Friday, 15 June 2007

JA's letter on November 17, 1798

The following is an excerpt of Jane Austen's letter to Cassandra, November 17, 1798. There is a bit of Tom Lefroy and Mrs. Lefroy here, and I will tell you my opinion of this letter later on.

***

Saturday, November 17, 1798.


MY DEAR CASSANDRA,

If you paid any attention to the conclusion of my last letter, you will be satisfied, before you receive this, that my mother has had no relapse, and that Miss Debary comes. The former continues to recover, and though she does not gain strength very rapidly, my expectations are humble enough not to outstride her improvements. She was able to sit up nearly eight hours yesterday, and to-day I hope we shall do as much. . .

So much for my patient -- now for myself.

Mrs. Lefroy did come last Wednesday, and the Harwoods came likewise, but very considerately paid their visit before Mrs. Lefroy's arrival, with whom, in spite of interruptions both from my father and James, I was enough alone to hear all that was interesting, which you will easily credit when I tell you that of her nephew she said nothing at all, and of her friend very little. She did not once mention the name of the former to me, and I was too proud to make any inquiries; but on my father's afterwards asking where he was, I learnt that he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise.

She showed me a letter which she had received from her friend a few weeks ago (in answer to one written by her to recommend a nephew of Mrs. Russell to his notice at Cambridge), towards the end of which was a sentence to this effect: "I am very sorry to hear of Mrs. Austen's illness. It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving my acquaintance with that family -- with a hope of creating to myself a nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it." This is rational enough; there is less love and more sense in it than sometimes appeared before, and I am very well satisfied. It will all go on exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner. There seems no likelihood of his coming into Hampshire this Christmas, and it is therefore most probable that our indifference will soon be mutual, unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first, is best supported by never seeing me.

Mrs. Lefroy made no remarks in the letter, nor did she indeed say anything about him as relative to me. Perhaps she thinks she has said too much already. She saw a great deal of the Mapletons while she was in Bath. Christian is still in a very bad state of health, consumptive, and not likely to recover.

***

Okay. Now, it is clear that the first paragraph told us about Mrs. Austen's illness (not a serious one, apparently). The second one was about Mrs. Anne Lefroy's visit to Steventon, how Jane refrained from asking about Tom Lefroy, and how Mr. Austen helped his daughter by inquiring after Mrs. Lefroy's nephew. What a good father Mr. Austen was, eh? Still supportive of his daughter, even considerate of her uncomfortable position for a simple inquiry.

And then, the 3rd paragraph:
"I am very sorry to hear of Mrs. Austen's illness. It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving my acquaintance with that family -- with a hope of creating to myself a nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it."

That was Tom Lefroy's sentence he wrote to Mrs. Lefroy. Yes, it was from 'a friend', but by the look of Jane's comments, it was very likely that the letter Mrs. Lefroy showed had been Tom's. The letter still displayed affections, albeit hidden, and a wish, if not desire, to receive news about the Austens. Tom also expressed his wish to mend fences with Jane, but he knew that it was a foolish hope. Come to think about it, I begin to think that perhaps Tom did not leave Jane intentionally, unlike several people suggested, for I could see regrets in Tom's words. The fact that Mrs. Lefroy did not comment on Tom's letter might suggest that she indeed pulled a 'Lady Russell' towards Jane and Tom.

Sob-sob-sob! Still, the simple letter was enough to remind Jane that she still cared for the Irishman dearly and still had hopes for the young Lefroy, though she also realised how desperate the situation was.


It is very possible that this letter is one of the 'dots' used by Jarrold &c to create Becoming Jane. It fits, for it took place after the letter from Cork Street and after Thomas Fowle's (Cassandra's fiancee) death.

PS July 10, 2007:

Upon the arrival of Jon Spence's Becoming Jane Austen, I finally convinced myself that 'the friend' in letter November 17, 1798 was actually Samuel Blackall, not Tom Lefroy. Thus, I acknowledge my mistake and apologise for that.

Pic 1: Mrs. Anne Lefroy (gosh, was she not a gorgeous lady?)
Pic 2: Becoming Jane scene, Henry and Eliza told Jane that Tom was in Hampshire

1 comment:

Ms. Place said...

Breathtakingly gorgeous woman. This blog is really coming into its own. I am quite enjoying it.