Willoughby’s Confession

August 30, 2010 at 8:55 pm (books) (, , , )

I was close to finishing Sense & Sensibility last evening, when I got stuck on the chapter comprising Willoughby’s ‘confession’. Rather than continue reading, I turned back and RE-read this chapter.

Am I the only one who thinks less of Willoughby after this chapter?

There are so many moments when I wonder if Austen actually meant this appearance to expiate Willoughby — or condemn him a bit further, thereby drawing a line for the credulity of Elinor.

For instance: Did Miss Grey really “dictate” Willoughby’s letter to Marianne? She could certainly play that card, but that’s a position of power for her. With her fortune, Miss Grey could have had her pick of men. There’s just something about her” jealousy,” as Willoughby tells of it, that doesn’t jibe.

What first got me thinking this way? Willoughby’s talking about all stories having two sides and how Elinor mustn’t think him rascal and Eliza saint — as he reminds her to beware who told her one side of this story, he then proceeds to tell her one side of his story. Are we meant to believe it?

Should readers juxtapose this chapter with the *comical* chapter where Brandon offers the Delaford living while Mrs Jennings thinks him offering Elinor his hand? That opens to interpretation the notion that What Willoughby Says may not be what Willoughby in truth is saying.

Frankly, I’m in total confusion…

After last night, I’ve become more like Mrs Dashwood: Ready to write him off as a scoundrel.

Why has Austen included this chapter? Are parts of it truth, and parts of it untruth? Is this confession supposed to point up the “say anything” part of Willoughby’s character? What did he hope to gain? Just to leave Marianne (and Elinor) with such good feelings towards him that she never could say ‘yes’ to the one man Willoughby dreads her marrying? What am I missing here?

Very frustrating at this moment, though I’ve enjoyed this reading of the novel even more than when I read it last (3 years ago).

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Corresponding

August 29, 2010 at 9:12 pm (a day in the life, books, research) (, , , , , , )

Time and again I am reminded how true-to-life Jane Austen’s prose are; as well, how the Smiths and Goslings reflect the same sensibility and milieu as Austen’s best-loved characters.

Early in the weekend (for I have done a LOT of reading), I encountered this paragraph and just had to smile: Mamma Smith, Emma and little Eliza all immediately sprang to mind:

“As dinner was not to be ready in less than two hours from their arrival, Elinor determined to employ the interval in writing to her mother, and sat down for that purpose. In a few moments Marianne did the same. ‘I am writing home, Marianne,’ said Elinor; ‘had not you better defer your letter for a day or two?’
‘I am not going to write to my mother,’ replied Marianne hastily…. Elinor said no more; it immediately struck her that she must then be writing to Willoughby.”
[160-161]

I don’t know if it is just the idea of passing along the same information, or giving different people the chance to write, or just reducing the cost to the recipient: but in Austen we have remarks about the UNusual: two letters written and received by ONE person:

“What a fine fellow Charles [their youngest brother] is, to deceive us into writing him two letters at Cork! I admire his ingenuity extremely, especially as he is so great a gainer by it.” [Austen letters, p. 6]

Here was a more typical outcome (like the passage in S&S) of too many willing letter-writers:

“my writing to you prevents Eliz:th writing to Harriot” [Austen letters, p. 108]

Jane is in residence with the Austen/Knights, while Cassandra is at Godnestone with Elizabeth Austen’s sister Harriot Brydges.

And here is a favorite passage in a letter from Mamma to Emma, 1825:

“Eliza has just been grumbling at me for writing this letter, I tell her Spencer will not think hers the less valuable; I had concealed it from her because she was so unwilling to write.”

Emma and Spencer were travelling with Charles, and young Eliza had drawn Spencer for a correspondent, yet wasn’t sitting down to do her duty! In a less amusing vein, comes this same thought in a letter to Augusta following Drummond’s untimely death (1832):

“I pity him [Spencer] deeply for no longer having any Brother; the three were so united … [Maria’s] first youth has been much clouded by sorrow. Fanny is rather less drooping, & she eats & sleeps better. Maria & Eliza wished to write to you, but I would not give up the turn to day to any body.”

