A spinster of the middle class

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;

Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.

It makes me most uncomfortable to see

An English spinster of the middle class

Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass,’

Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety

The economic basis of society.

Seeking inspiration for my next post, I came across these wonderful lines by W.H. Auden, who in turn drew his from Lord Byron and Jane Austen. They are part of a long poem composed in 1936, while on a trip to Iceland during which he had read Don Juan. Having previously agreed to write a travel book, he thought he might as well start with a piece of fan-mail addressed to its author. In it he explains he decided against writing to Austen, as the impropriety of such behaviour would have aroused her contempt. He adds:

She was not an unshockable blue-stocking;    

If shades remain the characters they were,

No doubt she still considers you as shocking.

Did she ever? In a letter dated 5 March 1814, a poem recently published by him is mentioned in a rather irreverent context: ‘I have read the Corsair, mended my petticoat, and have nothing else to do.’ No signs of outrage here, though she was clearly not impressed.

In Persuasion, Anne and Captain Benwick discuss Byron and Scott:

Having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he showed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.

Marianne Dashwood would have been delighted by such tragic eloquence. In Sense and Sensibility she unreasonably complains about Edward’s lack of appreciation of Cowper’s work:

How spiritless, how tame was Edward’s manner in reading to us last night! I felt for my sister most severely. Yet she bore it with so much composure, she seemed scarcely to notice it. I could hardly keep my seat. To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such dreadful indifference!

But we know Jane Austen tends to take Elinor’s side. Whether or not she believes her own books can be enjoyed without restriction, I am tempted to quote again from Auden:

Then she’s a novelist. I don’t know whether

You will agree, but novel writing is

A higher art than poetry altogether.



Yet in Persuasion her characters find the subject entertaining:

Their conversation the preceding evening did not disincline him to seek her again; and they walked together some time, talking as before of Mr. Scott and Lord Byron, and still as unable as before, and as unable as any other two readers, to think exactly alike of the merits of either …

When she learns about the captain’s engagement to Louisa Musgrove, Anne sees

no reason against their being happy. Louisa had fine naval fervour to begin with, and they would soon grow more alike. He would gain cheerfulness, and she would learn to be an enthusiast for Scott and Lord Byron; nay, that was probably learnt already; of course they had fallen in love over poetry. The idea of Louisa Musgrove turned into a person of literary taste, and sentimental reflection was amusing, but she had no doubt of its being so.

Austen seems to suggest that strong feelings and constancy may not always go together. Captain Wentworth voices his criticism:

I do consider his attaching himself to her with some surprise … ‘A man like him, in his situation! with a heart pierced, wounded, almost broken! Fanny Harville was a very superior creature, and his attachment to her was indeed attachment. A man does not recover from such a devotion of the heart to such a woman. He ought not; he does not.

But a girl that is willing to discuss Tom Jones with a young man is not likely to be alarmed by Byron …

Caroline Lamb’s warning that he was ‘mad, bad, and dangerous to know’ did not deter her cousin Annabella Milbanke from accepting his proposal in 1815. She had read Pride and Prejudice in 1813:

I have finished the novel called Pride & Prejudice, which I think a very superior work. It depends not on any of the common resources of Novel writers, no drownings, nor conflagrations, nor runaway horses, nor lap-dogs & parrots, nor chambermaids & milliners, nor rencontres and disguises. I really think it is the most probable fiction I have ever read. It is not a crying book, but the interest is very strong, especially for Mr. Darcy.

Needless to say, the marriage did not work out.


Auden may playfully pretend to be shocked by Jane Austen, and we may well laugh at the idea of a country rector’s daughter being made into a proto-Marxist of sorts. Yet a spinster of the middle class such as her might have been ideally qualified to explore the economic underpinnings of the social system she was part of.

She was an educated woman with free time at her disposal who could afford paper and ink. Girls of the lower orders, by contrast, had to work all day and might consider themselves lucky to be taught how to read. In 1775 Parson Woodforde paid roughly a housemaid’s weekly wages for two quires, i.e. twenty-eight sheets of paper. Wives and mothers, on the other hand, would have been busy with their duties, whereas men ‘are forced on exertion. You have always a profession, pursuits, business of some sort or other, to take you back into the world immediately, and continual occupation and change soon weaken impressions.’

Her father was a clergyman with two livings who supplemented his income by farming and taking in boarding pupils. He visited the sick and knew all about poor relief. The Austens were also aware that, when a parson passed away, the remaining members of the household were thrown out of their home. No welfare provision was made for them and male relatives were expected to contribute to the support of their womenfolk.

The only career path open to young ladies was, therefore, marriage. Otherwise, accomplished women might become governesses, a fate compared to slavery in Emma, or school mistresses – ‘and I can think of nothing worse,’ the heroine of The Watsons declares.

Fortunately , on Mr Austen’s death, his sons came up with the offer of £250 a year. Mrs Austen had an annual income of about £150, and Cassandra had been bequeathed £1000 by her fiancé, Tom Fowle, which would have yielded an interest of about £50. We do not know exactly when Jane started to receive a small yearly allowance from Mrs Knight, her brother Edward’s adoptive mother. In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwoods manage on £500.

The ‘dear trio’ had to leave Bath and share a house with Frank Austen and his wife. In 1809 they moved to Chawton Cottage, on Edward’s land. In 1814, however, he was sued for possession of his Hampshire estates, and for some time his mother and sisters faced the prospect of yet another relocation.

‘Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor,’ Jane writes. Poverty is, of course, a relative concept, and we might argue, for instance, that she travelled more than the average Georgian woman. Miss Benn, whose brother was rector at Farrington, was far worse off. His many children prevented him from assisting her financially, and she therefore depended on her neighbours’ charity, pretty much like the Bates in Emma. She lived in a damp, draughty cottage, from which she was eventually turned out, being forced to move away from her friends: ‘I suppose she must have a bed at my Mother’s whenever she dines there,’ Jane Austen conjectures.’

