and actually discovering Eliza I and Eliza II – all consistent with Brandon as father and a gestation period of 9 months. In Chapter 8 we are told that Brandon is 35 and in Chapter 31 that Eliza II is 18; Chapter 31 further tells us that Brandon and Eliza were “nearly the same” age and Eliza I was 17 when she was forced into marriage with his brother – further consistency with Brandon as the father of Eliza II. Indeed Brandon states thus of his “guardianship” of Eliza II: “I called her a distant relation; but I am well aware that I have in general been suspected of a much nearer connection with her”. In Catherine or The Bower, (see p22, Chapter 3), Jane Austen’s first attempt at telling the Warren Hastings/Aunt Philadelphia story, the name Cecilia (patron saint of music) is used rather than Philadelphia (lover of the Delphic i.e. lover of music and poetry) and Mrs Philadelphia Hancock (Hancock meaning “having cock” i.e. having game) becomes Mrs Cecilia Lascelles (Lascelles being the name of the Earl of Harewood, with “harewood” also implying part of an estate “having game”). I subsequently published other accounts of Sense and Sensibility as a thinly disguised account of the Hastings paternity of Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza. 55 The last paragraph of this chapter is acutely relevant in 2008 as the mainstream media, politicians and academics of the Western Murdochracies continue to ignore the horrendous human cost of the ongoing Iraqi Genocide and Afghan Genocide (as of 2008, post-invasion excess deaths total 2 million and 3-7 million, respectively; post-invasion under-5 infant deaths total 0.6 million and 2.3 million, respectively; and refugees total 4.5 million and 4 million, respectively). Yet apart from myself, as far as I know the only writers on Earth (population 6.6 billion) actually referring to the Iraqi Holocaust and/or the Iraqi Genocide are Dr Mark Weissbrot (Just Foreign Policy), Dr Paul Craig Roberts (Father of Reaganomics), John Pilger (outstanding Australian-UK writer) and Tariq Ali (outstanding Pakistani-UK writer) and, apart from myself, the only scholar referring to the Afghan Genocide is top US law academic Professor Ali Khan. 56