In her last letter of the year 1800, dated Sunday 30 NovemberĖMonday 1 December 1800, and written, of course, to Cassandra, Jane Austen notes with sly understatement that the “three days & half” since her last letter “have not produced many materials towards filling another sheet of paper.” Even for a self-described Walker like Jane Austen, the roads are too terribly “dirty” for traffic or traveling, so Ibthrop cannot offer too many diversions. Still, Jane Austen culls four pages of bagatelles to amuse her correspondent. She records the price of some very pretty figured cambric muslin (4s. 6d. per yard) and blames the weather for her dullness. She notes that she would prefer “a nice black frost” for her shopping expedition to Whitechurch, and admonishes her sister: “Pray do not forget to go to the Canterbury Ball. I shall despise you all most insufferably if you do.” She frets a bit about being so confined, “with very little variety of Books or Gowns” to offer pleasures.
It is now over 200 years since Jane Austen wrote her lively letter, and I like to think that she was not at all fazed by the millennial year that saw the calendar change from 17— to 18—. She mentions “time,” but only in the context of buying the supplies so that she can create a “munificent” present for Edward. In this letter, JA, as she signs herself, suggests her great interest lies in the impending marriage of Sir Thomas Williams and Miss Wapshire, whom she describes as being “now seven or eight & twenty, & tho’ still handsome less handsome than she has been.—This promises better, than the bloom of seventeen; & in addition to this, they say that she has always been remarkable for the propriety of her behaviour, distinguishing her far above the general class of Town Misses, & rendering her of course very unpopular with them.” Chuckling at the foibles of real people, the young author mentions her desire to get to the “real truth” of this relationship, so as to avoid “any farther contradictions of what was last asserted about Sir Thomas Williams & Miss Wapshire.” I don’t know about you, but this letter keeps me on tenterhooks about Sir Thomas’s choice of Miss Wapshire. In two or three sentences Jane Austen has created two compelling characters (three, if you count the widow Mrs. Wapshire, who has “several sons & daughters, a good fortune, & a house in Salisbury”), and in those same two or three sentences the writer begins to thicken the plot.
Unfortunately, the next letter is missing. And so we bless that fact that we have the novels.
In an address to the members of JASNA, Professor Joan Ray, JASNAís new president, remarks that “Jane Austen’s works are so brilliantly crafted that they can withstand and survive many levels of reading.” Our printed as well as our electronic issues of Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal, therefore, are crafted to present a variety of amusing and informative articles that not only open up the novels but also contextualize the historical period in which Jane Austen was writing. As Professor Ray notes, readers of our publications can find essays “on subjects ranging from country dancing to literary criticism to historical perspectives to the newest movies based on Jane Austen’s novels. What is important is that the essays help us to become better readers of the works we love—to understand, for example, why a character makes the choices she or he does.”
In this last Persuasions On-Line for the year 2000, authors from diverse backgrounds dissect the personalities, motivations, and foibles of the characters from Pride and Prejudice—a perennial favorite of JASNA members (who, in fact, elected, this book their favorite novel by their favorite author). From the JASNA Conference in Boston we have Elvira Casal’s intriguing examination, “Laughing at Mr. Darcy: Wit and Sexuality in Pride and Prejudice.” Following Casal’s article is a series of essays on Pride and Prejudice, beginning with Jenny Rytting’s witty exploration of what happens when “Jane Austen Meets Carl Jung,” replete with Myers-Briggs “typing” indicators (hint: Darcy is INTJ). Joseph Wiesenfarth explores “Jane Austenís Family of Fiction,” and, building on the family theme, in “How Not To Father” Gracia Fay Ellwood takes Mr. Bennet to task for his shabby treatment of Mary.
The “Miscellany” opens up other topics for your consideration. Focusing on “Money in Emma,” Sheryl Bonar Craig itemizes “The Value of a Good Income”—a theme dear to the heart of Jane Austen, Realist. Cecilia Salber has cleverly scooped the forthcoming cinema adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary (due out this spring) with her essay on “Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy: Art Imitating Art . . . Imitating Art.” And, finally, Irene McDonald summarizes “The Chawton Years (1809-1817)” in terms of the fact that Jane Austen was busy writing “only” novels.
Beginning with this online issue, we will be offering you a yearly bibliography that has been prepared by Professor Barry Roth. The section entitled “Jane Austen Works and Studies” should provide an excellent resource for scholars and general readers who are interested in pursuing further essays and books about the author and her times.
I would like to add that the year 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of the arrival of the Alberta and Henry Burke Collection at Goucher College. In celebration of that anniversary, Goucher invites scholars to apply for the biannual Burke Jane Austen Scholar-in-Residence Grant. This 5-day residency offers scholars the opportunity to use the materials in the Burke Collection in the Rare Book Room of the Julia Rogers Library at Goucher and includes a $1000 stipend, travel expenses, and hotel accommodations. The scholar will offer one public lecture on Jane Austen and will meet with faculty and students to discuss research methods and scholarly interests. The residency must be taken during the fall or spring semesters. Applications must be received by April 15, 2001, and the first grant will be awarded during the 2001-2002 academic year. Interested scholars should send a vita, statement of purpose, and two confidential letters of recommendation to: Nancy Magnuson / College Librarian / Julia Rogers Library / Goucher College / Baltimore / MD 21204.
Professor of English, Goucher College
Austen, Jane. Jane Austenís Letters. Ed. Deirdre Le Faye. 3rd ed. Oxford & New York: OUP, 1995.