In Jane Austen’s brief tale “The Adventures of Mr Harley,” written when she was about fourteen,1 we hear that young Harley was “Destined by his father for the Church & by his Mother for the Sea” (Minor Works 40). When I illustrated this story for the Juvenilia Press volume called Jane Austen’s Men, I imitated a trick of eighteenth-century graphic artists in providing a figure split down the middle: on his right side Harley is a clergyman in clerical garb—solemn expression, book in hand, standing by a lectern complete with carved angel; but on his other side he is a British Tar—bell-bottomed trousers, tarred pigtail, and a jovial grin.
Thus Jane and I represent the Austen family’s dual professions: James and eventually Henry were clergymen; Frank and Charles went to sea and eventually became admirals. Young Harley cleverly manages to combine both professions: he persuades his patron to obtain for him “a Chaplaincy on board a Man of War”—clearly an excellent compromise (40).
Interestingly, young Jane dedicated this little story of “The Adventures of Mr Harley” to her brother Francis, “Midshipman on board his Majestys Ship the Perseverance” (40), so the connection with her brother is made explicit. In later life, as Rowland McMaster has told us, Frank was known as a “stickler for rules,” a “devout Evangelical commanding a ‘praying ship.’” Here I envisage him as nearer to Jane Austen’s description of his childhood days, of his “warmth, nay insolence of spirit” (26 July 1809).
The brief story of “Mr Harley” is not the only place where Austen plays with the notion of the two careers. In the unfinished novel “Catharine, or the Bower,” too, the “clergyman or sailor?” issue is present, though its prominence, I believe, is yet to be developed. In the process of exploring this subliminal concern, I propose to offer my theory of how the young Jane Austen planned to complete her love story. My argument draws on the patterning of the completed novels as well as on some parallel developments in Emma.2
Kitty, the heroine of “Catharine or the Bower,” is a charming ingénue of about sixteen or seventeen, Austen’s own age at the time she was writing. (The dedication is dated August 1792 ). Indeed it is easy to think of Kitty as a partial self-portrait. She possesses “a fund of vivacity and good humour” (193), a warm imagination, and plenty of enthusiasm; she likes to discuss novels and history; she dislikes Queen Elizabeth: all traits she shares with young Jane Austen. Kitty’s circumstances, though, are very different from Austen’s. She is an orphan and an heiress, and she is strictly supervised by a maiden aunt, who has a horror of “Young Men.”
Kitty, as the symbolism of “the Bower” suggests, is on the cusp between girlhood and womanhood. She constructed the bower along with her dear girl companions Cecilia and Mary Wynne, from the nearby clergyman’s family. But after the frivolous Edward Stanley kisses her hand there, the bower becomes sexualized (Herrle ix).
Since the death of their father has left the two girls and two boys of the Wynne family without support, the siblings have dispersed, left to whatever some rich relatives will do for them. Like Austen’s aunt Philadelphia Hancock, Cecilia Wynne is sent to Bengal to find a husband (“making the basic bargain, her body and companionship for his money,” as Claire Tomalin puts it succinctly ). Mary becomes a humble lady companion to the daughter of her rich relatives the Halifaxes in London, a job not unlike Jane Fairfax’s with the Campbell family, in Emma.
Missing her friends and stuck with a nervous and puritanical aunt who has no conversation, Kitty has been pining for company of her own age. She is delighted at the prospect of a visit from some relatives in London, the Stanley family, and hopes for a companion in their daughter Camilla. Camilla turns out to be bubbling with enthusiasm for a projected tour to the Lake District that her family plans for the autumn. But in other ways this ditzy airhead is a sore disappointment: “She professed a love of Books without Reading, was Lively without Wit, and generally good humoured without Merit” (198). No substitute for Cecilia and Mary Wynne. But Camilla knows the Halifaxes, the family who have taken in Mary Wynne. When Camilla’s brother Edward shows up unexpectedly and whisks Kitty off to a ball, she finds him vivacious and charming; moreover, he can converse well on all Kitty’s favorite subjects. Seeing her aunt’s panic at the arrival of this dangerous “Young Man,” Edward mischievously distinguishes Kitty, and even kisses her hand in the bower when he sees the scandalized aunt approaching.
Kitty is susceptible, and inclined to believe his flirtation is serious, but she lectures herself: “‘Oh! what a silly Thing is Woman! How vain, how unreasonable! To suppose that a young Man would be seriously attached in the course of four & twenty hours, to a Girl who has nothing to recommend her but a good pair of eyes!’” (236). (That last exception is a fine touch, and possibly a wry comment by young Jane on her own self-image: even when severely lecturing herself, the girl cannot quite bring herself to dismiss her best feature.) But when Camilla assures Kitty, after her aunt has sent Edward away, that he is head over heels in love with her, Kitty is all too ready to believe her:
“Charming Young Man! How much must you have suffered! I knew that it was impossible for one so elegant, and so well bred, to leave any Family in such a Manner, but for a Motive like this unanswerable!” Satisfied, beyond the power of Change, of this [comments the narrator ironically], She went in high spirits to her Aunt’s apartment, without giving a Moment’s recollection on the vanity of Young Women, or the unaccountable conduct of Young Men. (239)
Those last words of “Catharine” necessarily leave readers in considerable suspense as to what young Jane intended to be the fate of this teenage heroine so like herself.
