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Archive for the ‘Persuasion’ Category

by Brenda S. Cox

“This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather.”–Mr. Elton, Emma

I hope you are all enjoying the holidays. In Austen’s novels, Christmas is a time for parties and for family and friend to gather, just like today. It was also a day for attending church (see Emma ch. 16 and Mansfield Park ch. 23), after weeks of Advent when prayers focused on the coming of Christ. For more on the prayers and readings that Austen would have prayed and read for Advent and Christmas, see my post Advent with Jane Austen. You can also find many posts at this site (and others) on Christmas customs in Jane Austen’s England.

I recently gave a presentation on “Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England” at JASNA’s Annual General Meeting (you can read it in this month’s Persuasions On-Line, or, if you are a JASNA member, you can watch it in the AGM on Demand).  Today I’d like to share a few cartoons about Christmas in Austen’s England. (I didn’t find many; perhaps Christmas was not a popular subject for caricatures.)

Triumphal Procession

Let’s start with this wild one.

The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, Richard Newton, 1794.
© Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In an earlier post about the Clerical Alphabet cartoon, I wrote about Richard Newton, a prolific young artist of the time. Newton drew the above cartoon in 1794, satirizing the general gluttony and drunkenness associated with Christmas. In The Triumphal Procession of Merry Christmas to Hospitality Hall, men on a carriage feast on large pieces of meat while behind them a naked man sits on a barrel, probably of wine or another alcoholic beverage.

Academics at Christmas

Christmas Academicks, Playing a Rubber of Whist, Thomas Rowlandson, 1803.
Public domain via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

University professors have a much more restrained celebration, though still not a devout one. Thomas Rowlandson’s The Christmas Academicks Playing a Rubber of Whist (1803) shows four academics playing cards, while a fifth stands nearby and a servant brings drinks. All are clergymen, probably fellows (professors or tutors) at the University of Oxford or Cambridge, who would be single clergymen. (Jane Austen’s father was a fellow at Oxford until he married.) As in many satirical cartoons of the time, the clergymen are pictured as overweight and self-indulgent. They are gambling and drinking, not in church. 

Farmer Giles’s Establishment, Christmas day, 1800, by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Farmer Giles: Christmas Through the Years

Some years later, in 1830, William Heath drew a series on Christmas as a political satire. It begins with a delightful version of an 1800 country Christmas, such as the Musgroves or Westons might have enjoyed in Austen’s novels.

Farmer Giles was a symbol of the unsophisticated country farmer. Here he feasts with his joyful family at Christmastime. As we see in Austen’s novels, Christmas was a time for parties and feasts. Greenery decorates the fireplace and the wife is slicing plum pudding. Farmer Giles is apparently prosperous and he becomes more so.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment Christmas 1816 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

By 1816, the farmer has done well and moved up into fashionable society. This Christmas he and his wife are playing cards (gambling) while guests dance in the ballroom. However, they look much less happy than in the first print. The children are grown now, and looking on. The farmer’s hand appears to be bandaged for the gout, from overeating and excessive drinking.

Farmer Giles’s Establishment!!! Christmas 1829 by by William Heath, 1830
Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

Their financial prosperity doesn’t last, though. The agricultural economy crashed.

In the third plate, Farmer Giles’ Establishment!!! Christmas 1829, the farmer is in a debtors’ cell. He holds a paper saying his children have been sent to the work house. His wife is doing laundry in a tub.

So this series becomes political satire, criticizing the government for its policies which led to an agricultural depression. A very sad Christmas.

The Merry Musgroves

But let’s return to Austen’s happier times. 

The Musgroves and children at Christmas
C.E. Brock, Persuasion, Volume 2, chapter 2

As Austen describes Christmas at the Musgroves, in Persuasion:

On one side was a table, occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. . . .

Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa’s illness must have so greatly shaken; but Mrs. Musgrove, . . . concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself, by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home. . .

“I hope I shall remember, in future,” said Lady Russell, as soon as they were reseated in the carriage, “not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays.”

Every body has their taste in noises as well as in other matters . . .

I hope this Christmas is just to your taste! Many blessings to you in the New Year.

Brenda S. Cox writes on Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen. She is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Faith in Jane Austen’s England.