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Willoughby & Marianne: What Opera?

August 25, 2010 at 8:46 am (books, people) (, , , , , , , , )

Coming in to work today, the radio announced the birthday of Leonard Bernstein, born in Lawrence, Mass in 1918. Who knew he was born in New England; not me (but then he was “big” when I was a kid, so put it down to that).

Anyway, tangled up with morning thoughts of work, reading (Sense and Sensibility, of course!), and Lennie — came a thought that I toyed with a few days ago, but now put out in the blog-o-sphere:

Near the end of Sense and Sensibility, when Willoughby has irrevocably left, and Marianne has survived her illness, she goes up to her pianoforte and fingers a piano reduction operatic score. So my question, and I’d love it if operaphiles and Janeites alike might give their thoughts:

What OPERA would Willoughby and Marianne have been likely to play through?

A comic opera? An English opera? A tragedy? Something old, like Handel; something totally new and playing in London the last season or two?

The entire quote (Chapman, 342):

“After dinner she would try her piano-forte. She went to it; but the music on which her eyes first rested was an opera, procured for her by Willoughby, containing some of their favourite duets, and bearing on its outward leaf her own name in his hand writing.”

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La luna

August 21, 2010 at 12:21 am (books, entertainment, goslings and sharpe, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I write at the end of a long, busy day.

Contemplating the use Austen makes of the pianoforte for young Marianne Dashwood, I have spent the week slowly watching the old (1980) BBC production of Sense and Sensibility. I must admit to being charmed by it. Oh, nothing is ever perfect…, but overall the right tone is struck so many times in this production, which stars Irene Richard as Elinor and Tracey Childs as Marianne.

I was exceptionally surprised at the ending to this series (7 approximately 1/2 hour episodes), which has Marianne interested in talking literature with Colonel Brandon. My reaction was: That’s the end?!?

But then, immediately rewatching episode 1, the series not only ends in the midst of action unresolved, it also begins in the midst of the story: the three Dashwood women riding back from having looked at an unsuitable house (Fanny Dashwood, quite obviously, wants her in-laws gone from Norland).

So, thinking about it now, I find the beginning and ending quite novel (no pun intended).

I include this picture of Tracey Childs as Marianne, with Robert Swann as Colonel Brandon. This is the scene I’m writing about for an article, and this scene comes to mind tonight because of “the moon”. As in the novel, this series’ Sir John Middleton refers to the invitations he gave to the evening’s gathering — only to find everyone already booked. The novel is specific: “it was moonlight — and every body was full of engagements”. The moonlight here in Vermont was bright tonight too, as I drove back from St. Albans. Who realized that moonlit nights made for an increase in people going abroad in Austen’s era!?!

A find today, while checking out the stock at The Eloquent Page, St. Albans’ great little used book store, was a copy of volume 2 of a relevant biography: The Life of Thomas Coutts, Banker (by E.H. Coleridge).  I might have bought it but for two things: firstly, no volume ONE; and this second volume wasn’t in the best shape (had it gotten wet once?). But the lucky thing about volume 2 is the index was in the back! Sure enough, a “Mr Gosling” was mentioned. The interesting thing about the citation (vol 2, p. 83) is the amount of money cited:

“Strand, 2nd December 1796

Sir, Mr Dent, Mr Hoare, Mr Snow, Mr Gosling, Mr Drummond and myself met to-day, and have each subscribed £50,000 . . . . I shall leave town to-morrow, having stayed solely to do any service in my power in fowarding this business, which I sincerely wish and hope my be the means of procuring peace on fair and honourable terms.

I am, Sir,

THOMAS COUTTS.

We have subscribed £10,000 in your name and shall take care to make the payments.”

Coutts’ correspondent was William Pitt. According to the index, the monies were contributed to a “loyalty loans” scheme. Robert Gosling (father to William, grandfather to my Mary) died in 1794, so he is not the Mr Gosling in question; that leaves Francis Gosling or perhaps my William himself. I always love finding such minute traces of these people…

As I drove the highway, the moon shone bright and nearly full — which made me think of this moonlight comment from S&S, and also (of course!) of the film Moonstruck, which I watched on TV a few weeks ago. Did Austen mean anything by the fact that she tells readers that the moon was big and bright on the very night Brandon meets Marianne at the Middleton residence? Or did it just provide a good excuse for inventing a small, intimate party??

