Archiv der Kategorie: Austen, Jane

Austen, Jane

Austen, Jane. Wednesday, 12 September, 1900, was a beautiful day. The sun shone brilliantly, and the air had quality. Early in the morning we said farewell to Salisbury’s tall and crooked spire, and after an early lunch at high noon we visited the splendid old Norman Abbey church at Romsey. During the afternoon our bicycles carried us over an excellent road fringed with beautiful trees, and at Hursley we entered the sacred edifice where saintly John Keble held forth the Word of Life. We did homage at his grave in the churchyard, and gazed without emotion at the house of Richard Cromwell. Over the downs we pedalled merrily, and late in the afternoon, under the level rays of the September sun, we entered the ancient capital of England, the cheerful city of Winchester. Deep in the evening we saw the massive grey Cathedral glorified by the moon.

Hampshire rolled into the sunshine again on Thursday morning, and we visited the great Gothic church. The disappointment felt by most pilgrims at the rather forbidding exterior gave place to solemn rapture as we stepped within the portal. The vault of the immense nave, the forest of columns, the Norman transepts, all seen through the dim religious light, made one realise that a mediseval cathedral is the symbol of generations of human aspiration. It is a prayer in stone. We visited the tomb of Joseph Warton, who led the eighteenth century revolt against Pope Alexander, once thought to be infallible, we saw the grave of the gentle author of the Compleat Angler and then we paused reverently by the last resting-place of Jane Austen — a woman of supreme genius, meek and lowly in heart. Hither she was borne on 24 July 1817, followed only by members of her family, who admired her talents, and loved her for the purity and sweetness of her character.

In the afternoon we sped northward to Steventon, the village made famous by her birth. The town is so small and otherwise insignificant as to have no railway station, and to be forgotten by mapmakers. It is indeed unknown to most Hampshire farmers, as we shortly discovered; for we dismounted and mounted our wheels many times, with enquiries that proved fruitless. We finally, however, reached the object of our quest. A small, mean, dirty village is Steventon to-day, graced only by beautiful hedgerows. The house where Jane Austen lived has long since disappeared, an instance — if any were needed — of how much more transient are the houses built with hands than those created by the imagination. Part of the site is marked by an old pump, which gives little idea of the well of inspiration used by the novelist. The present rectory is on a knoll of turf, commanding a pleasant view, but having little interest for the pilgrim; so we wended our way to the old church, where Jane heard her father preach and pray. In the autumnal twilight we pedalled on to Basingstoke, over a much better road than the Austens saw in their frequent journeys; and the Feathers being „full up,“ we slept peacefully under the eegis of the Red Lion, who roared as gently as a sucking dove.

Jane Austen was born at Steventon, in the northern part of the county of Hampshire, on 16 December 1775. Her father was the Rev. George Austen, an Oxford man, who had received the neighbouring rectories of Deane and Steventon in 1764, the year of his marriage to Cassandra Leigh. Instead of bringing woe and death in her train, Cassandra brought the parson conjugal bliss and seven children, to one of whom she gave her own name, in defiance of augury. It is not true, as stated in the Dictionary of National Biography^ that Jane was “ the youngest of seven children,“ and the Dictionary’s further statement, that her brother Charles died in 1832, at the age of seventy-three, would place his birth before the marriage of his parents! The Dictionary article on Jane Austen is singularly brief and unsympathetic; but that affords no excuse for its flagrant errors in fact. The oldest son, James, was born at Deane in 1765. At Oxford he had a high reputation among the undergraduates for his literary skill and his knowledge of English literature. It is to this young Oxonian that the world owes a debt of gratitude; for on his return to the rectory, his mind full of his favourite books, he took charge of the reading of his two younger sisters, and guided them at their most docile age into the green pastures of literature. Edward was the second son; he was born at Deane in 1768, but at an early age left the family circle, being adopted by his cousin, Thomas Knight, who owned estates at Godmersham Park, Kent, and Chawton in Hampshire. He came into the inheritance in 1794, and in 1812 changed his name to Knight. This adoption was a fortunate thing not only for him, but for the whole family; for after some years he was able to give his widowed mother and sisters a home, and was especially kind and helpful to Jane. The next arrival in the family was the third son, Henry Thomas^ born in Deane in 1771. He lived a life of active uselessness. Brilliant, witty, and charming in conversation, eternally hopeful and enthusiastic, he went through life with innocent gaiety, and with a constantly increasing sense toward the end that he might have reached distinction had he concentrated his energies. We should not forget, however, that he did help Jane in some details of her business dealings with her publishers, and that she highly valued his criticisms. He died in 1850.

