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Archive for the ‘Jane Austen Novels’ Category

Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot at the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion has long been heralded as one of the most romantic letters—and moments—in English literature. But does Wentworth’s letter live up to today’s standards of a really well-written love letter?

If you look up how to write the perfect love letter on the Internet, quite a lot of interesting information comes up. One article that might be of particular interest to a man like Captain Wentworth is this one: “How to Write a Love Letter” by Brett and Kate McKay from the web site, The Art of Manliness.

First, the article states that, “A handwritten letter is something tangible that we touch and hold and then pass to another to touch and hold. And they are preserved and cherished in a way that text messages or email never will be.” Captain Wentworth’s letter certainly meets this criteria. He writes his letter to Anne by hand, folds the paper “hastily,” and writes a “hardly legible” direction “to ‘Miss A. E.— ’” on the outside. (As to whether his letter will be preserved and cherished, I’ll leave that up to your excellent imaginations.)

Captain Wentworth pens his letter.

Next, there is the mode of delivery. For lovers who are separated by miles, an envelope and a stamp do the job nicely. Others might choose to leave their letters under a door mat, on a bedside table, or beside a dinner plate. As for Wentworth, he prefers the rather intense (and covert) personal delivery system for his letter to Anne:

[Wentworth] drew out a letter from under the scattered paper, placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time, and hastily collecting his gloves, was again out of the room, almost before Mrs Musgrove was aware of his being in it: the work of an instant!

Jane Austen’s Persuasion
“Placed it before Anne.” Illustration by C.E. Brock, 1909.

Finally, we must consider the contents of the letter. Wentworth hastily writes his letter at a writing table as he listens in on Anne and Captain Harville’s conversation about love and constancy. But does his hurried letter check all the boxes of a first-rate love letter?

The Art of Manliness suggests that every good love letter much include six major elements. Let’s go through the checklist and find out if Wentworth’s letter to Anne makes the grade:

Six Keys to a Good Love Letter

1. Start off by stating the purpose of your letter. Captain Wentworth certainly doesn’t waste any time getting to the point and stating his purpose. There is no question that this is a passionate love letter right from the start:

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.”

2. Recall a romantic memory. Though their past is painful, Wentworth lets Anne know that his memories of her—and his love for her—have never faded, no matter what has happened between them or what he has tried to do to heal and forget her:

“Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”

3. Tell her all the things you love about her. For Captain Wentworth, every word out of Anne’s mouth is like water to his thirsty soul. He knows her voice better than anyone else and hangs on her every word:

“I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed.”

4. Tell her how your life has changed since meeting her. Wentworth could probably write a whole book about this (indeed, Austen did), but his letter checks this box in a rather dramatic way as he reveals that Anne is the only thing he cares about and that she is the sole focus of all his thoughts and plans:

“You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine.”

5. Reaffirm your love and commitment. Wentworth declares his love several times in this letter and has no trouble expressing his commitment to Anne. He clearly asks for her hand in marriage:

“I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.” He declares his love in absolute terms: “I have loved none but you.” And after listening to her conversation with Captain Harville, he closes his letter with another affirmation of his fervent and undying love for her:

“You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in F. W.”

6. End with a line that sums up your love. One might actually think Captain Wentworth was a contributing writer for The Art of Manliness because he accomplishes this task with an eloquent post script, asking for one word or look from Anne to seal his fate:

“I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”

Captain Wentworth’s Letter by TurtleDoves.

The Right Response

Wentworth’s letter certainly seems to satisfy the most important aspects of an eloquent love letter, but the true test of any romantic letter is the addressee’s response. For that, we must go to Anne herself for her reaction to the letter:

Such a letter was not to be soon recovered from. Half an hour’s solitude and reflection might have tranquillized her; but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted, with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing towards tranquillity. Every moment rather brought fresh agitation. It was overpowering happiness.

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Indeed, Wentworth’s letter is a complete success. When they meet in the street, Anne returns his pointed look and the “cheeks which had been pale now glowed, and the movements which had hesitated were decided.” There, in the street, they exchange “again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement.”

Truly, “such a letter” is not to be “soon recovered from.” By Anne or by us.

The sky’s the limit with letter writing. And love letters are never to be outdone by “newsy,” handwritten letters that fly back and forth between friends. But if you do write a love letter, make sure you take some pointers from Captain Wentworth.

For more information about the digitized version of Captain Wentworth’s Letter by TurtleDoves on Etsy (pictured above), click HERE.

Works Cited:

Austen, Jane. “Persuasion.” The Project Gutenberg E-Text of Persuasion, by Jane Austen, 2019, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/105/105-h/105-h.htm.

McKay, Brett and Kate. “30 Days to a Better Man Day 28: Write a Love Letter.” The Art of Manliness, 2 Oct. 2020, http://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/30-days-to-a-better-man-day-28-write-a-love-letter/.

RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.

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By Brenda S. Cox

“Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our Lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.” — Jane Austen’s Prayers I

Jane Austen talks a lot about thankfulness. In all three of her prayers, she gives thanks to God and also prays to be made more grateful for all our blessings. In her novels and other writings, she uses some form of the words thanks or gratitude 722 times! That means each novel probably includes at least a hundred references to thankfulness.

