Mentor: Janet Myers
Project title: "Short-cut to the heart": A historical analysis of men's courtship letters in Jane Austen's fiction
This semester, the Lumen Prize has offered me the opportunity of a lifetime: to study Jane Austen in her natural environment, England. Upon finishing my semester abroad in Barcelona, which supported work toward my Spanish major, I spent a week in London conducting research at the British Library. This research was primarily exploratory, and I had applied for permission to examine some of Austen’s manuscript letters. To my great happiness (and relief), the library granted me access. Holding the original papers in my hands was an incredible (and emotional) experience. It was a fortunate coincidence that one of the sets of letters in the library’s catalog contains six letters from Jane to her younger brother Frank, who was an Admiral in the British Navy. This subject seemed appropriate for my upcoming chapter on Persuasion, in which I will study aspects of eighteenth- and nineteenth- century masculinity in the navy sailor Captain Wentworth, who is quite a different hero from my former source of interest, Mr. Darcy. These letters, in particular, contain interesting subject material. Several are concerning her father’s sudden death, one of which breaks the news to Frank and another which, reflecting her sensible manner, discusses logistical matters of Frank’s small inheritance. Another is a poem written to Frank upon the birth of his son. And still, the most interesting and relevant to my research would be those in which Jane praises the navy and Frank’s esteemed occupation, which she evidently covets – particularly the opportunity for Frank to travel and see other nations outside of England. These passages express her genuine interest in the navy and contrast her small world to his widened horizons. I was even more pleased to come by a few sentences in which Jane comments on Frank’s letter-writing:
“I am very much obliged to you for filling one so long a sheet a paper, you are a good one to traffic with in that way, you pay most liberally; my letter was a scratch of a note compared with yours – and there you write so even, so clean both in style & penmanship, so much to the point & give so much real intelligence that it is enough to kill one.” (Godmersham Park, September 25, 1813)
Aside from the manuscript letters, the British Library also offered a range of sources on letter-writing, masculinity and domesticity, and imperial England, which I have collected for my research on my second chapter this summer. Furthermore, in the Library’s Permanent Collection, I was able to view Jane Austen’s writing desk and (through a glass window) the manuscripts of some of her juvenile works.
Dr. Ann J. Cahill
Professor of Philosophy
Spence Pavilion 111
2340 Campus Box
Elon, NC 27244
Phone: (336) 278-5703
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