The dearest member of the family to Jane, and indeed by far the most intimate friend she had in the world, was her sister Cassandra, three years her senior. Two girls of about the same age with five brothers would naturally form an offensive and defensive alliance; and between these two sisters as they grew from childhood into maturity ripened a marvellous friendship, where each took delight in the other’s gifts and pleasures. They were all in all to each other; they were never married, and they remained in the diminishing family circle while the brothers struck out into the world. It was to Cassandra that Jane wrote nearly all of the letters that have come down to us ; and the very absence of literary style in these documents and their meagreness of information about Jane’s literary career is a substantial proof of the complete intimacy of the two women. It was in Cassandra’s arms that Jane died ; and how terribly the survivor suffered we shall never know, for she thought it to be her duty to control the outward expression of her grief. She was indeed a woman of extraordinary good sense, independence, and self-reliance, who loved her younger and more impulsive sister with an affection unknown to many more demonstrative individuals. She died in 1845.

The fifth child was Francis, born in 1773. In striking contrast to the serene and tranquil life of his sisters, this resolute and ambitious man lived in the very whirlwind of action. His career affords a striking illustration of the truth that those who seek death do not find it ; for he served in the navy during England’s most stormy and most glorious period of warfare on the sea. In the midst of death he found life, for while the other members of the family, all but one of whom dwelt in peace and apparent security, passed away, he rose steadily in the service, and lived to be ninety-two years old. He was a very religious man, and was known as “ the officer who kneeled at church.“ Most remarkable of all for a sailor, no one ever heard him swear. His long years of service in the navy were crowned with success, for he rose to the highest rank obtainable, being at the time of his death the Senior Admiral of the Fleet.

The youngest child in the family was Charles, who was born in 1778. He is said to have closely resembled Jane in sweetness of disposition and general loveableness of character. He also entered the navy, and frequently smelt gunpowder. He survived all the perils of action, however, and rose to be an Admiral. While on a steam-sloop in Eastern waters, he died of cholera in 1852. He was beloved by both officers and sailors, one of whom said, “ I know that I cried bitterly when I found he was dead.“

Readers of her novels have often wondered why Jane Austen, who lived in wars and rumours of wars, showed apparently so little interest in the momentous events of her time. As a matter of fact she took her part in those world-combats vicariously, and the welfare of her brothers was more interesting to her than the fate of Napoleon. The seafaring men in her books afford the evidence of her knowledge of the navy, though, true to her primal principle of art, she did not let them escape beyond the boundaries of her personal experience.

Jane Austen has been regarded by many as a prim, prudish old maid, and yet the stricter women of our more liberal times would look upon her as a daughter of Belial, for she loved to drink wine and play cards, she loved to dance, and she delighted in the theatre. The very smallness of Steventon brought its inhabitants together in social intercourse; and in a house where a genial father and mother presided over seven children, and where there were often dances and social gatherings several times a week, we need not waste any pity on her desolate and lonely youth. She was so fond of society that had she lived in a large city, among brilliant men and women, she might never have written a book. In her four residences, Steventon, Bath, Southampton, and Chawton, she saw all phases of society, for Thomas Hardy has shown us that the human comedy is played in the villages as well as in great cities. Her close proximity to the persons she saw in village balls and dances gave her unrivalled opportunities for observation, since the main traits in human nature are always the same. We need not regret therefore, that the geographical limits of her bodily life were so circumscribed. She could have lived in a nutshell, and counted herself a monarch of infinite space, for she had no bad dreams like those of Hamlet. It has been well said that the happiest person is he who thinks the most interesting thoughts ; and the enjoyment and entertainment that this quiet woman got out of life can hardly be overestimated.