Austen uses thanks in many ways. Surprisingly, she often uses gratitude in talking about marriage proposals and the development of love that leads to marriage.

Thanks for Asking!

An offer of marriage was expected to provoke gratitude, whether the woman said yes or no.

When Emma advises Harriet on how to refuse Robert Martin, she says that Harriet will know how to write “such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pain you are inflicting as propriety requires.” (Italics are added, throughout these quotes.) Obviously, propriety required that if a man asked a woman to marry him, she should thank him.

Even if the proposal was unwanted, the woman had to say thank you. Elizabeth Bennet tries to avoid Mr. Collins’s proposal, but still, when he asks, she has to say:

Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me.”

When he insists, she says, “I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible.” Even though she doesn’t want his proposal, she is obligated to thank him for it.

Even for a proposal from Mr. Collins, Elizabeth Bennet had to express gratitude.

There is one exception, though, which might have shocked the original readers.

When Darcy proposes the first time, Elizabeth says to him,

“In such cases as this, it is, I believe, the established mode to express a sense of obligation for the sentiments avowed, however unequally they may be returned. It is natural that obligation should be felt, and if I could feel gratitude, I would now thank you. But I cannot—I have never desired your good opinion, and you have certainly bestowed it most unwillingly.”

Gratitude was an obligation; the woman was obliged to feel grateful that a man liked her enough to ask her to marry him. But she is so angry at his words, and so prejudiced against his character, that she just can’t thank him for his proposal.

Of course, she soon changes her mind. After she reads his letter, we find that,  “his attachment excited gratitude, his general character respect.” What a switch!

Once Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, her attitude changes from ingratitude to gratitude.

And it continues. When at Pemberley, after talking to Mrs. Reynolds, Elizabeth “thought of his regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before.”

First Comes Gratitude, Then Love and Marriage

Elizabeth’s gratitude, of course, led eventually to love.

Charlotte Lucas had told Elizabeth earlier on in Pride and Prejudice, “There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement.”

In other words, the boy likes the girl. She starts to like him back, and shows that she prefers him to other boys. He is “grateful” for that, so he likes her even more. Then she likes him more because he shows he likes her. And so on. This, my friends, is Jane Austen’s theory of how love develops. We see it again and again in her novels.

First, think about this question: For which of Jane Austen’s characters was gratitude the beginning of falling in love?

The obvious ones are Elizabeth Bennet and Henry Tilney. We’ll come back to them later.

Fanny Price

But how about Fanny Price?

Early in Mansfield Park, Edmund shows kindness to little Fanny. Then, “her countenance and a few artless words fully conveyed all their gratitude and delight, and her cousin began to find her an interesting object.”

Fanny and Edmund’s relationship starts growing with gratitude—her gratitude to him awakens his interest in her. Further kindnesses lead to more gratitude—Fanny is by nature a very grateful person. Edmund’s love for her, brotherly at first, grows. It takes a long time, but Edmund finally realizes that the perfect woman for him is right in front of him!

Earlier, though, because gratitude leads to love, both Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram were convinced that Fanny would accept Henry Crawford out of gratitude. Mary tells Henry, “The gentleness and gratitude of her disposition would secure her . . . ask her to love you, and she will never have the heart to refuse.” Edmund tells Fanny, “I cannot suppose that you have not the wish to love him—the natural wish of gratitude.” However, Fanny’s gratitude toward Edmund is much greater than her gratitude toward Henry, and it is Edmund she loves.

Gratitude is not enough to cause Fanny Price to accept Henry Crawford.

Harriet Smith

In Emma, “Harriet certainly was not clever, but she had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition.” All Harriet’s loves are all based on gratitude. First, she is grateful to Robert Martin, who got her walnuts and brought in the shepherd’s son to sing for her. Then she is attracted to Mr. Elton, because Emma says he is attracted to her. Her next love is Mr. Knightley, who rescues her at the dance. She thinks of him with “gratitude, wonder, and veneration.” Of course, Emma thinks Harriet has fallen in love with Frank Churchill, out of gratitude to him for rescuing her from the gypsies. Then when Robert Martin proposes again, Harriet is so grateful that she immediately says yes, not waiting for anyone to dissuade her this time!

NOT Captain Benwick, though

In Persuasion, Captain Wentworth is surprised that Benwick has fallen in love with Louisa Musgrove. Wentworth says, “Had it been the effect of gratitude, had he learnt to love her, because he believed her to be preferring him, it would have been another thing. But I have no reason to suppose it so. It seems, on the contrary, to have been a perfectly spontaneous, untaught feeling on his side, and this surprises me.” He is assuming that gratitude is the normal, most obvious reason for love. If it’s not there, that is unusual.

Also in Persuasion, William Elliot is excused for marrying a rich woman because she was “excessively in love with him . . . She sought him.” Gratitude was an obvious and acceptable reason for marriage.

Elizabeth and Darcy

For Elizabeth Bennet also, love begins with gratitude.

