( A discussion about what friendship might be. A few thoughts and considerations while writing about Jane and Martha. You might agree. You might not. I am open for criticism. Guest writer Tony Grant of London Calling)
Jane Austen didn’t marry. There are suggestions she did have love affairs but they did not come to fruition. Did this make her human experience less than those who have the love of another human? She had the love of her family and especially her sister Cassandra. She had the love of Martha Lloyd her best friend. She experienced love from other human beings and she gave love to others.
Lets have a look at what we can find out about Jane’s relationship with Martha Lloyd, her best friend.
Who was Martha Lloyd?
Martha Lloyd was born in 1765. Her mother, Martha Craven, had been the daughter of the Royal governor of South Carolina. Martha Craven , although coming from a wealthy background, married an obscure country vicar called the Reverend Nowis Lloyd who was the rector of Little Hinton, Wiltshire and who also, in 1771, became the vicar of Enborne near Newbury in Berkshire. After the Reverend Nowis died Martha and her two sisters, Mary and Eliza were left with their cruel and some say insane mother. They escaped by going to live with an aunt who lived in Newbury. They also have a brother but he died in a smallpox epidemic. Martha and Mary were both left scarred for life by the same epidemic. The younger sister, Eliza, is supposed to have escaped the epidemic unscathed. She married
It is not known how exactly the Lloyd family and the Austen family met but they had many acquaintances in common. The two families became very close after the Reverend Nowis died in 1789. The Reverend Austen gave the widow and her three daughters his unused parsonage at Deane a mile from Steventon. So Jane and Cassandra lived very close to the Lloyd sisters and they saw a lot of each other. There were not many chances to form close acquaintances in the countryside and the daughters of both families all became close friends, especially Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen. Jane was ten years younger than Martha but they obviously got on very well. Martha became like a second sister to Jane.
When James Austen married in 1792 he took over the parish at Deane and so required the parsonage there. The Lloyd family had to move out and went to Ibthorpe, a small hamlet near Hurstbourne Tarrant in Hampshire, fifteen miles further away. This must have been hard for Jane and Martha. They had no independent transport to visit each other.
Mary Lloyd, the younger of the two sisters, married James Austen as his second wife, after his first wife died.
The Reverend George Austen died on January 21st 1805 in Bath. Martha’s mother died soon after. Mrs Austen, Cassandra, Jane, and Martha decided to pool their resources and live together. They first moved to Southampton together to live with Jane’s brother Frank’s wife Mary, in Castle Square. Frank and Mary had only just got married and Frank had to go away to sea. The arrangement was beneficial to all concerned. Apparently they all got on well together.
On July 7th 1809 Jane, her mother, her sister Cassandra and Martha moved to the cottage at Chawton on their brother Edward Knight’s estate.
Martha knew all about Jane’s writing exploits, something Jane kept secret from most people. She even dedicated some early works to Martha, her friend. A sure sign of Jane’s close trusting affinity with Martha.
Jane’s letters show evidence of her easy and close relationship to Martha. Her comments are often teasing and full of fun about Martha but always show love for her friend. Sometimes there are mere asides mentioning Martha within a discussion about other people or other things. Martha’s opinion or what Martha is doing at the moment of writing. It’s as though she is always in Jane’s mind and presence.
Tuesday 11th June 1799, writing from Queen Square, Bath, to Cassandra.
“ I am very glad You liked my Lace, & so is Martha-& we are all glad together.-I have got your cloak home, which is quite delightful!….”
Again on Friday 9th December 1808 from castle Square to Cassandra.
“ Our Ball was rather more amusing than I expected, Martha liked it very much, & I did not gape until the last quarter of an hour.-It was past nine before we were sent for & not twelve when we returned…”
Jane’s letters have many short references to Martha. She is always present.
Other letters tell more detailed stories about Martha. While living in Castle Square, Southampton, the Austen’s attended services at All Saints church in the High Street where Dr Mant was the vicar. Dr Mant was well known in Southampton. He had been the headmaster of King Edward VII’s Grammar School in the town . He had also been a professor of Divinity at Oxford and written religious discussion pamphlets. He was a super star in the firmament of vicars. He was a very charismatic preacher too. Dr Mant had his following of inspired young ladies. Martha was apparently a besotted member of this clan.
Tuesday 17th January 1809 from castle Square to Cassandra.
“ Martha and Dr Mant are as bad as ever, he runs after her for having spoken to a Gentleman while she was near him the day before.- Poor Mrs Mant can stand it no longer; she is retired to one of her married daughters.”
This story sounds quite scandalous. One wonders what is Martha’s attractiveness. She obviously has a passionate heart and is prone to,”love.” A certain, young girlish tendency towards infatuation. And, poor Mrs Mant, what of her, indeed. Scandal is in the air or is Jane being creative with the truth? She feels free to be personal. She definitely has a relaxed attitude towards her dear friend. She is being very personal in this letter. Being able to get that close to somebody and maybe even play with their emotions is a sign of something close in a relationship.
Another letter highlights this playfulness again.
Tuesday 11th June 1799 form Queen Square to Cassandra.
“ I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account,& am very glad that I did not leave it in your power.- She is very cunning , but I see through her design;-she means to publish it from memory & one more perusal will enable her to do it.”
And then there is the close affection and freedom each feels in the others presence expressed in this story of a night spent together. You can imagine the enjoyment of each others presence in this letter. Jane is full of fun and teasing.