As a child she began to scribble, regretting in later life that she had not read more and written less. She composed “ The Mystery: an Unfinished Comedy,“ and dedicated it to her father with mock gravity. Even then she loved burlesque, and she delighted in laughing at the two great schools in literature so prominent in her childhood, the school of impossible romance and the school of absurd sentimentality. She saw clearly the ridiculous side of the sentimental books that followed in the wake of Richardson and Sterne, and the absurdity of the Gothic romances that pursued hard upon the Castle of Otranto. She did not know then that she was to write an immortal burlesque, wherein both these tendencies were treated with genial contempt; but her attitude of mind did not change as she grew older, and before she was twenty-one, she had begun the composition of one of the greatest novels in all literature, Pride and Prejudice. She was surely in the vein; for upon the completion of this work, she immediately began Sense and Sensibility J and during her residence in Steventon she also composed Northanger Abbey, These three books constitute sufficient proof of the manner in which genius finds its own environment.

Jane Austen had visited Bath before the composition of the last-named work, and thither the whole family moved in the spring of 1801, beginning the century under as different surroundings from the old home as can well be imagined. Steventon was a small village, Bath a city alive with social excitement. Here she was too much occupied in hving to do much writing, though it is possible that she began her unfinished story, The Watsons, during this period. A visit to Lyme in 1804 gave her unconsciously the material which she afterwards alchemised into the pure gold of Persuasion. Her father died in February 1805 at Bath, and the fortunes of the family underwent a change for the worse. They were, however, by no means destitute, nor did they ever know the pangs of poverty. Before the end of this year they moved to Southampton, and lived in a comfortable old house in Castle Square. Here they stayed four years.

As her nephew says, neither Bath nor Southampton can be regarded as homes of Jane Austen; „she was only a sojourner in a strange land.“ In 1809, however, they had the pleasure of once more finding an abiding-place. As has been said, Edward Austen, who became Edward Knight, inherited two residences, one at Godmersham Park, in Kent, the other at Chawton in Hampshire. He now gave his mother the choice of two dwellings, each house being near his property in these two respective counties. Perhaps owing to her long residence in Hampshire, she chose the cottage at Chawton, which stood in the village “ about a mile from Alton, on the righthand side, just where the road to Winchester branches off from that to Gosport. It was so close to the road that the front door opened upon it ; while a very narrow enclosure, paled in on each side, protected the building from danger of collision with any runaway vehicle. … It had been originally built for an inn, for which purpose it was certainly well situated. . . . Trees were planted each side to form a shrubbery walk, carried round the enclosure, which gave a sufficient space for ladies‘ exercise. There was a pleasant irregular mixture of hedgerow and gravel walk and orchard, and long grass for mowing, arising from two or three little enclosures having been thrown together. The house itself was quite as good as the generality of parsonage houses then were, and much in the same style; and was capable of receiving other members of the family as frequent visitors. It was sufficiently well furnished ; everything inside and out was kept in good repair, and it was altogether a comfortable and ladylike establishment, though the means which supported it were not large.“

In this unpretentious cottage, with no separate study, but writing in the family sitting-room amidst the general conversation, Jane Austen not only arranged for the press her three earlier novels, but composed three masterpieces of fiction, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. She had the pleasant excitement of the publication of her books, of reading them aloud to the family in manuscript, of receiving and examining bundles of proof, of actually handling money earned by her pen, and of observing the faint dawn of her great reputation. This made her peaceful environment more than interesting, and we may be sure that the days passed swiftly. Up to this time her sole reward for her labour had been the glow of composition and the satisfaction of knowing that she had done good work; the harvest was late, but she now began to reap it. Unfortunately the time was short. It is one of the apparent perversities of the stupidity of Destiny, that the only member of the family who possessed undoubted genius should have had to die so young. Jane Austen is the kind of person who ought to live forever.