 

For more on satirical cartoons in Jane Austen’s England, see:

Satirical Cartoons and Jane Austen’s Church of England

The Stereotype of the Self-Indulgent Clergyman: Rowlandson’s Parsonage 

The Clerical Alphabet: Problems in Austen’s Church of England 

Keeping Within Compass  Mike Rendell also shows and discusses many other fascinating cartoons from Austen’s era on this blog, but be aware that many are risque. I am indebted to Mike for posting on the Newton Clerical Alphabet cartoon that got me started looking at cartoons and the clergy.
 

For more on Christmas in Austen’s England, see:

Party Like the Musgroves, by Rachel Dodge, to have your own party like the Musgroves did in the passage above!

Christmas Georgian Style 

Archive for Regency Christmas Traditions (various posts on this site)

Christmas Traditions (various posts from various sites)

More Regency Christmas Traditions (and scenes and stories, various posts from Maria Grace’s site) 

Joy to the World: Psalms, Hymns, and Christmas Carols in Austen’s England

Regency Christmas Carols

Handel’s Messiah in Jane Austen’s England 

Advent with Jane Austen: Now, and Not Yet 

Georgian Christmas Pie Recipes

Regency Christmas Songs and Games

A Jane Austen Christmas: Regency Christmas Traditions, book by Maria Grace

Christmas in Jane Austen’s Time

Jane Austen’s Christmas

. . . and much more!

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Last month, I wrote about Pin Money, or allowances, in Jane Austen’s life and novels. This time, I’m looking more closely at the importance of money in a genteel woman’s life and how it plays out in Austen’s novels.

Money is one obvious way parents could put limits on their children and keep them under control. This happened to both sexes for various reasons in Jane Austen’s time, but it carried even more weight for a woman because there were also financial consequences that came with marriage once she left her father’s home, even if she came from a wealthy family.

At that time in England, husbands had complete control over the finances of their wives. Without an adequate personal budget to spend as she liked, a wife had to go to her husband to ask for money to buy anything and everything she might need. Without a set allowance, wives could find themselves in a very difficult or unhappy position. This is one of many reasons why the marriage settlement (or prenuptial agreement) was so crucial because it was one way fathers could make sure their daughters (and grandchildren) were taken care of financially.

Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma, 1996.

Marriage Settlements

A young woman from a wealthy family would obviously qualify for better marriage terms than a young woman with very little. Her father could leverage what his daughter brought to the marriage for a highly favorable marriage settlement, allowing for her to have the pin money she needed, portions for her children, and a widow’s pension in the event that her husband died. Young women who did not bring as much to the marriage would have a smaller personal budget or, in some cases, no personal budget whatsoever.

In Daniel Pool’s What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew, he writes, “Typically the bride’s family would have their lawyers negotiate with the husband’s lawyers, to get the husband to agree to grant her ‘pin money,’ which was a small personal annual allowance while he lived, a hefty chunk of property or money to support her after he died, and ‘portions’ of money for their children. All this would be written up in the ‘marriage settlement’ by the lawyers before anybody walked down any aisles.”

In JASNA’s Persuasions, you can read all about The Marriage Law of Jane Austen’s World. (For more on marriage settlements and marriage law in the Regency Era, please see the resources at the end of this article.)

Marriage Settlement, Mills College Library Heller Rare Book Room, Special Collections. Photo by Rachel Dodge, 2019.

Money Matters in Jane Austen’s Novels

In each of Austen’s novels, we find intriguing scenes that relate to women and personal money. Each of these examples shows us just how important it was for a woman to have her own money and the problems (and dangers) that could arise if she did not have any money or ran out of money, especially if she was away from home:

Fanny Price’s £10

In Fanny’s case in Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas supplies her with money before she leaves for her journey to visit her family in Portsmouth:

It had very early occurred to her that a small sum of money might, perhaps, restore peace for ever on the sore subject of the silver knife, canvassed as it now was continually, and the riches which she was in possession of herself, her uncle having given her £10 at parting, made her as able as she was willing to be generous.

Mansfield Park, Jane Austen

Harriet Smith’s Purse

In Emma, we see evidence of Harriet Smith’s allowance, which comes in handy when she meets the “trampers” on the road:

More and more frightened, she immediately promised them money, and taking out her purse, gave them a shilling, and begged them not to want more, or to use her ill.

Emma, Jane Austen
“The terror … was then their own portion.” Illustration by C.E. Brock.