Lord Byron by Thomas Philips


She, in turn, was a ‘poor relation’ to the wealthy Austen Knights, and painfully conscious of the social and economic difference. ‘People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World,’ she exclaimed in December 1798, ‘that I have no patience with them.–Kent is the only place for happiness. Everybody is rich there.’

‘The Orange Wine,’ she wrote from Godmersham, her brother’s estate in Kent, in 1808, ‘will want our Care soon.–But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.’

Almost five years later, she observed:

Rostock Market makes one’s mouth water, our cheapest Butcher’s meat is double the price of theirs; — nothing under 9d all this Summer, & I beleive upon recollection nothing under 10d. — Bread has sunk & is likely to sink more, which we hope may make Meat sink too. But I have no occasion to think of the price of Bread or of Meat where I am now; — let me shake off vulgar cares & conform to the happy Indifference of East Kent wealth.

‘We must not all expect to be individually lucky,’ says Emma in The Watsons. ‘The luck of one member of a family is luck to all.’ In this respect the Austen sisters benefited from their brother’s rise in the world. But Cassandra was made to help her sister-in-law, a baronet’s daughter, during her frequent confinements. And Jane had to stitch: ‘We are very busy making Edward’s shirts,’ Jane writes, ‘and I am proud to say that I am the neatest worker of the party.’

She was part of this world without quite belonging to it, and chose to portray it. More familiar characters populate its margins: clergymen like her brother James, on the lookout for a profitable living, naval officers out to make a fortune, just like Frank and Charles, and social climbers like Henry. There are also attorneys, apothecaries, and people whose trade is unspecified. She knew how it all worked, and the paramount role money and class played.

No one took much notice of her, so she could watch, reflect, and put it down.

Rather unkindly, another spinster, Mary Russell Mitford, gives us the picture:

A friend of mine, who visits her now, says that she has stiffened into the most perpendicular, precise, taciturn piece of ‘single blessedness’ that ever existed, and that, till Pride and Prejudice showed what a precious gem was hidden in that unbending case, she was no more regarded in society than a poker or a fire screen or any other thin, upright piece of wood or iron that fills its corner in peace and quiet.

Austen does not venture beyond her range of observation. She does not analyse the economic basis of British society as a whole. She leaves out industrial relations, as well as the lives of apprentices, servants, and agricultural labourers. Nor is she interested in the aristocracy. But she does mention the slave-trade, the West Indian colonies, and India. Her main concern is the marriage market, which she describes in all its complexity.

Did she ever experience ‘the amorous effects of “brass”’? On 2 December 1802, Harris Bigg-Wither proposed and she said ‘yes’, only to break off the engagement the following morning. He was the only son of a rather wealthy family. Did she, like Lizzy Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, feel, however briefly, that ‘to be Mistress of Manydown might be something’?


Jane Austen’s novels quoted from www.mollands.net

Adkins, Roy and Lesley. 2014. Jane Austen’s England. Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods. New York: Penguin Books.

Auden, Wystan Hugh. Letter to Lord Byron. Retrieved from http://arlindo-correia.com/lord_byron.html

Elwin, Malcolm. 1963. Lord Byron’s Wife. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Jones, Hazel.2009. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Continuum.

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. 2011.Jane Austen Letters. Oxford: OUP.

Morrison, Robert, ed. 2005. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A Routledge Study Guide and Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Tomalin, Claire 1999. Jane Austen. A Life. New York: Vintage Books.

Is Emma a detective story? Recapping clues

One of my favourite writers, P.D. James, sees Emma as a ‘mainstream novel which is also a detective story,’ distinguishing it from classic detective fiction. The latter involves a crime, usually a murder, a limited number of suspects, an amateur or professional sleuth, carefully planted clues, and a few red herrings. Readers are invited to join the police or private investigator and work out who the killer is. Emma clearly does not belong to this genre, though a cunningly contrived mystery unfolds as the book moves forward. Yet I would not characterise it as a ‘detective story.’

In Jane Austen’s narrative, words and gestures are often purposefully open to different interpretations, and we are forever trying to figure out who is attracted to whom. Emma is no exception in this respect, but there is something special about Jane Fairfax’s behaviour that arouses the heroine’s particular suspicions of an improper attachment at the beginning of vol. II. So far there is no actual ‘crime,’ only a possibility. A few chapters later, a pianoforte from an unknown sender arrives at her grandmother’s house, which, among other facts, Emma thinks confirms her original guess. This could have been the ‘body’ in the classic sense: a gift from an anonymous benefactor whose identity we might have been encouraged to find out – but the matter is soon dropped. The subplot focuses on Miss Fairfax and Frank Churchill, although for ostensibly different reasons. Their secret engagement, which is revealed near the end of the book, would be the ‘crime’.

There are only a few suspects, but not all of them are in Highbury. Mr Dixon, who is in Ireland,  was perhaps, according to Emma ‘very near changing one friend for the other or been fixed only to Miss Campbell for the sake of the future twelve thousand pounds.’ The instrument might equally have been ordered by his wife or Col. Campbell, who are now with him. The story is not altogether ‘confined to a closed society in a rural setting,’ as P.D. James states.

Emma is an ‘imaginist’ rather than a detective: she puts her own construction on events, jumps to conclusions, and considers only the facts that fit her own theory, refusing to follow other leads. By contrast,

Mr. Knightley began to suspect him [i.e. Frank Churchill] of some inclination to trifle with Jane Fairfax. He could not understand it; but there were symptoms of intelligence between them–he thought so at least–symptoms of admiration on his side, which, having once observed, he could not persuade himself to think entirely void of meaning, however he might wish to escape any of Emma’s errors of imagination. She was not present when the suspicion first arose. He was dining with the Randalls family, and Jane, at the Eltons’; and he had seen a look, more than a single look, at Miss Fairfax, which, from the admirer of Miss Woodhouse, seemed somewhat out of place. When he was again in their company, he could not help remembering what he had seen; nor could he avoid observations which, unless it were like Cowper and his fire at twilight,

‘Myself creating what I saw,’

brought him yet stronger suspicion of there being a something of private liking, of private understanding even, between Frank Churchill and Jane.

