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The Joy of Reading Lady Susan

Michele Larrow

There is something truly breath-taking about reading Jane Austen’s novel-in-letters Lady Susan.  Most scholars believe that she wrote it before she turned twenty.  In the Oxford Edition of the Minor Works, Brian Southam hypothesizes that it was written between 1793-94 (MW, 243).  Because it is a novel in letters, we get to see how characters portray themselves to different letter recipients and then how they are perceived by others who write letters.  So the main dynamic of point-of-view is between Lady Susan and her sister-in-law Mrs. Vernon.  According to Juliet McMaster (2016) in Jane Austen, Young Author, “‘Lady Susan’ features a totally self-seeking female protagonist whose considerable power lies in her freedom from moral scruple” (12).  The language of the letters and the variations on perspective are a pleasure to read.

You can see the dueling perspectives of Lady Susan and Mrs. Vernon in the following quotations.  First, Lady Susan being candid with her confidante:

“There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one’s superiority.” Lady Susan, Jane Austen Letter 7, Lady Susan to Mrs. Johnson (about Mr. De Courcy) Minor Works, 254

Next, Mrs. Catherine Vernon portraying her view of Lady Susan in a letter to her brother:

“[Lady Susan] is clever & agreable, has all that knowledge of the world which makes conversation easy, & talks very well, with a happy command of Language, which is too often used I beleive to make Black appear White.”
Lady Susan, Jane Austen  Letter 6, Mrs. Vernon to Mr. De Courcy, Minor Works, 251 (spelling and capitalization from MW)

The male characters are rarely given a voice in their own letters, with the exception of Reginald De Courcy, who has a few to Lady Susan and one to his father.  Juliet McMaster calls him “a bag of goods contested over by the women” (Jane Austen, Young Author, 12).  In a reversal of the reality of the time, the men are portrayed as dominated by the women (McMaster, 12).

Lady Susan is such a fun read.  If you have never read it, I encourage you do so.  You can download a free copy through Project Gutenberg:  http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/946

I think the quotation in the header of this article, “Facts are such horrid things,” is remarkably post-modern.  And I must close with another favorite quotation from the work, that shows that underneath it all, Lady Susan wants something else besides money:

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featured, featured

Taking Tea with Miss Austen Mouse: Gingerbread Cakes

by Cassandra Bates, Region Treasurer

With our Spring Tea quickly approaching, I felt that it was a good time to take tea with Miss Austen Mouse. You see, Miss Austen Mouse is somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to Regency Gastronomy and absolutely loves sharing when she discovers a “new” Regency recipe.  Since we were taking tea together, she decided to share a recipe for Gingerbread Cakes from The Art of Cookery: Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, originally published in 1805:

Take three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in a very find, two ounces of ginger beat fine, a large nutmeg grated then take a pound a treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff, roll it out, and make it up into thin cakes, cut them out with a tea-cup, or small glass, or roll them round like nuts, and bake them on tin-plates in a slack oven. 

Now, I am not sure about you dear reader, but I did not find that recipe to be plain nor simple. Luckily, my dear friend Miss Austen Mouse was able to modernize the recipe for me:

1 ½ lbs. all-purpose unbleached flour

½ lb. sugar

½ lb. butter softened to room temperature

2 tbsp. ground ginger

1 tbsp. ground nutmeg

1 cup molasses

¼ cup cream

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, sugar and spices thoroughly with your hands.
  3. Warm the molasses and cream together in a small saucepan, stirring to blend. This is not to be hot but warm so that they blend together, not cook.
  4. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands until it has a sort of grated bread look.
  5. Add the molasses and cream mixture and work it up into a stiff dough with your hands. If it seems dry, add a little more cream to it. The dough should be stiff but not dry.
  6. Roll out the dough on a floured surface about ¼ inch thick and cut cookies into whatever shapes please you. If you wish to form them into nut shapes as the recipe states they will look sort of button shaped when they bake.
  7. Bake these in a 375° oven for about 8 to 10 minutes. They should still be soft to the touch before they come from the oven, not hard.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more Regency Gourmandise and other adventures with Miss Austen Mouse!

