The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen Vol. II
by Collins Hemingway
Publication Date: August 8, 2016
eBook & Paperback; 332 Pages
Praise for The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen Series
"Hemingway captures the energy of the times, while also writing with the irony and sly humor of Austen herself. … A strikingly real Jane Austen fully engaged in the turbulent times. … She is a living, breathing presence. … [He] displays a notable ability to recreate time and place. … A lively, compelling read, [a] sobering but moving conclusion." —Blueink Starred Review
"An enjoyable novel in an imaginative, well-researched series. … A well-researched work of historical fiction … [with] sweet moments and intriguing historical insights. … An incredibly moving portrait of a woman facing loss and love." —Kirkus Reviews
Whether his subject is literature, history, or science, Collins Hemingway has a passion for the art of creative investigation. For him, the most compelling fiction deeply explores the heart and soul of its characters, while also engaging them in the complex and often dangerous world in which they have a stake. He wants to explore all that goes into people's lives and everything that makes them complete though fallible human beings. His fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.
As a nonfiction book author, Hemingway has worked alongside some of the world's thought leaders on topics as diverse as corporate culture and ethics; the Internet and mobile technology; the ins and outs of the retail trade; and the cognitive potential of the brain. Best known for the #1 best-selling book on business and technology, Business @ the Speed of Thought, which he coauthored with Bill Gates, he has earned a reputation for tackling challenging subjects with clarity and insight, writing for the nontechnical but intelligent reader.
Hemingway has published shorter nonfiction on topics including computer technology, medicine, and aviation, and he has written award-winning journalism. Published books include The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen trilogy, Business @ the Speed of Thought, with Bill Gates, Built for Growth, with Arthur Rubinfeld, What Happy Companies Know, with Dan Baker and Cathy Greenberg, Maximum Brainpower, with Shlomo Breznitz, and The Fifth Wave, with Robert Marcus.
Hemingway lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife, Wendy. Together they have three adult sons and three granddaughters. He supports the Oregon Community Foundation and other civic organizations engaged in conservation and social services in Central Oregon.
For more information please visit Collins Hemingway's website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Goodreads.
Why It’s Possible Jane Austen Married
By COLLINS HEMINGWAY
Jane Austen had a few flirtation-level romances as a young woman, including one with a law student named Tom Lefroy, whom many biographers treat as the one who got away. Commentators also dutifully recount the story of Jane’s acceptance and rejection of a proposal by Harris Bigg-Wither, a young, brash man six years her junior, on Thursday-Friday, 2-3 December 1802. This was when Jane, at age 26, had “lost her bloom,” to use the day’s jargon.
The story goes that Jane and Cassandra journeyed to Manydown, the Bigg-Wither estate, for several weeks of leisure with the family. The Austen ladies were good friends with Harris’s sisters, especially Caroline and Alethea. On 2 December, Bigg-Wither surprises Jane with a proposal. Overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming mistress of the large estate, Jane accepts this proposal from a person with little to recommend him except wealth. She reconsiders overnight; recants her acceptance in the morning; then flees back to Bath in humiliation. (A woman could accept and reject a proposal then; a man could not withdraw one without the woman’s consent.)
What is distinctly odd about this history, however, is that this purported engagement and refusal, which would have created a scandal, does not appear to show up in any surviving contemporaneous letters or journals by anyone who knew Jane.
When I began to examine the details of Austen’s life some years ago for historical fiction based on her life, I recognized that the references all went back to Caroline, daughter of her brother James and sister-in-law Mary. I knew Caroline sourced the story to her mother, but it wasn’t until some years later, when it hit me that Caroline was one of Austen’s youngest relatives, that I checked and learned that Caroline had not even been born when the proposal is supposed to have happened!
Recently, Helena Kelly, in her book “Jane Austen: Secret Radical,” points out the same odd circumstance: this major biographical event is reported only by Caroline, and only in 1870—68 years after the supposed incident—a lifetime! (I am in general agreement with Kelly’s take on Austen and her work in society, though I find her interpretations of the novels to be “eccentric.”)
Supposedly, after the disaster with Bigg-Wither, it was brother James who escorted the Austen sisters home to Bath, so Mary would have been aware of the situation. Mary, however, was never close to Jane and died herself in 1843—41 years after the event, 26 years after Jane died, and 27 years before Caroline’s telling. Caroline was only 12 when Austen died—she recounts her last sad meeting with her aunt. Even if the Bigg-Wither topic arose in the conversations after Jane’s death, that still would have been 15 years after the events. Considering the reticence people have about speaking “ill” of the dead, it is easy to believe the topic well might not have come up until much later.
