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|Understanding Letter 76
Written by BarbaraB
(2/11/2013 2:09 a.m.)
Even with the notations of Le Faye and understanding that the tone was of a teasing one, there was a lot in this short letter that did not make sense to me. So I went rummaging about on the web to see if I could come up with some explanations. With permission from Ellen Moody these quotes are from of her blog on Austen’s letter, 76:
...She opens with a mild sneer: Rachel Hunter’s book is so much threadpaper. The literal definition is a strip of folded paper serving to hold skeins of thread in its divisions. But the use is continually pejorative once that meaning is extrapolated out from, e.g., “No matter — as an appendage to a seamstress, the thread-paper might be of some consequence to my mother — of none to my father, as a mark in Slawkenbergius. (Tristram Shandy, Sterne). Again: “Sedley said he feared poor Desdemona had lost the thread-paper from which she was to mend her gown, and recommended to the two young ladies to have the charity to go and assist her” (Camilla, Burney). Also metonymic use it’s equivalent is a a woman: someone who uses this sort of thing: “A thread-paper, a doll, a toy – a girl, in short. ” (Bronte, Shirley)...
...Anna also tells Edward that the letter shows their aunt’s tendency to “ridicule:” thus she alludes two landscape artists in ways meant to stigmatize Hunter’s Abbey pictures: they are, Jane implies, verbal recreations of images such as Mrs Hunter might have seen in local books or places she visited. Austen is not only up on what is popular; she here distinguishes between what’s high status, prestigious (say an original oil or watercolor by a famous name you’d have to pay a good deal of money to if you wanted one of his or her pictures) and what’s popular, readily available to anyone who can get to the circulating library...
...Austen specifically mocks the sentimental presentation of the servants in the novel, Mr and Mrs Wilson. I note that she had a hero named Howard who was a relatively poor tutor and we are told managed to escape the pursuit of Lady Osborne (suggesting a kind of Joseph Andrews plot unless a mistake was made in transmission and Jane told Cassandra Miss Osborne was to pursue Mr Howard). The connection of the names, Hunter having used the same one, may suggest why Miss Austen has this special interest in Mr Howard. Proprietary. The interest here is this suggests that Austen had not given up on The Watsons; she still considered the characters in that novel living creations that were hers and she intended to return to.
The reference to the Car of Frankenstein and number of miles between Alton and Norwich is not entirely nonsense — as the family liked to call much that Austen kidded about. In fact in one of Austen’s letters to Anna Austen (as we shall see) reveals an important part of her conscious method was to make sure she stayed within calendar and time and space limitations that exist in real life.
From Dobbs’s account and Austen’s reaction, it’s plain Hunter does not go carefully into such minutiae; Hunter does not care if she actually saw something happen or was in a place: one cannot be after all in a historical novel. Nor does she realize how important such control of time (slowing down) and felt space are in creating subjective time that draws the reader in — and thus instinctively, intuitively important to Austen. Austen herself thinks of this only as probability, a guard to make sure novels are not made fun of; we must turn to Anna Barbauld for a realization of a novel’s creation of a subjective consciousness.
Austen had been regaling her sister and Anna with stories she invented for the Car of Frankenstein. It had been overturned 10 days ago. Now this anticipates Sanditon which begins with an overturned carriage — so perhaps it already existed in some draft form...
I found this information helpful in understanding this letter. Hoping it will be helpful for others as well.
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