If you have a request for Miss Austen Mouse, please email: jasnaewanid@gmail.com or post on our Facebook page or Twitter feed.  Want to snag your very own tea cozy like the one pictured here? Hop on over to BerindeensTeaTime on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BernideensTeaTime?ref=profile_header

Interviews

Cass Grafton Interview

Interview by Cassandra Bates using questions submitted by region members and through social media.

Cass Grafton https://cassandragrafton.com/ is the author of several books that are Pride and Prejudice variations, including A Fair Prospect (3 volumes) and A Quest for Mr. Darcy. She also has co-written two books with her friend Ada Bright about a time-traveling Jane Austen. Cass and Ada have a new book coming out March 9, 2021 which combines Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion: Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion. Cass joined our region for a long-distance interview about reading, collaborating with other authors, and her writing process.

Have you seen the Bookworm Pill Meme?  The choices are 1) Amnesia Pill (read a book as if never read it) 2) Sacrifice Pill (revive dead fictional character) 3) Love Pill (fictional character falls in love with you) 4) Life Pill (bring fictional character to life) 5) Travel Pill (visit any fictional world) 6) Body Pill (change bodies with any fictional character).  Which two would you choose and for which books or characters? 

No, I haven’t seen it, but what fun!

So, instinctively, I went with number 2, reviving Sirius Black from the Harry Potter novels! Broke my heart when he died (hope that’s not a spoiler for anyone)! And, I realised I would love to read Pride & Prejudice for the ‘first’ time again, so I’m opting for number 1 also.

Any other 18th or 19th century women writers whom you love to reread?

I enjoy Elizabeth Gaskell – love, love, love North & South, Wives & Daughters and Cranford. Her Life of Charlotte Brontë is also fascinating. Enjoy the Brontës too, though I’ve only re-read the most popular novels.

I have read some of George Eliot’s novels, but I generally find her stories too depressing to re-read (which is funny, because you’d think with her capacity for a rising death count, Elizabeth Gaskell would be depressing too, but I love her stories! Must be all in the telling).

Switching between writing on your own and writing with a collaborator…does that cause any issues?

Not at all. Ada Bright and I both have our solo projects ongoing, but now and again we love to write together. It depends when the timing is right. Last year, we both found it tough to write contemporary, because we didn’t want to write about the present situation, so we decided to go back in time and write Mr Darcy’s Persuasion instead.

 I loved the Cornwall book…there seemed to be some Austen elements in the book?

Thank you! I’m so pleased you loved it!

Funnily enough, I didn’t think there were Austen elements (beyond some of the chapter quotes), but a couple of readers emailed me afterwards to say they saw parallels, and someone also told me they could ‘hear’ Colin Firth’s voice when Oliver was speaking.

That’s quite lovely, but in actual fact, I was imagining Richard Armitage for Oliver all the time I was writing (it was no hardship, honestly!) and there’s even a scene in there that is an homage to the BBC adaptation of North & South!

What was/is your research process for writing Regency?

Reading, mainly!

I discovered Jane Austen at school, read all her novels, partially finished works and then book after book about her life, and continue to buy and absorb them now (many years later).

With the time travel novels, there was a lot more practical research, as we were writing about a real person and the second in the series is set in Chawton in 1813. I had a behind the scenes tour of Jane’s house when it was closed, where I was told about the layout of the property and gardens back in early 1800, spoke with several people locally, including Jeremy Knight, whose family were the last of Jane’s descendants to live in Chawton (great) House, and was given maps of the village at that time.

I also read as many accounts as possible about Jane’s life in Chawton. It was fascinating!

We also have an excellent editor in Christina Boyd, who pointed out the number of words we were using which were mainly Victorian in origin and not in use in Regency England!

What if any was your inspiration for the relationship of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in A Quest for Mr. Darcy?

This is a tricky one, because I can remember where the inspiration for the story struck (whilst sunbathing on a beach in Portugal many years ago), but less so the trigger for the relationship between the leads.

Part of the stimulus was a line in the first Austen-inspired book I wrote, A Fair Prospect, where Elizabeth says something along the lines of, ‘when I return to Longbourn, I will probably find my father is planning to relocate us to Derbyshire’, and ever since I’d written those words, I wanted to set story there—setting is very important to me when I write.