After she sees Darcy at Lambton, she lies awake trying to figure out how she feels about him: “But above all, above respect and esteem, there was a motive within her of goodwill which could not be overlooked. It was gratitude.–Gratitude, not merely for having once loved her, but for loving her still well enough to forgive all the petulance and acrimony of her manner in rejecting him . . . Such a change in a man of so much pride, excited not only astonishment but gratitude—for to love, ardent love, it must be attributed . . . She respected, she esteemed, she was grateful to him. . .”

Austen later explains, “If gratitude and esteem are good foundations of affection, Elizabeth’s change of sentiment will be neither improbable nor faulty.” But, she says, if it is “unreasonable or unnatural” that love should come from gratitude and respect, rather than coming from simply seeing the other person, then “nothing can be said in her defence,” except that she had tried love at first sight with Wickham, and it had not gone well.

When Darcy proposes the second time (if you can call it a proposal), Elizabeth tells him her feelings are so different that she can “receive with gratitude and pleasure his present assurances.” What a change from the first time!

Henry and Catherine

In Northanger Abbey, we find the same justification for love. When Henry Tilney proposes to Catherine Morland, they both know she already loves him. He is now “sincerely attached to her,” but “his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude.” Knowing that she was partial to him “had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.” Austen adds, “It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.”

Henry Tilney’s love for Catherine begins with gratitude, because she thinks highly of him.

Apparently for Jane Austen, gratitude at being loved by someone else was the best first step toward falling in love yourself.

Gratitude to God for the Engagement

Both Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse also express gratitude after they are engaged. But now they are expressing it to God, though we might not recognize what they are doing.

The word serious in Austen’s time often signalled something religious. According to Stuart Tave’s A Few Words of Jane Austen, serious reflection or meditation actually meant prayer.

After Anne Elliot accepts Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion, she needs “An interval of meditation, serious and grateful.” So, “she went to her room, and grew steadfast and fearless in the thankfulness of her enjoyment.” This serious, grateful meditation means that Anne is thanking God for finally bringing her and Captain Wentworth back together.

Emma Woodhouse gets engaged, but she’s still worried about Harriet. However, once she heard that Harriet was also engaged, “She was in dancing, singing, exclaiming spirits; and till she had moved about, and talked to herself, and laughed and reflected, she could be fit for nothing rational. . . . The joy, the gratitude, the exquisite delight of her sensations may be imagined. . . . Serious she was, very serious in her thankfulness, and in her resolutions; and yet there was no preventing a laugh, sometimes in the very midst of them.” Have you wondered how she could be both serious and laughing? Serious tells us that her focus is on God. She is rejoicing and thanking God for bringing both herself and Harriet together with the men they loved.

So, the next time you receive a marriage proposal, be sure to tell the person “Thank you” before you answer. And if you decide to say “Yes,” you may want to thank God as well!

Thankfulness

If you want to think more about thankfulness, and its place in some of our favorite classics, I recommend both of Rachel Dodge’s lovely devotional books:

Praying With Jane, and

The Anne of Green Gables Devotional, which is brand-new.

Each includes gratitude as well as other valuable themes we can apply to our lives. And both would make great Christmas presents! Rachel Dodge, of course, writes regularly for Jane Austen’s World.

If you want more ideas for Austen-themed Christmas gifts, you might want to check out my post on Jane Austen Christmas Presents.

Austen’s novels are full of examples of gratitude and ingratitude. These were important issues for her. Who do you think gives the best example of gratitude, or ingratitude, in Austen’s novels?

 

You can connect with Brenda S. Cox, the author of this article, at Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen or on Facebook.

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The JASNA AGM recently closed its workshops to online viewing. It was held virtually in early October. One workshop that resonated with me was Professor Theresa Kenney’s discussion of Reginald De Courcy as the hero in Lady Susan, an epistolary novel written by Jane Austen in 1794-95, when she was 19 to 20 years of age. I had the pleasure of viewing some pages of the manuscript during the exhibit about Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy in 2009 at The Morgan Library in New York. It was the first time that I saw Jane’s handwriting on a page close up and I felt as thrilled as a teenage groupie seeing her heart throb idol in person. As soon as I returned home I read the novel.

Seven years later, two friends and I saw “Love and Friendship,” in which Kate Beckinsale played the conniving Lady Susan Vernon. Needless to say, after viewing Professor Kenney’s AGM presentation, I rewatched the film and was struck by its faithfulness to Austen’s novella. It helped that the script took advantage of entire swaths of Austen’s dialogue in letters written by the main characters.

Introduction:

Professor Kenney in a talk entitled “Abjuring All Future Attachments: Concluding Lady Susan” spoke about the youthful Austen’s experimentation with Reginald as the hero. His status is not at first obvious. We know about him largely through the strong women swirling around his life and who write about him: his sister, Catherine Vernon; his mother, Lady De Courcy; Catherine’s widowed sister-in-law, Lady Susan Vernon; and Lady S’s confidant, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. These main characters reveal much about themselves as they write their true opinions of others behind their backs against the polite, entirely false conversation they engage in when speaking in person.