Yet he fails to uncover their secret betrothal: it is Frank himself who breaks the news, and subsequently explains it all in a letter to Mrs Weston. This final account of the whys and wherefores of his actions is indeed similar to those sometimes found in detective fiction. Another shared feature would be the complex relationship between ‘murderer’ and ‘sleuth,’ which almost leads him to confess before leaving Highbury for the first time, as he wrongly fancies Emma is ‘not without suspicion.’

On the whole, as there is neither a crime to investigate nor a detective to discover the perpetrator, I am inclined to view Emma as a romantic novel with a well-crafted mystery subplot. The clues are masterfully handled, unobtrusively strewn throughout the book, and we are left wondering how come we did not realise what was going on under our very noses. This might be explained by a number of reasons: the story is mostly told from the heroine’s point of view; the Westons want Frank to marry her; he makes her his apparent object in order to conceal his real feelings, and, as Jane has been trained to become a governess, it seems we can do nothing but pity her. Other than that, Austen plays fair: we have all the information we need to solve the puzzle. And there are no continuity errors or loose ends – something that I, as a conscientious reader, have found in murder mysteries more often than I would have wished.


Emma is right in mistrusting Miss Fairfax’s motives, and only wrong in her inferences. ‘Jane caught a bad cold,’ says Miss Bates, ‘so long ago as the 7th of November, (as I am going to read to you,) and has never been well since. A long time, is not it, for a cold to hang upon her? She never mentioned it before.’ This is her excuse for coming to Highbury instead of enjoying herself in Ireland with her friends. Emma is not fooled: ‘As to the pretence of trying her native air … In the summer it might have passed; but what can any body’s native air do for them in the months of January, February, and March? Good fires and carriages would be much more to the purpose in most cases of delicate health.’

Yet, ‘one might guess twenty things without guessing exactly the right,’ or, as Frank Churchill tellingly puts it ‘sometimes one conjectures right, and sometimes one conjectures wrong … Miss Fairfax said something about conjecturing.’

What are the clues Emma misses?

Image from publicdomainvectors.org

In chapter 24 Mrs Weston and Frank take a walk: ‘”He did not doubt there being very pleasant walks in every direction, but if left to him, he should always chuse the same. Highbury, that airy, cheerful, happy-looking Highbury, would be his constant attraction.”–Highbury, with Mrs. Weston, stood for Hartfield; and she trusted to its bearing the same construction with him.’ So perhaps it is not Emma that he would wish to see …

In fact, he says that the day before he was

betrayed into paying a most unreasonable visit. Ten minutes would have been all that was necessary, perhaps all that was proper; and I had told my father I should certainly be at home before him–but … to my utter astonishment, I found, when he (finding me nowhere else) joined me there at last, that I had been actually sitting with them very nearly three-quarters of an hour.

Mr Churchill presses Emma to bring the Crown’s ballroom back to its ‘former good old days.’ What he really wants is an opportunity to dance with Jane, which would afford them at least half-an-hour’s privacy. He is also quite willing to talk about her – Austen readers know what that means:

I beg your pardon, Miss Woodhouse, you were speaking to me, you were saying something at the very moment of this burst of my amor patriae. Do not let me lose it. I assure you the utmost stretch of public fame would not make me amends for the loss of any happiness in private life.

‘I merely asked, whether you had known much of Miss Fairfax and her party at Weymouth.’

Over at the Bates’s they discuss him: ‘Do not we often talk about Mr Frank Churchill?’ asks Jane’s aunt, seeking confirmation, in chapter 38.

In chapter 25 he goes to town purportedly to have his hair cut, ‘intending to return to dinner.’ In the next chapter, the author cleverly hints that he might not have made good on his promise: ‘if he kept his father’s dinner waiting, it was not known at Hartfield; for Mrs. Weston was too anxious for his being a favourite with Mr. Woodhouse, to betray any imperfection which could be concealed.’

The day before the Coles’ party, Miss Fairfax receives a surprise gift:

This pianoforte had arrived from Broadwood’s … to the great astonishment of both aunt and niece–entirely unexpected; that at first, by Miss Bates’s account, Jane herself was quite at a loss, quite bewildered to think who could possibly have ordered it–but now, they were both perfectly satisfied that it could be from only one quarter;–of course it must be from Colonel Campbell.

In his explanatory letter to Mrs Weston, Frank Churchill reveals that Jane ‘would never have allowed’ him ‘to send it, had any choice been given her.’ At first, therefore, she did not know the present had come from him. In chapter 44, Miss Bates wonders about ‘the pianoforte. What is to become of that?–Very true. Poor dear Jane was talking of it just now.–‘You must go,’ said she. ‘You and I must part. You will have no business here.’ It seems she is speaking to Frank …

After the Coles’ dinner, Miss Fairfax, Miss Bates, and some other ladies arrive. ‘They were soon joined by some of the gentlemen; and the very first of the early was Frank Churchill. In he walked, … and after paying his compliments en passant to Miss Bates and her niece, made his way directly to the opposite side of the circle.’ He sits next to Emma, who thinks she is ‘his object and everybody must perceive it,’ but later catches him ‘looking intently’ at Jane. He finds a pretext to walk over to her: ‘Emma soon saw him standing before Miss Fairfax, and talking to her; but as to its effect on the young lady, as he had improvidently placed himself exactly between them, exactly in front of Miss Fairfax, she could absolutely distinguish nothing.’ Mrs Weston comes over to talk to Emma, and, as she takes his chair, he sits beside Jane.

While seated close to Emma,

He did not boast, but it naturally betrayed itself, that he had persuaded his aunt where his uncle could do nothing, and on her laughing and noticing it, he owned that he believed (excepting one or two points) he could with time persuade her to any thing. One of those points on which his influence failed, he then mentioned. He had wanted very much to go abroad–had been very eager indeed to be allowed to travel–but she would not hear of it. This had happened the year before. Now, he said, he was beginning to have no longer the same wish.

