Jane Austen’s Dearest Friendship with Miss Sharp Still Resonates Today

You would have held the memory of your friend Jane too in tender regret I am sure. – But the Providence of God has restored me – & may I be more fit to appear before him when I am summoned, than I sh’d have been now! – Sick or Well, beleive me ever your attached friend. J. Austen Letter to Anne Sharp, 22 May 1817

Image of three volumes first edition of Emma, presented to Ann SharpJaneites with deep pockets and warm hearts will be winging their way to London for the June 24th auction of a first edition of Emma being offered at Bonham’s Auction House. The rare three volume presentation copy of Jane Austen’s fourth and final novel to be published in her lifetime was a gift from the authoress to Anne Sharp, a dear friend and previous governess to her brother Edward Austen Knight’s daughter Fanny at Godmersham, Kent.

Bonham’s online catalogue description contains some interesting facts.

Jane Austen was allocated twelve presentation copies by the publisher John Murray. Of these, nine were sent to family members (including Jane herself), one to the librarian of the Prince Regent (to whom the work was dedicated), and one to Countess Morley, these last under obligation from the publisher. The present copy is the only one given to a personal friend, testament to the strength of Jane’s feelings for Anne.

First editions of Jane Austen’s novels can garner healthy prices. A November 2007 article in Antiquarian Books listed a recent sale of a three volume set of Sense and Sensibility by Bloomsbury Auctions in New York for $48,000.00. (1) Because the ‘Anne Sharp’ edition of Emma has unique provenance, and no known presentation copies of Emma have ever hit the market before, Bonham’s is anticipating a sale price between £50,000 to £70,000. This could be quite a windfall for its present UK owner who had the volumes shelved in their family library for three generations without a clue as to how their ancestors acquired them. One wonders what else they have loitering about, and why they chose this moment to dispose of them!

Illustration of Godmersham Park, Kent, England

Godmersham Park, Kent, home of the Edward Austen Knight family circa 1804

Anne Sharp served as governess to Fanny Knight (1793-1882) Jane Austen’s niece, at Godmersham from 1804 to 1806, resigning for health reasons. (2) She is mentioned fondly several times in Jane Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra and in this wonderful passage from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen.  Continue reading “Jane Austen’s Dearest Friendship with Miss Sharp Still Resonates Today”

My Personal Austen: Does Reading Jane Austen Make Me a Better Person?

Image of a Silhouette of Jane AustenIf anyone out there has ever wondered where I get my inspiration to write continually about one subject – Jane Austen – for six months and counting, you might be amused at what from time-to-time inspires those brain cells into action. Many times, I will be Googling along and happen upon something that I was not searching for in the first place. Serendipity and all that! Often I get an inspiration while driving in my car! Go figure. Here is a meanderin’ tale of my trail of discovery and inspiration for this post today!

Recently I purchased the most amazing book My Dear Cassandra: The Letters of Jane Austen, selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallet, Clarkson, Collins, New York (1990). I had been aware of this book for years, but had never had the pleasure of seeing it first hand. A few months ago I read a beaming review of it by Book Chronicle whose opinions I respect and admire, resulting in it being pushed up to the top of my ‘must have’ Austen book queue. Yes, gentle readers; – I keep a list! La! 

Image of the cover of My Dear Cassandra, edited by Penelope Hughes-Hallet, Clarson & Potter, New York (1990)

The book is sadly no longer in print, which is *never* a deferent to this obsessive used book lover! I was able to track down an American first edition in ‘like new’ condition at Advance Book Exchange (www.abe.com). Hurrah! It arrived last week, and it is an eye popper; beautifully designed, copiously illustrated and reverently edited. It was a spiritual experience for me, like one of those beautiful Medieval illuminated manuscripts that monks laboured over for years to glorify the Bible! The holy grail of Austen books. Wow! Serious book swoon here!  Continue reading “My Personal Austen: Does Reading Jane Austen Make Me a Better Person?”

