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|So...where are we?
Written by JulieW
(9/16/2007 7:42 a.m.)
We find ourselves in January 1801.
Jane had , in her last letter to Cassandra , been visiting her great friend Martha Lloyd, together with Mrs Lloyd and poor deaf Mrs Stent ,at their home in Ibthorpe.
Cassandra had also, at the same time, been absent from Steventon , visiting brother Edward at his home in Godmersham , Kent.
Both the sisters being away from Steventon seems to have been , in a way, a tactical error. For it was during this period that the Reverend George Austen and Mrs Austen decided that the it had come for Mr Austen to retire and that they would move away from Steventon to a life of retirement in Bath.
Family tradition has it that upon being told the news when she arrived home at Steventon Rectory with Martha , poor Jane fainted :
As she and Martha arrived from Ibthorpe early in December( 1800-JW) they were met in the rectory hall by Mrs Austen, who greeted them with :
"Well girls, it is all settled, we have decided to leave Steventon in such a week and go to Bath"
- and to Jane the shock of this intelligence was so great that she fainted away. Mary Lloyd( wife of James Austen-JW) who was also present to greet her sister, remembered that Jane was greatly distressed"
(See Page 128 Jane Austen: A Family Record, Deirdre Le Faye)
So why did the Austens decide to leave Steventon? Anna Lefory remembered that the decision to leave Steventon prompted by Mrs Austens's indifferent health.
Another factor might have been that they had family who settled for at least part of the year at Bath. Mrs Austen's sister and brother in law, the Leigh Perrots , had a second home in Bath, in the Paragon.
Francis Austen felt that Reverend Austen
"felt too incapacitated from age and increasing infirmities to discharge his parochial duties in a manner satisfactory to himself"
(as quoted by Brian Southam in Jane Austen and the Navy, page 175.>
Fanny Caroline Lefroy( in an unpublished manuscript quoted by Le Faye in Jane Austen A Family Record, noted that:
My Aunt was very sorry to leave her native home, as I have heard my Mother relate…….She loved the country and her delight in natural scenery was such that she would sometimes say she thought it must form one of the joys of heaven
The somewhat hasty decision to retire to bath also raised suspicions of a romance amongst the family. The Leigh Perrrots suspected that the Austens were making a hasty departure form Steventon to separate JA from William Digweed, one of four sons of the Squire who lived at Steventon Manor house.
There is no evidence for any of this in JA's letters, it must be said. In fact, JA often teased Cassandra in her letters with her "suspicions" that William's brother the Reverend James Digweed was keen on Cassandra (see letter26 Le Faye edition).
I do think that the state of Mrs Austen's health( she was I do have to say, IMHO, somewhat of a hypochondriac) and Mr Austen's desire for a lighter workload at the age of nearly 70, were the prime factors in the Austen's decision.
But whatever the reasons for the decision, it was made, and no consultation of the Austen girls seems to have taken place, and their wishes, if expressed at all, appear to have been overridden .
The decision to move to Bath seems, understandably, to have caused JA great distress: her world was being broken up. No longer would she be living among the countryside she so loved, but had to move to a fashionable city where the population changed every week. Her network of family and friends( the Fowles at Kintbury, the Lloyds at Ibthorpe and the Lefroys at Ashe) were all to be removed from her with the move to Bath.
None of her letters to Cassandra have survived from the month of December 1800: Le Faye suggested that they were so intensely personal ,and were the ones where JA gave full vent to her feelings of anger and grief, that they were among the ones Cassandra destroyed. Rankly, I'm not surprised at JA's probable feelings of anger, grief and possibly impotence in the face of Mrs Austen's determination to move to Bath:
Bath it was supposed would suit her case, and it was a place that she liked
So let us move on to those that did survive…an the first of these is dated 3rd January 1801.
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