I don’t know if anyone who has read Quest has noticed, but Elizabeth doesn’t appear in the story until Chapter Ten! I felt she would bear Darcy considerable resentment at first, but I did enjoy having her come to realise what a good man he is. Perhaps it’s only me, but I feel Elizabeth needs to suffer a bit, not just Darcy!

Can an extraordinary woman reform Mr. Wickham, perhaps an Elizabeth Bennet?

Short answer? No! lol
Personally, I like to believe everyone has some redeeming qualities. I think, had he married Elizabeth (can’t bear to think about it), she would have curbed some of his weaker tendencies, but within marriage in that era, the man was very much in control, certainly when it came to finances. I can’t help but think, with Wickham’s propensity for losing or wasting any money he gains, even if he managed to persuade someone of Elizabeth’s qualities to marry him, they would never have a harmonious union.

You write with Ada Bright; how do you manage that process? Do you pass the manuscript back and forth? Or do you bounce ideas off each other and take turns writing? 

We both work on every single scene. We tend to brainstorm on video chat (we live thousands of miles apart—Switzerland and California) with a 9-hour time difference, so we chat my early morning, which is Ada’s late night—our most productive times, respectively.

We will decide what the next scene is, and one of us will start it, then send it to the other, who works on it and sends it back and so on. Because of the time difference, we can be working on the story almost 24/7 if we need to.

By the time we’ve finished a book, we have each worked on every aspect, and often we can’t remember who wrote what!

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Jane Austen—with whom I wish I was friends—has helped me become a better writer. She’s an educator. I feel as if I’ve served my writing apprenticeship under her guidance.

I am also lucky to have so many writer friends, across several genres and countries!

The greatest thing I’ve gained is the companionship of fellow writers, because it’s a very lonely profession! It’s so lovely to be able to meet (in person or virtually) and talk about the process, the challenges and to get support when you’re having a ‘moment’ and convinced you can’t write at all!

What is your favorite love theme for ODC – enemies to lovers, forced marriage scenarios or low angst love story? What makes Darcy and Lizzy, one of the most popular couple?

I think I favour enemies to lovers. I always thought I wrote low angst stories, but when I was posting the opening chapters of Mr Darcy’s Persuasion, a few people were getting a bit stressed!

Jane Austen is a master at her craft, and although there are varying opinions over which of her novels shows this best, I’ve always felt she was exceptional in creating Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. These two characters have charmed and enchanted readers and viewers for centuries, and Pride & Prejudice still regularly appears at the top of the ‘best books of all time’ polls, here in the 21st century.

On the surface, Elizabeth and Darcy appear so different, but they have similarities they have to discover—about each other and about themselves. They have faults, which makes them human and therefore relatable to readers. You feel for them, even as they are making mistakes, and you long for them to have their happy ending.

I believe Pride & Prejudice may be the most romantic of Jane’s books (though I would do a shout out for Persuasion on that score too), even though it’s not strictly a romance novel. The way Mr Darcy changes for—and because of—the woman he loves, and works to save her family from ruin, even when there is no particular hope for him, is enough to make me swoon every time!

How did the story of ‘Mr. Darcy’s Persuasion come to your mind as a full story? Inspiration?

I’ve always wanted to write a crossover between these two novels, because they are my favourites, and once again, location became an influence. I lived in Somerset for 7 wonderful years in the 1990s. It’s a place very dear to my heart, much as it is to Anne Elliot.

With a co-write, it’s also important for Ada to have been to where a book is being set, so she can picture it, and she was familiar with the county. We used Montacute House as our Kellynch Hall (which we visited together in 2019)—you may know it as the Palmers’ house in the 1995 Sense & Sensibility film.

Getting Mr Darcy and Elizabeth to Somerset (separately and unknown to each other) was the easy bit! Both Ada and I love to write an element of mystery into our stories, and I had the idea for this one—which I can’t speak about because of spoilers—after which, we brainstormed the plot and off the story went.

