Reflections upon Jane Austen’s death, July 18, 1817: “her talents, her virtues, and her engaging manners”

Much has been written on the cause of Jane Austen’s lingering illness and untimely death in Winchester on 18 July 1817. I have a stack of biographies that I perused in search of a poignant passage that would express the tenor of this solemn day. Her great biographers Claire Tomalin, David Nokes and Elizabeth Jenkins give detailed accounts from family in attendance and their own conclusions. I find her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s interpretation from his A Memoir of Jane Austen simple and touching. Even though it is not elaborate or detailed, it is the only version from the view point of someone who actually knew her, and I find that unique and invaluable.

Throughout her illness she was nursed by her sister, often assisted by her sister-in-law, my mother. Both were with her when she died. Two of her brothers, who were clergymen, lived near enough to Winchester to be in frequent attendance, and to administer the services suitable for a Christian’s death-bed. While she used the language of hope to her correspondents, she was fully aware of her danger, though not appalled by it. It is true that there was much to attach her to life. She was happy in her family; she was just beginning to feel confidence in her own success; and, no doubt, the exercise of her great talents was an enjoyment in itself. We may well believe that she would gladly have lived longer; but she was enabled without dismay or complaint to prepare for death. She was a humble, believing Christian. Her life had been passed in the performance of home duties, and the cultivation of domestic affections, without any self-seeking or craving after applause. She had always sought, as it were by instinct, to promote the happiness of all who came within her influence, and doubtless she had her reward in the peace of mind which was granted her in her last days. Her sweetness of temper never failed. She was ever considerate and grateful to those who attended on her. At times, when she felt rather better, her playfulness of spirit revived, and she amused them even in their sadness. Once, when she thought herself near her end, she said what she imagined might be her last words to those around her, and particularly thanked her sister-in-law for being with her, saying: ‘You have always been a kind sister to me, Mary.’ When the end at last came, she sank rapidly, and on being asked by her attendants whether there was anything that she wanted, her reply was, ‘Nothing but death.’ These were her last words. In quietness and peace she breathed her last on the morning of 18 July, 1817.

On the 24th of that month she was buried in Winchester Cathedral, near the centre of the north aisle, almost opposite to the beautiful chantry tomb of William of Wykeham. A large slab of black marble in the pavement marks the place. Her own family only attended the funeral. Her sister returned to her desolated home, there to devote herself, for ten years, to the care of her aged mother; and to live much on the memory of her lost sister, till called many years later to rejoin her. Her brothers went back sorrowing to their several homes. They were very fond and very proud other. They were attached to her by her talents, her virtues, and her engaging manners; and each loved afterwards to fancy a resemblance in some niece or daughter of his own to the dear sister Jane, whose perfect equal they yet never expected to see. [1]

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By the Seaside with Sanditon: Sanditon Completions

Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel Sanditon ended after 22,000 words and midway into what may have been chapter twelve. Her draft manuscript was a bright beginning introducing us to the seaside town in development as a health resort and a list of over 20 characters. For anyone who has turned to the last page and reached her last lines “Mr. Hollis. poor Mr. Hollis! It was impossible not to feel him hardly used: to obliged to stand back in his own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir Henry Denham.” and not felt a pang of regret that you have read the last of her creative output, you are advised to read no further. For those who did, it is sad to reflect that no more would we be delighted by Jane’s Austen’s witty pen.

I readily admit after finishing the fragment that I was hooked into the story and characters and craved further development and a dénouement. The next best thing to Jane Austen’s actual words is a continuation by another author’s pen. Sanditon, even though it is not as well known as one of her six major novels, has its fair share of completions and retellings to choose from. It has the august distinction of being the first sequel or continuation attempted after Jane Austen’s death by her niece, Anna Lefroy. Unfortunately, she did not finish her novel either, but there are others who have. Here is a partial list of novels that are currently available in print with publisher’s descriptions.

Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Unfinished Masterpiece Completed, by Jane Austen and Juliette Shapiro

Had Jane Austen lived to complete Sanditon, it would undoubtedly be as famous and treasured as her other novels. But unfinished at her death, the masterpiece has remained mysterious and overlooked. Now, author Juliette Shapiro has completed Sanditon in a vivid style recognizable to any Austen fan. Here is the story of Charlotte Heywood, who has recently arrived in the town of Sanditon to enjoy the benefits of the ocean air. At first, Charlotte finds amusement enough standing at her ample Venetian window looking over its placid seafront and salubrious ocean, wind-blown linens, and sparkling sea. But there is much more to this promising little coastal resort. Before long, Charlotte discovers that scandals abound. To the delight of her eccentric host Mr. Parker, she becomes captivated by the romance of the seaside lifestyle. But is the town of Sanditon truly the haven that Mr. Parker likes to think it is, and will Charlotte Parker find happiness here?