So this is what happened: as Frank was not allowed to travel to Ireland, it was decided that Miss Fairfax should come to Highbury and they should meet there.

The next day, looking down the Randalls Road from Ford’s door, Emma sees them walk into Highbury and stop at Mrs Bates’s. ‘For my companion tells me,’ she explains, ‘that I absolutely promised Miss Bates last night, that I would come this morning. I was not aware of it myself. I did not know that I had fixed a day.’ He somewhat passive aggressively pretends he would rather escort Miss Woodhouse and Miss Smith back to Hartfield, knowing full well that Mrs Weston would not like to be left alone and that Emma would side with her.

English country estate
An ideal setting for a murder mystery. Image from publicdomainvectors.org

He then manages to send Mrs Weston and Jane’s aunt over to beg Miss Woodhouse to come up and give her opinion of the instrument, while he tries to fix Mrs Bates’s glasses. As Emma enters the little sitting-room, she finds the old lady slumbering. ‘This is a pleasure,’ he says to her, ‘coming at least ten minutes earlier than I had calculated.’ It appears all has been a ruse to be ‘alone’ with his fiancée, who looks deeply affected. Now he seems intent on diverting Emma’s attention from her:

He contrived that she should be seated by him; and was sufficiently employed in looking out the best baked apple for her, and trying to make her help or advise him in his work, till Jane Fairfax was quite ready to sit down to the pianoforte again. That she was not immediately ready, Emma did suspect to arise from the state of her nerves; she had not yet possessed the instrument long enough to touch it without emotion; she must reason herself into the power of performance.

Everybody praises the pianoforte. ‘I heard a good deal of Colonel Campbell’s taste at Weymouth,’ Frank tells Emma ‘and the softness of the upper notes I am sure is exactly what he and all that party would particularly prize.’ Which would sound like a private joke between him and Jane, as we already know that ‘Colonel Campbell is a little deaf.’ She does not turn round, however, and Emma is still convinced that it is Mr Dixon that should be credited.

After finishing his job, Frank

was very warmly thanked both by mother and daughter; to escape a little from the latter, he went to the pianoforte, and begged Miss Fairfax, who was still sitting at it, to play something more.

‘If you are very kind,’ said he, ‘it will be one of the waltzes we danced last night;–let me live them over again. You did not enjoy them as I did; you appeared tired the whole time. I believe you were glad we danced no longer; but I would have given worlds–all the worlds one ever has to give–for another half-hour.’

As he had already stood up with Emma for two dances, they would have had to change partners, and so the next half hour would have been devoted to Jane: ‘I must have asked Miss Fairfax,’ he tells our heroine in the previous chapter.

As Jane plays, Frank exclaims: ‘What felicity it is to hear a tune again which has made one happy!–If I mistake not that was danced at Weymouth.’ This is why he remembers the waltz so fondly. ‘She looked up at him for a moment, coloured deeply, and played something else.’

In the following chapter, Frank is quite intent on having a ball. At the Crown, he suggests asking Miss Bates to come over and give the Westons and Emma her opinion and encouragement. He insists, and rather passively aggressively adds: ‘I need not bring the whole family, you know.’ Jane, usually cold and reserved, ‘enjoyed the thought of it to an extraordinary degree. It made her animated–open hearted.’

But, alas, Mrs Churchill is taken ill and Frank must go back to Enscombe. He comes to Hartfield to take leave of Emma. ‘His dejection was most evident.’ He must be off almost immediately. ‘Not five minutes to spare even for your friends Miss Fairfax and Miss Bates?’ enquires Emma.

‘Yes–I have called there; passing the door, I thought it better. It was a right thing to do. I went in for three minutes, and was detained by Miss Bates’s being absent. She was out; and I felt it impossible not to wait till she came in’ … ‘In short,’ said he, ‘perhaps, Miss Woodhouse–I think you can hardly be quite without suspicion.’

He wishes to confess, but cannot quite make up his mind, and then the moment is gone. ‘It was something,’ he says, to feel that all the rest of my time might be given to Hartfield,’ meaning: ‘Sad as I was after parting with Jane, I thought at least I would have the comfort of seeing a friend.’

In chapter 34, we learn that Miss Fairfax goes to the post-office every day:

Jane’s solicitude about fetching her own letters had not escaped Emma. She had heard and seen it all; and felt some curiosity to know whether the wet walk of this morning had produced any. She suspected that it had; that it would not have been so resolutely encountered but in full expectation of hearing from some one very dear, and that it had not been in vain. She thought there was an air of greater happiness than usual–a glow both of complexion and spirits.

On that very evening Mr Weston announces his son’s return.

The ball eventually takes place. Miss Bates and her niece walk into the room, escorted by Frank, who has been impatient for their arrival, and his father. The former is extremely polite to both ladies, and shows his displeasure at Mrs Elton’s calling Miss Fairfax by her first name. On their moving over to another room for supper, he helps Jane on with her tippet, as Mrs Weston is afraid there might be ‘draughts in the passage … Sir, you are most kind. Upon my word, Jane on one arm, and me on the other! … -Well, where shall we sit? … Anywhere, so that Jane is not in a draught. Where I sit is of no consequence. Oh! do you recommend this side?–Well, I am sure, Mr. Churchill–only it seems too good.’

On the following day he is at the right time in the right place to rescue Harriet from the gypsies, as

his leaving Highbury had been delayed … The pleasantness of the morning had induced him to walk forward, and leave his horses to meet him by another road, a mile or two beyond Highbury–and happening to have borrowed a pair of scissors the night before of Miss Bates, and to have forgotten to restore them, he had been obliged to stop at her door, and go in for a few minutes.