Austen’s Regretted Mischance to See Mrs. Siddons

Image of the painting Sarah Siddons by Thomas Gainsborough“I have no chance of seeing Mrs. Siddons.  – She did act on Monday, but Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would, the places, & all thought of it, were given up. I should have particularly liked to see her in Constance, & could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me. Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, 25 April 1811, London, The Letters of Jane Austen 

Jane Austen took every opportunity to enjoy the London theatre scene when she stayed in town with her brother Henry Austen. In 1811, she was looking forward to seeing the great tragedienne actress of the day, Mrs. Siddons, who was currently playing Constance in King John at Covent Garden. Imagine her excitement at the prospect of seeing the icon of British theatre who was nearing the end of her long and infamous career. When their best laid plans were spoiled by a misinformed Boxkeeper, (an attendant at the theatre who was responsible for managing the box seats), I pity poor Henry the arduous task of breaking the bad news to his sister. Their disappointment must have been doubled when they later learned that Mrs. Siddons had performed, but in another production! No wonder Jane Austen wants to swear at her! 

Illustration of Mrs. Siddons as Lady MacbethSarah Siddons (1755-1831) and Jane Austen (1775-1817) share three coincidences together; 1.) They both resided in Bath and Southampton, but not at the same time; – Mrs. Siddons lived in Bath early in her career and in Southampton after her retirement in 1812. 2.) They also shared an affinity for Shakespeare; – Siddons by her portrayals of his tragic heroines such as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Desdemona in Othello, Rosalind in As You Like It, and Ophelia in Hamlet, and Austen by reading and studying of his works, and referencing them in her novels. 3.) They are both considered by critics and the public to be early icons of their genre; Mrs. Siddons as the first modern ‘star’, and Miss Austen as the first modern novelist.   Continue reading “Austen’s Regretted Mischance to See Mrs. Siddons”

See Jane Austen Sell, – and sell, and sell…

Image of What Would Jane Say greeting cardPROFIT

Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of the mouths of other people. Letter to Cassandra Austen, The Letters of Jane Austen, 28 September 1814

Newsflash from the book trenches! Jane Austen is a popular author. Really, you say?

This will of course not be a surprise to any Janeite, but it appears that it is to the suits and skirts at book publishing headquarters. She has caught them off guard, and the shelves are empty! Three of the major collections of her novels that were recently released in anticipation of The Complete Jane Austen series airing on PBS, are now out of stock. Gone, nada, zip. Sold out!

Seven Novels, Barnes & Nobel, (2007)Recently, I announced the release of the new deluxe edition of Jane Austen: Seven Novels. Within a month it was sold out! This exceptionally beautiful volume is in high demand, and now that new copies are temporally unavailable until the next printing arrives, it is garnering incredibly absurd prices on eBay. If you have not snapped up you copy already, I have it on good authority that they are in production now, so hold on to your bonnets, and please be patient.

Image of the cover of Jane Austen Seven NovelsThe other two editions were Jane Austen: Seven Novels, part of the Library of Essential Writers Series, which were complete and unabridged, and Jane Austen: Complete Novels, part of the Collector’s Library Editions Series, which were also complete and unabridged and included the humorous Hugh Thomson line illustrations from the 1890’s. Since both of these editions are published by Barnes & Noble, the chance of additional printings is very good.

Since Jane Austen has been proclaimed the “it” girl of the 21st-century, her selling power can even surprise the pros at Barnes & Noble, who have been selling books since 1873. Let’s hope that there is not too much delay as they ‘retrench’!

On the local book front, the top 10 selling Austen or Austen-esque books of February in my Alderwood Barnes & Noble store resulted in a few surprises.

  1. Pride and Prejudice (Barnes & Nobles Classics)

The store is pretty main stream as far as a snap shot of American book buyers, so you can take it from that perspective. Oh, and having an Austen enthusiasts on staff does skew things a a bit. ;) Happy reading to all.

*image of greeting cards, “What Would Jane Say”, available at the Pemberley Shoppe at Cafepress.com

Fanny Knight: Jane Austen’s Niece, without affection?

Image of watercolor painting of Fanny Knight, by Cassandra AustenAFFECTION

“And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Letter to her niece Fanny Knight, 18 November 1814, The Letters of Jane Austen

The airing of the new biopic Miss Austen Regrets has refreshed my interest in the relationship between Jane Austen and her niece Fanny Knight. You can read about a recent post that I wrote on her family background and relationship with her aunt Jane here.  In re-reading some of their correspondence, I came across some interesting lines that you might recognize in the movie.

