Finding a Voice: Diane Jacobs on ‘Abigail Adams and her Sisters’

April 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm (books, diaries, europe, history, jasna, people, research) (, , , , , , )

Looking for information about the Leon Levy Center for Biography (CUNY), I came across notice of this past lecture by Diane Jacobs:

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What leapt off the screen was the idea that Jacobs solved the problem of “finding a voice for each of her protagonists”. TWO TEENS IN THE TIME OF AUSTEN, while focused on Emma Smith and Mary Gosling, has the proverbial cast of thousands: Emma had 8 siblings; Mary, 6; in-laws for all those siblings who married add significantly to the count; parents and grandparents, especially ‘Mamma’ – Augusta Smith, and papa William Gosling; and all the relatives, friends, and neighbors who populate the letters and diaries.

Whew! rather like the chorus of a Gilbert & Sullivan extravaganza: “his sisters and his cousins, whom he reckons up by dozens, and his aunts“.

Jacobs also discussed “finding a way to distribute her attention between the one famous and the two unknown sisters” (for the record, Abigail’s sisters were Mary Smith Cranch and Elizabeth Smith Shaw Peabody). I have the problem of a super-well-represented sister (Emma Austen Leigh), several under-represented siblings, and a dying-for-more protagonist (Lady Smith). I believe there are primary materials out there, as yet “un(re)discovered”: more diaries and certainly more letters.

At least I don’t have to deal with “John Adams, who is not a main character, and yet so profoundly affects everyone else”! Although, I must ‘insinuate’ the historical since the “times” my ladies lived through are so eventful.

Wish I could have been in the audience at one of the several similar lectures Diane Jacobs gave last fall. And wish her book was already completed and out! I’d dearly love to read it. My own brush with Abigail Adams comes from her delightful letters sent home (to those sisters) from England and France. I even used her letters in a Jane Austen-related JASNA lecture.

I’ve a couple blog posts on Abigail Adams:

Check out the new material at the Massachusetts Historical Society’s digital edition of The Adam Papers, or read Abigail’s letters to her sisters!

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Fanny Fitzwilliam Palmer Austen

January 8, 2013 at 7:28 am (books, diaries, history, jane austen, people, research) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As readers will know from my earlier discussion of Deborah Kaplan’s Jane Austen Among Women, the book gives a wealth of information about the female relatives and neighbors of the Austen family – for my purposes, Eliza Chute and her sister-in-law Mary Bramston; Eliza’s mother Sarah Smith; and Eliza’s bosom friend Eliza Gosling. But re-reading the book after MANY years, I am drawn even more into the Austen family — young Fanny Knight; her governesses Miss Chapman and Miss Sharp; and a brief mention of Uncle Charles’ Bermuda-born wife Fanny Palmer.

It sinks in today, seeing her listing at Stanford, that Fanny’s middle name was Fitzwilliam…. Indeed… (Le Faye, of course, does mention that fact).

I did a little looking around, for there is mention of letters at the Morgan Library — one place I would be able to visit if the Leon Levy Fellowship at CUNY came through! Here’s an image of Fanny Palmer Austen from the blog Mansfield Park: Thoughts on Jane Austen’s Novel:

fanny palmerMiss Sneyd’s wonderful post is entitled the Fanny Hall of Fame (do read all the parts; & intro, too); indeed, I could add a Fanny or two myself! Miss Sneyd handily includes Fanny Palmer’s link at the peerage dot com; here she is at Stanford. Ellen Moody touches on Fanny’s death (and “colonial” relations in general).

As to the Pierpont Morgan Library; it took a while, but there finally were Fanny Austen’s few letters. They exist at the Morgan thanks to a bequest by Gordon N. Ray — the same source as the Walter Scott novels illustrated by the Compton siblings! The letters date from the period 1810-1814.

Readers all joke, So Little Time, So Many Books – in research the same holds, but distance and money are factors harder to overcome than simple lack of time. Someday…

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