The most rewarding factor for both Ada and I as the novel took shape was the friendship between Anne and Elizabeth—one we never knew we needed, but it felt entirely right. Anne, of course, is only 24 in Mr Darcy’s Persuasion, as it takes place immediately after the Netherfield ball in November 1811, three years before the events of Persuasion.

Do you like to listen to music while you write? Or create playlists for books or characters?

Yes! I always have music on.

If I’m writing historical, I use soundtracks from the Austen adaptations, but when I was writing the Cornwall novel, I created playlists for Anna from current music.

With the time travel novels, it was a mix. The first book was set in the present day, so Rose had a playlist of her own, much like Anna’s, but in the second book, it was back to listening to classical to set the mood for 1813!

When might we expect A Polkerran Village Tale Book 2? Book 1 was excellent. 

Thank you so much! I am really touched to know that.

If it hadn’t been for a certain pandemic, it would have been coming out now! I have another three planned, and I’m hoping to leap into working on the second as soon as Mr Darcy’s Persuasion is released—time to create a new playlist!

What do you find to be the most difficult emotion to write?

Anger! I don’t have much of a temper, so I find lighter characters easier to write. I love writing Colonel Fitzwilliam, about whom we know very little, but he’s easy to make into a fun person.

The only time I manage to write angry people comfortably is when Lady Catherine is being a pain in the neck!

Has writing for you become harder or easier during the pandemic?

At first, I couldn’t write at all. I struggled with all that was happening. That’s why I eventually asked Ada if she’d be happy to co-write a historical novel, where we could escape from the world for a while each day.

It helped enormously. Not only do we have tons of fun when we are co-writing, and laugh a lot during our chats, but it gave us both a focus.

Wow, thank you for some amazing questions! It’s so lovely to have such original ones to answer!

Fun

A Thankful Sense

Give us a thankful sense of the blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by discontent or indifference.”  Jane Austen, Prayer 1, Minor Works 454

Jane Austen’s prayers give wonderful insight into her values for living and aspirations for interactions with her “fellow-creatures”.  Whether one shares her Christian faith or not, I think her desire to be more thankful in Prayer 1 has resonance for this strange year.  This is a year in which many things that we took for granted suddenly became of central importance.  I am thankful for having food to eat, shelter, good health, and ways to connect with those I love, even if I cannot see them in person.  I am thankful for the work of all those who keep our everyday lives running—those who staff the stores, work in the hospitals and clinics, care for loved ones, produce our food, deliver mail, and move goods around.  I am consciously trying to be more grateful each day for the small things—a hot cup of tea, the sound of a loved one’s voice, a walk outside–and to acknowledge those big blessings in my life.

I am also grateful for Jane Austen.  Reading Jane Austen helps me to find some sense of calm when everything seems upended.  Each time I re-read one of her works I re-discover some new treat of phrasing or characterization.  It has been a joy to connect with people who love Jane as much as I do either on social media or through our region’s Zoom meetings.  Our region is very spread out geographically, so it is a celebration for all of us to gather together on Zoom and be joined by people from around the country and Canada.  I enjoyed being able to attend the JASNA virtual Annual General Meeting in October and watch the videos throughout the month.  We even had JASNA president Liz Philosophos Cooper come to our virtual tea in May.  If there is one upside to things going online, it is the ability to participate in Jane Austen events worldwide and meet fans from all over.

I am also thankful to the people who make our region special.  Amy Lyons formed the region with me in 2017 and was a Regional Co-Coordinator for three years.  Jane Provinsal is our current Regional Co-Coordinator and does an amazing job running our social media.  Cassandra Bates is our treasurer and party-planner extraordinaire.  Debra Peck is our secretary and is so generous of her craft and sewing talents for our events.  Our members engage in dynamic discussion of all things Jane Austen.  It has been a pleasure to be able to host more frequent events thanks to Zoom and get to know people better.  Most of our events are free and open to anyone, so we hope you will join us at our events.