“Only one comes back with me tomorrow, probably Miss Eliza, & I rather dread it. We shall not have two ideas in common. She is young, pretty, chattering, & thinking chiefly (I presume) of dress, company, & admiration.”  November 30, 1814

“Nothing is to be compared to the misery of being bound without Love, bound to one, & preferring another. That is a Punishment which you do not deserve.” November 30, 1814

“Do not be in a hurry; depend upon it, the right Man will come at last; you will in the course of the next two or three years, meet with somebody more generally unexceptional than anyone you have yet known, who will love you as warmly as ever He did, and who will so completely attach you, that you will feel you never really loved before.” March 13, 1817

“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor-which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony.” March 13, 1817

“Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked.”  23 March 1817

“There are such beings in the world perhaps, one in a thousand, as the creature you and I should think perfection, Where grace & spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart & understanding, but such a person may not come in your way, or if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the brother of your particular friend & belonging to your own country.”  November 18, 1814

You can read further about their relationship at this post at Jane Austen’s World, and Jane’s Advice to Fanny Knight, at the Becoming Jane Fansite. In addition here are some excellent books for your consideration.

Image of book cover of The Letters of Jane Austen, (2006)Jane Austen’s Letters, by Deirdre Le Faye

Almost Another Sister: The Story of Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s Favorite Niece, by Margaret Wilson

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters: A Family Record, by William Austen-Leigh    

Sick and wicked

Image of Godmersham Park, by W. Watts (1799)WICKED

Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked; but there is some very good sense in what he says, and I particularly respect him for wishing to think well of all young ladies; it shows an amiable and a delicate mind. And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works. Letter to her Niece Fanny Knight, 23 March 1817, The Letters of Jane Austen

Fanny Knight was Jane Austen’s first and most favoured niece. She was born when Jane was 17 years old in 1793, the eldest daughter of Jane’s brother Edward (Austen) Knight. She adored her and she was like a younger sister.

Image of the front cover of Almost Another Sister, by Margaret Wilson (1998)Much has be discussed and written about their relationship, including this book Almost Another Sister: The Story of Fanny Knight, Jane Austen ‘s Favourite Niece, by Margaret Wilson (1998), which is sadly out of print in the US, but can be ordered second hand through those wonderful people at AbeBooks.com.  Search here . Happily, there is an excellent review of the book by author Marilyn Sachs at the JASNA on-line journal Persuasions, entitled Austen’s Ungrateful Niece.

Five letters that Jane wrote to Fanny between 1814 and 1817 are filled with wise and eloquent advice on love, and openly acknowledge the deep affection she felt for her niece.

When one reads their correspondence, one often feels through their affection and concern for each other that Fanny Knight was the daughter that Jane Austen did not have.

So it is not surprising that Janeites are outraged by a letter written by Fanny, now Lady Knatchbull, in 1869, describing Jane as “very much below par as to good society and its ways.” Fanny believes that it was only due to her rich father and his superior connections that her aunt was rescued from “commonness and a lack of refinement.”

Image of a watercolour painting of Chawton CottageWell, well. The reference to Fanny’s rich father is of course Jane Austen’s brother Edward (Austen) Knight who was not wealthy until he was adopted in 1798 by Thomas and Catherine Knight, Austen family cousins who were titled gentry and childless. They owned the vast estates of  Godmersham Park, Kent and Chawton, Hants, which Edward inherited. He would later suppy his widowed mother and sisters Cassandra and Jane a cottage in the village of Chawton in 1809. Here is a listing for the (Austen) Knight family at Peerage.com. Sir Walter Elliot, Baronet of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion would take express interest in the Knight family listing in A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britian.

Of note is the fact that Lady Fanny (Knight) Knatchbull was 77 years old when she wrote the letter in 1869, and from family accounts never expressed herself as eloquently as her aunt Jane, and was quite senile and forgetful for some years prior. This may have been the families way of dismissing this disparaging remark by a niece who Jane dearly loved. My thought is that Jane would have laughed at the comment since “pictures of perfection” made her “sick and wicked“! Further reading on that ungrateful niece Fanny and her infamous slam can be found on these excellent links and books.