Ulysses Press, Berkeley, CA (2009)
Trade Paperback (236) pages
ISBN: 978-1569756218

The Brothers, by Jane Austen and Another Lady (Helen Baker)

Miss Austen wrote ten chapters of a novel she called The Brothers before illness stilled her pen forever. Now, her entire draft has been incorporated into the complete story. It is hoped that the resulting romance may satisfy her myriad admirers who have long regretted that such vivid characters were left in suspense.

Lulu.com (2009)
Trade paperback (272) pages
ASIN: B002AD1WJS

Cure for All Diseases (Dalziel and Pascoe Series #23), by Reginald Hill

Some say that Andy Dalziel wasn’t ready for God, others that God wasn’t ready for Dalziel. Either way, despite his recent proximity to a terrorist blast in Death Comes for the Fat Man, the Superintendent remains firmly of this world. And, while Death may be the cure for all diseases, Dalziel is happy to settle for a few weeks’ care under a tender nurse.

Convalescing in Sandytown, a quiet seaside resort devoted to healing, Dalziel befriends Charlotte Heywood, a fellow newcomer, and psychologist, who is researching the benefits of alternative therapy. With much in common, the two soon find themselves in partnership when trouble comes to town.

Sandytown’s principal landowners have grandiose plans for the resort–none of which they can agree on. One of them has to go, and when one of them does, in spectacularly gruesome fashion, DCI Peter Pascoe is called in to investigate–with Dalziel and Charlotte providing unwelcome support. But Pascoe finds dark forces at work in a place where medicine and holistic remedies are no match for the oldest cure of all. Aka The Price of Butchers Meat (UK edition)

Harper Collins, New York (2008)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-0007252688

Jane Austen’s Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Last Novel, Completed, by Julia Barrett

Julia Barrett, author of the Austen continuations The Third Sister and Presumption, has emerged with a literary treasure, holding true to the characters and theme designed by Ms. Austen. Set in the developing seaside town of Sanditon, it portrays a young woman from the countryside who is exposed to the sophistication and cynicism of resort life. Her name is Charlotte. With disarming charm and wit, she observes for us the array of quirky characters who reside in the booming resort-to-be.

Freshly removed from her familiar, provincial environment and exposed to England at the cusp of the nineteenth century, Charlotte encounters the wondrous Parker family, a genteel clan of dreamers and idlers. Others include the feuding Denham siblings; the ailing, yet unconscionably busy Parker sisters; and the wryly observant Emmeline Turner, a lady of literary distinction, who is astonished to find herself solicited there by those who regard her as a representative of the “better circle of society.”

The innocent but keen-witted Charlotte quickly finds herself rather deeply involved in this uproarious little town. She can’t help but get swept up in the antics of the Parkers and Denham’s, even while she is vexed and perplexed by the droll young Sidney Parker. But even the best efforts of this charming young lady may not be enough to save the budding resort town.

Originally named The Brothers by Austen and dubbed Sanditon by her family, this “new” novel promises to bring to life another Austen heroine worthy of keeping company with the likes of Elizabeth, Emma, and Anne.

M. Evans & Co, New York (2000)
Trade paperback (300) pages
ISBN: 978-0871319715

Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Last Novel Completed, by Jane Austen and Another Lady (Marie Dobbs aka Anne Telscombe)

Sanditon – an eleven-chapter fragment left at Jane Austen’s death completed with seamless artistry by an Austen aficionado and novelist – is a delightful addition to Austen’s beloved books about England’s upper-crust world and the deception, snobbery, and unexpected romances that animate it.

When Charlotte Heywood accepts an invitation to visit the newly fashionable seaside resort of Sanditon, she is introduced to a full range of polite society, from the reigning local dowager Lady Denham to her impoverished ward Clara, and from the handsome, feckless Sidney Parker to the amusing, if hypochondriacal, sisters.

A heroine whose clearly-sighted common sense in often at war with romance, Charlotte cannot help observing around her both folly and passion in many guises. But can the levelheaded Charlotte herself resist the attractions of the heart?

Scribner, New York (Simon & Schuster) (1998)
Trade paperback (320) pages
ISBN: 978-0684843421

Not to add undue influence over which continuation you read, but I shall be reading and reviewing Sanditon, by Jane Austen and Another Lady next week. I hope others who participated in this week’s group read of Sanditon will join me. If you do not have a copy on hand you can read the transcribed text at the University of Virginia Library website.

By the Seaside with Sanditon: Day 7 Giveaway 

Enter a chance to win one copy of Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Last Novel Completed, by Jane Austen and Another Lady (1998) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Sanditon, or who your favorite character is by midnight PDT Friday, March 26th, 2010. Winners to be announced on Saturday, March 27th. Shipment to the continental US addresses only.