Of course I got online trying to find the ENTIRE Coutts biography. And luck was with me: Internet Archive has both volumes: volume 1, volume 2.

I’ve looked, but find no mention of “Austen” in the Coutts index; of course Jane’s brother Henry was a banker for a while. The business went down the tubes, thanks to the economic crisis after the end of the Napoleonic wars. Pity Coutts made no mention of Henry Austen; that would have made for an interesting connection. I am actively trying to find any connection — banker to banker — between Henry Austen and William Gosling. (Last October, at the JASNA AGM, I had asked author Maggie Lane if she ever came across Gosling & Sharpe, when investigating Henry Austen’s business — but she had never heard of the Goslings’ firm).

When I arrived home I could see a large piece of mail in the mailbox: my extra copies of JASNA News had arrived!! Ah, how I had hoped the mail would come before I left the house, for I had a feeling it would come today. My article on the discovery of Augusta Smith’s 1798 diary, now owned by Mark Woodford, is included. (Interested in diary entries for this same year, I had started the day by reading Parson Woodforde’s diary; then moved on to some re-writes on the pianoforte article.) The one book review that I read soon after looking through the entire issue is Brian Southam’s of Young Nelsons: Boy Sailors During the Napoleonic Wars (2009), by D.A.B. Roland. Must see if I can locate a copy, for I am intrigued by the author’s use of diaries and letters — even if Southam finds some author errors and annoyances.

Hmm…, looking the Roland book up on Amazon.uk, don’t I find a second book on this subject (not yet published): The Real Jim Hawkins: Ships’ Boys in the Georgian Navy, by Ronald Pietsch. Popular subject! The Goslings knew Admiral Nelson and the Smiths married into the Seymour family, who had many naval men in their family tree.

It’s late, and before the moonlight fades, and I follow suit, I will say ‘good night’.

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Augusta rules!

August 16, 2010 at 11:03 pm (news, people, research) (, , , , , )

This seems destined to be the summer of Augusta Smith turning up in unexpected places. A few months ago, it was a 1798 diary penned by Augusta Smith the elder, whom I usually refer to as ‘Mamma’ in this blog. And over this past weekend, an 1824 letter written by her eldest daughter, Augusta!

The letter arrived in my email box thanks to Angela in Alberta, Canada. Her grandfather had been given the letter, when he was in England, during World War II. Imagine.

Angela is lucky, as it is one of the most intriguing letters. Augusta proves herself a very astute writer, especially when she is reminiscing about the family trip to 1822-23 and remembering their time in Rome. Ah! I know only too well what it is like to pine for places you haven’t seen in some time…

There are a couple items to bring up in this blog, but I will leave them for later. Let it suffice that I greatly thank Angela for bringing this letter to my attention. Few might realize  how one letter, one diary, sometimes even just one sentence or two written about these people can shed new light, revealing light, on these 200-year-old people.  Hip-hip-hurrah for blogs! for without this one I would never have seen these private sides of my two Augustas.

BTW, the above is not a portrait of Augusta (I have nothing of either — so far!), but a fashion plate from c1820. As eldest daughter, young Augusta occupied a unique place in the Smith of Suttons family, she was Mrs Smith’s ‘ornamental daughter’ according to one contemporary and friend. Augusta’s life makes for riveting reading, and I do so want her story to be told. Riches – pain – love – marriage – death. She is definitely one reason I pursue these people to the ‘ends of the earth,’ from North Carolina, to Winchester and Chelmsford, Warwick and Chicago, London, New York City, Oxford, and now Alberta.

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Universities Big and Bigger

August 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm (books, news, people, portraits and paintings, research) (, , , , , , , )

A Bodleian staff member responded to my recent query about the SKETCH BOOKS OF FANNY (SMITH) SEYMOUR! The response is mainly ‘we’re moving; even if that were not the case, we don’t have staff nor time…’.