Lydia and Kitty Bennet’s Mismanagement

In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Kitty spend their pin money money at the shops and must borrow money from Elizabeth and Jane when they surprise them for a meal at the inn in Hertfordshire:

“And we mean to treat you all,” added Lydia, “but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.” Then, showing her purchases—“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better.”

Lydia Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Nancy Steele’s Fright

In Sense and Sensibility, we find this intriguing passage about the Steele sisters and personal money when Nancy Steele must go to Mrs. Jennings for money after Lucy borrows all of Nancy’s money and marries Robert Ferrars:

Not a soul suspected anything of the matter, not even Nancy, who, poor soul! came crying to me the day after, in a great fright for fear of Mrs. Ferrars, as well as not knowing how to get to Plymouth; for Lucy it seems borrowed all her money before she went off to be married, on purpose we suppose to make a show with, and poor Nancy had not seven shillings in the world…

Mrs. Jennings, Sense and Sensibility
Lucy Steele (Anna Madeley) and Anne, or “Nancy,” Steele (Daisy Haggardand), Sense and Sensibility, 2008.

Catherine Morland’s Borrowed Fare

In Northanger Abbey, money becomes quite important in a crucial moment. First, money is mentioned when Catherine Morland goes to Bath. Her parents send her with money for her personal expenses and ask her to keep account of her spending:

I beg, Catherine, you will always wrap yourself up very warm about the throat, when you come from the rooms at night; and I wish you would try to keep some account of the money you spend; I will give you this little book on purpose.”

Mrs. Morland, Northanger Abbey

Money is mentioned again when Catherine is suddenly and unexpectedly sent home from Northanger Abbey. While she is in Bath, she is under the care of her hosts, the Allens, who would, of course, pay for many of her expenses while she is under their roof and their protection. However, once she goes to Northanger, she is essentially under the care and protection of General Tilney. When he sends her home abruptly, he does not provide the funds necessary for her journey home, leaving her in a very precarious and even dangerous situation. This was a terrible oversight on his part. Thankfully, Eleanor is able to provide the funds, which we may assume is from her own personal allowance:

It had occurred to her that after so long an absence from home, Catherine might not be provided with money enough for the expenses of her journey, and, upon suggesting it to her with most affectionate offers of accommodation, it proved to be exactly the case.

Catherine had never thought on the subject till that moment, but, upon examining her purse, was convinced that but for this kindness of her friend, she might have been turned from the house without even the means of getting home; and the distress in which she must have been thereby involved filling the minds of both, scarcely another word was said by either during the time of their remaining together.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen

Catherine makes it home safely and repays the money to Eleanor by mail with only a short note: “The money therefore which Eleanor had advanced was enclosed with little more than grateful thanks, and the thousand good wishes of a most affectionate heart.”

The Morlands, a very practical bunch, decide after a bit that it all ended well in the end, but even they cannot understand such a “breach of conduct” on General Tilney’s part:

They were far from being an irritable race; far from any quickness in catching, or bitterness in resenting, affronts: but here, when the whole was unfolded, was an insult not to be overlooked, nor, for the first half hour, to be easily pardoned.

Mr. and Mrs. Morland could not but feel … that, in forcing her on such a measure, General Tilney had acted neither honourably nor feelingly—neither as a gentleman nor as a parent. Why he had done it, what could have provoked him to such a breach of hospitality . . . was a matter which they were at least as far from divining as Catherine herself…

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, 2007.

Mrs. Smith’s Recovered Property

In Persuasion, we turn our attention to the widowed Mrs. Smith, whose husband had badly mismanaged their finances: “She was a widow and poor. Her husband had been extravagant; and at his death, about two years before, had left his affairs dreadfully involved.” In this situation, it is not just Mrs. Smith’s personal finances that are at stake, but her finances at large. Here, we see Captain Wentworth use his influence to work on her behalf and help improve her financial circumstances. At the end of the novel, we read this:

[Mrs. Smith] was their earliest visitor in their settled life; and Captain Wentworth, by putting her in the way of recovering her husband’s property in the West Indies, by writing for her, acting for her, and seeing her through all the petty difficulties of the case with the activity and exertion of a fearless man and a determined friend, fully requited the services which she had rendered, or ever meant to render, to his wife.

