Persuasions #6, 1984                                                                                                                                            Page 30




Rhonda Keith

Colorado Springs, CO 

Copyright 1983 Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature
Vol. 2, No. 1, Spring 1983, p. 99, reprinted with permission.

In Sanditon, an unfinished novel by Jane Austen, a Miss Lambe is described as “about seventeen, half mulatto, chilly and tender, had a maid of her own, was to have the best room in the lodgings, and was also of the first consequence in every plan of Mrs. Griffiths” (Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon, ed., Margaret Drabble [London: Penguin, 1975] p. 206). Margaret Drabble, in her notes to Sanditon, writes,

I cannot help but comment on the extraordinary effect of the phrase “half mulatto, chilly and tender.” It is as though one had entered another world. Who would have thought that Miss Lambe would prove to be half mulatto? And yet Jane Austen states the fact with the utmost calm. As for “chilly and tender,” the words refer presumably to her state of health and response to the English climate, but if they were also intended to describe her emotional nature, what an interesting character she might have proved. (p. 221)

She might have indeed. The phrase “chilly and tender” actually must be adapted from the following passage from All’s Well That Ends Well, Act IV, Scene v, where the clown Lavache says,

I am for the house with the narrow gate, which I take to be too little for pomp to enter. Some that humble themselves may; but the many will be too chill and tender, and they’ll be for the flow’ry way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire.

Drabble is right in that the phrase seems extraordinary in Austen. But just as we use Shakespearean coinages as idioms today, the literate writers and readers of Austen’s day – saturated with the Shakespearean revival – might have found such phrases a familiar part of the language. Still, a question remains; was the individual phrase “chill and tender” so generally used at the time of Sanditon that Austen expected her audience to be comfortable with it, or was Austen herself so immersed in Shakespeare that she did not consider how familiar the usage might or might not be?

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