I was, however, encouraged (or I take it as encouragement…) to contact their Imaging Services. (I had asked about obtaining an image or two; I’m not in a position to pay for a lot of images, when there are diaries and letters I should be working with, instead of topographical drawings.)

I’m happy that my inquiry was not ignored. But, at the same time, would it take that much “time” to fetch one volume, flip through it, and describe it a bit? Size of book, number of drawings, that sort of think. I know; We are talking Oxford here, and the Bodleian is large.

I have had luck, in the past, to have gained the help of Prof. Jeremy Catto and Ariel College’s archivist Rob Petre in obtaining images of letters written by young Drummond Smith (Emma’s youngest brother), and copied out by one of the Smith sisters (I suspect Maria) [2013 Update: the handwriting is that of Fanny!]. Prof. Catto owns Drummond’s letter book, which was utilized in a history of Harrow — and that’s how I found out it existed. Talk about the ‘kindness of strangers’… I was and am grateful.*

So I will toss out this request: If anyone reading this post has ties to Oxford, lives nearby etc etc, can gain access to the library collection and has a half-hour to spare, please contact me (see Author page).

The main reason for this post, however, is to recognize someone who DID have time and take the time. She is Elizabeth Dunn, at Duke University, who responded to my initial query about Mary Gosling’s diary. I have remarked on this kindness elsewhere, but want to take the opportunity to reiterate how this project never would have gotten off the ground if I had been told ‘we have no time’. Instead, Elizabeth found the volume, found the entry I was most interested in (about the Ladies of Llangollen), described the diary and the other entries, and got the twenty or so pages xeroxed and sent to me. I met her in person some months later, when I traveled to Duke and transcribed the rest of the diary.

Months later, when I contacted Stanford University for information on holdings they have, my query got a response, but the proffered assistance was never actually acted upon (and I didn’t push it, having other avenues to pursue). Few realize just how important a drop of encouragement is to an “independent” scholar.

As my main hope had been to gain a view or two of Fanny’s books, if Imaging Services is willing and able, my curiosity might be assuaged. (To the tune of their minimum £15 charge!)

Drawing meant so much to Fanny, and (unlike many female amateur artists) she had an abiding desire to draw — even after her marriage. These sketches are dated c.1828-1838; Fanny married Richard in October 1834. Sophie du Pont, whose book I am just finishing, even Diana Sperling, pretty much gave up drawing after marriage.  Lucky Bodleian for having these souvenirs of Fanny.

*I am also lucky in my friendship with author Charlotte Frost, who photographed these three albums!

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An S.F. Austen Picnic

August 10, 2010 at 8:37 pm (entertainment, people) (, , )

Through a comment on my blog, I found Kelly in San Francisco’s Blogspot: Lavender Kissed. Readers will LOVE to see her pictures from the recent Jane Austen picnic — especially as she pays a lot of attention to the Regency Clothing she and her husband are wearing. Take a look: http://lavenderkissed.blogspot.com/2010/08/jane-austen-picnic-dance-finally.html

Kelly has commented on this blog that she loves “living history” — indeed, nothing exudes “living” more  than such lovely clothing. Check out more of her blog to find all that lies ‘beneath’ the outer clothes.

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Treated Rather like Mr Darcy?

August 8, 2010 at 9:54 am (books, entertainment) (, , , , , )

Yesterday, I was reading Sophie du Pont: A Young Lady in America (since posting about it a couple weeks ago, I found a copy — great condition and a perfect dust jacket — at Monroe Street Books in Middlebury last weekend… So the library copy has been quickly returned) and came across this letter extract that I simply have to share! Enjoy —

“I have a laughable story of a partner of hers at Phillips ball…. In the midst of the dance, he exclaims ‘excuse me ma’am’ & darts off, leaving Ella petrified, not knowing what to do, & the whole set put out till John Phillips rushed forward & took his place — He reappeared at the end of the set but made no apol:y to Ella & avoided her all the rest of the evening. Every one pronounced him the rudest of bears [underlined TWICE!]”