There have been several endings supplied to the fragments of Austen’s maturity, The Watsons and Sanditon. If there is a completion of “Catharine,” I’m not aware of it. When I edited “Catharine” with a team of students for the Juvenilia Press, we were all on tenterhooks about Kitty’s fate, and we even supplied a “What Next?” section for readers to construct their own endings.
The main question, of course, is “Will Kitty marry Edward?” He is charming and has awakened her sexuality. But he is conceited and frivolous, so if one were to answer “Yes,” then one would need to posit some serious reformation. On his side is the consideration that Austen’s heroines in the six novels always marry the first candidate: Catherine Morland is smitten with Henry Tilney before she meets John Thorpe; Elinor marries the brother of her elder sister-in-law, almost a family member; Elizabeth knows Darcy before she meets Wickham; Emma marries her sister’s brother-in-law, who has always been around, not the Johnny-come-lately Frank Churchill. And of course Anne Elliot will consider no man but her first and only love. Even Marianne, who marries her second love and not the first, has actually met Brandon before Willoughby appears on the scene. So since Edward Stanley is the only man we know of on Kitty’s horizon, if Austen were abiding by the rules she followed later, he is the one first on the scene in the fragment as we have it, and therefore we might expect he would be the one.
But would he? I believe Austen had other plans for Edward.
His attentions to Kitty are certainly marked enough to justify her ready belief that he is in love with her:
He would always sit by her when she was in the room, appear dissatisfied if she left it, and was the first to enquire whether she meant soon to return. He was delighted with her Drawings, and enchanted with her performance on the Harpsichord; Everything that she said, appeared to interest him; his Conversation was addressed to her alone, and she seemed to be the sole object of his attention. (229)
His motive for such marked attentions must surely be more than the mere passing fancy of shocking Kitty’s very shockable aunt. What if, like Frank Churchill, he plays at being in love with the heroine in order to mask another attachment? And if so, to whom would he be attached? Why, to Kitty’s disadvantaged friend Mary Wynne—who, for all her talents, is doomed like Jane Fairfax to be a lady companion to the daughter of a rich family! Of course Edward’s father wouldn’t hear of such a match: no more would Frank Churchill’s adoptive parents, so he doesn’t tell them. Edward’s father, I suggest, decides on a tried-and-true cure for unsuitable attachments—a trip to the continent to do the Grand Tour; and Edward is duly packed off to France. But on his travels Edward pines for Mary, and he uses an injury to his favorite hunter as an excuse to dash back to England. The horse being dead, he decides to join his family on their visit to Kitty’s aunt, finds Kitty ready dressed for a ball, and cheerfully escorts her there. Despite Edward’s ploy of appearing to court the heiress Kitty, however, his father is “perfectly convinced that Edward ought not to remain in England” and tries to pack him off to the continent again. But Edward, he finds, is “much less disposed towards returning to France, than to accompany them in their projected tour” to the Lake District (225). Why? Because on this northern tour, I suggest, he has the chance of meeting with Mary Wynne as she accompanies the Halifaxes.
I must concede that so far as we know at this point the Halifaxes have not committed to the trip to the Lake District. But we know that Camilla is collecting additions to the party, such as “Sir Henry Devereux” (199) and “Sir Peter” (200), and that she particularly courts the Halifax family: “‘has not she plagued you to death with the Halifaxes?’” Edward asks Kitty (219). He may know more about that family’s plans than his sister, since I am assuming that he secretly corresponds with Mary Wynne (as Frank Churchill does with Jane Fairfax). And we do know he has told Camilla that the tour to the continent “‘interfere[s] with all his other schemes’” (228). Camilla, and presently Kitty too, assume that these schemes have to do with his falling in love with Kitty. “And what indeed can his plans be, but towards Marriage?” Kitty speculates happily. She’s right about the plan of marriage but wrong (I urge) about whom he hopes to marry. It’s the kind of misapprehension that Austen delights in—as in Emma’s assumptions about Mr. Elton’s affections.
To Edward, we hear, Kitty is just “a good natured lively Girl who seemed pleased with him” (229). He doesn’t suppose she will take his attentions seriously. Frank Churchill, in using an apparent courtship of Emma as a disguise for his real love for Jane Fairfax, similarly explains to his stepmother that Emma “‘never gave me the idea of a young woman likely to be attached. . . . She received my attentions with an easy, friendly, goodhumoured playfulness, which exactly suited me. We seemed to understand each other’” (438). “[E]asy, friendly, goodhumoured playfulness” could well describe Kitty’s response to Edward Stanley too. When he arrives as a stranger at her door, expecting to find his parents there, he makes, he says, “‘a very fine speech . . . all about introducing myself.’” But since he neglects to tell her his name, she remains mystified. “‘The speech had certainly great Merit,’ said Kitty smiling. ‘I thought so at the time; but since you never mentioned your name in it, as an introductory one it might have been better’” (216). This light banter is the tone of her response to him. So it is understandable that Edward, like Frank Churchill, feels justified in his flirtatious attentions.
