Episode 11: Not So Hastings

Hello friends, welcome to Ents and Sensibility, the podcast for everyone who loves bold witty women, awkward handsome men and dragons. I’m your host Casey Meserve.

This is our first episode of 2022 and I hope wherever you are, you had a great holiday if you celebrate and winter is being kind to you so far.

Today’s chapter is a short one, so today we’re going to spend more time talking about Jane’s family.

cassandra austen
Silhouette of Cassandra Austen, sister of Jane Austen. By Unknown author – Pemberley.com and Jane Austen Centre, Public Domain.

In previous episodes we began looking into Jane’s family and you can go back to episodes 1 and 2. In Episode 5 we talked about Jane’s oldest sibling, her brother James Austen. Today, we’re going to dig into the life of her best friend, confidante and sister, Cassandra. Cassandra’s life story is closely aligned with Jane’s. They went to school together, slept in the same bedroom, and as their niece Anna LeFroy said, “If Cassandra’s head had been going to be cut off Jane would have hers cut off too.”

Cassandra Elizabeth Austen was born Jan 9, 1773, the fifth child and first daughter of George and Cassandra, she was named for her mother. Cassy was nearly 3 when the seventh child, Jane was born, and the baby became her plaything in a house full of boys.

Cassy and Jane were inseparable and when Cassy was sent to school at 10, Jane, who was only 7, insisted on going, with her.

“The girls,” as their father called them, attended Mrs. Ann Cawley’s school in Oxford. Biographers say Mr. Austen likely sent both girls away in order to use their room to board more boys for the school he ran from the parsonage. Mrs. Cawley was their aunt by marriage. In 1784 Mrs. Cawley moved her school to Southampton and Cassy and Jane went with her.

But their time with Mrs. Cawley ended abruptly when typhus swept through the school. Mrs. Austen flew to Southampton to rescue the girls. Jane was sick but recovered after some weeks. The next year, Cassy and Jane were sent to another school–The Ladies Boarding School aka The Abbey House School. There, they learned French, music, drawing, writing, needlework and speaking, among other things. Cassy and Jane left the Abbey House School in 1785 and returned home to Steventon.

Cassandra in Love

Back home, Cassy continued drawing and painting. As a teenager at home living with several of her father’s students, falling in love with one of the boys was bound to happen. Tom Fowle was the boy who caught her attention. Cassy had known him when he arrived as a student at the school and she was 6 or 7 in 1779. Tom lived with the Austens for five years intending to become a clergy man like his own father. He attended Oxford to that end, but in 1792, aged 28, he came back to Steventon for a visit, and he took a new interest in 20 year old Cassandra.

The Complete Servant, pg 7
A female teacher would earn about 30 pounds a year. Cassandra Austen’s income of 35 pounds a year was about the same as a governess would earn.

Tom couldn’t afford to marry Cassy, but he did have connections. Lord William Craven, the first Earl of Craven and a relative of Tom’s mother. Upon his engagement to Cassandra, Lord Craven gave Tom a living, that is guaranteed income and a home for his lifetime while he served as clergyman for the local parish. Unfortunately, the Wiltshire living wasn’t valuable enough to support a family. But Craven promised Tom a second living in Shropshire as soon as the current occupant died.

Still waiting to be wed in October, 1795, Lord Craven came to Tom with a new proposal. He was going on an expedition to the West Indies with a British Military unit called The Buffs and offered Tom a position as his chaplain. Tom accepted and in January, 1796 Tom left Cassandra for the West Indies. He was supposed to return in May. He never came back. As they were expecting him to come home, the Fowles received word that Tom had died of yellow fever in February and his body was buried in the blue Caribbean Sea.

The Fowles wrote of the news to the Austens and no one knows now how Cassandra faced Tom’s death. Jane wrote that to her family, Cassandra “behaved with a degree of resolution and proprietary which no common mind could evince in so trying a situation.” JAH 105.