In the spring of the year 1816 her health began to fail. This is said to have been caused by worry over some family misfortunes ; but may it not have been owing to the consuming flame of genius ? It is impossible that she could have written such masterpieces of literature without feeling that virtue had gone out of her. The joy of artistic creation is probably one of the greatest joys known to the sons and daughters of men; but the bodily frame pays dearly for it, and the toil of making a good book surpasses in intensity of labour almost all other forms of human exertion. Whatever was the cause, the fact was that her lif e began to decay at precisely the time when her mind began to reach its greatest brilliancy. Her cheerful letters showed faint signs of an impending disaster. She wrote to her brother Charles, “ I live upstairs for the present, and am coddled. I am the only one of the party who has been so silly, but a weak body must excuse weak nerves.“ The malady began to gain ground, and she had to walk shorter distances, and then cease walking altogether. Soon she was obliged to lie down a good part of the day, when she wished ardently to be at work ; and there being only one sofa in the general sitting-room, she refused to use it except in the absence of her mother, who had passed seventy years. She tried to persuade her friends that she was getting well. In January, 1817, she wrote, “ I have certainly gained strength through the winter, and am not far from being well ; and I think I understand my own case now so much better than I did, as to be able by care to keep off any serious return of illness.“ It was not to be. The last date found on her manuscript is the seventeenth of March, 1817. Her nephew says, “ And here I cannot do better than quote the words of the niece to whose private records of her aunt’s life and character I have been so often indebted : ‚ I do not know how early the alarming symptoms of her malady came on.

It was in the following March that I had the first idea of her being seriously ill. It had been settled that about the end of that month or the beginning of April I should spend a few days at Chawton, in the absence of my father and mother, who were just then engaged with Mrs. Leigh Perrot in arranging her late husband’s affairs; but Aunt Jane became too ill to have me in the house, and so I went instead to my sister Mrs. Lefroy at Wyards‘. The next day we walked over to Chawton to make inquires after our aunt. She was then keeping her room, but said she would see us, and we went up to her. She was in her dressing-gown, and was sitting quite like an invalid in an armchair, but she got up and kindly greeted us, and then, pointing to seats which had been arranged for us by the fire, she said, “ There is a chair for the married lady, and a little stool for you, Caroline.“ It is strange, but those trifling words were the last of hers that I can remember, for I retain no recollection of what was said by anyone in the conversation that ensued. I was struck by the alteration in herself. She was very pale, her voice was weak and low, and there was about her a general appearance of debility and suffering; but I have been told that she never had much acute pain. She was not equal to the exertion of talking to us, and our visit to the sick-room was a very short one, Aunt Cassandra soon taking us away. I do not suppose we stayed a quarter of an hour ; and I never saw Aunt Jane again.‘ “

In the month of May, 1817, the family decided that she must be taken to Winchester, in order to get the benefit of daily skilled medical advice. Thither she went with the faithful Cassandra, and the two sisters took lodgings in a pleasant house on College Street, near the great cathedral. From these rooms she wrote in a trembling and uncertain hand the following letter, in which she tried to give a playful tone to her illness. The letter bears date of the 27 May.