Persuasion, Jane Austen

When we look at the parents, guardians, husbands, and friends in the examples above, it’s clear that Austen uses money matters (just as she uses so many other clever devices) to point to character and propriety. We could go through each novel and study each of the male and female characters and surmise quite a bit about their personalities just from the way they each manage money.

It’s clear that the characters in Austen’s books who provide well for their wives, children, and friends–and those who are generous and charitable with their money–are the characters we should admire and respect. Conversely, those who handle their money poorly–and those who manipulate and use and abuse others for financial gain or for personal control–are the characters we should distrust and, in some cases, even despise. In Austen’s novels, money matters.


RACHEL DODGE teaches college English classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and writes for Jane Austen’s World blog and Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine. She is the bestselling author of The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-By-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits and Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen. Her newest book The Little Women Devotional is now available for pre-order and releases December 2021. You can visit Rachel online at www.RachelDodge.com.


Links About Marriage and Marriage Settlements:

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Inquiring readers: Victoria Grossack, FCAS, the author of this piece and an actuary, sent this highly interesting article about Jane Austen and mathematics, a first topic for this blog. Enjoy!

Janeites esteem Jane Austen as a literary genius. Her characters are exquisitely drawn and her dialogue can be wickedly funny. She also uses the stream of consciousness technique before it became popular. All devotees know her novels are classics.

What about Austen as a mathematician, however? She never promotes herself in this regard. Like most female authors in her day, she doesn’t promote herself at all, not even putting her name on her novels – but in her writing, her mathematical abilities are evident. In fact, she uses math in a way that would make most actuaries proud. (Note: Actuaries are specialized mathematicians who generally work for insurance companies, which is relevant to some of the math Austen uses.)


Monetary Sums, Large and Small

Jane Austen and almost all of her characters are aware of the value of money, which would be true of most mathematicians (and certainly all actuaries). In fact, money is often a motivator for her characters’ choices in her novels. The young ladies often need to marry so they will have husbands to support them, while the single gentlemen are more attracted to single young ladies when they have significant dowries. Mr. Darcy’s income of £10,000 per annum makes him more handsome in Pride & Prejudice, while Mr. Wickham only courts Mary King after she inherits £10,000. Mr. Collins’s financial situation even wins him the hand of Charlotte Lucas:

Without thinking highly either of men or matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. (Pride & Prejudice, Chapter 22)”

Image of the front and back of a half guinea

Image of a half guinea in the time of George III

However, Austen’s comprehension goes well beyond large, round sums and the necessity of an income. Mansfield Park has a lovely passage in which monetary gifts to William Price are discussed by his two aunts, Mrs. Norris and Lady Bertram.

Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

“Mrs. Norris seemed as much delighted with the saving it would be to Sir Thomas as with any part of it. “Now William would be able to keep himself, which would make a vast difference to his uncle, for it was unknown how much he had cost his uncle; and, indeed, it would make some difference in her presents too. She was very glad that she had given William what she did at parting, very glad, indeed, that it had been in her power, without material inconvenience, just at that time to give him something rather considerable….”

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

“Indeed!” cried Mrs. Norris, reddening. “Upon my word, he must have gone off with his 3 pockets well lined, and at no expense for his journey to London either!” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 31)”

The amount of Mrs. Norris’s gift to William Price is never mentioned in Mansfield Park, but Jane Austen told her family (A Memoir of Jane Austen) that Mrs. Norris gave her nephew only one pound. Besides being a perfect contrast of the miserly Mrs. Norris versus her much more generous sister, the dialogue shows how well Austen understood the importance of relatively small sums, and how much £10 would mean to a midshipman in William Price’s position.

The Distress of Debt

Another reason for seeking a marriage settlement is to deal with debt. Several of the gentlemen (Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility, and Wickham in Pride & Prejudice) marry to escape debt, making life choices that they would have preferred not to make.

However, marriage is not the only solution to debt. Austen’s last novel, Persuasion, begins with the fact that the baronet, Sir Walter Elliot, has been living beyond his means and needs to “retrench” in order to regain solvency. As he is one of those people who is really bad at managing money, Austen comes up with the best method that will save him money: 

“Quit Kellynch Hall.” The hint was immediately taken up by Mr. Shepherd, whose interest was involved in the reality of Sir Walter’s retrenching, and who was perfectly persuaded that nothing would be done without a change of abode. (Persuasion, Chapter 2)

This change of abode is critical to the plot of Persuasion. It’s also sound business advice. 

