Wake, 2017

Claire Tomalin, Jane AustenIn July 2017, JASACT held a Wake to commemorate the 200th anniversary of our Jane’s untimely death. To celebrate her life, each member contributed something about her to share with those present. These are those things!

On DW Harding’s “Regulated hatred”

(“Regulated hatred: An aspect of the work of Jane Austen”. A paper read before the Literary Society of Manchester University, March 3, 1939. Published in Scrutiny, 1940.)

It could be said that Jane Austen peppered her novels with encrypted messages to the discerning reader. It was thanks to psychology lecturer, Denys Harding, that attention was drawn to this aspect of her novels.

He called them “unexpected astringencies” and they are embedded in dialogue, authorial comment and caricatures. Henry Tilney’s remark about “every man being surrounded by a neighbourhood of spies” jars in a eulogy of his country and age. The description of Mrs Bennet as being “a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper” and the monstrous possibility of Elizabeth Bennet being married off to Mr Collins due to social and economic pressures are all seemingly social comedy. But no, Jane Austen is giving free rein to her hatred of aspects of the society in which she lived.

She hated self-complacency, hypocrisy, snobbery, self-aggrandisement, gossip and cant. However, according to Harding, she was intensely critical of people to whom she had strong emotional attachments. So she worked out a way to express her feelings without offending such people.

“Her books are, as she meant them to be, read and enjoyed by precisely the sort of people whom she disliked; she is a literary classic of the society, which attitudes like hers, held widely enough would undermine.”

Think of the Prince Regent.

Poor Miss Bates stood in the worst predicament in the world for having much of the public favour; “and she had no intellectual superiority to make atonement to herself, or frighten those who might hate her into outward respect.”

Think of Jane herself.

Harding maintains that part of her aim as a novelist was to find the means of spiritual survival.

She used caricature for her purpose so skilfully that it is impossible to distinguish when caricature ends and the claim to serious portraiture begins.

Thus, she shows herself as “a formidable ally against things and people which were to her, and still are, hateful.”

Letter to Cassandra, 1798

In selecting a letter, I sought to illustrate typical activities of Jane Austen’s life – the amount of travel, visits to and from relatives and friends, the minutiae of daily life associated with shopping, clothing, decorating hats, household management, entertainments, her brothers’ Naval careers and her wicked, acerbic wit.  Several are seen in these excerpts from this letter, some of which Lord Brabourne suppressed in his publication of the letters, which however, R. Chapman restored in his 2nd edition.

To Cassandra Austen (at Godmersham)
Saturday 27 – Sunday 28 October 1798
From  Jane Austen at Steventon

My dear Cassandra

Your letter was a most agreable surprize to me to day, & I have taken a long sheet of paper to shew my Gratitude.  We arrived here yesterday between 4 & 5, but I cannot send you quite so triumphant an account of our last day’s Journey as of the first & second.—Soon after I had finished my letter from Staines, my Mother began to suffer from the exercise & fatigue of travelling so far, & she was a good deal indisposed ……………….. She bore her journey however much better than I had expected, & at Basingstoke where we stopped more than half an hour, received much comfort from a Mess of Broth, & the sight of Mr Lyford, who recommended her to take 12 drops of Laudanum when she went to bed, as a Composer, which she accordingly did …………………. .James seems to have taken to his old Trick of coming to Steventon inspite of Mary’s reproaches, for he was here for breakfast, & is now paying us a second visit.—Mary is quite well he says, & uncommonly large; they were to have dined here today, but the weather is too bad. I have had the pleasure of hearing that Martha is with them; – James fetched her from Ibthrop on Thursday and she will stay with them till she removes to Kintbury. – We met with no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk had once nearly slipt off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greazed.–  While my Mother & Mr Lyford were together, I went to Mrs Ryders, & bought what I intended to buy, but not in much perfection. – There were no narrow Braces for Children, & scarcely any netting silk; but Mrs Wood as usual is going to Town very soon & will lay in a fresh stock.—I gave 2s/3d a yard for my flannel, & I fancy it is not very good; but it is so disgraceful & contemptible an article in itself, that its’ being comparatively good or bad is of little importance.  I bought some Japan Ink likewise, & next week shall begin my operations on my hat, on which You know my principal hopes of happiness depend.—I am very grand indeed;– I had the dignity of dropping out my mother’s Laudanum last night, I carry about the keys of the Wine & Closet; & twice since I began this letter, have had orders to give in the Kitchen: ………………………………………………………..  I have unpacked the Gloves & placed yours in your drawer. – Their colour is light & pretty, & I beleive exactly what we fixed on.  ………………….. Mrs Hall of Sherbourne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owning to a fright. – I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband ……………We are very glad to hear such a good account of your Patients little & great.  My dear itty Dordy’s remembrance of me is very pleasing to me; foolishly pleasing, because I know it will be over so soon.  ……………….. The Books from Winton are all unpacked & put away;– the Binding has compressed the;m most conveniently, & there is now very good room in the Bookcase for all ………… Dame Bushell washes for us only one week more, as Sukey has got a place.—John Stevens’ wife undertakes our Purification; She does not look as if anything she touched would ever be clean but who knows? ……………………….. My Mother has not been down at all today ………… .My father &  I dined by ourselves –How strange! – He & John Bond are now very happy together, for I have just heard the heavy step of the latter along the passage.—James Digweed called today & I gave him his brother’s deputation.  Charles Harwood too has just called to ask how we are, in his way from Dummer, whither he has been conveying Miss Garrett, who is going to return to her former residence in Kent.  …………………………………. .’Tis is really very kind in my Aunt to ask us to Bath again; a kindness that deserves a better return than to profit by it.——-

Yours Ever

Miss Austen
Godmersham Park

A Eulogy for Jane Austen

Miss Jane Austen.