“ There is no better way, my dearest E., of thanking you for your affectionate concern for me during my illness than by telling you myself, as soon as possible, that I continue to get better. I will not boast of my handwriting; neither that nor my face have yet recovered their proper beauty, but in other respects I gain strength very fast. I am now out of bed from nine in the morning to ten at night : upon the sofa, it is true, but I eat my meals with Aunt Cassandra in a rational way, and can employ myself, and walk from one room to another. Mr. Lyford says he will cure me, and if he fails, I shall draw up a memorial and lay it before the Dean and Chapter, and have no doubt of redress from that pious, learned, and disinterested body. Our lodgings are very comfortable. We have a neat little drawing-room with a bow window overlooking Dr. Gabell’s garden. Thanks to the kindness of your father and mother in sending me their carriage, my journey hither on Saturday was performed with very little fatigue, and had it been a fine day, I think I should have felt none ; but it distressed me to see Uncle Henry and Wm. Knight, who kindly attended us on horseback, riding in the rain almost the whole way. We expect a visit from them to-morrow, and hope they will stay the night; and on Thursday, which is a confirmation and a holiday, we are to get Charles out to breakfast. We have had but one visit from him, poor fellow, as he is in sick-room, but he hopes to be out to-night. We see Mrs. Heathcote every day, and William is to call upon us soon. God bless you, my dear E. If ever you are ill, may you be as tenderly nursed as I have been. May the same blessed alleviations of anxious, sympathising friends be yours: and may you possess, as I dare say you will, the greatest blessing of all in the consciousness of not being unworthy of their love. I could not feel this.

“ Your very affecte Aunt,

“ J. A.“

She added later: „I will only say further that my dearest sister, my tender, watchful, indefatigable nurse, has not been made ill by her exertions. As to what I owe her, and the anxious affection of all my beloved family on this occasion, I can only cry over it, and pray God to bless them more and more.“

Thus, with only temporary alleviations, she grew gradually weaker, and died on the morning of 18 July, 1817. Shortly before she became unconscious, she was asked if there were anything she wished. She replied, “ Nothing but death.“

Juvenilia

Juvenilia – Jane Austen The Juvenilia are the early works of Jane Austen, small essays, poems or plays that she compiled in three hand-written notebooks. This edition includes, among others, the following works: Frederic & Elfrida Jack & Alice Edgar … Weiterlesen

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Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park – Jane Austen How well I recall the greatest literary pleasure of my life, its time and place ! A dreary winter’s day without, within a generous heat and glow from the flaming grate, and I reclining at … Weiterlesen

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The Letters

The Letters – Jane Austen The letters included in this series comprise about three quarters of the collection in two volumes published in 1884 by her great-nephew Lord Brabourne. The lightness, almost friskiness, of their tone cannot fail to strike … Weiterlesen

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Persuasion

Persuasion – Jane Austen „‚Persuasion“ represents the ripest development of Jane Austen’s powers, that latest phase of her thoughts and feelings. It is a novel which, while not wanting in the several excellences of those which preceded it, has a … Weiterlesen

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Jane Austen – Woman of Letters

Jane Austen – Francis W. Cornish Mr. Francis Warre Cornish has devoted most of his chapters to a running comment on the novels. His criticism of the characters is shrewd and has the pleasant flavor of talk about people with … Weiterlesen

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Jane Austen

Jane Austen – Oscar W. Firkins A biography worth reading. The author has looked at Miss Austen more through his own eyes, and less through the eyes of her many illustrious eulogists, than any other writer we know of. Even … Weiterlesen

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Sense & Sensibility

Sense & Sensibility – Jane Austen To contend for a moment that the present volume is Miss Austen’s greatest, as it was her first published, novel, would be a mere exercise in paradox. There are, who swear by „Persuasion;“ there … Weiterlesen

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Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen Austen’s writing style deserves the highest commendation. It has all the form and finish of the eighteenth century, without being in the least degree stilted or unnatural. It has all the tone of good society … Weiterlesen

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Emma

Emma – Jane Austen We bestow no mean compliment upon the author of “Emma,“ when we say that, keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she has produced sketches of such … Weiterlesen

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Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen To say nothing of the supreme excellence of the dialogue, there is scarcely a page but has its little gem of exact and polished phrasing; scarcely a chapter which is not neatly opened or … Weiterlesen

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