Monday, September 14, 2009
Eliza de Feuillide - Part Two
By Christmas 1787, Eliza was at Steventon Rectory again, and excited about performing in a make-shift theatre (her uncle's tithe barn) with her cousins. The Austen brothers most likely fitted out the barn with a stage, scenery, curtain and oil lamps to illuminate the actors. Eliza tried unsuccessfully to invite her cousin Phila to join them all, but the latter declared she had no wish to appear in public. The play decided on was The Wonder: A Woman keeps a Secret!
James Austen wrote a prologue and epilogue for the play which celebrated the abilities of women to conquer men by their wit and charm - one cannot help wondering if Eliza had influenced his thinking and inspiration! Though I am certain the Austen brothers behaved impeccably, I am sure they were both captivated by the sophisticated and flirtatious Comtesse who exercised every opportunity to steal their hearts by acting alongside them. When Jane Austen later wrote Mansfield Park, surely some of the inspiration for the play scenes came from similar ones she must have witnessed.
By the late 1790's after Eliza had become a widow, and when James himself became a widower, he most likely pursued Eliza along with Henry, but she resisted them both vowing she would not give up 'dear Liberty, and yet dearer flirtation' for any of her beaux. However, Henry won her heart at last. They were married on 31st December 1797. George Austen sent them £40 towards wedding celebrations with Henry's regiment.
In a letter to Warren Hastings Eliza wrote:
...I have consented to an Union with my Cousin Captn. Austen who has the honour of being known to You. - He has been for some time in Possession of a comfortable income, and the excellence of his Heart, Temper, and Understanding, together with his steady attachment to me, his Affection for my little Boy, and disinterested concurrence in the disposal of my Property, in favour of this latter, have at length induced me to an aquiescence which I have withheld for more than two years...
Eliza was thirty six, and Henry ten years her junior.
Read more - Deirdre Le Faye has written a book - Jane Austen's 'Outlandish Cousin' - The Life and Letters of Eliza de Feuillide. The letters she wrote to her cousin make fascinating reading!
The top photo shows Manchester Street off Manchester Square where Eliza lived at around the time that Henry was courting her. Coincidentally, I chose Manchester Square for the London home of the Brandons in my new book, Willoughby's Return. I wandered all round the area trying to decide where I should house them, and the Square seemed perfect.
The bottom photo is from the film Becoming Jane showing Henry and Eliza's marriage.