*Image of a hand tinted engraving of Godmersham Park, by W. Watts, from Edward Hasted’s History of Kent (1799)

Too ill to be endured

Illustration of costume Parisien, plate 11, The Journal des Dames et Desmodes (1808)ENDURED 

I danced with Mr. John Wood again, twice with a Mr. South, a lad from Winchester, who, I suppose, is as far from being related to the bishop of that diocese as it is possible to be, with G. Lefroy, and J. Harwood, who, I think, takes to me rather more than he used to do. One of my gayest actions was sitting down two dances in preference to having Lord Bolton’s eldest son for my partner, who danced too ill to be endured. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 8 January 1799, The Letters of Jane Austen 

It is amusing to envision a young Jane Austen at a ball, dancing away the night, besieged by the charms of bad dance partners with leaden feet!

Too funny. Has the world changed so much in 200 years? I think not. In a not so distant past, I remember attending a college dance at a Frat party where my dance partner thought John Travolta’s moves far too refined; – – and attempting a spin into a mis-directed bump, missed my hip by a foot and landed in the punch bowl! A moment in disco dancing infamy that my Sorority sisters still squeal about today!

I was astounded to read in the on-line JASNA Persuasions article The Felicities of Rapid Motion: Jane Austen in the Ballroom, that in the Regency era it was felt that the skill of a person’s dancing expressed the quality of his or her soul or spirit. Hmm? Jane Austen often had her most foolish characters dancing like clods. Is there an ironic revelation afoot? Her choice of clergyman Mr. Collins dancing in Pride & Prejudice seems to support this. Ha!

*Illustration of costume Parisien, plate 11, from the Journal des Dames et Desmodes, (1808) 

Solitary elegance

Illustration by Hugh Thomson, Chapter 12 Heading, Pride & PrejudiceELEGANCE 

I had great amusement among the pictures (Somerset House); and the driving about, the carriage being open, was very pleasant. I liked my solitary elegance very much, and was ready to laugh all the time at my being where I has. I could not but feel that I had a naturally small right to be parading about London in a barouche. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 24 May 1813, The Letters of Jane Austen

Well this is an amusing vision of Jane Austen, the gad-about of London, parading in an open carriage in the month of May with the breeze pulling at her bonnet! She seems quite in raptures! In modern day terms, cruising in a barouche-landau would be the equivalent of a convertible Bentley 2008 Silver Tempest . Not bad.

According to the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen, the definition of a barouche is as follows…

Barouche: accommodating two couples facing each other, the barouche was considered a very exclusive carriage – accounts state that the Prince Regent owned one drawn by six horses. Vulgar Mrs. Elton cannot cease to publish her rich brother-in-law’s ownership of a barouche-landau (Emma, Volume 2, Chapter 14).

Elegance indeed, to be transported about with such pomp and finery! But one of the most remarkable parts of this passage is the phrase, solitary elegance. It evokes such promise of pleasure and enjoyment, that I was not surprised to find an entire web site on-line named the same, and dedicated entirely to Jane Austen. Oh joy! And to top off, it is beautifully designed and packed with an incredible amount of useful and informative information. Be sure to visit the gallery of Jane Austen book illustrations by C.E. Brock circa 1908. They are stunning! A big thank you to the accomplished web-mistress, Heather L. for all of her excellent work.

*Illustration by Hugh Thomson, chapter 12 heading, page 41, Pride & Prejudice, published by Robert Frederick, Ltd., Bath (1998)

Pecuniary emolument

Photo of Mod Jane “I Dream of Darcy” Article story imageEMOLUMENT 

I am very much flattered by your commendation of my last letter, for I write only for fame, and without any view to pecuniary emolument. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 16 January 1796, The Letters of Jane Austen

Sometimes I take Jane Austen for granted. She is just there, – – like Starbucks and under-wire bras. But in her day, she was an unknown celebrity, modestly publishing her novels merely “By a Lady”, and collecting pecuniary emolument by post. She didn’t have a publicist or an literary agent touting her work, no book tours with interviews and signings to promote sales. Just Jane at home with her privacy and anonymity.