Some readers may object that the examples given so far only prove that Austen had a mercenary side and do not demonstrate her understanding of mathematics. So let’s move on to other passages involving annuities and livings. These also concern money, but the math is more challenging.

Annuities and Livings

Annuities are insurance contracts that provide a fixed income stream, often for a person’s remaining lifetime. An annuity is a series of payments; these days annuities are often used as a way to pay out retirement, or are awarded in lieu of some lottery sum.

Life expancy from 1770 to 20018 of people from Oceania, Europe, Americas, Asia, World, Africa

Life expectancy over time

Now, annuities, when used by life insurance companies and pension funds, are fairly sure things because they can rely on expected values, i.e., mortality tables. In other words, life insurance companies and pension funds know approximately when their annuitants will die, on average. These organizations can manage because they work with large pools of people. Each annuitant can land anywhere on a distribution, but on average, given enough customers, an insurance company can have confidence in its ability to pay annuities.

However, if you are just one individual promising an annuity to just one other individual, you cannot rely on averages, because you can land anywhere on a distribution. It’s like throwing a pair of dice: on average, they will sum to 7, but you can roll anything from 2 to 12, and the probability of rolling something besides the mean is pretty good.  

So, that’s the underlying math. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen describes the dilemma a couple is facing when debating whether or not to promise an annuity to Mr. John Dashwood’s widowed stepmother. This sort of annuity would have to be guaranteed by them; they would not be in the position of a life insurance company that can have confidence in averages. Here are some of the remarks made by Fanny Dashwood to her husband, Mr. John Dashwood:

“… if you observe, people always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid them; and she is very stout and healthy, and hardly forty. An annuity is a very serious business; it comes over and over every year, and there is no getting rid of it. You are not aware of what you are doing. I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father’s will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it. Twice every year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterwards it turned out to be no such thing. My mother was quite sick of it. … It has given me such an abhorrence of annuities, that I am sure I would not pin myself down to the payment of one for all the world.” (Sense & Sensibility, Chapter 2)

Fanny Dashwood’s speech demonstrates her meanness, but Jane Austen has also demonstrated her sophisticated understanding of the uncertainty associated with an annuity.

Let’s move on to livings. A living is the salary of a clergyman, a fixed number of pounds, associated with fulfilling the duties of a particular parish, sometimes paid in kind instead of cash. Austen, daughter and sister of several clergymen, understood the importance of livings.

Livings are critical to the characters in Pride & Prejudice and in Mansfield Park. In Sense & Sensibility, Austen gives real insight into the livings market, when a living for a small parish is being given by Colonel Brandon to Mr. Edward Ferrars. The discussion below takes place between Mr. John Dashwood and John’s half-sister, Elinor.

Really!—Well, this is very astonishing!—no relationship!—no connection between them!—and now that livings fetch such a price!—what was the value of this?”

“About two hundred a year.”

“Very well—and for the next presentation to a living of that value—supposing the late incumbent to have been old and sickly, and likely to vacate it soon—he might have got I dare say—fourteen hundred pounds. And how came he not to have settled that matter before this person’s death? Now, indeed it would be too late to sell it, but a man of Colonel Brandon’s sense! I wonder he should be so improvident in a point of such common, such natural, concern!” (Sense & Sensibility, Volume III, Chapter 41)

This shows Austen’s deep understanding of the mathematics of the livings market – as well as her talent to explain the situation clearly and to use that situation for effectively displaying the personalities of her characters.

Insistence on Accuracy

Austen’s mathematical talent is visible in matters, such as her understanding of chance in cards and her calculation of distances in journeys. She does not always go into these areas in depth, but they serve as reliable backgrounds for some of her scenes.  

Gold pocket watch opened, with cover and numerals inside

Halsted Pocket Watch

Furthermore, Austen is aware – as are most mathematicians – that a significant proportion of the population is not especially good in mathematics, and that their calculations and estimations should not be relied upon. The following dialogue takes place in Mansfield Park, between the characters Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram:

I am really not tired, which I almost wonder at; for we must have walked at least a mile in this wood. Do not you think we have?”