Deceptions and manipulations abound:

The central character is beautiful, mature Lady Susan, the daughter of a peer, widow of Vernon (no first name), who must find refuge after her dalliance with the very much married Mr. Mainwaring, in whose house she was a guest. And so Lady S appeals to the only available persons left to her, the reluctant Catherine Vernon, whose marriage she attempted to block to her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon. Catherine is no fool and has taken Lady S’s measure:

…if I had not known how much she has always disliked me for marrying Mr. Vernon, and that we had never met before, I should have imagined her an attached friend…She is clever and agreeable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, and talks very well, with a happy command of language, which is too often used, I believe, to make black appear white.- Catherine Vernon to Reginald De Courcy. Letter, VI

Reginald De Courcy, Catherine’s brother, having heard no good news about the beautiful widow, and influenced by his sister and mother, is disposed to dislike her, that is until he meets her and she wraps him around her little finger.

And so the fun begins, Austen style:

According to Prof. Kenney, Reginald’s character is more akin to Marianne Dashwood, Edmund Bertram, Harriet Smith, and Edward Ferrars, who fall violently in love with the wrong person and then miraculously recover a short time later to find a love worthy of them. Kenney termed this phenomenon “shifting affections.” Young Reginald is easily influenced in falling in love with the wrong person. At twenty-three he is quite young and still malleable, a fact not lost on the opportunistic Lady Susan or on his mother and sister, who are alarmed. Catherine writes to her mother, Lady De Courcy:

My dear Mother,—You must not expect Reginald back again for some time. He desires me to tell you that the present open weather induces him to accept Mr. Vernon’s invitation to prolong his stay in Sussex, that they may have some hunting together. He means to send for his horses immediately, and it is impossible to say when you may see him in Kent. I will not disguise my sentiments on this change from you, my dear mother, though I think you had better not communicate them to my father, whose excessive anxiety about Reginald would subject him to an alarm which might seriously affect his health and spirits. Lady Susan has certainly contrived, in the space of a fortnight, to make my brother like her. … I am, indeed, provoked at the artifice of this unprincipled woman; what stronger proof of her dangerous abilities can be given than this perversion of Reginald’s judgment, which when he entered the house was so decidedly against her! – Letter VIII

In the next letter, we gain a good sense of Alicia Johnson, Lady Susan’s confidant and partner in the devious plans intended to ensnare her unsuspecting victim.

My dearest Friend,—I congratulate you on Mr. De Courcy’s arrival, and I advise you by all means to marry him; his father’s estate is, we know, considerable, and I believe certainly entailed. Sir Reginald is very infirm, and not likely to stand in your way long. I hear the young man well spoken of; and though no one can really deserve you, my dearest Susan, Mr. De Courcy may be worth having.Mrs. Johnson to Lady S, Letter IX

This novella is filled with strong women. Two who will move heaven and earth to protect brother and son, and two who behave like a pair of rats intent on devouring the last piece of cheese in an alley. Interestingly, we only hear directly from Reginald in three letters. For much of the novel we see him only through the words and opinions of others, but some of those words are revealing. When his father sends him a letter of alarm due to Lady S’s increasing influence over him, Reginald tries to soothe him.

The father emplores him in Letter XII:

I hope, my dear Reginald, that you will be superior to such as allow nothing for a father’s anxiety, and think themselves privileged to refuse him their confidence and slight his advice. You must be sensible that as an only son, and the representative of an ancient family, your conduct in life is most interesting to your connections; and in the very important concern of marriage especially, there is everything at stake—your own happiness, that of your parents, and the credit of your name.”

To which Reginald answers:

My dear Sir,—I have this moment received your letter, which has given me more astonishment than I ever felt before. I am to thank my sister, I suppose, for having represented me in such a light as to injure me in your opinion, and give you all this alarm…I entreat you, my dear father, to quiet your mind, and no longer harbour a suspicion which cannot be more injurious to your own peace than to our understandings. I can have no other view in remaining with Lady Susan, than to enjoy for a short time (as you have yourself expressed it) the conversation of a woman of high intellectual powers.”

He goes on in a quite lengthy letter to blame his sister’s prejudice for not forgiving Lady S in opposing her marriage to Charles, and is convinced that the world has injured the Lady by questioning her motives, etc. etc. Yet Austen gives this hero short shrift in the narrative. We know very little about his thoughts and reasons for his actions, including being manipulated by Lady S. into feeling bitter towards Frederica, her young daughter, and thinking the girl worthless, even when it becomes clear that she “brightens” in Reginald’s presence.

In other words, Lady S has completely ensnared her sincere young man. He is as gullible with Lady S as Harriet Smith is with Emma, and just as changeable. This shifting of affection and lack of self-knowledge, as Prof. Kenney terms it, defines these characters, who are vastly different from Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy or Anne Elliot and her Captain Wentworth.

To be fair, Lady S does see some of Reginald’s good qualities (besides his inheritance). She writes to Alicia Johnson:

Reginald is never easy unless we are by ourselves, and when the weather is tolerable, we pace the shrubbery for hours together. I like him on the whole very well; he is clever and has a good deal to say, but he is sometimes impertinent and troublesome.”

She also understands her sister-in-law, Catherine, very well: “[Frederica] is in high favour with her aunt altogether, because she is so little like myself, of course.”