Michele Larrow, Regional Co-Coordinator

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Coffee or Tea

by Cassandra Dole Bates

During Jane Austen’s time that was the question. The first Coffee House in Britain came about in 1675 and coffee was in favor until 1830 when coffee houses became almost extinct. This was due to the heavy political and sometimes unsavory conversations had at coffee houses as well as it was a drink mostly favored by men (probably due to the discourses had at these establishments). It was said that because of these conversations women were not in favor of said coffee houses and by Jane Austen’s time, tea was much more preferred as it was a much more non-bias family friendly drink to be had as it could be enjoyed by all not just men and elite at clubs and coffee houses. Coffee drinking is mentioned in five of Miss Austen’s seven novels (Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Pride and Prejudice). In Pride and Prejudice in particular, Miss Austen uses coffee and tea as means to exacerbate Darcy and Elizabeth’s tension. Dr. Jessica Volz has an excellent write up on this very subject through the Jane Austen Literacy Project, check out the narrative here: https://janeaustenlf.org/pride-and-possibilities-articles/2017/2/21/issue-8-coffee-tea-and-visuality.

What would be a Coffee post without a recipe?

Mrs Maria Eliza Rundell, in A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1808

To make Coffee

Put two ounces of fresh ground coffee, of the best quality, into a coffee-pot, and pour eight coffee-cups of boiling water on it; let it boil six minutes, pour out a cupful two or three times, and return it again; then put two or three isinglass-chips into it, and pour one large spoonful of boiling water on it; boil it five minutes more, and set the pot by the fire to keep it hot for ten minutes, and you will have coffee of a beautiful clearness.

Fine cream should always be served with coffee, and either pounded sugar-candy, or fine Lisbon sugar.

If for foreigners, or those who like it extremely strong, make only eight dishes from three ounces.  If not fresh roasted, lay it before a fire until perfectly hot and dry; or you may put the smallest bit of fresh butter into a preserving pan of a small size, and, when hot, throw the coffee in it, and toss it about until it be freshened, letting it be cold before ground.

*Isinglass is a clarifying collagen, produced from the swim bladders of fish, prior to 1795 from sturgeon but after that also from cod; nowadays we would use gelatin.  Lisbon sugar, otherwise known as clayed sugar, was manufactured in the colonies of France, Spain and, as the name suggests, Portugal.  Wet pipeclay was laid on top of the sugar and water poured over which removed the molasses.  Sugar candy is formed of large crystals of sugar, today known as rock candy or sugar. *

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Jane Austen’s Poetic Life

by Debra Lynne Peck © 2020

As for ourselves, we’re very well; as unaffected prose will tell – Cassandra’s pen will paint our state, the many comforts that await, our Chawton Home – how much we find, already in it to our mind, and how convinced that when complete, it will all other houses beat, that ever have been made or mended – with rooms concise or rooms distended. You’ll find us very snug next year, perhaps with Charles and Fanny near – for now, it often does delight us, to fancy them just over-right us!

The happy little verse above is an excerpt from a poem called “My Dearest Frank, I Wish You, Joy.” Jane Austen wrote this poem in 1809, to congratulate her brother Frank on the birth of his second child, and to sing the praises of her new home – Chawton Cottage. Jane was often inspired to write poetry for her family and special friends, to both entertain them, and to let them know in her humorous way, how much they meant to her. She composed poems on every subject, from headaches and praises, to current events and snippets of gossip. Writing imaginative verse was second nature to Jane, as she grew up in a family of talented poets. Her Mother, Brothers James and Edward, and even her Sister Cassandra, all tried their hand at rhyming. Later, her nieces and nephews joined in the fun, and her nephew James Edward Austen (later Austen-Leigh,) upon finding out his dear Aunt was responsible for writing the novels he had come to love, wrote her a humorous poem of applause! James Edward would later write one of the first biographies on Jane Austen’s life.

No words can express, my dear Aunt, my surprise – or make you conceive how I opened my eyes, like a pig Butcher Pile has just struck with his knife, when I heard for the very first time in my life, that I had the honour to have a relation, whose works were dispersed through the whole of the nation. I assure you, however, I’m terribly glad; Oh dear, just to think (and the thought drives me mad) that dear Mrs. Jennings’ good-natured strain, was really the produce of your witty brain – that you made the Middletons, Dashwoods, and all, and that you (not young Ferrars) found out that a ball, may be given in cottages never so small – And though Mr. Collins so grateful for all, will Lady De Bourgh his dear patroness call, ‘Tis to your ingenuity really he owed, his living, his wife, and his humble abode! Now if you will take your poor nephew’s advice, your works to Sir William pray send in a trice – If he’ll undertake to some grandees to show it, by whose means at last the Prince Regent might know it – for I’m sure if he did, in reward for your tale, he’d make you a Countess at least without fail – and indeed, if the Princess should lose her dear life, you might have a chance of becoming his wife!