Now comes the explanation, which sets the common thought of those dancers on its head:

“–Now the explanation of the whole matter ‘has come to light.’ … It appears, in the first efforts to dance, his suspenders gave way entirely and he was obliged to hold up his pantaloons, the descent of which you will allow, would have been distressing — (for himself & spectators)  His excuse to Ella was necessarily abrupt & he hurried to the door, which being much crowded at that moment, his further retreat was impeded — In this dilemma he felt some one pulling his suspenders, which had found their way down, & turning round he beheld little Caroline Phillips, who exclaimed aloud, ‘What is this!’ “

I don’t know what struck me as funnier — the poor man’s embarrassing situation (as well the now “cleared” bear), or the little girl yanking his suspenders!

And this gives a taste of the comical turn young Sophie’s letters often take. Just an enjoyable book; wish someone published more of her correspondence!

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Selwyn, Austen and new book

August 8, 2010 at 9:42 am (books) (, , , , )

After much looking (wasn’t this book due out months ago? It seems out in the UK – for I see copies for sale – but Amazon.uk STILL doesn’t have a dust jacket photo!), here is a sneak peek at the cover of David Selwyn’s new book, Jane Austen and Children.

Continuum’s description makes it (I hope!) valuable reading for someone with so many pregnant ladies and young mothers to write about! I loved the publisher’s Jane Austen and Marriage (by Hazel Jones, who I wish would come out with something new!), and trust the same high standards are given over to Selwyn’s book; after all, he has written much on Jane Austen and the Austen family in general.

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Marianne’s Pianoforte

August 6, 2010 at 8:45 am (books) (, , , , , , , )

I am working on an article that features thoughts on Marianne Dashwood’s piano. Jane Austen is QUITE clear: the instrument is moved from Norland to Barton Cottage.

But do the movies and TV adaptations treat this most beloved instrument of a most beloved sister equally?? In the back of my mind I swear there’s at least one adaptation that has the pianoforte arriving as a “gift”. Am I dreaming?

UPDATE (Sunday): The Thompson screenplay does include this scene – very late in the film, once Brandon is “back in her favour” with Marianne (after she has recovered from her life-threatening illness). How could I forget, given that the “photo” of the family, gathered around this instrument, is used on the jacket to Sutherland’s book (see below).

Still blows the theory that Brandon watched Willoughby sing with Marianne. So either there are other versions out there, in which the instrument was Brandon’s gift, or of parties at Barton Park where Willoughby and Marianne duet, that I am thinking of. Alas, the only version of S&S I own is the Thompson version.

(I take the opportunity to include a YouTube clip of Marianne singing the first song, played for her Barton Park audience: Weep No More Sad Fountains. Can’t help but think of young Augusta Smith Wilder in scenes like this. BTW, how attentive Marianne’s audience is here in this film! In Austen’s novel, only Colonel Brandon impresses her because of his behavior; Sir John, for instance, while applauding loudly also talks loudly while she is playing! [Here, unlike the novel, there is no wife to discourage such behavior.] Makes me think of poor Mozart, when he commented about his chattering audience (never mind his chattering-teeth and frozen fingers, thanks to a very cold room), when ‘hired’ to give a private performance. Always, thus, for the performing artist — even in the theater, given the tales of talking and eating at the opera house which are legendary.)

I know what Austen wrote (ie, the instrument was Marianne’s and came from Norland); but what did other screenwriters think to do with the pianoforte?? Happy to read all comments! Thanks,  in advance, for the help.

UPDATE (Tuesday): I was hoping to find a YouTube extract of Brandon’s gift to Marianne — but the one scene that’s close is the scene before the piano gets carried up the hill; so: ends too soon!

Calista in Montreal has mentioned that the 1981 series (starring Irene Richard) simply shows Marianne playing; i.e., nothing is mentioned about the piano, and it certainly is no “gift”. She writes that it is in Episode Two we see for the first time Marianne — with Willoughby — at the piano.

BTW, I’ve switched out the banal DVD jacket photo for this gorgeous one of Kate Winslet at the piano. Just so evocative. Never really noticed how great the stills sometimes are on the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com).

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