P.D. James

In chapter 41, Mr Knightley, Emma, and Harriet, run into ‘Mr. and Mrs. Weston and their son, Miss Bates and her niece, who had accidentally met.’ Not quite so accidentally, it would seem, as a few paragraphs later the aunt reveals they are in the habit of walking to Randalls …

Mr Perry passes by, and Frank enquires about his plans to set up a carriage, thinking Mrs Weston has mentioned them in her letters. As we can gather from Miss Bates, Jane may have told him. After tea, Mr Churchill suggests playing with the alphabets, so that he can place the word ‘blunder’ in front of his fiancée, who is, once again, sitting opposite, and looking at him. She smiles faintly and blushes. He then hands over another word to her. Displeased and cross, she pushes it away, and soon gets up to leave,

wanting to quit the table; but so many were also moving, that she could not get away; and Mr. Knightley thought he saw another collection of letters anxiously pushed towards her, and resolutely swept away by her unexamined. She was afterwards looking for her shawl–Frank Churchill was looking also–it was growing dusk, and the room was in confusion; and how they parted, Mr. Knightley could not tell.

After they are gone, however, he communicates his suspicions to Emma.

A few chapters on, Frank comes rather late to Donwell Abbey – Jane has already left. He is ‘out of humour,’ and believes ‘he should not have come at all … As soon as I am cooler I shall go back again. I could very ill be spared–but such a point had been made of my coming! You will all be going soon I suppose; the whole party breaking up. I met one as I came–Madness in such weather!–absolute madness!’

Emma persuades him to join them at Box Hill the next day: ‘I can never bear to think of you all there without me.’

Despite their expectations,

There was a languor, a want of spirits, a want of union, which could not be got over. They separated too much into parties. The Eltons walked together; Mr. Knightley took charge of Miss Bates and Jane; and Emma and Harriet belonged to Frank Churchill. And Mr. Weston tried, in vain, to make them harmonise better. It seemed at first an accidental division, but it never materially varied. Mr. and Mrs. Elton, indeed, shewed no unwillingness to mix, and be as agreeable as they could; but during the two whole hours that were spent on the hill, there seemed a principle of separation, between the other parties, too strong for any fine prospects, or any cold collation, or any cheerful Mr. Weston, to remove.

Frank and Emma flirt with each other, and Miss Woodhouse hurts Miss Bates’s feelings. Neither Mr Knightley nor the Eltons are amused, and the couple walk away.

‘Happy couple!’ said Frank Churchill, as soon as they were out of hearing:– ‘How well they suit one another!–Very lucky–marrying as they did, upon an acquaintance formed only in a public place!–They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky!–for as to any real knowledge of a person’s disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give–it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment. Short of that, it is all guess and luck–and will generally be ill-luck. How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!’

Jane scathingly replies:

‘though such unfortunate circumstances do sometimes occur both to men and women, I cannot imagine them to be very frequent. A hasty and imprudent attachment may arise–but there is generally time to recover from it afterwards. I would be understood to mean, that it can be only weak, irresolute characters, (whose happiness must be always at the mercy of chance,) who will suffer an unfortunate acquaintance to be an inconvenience, an oppression for ever.’

That very evening, on hearing that Frank has left Highbury, she decides to take up Mrs Smallridge’s offer. The following morning, she tells her pianoforte: ‘You and I must part.’ The instrument has not been mentioned since chapter 28.


When the news of the engagement breaks, we are surprised, but not quite so interested. We already know that Emma and Mr Churchill are not romantically involved. We have been cleverly fooled, yet the mystery we have failed to solve is not the main plot, but a brilliantly constructed side story.


Austen, Jane. Emma. Text quoted from http://www.mollands.net/etexts/emma/index.html

James, P.D. 2011. Talking about Detective Fiction. New York: Vintage Books.

The purposes of women’s education: a look at Mansfield Park and Emma

‘Give a girl an education,’ says Mrs Norris in Mansfield Park, ‘and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without farther expense to anybody.’ This stark cost-benefit analysis, applied to charitable undertakings by the well-off, might surprise us. Yet there was always a risk: ‘if no such establishment should offer as you are so sanguine in expecting,’ Sir Thomas Bertram warns his sister-in-law, ‘we must secure to the child, or consider ourselves engaged to secure to her hereafter, as circumstances may arise, the provision of a gentlewoman.’

Just as we might think that schooling should meet the demands of the labour market, Mrs Norris hints that female instruction should suit the requirements of the marriage market. Women in the gentry and upper middle classes were not allowed to earn their own living, so their relatives would have to support them if a tolerably good match could not be found – a fact Jane Austen knew only too well. In chapter 22 of Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte Lucas’s brothers breathe a sigh of relief at her engagement to Mr Collins, and in Mansfield Park Sir Thomas presses Fanny to accept Mr Crawford’s proposal.

Even the wealthy were occasionally in trouble as a consequence of expensive habits, gambling debts, financial crises, and the vicissitudes of business, and poor female relatives might be seen as an encumbrance. In chapter 3, Sir Thomas expects his widowed sister-in-law ‘to claim her share in their niece … as his own circumstances were rendered less fair than heretofore, by some recent losses on his West India estate, in addition to his eldest son’s extravagance, it became not undesirable to himself to be relieved from the expense of her support, and the obligation of her future provision.’


Colonel Campbell is no relation of Jane Fairfax’s, but feels indebted to her late father for having saved his life during a severe camp fever. Wishing to help, he eventually takes charge of the orphan’s education – otherwise she would have been ‘taught only what very limited means could command.’ It is not marriage she is destined for, however, but the labour market:

The plan was that she should be brought up for educating others; the very few hundred pounds which she inherited from her father making independence impossible. To provide for her otherwise was out of Colonel Campbell’s power; for though his income, by pay and appointments, was handsome, his fortune was moderate and must be all his daughter’s; but, by giving her an education, he hoped to be supplying the means of respectable subsistence hereafter.

Being a governess was, indeed, one of the few ways in which gentlewomen in reduced circumstances might provide for their own sustenance.