Her Father’s extensive library at Steventon Rectory, along with the circulating library of the day, afforded Jane access to works of the great poets of her time. Jane’s brother, Henry, was recorded as stating that her favorite poet was William Cowper. Jane herself refers to his works “Tirocinium, and The Task” many times in her novels and letters. Other poets Jane admired were Dr. Samuel Johnson, the Reverend George Crabbe, Lord Byron, Charlotte Smith, and Anna Laeticia Barbauld. Jane was known to have joked with her family about being the second Mrs. Crabbe. Upon hearing of the death of the first Mrs. Crabbe, she remarked in an 1813 letter to Cassandra – “I will comfort him as well as I can, but I do not undertake to be good to her children…she had better not leave any!” George Crabbe wrote realistic poetry depicting how harsh and depressing life in the countryside could be – poems that were neither idyllic nor pastoral. Perhaps Jane admired Crabbe’s poetry for his attempts to bring the harsh reality of poverty into the social consciousness. An excerpt from William Cowper’s “Tirocinium (A Review of Schools”) from 1784 shows a romantic point of view and a lyrical rhythm which is more inviting –

Spring hangs her infant blossoms on the trees, rocked in the cradle of the western breeze. Summer in haste the thriving charge receives, beneath the shade of her expanded leaves, till Autumn’s fiercer heats and plenteous dews, dye them at last in all their glowing hues.

An excerpt from Charlotte Smith’s “Invitation to the Bee,” would have appealed to Jane’s love of nature and the joys of living in the country –

Child of patient industry, little active, busy bee, though art out at early morn, just as the opening flowers are born – among the green and grassy meads, where cowslips hang their heads, or by hedge-rows, while the dew, glitters on the hare-bell blue – then on eager wing are flown, to thymy hillocks on the down, or to revel on the broom, or suck the clover’s crimson bloom – murmuring still thou busy bee, thy little ode to industry!

There is some dispute about a little needle and thread case that Jane Austen made, in which she enclosed the following poem – written by herself. Three different biographers list the possible recipients as being Jane’s dear friend Martha Lloyd, her sister-in-law Mary Lloyd, or her niece Caroline Austen! I would like to think she wrote it for Martha Lloyd, a faithful bosom companion and friend of her lifetime.

This little bag I hope will prove to be not vainly made – for if you should a needle want, it will afford you aid – and as we are about to part T’will serve another end, for when you look upon the bag, you’ll recollect your friend!  

Loyal friends were vitally important to Jane Austen, and close companions Martha Lloyd and Anne Sharp were models for perfect friendship. – From the poet Anna Laeticia Barbauld’s “Pious Friendship” –

How blest the sacred tie that binds, in union sweet according minds! How swift the heavenly course they run, whose hearts, whose faith, whose hopes are one!

Another dear friend of Jane’s youth, Madam Lefroy – inspired her to write a poem of tribute after Mrs. Lefroy’s untimely death from a horse accident on Jane’s birthday in 1804. An excerpt from one of Jane’s most heartfelt and emotional poems shows her deep feelings for her kindly mentor:

Angelic woman! Past my power to praise, in language meet thy talents, temper, mind – thy solid worth, thy captivating grace, thou friend and ornament of humankind.

The following verse is one of my very favorite Jane Austen poems, written for her niece Fanny Knight, on the occasion of Francis Austen’s wedding to Mary Gibson, July 24, 1806. The imagery this verse calls forth pulls one right into the heart of the story where you can feel every bump in the road and hear the rumbling of the carriage and the sound of the horse’s hooves pounding the lane!