“Not half a mile,” was his sturdy answer; for he was not yet so much in love as to measure distance, or reckon time, with feminine lawlessness. … “We have been exactly a quarter of an hour here,” said Edmund, taking out his watch. “Do you think we are walking four miles an hour?” (Mansfield Park, Chapter 9)

As the passage above was written more than two hundred years ago, we’ll skip over the lack of political correctness. Instead, let’s focus on the fact that nearly every mathematician (or actuary) has to insist on using reasonable data and accurate calculations. Moreover, most mathematically inclined persons will review calculations, even their own, because mistakes are so easy to make.

Testing Assumptions for Reasonability

Just as important as data and accurate reckoning are the underlying assumptions. Mathematicians, when creating scenarios and simulations, always need to determine whether their assumptions are reasonable. Something similar comes up in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney tells Catherine Morland she has allowed her imagination to run away with her.

“Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? … Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. … Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open?” (Northanger Abbey, Chapter 24)

Austen insisted on making stories out of the probable rather than what was wild and fanciful. She always keeps her assumptions grounded in reality.

Proxy variables

My favorite example of Austen’s display of mathematical ability is when she uses a proxy variable. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition of a proxy variable: “In statistics, a proxy or proxy variable is a variable that is not in itself directly relevant, but that serves in place of an unobservable or immeasurable variable. In order for a variable to be a good proxy, it must have a close correlation, not necessarily linear, with the variable of interest.”

In Emma, the following dialogue takes place between Mrs. Elton, the local vicar’s new bride, who recently arrived from Maple Grove, and Jane Fairfax, who happens to be the best educated of all of Austen’s heroines:

Photograph of the front of a modest stone building

Former National School, 1833, Gloucestershire.

“I do believe,” she continued, “this is the most troublesome parish that ever was. We never heard of such things at Maple Grove.”

“Your parish there was small,” said Jane.

“Upon my word, my dear, I do not know, for I never heard the subject talked of.”

“But it is proved by the smallness of the school, which I have heard you speak of, as under the patronage of your sister and Mrs. Bragge; the only school, and not more than five-and-twenty children.” (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 16)

The number of children in the school serves as a proxy variable for the size of the parish. It is a perfect example of a proxy variable.

Family Connections

As we have seen, Jane Austen repeatedly shows her understanding of mathematics. The case, in my opinion, is proved, but there is additional circumstantial evidence. Mathematical talent often runs in families. Two of Jane’s brothers became admirals in the Royal Navy; in fact, the brother closest to her in age, Sir Francis Austen, rose to become Admiral of the Fleet. They could not have achieved these positions without strong abilities in mathematics. (Note: my own brother is an actuary.) 

Black and white image of Jane Austen's sailor brother

Sir Francis Austen

Jane Austen never used the term actuary, even though actuaries existed when she lived. Of course, she was writing about romance in country villages and not about insurance companies. In her six finished novels, she only uses the word mathematician on one occasion. This paragraph takes place in Emma, when Emma has witnessed an event – Mr. Frank Churchill’s rescue of Harriet Smith from a threatening mob – which she hopes will lead to romance:

Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other?—How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!—especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made. (Emma, Volume III, Chapter 3)

Austen’s use of the word mathematician in this passage indicates she probably had some familiarity with people who could calculate. 

Jane Austen writes both intelligently and intelligibly on many topics associated with mathematics. I do not think I am being an imaginist when I maintain that this literary genius of the early nineteenth century had a profound understanding of mathematics.

About the Author:

Photo of the author

Author, Victoria Grossack

Victoria Grossack is a Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and has worked for companies such as Folksamerica Reinsurance and Zurich Financial Services; she currently supplies materials for the Actuarial Bookstore. She also writes novels celebrating birds, Greek mythology, and Jane Austen. Her Jane Austen-based novels include: The Meryton Murders, The Highbury Murders, The Mansfield Park Murders and Mrs. Bennet’s Advice to Young Ladies. Her novels can be found at Amazon.

Citations:

Lodge, David, “The best stream of consciousness novels,” The Guardian, January 20, 2009.

Austen-Leigh, James Edward, A Memoir of Jane Austen, Richard Bentley and Son, 1871.

Roser, Max, “Life Expectancy,” Our World in Data

Victoria’s Article in Actuarial Review entitled “Jane Austen, Actuary?” September 21, 2021: Click here to read it

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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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Since I moved near my family four months ago, my sister-in-law has read three Jane Austen novels – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion. She took a longer time warming up to Persuasion, but came around in the end, enjoying the experience.