The Miss Bertrams are ‘under the care of a governess, with proper masters.’ To profit from their instruction, they used to go to town every spring with their mother, following Lady Catherine’s advice in Pride and Prejudice chapter 29. Now they ‘continue to exercise their memories’ and ‘practice their duets’ in the Northampton countryside, as Lady Bertram no longer bothers to take them to London. Again according to Lady Catherine, governesses played a key role in preventing idleness and making sure their pupils were diligent in their studies.

At first the Bertrams thought their niece might be a welcome addition at the Parsonage, but Mrs Norris soon disabused them of such a fanciful notion. Sir Thomas had no choice: ‘let her home be in this house. We will endeavour to do our duty by her, and she will, at least, have the advantage of companions of her own age, and of a regular instructress.’ His sister-in-law agrees: one more girl will make no difference to Miss Lee …

Fanny can read, write, and do needlework, but has been taught nothing else, whereas her cousins can put maps together and, ‘blessed with wonderful memories,’ have learned by heart a few historical facts and names, as well as some disorganised bits of general information. They play the pianoforte, sing, and draw, while Fanny, shy and diffident, shows no interest in these pursuits. Mrs Norris thinks this is just as well, as ‘it is not at all necessary that she should be as accomplished as you are;–on the contrary, it is much more desirable that there should be a difference.’ It could be argued that if a girl with no fortune were to attract any respectable suitors, she might need to develop such skills. Of course Lady Catherine never bothered to learn any music, and yet she married Sir Lewis De Burgh – but then again, her father was an earl.


 Miss Fairfax, by contrast, ‘had … ‘been given an excellent education. Living constantly with right-minded and well-informed people, her heart and understanding had received every advantage of discipline and culture; and Colonel Campbell’s residence being in London, every lighter talent had been done full justice to, by the attendance of first-rate masters.’ Her benefactor rightly believed that ‘her disposition and abilities were equally worthy of all that friendship could do; and at eighteen or nineteen she was, as far as such an early age can be qualified for the care of children, fully competent to the office of instruction herself.’

Her acquirements are praised all over Highbury and even Emma acknowledges her superiority.. Harriet Smith, however,  is not impressed: ‘I hate Italian singing.–There is no understanding a word of it. Besides, if she does play so very well, you know, it is no more than she is obliged to do, because she will have to teach.’

Unlike Fanny Price, however, Jane is treated as a daughter, and the Campbells find it hard to part with her. Yet she will eventually have to earn her own bread: ‘With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice, and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace and hope, to penance and mortification for ever.’


Miss Price has received an education of sorts, and finally come out at the Mansfield Park ball. Now she too is expected to make a ‘sacrifice.’ Her uncle is surprised and displeased at her rejection of Henry Crawford’s proposal:

This is very strange! … There is something in this which my comprehension does not reach. Here is a young man wishing to pay his addresses to you, with everything to recommend him: not merely situation in life, fortune, and character, but with more than common agreeableness, with address and conversation pleasing to everybody. And he is not an acquaintance of to-day; you have now known him some time. His sister, moreover, is your intimate friend, and he has been doing that for your brother, which I should suppose would have been almost sufficient recommendation to you, had there been no other. It is very uncertain when my interest might have got William on. He has done it already.

Illustration by C.E. Brock (from http://www.mollands.net)

No one is aware that Fanny is in love with Edmund, but quite apart from that she has reason ‘to think ill … of [Mr Crawford’s] principles.’ She cannot forget his behaviour towards the Miss Bertrams, believes he is not serious enough, and predicts will not be constant – a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps. In fact they are so very different, as she later explains to her cousin, that ‘she cannot like him well enough to marry him,’ which is all she dares to tell her uncle.

Miss Price is accused of ‘willfulness,’ ‘self-conceit,’ selfishness, obstinacy, and, above all, ‘ingratitude.’ Sir Thomas has kept his side of the bargain: she has been given some instruction and made her ‘entrance into the world’ – now it is her turn to show her appreciation of his charitable endeavours and spare him further expense. As his wife puts it, ‘it is every young woman’s duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this.’


Jane Fairfax comes to stay with her grandmother and aunt instead of crossing over to Ireland to visit her newly married friend Miss Campbell: a lingering cold is the ostensible excuse. ‘The Campbells, whatever might be their motive or motives, whether single, or double, or treble, gave the arrangement their ready sanction, and said, that they depended more on a few months spent in her native air, for the recovery of her health, than on any thing else.’

If she is to become a governess, she must, in the first place, be in good health: ‘Till she should have completely recovered her usual strength, they must forbid her engaging in duties, which, so far from being compatible with a weakened frame and varying spirits, seemed, under the most favourable circumstances, to require something more than human perfection of body and mind to be discharged with tolerable comfort.’ Secondly, she might understandably wish to ‘to spend, perhaps, her last months of perfect liberty with those kind relations to whom she was so very dear.’  What could the Campbell’s third motive be? Contrary to Emma’s suspicions, there is nothing improper between Jane and their daughter’s husband, so there would be no reason to get her out of the way. Therefore, it would seem they can only mean to ease her transition into the job market. They will get used to not having her around, and she will enjoy less of ‘the rational pleasures of an elegant society.’


Similarly, as part of his efforts to make his niece see sense, Sir Thomas sends her back home to Portsmouth:

His prime motive in sending her away had very little to do with the propriety of her seeing her parents again, and nothing at all with any idea of making her happy. He certainly wished her to go willingly, but he as certainly wished her to be heartily sick of home before her visit ended; and that a little abstinence from the elegancies and luxuries of Mansfield Park would bring her mind into a sober state, and incline her to a juster estimate of the value of that home of greater permanence, and equal comfort, of which she had the offer … It was a medicinal project upon his niece’s understanding, which he must consider as at present diseased. A residence of eight or nine years in the abode of wealth and plenty had a little disordered her powers of comparing and judging. Her father’s house would, in all probability, teach her the value of a good income; and he trusted that she would be the wiser and happier woman, all her life, for the experiment he had devised.