See they come, post haste from Thanet, lovely couple, side by side – They’ve left behind them Richard Kennet, with the parents of the Bride! Canterbury, they have passed through, next succeeded Stamford Bridge – Chilham Village they came fast through, now they’ve mounted yonder ridge – Down the hill, they’re swift proceeding, now they skirt the Park around – Lo! The cattle sweetly feeding, scamper – startled at the sound! Run, my Brothers, to the Pier gate! Throw it open, very wide! Let it not be said that we’re late in welcoming my Uncle’s Bride! To the house the chaise advances, now it stops – They’re here, they’re here! How d’ye do, my Uncle Francis? How does do your Lady dear?

Many “Janeites” of yesteryear, inspired by the writings of Jane Austen, felt compelled to honor her – both in verse and prose. Lord Morpeth: 7th Earl of Carlisle and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Anne Isabella: Lady Ritchie, Andrew Lang, Virginia Woolf, and Rudyard Kipling, were just a few. Of these, Rudyard Kipling offers the most touching tribute, when he imagines “Jane’s Marriage:” Try not to cry when you read this – I always do!

Jane went to Paradise: that was only fair, Good Sir Walter followed her, and armed her up the stair. Henry and Tobias, and Miguel of Spain, stood with Shakespeare at the top, to welcome Jane – Then the Three Archangels, offered out of hand, anything in Heaven’s gift that she might command. Azrael’s eyes upon her, Raphael’s wings above, Michael’s sword against her heart, Jane said – “Love.” Instantly the understanding Seraphim, laid their fingers on their lips and went to look for him. Stole across the Zodiac, harnessed Charles’s Wain, and whispered round the Nebulae, “Who loved Jane?” In a private limbo, where none thought to look, sat a Hampshire gentleman, reading of a book. It was called “Persuasion,” and it told the plain, story of the love between Him and Jane. He heard the question, circle Heaven through – closed the book, and answered – “I did – and do!” Quietly but speedily (as Captain Wentworth moved) entered into Paradise, the man Jane loved!  – Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade! Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made. And, while the stones of Winchester – or Milsom Street – remain, Glory, Love, and Honour unto England’s Jane!

It is serendipitous to me that Kipling chose Jane Austen’s most mature novel for the subject of his poem because I believe Persuasion to be her most poetic novel. Jane lived a very creative life. Though her verses are few, her stories teem with all the drama poets love. They are filled with tragic and disappointing love, separation of lovers, unsettled home life, the longing for a real home, failed communication between lovers, the desire to have it all, (love and independence) and the tragedy and comedy of the human condition. How can one not see the poetry in her novels? Is not the line “You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” or “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more,” pure poetry? And from “Persuasion,” “Prettier musings of high-wrought love and eternal constancy, could never have passed along the streets of Bath, than Anne was sporting with from Camden-place to Westgate-buildings. It was almost enough to spread purification and perfume all the way.” Consider Captain Harville’s speech to Anne at the White Hart, and Oh! Captain Wentworth’s letter! It is poetic from beginning to end!

But, alas, it is a line from Jane Austen’s last poem that says what we all feel. On July 15, 1817, St. Swithin’s Day – Jane wrote a poem about the Winchester Races. The story in this verse tells the humorous tale of St. Swithin cursing the horse races held on a day that was supposed to honor him. She says: “When once we are buried, you think we are gone, but Behold me Immortal” and we do.

Jane Austen and Chawton House Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Rita Greer, Licence Art Libre, Copyleft

British Library Public Domain Photos

Works cited:

A Memoir of Jane Austen:  James Edward Austen-Leigh, Richard Bentley and Son, London 1886

A Portrait of Jane Austen: David Cecil, Penguin Books LTD, London 1980

Charlotte Smith Complete Poetical Works: Delphi Classics, East Sussex, United Kingdom 2014

Debits and Credits: Rudyard Kipling, Doubleday/Page, New York 1926

Jane Austen’s Letters: Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press, New York 1995

Persuasion: Jane Austen, 1818, Penguin Classics, London 1998

The Poems of Anna Laeticia Barbauld: Edited by William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft, University of Georgia Press 1994

The Poetry of Jane Austen and The Austen Family: Edited by David Selwyn, University of Iowa Press/Jane Austen Society 1997

The Works of William Cowper:  Hardpress, Miami, Florida 2018