How is it this story is handed down by a niece too young to have known about it directly but not by the many other nieces and nephews who were alive? Caroline's older brother, James Edward, was Austen’s first official biographer. He was 18 when Jane died—he attended her funeral on behalf of his ill father—yet he sources his younger sister for the tale of the botched proposal! He would have been a toddler when the proposal occurred, but if the story was retold from time to time within the family, wouldn’t he, half a dozen years older than Caroline, have been more likely to have heard it than she? Why would he have to reference his sister's knowledge?
Stories have become legends in less time than the gaps in this recounting. …
Notice something else: Cassandra was an actual witness to a mysterious suitor, who was going to propose to Jane at a coastal town in the summer of 1801 but died unexpectedly. Cass provides almost no details about the man, and two different nieces give different towns as where the courting took place. Nor does Cass mention Bigg-Wither’s proposal in 1828 when she’s reminded of the other, expected proposal in 1801.
Cass seems to have relayed just enough information about Jane’s coastal “romance” to confuse rather than enlighten. Cass also destroyed the vast majority of Jane’s letters from this period, leaving no other evidence of the events. We know nothing about the letters except that Caroline calls them “open and confidential”—but she gives no indication she has seen them. Again, most of the letters were before Caroline’s birth or when she was a baby. Why would Cass have kept the letters about Tom Lefroy, which support the idea that he (or his aunt) had dumped Jane, while burning those about those later relationships, including one in which she allegedly dumped someone else?
Though the story of any embarrassing Bigg-Wither encounter likely would have circulated for years in the family, the incident is too specific for one being recounted twenty, thirty, or forty years later, as likely happened. Caroline claims to have the exact date of the proposal from her mother’s day books (diaries), but turns around and says no proposal is actually mentioned; only that Jane and Cass had visited at that time. But they visited the family regularly.
Meaning the provenance of this story is suspicious, at the very least. The oafish Bigg-Wither married someone else in 1804 and sired ten children.
Now that we’ve covered proposals, what about a possible marriage? Shocking! But the question brings us to the one letter in which Jane Austen identifies herself as a married woman, the 5 April 1809 letter to the publisher Crosby (a poor speller, she renders it “Crosbie”) in which she demands they either publish her novel “Susan,” which they had bought six years earlier, or she would sell it to someone else.
The publisher quickly replies that they paid for the book (though not required to publish it) and if she sold it to anyone else “we shall take proceedings to stop the sale.” End of correspondence—though years later her brother Henry did buy the book back for Jane for the original £10, enabling it to be published as “Northanger Abbey.”
Jane signs her letter to Crosby “Mrs. Ashton Dennis,” care of the Southampton Post Office. The publisher does not know her name—Henry handled the sale, and she was identified only as “A Lady.” The thinking is that she uses a different name to remain anonymous, and the one she uses spells out “MAD” to indicate her unhappiness at the delays. (And what prompted to her write the abrupt letter six years after the fact?)
That leads to an interesting problem. Jane has been in Southampton for some time; the post office knows her. In the autumn, she kept up a steady stream of correspondence with Cassandra, then at Godmersham, when Edward’s wife, Elizabeth, died unexpectedly after childbirth. How is Miss Jane Austen going to pick up a letter for a Mrs. Ashton Dennis unless that is now her name? Isn’t it also strange that, while Jane’s life is relatively well-known, the two proposals that have very poor provenance come in the period in which Cass destroyed almost all of Jane’s letters?
In this time, we have a three-and-a-half-year gap of Jane’s letters, 1801-1804; a year-long gap, mid-1805 to mid-1806; and a 16-month gap, February 1807-June 1808. We have only 13 letters—not quite 2 a year—from 1801 to 1808, where they begin again with some regularity. Besides the occasional passing reference to her in other people’s letters and diaries, we know nothing of Jane’s whereabouts or doings for this time.
Considering the confusion and inconsistency in reports of who she was involved with, and when—too many specifics in one major encounter (Bigg-Wither in 1802) and far too few in another (the mysterious clergyman at the beach in 1801)—one must ask what was really going on. Were there multiple romantic encounters, each one ending disastrously, or perhaps one relationship that these inconsistent stories point to—or are designed to point away from?
When she signed her name as a married woman in 1809, was she MAD at the publisher about not publishing her book, or MAD about some man the family later sought to hide?
These unanswered questions prompted me to write the trilogy “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen,” which tells the story of an intelligent, passionate woman discovering all that is good and bad in life for a woman in the early 1800s.
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