The Spell:

The letters ping pong back and forth, with Lady S only baring her true motives to her like-minded friend, Alicia. Mrs. Johnson’s husband, Mr. Johnson, has forbidden her to consort with Lady S, whom he has banned from his house, but Lady S still has Reginald, who is now set on marrying her.

Interestingly, Reginald is the hero in this tale, a weak one to be sure. His main redeeming quality is that when he learns of Lady S’s dalliance with Mr. Mainwaring his blinders fall off. We hear from him twice more and can feel his wrath in two scathing, but youthfully passionate letters:

…I write only to bid you farewell, the spell is removed; I see you as you are. Since we parted yesterday, I have received from indisputable authority such a history of you as must bring the most mortifying conviction of the imposition I have been under, and the absolute necessity of an immediate and eternal separation from you…”

and later:

Why would you write to me? Why do you require particulars? But, since it must be so, I am obliged to declare that all the accounts of your misconduct during the life, and since the death of Mr. Vernon, which had reached me, in common with the world in general, and gained my entire belief before I saw you, but which you, by the exertion of your perverted abilities, had made me resolved to disallow, have been unanswerably proved to me; nay more, I am assured that a connection, of which I had never before entertained a thought, has for some time existed, and still continues to exist, between you and the man whose family you robbed of its peace…”

screenshot of film-manipulated

Screen shot of Love and Friendship, with all females delighted at the results of Reginald’s and Frederica’s marriage.

The Spell is Removed: Young Reggie grows up!

A few more plot strings remain to be tied. Lady S is an execrable mother. She bullies Frederica and presses her to marry Sir Charles Martin, a dimwit, albeit a rich one. Frederica resists, raising her mother’s ire. Catherine, who loves the girl and pities her situation, takes her in. Lady S, it is obvious, loves no one but herself. She has, in the words of Prof. Kenney, “no time for romantic nonsense.” Her motherly instincts are for show only, and after a few months of separation her letters and attentions to her daughter peter out.

Reginald leaves to lick his wounds, but his mother and sister are always looking out for him, as well as Frederica. The author writes in her conclusion, “Frederica was therefore fixed in the family of her uncle and aunt till such time as Reginald De Courcy could be talked, flattered, and finessed into an affection for her.” And, so, Austen demonstrates that Reginald, a hero with the same weak qualities as a Mr. Bingley or Edward Ferrars, is managed by the real power in the family – the women, although, he has in his favor the quality of realizing his deficiencies and, more importantly, he has a heart.

De Courcy and Frederica marry. And so I ask you fair reader: Who had the happier union? Reginald or Lady S?

Conclusion

Inquiring reader, I hope I have persuaded you to read or reread Lady Susan, a novella that surprised me on the first and second reading. I didn’t think that I would like reading a book that consisted of letters, but was so enthralled with the story that I read it in one sitting.

Just think. Jane Austen wrote this novella during a creative spurt in her early life. In 1794-95, she wrote Lady Susan and in 1795 she wrote Elinor and Marianne, the epistolary version of Sense and Sensibility. In 1796, she began writing First Impressions, the precursor to Pride and Prejudice. What a fertile period for a budding author! And what creativity! At 19, 20, and 21 years of age she laid the groundwork for two great novels and one experimental foray into the many complexities of what makes a hero. While, like Mr. Darcy, Reginald has great wealth, which, according to Prof. Kenney gives him alpha status, he is a bit of a wuss, masterfully controlled like a puppet by female relatives. In the end, Lady S is hoist by her own manipulative petard. She has no recourse but to marry Sir Charles Martin to maintain face and a fortune. Uggh. What a fitting ending.

Austen’s three novels, written in such a short time, laid much of the foundation for her greatness. She would rework them over the years, with only one, Lady Susan, published posthumously. After a lifetime of reading her works, including her Juvenilia, I remain in awe of her immense talent.

Resources:

Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Project Gutenberg Online Book

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/946/946-h/946-h.htm

Lady Susan, Jane Austen, Librivox Audio

https://archive.org/details/lady_susan_0811_librivox

“Love and Friendship,” Amazon Prime movie

Lady Susan: List of Characters: Austenprose

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Inquiring Readers, I discovered that Susanna Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and Austen author, is as much of a fan of Georgette Heyer as I am, perhaps more. This delightful article compares and contrasts the writings of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Susannah also offers a giveaway at the end of her article. Enjoy!

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Regency Buck there’s a delightful scene that takes place in Hookham’s Library in London’s Bond Street. The heroine, Judith Taverner, picks up a novel called Sense and Sensibility, one of the “new publications on offer” and written “By a Lady”. She proceeds to read aloud to her cousin Bernard from the scene when mercenary John Dashwood congratulates his sister Elinor on capturing the romantic interest of Colonel Brandon. John Dashwood is of course mistaken – it is Marianne that interests the Colonel – and it’s a lovely comic moment of misunderstanding. Judith closes the book and says to her cousin, “Surely the writer of that must possess a most lively mind?” This is one of the tributes that Heyer pays to Jane Austen, in her fiction. She knew only too well how very lively was the mind of her favourite novelist.