Today, she is everywhere. Like Shakespeare and the Bible, she is part of our cultural and entertainment identity. So, as I was lunching with two co-workers yesterday, it came as a jolting shock to me when one young and very bright student asked me if “she was a real person?” *%#^*?  I just about fell out of my chair and choked unintelligibly for a good 15 seconds. Luckily, the other co-worker was able to fill her in while I composed myself, and we had a good laugh about it.

In retrospect, it was just as Jane had wanted it. Her paying public knew and appreciated her work, but she remained removed from fame as “By a Lady”.

Are you interested to know what other celebrities, authors and family members thought of Jane Austen’s fame? Check out the dish at A Memoir Of Jane Austen by her nephew J.E. Austen, on-line at Google books.

*Photo of mod Jane, from I Dream of Mr. Darcy article, Salon.com, 27 June 2007 

Melancholy idea

Portrait of Tom Lefroy, circa 1800MELANCHOLY

At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea. Wm. Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom is going to be married to a Lichfield lass. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 16 January 1796, The Letters of Jane Austen

With this year’s release of the major motion picture Becoming Jane, Jane Austen’s love life, or more specifically the love life that others might wish that she had, has brought her relationship with her suitor Tom Lefroy under very close scrutiny. And so, I am touched by this passage in a letter to her sister Cassandra during Austen and Lefroy’s brief time together in Hampshire. She has received a rumor of his impending marriage, and with suspicious brevity, states that she will flirt with him no more. Is she protecting herself, letting go or being sarcastic?

The movie screenplay was based on the biography by Jon Spence, Becoming Jane Austen, and even though Mr. Spence presented new evidence to support his claim of a deeper involvement between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, the movie producers chose to push the story from what had been historically believed as a serious flirtation into a romantic dalliance. Lately, much has been discussed of the truth behind the romance, and this passage in the letter eludes to her deep regret at the loss of the possibility. Unfortunately, from the details in surviving letters and family stories, we may never know the complete truth.

If you are curious about the possible romance between Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen, you can purchase the DVD of Becoming Jane which will be available in the US on 12 February 2008. The screenplay is a hopeful and fanciful notion, and one which I view as a melancholy idea.

*Portrait of Thomas (Tom) Langlois Lefroy (1776-1869) circa 1800

Overburdened genius

Jane Austen bookmark, by Mike CaplanisGENIUS 

Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 21 January 1801

This excellent example of Jane Austen’s style of applying tongue-in-cheek commentary on her talent is a side-ways complement to her own skills, or lack of them as she would wish one to believe. Humbly, she claims to have nothing to say at all, but her letter to her sister continues at length to discuss family and friends quite openly and in detail. To understand her object, one must interpret her implied meaning, which I confess, if not wholly obvious on the first reading, may go right over this dull elve’s head!

If we can summarize Jane Austen’s particular genius, it would be her unique accomplishment as a writer to under-lay wit, irony and humour in her novel’s plots, characters and family letters. She may modestly joke about not needing to check her own genius (which I interpret as her claiming to be dull, and quite the opposite), but in all honesty, one would be hard pressed to overlook it.

Talented comedic illustrator Mike Caplanis is no dull elf himself, and has captured Jane Austen’s dry and wity spirit beautifuly with this colourful bookmark available at Amazon.com

Agreeable enough

Portrait of Jane Austen by Y.H.AGREEABLE 

“Miss Blackford is agreeable enough. I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal”. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 24 December 1798 

Do you know people who have adopted this philosophy? Civility is getting short shrift these days, and I fear that even though Jane Austen may have been making ‘light’ of the effort of social civility, that two hundred years later her wishes may have become reality.

It certainly takes more effort to be considerate and civil in our lives, but the outcome can make a profound difference for us in our personal, professional and public lives; – –  and also for the people we encounter. As a bookseller, I have experienced many different approaches to being agreeable, and I can tell you that a little common courtesy and kindness go a long way; – – making life so much more pleasant.  

So to all of you out there that think talking on your cell phone whilst others are attempting to help you is agreeable enough behaviour, please remember that Jane Austen was just kidding!

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