Mr Crawford calls on the Prices, but, some time after he leaves, the news breaks of his elopement with Mrs Rushworth, and no further sacrifice is required of Fanny.


Jane Fairfax does not want to hurry things, as Frank Churchill is to come back to Highbury in the spring. Yet she tells officious Mrs Elton: ‘When I am quite determined as to the time, I am not at all afraid of being long unemployed. There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something–Offices for the sale–not quite of human flesh–but of human intellect.’

Her ‘patroness’ feels she must clear her Bristol friends of any involvement in the slave-trade on which the port used to thrive: ‘Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.’

Jane explains the analogy, still exaggerating the similarity between widely different degrees of unfreedom: ‘governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies.’

Official medallion of the British Anti-Slavery Society

 What would actually lay in store for her?

‘With your superior talents,’ Mrs Elton says, ‘you have a right to move in the first circle. Your musical knowledge alone would entitle you to name your own terms, have as many rooms as you like, and mix in the family as much as you chose;–that is–I do not know–if you knew the harp, you might do all that, I am very sure; but you sing as well as play;–yes, I really believe you might, even without the harp, stipulate for what you chose;–and you must and shall be delightfully, honourably and comfortably settled.’

‘A gentleman’s family’ is all Miss Fairfax would want. ‘It would be no object to me to be with the rich; my mortifications, I think, would only be the greater; I should suffer more from comparison.’ She finally agrees to go to the Smallridges’, four miles from Maple Grove, ‘to have the charge of three little girls,’ and Mr Woodhouse thinks she will be to them what Miss Taylor was to him and her daughters. Miss Bates is almost in raptures: ‘A style of living almost equal to Maple Grove … Jane will be treated with such regard and kindness!–It will be nothing but pleasure, a life of pleasure.’ Quite an overstatement, it would appear. ‘And her salary!–I really cannot venture to name her salary to you, Miss Woodhouse. Even you, used as you are to great sums, would hardly believe that so much could be given to a young person like Jane.’

A more accurate description might be found in Nelly Weeton’s journal. In 1812 she wrote:

A governess is almost shut out of society; not choosing to associate with servants, and not being treated as an equal by the heads of the house or their visitors, she must possess some fortitude and strength of mind to render herself tranquil or happy; but indeed the master or mistress of a house, if they have any goodness of heart, would take pains to prevent her feeling her inferiority. For my own part, I have no cause of just complaint; but I know some that are treated in a most mortifying manner.

Miss Fairfax is saved from this fate by Mrs Churchill’s death and Frank’s confession of their betrothal to her grieving husband. Yet she is still remorseful for ‘this one great deviation from the strict rule of right’:

‘Do not imagine, madam,’ she tells Mrs Weston, ‘that I was taught wrong. Do not let any reflection fall on the principles or the care of the friends who brought me up. The error has been all my own; and I do assure you that, with all the excuse that present circumstances may appear to give, I shall yet dread making the story known to Colonel Campbell.’


By the end of Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas regrets past mistakes:

Here had been grievous mismanagement; but, bad as it was, he gradually grew to feel that it had not been the most direful mistake in his plan of education. Something must have been wanting within, or time would have worn away much of its ill effect. He feared that principle, active principle, had been wanting; that they had never been properly taught to govern their inclinations and tempers by that sense of duty which can alone suffice. They had been instructed theoretically in their religion, but never required to bring it into daily practice. To be distinguished for elegance and accomplishments, the authorised object of their youth, could have had no useful influence that way, no moral effect on the mind. He had meant them to be good, but his cares had been directed to the understanding and manners, not the disposition; and of the necessity of self-denial and humility, he feared they had never heard from any lips that could profit them.

Bitterly did he deplore a deficiency which now he could scarcely comprehend to have been possible. Wretchedly did he feel, that with all the cost and care of an anxious and expensive education, he had brought up his daughters without their understanding their first duties, or his being acquainted with their character and temper.

Where did his niece’s principles come from then? Not from her parents, it seems. Edmund would have played a key role, together with her ‘extensive reading’:

His attentions were … of the highest importance in assisting the improvement of her mind, and extending its pleasures. He knew her to be clever, to have a quick apprehension as well as good sense, and a fondness for reading, which, properly directed, must be an education in itself. Miss Lee taught her French, and heard her read the daily portion of history; but he recommended the books which charmed her leisure hours, he encouraged her taste, and corrected her judgment: he made reading useful by talking to her of what she read, and heightened its attraction by judicious praise.

And, though Fanny Price was never trained to be a governess, she is quite willing to educate her sister Susan:

The intimacy thus begun between them was a material advantage to each. By sitting together upstairs, they avoided a great deal of the disturbance of the house; Fanny had peace, and Susan learned to think it no misfortune to be quietly employed. They sat without a fire; but that was a privation familiar even to Fanny, and she suffered the less because reminded by it of the East room. It was the only point of resemblance. In space, light, furniture, and prospect, there was nothing alike in the two apartments; and she often heaved a sigh at the remembrance of all her books and boxes, and various comforts there. By degrees the girls came to spend the chief of the morning upstairs, at first only in working and talking, but after a few days, the remembrance of the said books grew so potent and stimulative that Fanny found it impossible not to try for books again. There were none in her father’s house; but wealth is luxurious and daring, and some of hers found its way to a circulating library. She became a subscriber; amazed at being anything in propria persona, amazed at her own doings in every way, to be a renter, a chuser of books! And to be having any one’s improvement in view in her choice! But so it was. Susan had read nothing, and Fanny longed to give her a share in her own first pleasures, and inspire a taste for the biography and poetry which she delighted in herself.


Jane Austen’s texts from http://www.mollands.net/etexts/novels.html

Adkins, Roy and Lesley (2014). Jane Austen’s England. Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods. New York: Penguin Books.