Wednesday 9th January 1799 from Steventon to Cassandra.
“ You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mr Hulbert’s servant that I have a great mind not to tell whether I was or not,&shall only say that I did not return home that night or the next, as Martha kindly made room for me in her bed, which was the shut up one in the new nursery.-Nurse and the child slept on the floor;&there we all were in some confusion& great comfort;- the bed did exceedingly well for us, both to lie awake in and talk till two o’clock,& to sleep in the rest of the night.-I love Martha better than ever …….”
These are two girls having the time of their lives. Totally at one, relaxed and full of fun with each other.
There are only four letters in existence that Jane wrote to Martha. The first, written in 1800 has two parts. Jane’s letters are always full of news about people and places she and the recipient of the letter have in common and in some ways we the present day reader of those letters are left out of this private world unless we find out for ourselves about her references. This first letter we have to Martha is partly taken up with this sort of news about people and places. However what makes this letter different is the opening, where Jane expresses her wish to be with Martha. There is an intensity shown in these words maybe even a passion to see her friend, revealed here.
To Martha Lloyd, Thursday 13th November 1800 from Steventon:
“-You are very good at wishing to see me at Ibthorpe so soon, & I am equally good in wishing to come to you; I believe our merit in that respect is much upon a par, our Self denial mutually strong.-Having paid this tribute of praise to the Virtue of both, I shall have done with Panegyric & proceed to plain matter of fact.-In about a fortnights time I hope to be with you; I have two reasons for being not being able to come before; I wish so to arrange my visit to spend some days with you after your mother’s return, in the 1st place that I may have the pleasure of seeing her, & in the 2nd, that I may have a better chance of bringing you back with me.- Your promise in my favour was not quite absolute, but if your will is not perverse, You & I will do all in our power to overcome your scruples of conscience.- I hope we will meet next week to talk all this over, till we have tired ourselves with the very idea of my visit before my visit begins.”
Compare this to an exchange between Romeo and Juliet.
Act III Scene V Capulet’s Orchard:
Art thou gone so? Love, lord, ay husband, friend! I must hear from thee every day in the hour
For in a minute there are many days!
O, by this count I shall be much in years
Ere again I behold my Romeo!
Farewell! I will omit no opportunity
That may convey my greetings, love, to thee.
O thinks thou we shall ever meet again?
I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve
For sweet discourses in our time to come.
The two situations are not exactly the same. There is no added angst of the forbidden meeting driving on the will to meet between Martha and Jane but there is the want brought about by separation.
Is this what it’s all about?
Are we hard wired to get the friends we have? Hard wired meaning, made to relate with and find love with a certain person or type of person.
How do we get a friend? We choose friends, or do we? They have to come into our proximity, live near us, or be near us for part of our lives so we can actually meet. We could meet them at school, or university. They could be neighbours, attend a club we go to, work in a place we work in or be introduced to us. We have to make regular contact for some time in our life, with them, for the friendship to take wing and fly. So finding friends is accidental to a certain degree. But, we meet many people accidentally. They don’t all become our friends. So what is it, this friendship thing?
My opening question asked, “Are we hard wired to get the friends we have?” Our personality, our way of thinking, what we say, how we say it, our sense of humour, our moods, all these intangible things that make us the individual we are must in some way meld with these intangible things found in another person and somehow they are illuminated, expanded, ignited with this coming together.
Is friendship love? We love our husband , wife or partner. We love our children. We do love our friends. What are these different aspects of love? Or, are they different? Aren’t they the same?
Our children come from our bodies. Marriage is formalised in a church ceremony or a civil ceremony. Partners are people we at some stage decide to stay with. But do these guarantee love, friendship, a close relationship? A loving relationship of whatever label is beyond the label. The labels are just signs. But signs can be false. Do we all really love our husband, wife or partner all the time, part of the time or never? Do we really love our children because they come from us? Don’t we fall out drift apart, sometimes? Relationships can be split and the name friend, partner, wife, husband loses it’s meaning. So a real deep love and friendship is beyond the outward signs and words.
Why do we need a loving relationship?
They take us beyond ourselves. They take us beyond and out of ourselves. Phrases come to mind, “I love them more than life itself. I love them more than myself.” And there are other phrases, which describe it.
What is it all about? It’s a sort of searching and if we are lucky, a finding of something that necessary, life ennobling, deep within ourselves and even outside of ourselves. But is a husband, wife, partner, son, daughter, friend, enough and finally necessary? Do those relationships go deep enough? Does our real need go deeper?
What about those who stay single or people whose relationships are broken? Or consider the contemplative monk or nun who hardly ever speak, the celibate in or out of the religious life, the rejected and dejected, the drug addict, alcoholic, the tramp, the drop outs from society, those who have nobody, is their human experience less and are they denied love somehow because they don’t appear to have a close loving human relationship with someone? How deep can we go with this love thing? Is there something more infinitely deeper than the merely human side of it? Are human relationships, human love, really just a taste of something deeper and even more profound? Human relationships can be fickle, wither and dry up. People also die. Is the need and search for love within us naturally there? Are we born with the desire and need for it? What could it all be out? I don’t know.
But Jane had her friend.
Other posts by Tony Grant
- Jane Austen and the English Country Garden
- Jane Austen Went to School
- Posts from London Calling
- 84 Plymouth Grove
- Jane Austen at the Theatre