Reading and Writing

On the subject of books little need be added to what may be gathered from the Index of Literary Allusions. It may suffice to remark that the society to which the novels introduce us is one in which the habit of reading is assumed as normal. The character of Marianne Dashwood may be described as a mild satire on the Romantic Revival. Pride and Prejudice has the fewest literary allusions ; but Elizabeth talked to Col. Fitzwilliam ‘of new books and music’ (172), and had opinions on books of travel (154). Darcy could not ‘comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these’ (38). Henry Tilney is evidently a bookish young man, as a clergyman should be. Fanny Price delighted in biography and poetry ; indeed, all the principal persons in Mansfield Park show knowledge of books. Emma, if she did not read much, made ‘very good lists of books that she meant to read’ (37). Anne Elliot shared the tastes of Lady Russell, who ‘quite bores one with her new publications’ (215) and was suspected of rejecting Charles Musgrove as ‘not learned and bookish enough’. (89).

The Circulating Library is as conspicuous in the novels and letters as it is in Miss Burney’s novels. It was a novel from Clarke’s library that shocked Mr. Collins (P P 30, 68). The library at Brighton was a scene of social gaiety, like the Tunbridge library in Camilla (P P 238). The library saved Mary Musgrove and Fanny Price from the tedium of Lyme and Portsmouth, and supplied Lady Russell at Bath with ‘all the new publications’ (P 130, 146, M P 398).

Reading aloud is often mentioned, at Mansfield Park and elsewhere.

Letter-writing was a serious business. Henry Tilney’s views on the question ‘whether ladies do write so much better letters than gentlemen’ will be remembered (N A 27), and the description and specimens of Lady Bertram’s letters, who ‘rather shone in the epistolary line’ (M P 425). Poor Fanny Price had to listen to Edmund’s admiration of Mary Crawford’s ‘language’ (376); and in writing to decline her congratulations ‘had there been time for scruples and fears as to style, she would have felt them in abundance’ (307). Robert Martin’s proposal ‘as a composition, would not have disgraced a gentleman’ (E 51).

Frequent allusions remind us of the external differences between the letters of a hundred years ago and those of to-day. The paper was folded, and the ‘direction’ written on the verso. This made many a plausible ending: ‘My paper reminds me to conclude’ (Lucy Steele, S S 278); ‘I have not room to do them [your raptures] justice’ (Darcy, P P 48). Jane Fairfax ‘fills the whole paper and crosses half’ (E 157)—a habit which disappeared when paper became cheap. Darcy’s famous letter was exceptional—it contains some 4,000 words. It consisted of ‘an envelope containing two sheets of letter paper, written quite through, in a very close hand. The envelope itself was likewise full’. This envelope was a third sheet, not of course the made envelope now in use.

When Sir Thomas Bertram went to the West Indies, Edmund was able to save his mother ‘from all possible fatigue or exertion in every particular, but that of directing her letters’ (M P 34). Edmund might no doubt have done this, but the point is that Sir Thomas was obliged to do it, because it had become illegal for a member of Parliament to frank a letter without also writing the direction—a reform aimed at the abuse of franking in blank.

It will be noticed that most of the letters in Pride and Prejudice end with the formula ‘Your’s &c.’ and without signature. We are not to suppose that the writers wrote ‘&c.’ any more than that they left their letters unsigned. Johnson’s letters to Mrs. Thrale end thus:

I am

Dear Madam

Your most humble servant
Sam: Johnson

—or a similar formula. But when Mrs. Piozzi sent the letters to the printer she excised the expressions of respect and substituted ‘&c.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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