She’d have loved to have learned more about Jane Austen, but Heyer did not have the wealth of material available to today’s reader. James Edward Austen-Leigh’sMemoir had been published, and she could also turn to Constance Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, but otherwise she had to pretty much rely on the novels to gain details she could use in her own fiction. There was no superbly researched edition of the letters by Deirdre le Faye, no Tomalin biography, no John Mullan analysis, for Heyer to turn to. But she made the most of what she had and reread the novels frequently. One reviewer of Friday’s Child picked up on this, noting with approval, “The author has read Jane Austen to advantage”.

I think Heyer must have felt, even with the limited biographical material available to her, that she had much in common with Jane Austen. Both women lost adored fathers and had rather troubled relationships with their mothers, both cherished their privacy, both were meticulous when it came to accuracy, and neither suffered fools easily. Both novelists “dearly loved to laugh” and their humour shines through in their fiction.

Sense and Sensibility is a novel about sisters and one can see the influence of this in Heyer’s oeuvre. Frederica is the sensible sister in the novel of that name, while Charis is the emotional and romantic equivalent of Marianne Dashwood. Mary and Sophia Challoner of Devil’s Cub, Horatia and Elizabeth Winwood of The Convenient Marriage are more examples of Austen-influenced sister-pairings, and Heyer shows, just as Austen did in Sense and Sensibility, that second attachments can succeed and that sometimes handsome young men turn out to be rotters.

Heyer learned from Northanger Abbey too, playing with Gothic conventions such as abductions, strange and overbearing ‘villains’, dark and stormy nights, and people being locked in cellars – but, like Austen, she mines Gothic tropes for humour, not for scariness. We find Gothic devices being mocked in The Reluctant Widow, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child, Cousin Kate and Faro’s Daughter.

Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablancain 2008
Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablanca in 2008

Novelist PD James once described Pride and Prejudice as “Mills & Boon, written by a genius”. Certainly, Austen’s novels give us the standard romance plot of ‘boy meets girl – consequent misunderstanding – romantic happiness’. Of course, Austen adds to this standard plot her own unique depth, psychological acuteness, and complexity of character which lifts her books into the realm of genius. Heyer uses this standard plot too – just as Elizabeth Bennet has to listen to Darcy’s “not handsome enough to tempt me”, so does Arabella have to listen to slighting comments from Mr Beaumaris. Like Austen, Heyer shows her couples learning about themselves and their world, often through making mistakes or initial prejudice. Sylvester, like Darcy, will learn to be “properly humbled” by the woman he comes to love, Sherry has to learn from Hero to think of others and not just himself, Freddy Standen in Cotillion must discover that love comes into one’s life in unexpected ways. Heyer shows couples sparring with each other in seeming dislike, just as Elizabeth and Darcy bandy words in the ball room. In Bath Tangle, Lady of Quality, Black Sheep and The Grand Sophy we see young men and women falling in love as they argue, and so often their language has echoes of the language used by Austen’s characters.

Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul, and eyes that speak to each other are important in Jane Austen’s books. Darcy finds himself admiring Elizabeth’s very fine eyes and when Emma’s eyes “invited him irresistibly to come to her”, Mr Knightley doesn’t even try to resist. The eyes of Heyer’s heroines (usually cool grey ones) are often mentioned and are a great part of their attraction to their lovers. Eyes in her novels also sparkle with laughter, for Heyer’s heroines all love to laugh, as do Austen’s (even Fanny Price laughs – once!). Gurgles of laughter, lips twitching in smiles, and sudden bursts of laughter, all remind one of Elizabeth Bennet’s laughter, or of Emma’s smiles.

Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen's six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.
Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen’s six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

“There are just so many similarities in language, character and plot, as one sees again and again how Heyer pays tribute to Jane Austen. To many modern readers, the idea of cousins marrying each other is not appealing (we know of the possible genetic consequences for their children), but we find cousin marriages, which must have been common in the Regency, happening in Mansfield Park and in The Grand Sophy. That Heyer novel has a rather sleepy Spanish woman, a Marquesa, who is surely a Lady Bertram copy-cat, Dr Grant’s obsession with food and wine is mirrored in the wonderfully named Sir Bonamy Ripple of False Colours, and sudden illness, elopements to Scotland, and marital unhappiness (all to be found in Mansfield Park) are found frequently in Heyer. Sir Thomas Bertram and Miles Calverleigh have money from Indian plantations, Tom Bertram and Horatia Winwood are addicted to gaming, Fanny Price and Kitty Charing are taken in by relatives when young, and even Lady Bertram’s lazy pug is comically reincarnated in Friday’s Child. Emma is a rather managing young lady – so is Sophy Stanton-Lacy of The Grand Sophy though Emma has more to learn than Sophy; Miss Bates rarely stops talking long enough to draw breath and we gain such a vivid sense of how exhausting it must be for poor Jane Fairfax to live with her – Maria Farlow in Lady of Quality also has an inexhaustible flow of “nothing-sayings” which exhausts Annis; and Mr Woodhouse’s hypochondria has influenced the vapourish and imagined illness of many Heyer characters. Mrs Elton’s social climbing teaches Mrs Challoner a thing or two, dim-witted Harriet Smith and Belinda of The Foundling have much in common, while Bath Tangle concerns itself with lost love and second chances, just as does Persuasion.