The only silver lining in this devastating news was Tom’s will, leaving Cassandra 1000 pounds, providing her with an income of 35 pounds a year, about what a governess would earn. That would be about £49,130 income today.

Moving: Bath and Chawton

Cassandra spent the next few years in Steventon with her parents, until 1801, when Mr. Austen, now 70, decided to retire from the Church and give up the rectory to James and his growing family. Mr. and Mrs. Austen made the decision to move to Bath while the girls were away from home and neither was asked her opinion.

Both “girls” were away from Steventon when their parents made the decision and they weren’t asked their opinions.

The family sold most of their possessions, including Mr. Austen’s library, gave most of the rest to James and Mary, packed up and moved to the Paragon where Mrs. Austen’s brother and his wife, the Leigh-Perrots lived. They brought Cassandra and Jane, now in their mid-20s and still single, with them.

Over the next four years, The Austens moved in and out of houses in Bath, holidaying in Lyme-Regis and visiting their son Edward Knight at one of his estates. But in 1805 Mr. Austen died and the women suddenly became houseless with very little money. In 1806, they lived with one brother then the other for months at a time, and lived again in Bath before Frank, the Naval captain, offered them a home with his new wife Mary near Portsmouth. Cassandra, Jane and their mother lived with Mary and occasionally Frank, for five years, inviting their friend Martha Lloyd, also spinster who had also lost her parents, to live with them.

During this time, Cassy often visited Edward’s family at Godmersham Park, where Edward and Elizabeth had 10 children, and was there when Elizabeth died after giving birth to her 11th.

Jane Austen's House Museum
Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, UK is the final home of the author.

In 1809, Edward invited his mother, sisters and Martha, to live in a small cottage he owned in Chawton, near one of his estates where the women could be around to help care for his brood.

At Chawton, Jane finally found time to revise Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice into their final forms, and write new novels. Cass was her first reader and greatest supporter. When Jane got sick, Cassandra was her nurse. In 1817 Cassandra took her to Winchester to see a doctor and was with Jane when she died in July of that year.

Cassandra was Jane’s executrix, and with their brother Henry, she helped publish Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. She also had hundreds of Jane’s letters, additional notes and stories and as Claire Tomlin says in her biography, “Cassandra had many years in which to consider what to do with the papers in her possession.”

Cass continued living at Chawton Cottage with her mother and Martha. Mrs. Austen died in 1827 at 87 or 88 years old. In 1828, 63 year old Martha married Frank, who had been widowed for several years by then.

Cassandra lived in the cottage alone after Martha married. She still had money that Tom had left her and her brothers continued to help support her. She spent her time sewing and visiting friends and relatives and maintained a protective hold on Jane’s legacy, burning hundreds of Jane’s letters to her that she deemed too private, too inappropriate or too indiscreet for potential future public or even family consumption. She cut large portions out of some of the letters she left, according to her niece Caroline.

Cassandra died in March 1845 at 72 while visiting Frank, likely of a stroke. She was buried at Chawton beside her mother.

Cassandra’s letters from Jane were saved by their niece Fanny Knight, who left them to her son E. H. Knatchbull-Hugessen, 1st Baron Brabourne a British politician and writer of fairy tales. He edited the first collection of Jane’s letters in 1884, which contained about ⅔ of Jane’s known letters

There are some amazing pieces of life in Jane’s letters to Cassy, and some incredible biographies about Jane that talk about Cassandra’s life. I have several biographies listed on our Bookshelf page. There is also at least one incredible fictional account of Cassy’s life and I’ll do a review of those in a future episode.

Now let’s get to today’s chapter.