So much for my predictions on what is likely to happen to Edward Stanley: like Frank Churchill, he comes on as the heroine’s suitor, while being all the while otherwise engaged. Also like Frank Churchill, he is charming but shallow. The best part of him, his hope for salvation, lies in his love for a worthy but disadvantaged girl, whom his parents believe to be beneath him. Mary Wynne, like Jane Fairfax, is morally superior to the man who courts her, but she loves him anyway.
What, then, is to be the fate of Kitty herself, if the frivolous Edward is otherwise disposed of?
In the early part of the story the narrator tells us much about Kitty’s distress at the difficult situations of the Wynne sisters. The girls, after all, were her intimate friends and associates. The boys are hardly mentioned—they would presumably be off at school for much of the time—but the boys too were thrown on the charity of relatives. In conversation with Camilla, Kitty speaks of all four Wynnes: “‘They were indeed a most charming Family,’” she cries. “‘Oh! they were every thing that could interest and attach’” (203-04). Camilla considers that the Wynnes are extremely lucky in all that has been done for them by their influential relatives, but Kitty complains, “‘[W]as it not very odd . . . that the Bishop should send Charles Wynne to sea, when he must have had a much better chance of providing for him in the Church, which was the profession that Charles liked best, and the one for which his Father had intended him?’” (206)
Ha! There it is again, as with Mr. Harley in Austen’s early tale: the rival claims of the two professions, church and navy. And as “Mr Harley” was dedicated to Francis, so “Catharine, or the Bower”—though actually dedicated to Cassandra—may be intended as a compliment to young Charles Austen, who had also joined the navy by this time (Tomalin 81). Kitty starts by saying “Charles Wynne” but proceeds to refer to the Wynne brother familiarly as “Charles.” And though the narrator has not provided much information on this brother so far, in Kitty’s conversation with Camilla we learn much more:
“The Bishop I know [says Kitty] had often promised Mr Wynne a living, and as he never gave him one, I think it was incumbant on him to transfer the promise to his Son.”
“I beleive you think he ought to have resigned his Bishopric to him [retorts Camilla]; you seem determined to be dissatisfied with every thing that has been done for them.”
“Well, said Kitty, this is a subject on which we shall never agree, and therefore it will be useless to continue it farther, or to mention it again—” She then left the room, and running out of the House was soon in her dear Bower where she could indulge in peace all her affectionate Anger against the relations of the Wynnes. (206-07)
It is not like Kitty to get upset in this way. Her sense of injustice at the treatment of the Wynnes is strong, but she already knows that Camilla considers they have been generously treated. Why this new indignation?
Let me suggest a parallel situation in Emma. Before Frank Churchill ever arrives, Emma discusses him with Mr. Knightley:
“My idea of him is, that he can adapt his conversation to the taste of every body, and has the power as well as the wish of being universally agreeable. . . . [T]hat is my idea of him.”
“And mine,” said Mr. Knightley warmly, “is, that if he turn out any thing like it, he will be the most insufferable fellow breathing! . . .”
“I will say no more about him,” cried Emma. ‘You turn every thing to evil. We are both prejudiced; you against, I for him. . . .”
“Prejudiced! I am not prejudiced. . . . He is a person I never think of from one month’s end to another,” said Mr. Knightley, with a degree of vexation, which made Emma immediately talk of something else. (150)
In both cases the issue stirs such strong feelings that the subject must be changed, and in both cases the persons upset can’t fully account for their discomposure. It is uncharacteristic of Mr. Knightley to be irritable. And of course we all know the reason for his vexation: although he doesn’t yet know he loves Emma, her enthusiasm for this young man whom she hasn’t yet met stirs him to jealousy.
In the same way, I believe, Kitty’s uncharacteristic flare-up about the treatment of Charles Wynne, the sailor, suggests that she has a tenderness for him that she doesn’t yet recognize. There is a degree of self-interest here, too. If the Bishop presented Charles with the living of Chetwynde, of course, he would be brought home to her; whereas who knows when she will see him again once he goes to sea?
I predict, then, that Charles Wynne, intended by his father for the Church but in fact destined for the sea, is also destined to come back into Kitty’s life to be the hero of a completed “Catharine, or the Bower.” Inasmuch as Kitty knew him long before she laid eyes on Edward Stanley, he would also conform to the rule that the first suitor will also be the last. And I like to think that young Austen may have left herself the chance, in a later revision, of providing some tender early scene between little Kitty and Charles, like the one in Mansfield Park where Edmund comforts Fanny and helps her write to her brother William.
Kitty, I believe, may yet have a chance, like Anne Elliot, to “glor[y] in being a sailor’s wife” (P 252).
2This paper was first delivered on board the Queen Mary at Huntington Beach for the conference called “Emma on Board,” arranged by Lynda Hall in April of 2016. There I also read the paper on women aboard warships by my late husband, Rowland.