Upcoming event posts

Day 8 – March 22 Event Wrap-up
Finis

Jane Austen’s Letters: What a bit of pewter will supply

Illustration from Ackermann's Repository, a Walking Dress (1817)My Dearest 

The parcel arrived safely, & I am much obliged to you for your trouble. It cost 2 shillings 10 but as there is a certain savings of 2 shillings 4 ½ on the other side, I am sure it is well worth doing. I send 4 pair of Silk Stockings but I do not want them washed at present. In the 3 neckhandfs, I include the one sent down before. These things perhaps Edward may be able to bring, but even if he is not, I am extremely pleased with his returning to you from Steventon. It is much better – far preferable. I did mention P.R. (Prince Regent) in my note to Mr. Murray, it brought me a fine compliment in return; whether it has done any good I do not know, but Henry thought it worth trying. The Printers continue to supply me very well, I am advanced in vol. 3 to my arra-root, upon which peculiar style of spelling, there is a modest query in the Margin. I will not forget Anna’s arrow-root. I hope you have told Martha of my first resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate &c for fear of being obliged to do it & that she is thoroughly convinced of my being influenced now by nothing but the most mercenary motives. I have paid nine shillings on her account on her account to Miss Palmer; there was no more owing. Well, we were very busy all yesterday; from ½ past 11 to 4 in the Streets, working almost entirely for other people, driving from Place to Place after a parcel for Sandling which we could never find, & encountering the miseries of Grafton House to get a purple frock for Eleanor Bridges. Letter to Cassandra, 26 November 1815 from Hans Place, London 

1815 were heady times for Jane Austen. Her novel Emma had been accepted for publication by John Murray, one of the most important and influential publishing houses in London. She would be in fine company with Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Lord Byron, George Crabbe (her personal favorite) and many others on Murray’s roister of prestigious authors. She had learned that the Prince Regent so admired her first three novels that he would endorse her new effort by allowing her to dedicate it to him. Though she did not agree with this lifestyle, she did not decline the honor, knowing full well what the publicity and sales would generate. “…but tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.”(Letter to Cassandra, 30 November 1814). Even though she has book royalties coming in, she is still keenly aware of how much a shilling is worth! 

You can feel her energy and confidence in her letters of this period. As a spinster, she was dependent on her family for financial support. Emma would be her fourth novel to earn her ‘pewter’, and even though it would be published at her expense, she would realize the profits after the payment of a 10 percent commission was paid to Murray. [1] With money coming in and further recognition of her talent, she was experiencing a bit of pride and self-assurance in her life. In this letter to her sister Cassandra from her brother Henry’s residence of Hans Place in London, we see her bustling about town to purchase or collect items for neighbors and family, and a few niceties for herself. The bit about the 4 pairs of silk stockings always makes me smile. It pleases me to think of Jane Austen able to purchase such a luxury items from her own hard earned funds and so concerned over their care. Silk does shrink when you wash it! 

Reading her letters brings her life closer to heart. Even the smallest enjoyment of silk stockings, or her kindness in running errands for her in-law Eleanor Bridges, who was the wife of a Baronet and far richer than Austen would ever be, is enchanting. I can just envision her calling at Grafton House, a stylish linen-drapers on New Bond Street to collect Mrs. Bridges frock, and being amazed at the choice of the color purple. One can only imagine what she had to say to her sister Cassandra in private over her color choice! Oh what a bit of pewter can supply! 

Further reading 

1. David Gilson, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, 2nd ed., Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware (1997) pp 67

Vintage flourish urn

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

Delicacy of Mr. D.

Princess Augusta by William Beechey, 1802DELICACY

We have been both to the exhibition and Sir J. Reynolds’; and I am disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs. D. at either. I can only imagine that Mr. D. prizes any picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye. I can imagine he would have that sort of feeling, – that mixture of love, pride, and delicacy. 24 May 1813, The Letters of Jane Austen

This endearing passage appears in a letter written to her sister Cassandra regarding her visit to an exhibition in London of the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), who has been exalted as one of the greatest portraitist prior to the Regency era. Austen’s disappointment in not recognizing any characteristics of Mrs. D. within any of the portraits is in reference to her character Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy nee Bennet, – – her heroine of Pride & Prejudice.

Jane Austen speaks so warmly of her characters, one would think that they were her children! She lovingly rationalizes that the omission is owing to Mr. Darcy’s delicacy toward his wife. Can we assume that the pride-full and arrogant characteristics that he presented at the beginning of the novel have continued to evolve in marriage into a different and more productive type of pride?

Has Mr. Darcy become a delicate and thoughtful husband? No doubt in my mind that this is Austen’s wish for their future happiness.