Chapter 11, Sense and Sensibility

Last time we got to know Willoughby after he rescued Marianne. The two discover they have a ton of things in common, especially Willoughby agreeing with Marianne on everything she says. But Willoughby also shows a bullying side when he makes fun of Colonel Brandon. Elinor thinks she may not like him, but as always, she still reserves judgment. She does, however, connect with Colonel Brandon and finally notices his crush on Marianne. Chapter 10 takes us through a series of character comparisons: Brandon and Willoughby, Willoughby and Edward, Marianne and Willoughby, and Elinor and Marianne.

Chapter 11 starts with the Dashwood family busy.

Little had Mrs. Dashwood or her daughters imagined when they first came into Devonshire, that so many engagements would arise to occupy their time as shortly presented themselves, or that they should have such frequent invitations and such constant visitors as to leave them little leisure for serious employment. Yet such was the case. When Marianne was recovered, the schemes of amusement at home and abroad, which Sir John had been previously forming, were put into execution. The private balls at the park then began; and parties on the water were made and accomplished as often as a showery October would allow. In every meeting of the kind Willoughby was included; and the ease and familiarity which naturally attended these parties were exactly calculated to give increasing intimacy to his acquaintance with the Dashwoods, to afford him opportunity of witnessing the excellencies of Marianne, of marking his animated admiration of her, and of receiving, in her behavior to himself, the most pointed assurance of her affection.

Marianne only needed a couple of weeks to completely heal from her sprained ankle and now Sir John can put all his party plans into action. And whatever the party might be, WIlloughby is there, too. And he and Marianne are not subtle about their public displays of affection.

Marianne pays no attention to anyone when Willoughby is around. Elinor chastises her for the public displays of affection but Marianne doesn’t care.

Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shown; and once or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve; and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection of reason to common-place and mistaken notions. Willoughby thought the same; and their behaviour at all times, was an illustration of their opinions.

When he was present she had no eyes for any one else. Every thing he did, was right. Every thing he said, was clever. If their evenings at the park were concluded with cards, he cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get her a good hand. If dancing formed the amusement of the night, they were partners for half the time; and when obliged to separate for a couple of dances, were careful to stand together and scarcely spoke a word to any body else. Such conduct made them of course most exceedingly laughed at; but ridicule could not shame, and seemed hardly to provoke them.

Mrs. Dashwood entered into all their feelings with a warmth which left her no inclination for checking this excessive display of them. To her it was but the natural consequence of a strong affection in a young and ardent mind.

Not only does Marianne think Elinor’s censure and request for no PDA is ridiculous, she seems to dare her social circle to laugh at her while she looks down at them for being prudes.

This was the season of happiness to Marianne. Her heart was devoted to Willoughby, and the fond attachment to Norland, which she brought with her from Sussex, was more likely to be softened than she had thought it possible before, by the charms which his society bestowed on her present home.

While Marianne is having a whirlwind romance, Elinor is homesick for Norland.
She’s got no real friends among the women and she’s bored with Lady M and Mrs. Jennings. Everyone else has made friends, become a part of things and moved on-the opposite of what Marianne once said.

In Chapter 5 she said: “Dear, dear Norland!” said Marianne, as she wandered alone before the house, on the last evening of their being there; “when shall I cease to regret you!—when learn to feel a home elsewhere!

Kind of ironic that Marianne is the first one to abandon herself to her new home, eh? Back to our current chapter.

Elinor’s happiness was not so great. Her heart was not so much at ease, nor her satisfaction in their amusements so pure. They afforded her no companion that could make amends for what she had left behind, nor that could teach her to think of Norland with less regret than ever. Neither Lady Middleton nor Mrs. Jennings could supply to her the conversation she missed; although the latter was an everlasting talker, and from the first had regarded her with a kindness which ensured her a large share of her discourse. She had already repeated her own history to Elinor three or four times; and had Elinor’s memory been equal to her means of improvement, she might have known very early in their acquaintance all the particulars of Mr. Jennings’s last illness, and what he said to his wife a few minutes before he died. Lady Middleton was more agreeable than her mother only in being more silent. Elinor needed little observation to perceive that her reserve was a mere calmness of manner with which sense had nothing to do….