We’re here to celebrate your life on the anniversary of your death.

We wish we could know you better but your family decided that there were aspects of your personality and details of your life that we shouldn’t know and they succeeded. But we all know that the myth of the spinster aunt who lived an uneventful life is not the truth.

So we search for the real you in your writing, your novels, your letters, your unfinished works because they are the only words we can trust. Others have looked for clues in objects associated with you while others have examined the houses you lived in and speculated on your day-to-day existence.

So much speculation.

But what do we know about you??

Jane Austen's desk with quill

Austen’s desk, Chawton. (Courtesy: Monster @ flickr.com)

We know you were relatively tall from the house coat in the Winchester Museum.
We know you had naturally curling hair.
We know you loved fashion, but not flounces.
We know you loved your sister Cassandra and your brother Henry and admired your naval brothers.
We know that your relationship with your mother was rather strained – your impatience with her constant illnesses is apparent in your letters.
We know you loved your nieces, Anna and Fanny.
We know you loved to drink wine and dance.
We know you loved the theatre.
We know from your letters that you could be both acerbic and cynical.
We know you were anti-slavery
We know you disliked, even despised the Prince Regent.
We know you didn’t suffer fools gladly.
We know that you wrote six novels that changed the nature of the novel in English for ever, novels that have endured whilst most of those written by your female contemporaries are either forgotten or survive as curiosities.
But more than anything we know that you had a delicious, wicked sense of humour. WE can hear you laugh as we laugh at your great comic creations, Fanny Dashwood, Mr Collins, Mrs Elton, Mrs Norris and Sir Walter Eliot.
We also know that two days before your death you wrote a poem.

So, I’d like to read a poem written by you in 1806 because you wanted to find a way for Martha Lloyd to come and visit and she needed a male escort and Mr Best could not be persuaded. We don’t know who Mr Best was but you combine annoyance and your innate sense of humour in the poem which commemorates this small domestic difficulty.

Oh, Mr Best you’re very bad.

Vale Jane Austen.

Jane Austen, on the 200th anniversary of her death

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, I feel the loss of her potential, that we have been cheated of further works and perhaps revisions. I have a sense of great promise and success cut short.

Jane Austen Fridge Magnets

From MaggieMagnets

Although she was revered by many in her time, Scott and the Prince Regent among them, sadly she was not as rewarded in her life as she is today. Perhaps produced with a limited audience in mind, her works have been widely read over 200 years, I suspect beyond her expectations.

Her work has endured … the innovation in style, form, irony, humour and intensely personal view forming the foundation of the modern novel. She wrote with hopeful insight the views of an astute and at times radical thinker. Through her we are led to consider essential values and concerns of life that are relevant even for readers of today. Her much-loved, cleverly drawn characters remain real for me such that we are at times caused to view the personalities, families and motivations of people today against some of her benchmarks. Even across time she makes us laugh.

Her gift to us were her books, that bring delight on every rereading and reveal herself to us.

We know very little of her for certain but I felt close to her, and admired her mathematical design as I recreated the quilt she made with her mother and sister.

From Persuasion

From Persuasion, Ch. 21, Anne on her way to visit Mrs Smith, and musing on events at the concert the previous evening where she discovered Wentworth was jealous of Mr Eliot.

Prettier musings of High-wrought love and eternal constancy, could never have passed along the streets of Bath, than Anna was sporting with from Camden-Place to Westgate-buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way.

An exhibition held at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre, Hampshire, May-July 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary. It was coordinated by the Hampshire Cultural Trust in partnership with Jane Austen’s House Museum.


Letter to Cassandra, 1796

To Cassandra Austen
Saturday 9-Sunday 10 January 1796

You scold me so much in the nice long letter, which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much, for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago. loss of yours.

After I had written the above, we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is really very well-behaved now, and as for the other, he has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove—it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light.

I condole with Miss M. on her losses and with Eliza on her gains, and am ever yours,


From Sense and sensibility (in absentia)

Being overseas at the time, I was unable to attend the wake, but if I had been present I would probably have shared one of my favourite quotes from my favourite author who can tell us so much about human nature! It goes:

Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. (Ch. 50)

I love this because it reminds me of how often we – well, I, anyhow – can pontificate on something only to discover, when we experience the thing ourselves, that the “truth” is something very different. This quote is my personal reminder to be not so sure of myself!

Some tributes

If I were in doubt as to the wisdom of one of my actions I should not consult Flaubert or Dostoyevsky. The opinion of Balzac or Dickens would carry little weight with me. Were Stendhal to rebuke me, it would only convince me I had done right; even in the judgement of Tolstoy I would not put complete confidence. But I should be seriously upset, I should worry for weeks and weeks, if I incurred the disapproval of Jane Austen. (Lord David Cecil, 1949)


I read Austen when I’m happy
And when I’m sad.
Sometimes I study her when I’m alone.
In the company of Janeites
A quotation is obligatory.
I sit with Jane when I’m feeling frail
And walk with her when I’m not.
Her own dear children lessen the miles of a journey
And amuse me when I must wait.
Otherwise I never turn a page – unless I can’t sleep.
(With apologies to Madame Bollinger)

There are many authors I enjoy reading, some of whom I reread. But it is only to Jane Austen that I can return again and again. She is the gold standard. To paraphrase the inimitable Tina Turner:

You’re simply the best, better than all the rest.
Better than anyone, anyone I’ve ever read.
I give you my heart, I hang on every word you say.
A world without you, babe? I’d rather be dead.

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