Both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer wrote about young women who enter the marriage market, and their novels are centred on romantic relationships. However, both novelists then proceed to de-centre this romance by using comedy, irony and by showing us the realities of marriage. Sometimes love or lust are just not enough, as is obvious from the Bennet marriage. Both writers investigate what W.H. Auden called “the amorous effects of brass” and show how money influences and distorts. And both show us the instability and social concerns of the Regency era (urban poverty, enclosure of land, women lacking dowries, a growing middle class, and soldiers with not enough to do). They give us heroines who must learn to cope on their own while losing homes, income, family and love, both show an unerring sense of place, and they give us so much to laugh over.

I love both of these authors, sometimes for the same reasons and sometimes for very different reasons. Jane Austen was writing contemporary novels, Heyer historical ones, so she spends more time explaining social detail than does Austen. I love Heyer’s sense of fun and relax into her fiction without feeling challenged or disturbed (which in these Covid times is exactly what I need). But Heyer never provides the acute psychological brilliance that we find in Austen, or the sheer innovation, or the depth of characterisation, or the knowledge that every single time we go back to her books we will learn something new about ourselves or other people. Austen challenges our intellects and makes us think; Heyer soothes and restores. Georgette Heyer would have been the first to admit that her own talents were far inferior to those of her literary mentor – she knew her novels were not in the same class. And yet her novels have huge charm and I am happy to keep going back to them, always with delight. I think that as readers we can rejoice in the differences and enjoy both writers in different ways, and have the fun of finding the echoes of Austen in the pages of Heyer.

Jennie Chawleigh of A Civil Contract reads Mansfield Park after her marriage to Adam. She is consoled by reading in its pages that a man can form a deep and lasting second attachment, and seeing Edmund Bertram begin to forget Mary and think about Fanny brings her comfort. I love such references made by one of my favourite novelists to the writer whose books I adore more than any other. In my view, one can find that both writers are, in the words of Heyer, “complete to a shade”, each in their own inimitable way.

About Susannah Fullerton:

Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, has been President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia for the past 25 years. She is the author of several books about Jane Austen – Jane Austen and Crime, A Dance with Jane Austen, Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jane & I: A Tale of Austen Addiction. She has also organised 3 Georgette Heyer conferences in Sydney and edited Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade. Please visit her website at https://susannahfullerton.com.au/ She is a ‘Lady Patroness’ of the newly formed International Heyer Society, which publishes a newsletter ‘Nonpareil’ and sends out fascinating posts about all things Heyer. For further information, see https://heyersociety.com/

Bibliography:

A fuller version of this article can be found in Heyer Society: Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer, Edited by Rachel Hyland, Overlord Publishing, 2018

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, Jennifer Kloester, ,Penguin, 2011

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Georgette Heyer links on this blog:

How I Fell In Love With Georgette Heyer, Vic Sanborn, August 7, 2012

Georgette Heyer Posts on Jane Austen’s World

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“‘a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood . . .'” —Northanger Abbey

The only riot in Jane Austen’s novels takes place in Eleanor Tilney’s mind, her brother says. But is it only in her mind?

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is walking with Henry and Eleanor Tilney  on Beechen Cliff, which overlooks Bath. They admire the scenery, then the conversation moves to government and politics;

“from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded [Henry’s] short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Not surprisingly, since they had just been talking about government and politics, Eleanor thinks that Catherine has heard rumors of something terrible about to happen in London.

“Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, ‘Indeed! And of what nature?’”

[Catherine responds,] “’That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.’”

“’Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?’”

“’A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.’”

“’You speak with astonishing composure! But I hope your friend’s accounts have been exaggerated; and if such a design is known beforehand, proper measures will undoubtedly be taken by government to prevent its coming to effect.’”

“’Government,’ said Henry, endeavouring not to smile, ‘neither desires nor dares to interfere in such matters. There must be murder; and government cares not how much.’”

[Eleanor responds,] “’Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.’”

“”Riot! What riot?’”

[Henry explains,] “’My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out . . .’”.

Catherine is talking about a new Gothic novel!

Henry explains that Eleanor, though,

“’immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window.’”

Henry think Eleanor is foolish to imagine such a thing, but was she? Was Jane Austen perhaps describing a real riot?

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Captain Frederick Tilney, knocked off his horse? “Gordon Riots,” Project Gutenberg eText 19609, by John Seymour Lucas, 1879. Public domain.

The Gordon Riots

Such riots had happened before. Henry might have been talking about the Gordon Riots of 1780.* These are considered the most destructive and violent riots in English history. Lord George Gordon initiated these anti-Catholic riots, though he intended only a peaceful demonstration. At that time, Catholics in England had very limited rights. An Act of Parliament, passed in 1778, gave Catholics a few rights, including the rights to buy and inherit property, and to join the military, if they took an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

On June 2, 1780, Gordon gathered a crowd of around sixty thousand people at St. George’s Fields, London. They marched to Parliament to present a petition. Parliament did not choose to overturn the law.