And skipping a bit

Her insipidity was invariable, for even her spirits were always the same; and though she did not oppose the parties arranged by her husband, provided every thing were conducted in style and her two eldest children attended her, she never appeared to receive more enjoyment from them than she might have experienced in sitting at home;—and so little did her presence add to the pleasure of the others, by any share in their conversation, that they were sometimes only reminded of her being amongst them by her solicitude about her troublesome boys.

This book has a really strongly opinionated narrative voice and as usual, it’s omniscient here, but here I think the narrator begins siding with Elinor more than in the previous chapters. Now, it seems to be siding with her opinions rather than just reporting them. Elinor doesn’t like Lady M or Mrs. Jennings. She’s too well-bred and polite aka sensible to say anything that may offend them. But she finds both of them to be insipid.

However, she bonds with Col. Brandon over their restrained emotions and his obvious love of Marianne.

In Colonel Brandon alone, of all her new acquaintance, did Elinor find a person who could in any degree claim the respect of abilities, excite the interest of friendship, or give pleasure as a companion….in conversing with Elinor he found the greatest consolation for the indifference of her sister.

Elinor’s compassion for him increased, as she had reason to suspect that the misery of disappointed love had already been known to him. This suspicion was given by some words which accidentally dropped from him one evening at the park, when they were sitting down together by mutual consent, while the others were dancing.

So Elinor has only Brandon to talk to, but she won’t, not without being rude, talk to him about his past, or why he seems so melancholy. Instead, she comes up with ideas about why he’s like this.

She adds to her theories one night when they’re both at the Middletons’ home.

…they were sitting down together by mutual consent, while the others were dancing. His eyes were fixed on Marianne, and, after a silence of some minutes, he said, with a faint smile, “Your sister, I understand, does not approve of second attachments.”
“No,” replied Elinor, “her opinions are all romantic.”
“Or rather, as I believe, she considers them impossible to exist.”
“I believe she does. But how she contrives it without reflecting on the character of her own father, who had himself two wives, I know not. A few years however will settle her opinions on the reasonable basis of common sense and observation; and then they may be more easy to define and to justify than they now are, by any body but herself.”
“This will probably be the case,” he replied; “and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way to the reception of more general opinions.”
“I cannot agree with you there,” said Elinor. “There are inconveniences attending such feelings as Marianne’s, which all the charms of enthusiasm and ignorance of the world cannot atone for. Her systems have all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought; and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look forward to as her greatest possible advantage.”

Here’s one of the things Elinor sees as problematic with Marianne’s ideals of sensibility. Marianne herself would not have been born if her father had had only one wife. Her mother is a second wife, and that’s why they were kicked out of Norland and had to move. Maybe Marianne in part based her opinions on personal experience?

But the inconsistencies in her belief seems to be one of the things Brandon seems to like about her. He seems to be saying it about young people in general, but it’s also saying something about his past. This is the type of person he’s been attracted to in the past. And Brandon can’t drop this line of questioning.

After a short pause he resumed the conversation by saying,—
“Does your sister make no distinction in her objections against a second attachment? or is it equally criminal in every body? Are those who have been disappointed in their first choice, whether from the inconstancy of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances, to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?”
“Upon my word, I am not acquainted with the minutiae of her principles. I only know that I never yet heard her admit any instance of a second attachment’s being pardonable.”
“This,” said he, “cannot hold; but a change, a total change of sentiments—No, no, do not desire it; for when the romantic refinements of a young mind are obliged to give way, how frequently are they succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too dangerous! I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change—from a series of unfortunate circumstances—” Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures, which might not otherwise have entered Elinor’s head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination; and every thing established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love.

Brandon almost loses himself in the past here. He has to catch himself before he says too much. For a man who plays his hand very close to the vest, he’s showing too many of his cards.