Lady Novelists: Anna Lefroy’s and Charlotte Brontë’s opinions of Emma

Two hundred years ago Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austen’s Emma, and Anna Lefroy’s first daughter were brought into the world (1). ‘As I wish very much to see your Jemima,’ Jane wrote to her niece, ‘I am sure you will like to see my Emma, & have therefore great pleasure in sending it for your perusal.’

Anna ‘rank’d Emma as a composition with S & S.–not so Brilliant as P. & P–nor so equal as MP.–Preferred Emma herself to all the heroines.–The Characters like all the others admirably well drawn & supported–perhaps rather less strongly marked than some, but only the more natural for that reason.–Mr Knightley, Mrs Elton & Miss Bates her favourites.–Thought one or two of the conversations too long.’ But Charlotte did not warm to Austen’s ‘darling child.’

She had received a copy from Smith, Elder & Co., her publishers, and on 12 April 1850 she wrote to their literary editor, W.S. Williams:

I have likewise read one of Miss Austen’s works, ‘Emma’- read it with interest and just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable- anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heart-felt is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would have met with a well-bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating  people seriously well; there is a Chinese ‘fidelity’ , a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it. If I said it to some people (Lewes for instance) they would directly accuse me of advocating exaggerated heroics, but I am not afraid of you falling into any such vulgar error.

The ‘Chinese fidelity’ allusion would be in line with Austen’s own metaphor: ‘the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour.’ But Charlotte’s ‘violent dislike’ seems to go far beyond mere matters of taste. She was of course a Romantic, whereas Jane Austen has been seen as a social realist whose work still bore the influence of the fading neoclassical tradition. Class differences might also have played a role, as well as the North-South divide. And, as Mrs Gaskell points out,  though the arrival of the books must have been a source of ‘solace and pleasure,’ Charlotte, recently bereaved and in poor health, would have missed the ‘familiar voices, commenting mirthfully and pleasantly.’ Last, but by no means least, she was deeply mortified.


Charlotte Brontë


Two years earlier, George Henry Lewes, the influential critic perhaps better known to us as George Eliot’s lover, had suggested she should emulate Austen and sent her a copy of Pride and Prejudice. He had given Jane Eyre on the whole a good review in December 1847, but had also discussed its defects: there was ‘too much melodrama and improbability, which smack of the circulating library.’ He was honest enough to acknowledge his partiality for ‘truth in the delineation of life and character: incidents however wonderful, adventures however perilous, are almost as naught when compared with the deep and lasting interest excited by any thing like a correct representation of life.’ Charlotte took offence and stuck to her guns:

If I ever do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call ‘melodrama’; I think so, but I am not sure. I think too I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen’s ‘mild eyes,’ ‘to finish more and be more subdued’; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master, which will have its own way, putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature; new moulding characters, giving unthought-of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is this not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?…

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point.

What induced you to say you would rather have written ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Tom Jones’ than any of the Waverley Novels?

I had not seen ‘Pride and Prejudice’ till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers- but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy- no open country- no fresh air- no blue hill- no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.

Now I can understand admiration of George Sand; for though I never saw any of her works which I admired throughout…yet she has a grasp of mind which, if I cannot fully comprehend, I very deeply respect; she is sagacious and profound; Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant.

Am I wrong – or were you hasty in what you said?

On 18 January, Charlotte elaborated on the subject :

What a strange lecture comes next in your letter! You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that ‘Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no ‘sentiment’ (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas) no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry- and then you add I must  ‘learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived.’

The last point only will I ever acknowledge.

Can there be a great artist without poetry?

What I call -what I will bend to as a great artist, then-  cannot be destitute of the divine gift. But by poetry I am sure you understand something different to what I do, as you do by ‘sentiment.’ It is poetry, as I comprehend the word, which elevates that masculine George Sand and makes out of something coarse, something Godlike … Miss Austen being as you say without ‘sentiment’ without poetry, maybe is sensible, real ( more real than true) but she cannot be great.

I submit to your anger, which I have now excited (for have I not questioned the perfection of your darling?); the storm may pass over me. Nevertheless I will, when I can  (I do not know when that will be as I have no access to a circulating library) diligently peruse all Miss Austen’s works as you recommend…

Charlotte’s reaction is understandable in a way: she must have been as ‘sick of the very name of’ Jane Austen as Emma was of Miss Fairfax’s! Personally, I find the sarcastic mention of circulating libraries brilliant. Lewes’s approach certainly failed to produce the desired effect. In 1852 he set out his views on ‘lady novelists,’ hinting that writing was a poor substitute for marital bliss and motherhood. I wonder what Jane Austen would have thought of that…

Which brings us back to Emma and Jemima.The latter’s mother was often pregnant, prompting her aunt to exclaim: ‘Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty – I am very sorry for her. – Mrs Clement too is in that way again. I am quite tired of so many Children.’ Anna Lefroy was widowed at 35. She published a novella and two children’s stories and wrote a continuation of Sanditon, but burnt Which is the heroine?, the novel Jane Austen had advised her on. She never achieved literary fame.


Title page of the first edition of  Emma



(1) Emma was published on 23 December 1815, but the date on the title page of each volume was 1816. Anna-Jemima Lefroy was born on 20 October 1815, and Charlotte Brontë on 21 April 1816.


Austen, Jane. Opinions of Mansfield Park and Opinions of Emma. Retrieved from http://www.janeausten.ac.uk/manuscripts/blopinions/1.html

Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. 2011. Jane Austen Letters. Oxford: OUP.

Fraser, Rebecca. 1988. The Brontës. Charlotte Brontë and her family. New York: Ballantine Books.

Gaskell, Elizabeth. 1975. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Penguin Books.

Lewes, George Henry. “Recent Novels: French and English.” Fraser’s Magazine, 36. Retrieved from http://faculty.plattsburgh.edu/peter.friesen/default.asp?go=247

Smith, Margaret, ed. 2000. The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, vol. II, 1848-1851. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Yaffe, Deborah. Sanditon Summer: Anna Austen Lefroy. 2013, June 20. Retrieved from