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|Life in Bath
Written by Julie W
(Tuesday, 13 January 2009, at 5:38 a.m.)
These two letters-43 and 44 which make up today's portion- are fascinating IMHO for they give us a glimpse of JA's life in Bath, which is often the subject of much speculation.
It has often been remarked that this time spent in Bath was JAs "barren" period- years in which she did not write or achieve much by way of composition. I'm not sure. I think she used her mind like some form of word processor and "worked" on her texts, revising and composing, not necessarily committing it to paper before she was on to almost the final draft.
But, to my mind JA needed peace and quiet and a settled routine to be truly effective in her composition and writing : I think her life in Bath, when she was at the beck and call of the Leigh-Perrots, her mother , visiting cousins etcand making a delicate balance between those with whom they could afford to keep company and those who had a far wealthier lifestyle and accordingly the Austen ladies couldn't afford to allow "in" , was a constant vexation and distraction. I also think she found the constantly changing population of Bath- many people only stayed a matter of weeks to take the cure- exhausting. Just look at this telling extract from Letter 43:
They want us to drink tea with them tonight, but I do not know whether my Mother will have nerves for it.-We are engaged tomorrow Evening. What request we are in!-Mrs Chamberlayne expressed to her neice her wish of being intimate enough with us to ask us to drink tea with her in a quiet way. We have therefore offered ourselves & our quietness thro' the same medium.-Our Tea & sugar will last a great while.-I think we are just the kind of people & party to be treated about among our relations;-we cannot be supposed to be very rich.
Her walks were probably the only peace and quiet she could command, and I think they were consequently rather important to her. They are certainly mentioned a lot in these letters.
Its also noticeable that JA was not in command of the household- which was now moved from Green Park Buildings to 25 Gay Street- the street in which JA decided to house the Admiral and Mrs Croft in Persuasion.
Look at this tiny little note of hurt exasperation in Letter 43:
The Mr Duncans called yesterday with their Sisters, but were not admitted, which rather hurt me.
I sometimes think living with Mrs Austen without the benefit of Mr Austen's kindly presence must have been rather trying.....
The move to Gay Street, as you can see from the map above, was a move which took the Austen ladies further into the town: Gay Street is a rather steep street leading form Queen's Square to the Circus and the new town.
As to "riches".....these letters indicate that JA was,IMHO, rather conscious of their not being very rich and were living in a rather wealthy town where consumption and show were the orders of the day.
What were the state of teh Austen ladies's finances after Mr Austen's death?
We know that in his will Mr Austen left everything to Mrs Austen. But of course his main source of income was the money from his livings of Deane and Steventon and any entitlement to that money ceased at the moment of his death. Mrs Austen had a little independant income and Cassandra had the interest on the £1000 left to her by her finance Tom Fowle, but JA had nothing whatsoever in the way of income.
The letters sent between the Austen borthers at this time indicate quite interesting attitudes to the economic and social fate of the Austen ladies.
Frank -who is quite my favourite brother BTW- had just been appointed to the 80-gun HMS Canopus. He generously offered £100 per annum towards the upkeep of Mrs Austen and his sisters, and did so in a letter to Henry Austen requesting that he keep this offer secret from the Ladies.
Here is part of Henry's illuminating reply to him:
It was so absolutely necessary that your noble offer towards my Mother should be made more public than you seem'd to desire, that I really cannot apologize for a partial breach of your request. With the proudest exultations of maternal tenderness the Excellent Parent has exclaimed that never were Children so good as hers. She feels the magnificence of your offer, and accepts of half. I shall therefore honor her demands for 50 pounds annually on your account. James had the day before yesterday communicated to me & Her his desire to be her Banker for the same annual assistance, & l as long as I am an Agent shall do as he does. - If Edward does the least he ought, he will certainly insist on her receiving a £ioo from him. So you see My Dear E, that with her own assured property, & Cassandra's, both producing about Laso per ann., She will be in the receipt of a clear £450 pounds per Ann. - She will be very comfortable, & as a smaller establishment will be as agreeable to them, as it cannot but be feasible, I really think that My Mother & Sisters will be to the full as rich as ever. They will not only suffer no personal deprivation, but will be able to pay occasional visits of health and pleasure to their friends-'
I cant help but hear some resonances of John and Fanny Dashwood in this extract.
James Austen also wrote to Frank about the financial situation:
Her (Mrs Austen-JW) future plans are not quite settled, but I believe her summers will be spent in the country amongst her Relations & chiefly I trust among her children - the winters she will pass in comfortable lodgings in Bath. It is a just satisfaction to know that her Circumstances will be easy, & that she will enjoy all those comforts which declining years & precarious health call for. You will I am sure forgive Henry for not having entirely complied with your request for secrecy upon one very important subject in your letter ... You would indeed have had a high gratification could you have witnessed the pleasure which our Dear Mother experienced when your intention was communicated to her.
So poor old JA was also now an object of charity .I'm sure this did not sit well with her. it's one thing to be kept by ones parents,but ones brothers? Hmmm.......
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