So what do we know? There was an idealistic romantic young person a lot like Marianne, who was forced to do something that changed her and led her into danger. Now if you’ve read Sense and Sensibility before you know exactly what i’m talking about, but if you’re new to the novel, we’ll keep that under wraps for now.

Of course the narrator sides with Elinor whose lack of imagination and sensibile-ness let her think about the terrible things that could have happened in Brandon’s past for him to say this to her now. But both the narrator and Elinor know Marianne would be writing the next great novel of sensibilities about this poor girl.

This idea is interesting, because this vague story is really the outline of a novel of sensibilities, but I don’t want to spoil this mystery woman’s story for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

Instead, let’s take a minute to talk about Colonel Brandon. I’ve been waiting since, like, Episode 7 to talk about Brandon and Jane’s possible sources for his character. There will be a few or several spoiler alerts here so if you’ve never read Sense and Sensibility before you may want to skip this part.

We’ve talked about Pamela by Samuel Richardson before, as a possible inspiration for this book and for Marianne, but Jane may have gotten inspiration for Brandon from the book, too.

Colonel Brandon may have been named after Mr. B of Brandon Hall from Pamela. Mr B was Pamela’s employer who gets way too friendly with the 15 year old Pammy. He’s way creepier than Brandon has been so far. He claims he can’t control himself (the lamest excuse of the last 300 years). Mr. B imprisons Pammy a one of his estates and then tries to rape her.

So compared to this piece of work, Brandon is a pretty nice guy. He doesn’t even talk to Marianne.

But the ephebophiliac isn’t the only potential source for Brandon. Apparently, Jane used someone much closer to home and half a world away, as well.

India, Eliza and Brandon

Linda Robinson Walker, a professor at the University of Michigan, says that Brandon is distinctly influenced by Warren Hastings, the godfather–and possible father–of Jane Austen’s cousin Eliza de Feuillide.

warren hastings
Warren Hastings, the first British governor of India, was godfather to Jane Austen’s cousin and may have influenced Colonel Brandon’s past.

In 1753, Eliza’s mother, Philadelphia Austen, sister of George, traveled to India at 22 to marry. Six months after arriving, she married a 29 year old surgeon named Tysoe Saul Hancock. The couple moved to Calcutta and met Warren Hastings and his wife, Mary. In Calcutta Phila gave birth to a baby, Elizabeth, who was named after the Hastings’ baby. Elizabeth was later known as Eliza. After her birth Hastings later deposited 10 thousand pounds in an account for Eliza. Years later, Eliza and parents later traveled back to England where she became friends with her young Austen cousins, Cassy and Jane, and told stories about India and her godfather. Years later, Eliza married a French Army captain Jean-François Capot de Feuillide, and gave birth to a boy she named Hastings.

So this is a significant relationship in Jane’s family, particularly after cousin Eliza, who was made a widow by the guillotine in the French Revolution, married Jane’s brother Henry.

Jane may have taken some of Hastings’ story and given it to Brandon. For one, they both went to India as 17 year olds in the Army. They both participated in duels, and they both might have illegitimate daughters named Eliza.

There is a ton of other stuff about Brandon, Hastings and India that we can get into at a later time, but I think this is a good place to start the discussion, and to end the show.

Before I end this episode, if your love of Jane Austen, and other novelists cannot be sated by one podcast, you should listen to “Your Favorite Book” podcast with Malavika Praseed. I got a chance to be Malavika’s guest in January, and we talked about Pride and Prejudice. I hope you’ll listen to that episode, Malavika and I had a lot of fun recording it. You can listen to Your Favorite Book wherever you get your podcasts.

Next episode we’ll read Chapter 12 and learn how the most ideal plans can change when the mail comes.

That’s all for today. Thank you for listening to Ents and Sensibility. Today’s episode was written and edited by me, Casey Meserve.

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Have a lovely day and I hope you’ll visit again soon.

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