As a Jane Austen devotee, I associate the seaside resort of Lyme Regis with Persuasion.  Imagine my delight to find that the book Lyme Regis: A Retrospect had been digitized by the Internet Archive. I digitally “flipped” through the book and was delighted to view a number of illustrations of Lyme Regis in the era of Austen.

Title page of Lyme Regis: A Retrospect by C. Wanklyn, London, Hatchards, 187 Piccadilly, W.1. 1927

Click here to enter the Internet Archive’s digitized book of Lyme Regis: A Retrospect.

Fronticepiece image

The fronticepiece of the aquatint of Lyme Regis by William Daniell, R.A. This aquatint first appeared in Daniell’s well-known Voyage round Great Britain, published in 1814. The Charmouth end of the lane, which once ran along the edge of the cliffs for the whole distance between Lyme and Charmouth is here shown.

4-cobb-image

This picture of the Cobb…is taken from the 1724 edition of Stukeley’s Itinerarium Curiosum. The original plate is subscribed ‘Lyme, 21 Aug. 1723.’

Excerpt from the book (it is copy right free!):

The Cobb shared in the changes that were taking place at Lyme after 1750. In 1756 the causeway from the western arm of the Cobb, which joins it to the land, was made. As a result of this construction, and the action of sea and tide, a huge bank of sand and shingle began to form in the angle between the new causeway and the mainland. For te first time in its history, Lyme was recovering some land from the sea…At what date exactly the houses were build is not certain, but they are on the drawing of the sea-front which is dated 1796, and they consequently were there when Jane Austen came to Lyme in 1804. In fact the one in which she placed the Harville family was build on this reclaimed land. Close to the warehouses on the Cobb had once been the ‘King’s Pipe,’ the place, that is to say, where spoilt contraband tobacco seized from smugglers by revenue officials was burnt. The palmy days of smuggling were during the period of high duties forced on us by the French Revolutionary Wars. Cargoes of contraband to the Dorset coast were generally run from the Channel Islands or the Northern Coast of France. If the George Inn still maintained its stables, its pack-horses may frequently have been employed at this time to carry smuggled goods inland. The smugglers were good employers and paid well.” – pp. 123-124

8-The Original

This Cruikshank-Marryat series shows the end of the Walk at Lyme Regis, so far as it went in 1819, i.e., to what is now No. 8 Marine Parade. – p.121.

The original marine parade1Detail left side

The original marine parade2

Detail right side

9-The Rooms and...

The front of the Cliff House property…has suffered from continual falls…and the cottage where  Jane Austen lodged (no longer standing alone) shows a greater variation from the perpendicular every year. – p. 122

 

cobb-at-lyme-regis-tony-grant

Image of the Cobb in rough weather, copyright Tony Grant.  Shipwrecks were not uncommon on Dorset’s shores. One can see the slanted top of the stone Cobb.

3-

This view of the Bay of Lyme Regis is taken from the 1823 edition of Roberts’ History of Lyme Regis, Dorset.-p. 4.

p135

This view of Lyme Regis is dated 1796. It was drawn by ‘J.Nixon, Esq.’ and engraved by John Walker…It was also utilized by W.G. Maton in his Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Side Bathing Places, a work which had a great vogue and was first published in 1803. Nixon was a clever amateur artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy. – p. 135.

Jane Austen makes Mary Musgrove, in Persuasion, bathe at Lyme in November. This is not a mistake; it is rather evidence that Miss Austen was a realist. The year was 1814, and in the autumn of 1814, Princess Charlotte of Wales was staying at Weymouth. Now The Western Flying Post for October, November, and December records that the Princess was bathing on some days of all three months until severe storms from and after December 12th brought the season to an end. Now what Princess Charlotte could do at Weymouth, the aristocratic Mary Musgrove both could and would do at Lme off the beach near Bay Cottage. (p. 140)

And so, in the course of the eighteenth century, Lyme Regis completely changed its character. From being a busy industrial and trading town it became a place of resort for visitors in search of health, amusement, and change. All early writers of Lyme as a seaside place insist on its superior ‘gentility’–a word once redounding in qualities to which all should aspire, but now greatly debased in meaning. ‘The residents are mostly persons of genteel, not large, fortune,’ says one. ‘At lyme,’ says another, ‘there arises no necessity for making any inconvenient sacrifices to the support of style or to the extravagance of outward show.’ -p.141.”

 

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