Lord Harcourt, Rousseau, and Jane Austen
Posted by Caroline on May 18, 1998 at 13:53:54:
Sir Charles Harcourt
We have been reading some of JA's Juvenalia in the Library, and the gentleman in question has come up in conversation. Here's a bit about him, taken from Mavis Batey's Jane Austen and the English Landscape ( details in the bibliography, and available, of course, through Bookserve.) It's a book that I value very much indeed. I should explain , perhaps , that Ms. Batey seems to have a low opinion of the ideas of Rousseau , and believes that the Austens would have felt the same way about him.
"Henry and James Austen must have regaled the Steventon family with the story of a Rousseauist who was well known in Oxford and so gave her sister the opening cue for her Henry and Eliza in 1789. Believing that her piece, unlike The Loiterer, would never appear in print, she felt free to use the actual name of the Rousseauist- George Harcourt. George Simon Harcourt.........had been Rousseau's patron.......and when the great Man of Feeling died ...kept ..a special museum with.. Rousseau relics. Lord Harcourt's Rousseauism caused much amusement, and his country seat......was a favourite boating excursion for members of the University.
What seems to have taken Jane Austen's fancy was the account of the Nuneham feast, with Rousseau rewards for virtue and industry, which appeared in the Annual Register in August 1789. Lord and Lady Harcourt presented these awards after haymaking, as Julie , or la Nouvelle Héloïse ( the heroine of Rousseau's novel ) had done at the Wolmar estate at a special Fête de Vertu on the lawns of the big house. To strike a real Rousseau note two pictures were erected on the lawn; one of a cottage with clean children and a busy housewife plying her wheel, which the villagers wreathed with roses, and a second showing a dirty cottage, uncared-for children, and an idle housewife, which they had to wreathe with stinging nettles. During the year the Harcourts visited the homes of of the busy, clean villagers and gave them red letter ms for Merit to put in their windows and in their hats, but shunned the houses of the idle , dirty tenants."
Ms. Batey goes on to describe Lord Harcourt's sentimental garden, and a few other things. I find this bit interesting because it shows clearly JA's habit of adapting from real life, and slipping literary allusions and 'in jokes' for her family into her writings. Lady Harcourt interests me greatly, as I wonder whether she might not have supplied some of the ingredients for Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
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