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Thousands gathered in St. George’s Fields. “The Gordon Riots,” Charles Green (1840-1898) / Public domain

Riots ensued, with people shouting “No popery!” and burning down Catholic chapels, priests’ houses, Catholic homes, shops, and schools, and a distillery owned by a Catholic. Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had supported the Catholic Relief Act (he later supported rights for black people in England as well); his house was looted. (Yes, Mansfield Park may have been named after this Lord Mansfield.) The homes of other politicians who supported the Act were also attacked. Lord Gordon tried to calm the situation; he took no responsibility for the riots.

Mobs, already angry about poverty and injustice, attacked the Bank of England on June 7. They burned prisons and prisoners went free. The rioting lasted for about a week. Over ten thousand soldiers were brought in to quell the riots. More than three hundred rioters were killed during the riots or executed afterwards. (By the way, at least two black men, included in the picture below, were involved in the rioting, and black writer Ignatius Sancho witnessed it and wrote about it. The story is told at Black Presence.) George Gordon was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was eventually acquitted of treason.

800px-An_exact_representation_of_the_Burning,_Plundering_and_Destruction_of_Newgate_by_the_rioters,_on_the_memorable_7th_of_June_1780_(BM_Z,1.4)

Newgate Prison was burned during the Gordon Riots. “An exact representation of the Burning, Plundering and Destruction of Newgate by the rioters, on the memorable 7th of June 1780,” by Henry Roberts, 1781. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Gordon Riots seem an appropriate possibility for Henry’s description: thousands gathering in St. George’s Fields (though many more than what he described), the bank attacked, the army called in, many people killed. I haven’t found references to the Tower of London being threatened, however.

These riots also relate to Bath, where Henry and the ladies were having their conversation. During the Gordon riots, anti-Catholic rioting also broke out in Bath. Rioters burned down the Catholic chapel, the bishop’s house and the priest’s house. The city of Bath responded strongly, hanging the ringleader and taxing the whole city to pay for the building of a new Catholic chapel.

Other Riots

However, the Gordon Riots took place when Jane Austen was only four years old; long before she wrote Northanger Abbey. Could she have been referring to more recent riots? Collins Hemingway, in an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World (July/Aug 2018), suggests that it is more likely that Austen was describing one of the many riots going on in England closer to the time when Northanger Abbey was written or revised. (The novel was apparently written between 1797 and 1803, and revised somewhat in 1816-17.)

Some examples of riots closer to the writing of Northanger Abbey:

  • The Priestley Riots in Birmingham in 1791: Rioters attacked Dissenters (non-Anglicans) who were supporting the French Revolution, including Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a Unitarian minister as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen. Houses, chapels, and businesses were burned.
  • The Bristol Bridge Riot in 1793 in Bristol was a protest against taxes and tolls. Soldiers were called in and 11 people were killed and 45 injured. This was the second most violent riot in England in the eighteenth century.
  • A series of riots in 1795, in various towns in England, has been called “the Revolt of the Housewives.” Led mostly by women, these were protests against high food prices. Women would seize the goods of a merchant who they thought was overcharging customers. The women sold the goods at what they considered a fair price, and gave the money to the merchant.
  • A London riot in 1809, the Old Price Riot, protested price increases at the newly-rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre. The management eventually gave in. They restored earlier prices so the theatre would be accessible to everyone, rich and poor.
  • In late 1816, as Austen may have been revising Northanger Abbey, a mob of about 10,000 people in Spa Fields, London demanded election reforms and relief for the poor. The first meeting was peaceful, but the second meeting, of about 20,000 people, turned violent. They attempted to attack the Tower of London. However, troops quickly put down the riots. Perhaps this riot inspired Austen to mention “the tower threatened.”

Hemingway suggests that the most likely riot to have inspired Austen was a riot in Manchester in 1808. Six thousand weavers gathered in St. George’s Field, Manchester (rather than St. George’s Field, London) to demand a minimum wage. Dragoons were sent to restore order. According to Hemingway, when Henry Tilney says the dragoons were called “up from Northampton,” it may mean they were called up to the north, to Manchester. One man was killed, and others were injured. The rioting spread to neighboring towns. Weavers did receive a small pay increase in the end. Surprisingly, the dragoons later apologized to the weavers for their actions, and took up a collection for the family of the man who was killed.

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Illustration from Charles Dickens’ historical novel about the Gordon Riots, Barnaby Rudge, “Barnaby at the Gordon Riots,” 1871, public domain.

However, London is mentioned several times in the Northanger Abbey passage. It’s possible that Austen was taking details of other recent riots and transplanting them to London, for the story. To me, however, the Gordon Riots seem to most closely fit the details given. While there was not a time when the streets of London were literally “flowing with blood,” those were the riots in which the most people were killed.

Although Henry says Catherine’s “words could relate only to a circulating library,” riots similar to what he described had happened in recent history. Of course he also criticizes her vivid imagination when she thinks his father has committed a terrible crime. It turns out that his father is not a murderer, but does treat Catherine cruelly. Henry’s words are often ironic.

What do you think? Was Austen referring to a real riot (or several riots) here, or was the riot only in Eleanor’s mind?

 

*R. W. Chapman (1923 edition of Northanger Abbey), Roger E. Moore (Jane Austen and the Reformation, 105), and others consider this riot to refer to the Gordon Riots.

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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